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Behind the Curtain of Shelly's Art Process

I'll let you in on a little secret: I'm terrible at visualizing things. I really suck at picturing images in my head. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I'm an artist. I need to physically see images on the page. Definitely, it's the reason I'm an artist who uses reference photos and maquettes to produce my final works. Often, people look at my polished art and exclaim, "How did that come out of your head?" The short answer is...it didn't, or at least, it had a lot of help along the way. Want a sneak peek at my creation process? Come along, friends, and I'll show you how I turn my ideas into art.


I tend to work in the following mediums: rough pencil sketches, more polished graphite drawings, coloured pencil and/or acrylic paints and more recently, digital. We'll take a behind the scenes look at each.


Akrist on Vax rough pencil sketch

In my fantasy series The Marked Son, I included bird-like pack animals called vaiyas. I had an idea in my head that these amicable creatures might look like a cross between bird and reptile, and they were large enough to be ridden, but I couldn't picture in my head what their proportions would be and how a human would look riding one, so I decided to sketch it out. To start, I made a rough clay maquette and then used my posable Body-kun figurine as a rider.



This allowed me to have a reference for light and shadow as well as proportions. Next step was to start drawing. I decided that I wanted my human to be a little larger proportionally to his vaiya.


Now that I'd roughly mapped out my areas of light and shadow, there was nothing left but to fill it all in!


Hunting for hares.


And lastly, the completed sketch with spear included:



My process is quite similar when I'm tackling other mediums, I just end up taking more time once I get to final layout. Here's an example of a graphite and charcoal drawing called "Ransom".


Here, I used my homemade dragon model. I tried several poses until I found one I liked.



Here's the pose I settled on:


I only have two human figurines, so I kept the camera at the same angle as the photo above and then took a separate shot (not shown) with the male figurine posed as Akrist. This way, I could ensure all the characters had the same lighting. Then I started filling it all in.


Charcoal works really well for smudging, so I used that to get the effect of the dragon's wing moving fast. I think it worked out okay :) I love the foreshortening in this picture, and I don't think I'm a practiced enough artist yet to achieve the same thing without the aid of models.


Here's a coloured pencil piece of a horse portrait that I wanted to be mostly shadows with only hints of highlights. Again, when I'm working with light and shadow, I find it indispensable to have a reference. In this case, it was a Breyer horse model with a chunk of yarn standing in for a long forelock.


For my dramatic lighting, I used...a flashlight. Then I played with the photo's contrast until I got this:


This one was fun, because there was actually very little drawing required. Most of it is left in the shadows, allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks.


And here's the finished piece:


Lastly, I've recently started tackling digital art. It's a fun process that allows you to work in separate layers, change proportions and sizes on the fly--and erase any mistakes you make with no smudges left behind! Plus, with the Procreate app I use, you can make really cool time lapse videos of your entire process. If you look closely, you'll notice that I pasted in temporary reference images for faces, hair, clothing folds, hands, and of course, the dragon. Check out the 60 second time lapse video:



And here's the completed digital art "Introduction":




I hope you enjoyed a sneak peek behind the curtain. I'm off to draw and write some more. Until next time, don't forget to feed your imagination!


All the Best,


Shelly

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