the following text contains some NSFW images.
The original Black Sorceress
piece was commissioned by the Japanese company for a mobile card game set in Bahamut series. These mobile games are extremely popular in Asia (and other countries too!) due to addictive gameplay and relatively low production cost. Because they focusing on playing/collecting cards mainly, there is an ever-growing demand for artists to do all those illustrations that players will see in-game. Each company has a certain set of rules on what they can and can't show on their cards. Asian developers are usually more flexible, so sometimes their titles have been toned down for western market release.
For my personal version I didn't want to replicate the existing piece, as it leads only to a technical exercise. Therefore, my first challenge was to find an idea for the new look and feel for the sorceress. Well, sometimes I do have a clear picture in my mind right off the bat, but sometimes it's just a vague feeling. I knew I need a strong, grown-up woman with feminine charm. I feel I need to portray her sexy and seductive appearance in a subtle way. This means no weird, twisted poses you see in today’s game illustrations and fan arts. But besides these thoughts I didn't have any picture(s) in my mind.
To kickstart my imagination I flip through the collection of reference images until something hooks me in. It could be anything from the facial expression of some random character up to the abstract bits and pieces. And by reference images I mean all kind of images: from Kill la Kill anime stills to Renaissance paintings. Comparing to smoking weeds and consuming alcohol (I believe this is how some people came up with their crazy ideas
), this wouldn't ruin your health and affect your productivity in the long run.
Note, if you found something (a photo or a painting) that looks just like you think what you need - use it. Put it right next to your drawing, paint over it or even trace it. Unless you're doing studies, chances are that your work will need further modifications anyway. And by using the existing sources you're saving time, quickly checking if this idea works or not. By the way, this is where photobashing came from - you don't want to spend half a week painting rocks or trees for your concepts. Here people would debate if it's legit or not, but consider this -- If you rely too much on tracing or photobashing, at some point it will limit the way you think, draw and paint. Instead of choosing breathtaking angles or interesting composition, you'll stick to familiar shapes and angles over and over. This may not be an issue if you're happy with your stuff and it helps to pay the bills. But when a creative crisis hits you, you'll need to overcome these habits in order to reach new heights.
Once I’m tuned in I start sketching, trying to express what I saw in the references and what I have in my mind. Usually I don't worry about quality at this stage, because nobody will see these scribbles anyway. This is how my first approach look like:
If you paint all the time, your scribbles would be much better and precise, but if you had a long break or work irregularly don’t expect miracles. It takes a while to brush up your rusted skills.
I sketch over the white canvas with simple round/angular brushes and light blues. You can use whatever colors and brushes you like and feel comfortable with. There are many brush sets available online, so try what works for you. Usually I'm sketching in a separate layer, adding new layers on top of each other for every major step or revision. This is a non-destructive way of working, where you add a new pose or element without erasing your previous steps. Just knock down the opacity for previous layers and work in a new one. Of course, I use eraser if something isn't right. In my previous example you can see two passes done in a similar fashion.
In a few more steps, the sorceress' pose and look starting to take shape. As you can see, it's relatively simple, as I don't want her body to literally scream with sexiness:
I really like her top but her legs were still questionable. If I'm not sure about something, I usually use big brushes with broad strokes to lay out volumes and masses first. I knew the shape and position of her legs would play a major role for her overall look and character appearance. Surprisingly I couldn't find anything usable in my reference library or online. Only old pin-ups (see Gil Elvgren for example) and photos (check Betty Page) were close but not close enough. Fortunately, these days you have many tools available if the reference library fails you.
I didn't have a wooden doll, so I used digital one to set up the pose. There are Poser, DAZ Studio, DesignDoll, XNALara and other software allowing you to experiment with digital characters. Of course you can model your own characters and do your own rigging in Max, Maya etc. if you have enough time and proper skills. Comparing to physical objects, virtual dolls have tricky controls that may drive you nuts, even if you're familiar with character rigging. Therefore, I didn't bother about perfect match and just focus on blocking the basic body parts. All I need is joints and body parts position. Keep in mind that these tools will only give you a foundation instead of accurate reference. So just like in the photo reference's case - use it, but be aware of its limitations.
For the sorceress' hand I quickly snap a reference using bathroom’s mirror and my smartphone (see, these aren’t for naughty selfies only!
). I didn't send photo to my workstation, instead I look at smartphone screen while painting. Very handy actually! Another way is to put a mirror near your workplace and look at it while painting. Animators do it all the time to study facial expressions as well as some illustrators.
Using these methods I created a clean pass of the sorceress, fixing anatomy and refining details. This isn't a lineart you see in comics, just a more refined version done with the same rounded brushes. Simultaneously using soft brushes I put a bit of shading here and there to define the forms:
At this point I've got an idea that it could be a pinup cover for Sorceress swimsuit special (Fairy Tail anyone?) fictional magazine. Her pose and gesture suggests she's sitting on the beach, brushing her wet hair or doing something else. I quickly put some sort of swimsuit and consider my preliminary work complete.
A few days later I realized that her legs aren't good enough in terms of posing. I need more expressive and playful curves, so I repaint her lower body completely. I also fixed additional issues like head size or belly button position and added more hair strands behind her back. At this point the body structure is refined and the next step is to design an outfit and add some environment.
A quick note on nudity. Actually, you don’t need such refined body structure if your character will wear layers of clothing or armor pieces. It just not practical. All you need is correct joints positions and body parts length (unless you’re doing cartoon/deformed character, but that’s another story). In my case, I knew it would be either a swimsuit piece or some equally sensual outfit, so I spent more time on her anatomy.
Well this is the conclusion of part 1 on preliminary drawing. Hope it was fun and maybe you learned a thing or two.
Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!