Making Of 'Discovering a Muse'
Muse was created for a competition called "Discover a Muse". The brief for the competition was to use the model Veronika Kotlajic as a reference or inspiration, and create an image that embodies the terms strong, independent, and sexy. Firstly, I decided I wanted to use a costume concept from an old painting I did a year ago called "Violet" (Fig.01). I figured this competition would be a good opportunity to reinvent this image in a new light and with a much improved skill set.
Concept & Composition
In adapting my old painting within the boundaries of the competition brief, I wanted to create a new pose and also show her face so we could see some resemblance to the model. I really liked the dress and the mask from my original work, so I was after a pose and perspective that would show off the costume whilst maintaining the sense of strength and sex appeal. The dress was inspired by old Victorian-style dresses with the full skirts and flounces. I exposed her legs and kept the fabric long and flowing down the back, almost like a tail. It's a little more contemporary with a slight burlesque feel to it, which I think fit well within the brief. I thought the addition of a skull or mask would help convey dominance, strength and give off the impression of an alpha female.
The first step was to sketch out a couple of quick drafts to explore the themes I needed to communicate in the painting (Fig.2a - 2b). I decided to go with the first sketch (Fig.2a) because it had a good balance of all the elements I wanted and also incorporated the mask more so than the second draft. The downward perspective was more interesting to me, showed off the flowing design of the dress and gave me adequate room to show her face. The arm posture reminded me of strength and impatience while crossed bare legs illustrated her allure. I also liked the downward spotlight lighting because it isolated the main character by cutting down on distraction from too much background detail.
Refining the Composition
Once my composition was planned out, I drew up a refined line drawing of the main subjects. Afterwards, I went ahead and blocked in the color scheme and the lighting (Fig.03 - 04). At this point I knew that I wanted her dress to remain a deep purple color with a slight satin feel. The purple hue was chosen because it originally reminded me of a bright threat display; similar to various poisonous animals that warn off danger (fitting I thought). Her skin was initially intended to be pale, but since she was positioned amongst cooler surroundings, a warmer skin tone broke up the color temperatures nicely. The flooring was made out of stone consisting of a light green and brown to complement the dominant colors and serve as an afterthought to the main focus of the image.
Technique & Finer Details
As a general rule for myself, I constantly flip my images horizontally back and forth throughout the entire painting process. It helps me get a fresh look at my image and reveals any flaws or imbalances that may show up.
So from here on out I focused on blending the colors and refining the rest of the details. Because I wanted the fabric to have a slightly thicker feel than silk, I blended the shades of the folds (Fig.05a - 05b) using a basic Hard brush with varying levels of Opacity. For the intricate details on the white flounces I designed a custom pattern. Next, I copied and placed my new pattern into the positions that I wanted along the fabric. Using the different Transform tools I experimented with shaping and cutting the design in accordance to the lay of the material. Next I merged all of the separate patterns onto one layer and then made a Clipping Mask layer above it. With the Clipping Mask, it was easier to paint within the designs and blend them in with the folds and shadows of the frills (Fig.06a - 06c).
In Fig.07a - 07c you can see how I continued to blend and refine the skin with the Hard-edge brush with different levels of Opacity. As a final step to blend in the flesh tones I went back over the skin with a Soft brush at a low Opacity to further smooth out my paint strokes. I'm careful not to overuse the Soft brush because I find it sometimes make things appear too plastic-like or fake.
My intention for the mask was to create a balance against the vivid dress. I created some bold circular shapes to help it stand out against the darker background and to create some unity within the design. I also used nice bold highlights to draw the eye upwards into the darkness of the painting (Fig.08a - 08c).
For the floor, I gathered some photo textures of cracked concrete and stone and made some simple texture brushes. Using a Multiply layer and some trial and error, I started applying texture and then erased some areas to break up the repeating cookie-cutter effect. Because adding the texture darkened things a bit, I used an Overlay layer to revitalize the green and brown color and then, using a Screen layer, I reapplied the general lighting. Afterwards it was just a matter of smoothing things out following what I had already painted as a guide. As a final step, I reapplied some more texture with lower Opacity to add that finer detail and then a little more painting on top again to avoid that slapped on texture look (Fig.09a - 09f).
Final Touch Ups
Before I finished up, I made sure to apply all of the final highlights. The next stage for me involved a lot of experimentation, basically trying anything that could help enhance the final image as a whole, including Multiply layers, adjusting levels, Color Balance and Contrast. One of my final touches, for example, was to use a Multiply layer and a Soft brush with low Opacity to darken the rims of the painting to further accentuate the lighting of the piece (Fig.10).
Overall, I was quite happy with how this piece turned out. As a general rule, I try to incorporate things I have never done before in each of my paintings. In this particular artwork, I had never attempted stone or this perspective and as always, fabric and the human figure are a big challenge for me. However, having been self-taught, it's nice to see that my constant practice has paid off over the last year in comparing the final product (Fig.10) to my original (Fig.01).
To see more by Liam Peters, check out Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 5