Making Of 'Hateful Draft'

Created In: Photoshop

Step 1

Generally, I like to start out with a sketch, but for this piece I had the confidence and vision to head straight into the painting stage.  I knew I wanted a dark image, so I flooded the canvas with a dark tone that I could build upon.  Using Photoshop's Airbrush tool, I started slapping on simple light to give shape to the face that I planned on painting.  I kept it very loose, not worrying about the anatomy.  My goal for this stage was to find an appropriate angle for the mood I wanted.  I knew the eye would be the focus of the piece, so I used the lighting to spotlight the attribute.  Throughout the process of this stage, I was coming up with scenarios, events and moods that would be the driving force behind the piece, imagining what has led her to her current state and what must be going through her mind (Fig01).

Fig.

Fig.

Step 2

After I had an angle that I was satisfied with, I started defining the anatomy a little to give her a bit more shape; I wasn't to critical because I knew that most of the face would be hidden, but I wanted it to be accurate enough so that I wouldn't have to guess later on as to where things were.  I started adding in colours and making judgments as to what colours would suit the goal of the piece.  I also wanted to make sure that the eye would stand out from the rest of the face.  I chose to give the eye a rotting theme, using yellows and reds, and to emphasise it further I used a pale blue for the rest of her face.  I wanted to give her a sickly look as well, so I tinted her nose to give it the feeling of sourness. 
In this stage, I was focusing on the physical aspects such as the anatomy, and more importantly how to make the image both disturbing and captivating at the same time.  It's easy to just be blatantly gruesome, but it takes a lot more work to make her truly disturbing.  I had to figure out what would make the piece uncomfortable to look at, which is partly why I chose the eye because it is a very sensitive organ and any sort of damage to it tends to make people uneasy (Fig02).

Fig.

Fig.

Step 3

Next I added the hair.  I wanted to get it in early enough so that I would have an idea of what sort of skin surface would be visible.  With the hair in place, I could start to refine the visible areas and really get into the rendering.  I liked the roughness of the second stage, but ultimately decided to go for a smoother look.  I adjusted the colours surrounding her eye to give it a bit more of a fleshy feel.  I also started working more on the eye itself; I knew her iris would be a blue hue to contrast the reds around it, but I wasn't sure how I would be rendering it, just yet. 
At this stage, I also started considering what would be covering her lower face.  Originally I planned on hair but wanted something a bit more creative.  The contrasting themes also started to make themselves present.  She was beautiful yet repulsive; she drew you in and at the same time pushed you away.  As I progressed I tried building on these themes further (Fig03).

Fig.

Fig.

Step 4

This stage was all about the eye.  The position was a bit off so I had to move it up before starting the detail work.  Once that was done I continued to render, focusing on bringing her skin to life, whilst still keeping the odd tones.  I added wrinkles and flaws to give personality, and fine-tuned the colours.  I decided to give her bloodshot eyes to frame the iris, and made my final decisions on the hues.  I wanted it similar in colour of the skin, but slightly off, making it stand out as much as possible.  Lastly, I began work on the wet, glazed look, but kept it to a minimum for the time being (Fig04).

Fig.

Fig.

Step 5

Last step: I finished up all the finest details, such as the bumps and pores on the skin.  This was done by simply dabbing the brush repetitively over the surface.  I could have used a custom brush, but decided to take the long road that gave me more control.  Next I added in the "stars" of the piece: the flies.  When you see flies around something it usually means it's dead or rotting, so I felt these were critical for the success of the piece.  I also knew that it would most likely cause a reaction with the viewer.  The concept came from a rotting fish that I had dragged off my shore line (thanks, rotting fish!).

Next came the veil.  I wanted it to look slightly used, but I didn't want it to be so fallen apart that it would detract from the eye.  I carefully decided to place a rip, and gold lacing to give the viewer a break to wander around a bit within the piece.  If there was nothing else to look at, the viewer would see the eye and move on, so I wanted to create a simple triangle to move around in.  After the veil was in place, I made my last adjustments and streamed in the last bits of hair.  The very last step was to crop her and give the piece its title: "Hateful Draft" (Fig05).

Fig. 05 - Final Image

To see more by James Wolf Strehle, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 8
and Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection

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