Making Of 'What a Shame'

Hello, I'm Sara Biddle. I'm a 23 year-old, self-taught digital painter. In this "Making Of" article, I'd like to walk you through the steps in the creation of my image "What a Shame" and share with you some of my thoughts and ideas along the way.

It all started when I found a story outline that I had written previously, hidden away in an unused desk drawer. The story consisted of a girl who had everything she could ever ask for in life. Despite the warning words of others, the temptation of her father's occult obsession led her in the wrong direction, which ultimately brought about her demise. I decided I wanted to capture that moment of guilt she must have faced. I immediately started brainstorming ideas and elements that could bring the painting together. The result was the idea of a seemingly innocent young girl in a white dress with tarot-type cards spilled out on the floor around her.

I began by scribbling out a few simple sketches on paper to get a feel for the subject and to experiment with different poses and ideas. After a few random tests, I found a direction that I really liked and quickly began blocking in shapes and colours with a simple hard-edged round brush in Photoshop. I found flesh coloured tones blended with deep reds and browns to be an appealing colour palette for the image (Fig.01).

Fig. 01_base_painting

Fig. 01_base_painting

For anatomy and lighting reference, I always keep a mirror and a flashlight close to my desk. Though looking back and forth in a mirror is a bit more tedious than snapping a photograph, I find that I learn much more and study closer with this method. After studying my own posture for a while, I decided to change her posture from the original sketch, positioning her more upright and straightforward in hopes that this would make her seem more alert and aware. For the skin, I selected many variating colours of orange and pink and blended them with a spackled brush set to very low opacity. For areas where the skin is thinner, such as the hand and the chest, I lightly brushed in veins using a light ultramarine shade of blue to give the impression of transparency (Fig.02).

Fig. 02_lighlty_veins_tones

Fig. 02_lighlty_veins_tones

I also changed the dress to give a variance in colour. At first I had my heart set on a white dress but the beautiful plum colour really caught my attention against the natural colour palette and I was unable to part with it!

To me, the face and expression are extremely important to the overall look and impression of an image, and so I devote a lot of extra time and care to creating and detailing faces. For this image, I chose to give the character beautiful wide eyes, each a different colour - one a sky blue, the other a mossy green. I felt this would add to the uniqueness of her character and perhaps symbolize how their are two sides to her personality. For the expression, I attempted to give her a look of guilt, mixed with callousness and fear. I painted in the face detail with a custom textured round brush set to low opacity (around 10% or less)(Fig.03).

Fig. 03_face_details_custom_brush

Fig. 03_face_details_custom_brush

For help with the dress, I took two regular sleeping pillows and stuffed them into one of my old skirts, giving the skirt shape and the illusion of legs folded underneath. I set up an area in my workspace on the floor and used the skirt dummy as study reference for the dress form and folds. I shaded the skirt in hues ranging from light desaturated pink to a lavender-gray, lightly mixing in colours from the background in different areas to bring things together (Fig.04).

Fig. 04_clothing_details

Fig. 04_clothing_details

I'm very fond of creating different custom brushes, both for beautiful texture and to speed up workflow. For the lace, I created a custom brush resembling a swirly lace-like pattern and use it as a stamp around the edges of the dress, rotating it to conform to the angle of the dress hem (Fig.03).

Now that the image was nearing completion, I took the opportunity to add in more details. Using a small round brush, I painted in details of a tattoo on her right forearm and the various types of jewellery. For the beads, I set a regular hard round brush's spacing to 100% to create a bead-like line brush. I dragged it across her left hand and forearm dropping low occasionally to create a loose draping effect (Fig.05).

Fig. 05_adding_tattoos

Fig. 05_adding_tattoos

And now, the final step: the cards! I wanted the cards to resemble tarot cards and be scattered on the dress and floor around her like they had been carelessly thrown about. To create the cards, I first drew out a few images on paper and scanned them into Photoshop for painting. Afterwards, I inserted the cards into the image and used the Free Transform feature to distort the cards, making them appear angled. The card she's holding sports a demonic being, symbolizing her fate. The others include a goddess with a child and a snake with a sword. These extra cards surrounding her have no meaning in the story, they're just for looks. (Plus I really enjoyed making them!) (Fig.06).

Fig. 06_card_details

Fig. 06_card_details

By finishing this image, I feel like I've created the image that I imagined originally, and I'm really happy with the way it turned out (Fig.07).

Fig. 07

Fig. 07

To see more by Sara Biddle, check out Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop Elements

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