Narrative character tutorial: Lady of The Flowers – part 2: composition & planning


This project will be exploring the below text and be made up of a couple of tutorials where we’ll be covering my process for Character Design, Composition, General Techniques, and Foliage. I am using Photoshop and a Wacom Tablet for this project.

“Hedychium densiflorum, known colloquially as the ginger lily, cast its fingers of scent towards the wild copse and winding paths at the edges of the dense, thick wood, hoping to ensnare two would-be delinquents passing through on their way to the Woodsman’s mortared cottage. Trygve and Yrsa, rushing along, sniffed at the air and found themselves, without thought or purpose, turned on their heels. They followed the scent through the dense, thick wood, filling their shoes with mulch and mud; bits of bush and low-grabbing branches painting scratches of red upon their skin.

Where the wood was its densest and the boughs its thickest, it was conversely the brightest with sunlight gushing forth from Night Phlox afire; painting the little house with life sitting quiet and mesmeric. Ivy and lily spindled and woven, into walls and roofs and windows and doors. A porch of roses and splendour, unthorned by the magic of the dweller’s charm. She sat on a swing made of daisies and perennials, and rainbow rhododendrums. A little wave waving at the end of her slender arm, her smile full of teeth. Hair lost to the shadows as dark as them. Her dress of flowers flowing across the blanketed approach, that moved in Trygve and Yrsa’s periphery. Thin snakes all around except for when they looked for them. The lady of the spells rose, as though aided by the wind or the house itself. “Welcome,” she said.”

composition sketching illustrations 2d


As you can see from the references, I want to create a little cottage in the woods that has a sense of charm about it. At this point I’m still undecided of whether the cottage will be made entirely of timber, or if it will be made of a mix of stone and timber. I think both are appealing and would fit the setting nicely and I will likely incorporate design elements from all the cottage references regardless of the materials.

I’m also gathering reference here for the flowers mentioned in the text- Night Phlox, Ginger Lilys, Rhododendrums. As well as some other cottage style flowers I'd like to include.

Things I want to be aware of for this piec: Night Phlox are in full bloom at night, and Ginger Lilys flower towards the end of Summer/Early Autumn. I’m imagining it’s at that point where the flowers are at their fullest but leaves are slowly starting to turn and reds and browns creep in. As I want the Night Phlox to be open the scene will take place either at night or early evening.

reference floral house imagery research

Thumbs and rough design

Here I’m sketching out some rough ideas for the scene. Typically I would sketch a bunch of ideas and then slightly refine the ones I like the most, as I have done with the darker 4 in the bottom right.

At this point I’m not worrying at all about perspective or character poses: these are sketches and they don’t need to be accurate. I find that focusing too much on the technical details this early on interferes with my thought processes and I end up focusing on the wrong things.

Remember, you can create a piece that has perfect perspective but is still not a very good or interesting piece if you focus on the wrong things at the wrong time, so here I am just letting my thoughts flow free. I’m also drawing out of the boundaries with these thumbs as extending the house helps me understand the shape of it a bit better even if I am only going to be showing off a small section.

thumbnails rough drawing sketching illustrations 2d

Color tests

I’ve chosen the two compositions I like the most and am doing some quick and dirty color tests on top of the sketches. This will help me determine which color palettes work best for the piece and help me figure out how i want to approach lighting.

For these I find it’s best to work very small so that you’re looking at the overall feel and colors and not focusing on any details.

digital painting colour design test 2d art


Before I carry on I want to do some very quick sketches for the house design. Personally I am not all that good with architectural pieces as my primary focus tends to be on painting organic things, so having a better understanding of what I’m making or at least a few sketches of ideas will really help me when I come to doing the final piece. As you can see, these don’t need to be anything fancy, they are again just a collection of thoughts.

design choice making composition 2d illustration

Rule of thirds

Now I can start properly looking at composition. I have two thumbs that I liked the most and want to break them down a little bit. I want to vaguely follow the rule of thirds for this piece as I think it does a lot for creating a good and interesting composition.

To use the rule of thirds you basically divide your image into thirds both horizontally and diagonally and place your subject or focal points at either the intersecting lines or along the lines. The gifs below, taken from Wikipedia demonstrate the rule of thirds in action.

As you can see, I've divided my pieces in the same way (pink grid). In both the Lady of The Flowers is positioned in the outer thirds and her head sits directly on one of the horizontal lines which will be one of the major focal points. I’m trying to keep the center block clear, creating a sense of space between her and the approaching characters.

grid illustration rules of thirds drawing guide

Composition 2

Having the foreground characters so much bigger than the Lady of The Flowers creates a triangular shape from them to her. This automatically draws your eye towards her. To aid this I will make use of her long skirt to further enhance this triangular shape, connecting both the foreground and background characters.

I’m also opting for a lower perspective so that our camera is looking up at her. This creates perspective lines from the architectural beams and surrounds which further lead the viewers’ eyes to her. All lines should lead to her, as she is meant to be alluring and enchanting. I want the viewer to focus fully on her before they even see that there is anything else going on in the piece.

sketching digital painting sketching 2d grid

Some final checks

I do some small color refinements using my preferred color palettes as a final check before selecting my final composition. I do like them both but I think that the composition on the left is going to work better. This is because I want the piece to be about the Lady of The Flowers and this allows me to use more space to portray her while the other composition focuses largely on the surrounding environment.

final checks colour refinements palettes 2d art

Selected composition breakdown

Here you can see how the rule of thirds is being applied and also where my focal points are.

eye flow composition breakdown rule of third

Color palette

As a final planning step before I get started I am highlighting the color palette I want to use. I will use this as a reference throughout.

colour palette swatches experimentation 2d art

Final groundwork

Before starting on the actual illustration I do some line work and a slightly more refined color sketch to make sure I am happy with what I’ve got planned. As with all previous planning this can be quite rough, but unlike before, perspective and all that matters a lot now. Here I want to make sure I've got it all right before getting stuck in the details as it’s much harder to tweak and adjust things later on, especially when there's some structural or architectural material involved.

In my next tutorial I'll be taking a look at painting foliage and some other technical details as I work through completing this image.

finalising composition floral illustration 2d mock-up

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