Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Enchanted Wreath

The Enchanted Wreath by Kelsey Hamersley. May 2014. Traditional inks colored digitally in Photoshop.

This project followed a similar construction process to my previous Tangled screenshot project, which was created for the same class. Our last assignment for the class, Rendering Techniques, gave us some freedom in selection and subject matter; we were supposed to work digitally, but could choose Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator.

I found Photoshop to be better suited to my style (I'm a big fan of linework, and Illustrator was more about shape, plus I liked being able to work out the main drawing by hand, as that's my strong suit) so that's what I went for. Instead of copying a pencil drawing and inking over it, I drew a rough pencil sketch and did all of the inking on tracing paper. It was a little painful for me putting hours of work into such a poor surface, but I liked drawing over pencil through the tracing paper better than drawing over a copied pencil sketch. I felt more free stray from the path and experiment and less like I was tracing and had to get every line right. I was also inspired by Tony DiTerlizzi's drawing process (see for example) and wanted to try a similar method out for myself.

The original ink drawing, scanned into the computer:

If you compare the ink with the final, you can see that I did make some changes with the inks once I put the drawing in Photoshop. I mostly edited her face and lightened some sections in her hair. The pressing deadline kept me from getting too nitpicky. Her irises were mostly black in the ink drawing, but I wanted them lighter, so I ended up redoing her eyes quite a bit. From far away, I actually like the rounder look in the ink version better, but I think the digital version makes more sense up close. I also fixed her mouth, which was kind of lopsided to start with.

I flatted the colors before I started on the shading--basically, underneath the ink layer I filled in all of the areas with flat colors, no highlights or shading. 

Not very pretty, but the advantage is, when doing the highlighting and the shading on different parts of the drawing, you can select the areas you've flatted using the magic wand, go to a separate layer, and then highlight and shade without worrying about spilling over onto the other sections. I questioned my judgment in flatting it when I began the project, because it was tedious and took up a lot of time, but it made my life easier later on in the painting. 

I scanned the ink drawing in at 300 dpi, which is pretty standard, but regretted not using a larger resolution when I started working on the face. The face is so small in this composition that the ink lines were pixelated when I zoomed in. Unfortunately, I had made a lot of headway into filling in the flats before I realized this was an issue, and I didn't want to go back and start from scratch again at that point. That was partly why I edited the inks in her face so much, in order to get a cleaner, less flat look.

I did all of the shading and highlighting on separate layers. The Tangled screenshot only had a Flats layer, a Highlights and Shadows layer, and an Ink layer. For The Enchanted Wreath, I had separate layers for the sky, the background trees, background grass, middle ground, foreground, the girl's skin, and her dress. The extra layers helped me keep things separate, but I kept messing up and working on the wrong layer! And then I had to fix it. All this backtracking slowed me down a lot, and I had to feel my way around to find the fastest solution, figuring out if it was possible to preserve the work I'd done so far while preserving the integrity of my layers. I really wished I was more experienced with Photoshop and had more tricks at my disposal. If I had been doing this for myself, I probably would have ignored it and moved on with the project, but because it was a school project and I knew my teacher would be looking at all of the layers, I wanted to keep things as neat as possible. Color me perfectionist.

Moving on to the actual subject matter... This was based off of the fairy tale The Enchanted Wreath. (See my Pinterest board for it here.) I was going for a Scandinavian vibe, with her hair and dress, and also spent way too much time on Google looking up Scandinavian axes. The fairy tale itself is lesser-known, from the Orange Fairy Book, and it features talking birds, a wicked stepmother and stepsister, and a strange enchantment--and, of course, an enchanted wreath. At the beginning of the tale, the heroine's father leaves his ax in the woods and sends her to go find it. I never thought I'd draw a girl hefting an ax before, but I had my reasons. (Coincidentally, my digital Tangled drawing shows Mother Gothel brandishing a dagger...and I've never been one to draw weapons before this. Apparently this class turned my thoughts to violence and weaponry!)

The pose is pretty static, as well as the composition, with the figure placed in the center, which was a risky choice for me to make. But the mood turned out pretty closely to what I was going for, which was something of a portrait of the character, stylized, and art nouveau, not quite an illustration. Really, I was thinking of stained glass windows. I'm extremely drawn to that look, with the bold black lines framing the image and the colors looking as if they have an inward glow, as if they're illuminated. The color and shading didn't turn out quite the way I expected, working digitally (I'd been hoping for some nice, rich colors), but I still had a blast with it. And I loved having the trees frame the girl. I also let myself have some fun stylizing the trees and the ground and such, to make it a little more decorative and a little less realistic.  

I am kicking myself a little, however, for using a similar approach for my Illustration Techniques class, where I painted the Snow Queen. I'm thrilled with how both of these projects came out, but I think that if I'd spent a little more time working out the composition, focusing on the visual interest, and making the poses less underwhelming, that investment would have paid off later on in the paintings. My problem with both projects, especially under the time constraint, was that when I landed on that spark of idea, I got excited and wanted to jump right into the project before I lost my inspiration--when what I really needed to be doing was developing that idea further beforehand. As I got farther into the project, the flaws in composition became more apparent to me and I realized I should have taken more consideration before jumping in, but at that point it was difficult to back out on the direction I'd chosen. I'm always eager to start on the fun stuff, but the composition really is the foundation of the piece; everything in the drawing is built off of it, so in future I really need to give it the attention it deserves.

My original doodle, which started the whole idea:


  1. I think this is lovely! The excessive (in a good way) line art and the shadowing give this piece a very "Grimm" look that brings out the flavor of the content.

    Doing line-art in pen and then coloring in PS is one of my favorite methods! But I also know what you mean when you talk about wishing you understood more of the program. I haven't taken any classes and have learned through tutorials & trial/error. Even after years with the program it was only last month that I discovered a setting that made one part of my coloring process SO MUCH EASIER. But hey, at least I know now…

    When you talked about your teacher looking at all the layers it reminded me of how "serious" embroiders try to keep the back of their work as neat as the front. I use layers A LOT and I have to admit, some of the ones in the back tend to be a little messy, with pieces hidden behind other pieces…

    I really like the way your cropped the image around the trees and how the forest pulls back, drawing the viewer into the scene. Great work. ^^

    1. Thanks! Haha, I had *so* much fun going over the top with the line art!

      It's a little painful getting going with working in Photoshop right now; I'm intimidated by everything I don't know, knowing it's going to take a lot of practice to get proficient. But there are aspects of the program that really come in handy. I'm loving getting to go back and color some of my old line drawings. :D

      Yes, much like embroidery, it's more important that the front look neat than the back layers. It's so easy to get the layers confused, I haven't settled on a method that works best for me, using only a few or using a bunch of them. But it made me feel better when my teacher gave demos of painting in Photoshop and would wind up the wrong layer sometimes--and he's had, I think 15 years' experience using Photoshop. So, it happens!

      Thanks again! ^_^

  2. Wow, another truly enchanting one :) You are so talented!

  3. Another beautiful piece of artwork! I love all of the depth and interest you added with the photoshop. The highlighting makes her fabulous!