Thursday, October 16, 2014

East of the Sun and West of the Moon gets Photoshopped

I started up a project on a whim a while back--putting an old, rough drawing into the computer and adding linework and color digitally. A long while back, I had edited the drawing in Photoshop, just cleaning up the linework. Here's the original pencil drawing that I used as a base (just a little sketch):

The reason I started the project was because I wanted to get some more practice in Photoshop. I'd also really been wanting to add color to the edited version, which I had been using for my avatar for one of my Tumblr blogs, because the black and white version was just kind of...meh. I wanted a more exciting avatar.

It's been an incredibly fun project! And a welcome avenue for procrastinating from doing schoolwork. (Hey, at least it's more productive than scrolling through Pinterest or Tumblr.)

Along with itching to give a new face to that old drawing, I also wanted to try my hand at a different approach to my style for illustrating East of the Sun and West of the Moon. Kind of getting back in touch with the integrity of my original drawing, which planted the seed for the idea of creating a children's book for EotS, and which had a flatter, more stylized (and a little art nouveau) feeling than my other illustrations of the tale have had. But with the addition of over four years' more experience, and with a more forgiving medium than colored pencil.
For reference, here's a detail from my first East of the Sun and West of the Moon drawing, from 2010:

The fun advantage of digital art: you have an unlimited ability to play with the painting.
I actually wound up playing with it too much, and had to backtrack at least twice to a previously saved version. So I lost some hours with that effort, but I'm grateful; I feel like I learned something valuable about when to make major changes, how far to go with a drawing, and when to just step away. As well as when to keep fighting when you aren't satisfied.

Photoshop became much more comfortable to me painting this. Unlike the fuzzy, airbrushed quality of my Enchanted Wreath illustration, which was one of my first serious creations in Photoshop, this project actually started to feel like paint to me. I even drew upon some of the principles I've learned with oil painting.

So here are some in-progress pictures of the project:

The black and white drawing, edited a wee bit in Photoshop.

The very rough beginning. I did create a layer of flat colors initially so that I could grab specific areas, but I abandoned those pretty quickly. I also applied gradients on a new layer to rough in the color before I progressed with the coloring.

Getting some more linework done. Throughout the project, I jumped back and forth between editing the linework (which was on the top layer, separate from the colors. Adding color underneath it was somewhat akin to filling in the shapes in a coloring book) and playing with color and shading. It probably would have been more practical for me to get the linework at least somewhat established before going crazy with the color, but I was eager to get some color in there (it adds so much to a painting), and whenever I got sick of erasing and redrawing the black lines, I had something else to occupy myself with.

Starting to look a lot more like the character I had in mind here, I tried to capture a bit of a fierce expression. This is a very similar scene to that of my first EotS drawing, one of my favorite moments of the tale, and I think one of its crowning themes. She makes a mistake and loses her loved one, and travels to all the corners of the earth to find him again. There's absolutely no guarantee that she'll be able to find him, or rescue him; he told her himself that it's impossible to find him where he's going: a castle that lies east of the sun and west of the moon.

There's Czechoslovakian variant of this tale called Twelve Iron Sandals, where the girl wears through (you guessed it) twelve iron sandals in her journey seeking the prince, and I just love that element. It takes me long enough just to wear through a pair of flip-flops! But anyway, that's a big part of what draws me to the tale, this idea of a girl going through so much, on a seemingly hopeless quest, all for love. It's a fascinating moment for me to attempt to capture: Lassie, looking out at this lonely world with only the wind to accompany her, very likely scared but unwilling to admit it, determined and resolute. This girl gets stuff done.
The scene doesn't tell you much about the actual events of the story, but it does (hopefully) show something of the lassie's character.

At this point, I mostly felt like I needed to refine the linework and the lights and darks.

...but the next time I started working on it, I decided to experiment instead. I attempted to take out the linework for the background, which I felt might be getting to be too busy. And I started drifting all over the place, being reckless because I could get away with it.

This was one of the versions I had to back up on. Her eye and eyebrow did start to look a little more emotional (except, distractingly, she looks like she's got smudgy brown eyeliner on her undereye), and I liked its vibrancy, but for the most part I felt like the whole thing was derailing. I realized very quickly that I would be better off starting fresh if I wanted to make these kind of major changes. And, really, I was happy with how the previous version was developing.

So here it is, post-backtracking, and looking more refined. I got smart and did some more zooming out while working on this version, to see what looked wrong from farther away. I didn't want it to look too busy when viewed at a smaller size. And I wanted to get more sweeping, vibrant motions with the light areas.

I like to think of this style as inspired by stained glass. Not so rigid as some of the stained glass artworks I've seen, perhaps, but I like using a flat style which seems illuminated--not like it's being lit from the front, but as if the areas of color themselves have this glow to them. Keeping that in mind, the texture also has a slight ripple to it and is not entirely smooth. So, so much fun to paint.

Thinking back to how epic this moment is for me, I tried to charge the picture with a little more emotion, going back in and working on her face a ton. As well as really knocking in those lights and darks to give it some glow.

And now, at last, here is the final version! It was hard work, taking a lot of time, effort, enthusiasm, and prayers, but I'm really happy with it. It's been a great experience, I'm getting more used to Photoshop, plus just having fun exploring my style and giving tribute to fairy tales.

Oh, and just so you know, all my work in Photoshop was done using a mouse. :)


  1. I'm loving the depth and texture of this one...

    1. Thanks, Joni! :D I'm wondering now if I didn't go a little too OCD over it, but it was such a blast to work on.