Need some help with how to paint a character that is a memory (idk how else to word it)

  • So I am working on a piece right now, and am trying t find good references of scenes which depict a visible memory. I have tried doing the transparent thing, but the character ends up looking like a ghost, and all of the images I look through on pinterest aren’t of much help. Any ideas from movies or illustrations you’ve seen would be helpful.

  • Moderator

    @eric-castleman All I can think of is separating the memory subject from the reality with a bubble or frame if you don’t want to go transparent. Hope this helps. Good luck! 😬

  • @eric-castleman Maybe a good way to depict the memory would be to have it be black and white--or memory on color and the other illustrations in black and white--so that there would be a visual mark of distinction between the now and the past. It's an interesting concept. I would love to see how you make it work!

  • These are examples that I immediately thought of. Different medium but the concept is the same.

    In each example, the color palate and rendering of the memory are different enough from that of main image that the audience is aware that the two images aren't in the same plane of reality.


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    This is simply a variation on the @demetrius post above but one of my favorite methods is pulled from Norman Rockwell. Basically he renders the "imaginative" part in a higher key than "reality". Definitely color casts it as well (usually in the old-timey yellow ochre)

  • Wow, such great responses. This has really helped!! I’ll post the image here in a bit.

  • Take a look at the art in "Sandman" by Neil Gaiman, there are several feelings and other abstract concepts represented as characters there.

  • Also, check the art of Peter Mohrbacher, he created several high entities (such as angels and zodiac manifestations) that serve as good example:

  • Am I getting the right vibe here? I still have a ways to go, and other memories to implement, but I think I am on the right track. Any thoughts?


  • SVS Instructor Pro

    This is a nice painting! But before moving forward I would recommend that you clearly explain what you want the viewer to understand is happening in this shot. That way you avoid any recommendations/crits based on misunderstandings.

  • SVS Instructor Pro

    And I just read that you have other memories to implement. That is intriguing but raises some questions. Do you have a tonal sketch you can post? Combined with the example of finished rendering here you should be able to get feedback that is genuinely useful.

  • Perhaps the clouds could carry the image of the memory, or the shadow from the mothers feet. I was trying to research solutions to this for you yesterday but it is a pretty hard thing to do without knowing the whole context. Perhaps looking at silent movies might give you ideas, or scenes in Citizen Kane.

  • SVS OG

    @eric-castleman When I look at this, I'm reading this as: the mother is watching her son drive off for the first time and remembering when he was little on a swing, so if that's what you were going for, I'd say you are headed in the right direction. Your style is so soft in general though that it lessens the contrast between the memory and the rest of the painting so if I didn't know you were trying to depict a memory, I'm not sure I would have gotten it right away. In the illustrations others posted, the palette, saturation, and the value of the memory was very different rom the rest of the painting. It's a beautiful painting but you might have to push the contrast a little more.

  • Thanks everyone for all the input. So I decided I didn't like how that boy was turning out, and am in the process of redoing it. The premise of the piece is that the mother is seeing off her son and memories of him growing up are throughout the piece. However, that might be altered a bit. This is where I get in trouble sometimes; I have a drawing, but not sure on how to execute, and through the process of rendering things force me to alter the design. I also tend to only draw things I somewhat can't draw which forces me to problem solve. So, obviously, the thing I didn't work out in the beginning is the thing causing me issues. I am starting to like where this is going though. I will work more on in later today when I have the time.


  • SVS OG

    @eric-castleman One suggestion may be to desaturate and lower the opacity of the memory elements given how vivid the reality painting is. Also, I think the boy in the car is way too close to the edge of the image. My eyes see mom looking toward the edge and when I find the boy there's such a hard stop right behind him that it feels uncomfortable. I really like the concept and how you've approached it. I hope you can figure out a way to complete it.

  • Before I saw your painting, I thought you might be able to have a person holding a photograph with the memory images surrounding them with kind of a blur effect around each one & less saturated than the main image.

    For this painting, I like the suggestion of putting the memory images in the clouds. You could also change the boy on the swing to an image on a leaf.

    This is a tricky concept, but I like your painting so far! Another idea would be to have several Polaroid-style photos above & around the real-time image, shaped in a somewhat scattered arch with the edges / corners overlapping each other.

  • I love every suggestion here. So many great thoughts and ideas. Atm I want to see what I can do with where I am going with it then post it here. I am willing to scrap what I have done as far as the memory part. I will post tomorrow

  • @eric-castleman Love the coloring! I think the contrast between the two palettes works for the "memory" vibe you're going for.

    Before you explained it, I thought that the kid in the car was doing the "remembering", because he's the one looking at the tree. Maybe he could be looking away?

    Excellent work with such a tricky idea. Looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

  • A few more details are needed, but I think the general gist is readable. I really want to try a few more things, but the mistake I made with this one was to assume that the memories were going to be transparent and that I needed the entire painting done so that the image bled through, however, now I know after hearing from everyone and seeing really references, that the design really needs to be based on the hook more than I assumed.

    I just accepted my first professional job yesterday which is super exciting, but I need to get my butt working on that since the drawings are due in a little over a week. Thanks everyone. Please continue to add to this thread with any thoughts you have, everything has been so helpful.


  • another idea... use an old photo as a framing device and desaturate it to black/white

    alt text

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