For those of you who have been following me on here for a while, you know that I work on these images of real children (many who have health and physical challenges). The idea of this ongoing project is to make it look like the kids have found themselves in the land of a fairy tale. I have shared some others in the past including Cinderella and Rapunzel.
One of the most recent pieces I was asked to work on features a young girl (12yo) who fell ill around Thanksgiving only to discover she has a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She has already started undergoing various procedures and treatments but was feeling up to a photoshoot about a week ago. She requested to be Dorothy so they got her the costume and her Mom and Dad stood in as two of the characters we would make hear appear to be arm in arm with (Also she needs there support as the treatments leave her week and she mostly travels via wheelchair right now so she does not fall. Cancer sucks!)
Anyway I wanted to share this project with you as I always see flaws and areas I know I can get better in, but on this one I also see so many improvements over past pieces, all based on tips/tricks I have picked up in the SVS classes, crtiques and forums!
So to start out with here is an example of the type of photo I am provided to work from:
I begin by masking away everything but the young girl and starting to just do the basic sketch elements of where backgrounds and characters may go.
You will see here I was using my shapes to form out the bodies of the other characters - this was part of what had prompted me to realize I should really work on gesture drawings. And while much of that gesture work took place after I had done the sketch for this piece (as I needed to turn this around rather quickly as they wanted to get her copies before her next round of treatments to give out to the medical staff with her autograph on them). But I know for future pieces all of the gesture work I am doing behind the scenes will definitely help me at this stage in the process.
While trying to explore the setting - the client asked me to try the traditional look of all four characters arm in arm skipping along the yellow brick road as shown in version A. They also asked me to have the wizard in the background as if he is waving them good bye and sending them home. A bit of a positive thought that this young girl goes home healthy soon as well.
I had really liked the Scarecrow in this version - he felt light and happy which I enjoyed.
But I also sketched another varation with him off to the side and slightly ahead of the group. Originally he was just waving them on as shown here in version B.
But then when I thought about it more - if they had already been to see the wizard they would have earned their awards from him and that allowed me to change up a few more things as shown in version D.
I changed up the arms on Lion to give him a bit more pep in his step. I removed the Tin Man's axe and had him holding up his new heart. And I put the diploma in the hand of the Scarecrow and also worked in the more animated foot positioning which I liked much better.
The client approved the sketch and I started in on coloring the background first and then worked my way through each of the characters.
You will noticed that I also added the braided hair onto Dorothy (that was a request of the young lady herself - as she had on a hairpiece/cap in the photo but really wanted the full Dorothy look).
It took a while to create the Emerald City, all those spires and individually placed sparkles. I always feel like rocks/mountains/cliffs should be so easy - but I can not tell you how long I spent working on them. I still see samples of others work online that I like more, but I do see significant improvement in these over some I have done in the past. Plus I have completed stopped using black/white for highlights and shadows on anything - I color pick I change the colors/hues and really play around with what will have the most impact. I also like to adjust the layer type to dodge, multiply, overlay and see what sort of impact those may have.
I took my time drawing in the highlights and shadows for each yellow brick, I pulled in color to add shadow towards the edges for a bit of a pop on the road overall.
I really had fun working in soft/subtle clouds into the sky and creating that faint rainbow. I also used some atmosphere in the fields/cliffs in the background to make them lighter and appear further away - something I had not been doing before.
The filed itself has had drawn as well as texture layers applied to give the idea of grass without being literal so it was not overly distracting. Same for the patches of pink/red poppies. I just wanted to suggest they are there not make them a focal point.
I did my best to avoid any/all line work that was not necessary on the characters so they did not look like the traditional 2D animation style I used to use, and that was pointed out as an area I need to work on resolving on here by Lee and at a portfolio review critique at an SCBWI event. And then with the main characters I really tried to make them look different in terms of textures as well. The tin man has hints of rust but still has that smooth metal like surface. The lion is furry etc.
I made some minor changes from the sketch (the Wizard is smaller so as to appear more in scale with the road and distance from the characters.
Oh one other thing I did - I put some blue into their shadows to make it a bit cooler. Before I know I would have done those in some shade of black or gray - so after watching the Marco Bucci videos and him talking about cooler colors for shadows - that is what I am trying to do from now on.
All in all I think this is probably some of my best work to date. Not saying that I still don't wish I was even better than I am now - but I can see I am improving all the time, trying to absorb all the info I can and get better with each new piece I work on.
Areas I am still having a hard time with on each piece I work on:
all of the little details - small face on the wizard where the brush can never get small enough - or I am just zooming in and worrying about it too much. But I also know that these will be turned into 40" prints for display at some point and at that size the WIzard's face will have more impact.
trying not to make everything look soft/airbrushed
worried I may rely on textures too much
worried that while I can recreate scenes/characters that exist already - that I really struggle on coming up with my own designs. Relying on photo references too much in all the work I do.
wondering how you learn to make better paintings - especially on the environment items like mountains, or fields or patches of flowers as I had to do in this piece. I look at samples of work I like but can not yet deconstruct them in my mind to figure out how they reached their end point.