Hello lovely people! I've got an illo that's been sitting unfinished in my WIP folder since...April, and I'm finally at a loss for where to take it.
A bit of background: this was primarily started as a world-building exercise for a friend's novel. She established a major part of her novel's background on a love story between gods; the predominant religion in her story is named after a goddess of love (Uthkima), whose vast well of compassion came from mourning her lover, a god who was killed by other gods and upon whose bones a city was built (Ujake). My friend made a note for me: "In legend his blood is the ocean and his body is the bones of the city." The illustration is really to help me stretch my legs and play with design and narrative and also to help her flesh out her concept by way of me asking an irritating amount of questions.
Unfortunately, I can't show my work as much as I'd want--I was freewheeling in early stages and have done so many little nudges this way and that that it's a weird mess to follow. But I have a few looks that might help show my thoughts.
Initial concept--which, bless Time Machine for letting me fetch:
You can see that I stopped cold between rough sketching and refined lines. My friend suggested black swans as a major motif for them, but all of this felt like such a stiff mess that I got frustrated and had to take a step back, rather than lean heavily on layering and empty ornamentation.
I stripped out a lot of noise and tried to refine the poses into something more elegant and natural-feeling. Success: questionable. Frustration: high. I thought, hmm, maybe I can push it over the edge by working color and value into it, and I really want to work on painting skin, too.
And, naturally, since I haven't fixed the problem at its most basic level, I'm still not all that happy (even though my inner magpie is in love with the gold and vivid color).
Detail shot, because of course I got too zoomed in and played:
There are things I really love about where I am (ornamentation, skin painting, colors, afro-futuristic vibe), but I can't get over how this isn't actually....communicating anything. I would love to impart the sort of visual narrative you see in Caravaggio paintings and classic religious iconography: something celestial and serene, but still emotionally vibrant. Acceptance in mourning, devotion, and love (even doomed love). The only thing I can really think of is illustrating some of Ujake's manner of death (which really translates to me asking my friend lots of questions, because it's a bit vague to me), but that also seems kind of maudlin and like I'd be leaning on cheap tactics.
I do like the flow happening in the top half of the image, but the lower half is fairly unactivated right now:
Maybe the swans from version 1 need to make a bit of a comeback? Or is that me falling back on my worst tendencies to throw the kitchen sink at an illustration? Heck, maybe the answer is to make it vaguely gruesome with blood creeping up their robes. Or throw out half of what I have and rework their poses? Thoughts absolutely welcome, because I'm really just at a loss. I haven't touched this in about a month and I feel like it has potential to be effective narratively, but I can't see the path to get there.
Thank you in advance!