I usually start with a really rough and simple sketch, about 4" x 5", to establish the basic composition. This picture was no different.
In the story the girl is fleeing into the night from a terrible situation at home. Her castle, her former home looms in the darkness behind her, as she follows a winding path lit only by the lanterns on her wagon. Her sheep, her sole companion, guides the way.
I then did a tighter drawing, and laid in some very rough colors to establish the mood and basic lighting.
For reference at this point I look at lots of pictures of old wagons and carts, and different kinds of sheep. I try to fill my head with as much imagery as possible, then I am free to create without looking at pictures.
After some experimentation I decided to go with just one lantern. This created more dramatic shadows, and a stronger focal point. I spent a fair amount of time redrawing the wagon a little more carefully. The way it tilts to one side and negotiates the turn, and the coming hill, were important dynamics to get right before painting.
Using an opaque brush in Painter (IX) I lay in some opaque colors, and start to suggest the grass texture. With a clear idea in my mind of how the light illuminates the scene, I quickly get the basic value relationships and shapes in place.
The sketch is still visible as a multiply layer over the painting layer.
I typically begin the real painting work on the largest areas of the picture, because that gives me a solid environment or context in which to fit the rest of the imagery. The grass was a little challenging to get right, so I used separate layers for a few steps of the process (which I rarely do). The sky and road helped establish the purplish ambient light. I experimented with a greater degree of saturation, but pulled back a bit from a really strong purple.
I also moved the castle to the opposite side of the girl because I felt it strengthened the composition.
Here I hide the sketch layer and switch over to just the painting layer. The sheep is the first area of detail I begin to work on.
I also add an effects layer for the lantern halo and some texturing over much of the background. This is just a composite of a whole bunch of old paintings, basically creating an abstract texture pattern, then added as an overlay layer.
Now the painting is firmly established, and I work over all the areas of detail bit by bit.
It takes a bit of playing around to get the lighting on the sheep just right - its not receiving much direct light from the lantern, but it's also fairly light, so needs to pick up a fair amount of ambient light from the sky and moon.
The girl is also roughed in pretty quickly here.
Also see the close up of the girl, below, for a more detailed walk through of the process used to paint the girl.
As for "style" I set out very deliberately to return to a smeary wet look, as in The Girl in the Iron Shoes. I also work with bristle brushes (in Painter), which for me makes executing a painting much quicker, but the look is consequently a little "scratchy." So for this picture I stuck with a basic round brush, with lots of bleed. The only real variation is sometimes I drop the grain a bit, for some texture, and occasionally squeeze the brush shape into an ellipse for things like the blades of grass.
The girl's face and dress are tightened up a bit more. The sheep didn't feel like he was pulling as much as he should be on that hill, so I tilt his head down a bit. Also see the close up of the sheep, below, for a more detailed walk through of the process of painting the sheep.
At this point I decided the castle really wasn't a powerful enough component of the imagery, so I redid the whole thing. I did a whole new sketch, then laid in the basic colors and shapes.
Also see the close up of the castle, below, for more detailed information on painting the castle.
Here I add some detail to the line of trees, and give a little tilt to the castle (one more great thing about digital painting!).
Finally I decide that the lantern isn't quite working. I wanted the shape to be rounder and "cuter," and also to put a little more effort into the light rays coming from it.
A few more color and value adjustments, and I'm done.
Close up - Girl
This is the pencil rough as a multiply layer, laid over the basic underpainting for the girl. All that's important at this stage is to get a rough idea of the value relationships, and to a certain extent the colors.
When I'm ready to really start painting the figure, I get rid of the sketch layer and lay in the brightly lit areas as well as the really dark darks (the crevasses and crannies that get almost no light). As you can see, this is done very quickly. Normally I'm still working at about 25% zoom level.
Here I start to tackle some of the details of the face. I'm going for a kind of stunned fear, almost a blank stare, and it takes a few tries to get it right.
There is a lot going on in terms of the colors in the costume, with several different light sources hitting it, so at this point I do some experimenting with various reds, oranges, yellows and pinks. The lantern light is sort of an "equalizer," pulling everything it hits toward a warm saturated color (yellow / orange). But at the same time, the various "local colors" of the objects in the scene need to differentiate themselves from one another.
The human eye is much more sensitive to variations in hue and saturation in this area of the spectrum, so some of these color shifts are really minute, yet the dress, face and cushion still read as very different colored objects.
Still working on that facial expression, I add more detail to the facial features, and try to maintain that wide eyed expression in the process. I also paint in the light and shadow on the cushion, to help frame the girl. Then I rough in a headband or something (at this point I'm not sure exactly what it's going to be, but I wanted to round out the form of her head a bit, and also make her costume a little more "royal" looking).
I think the face is looking pretty good here. It's still pretty loose - you can see the separate color shapes pretty clearly, but that's how I like it. Also, even printed at full size (8" x 10"at 300dpi), a lot of the detail is hidden, so it's usually a waste of time to work in a lot of detail at 100% zoom.
Now on to the dress. I just continue to refine the basic shapes laid in initially. Sometimes I smear around the shapes that are already there, making rough oval shapes pointed or triangular, etc. - whatever is needed to carve out the forms. I also subdivide shapes and add finer wrinkles to the dress here and there. This part is fun!
I gently bring in a secondary light on the girl's right sleeve (on our left), and refine the trim on the dress a little. The dark gray / black band running down the front of the dress is almost completely washed away by the saturated light, making it appear like a dull yellow orange.
A few highlights in the hair, some detail to the headband, and I decide to leave it at that!
Close up - Sheep
This is the pencil rough of the sheep on a multiply layer, laid over the roughed in color. I typically paint on one layer, so I can smear and bleed the edges of the different objects together. You can see here how I let the grass enter pretty far into the sheep's area. That's because with a texture like that, you can't really go back and paint it right up to the sheep (at least it's not easy...). So I paint the grass first, then the sheep on top. If I paint over some grass and need to get it back later, I just open an earlier save and paste it back in, then erase around it with a layer mask and merge down. Because of how Painter's bleed and resaturation controls work, you really need to paint on a single layer to get this particular wet, smeary look.
I know it's going to take a bit of work to get the sheep right. It's not just a question of figuring out how it's "supposed to look" in the given lighting conditions - it's also about what kind of a role I want it to play in the picture. I don't want the sheep to be too bright or white, or it will draw too much attention to itself. It needs to frame the lower corner of the picture, but also lead off the page as well.
The lantern is making a narrow edge light on the back of the sheep, but the sky is also illuminating the sheep from above. At this point I make my first pass at a basic wool texture and rough in the colors and values.
Here I darken the sheep a bit, and make the light on his back a bit more saturated. Then I add some detail to his harness. The lantern light hits the back of his ear, which is very thin, so it appears to glow with some pretty saturated oranges and reds.
When I should be done... I decide to tilt the sheep's head down and completely change his stance, for more forward thrust. It was a bit tricky to settle on a stance that would also produce the particular shadow shapes I wanted.
A lot of beginning artists think this process is about deciding on a pose and picture arrangement, then just figuring out how the lighting and shadows would look for those conditions. But really it is a back and forth process of establishing poses and arrangements of lighting and objects in the scene that are going to produce the two-dimensional shapes you want for the compositional impact you are after.
Close up - Castle
When I first painted the castle I wasn't expecting it to play quite such an important role in the scene. But as it turned out the castle needed a bit more attention than I originally devoted to it.
With all my architectural and costume designs, I try to stick pretty close to historical authenticity, with just a touch of the fantastic to create the sense of an alternate time and place. I think it's important that the imagery remain very accessible (at least for my pictures) so I don't let things get too far fetched.
For this castle I found some pretty good reference material to get me started. Usually I assimilate a lot of different reference material then produce my own imagery from my head, but at this late stage I needed something a bit more concrete.
First I did a quick pencil sketch to establish the basic form and perspective.
I then laid some basic colors under the pencil sketch (which was on a multiply layer).
It didn't take long to work in the necessary details to bring this castle to life. As usual, I keep it pretty loose and smeary.
Finally I decide to tilt the castle a bit to better support the flow of the composition (gotta love digital), adjust the colors, and I'm done.