I’m super happy with how it turned out, and I’m really glad I stuck with this piece for so long and rebooted it halfway. Throwing out work isn’t easy, but it’s almost always worth it. I started this back in November-ish and picked at it for a few months and rebooted it at least once.
Let’s go back in time to the earliest WIP I have for this piece:
I feel like I began with a pretty decent idea of what I wanted it to be, but I struggled to get her face right. Left entirely to my own devices, I draw pretty cartoonish faces. I’m trying to stop doing that so much.
Come to think of it, she looked like Barbie here – which wasn’t a terrible thing (Barbie was a beloved part of my childhood, after all 🙂 ) but it wasn’t the look I wanted for Magik.
Once I recognized I wasn’t happy with her face, I did a few <20 min sketches to explore alternatives. This is a good exercise whenever I’m stuck on something or not liking what I’ve got.
I first duplicate the layer I’m working on, which saves the original and gives me a safe “sandbox” in which to experiment. Here are some of the new heads I tried:
The last one in this sequence felt right, so I went with it.
But something was still bugging me. The arm-and-glowing-pentagram thing was something I sketched on a whim during the early stages of the painting but after looking at it for a few hours, I started to feel like it was “one thing too many” and I felt like it was distracting from her face. So I took it out, and lowered her arm to sit under her sword blade. All at once, her face seemed free and more like the focus of the top part of the painting, like I wanted.
Feeling a bit in need of inspiration, I searched deviantart and comicvine for fresh ideas. I found a few artworks featuring Magik with a blue sword and some cool armor variations. This practice of seeking fresh reference halfway through a painting helps me consider things I hadn’t thought to try yet. In this case: changing the sword to blue.
This WIP was taken shortly after I tried lowering her arm and changing the sword’s glow to blue. I immediately felt like this was a much stronger direction for the painting: the color contrast was eye-catching against all the red. The texture in the background added more interest without busying it up too much for my liking.
At this point, I felt like I knew where I wanted the composition and colors to go and all that was left was to finish the painting, a process which took another ~4 hours of detail work and refinement.
This painting was originally all on one layer, which I usually prefer but in this case it turned out to be an annoyance when I wanted to texture just the background and when I wanted to add the sword effects. Using the magic wand tool I was able to quickly and roughly separate components onto their own layers, eventually ending up with this arrangement:
I did this separation early enough in the process to be working with rough art, not “final” art, so it didn’t matter that things came over with jagged edges and missing parts. I just cleaned up the edges as a natural part of refining the overall painting.
As for brushes, I did everything with these two default Photoshop brushes. The top one is most like an airbrush and is good for getting smooth, delicate skin and soft shadows. The bottom one is much more solid and responds to tablet pressure sensitivity by fading in/out as you vary pressure on the tablet pen. I wish I knew more about fancy Photoshop brush effects, but these two are pretty good at meeting my needs.
This painting was a lot of trial and error for me, but I think the effort was worth it. I wanted to scrap it at numerous points, but instead, I experimented on it.
When you don’t really care about a half-finished painting anymore and want to scrap it, what’s there to lose by going in and messing around with it? Kill some “sacred cows” – throw half of it out by cropping the canvas, or add a texture, or change the pose of some of the character’s limbs, or change the color palette, or try a different facial pose – it might just make it better.