This here is one of my favorite illustrations I did last year. One of the reasons was, that I only rarely get to do a female figure for Magic and this time it was a cool self-confident vampire…
Immediately, when reading the description, which by the way was very simple, I got a very clear image of the composition. The assignment was asking for a female vampire, dressed in full plate, standing at the front of the ship looking cool and confident. There was more to the description, but this was what I locked in on. I saw for my inner eye that she was standing with her arms crossed and the sails were billowing behind her. We were looking up at her as if from a smaller boat or at least form somewhere beneath her. Her cloak was blowing behind her in the wind. “Yeah; like an Alphonso Mucha painting” , I said to myself and smiled. But the more I sketched the more difficult I found it to be. For every thumb I zoomed closer and closer. This was supposed to be a character portrait, and if I wanted to show ship and masts and her feet balancing the pole, it would make her very small in the frame. And I wanted her to be close enough so that we could see her face and her expression.

So In order to do that I let go of the ship and ended with only the tip being visible and cut her of below the knees.

I ended up with a sketch that I really liked and I took it do my Cintiq to add some values before sending it off for approval. In order to clarify the sketch I started sketching some more lines digitally. And then I noticed something that annoyed me. Her head was tilted down, but did not seem to sit right at her body. She was seen from below but the tilting head only made her look like she was looking straight at us. Bottom line. I felt her pose was strange, so I changed her head to held higher which allowed us to see up at her face and see the underside of the chin. Now the body seemed too small and the pose too twisted to be pared with a poised pose like the new head position so I changed her hips and legs. I realized that her body needed to point the same way as the torso and head. In the end I really liked how the sketch turned out. I liked the blowing twirls of the hair strands that really gave us the feeling that she was windblown, standing on a ship. But it turned out that I had steered too much afar from the concept style guide. All Vampires had slick hair pulled back in the concepts and I had to let go of the blowing hair.

I do not know what happened from the sketch to when I transferred it to a watercolor board, but I liked the face better in my digitally sketched version.

Color Rough
Board version in grey acrylic
When I started to add some colors I encountered a big problem. I was doing a black clad, dark haired vampire in the middle of the night.  A lot of darkness. I wanted the figure to be a dark silhouette against the lighter background and the sails needed to be dark too. Somehow I had to make the background less heavy.  So I dusted the sails down with a wash of blue to kill all the contrast and make the background lighter. Then I painted the figure up in very dark bluish turquoise. Slowly I painted towards the light. I tried something I rarely do. I let the armor edge disappear into darkness of the cloak. The right legs outline fades ever so gently into the darkness. I felt very daring, since I always keep a very straight outline and an almost comic style approach even to painting. But this made me think of Rembrandt and I couldn’t get my hands down from excitement. The joy has since cooled down. I know now that this is trivial to most people but when you do something for the first time you should always celebrate or at least acknowledge it.
The seagulls I added, as always, to give a sense of movement and to give a feeling of this being a snapshot from a fantasy world, but this time too to make it look like a maritime painting.