Last year I was asked to paint a new bear for magic, but this time it was a Legendary card. A Queen or ruler of Bears. I got very free hands to design her, but the feeling should be majestic and powerful.
Immediately my thoughts went to Princess Mononoke and the forest God. I wanted something like the same feeling you see in that movie when the Horned Deer-like God slowly walks into a clearing. I asked if it would be alright to add some runes to the stone behind the Queen Bear that would look like the runes from my old Rune Claw Bear, and got a green light for that. I love when some cards tie into each other like that. With more than 10.000 different cards it is nice to see some of them reference each other, especially within the art of the same artist.
In my first sketch I went for something really simple. I knew I needed a simple silhouette in order for me to create the feeling I wanted. And the crown that I went with would need a very poised and stoic character. Since everything in the figure is centered and pointing inwards to the face via the crown spikes, I used the shapes and lines in the background to create some juxtapose lines to mix it up.
I liked most of the things in the brown version, but the arms seemed too humanoid and the pose lacked some hind legs. So I redid the bottom half and came up with a slightly more interesting pose while still keeping what I liked about the silhouette and the centered crowned face of the first one. I added some magical Fireflies for that deep forest feeling.
Now this is where it started going down hill. I transferred the sketch to a watercolor board and inked up the figure like I am used to. Then added all the dark tones and the middle tones in black acrylics. I let the painting rest at my desk and went home wanted to start painting the next morning. When I got in the next day I looked with fresh eyes on the preliminary and could only see the face as a human face and not at all like a bear. I think what happened was that I had tried so much to get a human expression that I had more and more erased the features that made it a bear.
I decided to solve it in the painting process and in order to save some time I did a color comp digitally on top of the black and white version. My thoughts in the color comp was very simple. Cold background: to give the best contrast to the glowing crown and a warm light hitting the face hardest and hitting parts of the paw and shoulders. I tried to build the whole palette up into warm and cold colors and keeping it to orange/brown and Turquoise/green.
I ended up changing the face a lot. I actually painted the whole head over and redid it smaller than on the preliminary in order for her to look more impressive and huge in the body. The background was heavily inspired by Ivan Shishkins forest paintings. I tried working more loosely than I am used to and explored more texture and happy accidents than usual. Some of those happy random strokes and lines that I came up with made the tip of the stone behind her, look like a bear head. It is totally unintentional, as you can see if you compare to the sketches, but everyone sees a bear in that stone now. I try to act like it was all part of my plan.
The final strokes I painted was the light beam, the lens flare like effect. It is very nerve wrecking since it cannot be undone once it has started. The way its done is this. I spray water on the area with my airbrush and then I paint a white stroke of paint directly onto the final image completely ruining the forest and the crown and face. At least thats what it looks like. But since its wet I can still move it along. I keep spraying mist of water to it and brush away with a fan like brush to thin it out in the shape of the light beam. I have to work fast and keep spraying because when it dries it stays dry. After a couple of thin layers of white It has created that thin line making it look like a “color dodge” stroke…