From Words to Visuals: The Translator

This week we asked Tawny, one of the amazingly talented artists for WITCH: Fated Souls to talk about her creative process!


Hi everyone, you’ll know me as Tawny – one of the artists that worked on the fantastic project that is WITCH. Liz asked if I would write a blog post entailing the creative process behind the artwork I created for the book and how it all started. Of course I’d been happy to, so allow me to elaborate!

Every artwork made for WITCH has roots stemming directly from Liz’s brain. Whenever Liz has an idea for an artwork or concept, she writes it down in word format. She then sends me her brain child for me to analyze for myself. For example, for the Dracula artwork, Liz sent me the following:

“Your interpretation of the creature below. It would be cool if it could be in mid flight or maybe on a rooftop about to take off?

A Dracula is a vampire that has grown so old and warped that they have gone insane with bloodlust and live only for their next feeding. Their fingers have become horrible distended claws and their mouths have turned into maws filled with jagged teeth. Their eyes have become disgusting, bulging things, and their entire body is hairless. The eldest of Draculas are known to have large, fleshy wings allowing them to fly up into the air. Draculas are extremely dangerous and cannot be fought by only one witch. They are violently territorial and it takes an impressive force to move one from it’s new home. Draculas have all the flaws of a ‘normal’ vampire, but they cannot cross running water and cannot be killed by staking.”

I often describe being a concept artist as being a translator in the form of illustration. Immediately I begin to pull key words and features from her text, and take these into my own long-winded tangents. What would this beast look like? How human vs. monster are they? Are they intelligent? What color would it be? How large is it? All of these questions play out in my head with movie-like possibilities and answers. But most importantly is a single key question I ask myself: How can I make it scary?

The key to making anything scary in my artwork is to draw from my own fears and discomforts. For example: When Liz wrote that the Dracula had large, bulbous eyes, I immediately started thinking of how bulbous is often defined – they could be human-like eyes bulging out of the creature’s head. They could be especially large eyes, not unlike a nocturnal primate of some sort. My mind however immediately went to “spider”. Full disclosure: I really don’t care for spiders. And that’s exactly why I decided that’d be my definition of bulbous. Next, I thought “How can I make these unique and frightening?” I wanted there to be an eerie inner-light to these eyes that suggested this creature was somewhat otherworldly. When it came time to color them, I decided to go with a glazed, cold, “dead fish” look – that sort of unnerving color that sticks with people and tends to make them uncomfortable. I don’t know anyone who likes staring at cold, glazed eyes. But the Dracula is dangerous by nature, and many features particularly sharp – therefore, the pupil is a slit design to carry over this mentality.

My first image of the Dracula was a face-only sketch. I wanted the focal point to be the eyes, and build the features around them. This was the first image I sent Liz.

 

As soon as I got the go-ahead on design, that’s when I started worrying about the pose and composition. I start by doodling a stick-figure version of the Dracula so I could understand the general flow (this is visible in the upper left corner of the first image below). Then, I create a large, full-size version of the doodle. I always draw traditionally with a good old pencil and paper. When that design got the go-ahead, that’s when I scanned the artwork and traced over the lines in PaintTool SAI to give it a crisp, smooth look. Then, when the lines were finished, I took the new pretty digital lines over to Adobe Photoshop for coloring. The resulting process from start to finish ended up looking like this:

 

 

And of course along the way, I tried to use color and environment to further tell a story about the Dracula. Its belly is engorged – probably from a fresh meal, as evidenced by the blood on its face and claws. The meal itself is gone, however, whether devoured or dropped is uncertain. What is certain is that its unfortunate victim came unwillingly through the broken window beneath the ledge, wounded and dragged upward for the creature to feed on. All of these little details were added just to make the hair on the ends of any witch’s arms stand up just that little bit more.

And there you have it! That’s my creative process and how creatures like the Dracula were brought to life for WITCH.

 

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