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January | Work insight: Building & maintaining my composition

January | Work insight: Building & maintaining my composition

I already showed you all the thumbnails I have for this year’s Netherrealms content last month. I figured that I’d focus on how I construct a composition for a finished illustration for this month’s workflow insight!

Sometimes, I have a concept in my head that I want to explore from different angles. In that case, I’ll often work on the concept in 3D and use the camera to move around and explore, like I’ve done with the Mother Time piece:

Very first scribble, to 3D setup, to final illustration

Other times, I already have a composition in mind for a certain concept and I want to put that on paper. I’ll take Little Did She Know as an example.

Here you can what it looks like when I go from thumbnail to final image:

I usually start out with a monochrome thumbnail. Black and white values are important for an image’s readability, so I want to make sure I get that foundation down right to create a clear image. I don’t worry too much about accurate anatomy or perspective at this stage – it can be crippling to want to do everything right at once, so I leave room for some creativity and fudging at this stage.

I keep some elements in separate layers, so I can easily add color to them with the use of gradients and color shifts. For inspiration, I look up other images for color schemes I’d like to use. I usually end up combining some color schemes that I like, or adapting something more to my taste. I usually try out a few different color schemes to be able to compare some options.

Once I’ve got that down, I go in and recreate the elements I need reference for in 3D. I usually collect extra pictures (or take them myself) for hands or clothes, because that’s more time-efficient or gives me better results in terms of reference.

While I work on things like perspective, positioning, and adding detail, I always refer back to my original thumbnail to make sure I’m still getting the point across! It’s easy to get lost in the details and weaken the image as a whole. For example, I decided to create a round window to give it the shape of a sun and let the composition point towards Zara more clearly, but the idea of her standing in front of the brightly lit window never changed.

While finalizing the image, I always keep two extra windows open on my second screen that update automatically as I work: one flipped version of the full image, and one black and white version of the image. This allows me to get a fresh look at my work and spot mistakes I might be making early.

Surprised by this workflow or is it what you expected?

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