Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dance of the Knife - the painting and the process

My latest work is a female nude mixed with some fantasy elements. This is also my entry for another ImagineFX art challenge formally called MYFX Challenge #244 - The Witch's Familiar. I found out about this challenge last Tuesday (our time). At first I was reluctant to participate because I had less than 24 hours to come up with a decent piece. But then, I realized that the point of events like these is to be challenged so I decided to put something together and here it is:

I call it "Dance of the Knife". I actually wrote a story about the woman in the picture (See below. After the process summary). I've also put it up on DeviantArt but you won't be able to view it there unless you sign in. It's flagged mature because of the nudity so only DeviantArt users can view it there.

And now, the process.

Significant resources utilized:
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Wacom graphics pen and tablet
  • Lots of references including many photographs taken by Marcus Ranum
  • Google images for pictures of vultures
  • Custom brushes by Jan Ditlev Christensen
  • A lot of inspiration from the works of Boris Vallejo and Tony DeZuñiga

My initial idea for the painting was pretty simple. Actually, I'm not sure if it's even valid to call it an idea. The execution I had in mind was witch + her familiar spirit represented by a vulture. 

There's nothing entirely new with the procedures I observed for this one. I started with a tonal thumbnail, then I continued with a color thumbnail before making a form sketch. To tell you the truth, I didn't get to spend as much time on this painting's thumbnails as the ones I did for my previous works. I'm not very happy about that. I was shooting for speed so was unable to explore that much. I wish I found out about the art challenge sooner.

The strokes I made here are broader than usual since I didn't have much time. About 90 percent of the time I spent on this painting, I was working on just one layer. That's how I paint with oils so it didn't cause any issues. Although if I didn't have a deadline, I would have separated the figure and the ground until the post-processing stages.

Here's a view of the progress from the developed form sketch to the final painting with special effects. While developing the sketch, an idea for the story about the woman and her relationship with the vulture suddenly popped out of my head. It's a happy accident partly influenced by an image of Leda and the swan. 

The steps I took can be summarized as follows:
  1. Tonal thumbnail
  2. Color thumbnail
  3. Form sketch
  4. Refinement of sketch
  5. Tonal fixes
  6. Details
  7. Effects

Painting this took me around 5 hours with many breaks in between which I spent either by drinking water (I just realized that painting makes me thirsty) or cooking up a back story for the subject. I really wish I had more time to do this. That way, I could have spent more time interacting with others in the WIPs forum which is the most fun part of art challenges. Oh well. There will be other challenges!


For those who might be interested, here's the story I wrote.

Dance of the Knife

The period of time from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries was the most difficult for any practitioner of magic in the western hemisphere. Those years are considered to be the peak years of witch-hunts that resulted in more than a hundred thousand executions.

Witches during those harrowing times had different approaches towards the threat to their kind. While some resorted to surrender and repentance, others opted for direct confrontation. Still, there are others who considered escape to be their best option.

Among the many witches known to have continued the study of the dark arts in pursuit of refuge, Catharina Walden's name remains arguably the most-surrounded by mystery. Legend has it that she came from a line of magic practitioners who have dedicated their lives to the research of rituals and spells that allowed travel to the world of spirits. The most-enduring of the many stories about Catharina is the story of The Dance of the Knife.

According to several accounts, The Dance of the Knife was the last ritual that Catharina performed. Designed for teleportation, the ritual involved a ceremonial blade that only their clan is said to have possessed, and a familiar spirit in the form of a vulture. The dance included in the ritual was not a choreographed kind. The movements of the body, particularly the hand that held the ceremonial blade, were guided by the movements of the performer's familiar. Landing on the knife hand was the familiar's way of signifying the end of the ritual where the performer must stab herself in the chest. The Walden clan is said to have claimed that by doing this, the performer is able to conquer all limitations imposed by the physical plane.

What happened to Catharina Walden after performing the ritual is unknown for her body was never found, nor the knife that she used. Pieces of jewelry, amulets, and the fossilized vulture at the site where she allegedly performed the ritual are the only artifacts suggesting that she did exist. This remains the subject of debate among scholars today.


 I hope you like what I put together here! :)

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