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SKETCH DIARY: Lady of July Part 1

After my time with Lady of June, I once again came to an impasse with Lady of July.  The summer isn’t a time of year I really resonate with. I tend to spend it hiding inside waiting for autumn and cooler temperatures to come!  The biggest event in July for me as an American is our Independence Day, where my family, who was usually stationed on Army bases during my childhood, would usually attend concerts and colorful fireworks displays.  There was always a bursting sense of pride, music, and patriotism around this time of year!  There was also, of course, lots of food, smores, and drinking!

Other than that, however, I was drawing a blank for what my Lady of July could be!  I didn’t want her to be specifically American and the nature-related cycles which I usually draw upon for the whimsical atmosphere of the Ladies didn’t link the time of year to anything specifically inspiring.  Thankfully, research helped expand my horizons and inspirations to some beautiful places I hadn’t thought of!

Research Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Holidays by Robert H. Griffin and Ann H. Shurgin.

America isn’t the only country to celebrate a sense of freedom and independence in July, research also reminded me that Bastille Day and Naadam are also celebrated during this month.  On July 14th, 17879, revolutionary forces stormed the Bastille, leading to one of the pivotal moments in the French Revolution.  July is also the time of year Mongolia holds its midsummer festival of athletic games, Naadam, which also celebrates their independence from China.

The celebrations of Tanabata (the Star Festival) and Qixi (or Double Seventh) in Japan and China, respectively, captured my imagination instantly!  Both holidays celebrate the only time of year in which two celestial lovers are able to see each other.  In Japan, celestial punishment keeps the Weaver Girl and the Cowherd separated all year by the Milky Way until the summertime, when the two deities represented by the stars Vega and Altair align.  It is a time for making wishes.  Similarly, China’s Qixi echoes this story of separated lovers who are only able to see each other during this time of year when magpies form a bridge for them to cross.  Qixi is roughly equated to Valentine’s Day in America.

July finally started to take shape in my mind as a Lady who embodies breaking boundaries, independence, self-expression, and unhindered love.  My mind was a whirlwind of flying birds, floating lanterns, and unbridled joy!  I made the decision that Tanabata and Qixi would play heavily into her themes as I moved on to the thumbnailing phase.

In each of these thumbnails, I have the Lady looking every upwards to the heavens. I wanted a figure who has broken free of gravity, ascending ever upwards with the stars and lanterns.  The birds will probably end up being magpies in honor of Qixi, but also as symbols of freedom.  Out of these, I feel like the 4th thumbnail encapsulates that feeling of unrestricted joy, as the others strike me as more tragic, as if she is a haunting spirit instead of a freed one.  The body language of the 4th thumbnail with her head high and chest out connotes more confidence in her upwards path.

But we’ll see what happens!  I may wake up tomorrow and do several more thumbnails.  I’m giving myself some time to think about this direction.

This has been your Patreon-only early sneak peek!
Thanks so much for your continued support!

 

 

SKETCH DIARY: Lady of June Part 2

Lady of June has gone slowly while I’ve been taking a few days off celebrating my own marriage!  I’m back at work with a vengeance, however.  In my first mockup of Lady of June (which you can see below the mood board) shows my first attempt at drawing her attire without worrying about reference and focusing more on where I wanted the drapery to lead the eye.

I wasn’t keen on this original look in the end.  It was too generic like a cheap Halloween costume.  I wanted to bring some originality and visual interest to my designs, so I started gathering references for unique dresses that still had a period vibe.

Fashion Mood Board

Fashion Sketches

I tapped my Smithsonian Fashion book for reference and found a lot of inspiration in the depictions of the ‘fantasy’ fashion of Saints during , which were an amalgamation of high fashion of the time with oriental and other foreign influences.  

You can see this in the frogging I used on the front of the 2nd design mixed with Italian and English inspired dress shapes and sleeves.  I also included an English inspired headdress to bring more interest to her head than the standard ‘lady with flower head garland’, which I’ve used in past Ladies.

I also kept in mind the theme of the rose, especially in the 2nd design, where I was inspired to give the dress a ‘rosebud’ shape in the bustle.

 

 

 

 

Window Designs

Next, I played with the window designs for the background with the Amaziograph ipad app.  You can see a little video of how I made the first one here.  I went with a shape evocative of the Sun Wheel from my earlier research, as well as the rose window shapes inspired by the shape of the rose flower.  In a straight read, I liked the one on the right best, but once I put the window designs in the composition mockups below, I changed my preference back to the first window again because the shapes were clearer.

Composition Mockups

You can see my original mockup on the left before I did any research.  The two mockups on the middle and right show my experimentation with fashions, changing the value structure, and also testing out which window design I liked best.  I ended up going with my first window design since its simpler and doesn’t distract from the many details of this composition.  

If I used the 2nd design, I feel that the composition would be too busy.  Also, the design with the bigger roses on the edges had more diagonals that lead the eye to the central focus of the piece (the Lady), instead of being more chaotic like the first window’s design.  I’ve also pushed the figure’s head up past the border a bit more so the rectangle of the frame is broken up even more, creating an interesting overall framing shape.

I’ve also made a monumental decision to add a title bar to the text!  I’m not sure this one is final yet, but I always felt like the titles for this series were too bare and boring.  I’m happy to find a solution that fills that space with something more unique and that I can easily alter on my past original paintings!

Do you like the new dress I chose?  How about the new title bar style?  Let me know in comments!

I’m running a little behind since I’ve been away for wedding celebration and business, so I may end up having to post a placeholder for this month.  I have no doubt she’ll be done soon, however!  I’d rather not rush this Lady out since she’s turning out to be very detailed.

If there’s anything I’ve learned from prior Ladies, they refused to be rushed!

This has been your Patreon early sneak peek!  Thanks for your support!

SKETCH DIARY: Lady of June Part 1

After the dark whimsy of Lady of November, we’ve returned to the Ladies of Summer!  Admittedly, this Lady has been  a challenge thus far.  While November had a lot of amazing imagery to play with, June is more of a subtle time of year.  Its celebration of youthfulness and young brides reminds of May’s themes, with one of the only unique events being the Summer Solstice.  I’ve been struggling to find Lady of June’s unique visual story to make her different enough from the other Ladies, but that’s what research is all about!

Mood Board

One of the most prominent themes I found while researching the Summer Solstice via Pinterest image gathering was the celebration of Litha and the Sun Wheel.  The Solstice celebrates the reigning power of the Sun.  The Sun Wheel was an old tradition where a representation of the sun was set aflame and rolled down a hill to symbolize its shifting phases.  As soon as I saw the Wheel, I knew it’d be the perfect inspiration for the mandala window!

Research Notes

Research for the Ladies always begins with the origin of the month’s name.  In this case, June was named for Juno, the goddess of marriage and well-being of women.  She was also wife to Jupiter/Zeus.  I look across different cultures and see what about this time of year strikes a chord with humanity.  June in the northern hemisphere is a high point of Summer, a time of divination, and a powerful phase of feminine power.

Writing notes helps me to search out the imagery and symbolism I want to include in this Lady’s painting.  I think of flowers, plants, and brides.  The symbol of the well as a tool of divination also struck a chord with me, which is why it shows up so much in my thumbnail sketches.

Thumbnail Sketches

Many of these thumbnails explore using water in a well or pond as a divination tool.  2 and 4 feel a little close to Lady of March, with 4 feeling a bit more like a representation of Vanity.  3 captures a more traditional bridal theme, while 1, 5, 6, and 7 seem to capture that theme of a bride searching for her love in the reflection for a more unified theme.  In the end, my favorites are 1, 5, and 6, with 5 and 6 having the clearest shapes and classical feel.

But I want to hear what you all think!  Which thumbnails do you like?  Let me know in comments!

DESIGN DIARY: June Mask Part 2

Read Part 1

June’s mask ended up being one of the more striking color palettes than I had first realized!  The contrast of the pearlescent underpainting with the red makes this mask stand out very much from the others.  I used a combination of iridescent taupe and white paint layered into the base color of the mask to replicate the look of a freshwater pearl.  Oh how very tempting it is to make endless variations of this mask with different colored roses!

Here’s your Patreon early sneak peek of the completed mask!  I’ve decided from now on I’ll let my Patreon Patrons view this mask before everyone else.

Your Patreon privilege also includes the ability to pre-order one of these extremely limited edition masks!  Only 10 of these will ever be made!  I’ve reserved half of the total amount of masks for my Patreons to pre-order before the mask’s official release.  You can do so by Pledging at the Mask Collector tier on Patreon for this month’s paid release.  

After this mask is shared with the public on the final day of the month, I’ll open up the total number to my Etsy shop.

I hope you enjoyed your Patreon-only sneak peek!  A download of this Design Diary along with a materials list will be included as one of the Digital Collector ($5+) Rewards.

Thank you for your support!

DESIGN DIARY: June’s Mask Part 1

I’ve been looking forward to June’s mask for its simplistic color scheme and classical flower.  The Rose birth flower combines with the Pearl birthstone promises to be a lovely color scheme which is one of my favorite color schemes, white and red.

The biggest challenge with this mask was that there are a hundred ways to draw a rose.  I knew from the start I wanted the large, classical petals, but should they be hyper-stylized or realistic?

Mood Board

In the end, I went with something in-between stylized and realistic with an abstraction of the bloom centers to make carving easier on my hands.  I also settled with a layout that allows me to focus on a good mixture of petals versus leaf texture without being too busy.

Design Sketches

Process Gallery

Here are a few shots of the mask before and after it was tooled and baked.  It’s currently drying on my mannequin head.  I can’t wait to paint this one!  I’m planning a pearlescent white for the base to represent the Pearl birthstone and a deep red for the roses.  Or should I try another color?  What do you all think?

This has been your special Patreon-only sneak peek!
Thanks for your support!

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DESIGN DIARY: December’s Mask Part 2

Read Part 1

December’s mask proved to be too ambitious of a challenge when it came to painting!  I had a mental image of my mind where golden veins would shine through a crackle texture of turquoise, much like the turquoise gemstone itself.  However, the end was not so beautiful as my mental image.  The crackle medium never seemed to work right on top of the gold dye I had used.  I would remember later that crackle medium requires you to seal the underpainting since dye leaves leather porous, which interferes with the crackle effect.  The final look of the mask with the gold underpainting as a patina also made the mask look unfinished and sloppy, rather than antiqued.

Sometimes you have to kill your darlings and I decided to start over from scratch.  If anyone would like this ‘reject’, drop me a line and I’ll give it to you for a good deal!

Starting the mask over from the beginning was frustrating, but at the very least, I could fix some of the carving errors I made and create an end product I could be fully proud of, rather than creating a sub-par end product.

This should also be a lesson to ALWAYS make test strips when using effects with special paint mediums just to make sure they’ll work right.  Even in trying the crackle medium a second time, the crackles just weren’t dramatic enough!  

On this second attempt, I used an underpainting of a darker green acrylic paint to create contrast and also provide a non-porous surface for the crackle medium. Even still, the effect was not as dramatic as I was hoping.  Such is life!  I sense a search for the perfect crackle medium in my future.  You can see in the progress shots where I used a white underpainting on the floral elements to help make the colors that would come later brighter.  The image on the right shows the completed mask after a Satin varnish has been added.  The varnish adds a subtle shine even to the matte elements, which I really enjoy.

More photos and a video of the finished mask will come with the final release on Dec 31st!  Want to reserve one of these limited edition masks for yourself?  You can do so via the Mask Collector Reward tier on Patreon.

I hope you enjoyed your Patreon-only sneak peek!  A download of this Design Diary along with a materials list will be included as one of the Digital Collector ($5+) Rewards.

Thank you for your support!

DESIGN DIARY: December’s Mask Part 1

Ah Lady of December!  She was the painting that started it all.  Back then, however, I hadn’t started making masks to match each Lady yet.  Now that I’ve decided to challenge myself with this multimedia element, it’s time to revisit December’s themes as a mask!  

The birthstone of December is Turquoise and the flower is the white narcissus.  I’ve actually done prior research into the structure of this flower for the Advent Angel piece created for my Spirits of Winter series, who was actually the prototype birthstone image I did before I switched to the Ladies of the Months’ rectangular format instead.

Mood Board

The funny thing about white narcissus is that they share a lot in common structurally with daffodils, being a variant of a similar plant, so I had some warm up with this flower already thanks to March’s mask and the aforementioned Advent Angel.  I love the way the corona of petals overlap to give this flower its unique shape!  I decided to go with the more rounded star-shaped for this mask, since I like the simplicity of it, which is much easier to carve.

Design

I was actually pretty happy with my first try at this design.  The flowers have elegant sweeping stem structures that fill up the space nicely with the bunches of blooms in the middle, crowning the mask in a balanced way.

Process Shots

Here are some shots of the mask during the tooling phase and after it was baked and hardened.  I’ve tried something different with the tooling for this flower by adding many thin lines in the petals with a stylus to give it a delicate textured feel.  This is actually the same technique I’ve used to add texture to butterfly wings in leather.

I have an ambitious idea for the painting part, but I’m not sure how it’ll turn out, as the method is experimental.  Will all my hard work be for naught?  Find out in the next Design Diary!

This has been your special Patreon-only sneak peek!
Thanks for your support!

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SKETCH DIARY: Lady of November Part 2

The next phase of Lady of November involves creating her look and specific details.  As always, Pinterest provides a good place to gather references.  I drew upon Victorian mourning fashion, the Mexican death goddess I mentioned last entry, and many lacy long veils, as the veil was a key component I knew I wanted to include.  The veil stood out in my mind because it symbolizes her connection to death and mourning, but also represents her role as one who stands at the veil between life and death.

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Drawing on these influences, I set to sketching in my trusty croquis sketchbook with my grey pen set.  I ended up with a final look reminiscent to a veiled fortune teller, which goes well with her concept of being a spirit guide.  I hope to include more of the chrysanthemum flower in the pattern of her lace and sashes in the final art to bring in more of her visual motifs.

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Finally, here we have the mockup made of various reference photos!  They’ll act as a guideline for her final line art.

lady-of-november-mockup-lowres

Stay tuned to the Sketch Diary PDF for the final part of these process posts!  I’m running a little behind this month, so instead of dropping another sneak peek, I’m going to skip right to sharing the Sketch Diary PDF as soon as it’s available.

This has been your Patreon sneak peek!  Thanks so much for your support!

SKETCH DIARY: Lady of November Part 1

November, November!  I’ve been looking forward to this month for a while, not only because it is my own birth month, but because it represents my favorite time of year – Autumn and a time of spooks and spirits!  I decided to skip ahead in this series so that I might be able to finish some of the later Ladies by the time I reached the end of this year.  But never fear, the other Ladies of the summertime will be explored come next year!

Mood Board

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Lady of November’s mood board on Pinterest.

November is named for Novem, meaning the 9th according to the Romans.  This month used to be the 9th month of the year before other months were added to the calendar.  November in particular carries a personal meaning for me.  Growing up, I was always the first child rearing to dress up for Halloween.  I’ve been a vampire, a cat, a genie, and so many other creatures brought to life by the sewing skills of my mother, who was just as excited to make a costume as I was to prance around in it.

The Puerto Rican side of my family is also Catholic and even though I wasn’t raised with a strict religious upbringing, the imagery permeates my subconscious (much as I’m sure Mary and goddess imagery have seeped into this series at every turn).  As I grew up and learned about the true nature of Allhallowtide (October 31st to November 2nd), I started my own tradition of commemorating my loved ones who have passed with candles and offerings.  For me, it is a liminal time where I believe they can hear my thoughts and know that they are loved and remembered.

Research Notes

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Needless to say, it is this liminal time between the physical world and the spirit world that represents the main imagery I’ll be pulling from for Lady of November.  In particular, the strongest imagery that came to mind when planning for this Lady are the monarch butterflies of Mexico.  Every year, these particular monarch butterflies make a long journey to Mexico where they stay over winter.  Their arrival coincides with the Day of the Dead festivities, where the locals believe that the butterflies represent the returning souls of deceased loved ones.

Other interesting imagery permeates this month, much of it dominated by the Day of the Dead, the origins of which link back prior to Mexico’s Catholic conversion to the Lady of the Dead, Mictecacihuatl, a goddess of the underworld who was celebrated by pre-Christian Aztecs and who presided over the festivities of the dead.  I also can’t help but think of the more modern representation of La Muerte with her marigolds and candles from the movie The Book of Life, who presides over the land of the remembered dead.

It seems no matter where you are in the northern hemisphere during this time, the dead are remembered with candles, bonfires, and soul cakes, as there are countless recipes for the cakes from around the world.

Unlike some of the other Ladies, the concept for November was coming in loud and clear from the beginning.  I created this exploratory sketch to try and encapsulate that strong feeling I was getting for Lady of November’s concept.  I knew I wanted the Lady to be in a graveyard filled with candles awaiting the return of the monarchs, representing the souls of the dead, who she guides on their journey to return to their loved ones.  She and the candles act like beacons for the spirits’ return.

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Thumbnail Sketches

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With all of this amazing imagery in my head, I ended up with these 4 thumbnails describing various aspects of the idea.  Thumbnail 1 is my favorite and closest to my original sketch.  This thumbnail represents a kind, gentle Lady awaiting her charges, while 2 speaks more of a strong figure of guidance and also has a saintly presence (though perhaps too close in pose to Lady of March?).  3 seems to get across the aspect of waiting the most with her hand gesture. 4 is very dynamic, but perhaps loses some emotion and atmosphere.

I’ve got my work cut out for me to make this tough choice!  In the meanwhile, what are your favorite thumbnails?  Share in comments!

DESIGN DIARY: November’s Mask Part 1

I’ve decided to accelerate my schedule with the Ladies to give people born later in the year a chance to get the masks and paintings now rather than having to wait another year.  That means I’m exploring the themes of November, whose birthstone is Topaz and whose birth flower is chrysanthemums!  November happens to be my own birth month as well, which means I’m personally attached to this time of chill winds and grey skies in the northern hemisphere.

Mood Board

Chrysanthemums come in all shapes, sizes, and colors, from the fluffy round to long and thin spindles of the spider chrysanthemums.  I’ve decided to go with a more traditionally round chrysanthemum, which will be a bit easier to carve than many long spindles.  As always, I like to reference botanical drawings, which make it easier to observe leaf shapes and overall silhouettes of the flowers and stems.  Pinterest makes this reference gathering much easier.

november-mask-ref-lowres

Designs

I like to start with a few variations on the designs to see what kind of layout I prefer.  I tried a big focal flower at first.  By the end, I found myself preferring the way that bunches of mums and buds would fill up the space.  I tried incorporating monarch butterflies on this mask in the bottom design since it’s going to be in the final 2d painting for Lady of November, but I may save this for a special alternate design for myself, since it would break with the consistency of the series thus far.

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As far as colors go, I’m thinking fall maroons and yellows to go with the season, especially since Topaz is a warm orange backdrop.  That’s all for now!  I’ve got to get the studio moved and then I can continue working on this mask.  Stay tuned for your next Patreon sneak peak!