• CGNetworks Feature :: Reader Project
    Girl in the Iron Shoes

    Chris Beatrice, 26th May 2005
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    1080 x 1440 - 751kbs
    As soon as I read “The Enchanted Pig”, I was drawn to its main character - a young woman who undergoes a host of trials in her quest to find her husband (who has been transformed into a pig), and return him to human form. She must wear out three pairs of iron shoes and blunt a steel staff in her travels. She visits the mansions of the moon, the sun and the wind… and even has a baby along the way.

    With this picture I wasn’t so much trying to tell a story as fuse a variety of disparate elements in a way that would arouse the viewer's curiosity as to what was going on. The bundle of chicken bones, the knife, the baby, the bandages, the steel staff, the two pairs of metal shoes, all play important roles in the story.

    The way the girl handles her predicament was what inspired me to do this piece in the first place, and getting her character right was also my biggest challenge.

    I saw this image pretty clearly right from the start, and banged out a very quick thumbnail to capture it. I wanted to depict the girl striding along with a deliberate, unwavering gait, and a determined look on her face, yet no sign of weakness, fatigue or complaint. She is entirely unfazed by her situation.
    After the thumbnail I did a larger sketch, still very rough, and surrounded it with some small sketches for a few of the various picture elements. This is my typical way of sketching out a picture – I don’t do a full tight pencil drawing, but rather a very rough, small pencil sketch (around four to six-inches tall), and a whole bunch of small drawings to explore different details of the picture. I then use these as reference while I paint the final piece. This gives a certain richness to my final picture, because I constantly crank out little drawings throughout my day, on whatever I have at hand, then go to the computer with a hefty stack of home-made reference material to paint!

    Color Rough
    I started off with a pretty narrow palette, but moved away from this by the end of the piece. As usual my color rough consisted of a few flat areas of solid color, created in Photoshop using the lasso select and fill tools. The pencil sketch is superimposed as a multiply layer on top, but does not become part of the final picture - the painted colors are all done on a fresh layer (in Painter).

    In the final color rough you can see that I tilted the entire picture to give it a more dynamic composition, and also laid out the clouds in a pattern radiating from the mansion of the moon (vaguely visible on the left side of the horizon), to emphasize the girl's motion and the perspective of the picture. The different light positions I tried can also be seen in the color roughs.

  • Rough Painting
    I started by painting in the biggest, simplest areas, to establish the overall color palette and to get some depth into the piece as quickly as possible, transforming the picture from a flat surface into a "space" or environment.

    I created a simple guide for the light source, consisting of a pole, a cast shadow, and a line connecting them (I also distorted this as I move around the picture, according to the perspective of the scene).
    Proper Headwear
    I felt the style of the girl’s hat was pretty important in reinforcing her character. I tried out several styles before settling on a classic bonnet, which gives the girl a kind of "American frontierswoman" look, which I think is really perfect for who she is.

    Brushes & Painting
    I use Corel Painter 8 exclusively for all the mark-making in my pictures, and paint on a single layer. I set up just one or two brushes for the entire picture (80% bleed, 20% resaturation, and 100% opacity), varying only the grain and of course the size for different applications. I also periodically go into Photoshop to resize or shift compositional elements, adjust levels and colors, etc.

    Bleed and resaturation are tied to stylus pressure (bleed is reversed) so the harder I press down the more coverage I get, while the lighter I press the more smearing happens.
    For this picture I wanted the scene to be somewhat serious, but still appropriate for a young audience. So I kept the rendering light and loose, well short of photo realism.

    I made one final adjustment to the position of the girl's right arm, which gave a lot more energy to her stride.

    At this point the image has pretty much the look it's going to have when completed, yet I was only about 25% of the time into the piece. From here I zoom in to 50% or 100%, working over each area of the piece adding detail.
    Overlay Layer for Patterning
    For the baby sling, I started by painting it without any pattern. I then painted the pattern on a separate overlay layer in just two solid colors (this is one of the extremely rare times where I use a separate layer for painting).

    The image above shows the pattern layer at normal opacity (on the right) and the final 70% overlay (on the left).

    Facial Expression
    The girl's face was the last part of the picture I painted, and I played around with it quite a bit, painting several different versions before settling on the one on the lower right.

    Final Adjustments
    After finishing painting I enlarged the baby a little, and tweaked the colors to neutralize the palette just a bit, by pulling out some of the yellow.

    Pebbles, Pebbles and More Pebbles
    I wanted the pebble road to add some nice texture and interest to the picture, and really had fun doing it. I built up the road in three main stages starting with the rough paint. I could have stopped at the second stage but I felt it needed more pebble coverage to really shine. Each pebble was painted in a few quick strokes.

    Step one is to visualize the forthcoming pebble..

    Step two, is to lay down the cast shadow, following the form of the underlying surface of course... the colored square in the lower right of the image shows the painting color.

    Step three is to paint in the entire volume of the pebble, using its darkest value (the value that represents the color of the parts of the pebble not exposed to the main light)

    Step four is to paint the form of the pebble with the diffuse color (the color that represents the pebble when exposed to the main light).

    Ordinarily I would then paint some specular (highlights), and some secondary (reflected light) on an object like this, but for this image I didn't want anything that slick.

    I generally painted as many as ten pebbles at a time, first laying down all the cast shadows, then all the volumes, etc.

    I used the sticks lining the road to echo the bundle of chicken bones the girl is carrying, and also to help break up the foreground into two basic shapes (the road and the off-road area of greenery and large rocks).

    About Me
    Though my formal art training was in sculpture, most of my professional artwork has been 2D and 3D character design, illustration and animation for computer games. Initially I fell in love with using 3D software for creating artwork, but now I am much more interested in the stylized and hand crafted look of 2D painting and drawing. For software I use Corel Painter (8) and Photoshop.
    I live in Natick, Massachusetts with my beautiful wife, partner and best friend, and our beloved little daughter.
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    Chris Beatrice

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