This assignment, creating a character for the game Dungeons & Dragons, was the start of a 3 part project in my Imagery for Sci-Fi and Fantasy class. The various D&D character races and classes (ex: human wizard, elf bard, etc. ) were useful starting points in building something visually interesting. I decided on a character with an Ursine race (half human and half bear) and a Druid class (having nature based magic abilities).
The Asian Black Bear, or Moon Bear, became the starting point of the design, features like its round ears and white, crescent moon chest marking were fun motifs to carry over to an anthropomorphized character. For the human features, photo references of female boxers were useful in showing the stature and strength of the character. The character’s knowledge and worship of an ancient moon deity was another trait (a connection with the Moon Bear markings but also because I always love a good moon goddess). The bear’s habitat became a source for information as well. The Himalayas and the people and animals native to them inspired the character's clothing and name, Dalha, a Tibetan name for moon goddess.
The design development is a process of trial and error with hair, clothing, and color palettes. I have found that taking a strong set of reference photos for the figure's poses is extremely beneficial as it gives a sense of structure and realism to the character and allows the freedom to play with the design around it. The final result is a character sheet featuring a 3 side turn around of Dalha as well as an action pose and a small feature of her bear form. This piece was done digitally with Adobe Photoshop software.
The next stage was to place our D&D character in a Magic the Gathering playing card illustration (both games are Wizards of the Coast properties). With the character already established, the task became determining what the card represented in the game and how to best communicate that in an illustration.
The images of Moon Bears sitting high in trees that I saw in my initial research inspired the idea of Dalha resting in a tree, overseeing the forest and the goddess’ temple below. Instead of a dramatic fighting card, it is serene and protective, she is a watchful guardian of the forest. While the frame is mostly standard with a MTG card, I had fun making icons specific to Dalha and a piece of flavor text- a quote from noted nature writer Ursula K. Le Guin- that felt right for the character and the scene.
A combination of both digital and physical techniques were used in the final illustration. I started digitally in the planning phase, once the drawing was finalized and the value structure was decided I then redrew the scene on paper as a watercolor painting. It is much easier for me to begin the coloring process with physical paint rather than digital, the way that it blends and builds off of itself is both more believable and pleasantly unpredictable in my opinion. Using a photo scan of this painting and continuing the illustration digitally leaves the texture of the paper and paint still visible while allowing for a more precise finish to the piece.
The final stage to this 3 part project was an open prompt for the class to create whatever we wanted with the character and world that we had been building. We were encouraged to look towards other media and properties for inspiration as well as to guide what form the final image would take. I was inspired by and did research into the art of Avatar the Last Airbender as well as its related properties. Their vast landscape backgrounds, emotionally intense scenes, and fantastic (in both senses of the word) creature design all inspired my final illustration.
My goal for this last illustration was to drastically increase the scope of my character's world. In the past two stages Dalha is the center of the work and she represents the strength and beauty of a natural, mythical power. But what if she was faced with something even larger, more ancient, and while still a force of nature, has the power of fire and destruction rather than growth. I don't think this image is necessarily leading to a battle (one that Dalha may not win), instead this is just about the horror and enormity of the moment.
The creature, a fire elemental, uses a combination of different animal features, which is common in mythological creatures as well as in the Avatar universe. I used mainly foxes and Harpy eagles as reference for my creature (the "crown" that Harpy eagles have became my nod to the flaming halo of a traditional phoenix). With Dalha’s design established, the focus was now on pushing her expression and the halted movement of her pose. The same process of starting with watercolor and moving back to digital was used to create a base of texture and color but allowed experimentation with a glowing fire effect to enhance the image. The format used is a sort of cut-image to show the two different perspectives and give the scene a slight pause between seeing Dalha's reaction and the reveal of the creature within the larger landscape.