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Finishing a bazaar stall: Weekly Art Dispatch No. 31 🎨

21 September 2021 - Reading time: 8 minutes

I finished my digital painting of a bazaar stall, the most complicated and involved digital painting I've created to date. Through this I discovered the limits of my current digital painting process, and, for the first time in about a year, faced a loss of nerve and had to figure out how to overcome it. In all, this was a good learning experience!

Freelancer Kelly chats up Sayrna at her stall in the Fort Tarsis Bazaar. Fanart for the videogame, Anthem.

What I'm satisfied with: composition/storytelling, and the values schema.

In Imaginative Realism, James Gurney describes all the elements of an image (characters, lighting, colour, perspective, etc) that serve visual storytelling, and how an artist can arrange all them purposefully to serve a story. I was applying some of that knowledge here, and indeed, I discovered how much exhaustive care and planning can go into telling a story in an image. It was an enjoyable challenge for me to figure out the story I wanted to tell, and then figure out a way to tell those thousand words through one picture.

Some art friends gave me constructive critique about the image composition right before I started on the colours. It was inconvenient to backtrack to adjust some compositional elements (and I had to be careful to not get lost in the weeds of tweaking details), but final version turned out a lot better than the initial one. So I'm grateful for the feedback from this community.

I'm also very happy with how I applied my knowledge of values to this picture. Ever since I started learning about values and light/shadow back in June (from around Dispatch #23), I've been consciously practicing value organization and checking values vs colour scheme on all my digital art.

And I like how I drew these two characters! I hope Kelly and Sayrna's relationship/interaction is clear from their faces. ;)

From left: original value schema, final colours, final values.

What I'm not satisfied with: the colours and my rendering.

I was caught off-guard with the amount of stress I experienced when colourizing the painting. Initially, I was trying to use gamut masking as a way to pick a harmonious colour scheme. (Gamut masking is another technique James Gurney introduces in Color and Light.) It seemed like a good way to constrain my colour choices, but after picking a gamut, I couldn't figure out how to incorporate it into my painting process. After several colour scheme drafts, where I got increasingly stressed with the colour-picking process, I threw the gamut away completely and went back to my normal method of colour picking from the colour wheel. I'm probably using a gamut mask in the wrong way, and have to go observe how artists use it during digital painting.

Going back to my normal method helped ease some of the stress, and I'm happy with how the characters turned out. But I dislike everything about the shop: its colours, and how I rendered the details. I think I have more to learn about colours. --Or perhaps, I should stop thinking so clinically/rationally about them, and just follow my gut and not stress out too much!

The gamut mask I initially picked, and then discarded; but I still picked colours that more-or-less adhered to this section of the colour wheel. I used this Gamut Masking Tool.

I think part of the stress came from the limits of my digital painting knowledge. Somewhere along the line, my painting process completely broke down, and I lost track of what I was doing, and in what order. There were a number of processes I had bypassed/skipped for whatever reason, and I had to double back to finish them -- which added to mental burden. Some of my processes feel redundant and tedious; surely there is a more efficient way of doing some steps, such as rendering colours according to my value schema.  (Amongst other things, I want to learn and experiment with gradient maps.)

I'm seeing the limitations and inefficiencies in my digital painting knowledge. I think some of it comes from inexperience, which can be solved with more practice, getting familiar with the Clip Studio Paint software, and some structured learning. But I also suspect that, by choosing a layer-heavy method of digital painting, I'm boxing myself into a certain painting approach. There are other ways of creating digital illustrations -- more intuitive, less systematic approaches -- and I have to try loosening up.

The Art Life: dealing with a crisis of confidence

The whole colouring phase of this illustration was stressful from end to end, and I reached a point where I almost lost my nerve. I started doubting my artistic skill, and my ability to finish this piece. It's been months, possibly over a year, since I last had such a crisis of confidence. I seriously considered giving up on this piece and leaving it unfinished -- but the last time I lost my nerve (incidentally, it was about this month in 2020), it took me over two months to get back onto my feet and resume drawing.  I didn't want to repeat that experience, so how was I to move forward?

After some reflection and a bit of ranting to my art community, I realized I had to change my goals if I wanted to finish this piece. I currently had the goal of getting the colour scheme to a satisfactory state, but I was starting to overpolish details and get into a real danger zone of art limbo (or "development hell", in media terms). So I decided to shift my goal: finish the piece by a self-imposed deadline, and "ship/publish" it, no matter how I felt about it.

Amazingly, when I adjusted my expectations and fixed down a deadline, the stress eased up immediately, and I had more clarity about the next steps to take in order to finish. And indeed, I finished the piece by my deadline. I'm still not satisfied with the colours and never will be -- but I'm now okay with that, because I achieved my main goal: the work is done.

The stress was unpleasant, but now that it's over, I'm thankful that I was able to find a way through this crisis of confidence, and beat it. It means that this sort of fear can be overcome.

Next week's topics: Decompress from this big illustration! Time to draw lighter fare!

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