Commission: Blonde Vampirella

Blonde Veronicella
“I sooo love the taste of blood type K…”

This is the latest commission requested by my friend Paul Kimball. Again, the subject was the lovely Veronica Reynolds, whom I’ve had already the pleasure to illustrate as Altaira. This time Paul wanted to see her as Vampirella, the famous comic book character. Paul sent me the image below as reference:

Unknown author (will give credit if I learn their name)

Paul being Paul, he requested an odd detail for the piece: Kermit the frog on the back, lying on the stairs as if the hapless Muppet had been drained of blood. Paul explained this rather Freudian twist had something to do with a bit of a kerfuffle involving a vampire movie he directed ten years ago; as I said on a previous post, I get paid to draw not to analyze my patrons (besides, I’m cheaper than a shrink!).

So I got to work: Since I didn’t want to make an exact replica of the original image –out of respect for the author, and also my own self respect as an artist– I tried to make the background slightly different. I set out to find suitable reference pictures using Google of creepy castle archways at night as well as vampire bats flying. I also forced myself to attempt a very ‘painterly’ effect by exclusive use of the hard-to-master synthetic paint brushes in Autodesk Sketchbook –these are the brushes that simulate how paint moves on an actual canvas, and the way colors mix can be quite unpredictable depending on the ‘Flow’ and ‘Strength’ variables.

Reference image
Reference image I used for the archway in the background. Notice the seas and dark areas on the Moon, which slightly reminded me of a skull and I chose to make it even more noticeable on my piece.

Back from my old college days I gained some experience in making illustrations using a very dark color as base –the idea is to keep adding slightly lighter hues, which is kind of the inverse of how most people plaint since they start with a white canvas– so I tried to apply the same logic and I was getting VERY frustrated because I wasn’t sure which of the many synthetic brushes to use and how. But suddenly I somehow managed to get ‘in the zone’ and my inner Bob Ross came to the rescue! I began to give the indication of the exact type of texture I wanted on the columns and ornaments of the archway by applying the brush in such a way as to leave the right amount of dark areas. You see, the trick was to remember you need to let the eye of the viewer do some of the work for you! Once I understood that, completing the background was an easy –albeit laborious– process. The stone stairways required more work in order to give the sense of irregular cobble stones. and again I attempted to follow a ‘painterly’ process in the sense that instead of making a very defined line drawing first and put the colors later, almost everything was defined by using color shapes.

I followed that same color-shape principle with the bats as well. I tried to make them as ‘diffuse’ as possible –i.e. not too many details– while at the same time adding some nice touches of realism, like the translucent quality of their leathery wings.

One of the reference bats I used. You’ll notice the joints and other parts in the body have less hair and a fleshier tone. I tried to replicate that on my ”foreground’ bat but I admit I wasn’t entirely successful. Then again, I kept using the logic of using a lot of dark blues as my ‘ambient’ coloring so instead of pinks I switched to violets and purples. Also, in this photo the lighting comes from the front, whereas in my piece it comes mainly from the Moon in the back.

Once the entire background with the bats included were completed, I moved on to Kermit, which was great fun. Again, I applied the dark blues on my shades using the Multiply layer blending, but I knew I needed to ‘cheat’ the lighting scheme or else Kermit would end up being too dark and perhaps unrecognizable.

Finally, I set out to work on the main subject: Veronicella herself!

Original pencil sketch, which I copy/pasted on my Sketchbook file. It’s interesting how the rough pencil lines give these sketches a ‘raw’ dynamism that is somehow “lost in translation” in the final, ‘clean’ illustration

I checked out several examples of Vampirella artwork and decided I would keep the ‘undead’ skin color of the original reference image Paul sent me, with some slight variations –besides, how much blood would Kermit need to have in order to give her a truly natural flesh tone?

I finished the piece using my traditional method –tracing clean (black) lines on top of the pencil sketch / coloring on a layer below the lines / removing the main outline lines and just keeping the ‘inner’ lines, coloring the ‘flesh’ lines using the same skin tone color / adding shading and highlights on (MANY) separate layers on top of the main color, while keeping the lines layer on top of all at a low opacity with Multiply blend. This is definitely a more time-consuming method than what most artists probably do, but it’s the one that gives me the ‘soft’ look I prefer and the one that gives me more control– and I sent the file to Paul who requested some changes. He also didn’t like the fiery red pupils I’d chosen, and decided that our Veronicella needed to be blonde instead of brunette for the sake of being more recognizable –all these modifications are not that difficult to do if you take the precaution of working EVERYTHING on a different layer (you can never have too many!) but it further reinforced my policy of showing some updates to my patrons instead of risking a huge disappointment at the final reveal, like it happened with my River Song commission (NOBODY likes to rework on an already-completed project).

Once the edits were finished and approved, Paul showed the final image to Veronica, who was very pleased with it, which is really the #1 goal I set out to accomplish in every commission.

I hope you also like the piece, dear reader, and as always it bears to mention that COMMISSIONS ARE ALWAYS WELCOME (absurdbydesign[at]gmail[dot]com).

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