This "Forest Mage" image was created for a book of the same name, written by Robin Hobb and published by Harper Collins.
Phase 1 : Concept sketches
First, I got instructions from the art designer on the project to start designing rough sketches based on the ideas he had discussed with the editor and the director of production. I did two on paper and toned them in Photoshop (I actually did more than that, but the other ideas were completely abandoned, so I will only show what was relevant to this idea) (Fig.01 & Fig.02).
In those two sketches, I worried more about composition and lighting than anything else.
The scene was supposed to take place in daytime, but it was in a forest, and the lighting had to reflect a strange and slightly dark mood.
The second sketch was chosen. Later on, the vines taking life around the sleeping woman were added to give an even more eerie atmosphere.
Phase 2 : Gathering references and preparing a mock up of the cover
Once the art director had chosen the second sketch, I started gathering reference pictures. In this case, I asked a friend to pose for me and arranged drapes on her. I took a couple of general pictures and then some close up ones for details (Fig.03 - Fig.06).