My first step was to put one of Maggie Reilly's albums into Winamp...
In general before I start to create a portrait image I study some photos, or other artist's images and paintings, to spark my imagination. Sometimes I'll borrow ideas from other artist - unfortunately there aren't really any completely new artistic ideas under the sun these days!
My original concept was to create a female clown, but I changed my mind later and so the original concept and the result are totally different. When I was in the process of creating this image, new ideas came into my mind and these shaped the final image.
I have tried to add a classic, painterish effect to the whole image to enhance the fine art effect with the post work in Photoshop. I didn't want to create a colorful picture and that's why I didn't use too many colors. Those I did use were warm because they can add to the old-ish effect of an image (Fig.01).
Fig. 01 - click to enlarge
About the Character
I started this piece with the head of the character. I created the whole head in a classic way, using two reference photos of the front and side view of a female head.
First I created the eye-slot and its environment and after that I continued with her nose and her mouth. The ear was created separately earlier; it was a pre-created mesh that I made some years ago and have since used for all my character models. It's the same with the eyeballs; I have my own body part collection!
I always model half of the head and body, then mirror them to the other side and attached them together with the "Join" option in Blender. Her body was also created separately, just like her hands and her head. I only modeled half, with the help of body reference photos.
After that I divided the whole model into different parts for unwrapping to the UV map. I divided the model into face, limbs, torso, ears, lashes, nails, lips, etc... I used different materials for different body parts with similar material settings. For the torso, limbs and face I used the same materials with different textures. I used multiple materials on each object; the lips had another material just like lashes, and nails etc (Fig.02).
Setting the skin material is a very exciting thing. Basically I used SSS (Subsurface Scattering) with 3-4 texture including a color texture, a bump map texture and a specular map texture. I mixed these textures with a gradient ramp dark red to light red. This step enhances the "real meat effect" of the material. I set the gradient ramp to the skin input "result" and the method to "overlay". Most Blender artist use too much SSS effect in my opinion - so the skin material they create becomes like a wax instead of skin. Another good way can be to use nodes, but I don't like to use them.
I made her lashes from a simple plane object which contained a color texture mixed with an alpha texture. When I set the material of the lashes I turned off its casting and receiving shadows option. If the lashes cast shadows then they make the environment of the eyes much darker. In this way, I sacrificed a bit of reality to make my image better. I don't think it's always necessary to get reality at any price.
Creating eyes for a model is the simplest thing. As I mentioned earlier, I'd already modeled the eyes beforehand and they were a part of my body parts collection. The eyes were two modified UV spheres which contained one-to-one different materials. I used a simple Z transparent material with a reflection texture (HDRI map) and high and hard specularity for the cornea. I set the diffuse shader to oren-nayar and the specular shader to blinn. The iris and the eye white were just a color texture and a bump map texture respectively (Fig.03).