The inspiration for this piece came at the end of a week's holiday in Scotland last autumn. I'd spent a week absorbing all of the wonderful natural displays of colour at that time of year and I wanted to create an image that captured not only the look, but also the feel of a warm, golden autumn.
The first thing I did was to browse through a collection of reference photographs taken during my stay, looking for colour ranges and values that I could use as a base for my image. I narrowed my selection down to one photograph and adjusted the levels and saturation slightly to maximize the colour range.
I then created a new image and started blocking in some basic values taken directly from my reference photo. I used a large custom brush with varying opacity, keeping lighter values at the top and darker values at the bottom to create some basic depth and also to create a background light source in the top right area.
Once I was happy with my range of colours, I went back to my reference material to have a think about the type of figure I wanted to portray and how I could tie everything together with a natural theme. I knew I wanted to portray a beautiful female, almost like a Mother Nature figure but with the suggestion of a darker, sultrier side. After browsing through various model photographs, I went back to my original block in and quickly sketched out a figure on a new layer, paying close attention to the tilt of the waist, shoulders and head. I then added a few elements of fantasy style clothing, keeping it very basic at this stage in order to get the balance of the figure right.
After I'd finished the sketch, I created a new layer and started to block in the figure and her close surroundings with some dark values. Again, I worked with a large brush to quickly define areas of light and shade, adding some greener hues at the bottom of the image to suggest areas of vegetation.
Now that I had a good silhouette of the character in place, I wanted to add some more detail to the background. I started by selecting a hard, round brush and loosely drawing in some tree branches choosing light, saturated shades to prevent the contrast from becoming too harsh. This helps to create atmospheric depth, which is an important effect in an illustration like this. Bare branches look OK, but this image was about autumn and warmth, and so I needed to add some leaves to the trees. I did this by selecting another one of my custom brushes designed to create instant areas of leaves (Fig A), and started working on top of the branches, colour picking from nearby areas.