The idea behind this image was fairly simple - the profile of a young woman. I had a reasonably clear picture in my head before I started, the girl's expression, the art nouveau abstraction of her hair and headwear, and the visual style. I wanted to use blue, since I feel that my art relies a bit too heavily on warm palettes. You can clearly see the influence of some of my favourite artists; Alphonse Mucha, Moebius and Yoshitaka Amano. Blue was created with Adobe Photoshop 7.0, but these techniques can be applied to all the most recent versions. I use a Wacom Graphics tablet.
I sketched the girl in pencil, then traced her using a black felt-tip pen onto tracing paper. No fancy pen or materials, since I'm not very finicky about such things. I'm not a skilled 'inker', so the penwork is very simple, with a consistent line weight throughout. The looseness and slightly wandering curves suggest a sort of fragility and innocence (compared to confident, strong lines). I set the blend mode of the line art layer to multiply, which makes the white areas transparent, leaving the dark lines visible. I then create a new layer underneath the canvas.
A 'dirty' canvas
On this new layer I created a mess of random, colourful brushwork. Above this layer, I copied in one of my favourite photographic textures, and set the blend more to overlay. This makes the colours more 'alive', and adds a natural texture to the canvas. This base canvas has nothing to do with what I eventually want, but it gives me a more interesting surface to work with.
For this illustration I used a natural-shaped brush, with opacity linked to tablet pressure, and some hue and saturation jitter. Jitter adds a bit of randomness - for example, jitter on hue means a red brush stroke will not be one pure colour, but will have bits of pink and orange in it. This is important, because I want the paint to change colour as I work.
I started colouring in all the different shapes. I paint with my finger on the 'alt' key so that I can change to the eyedropper tool frequently - usually every couple of seconds. I often pick colours up from my dirty canvas rather than from the swatch palette. I used whatever colour I thought would look nice in that particular spot - not really thinking about how the whole thing would look in the end.
To strengthen the edge of the girl's head I chose to make the background around her lighter, so I began painting this negative space, varying my brush size, stroke direction, and colour.
A bit of trickery
After painting about half the picture I decided that the colours had looked a bit flat, so I decided to make them more interesting - what I like to call 'exciting' or 'activating' them. Usually I do this by applying a texture on top, with a blend mode like soft light or overlay, as I did with the dirty canvas, but in this case I wanted to even out the difference between the top and bottom of the painting. To do this I made the line art layer invisible, copy-merged the entire canvas, and pasted it to a new layer, essentially giving me two copies of all the colour work, one on top of the other. I rotated the top layer 180 degrees and started going through all the difference blend modes to see the different effects I could get. I ended up choosing exclusion.
I wanted to preserve the original colouring of the face, so I added a new layer mask on the top layer and used a soft brush on the mask to reveal that area.