I wanted to create an illustration that reflected my mood. A grey skies kind of mood. I was feeling rather melancholy and nothing was getting me out of this funk, so I did what most artists do—express it through art. Words would have been fine too, but I wanted to capture this dreary atmosphere of mine in 3D. I also wanted an animal to represent my melancholy mood.
Awhile ago I had come across a fantasy illustration of a crow walking up a hill in a pair of boots. I think the artist was German. It was very intriguing and mysterious—just like crows are. Have you ever watched one fly? They don’t fly right. Crows maneuver in the air differently than other birds. They fly in this herky-jerky pattern, dipping or twirling suddenly and they have this air of magic about them. They are also keenly intelligent birds. Crow is the shapeshifter and I learned that they (Crow Medicine) can be used by Shamans (both good and not so good) to spy on others. Maybe that is why they fly like crazy chickens?
So now that I had my subject matter, I went hunting for pictures of birds with sad looking faces. I found a slew of them. This is why I love Google. Just type in any phrase and voila! Once I found several images that I thought reflected a melancholy state of mind I printed them out so that I could use them as a reference.
Next, I worked out a few quick ideas, and when I had a finished sketch in hand I traced that onto my watercolor paper. I prefer to use Arches 140 lb. rough for most of my watercolor work now, and I love that it comes in blocks. So convenient!
I decided to use a limited palette to create a somber mood and choose Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre and a little Viridian.
For the background, I settled on a misty lake because it symbolized the mystery of the crow and provided a melancholy atmosphere. The mist is great for evoking a sense of confusion, disillusion, etc,. Also, the light background set off the dark foreground, or provided the contrast I needed so that the viewer’s eye would be drawn to the crow, exactly where I wanted it to be. Always put the darkest dark next to the lightest light for the most contrast, which is usually where the main focus should take place in the picture plane. See my illustration tips for more detailed information on this technique.
I concentrated on the gesture of the crow, his bent head and hunched shoulders to show his mood, and kept the illustration tight and detailed around the head for emphasis and looser around the wings for a washed effect. The boots were added to make the image anthropomorphic.