There is a lot to figure out before you even get to touch the paint. Most of the battle is planning every move and even then you run into problems that need solving. Here's the process I went through to bring this illustration to a finish.
STEP 1: Thumbnails, refinements.
STEP 2: Color comps
Do some super rough and exploratory color comps in photoshop.
STEP3 : Photo- reference mashup
Sometimes you have to put a dress on and make your friends do awkward poses.. That is what friends are for. Then mash it up into a composition that will help inform your decisions later on.
STEP 4: Refined pencil sketch
Keep refining. Find and destroy any repetitive angles, shapes, contrasts and tangents that will weaken the composition.
STEP 5: Project and trace layout onto painting surface
I projected and traced the lay-in of the composition onto the gessoed and sanded 18 x 24" piece of masonite/hardboard. I also added some trees to the mix. I had to make it clear where they were since it was hard to see. Being impatient and stubborn I had to redo this part a few times. Hey, it was past bedtime at this point!
STEP 6: The under painting
Then I started started on the under painting. Even after all that meticulous planning and problem solving before getting into paint, I ran into a lot of problems. The benefit of being in a workshop full of other great illustrators around me really came in handy.
Step 7 : The struggle is real
One of the biggest issues I ran into was realizing that the enchanted rose I had placed on Arabella's mouth looked like a small red smudge. Since the purpose of illustration was to be a book cover, the the 18 x 24" image needs to read well when shrunk down to a book size.
Chris walked up to me and said hey, that rose doesn't look right. He said "Its too small and looks like a smudge from far away."
Had I known this would have been a problem, I probably would have changed the entire composition of the painting. But at this time turning back was not an option. With advice from fresh and experienced eyes around me I sketched a bunch of solutions. The chosen solution was a much larger, brighter and glowing iconic looking magical rose.
Step 8 Painting process
Throughout the painting I had to go dig for more reference. With help from Erik I learned his technique for creating ghostly effects on the dress using smokey ink in water references. I also had to gather a ton of references of birds in flight. Thank god I took Tom Babbey's winged creature anatomy class! Also per Erik's advice, I gave the forest in the background more character by looking at craggy sleepy hollow trees.
Step 9 Keep painting. Until you're done.
Frame that sucker! Then start the process again with something new