Saturday, April 9, 2011

Illustration for a Shoulder and Quarter Sleeve Dragon Tattoo

Dragon Shoulder and Quarter Sleeve Tattoo Final Line and Color, © Forest Stearns

Recently I was hired to design and illustrate a substancial sized and deeply meaningful tattoo for a gentleman from my home town area. He had read an article written about my artistic adventure in the Sierra Mountain Times over a year ago and contacted me via email wanting me to illustrate a piece for him. The timing was bad, I was in the assault of graduate school at the time and doing this job for him was out of the question. Understandable of course, I corresponded back apologizing for my lack of time and left the idea open for a further date. Over a year later, after I had graduated and was looking for new work, I found our correspondence and got back in touch. It was beautifully serendipitous, he wanted a tattoo of the subject matter that I had been exploring in my sketchbook, and I was stoked to develop his ideas.

The goal: To design a shoulder tattoo where the main focal point is a Japanese style dragon. This dragon is coming out of stylized tumultuous water and protecting three roses. All of this subject matter has specific important meaning to the client and it is my job to make it all look cohesive in design, style, and composition. A good challenge! Off I go to the practice board.
Pages and pages of Dragon Compositions, © Forest Stearns

It always starts with sketchbook mileage. Making my mind and my technique meet on the page, developing the idea into its own language of good design.  

Pages and pages of Dragon Compositions 2, © Forest Stearns
I started to do my research into many fantastical libraries and web universes to find dragon inspiration. Since He wanted a specific set of imagery I had to start thinking about the composition. Many rounds were conceived at this level. That is the beauty of a sketchbook, you can rock a dozen ideas and they can all suck in technique as long as your solving design problems and having an internal design dialog.
Pages and pages of Dragon Compositions 3, © Forest Stearns

Pages and pages of Dragon Compositions 4, © Forest Stearns
 After many sketches and studies of the idea, and a good deal of dialog with my peers about the progress I came up with a good set final concepts.

Final 4 Dragon Compositions , © Forest Stearns

 From these I chose the best elements and developed a tight version of the final line work.
Final  Dragon Composition in pencil, © Forest Stearns

The first step in this final piece is drawing it non-photo blue pencil which you can see under the black pencil lines.  It looked good in Pencil after some erasing battles and redevelopment rounds. Drawing on bristol is great at this stage because it holds up to erasing and heavy penciling without warping. 
Final line work Dragon Composition , © Forest Stearns

Over the pencil I trace the image in tight pen lines. In this case I drew the dragon and roses first, then redrew the wave motion, paying more attention to the physical shape of his shoulder. 

Final line work Dragon Composition mocked on shoulder
The drawing gets scanned into Photoshop and I present it to the client to get his approval before getting into color.

Final color work Dragon Composition , © Forest Stearns

The piece gets printed out another time in the perfect composition from its digital adventure. On heavy card stock I paint the piece in monochromatic scheme using pencil and ink. Again the image gets scanned into digital form and I make the flowers and belly scales a warm temperature red to go with his skin tone.

The final piece is presented to the client mocked up on his shoulder to show the flow and final composition. I am very happy with how the piece came out and he was excited as well. It takes a lot of work to get through what seems to be a simple process.

Final color work Dragon Composition mock , © Forest Stearns
 Every project adds on the the breadth of experience, so I do not mind pushing hard and working on the piece until it is perfect or at least successful. I love this job, it is always a challenge.