Every epic journey begins with a single step.
Entry for the 2013 Tomb Raider Reborn Contest
Sketchbook Pro 6
***EDIT: There's a whole, monster-sized story to this piece below, so you can skip over this if you'd like.
Now that the judging has ended, I can write about how this work came to be and the effect it's had on me. I can't really explain why, but I didn't feel like I should go into detail before judging because this was such an artistic endeavor for me and it was important for the message to be carried by the piece alone. It looks like that message wasn't carried through well enough to make it into the top 25, so now it's an art piece to be discussed - so feel free to share your thoughts and your own stories below! Besides, who wants to point out their shortcomings to the judges?
I will also add links to preliminary sketches and detail shots (all in my dA scrapbook). Lastly, I've made this piece available to download! We are not allowed to sell or make money off of these entries, so please feel free to download and print (just don't use it or modify it as your own, or try to sell it yourself)! It can print up to 11"x17". That's because there is an insane amount of line details.
Story: It began over a month ago when I wrote to my friend that we needed to join a contest somewhere online together. We had been focusing on a lot of design things, which is what we have been trained to do, and I had particularly been out of the artistic loop, but what we really do is illustration. It's also what makes us happy, and it's just what we DO -- but without a clear goal or concept, we couldn't even sketch lately. Life had taken it's dulling toll. We needed a deadline, criticism and critique, and support as we worked toward something together like in them good ol' college days. The very next day, dA posted it's Lara Croft contest. Long story short, my friend absolutely ADORES Tomb Raider, so I just knew it was the perfect choice! How exciting it was, thinking that we needed a (good) contest to motivate us and set a deadline, and there couldn't have been a more perfect one dropped right in our laps!
We discussed our ideas swimming around in our heads, then sat down on Skype together when our times lined up (she lives in the US, I live in Japan) and shared sketches. We discussed what we thought the contest wanted most: emotion and vulnerability in Lara. Then we discussed what we thought the contest did *not* need. These were my thoughts:
> The contest did not need an entirely realistic rendition of Lara because it was already represented that way by Tomb Raider's professional, creative staff.
> A scene directly from the game, or that appeared as though it could be, is a no-no. We needed "art". This was also somewhat stated in the contest rules.
> A replica of any art already being used as PR, in any style, should also be avoided for obvious reasons.
And so I settled on flat artwork with heavy detail...my style anyway.
I had a couple strong ideas. The one I chose was actually my first idea, and that never happens. Other ideas included entirely flat, positive and negative images of Lara in action: climbing up narrow chutes, flying through the air with her handy pick-ax, and in the middle Laura with her bow. Above would be wolves and mountainous dangers, and below, shipwreck and skulls. It would have been very decorative and perhaps only one single color. A third idea I had was somewhat of a combination focused on the idea that no matter which direction Lara goes, she faces danger and difficult decisions, but if she holds still, she will fail. I couldn't get a layout I entirely liked or had confidence in, despite the great concept, and it was time to really get working...
...so I chose the first one because it would have much more emotional impact, even though there was less motion and not much more color. Also, and importantly, it would connect this current Lara with her future self, further representing that something dramatic is about to happen. One big difference from my original concept and the finished piece is the cleanliness. I wanted to keep my Laura line work very, very sketchy to represent that she's not finished yet as a tomb raider. Her shadow's edges would be sharp to show that she is indeed there and solid, but not as clean-cut as she was going to be in the future. My natural style is just too clean and solid, though, so I couldn't help but consolidate the lines. This did, however, truly help the final piece pop like it does thankfully. Finally, how she becomes that future double-gun wielding, kick-ass, confident babe was the imagery to fill in her shadows. I thought that they would be dark blues and purples, with maybe intense violets and pinks on the left edges to make Laura feel even more washed out, but when crunch time came less than 24 hours to the deadline, my husband pointed out that my shadows needed to be lighter - much lighter - than my lines in order for them to command presence. And wasn't my line work, and the current Lara herself, supposed to be the centerpiece he said? I changed my theme to deep red lines (also something I wanted from the beginning) and light pink/peach shadows. And it made us both go wow. What would I have done without him?
Preliminary sketches: [link]
Progress report 1: [link]
Progress report 2: [link]
Sketches of other ideas: [link]
Post contest gold version and frame addition: [link]
I also had one other major decision to make in the beginning: traditional or digital? I've been slowly breaking into the digital media world, but I belong with my pens and colored pencils. I knew that I would be more proud of a pencil work, too...but that there would not be enough time to get the kind of detail that I do. Some people say that I "paint" with my pencils. But to get that effect is very time-extensive, and I do have a (non-art related) job and a home to take care of. I opted for digital to save time and give me safety options, as well as "what if" modification options. So this turned into a big journey for me with my tablet and Sketchbook Pro, which I've only owned for about 6 months now. I also don't have a scanner! So to be honest I chose the digital road rather quickly.
Even if I did, I doubted that a scan could reproduce in print as well as a work built specifically for that digitally -- which was another condition of this contest.
Working digitally was great for many reasons, I found. First of all, I could layer my sketches and build up on top of them, then remove them. Second of all, I could adjust my drawing by simply cutting it up and dragging when I realized that Lara wasn't as proportioned as I though she was yesterday.
However, it was hard for other reasons: I could not get a strong, precise line as fast as I can with a pencil and pen on paper. I was working at such a high pixel rate that it took forever to draw her arm because it took so many strokes. Zooming in and out was a pain, and also getting the right darkness or width of my lines. With a pen, I can get the perfect thickness and texture with no problem. I was also locked to my laptop! By the time the contest was finished, the entire right side of my body was in pain and knotted like a 3-year-old girl's curly hair. I had been sitting in the same position for hours on hours, day after day because I don't have a desk or chair. I sit on the floor and use a low table. If I had used a sketchbook, I could sit anywhere and change the position of the artwork in order to get those strokes down better.
Still, the pros outweighed the cons in the end, I think. Especially because the background shadow with it's landscape filling needed alterations so much (and they needed to be done QUICKLY as I did the entire filler in the last 6 hours - so I still have things I want to add/alter about that area). I was able to create that negative space easily digitally by using a solid brush tool and erasing the edges away to find the image within - like sculpting into marble. I did this with my line work, too: I drew many, many heavy lines where I needed one, then I erased away to the line I wanted. This is how I achieved my natural uneven line feel that I wanted.
I referenced so, so many videos of the game, interviews of the staff (including Mr. Brian Horton himself!), pictures of Lara (only made by the staff), and things like walking feet and boot bottoms. Along the way, I did indeed embarrassingly learn that Lara's name is not Laura (as Google politely corrected me so many times), and as time went on...more and more dA contest submissions were popping up in my Lara searches! 8-0 Here's the thing: I didn't want to see any submissions until after I was done! Sure, I wanted to *know* that there weren't any other pieces like mine, but I also didn't want to be influenced or deterred. If I saw that someone WAS doing my exact same idea, I would have been a bit crushed. I thought I had a good idea of what was most likely going to be submitted, and I was making a strong effort to stay out of that pile and make something that stood out. It was also a little encouraging though. I saw a lot of terrific pieces and was happy to be competing against them at a high level.
Overall I am extremely pleased with my piece. I haven't done detailed art like this in such a long time that I was afraid the talent had left me, but I find myself nodding my head when I look it over each time. I think this is my best representation of a person using line work, ever. And I'm so happy that a concept clear in my head became just as clear when manifested! Sometimes you have a great idea, or feeling, but you know it's not good enough or not ready when it doesn't show itself on paper. This contest with its guidelines and starting points, along with preliminary discussion of what needed to be focused on and what needed *to be avoided* definitely helped the process begin. And beginning something is always my biggest challenge - one I hear many artists share.
This is an art piece to represent the beginning of Lara's journey to become something great. It was a journey for me on my own road as well.