When creating this art piece for a local religious/ spiritual show, the first thing I did was to give myself constraints. Sometimes not having any limits can be paralyzing, so I fabricate my own to help the project move along. The limits I gave myself were 1) the image needed to be nature-inspired and 2) the religion I explored in the piece was something other than Christianity. I was fortunate enough to visit a Daoist temple when traveling to Taiwan. I used photos and memories from my visit paired with additional research about the religion to construct the piece.
I focused on illustration because I knew I wanted to completely control the color and texture within the piece for a realistic result. A long-time favorite for me are Prismacolor oil-based pencils because they blend smoothly together and come in vibrant hues. However, some colors they offer are more colorfast than others, so that is something to be aware of if you use these.
To prepare my paper for drawing, I measured out the working space within my paper, marked and taped it to keep the border clean. I used washi tape because it removes easily without tearing the paper when I'm done.
I then laid down an initial sketch, assigning general shapes and space, then rearranged once I saw how the components would work together. I did this using a graphite pencil, which erases easily and allows me to make as many tweaks as I need.
Once the graphite lines were perfectly placed and spaced, I started replacing them with colored pencil lines. Even though it seems like an extra step, it was necessary in order to blend the colors and textures right to the edge of each shape. I didn't want graphite outlines defining the shapes, I needed the colors, shadows, and textures to define them, which meant my outlines had to disappear as I filled in color. I made sure to use a light neutral color that I could easily blend into other colors. It's time-consuming steps like these that prevent the final piece from looking sloppy.
When drawing in a realistic style it is important to keep the pencil tip sharp. Although it was tedious, I resharpened the pencil tip every few minutes to ensure I was getting the texture and sharpness needed for the piece. Also, when working with pencils, I treat and store them gently to prevent the colored lead inside from breaking.
With the simple contours lightly in place, I started filling in the shapes, starting with the main flower. Color was applied in more than a dozen light layers using a circular motion to keep streaks from showing up. I blended the colors as I added each layer and defined the shapes with shadows and highlights as I went along. While adding shadows, I made sure to use complementary colors for a more natural color and to add depth.
Moving onto the leaves, I used a new set of colors. Following the same techniques, I applied color and definition to the leaves. As I worked on the leaves, I added the colors from the leaves into the flower petals to pull the colors together and add even more depth.
Next, I worked on the flower buds. When things look white, they usually aren't pure white and are lightly tinted with a variety of colors. I added multiple light layers to slowly build up to the color I wanted to achieve. Keeping the pencil strokes small and circular helped keep the texture smooth. I continued filling in using the same techniques.
Once all the buds were colored in, I began filling in the background. The color was achieved using similar techniques but with larger areas that were predominantly different colors.
At this point I realized I needed more contrast and definition throughout the piece, so I applied additional layers to deepen all the colors across the entire piece.
Then, continuing with the background, I applied large overlapping areas of color until the entire background was filled in.
I scanned the artwork a final time, adding definition and line corrections, smoothing color and textures, and blending colors together. After that, I signed the artwork and began final cleanups. Cleaning up included removing any stray pencil marks and smudges outside of the tape, carefully removing the tape, and touching up any lines on the exterior border of the art.
Once the piece was complete, I matted and framed it.
I then finalized my artist statement, which is an explanation about the piece. This is what I wrote:
The Lungshan temple in Taipei buzzes with energy from the many visitors offering prayers to the Goddess of Mercy and other patron deities. Personal items sitting on tables in the fore hall soak up the goodness of the audible prayers in the complex and are later picked up by the worshipers who carefully placed them there. Crowds chant together because there is power in many people praying together. Countless prayers are offered daily and once answered, patrons return to the temple to offer gifts of gratitude in the form of floral arrangements and food. Depending on the type of prayer that was answered, the gift can be elaborate or simple, like this small yet carefully-crafted bouquet. The gifts rest in the complex until replaced by the the continual flow of new gifts from people grateful for the power of prayer.