Please help me finalize this illustration.
Can you help me finalize this illustration?
Any critique, advice, paintovers welcome.

The characters belong to a friend, and this is a secrec santa gift for her. Based on the few informations she has given on the characters and the world I had chatgtp generate a scene description which I used as inspiration. The names are also AI generated.

Here's the AI-Text that roughly describes the general situation:

The meeting between Alexander Hartwell, the disillusioned paladin of the Sanctified Sons, and Seraphis Coilborne, the naga spy in the human world, takes on a deeper, more poignant atmosphere. Their rendezvous becomes a delicate dance between former adversaries, navigating the complexities of both their personal feelings and the societal tensions that surround them.

**Location: The Shadowed Cove**

Choosing a clandestine meeting place known as the Shadowed Cove, hidden beneath the overhanging cliffs on the outskirts of human territory, adds an element of secrecy and risk to their encounter. The dimly lit cavern echoes the shadows of their respective worlds, serving as a metaphor for the concealed nature of their connection.

**Setting: Relics of Conflict and Unspoken Longing**

Within the Shadowed Cove, remnants of past conflicts linger—discarded armor and relics from their previous clashes. The atmosphere is charged with unspoken tension, reflecting both the residual animosity between their worlds and the burgeoning emotions between Alexander and Seraphis.

**Visual Elements: Unseen Bonds**

The meeting is punctuated by stolen glances and subtle gestures, revealing the unspoken romantic tension. A weathered sword leans against a wall, symbolizing the conflicts they've faced, while a single luminescent flower, placed delicately on a rock, signifies the fragile bloom of their hidden feelings.

**Names with Hidden Meanings:**

- **Alexander Hartwell:** "Hartwell" hints at a noble and compassionate nature, a heart well attuned to deeper truths beyond the surface.
- **Seraphis Coilborne:** "Seraphis" alludes to a celestial being, while "Coilborne" suggests a connection to the serpentine form, intertwining both his ethereal nature and the reality of his physical form.
In this clandestine meeting at the Shadowed Cove, Alexander and Seraphis navigate the complexities of their past, their present feelings, and the uncertain future that lies ahead, fostering a connection that transcends the boundaries of prejudice and duty.

"It's better to do the right thing poorly, then to do the wrong thing beautifully."

CD Sketchbook
There is no connection i feel toward the piece it a bit like piece where character look into the distance. The character are nothing but placeholder. We do not learn anything particular of use about the backstory maybe apart from the paladin costume. The cave setting doesn't come out right away because if it a cave why would there be tree in it... not impossible but confusing.

The naga figure is confusing also the green hue of is body just add an other layer of confusion he look like a statue. Remember to consider the color you put around a subject matter they can affect the readability maybe he want to be grey and green to hide in is environment that not up to me to say but does it help the story that where i need to question it.

Now that i take a moment i can see the naga body wrap around the trunk but it goes out the frame to enter the frame a little below i don't like that at all .I suggest to instead create a clear rhythm that stay inside the frame for the eye to follow i would say otherwise it almost look like the body is part of the tree.

What i would suggest instead of the naga being below is to making him above the paladin i would have the paladin sit on the stair looking up toward the naga which who would hang from the tree.A bit like a scene from the bible where the serpent is in the tree.

The problem right now is that it almost like an ambush vibe we get out of this one the other character is distracted giving no attention to the naga.

My Sketchbook

Perfection is unmeasurable therefor it impossible to reach it.
There's a lot here that I think is good, and has potential. I like the general idea of it, it's very Romantic, like Romantic period of art. Like it kind of reminds of "Hylas and the Nymphs" by waterhouse. So I think that works. I like the setting of the grotto, and the poses mostly, though I think they can be tweaked. The lighting is interesting, but very dark, and I think it would possibly work if the picture were not of lovers meeting, but a creepy scene.

I agree with Dark that is kinda looks like an ambush scene. I would just work on some of the basics of the image, like the poses, lighting, form, composition, and then come back to some of the nuances of the story.

My suggestions:
-It's hard to have much romantic tension if the two characters aren't even looking towards one another. You could simply make them turn toward each other so it feels like there's some connection between them. They are expecting each other, after all.

-Think about setting a stage. If this was a play, where would you direct the spotlight so the audience knows where to look? Of course a painting doesn't have to have a literal spotlight, but if your audience can't even see the actors, they probably won't appreciate the scene very much. I would send a bright light down to light the two lovers, instead of the glowing flower being the brightest thing. It also highlights the naga's beauty.

-The sword and skull don't seem to symbolize past conflicts or history between them. It seems to symbolize previous heroes that have come down here and been killed! I like the idea, but there might be a better way to include that imagery. The placement of the sword and flower also kind of make them the center of interest, which is why I removed them for now. There was kind of a triangle where the characters are both facing toward the glowing flower, and it's the brightest thing around. 

There's still a lot to do to make a finished image, but with those changes I think the image is more readable from a small size, which is always good. And it changes the read to feel more like they are in love. Hopefully you agree, or at least it gives you some direction one way or another.

Attached Files Image(s)

Thank you both for critique and thank you JosephCow for the overpaint. I should have come here earlier, I don't get the same level of critique elsewhere.

Maybe I shouldn't have posted the AI text, since it was just my inspiration and not a description of what I then painted. The ambush vibe was kinda on purpose, but probably a bad idea. Actually many of the parts you mentioned I did on purpose, so the problem starts with my way of thinking I guess :/

@darktiste: Yes, what I wanted to depict is a gorge with a waterfall and not a cave. (,

How would you show more of the characters backstory? I agree, that I do a lot of statue like characters that stare into the distanse stuff, any suggestions how to practice to draw more engaging characters? Yet I don't want to do exaggerated comic style stuff.

"What i would suggest instead of the naga being below is to making him above the paladin i would have the paladin sit on the stair looking up toward the naga which who would hang from the tree.A bit like a scene from the bible where the serpent is in the tree." That's a nice idea.

The overpaint is beautiful! I like your composition so much more. Damn, I didn't intend it so romantic, but it's really nice. The way you remodeled the poses, the landscape, the light.

I'm a bit torn, because the original character design of the naga actually suggests that they look monstrous. More like Voldemort, with a jaw that parts in the middle. So that's how I want to paint him.

I actually did many of the things you both mentioned on purpose, so I'm unsure how to go on now. It seems like already my way of thinking of the scene is the problem. The naga was supposed to hide and blend into the environment. The paladin unaware of his presence. Both in thougts of the ongoing conflict with a hesitant hope for peace. In my intended scene he just realized that his order has been killing innocent beings and has yet to redeem himself to the naga people. So the meeting is a step into the unknown for him, with the flower marking the meeting spot. There is insecurity on both sides, but the paladin it set at a disadvantage since they were the aggressors.

Anyway, thanks for your both advice. I'll try to put it into practice now.

What would you suggest I focus my studies on (and how) if I intend to make more images of this type.
Also sorry if my english is weird.

"It's better to do the right thing poorly, then to do the wrong thing beautifully."

CD Sketchbook
Damn Joseph, I guess I'll go cry in the corner first, since your version is like worlds better.

"It's better to do the right thing poorly, then to do the wrong thing beautifully."

CD Sketchbook
''What would you suggest I focus my studies on (and how) if I intend to make more images of this type.''

Being able to incorporate the feedback into the work if need be. It one thing to hear feedback it an other to incorporate the feedback in a meaningful way. It up to you to find the depth of how much certain aspect of the feedback should be work into the piece. Nothing feel worst then thinking now that you got feedback you abandon your own artistic liberty or feel as if someone understand better how to turn that idea into a vision and now there isn't any other interpretation possible...

Illustration are none verbal so if you want to create piece that tell story you need to leverage every aspect of that piece to tell the story. A good way to reinforce the story is to repeat element that tell the story.

Sorry for the very vague statement but that more the way i think and would explain it.

Practicing making good choose is not something you can really put into word it alot of observation and personal choose. It also very case specific but it related to how you use the fundamental toward your visual goal basically.

Joseph said something like ''the poses, lighting, form, composition, and then come back to some of the nuances of the story.''

you see it basically observing and testing option not necessarily settling down toward a specific result right away to feel safe.If you settle down to fast you might miss the weak spot in your work and carry a bad sketch to a final and hurt your chance of fleshing out something more well thought out. If you settle to fast on direction your chance of relying on the feedback of other to carry the piece will go up. But if you use the ''fail fast'' approach of ''thumbnailing'' you have less chance to carry something that leak direction in the first place. You must sketch to get the bad drawing out the way. It in no way mean you make bad drawing and good drawing will magically appear it mean you build a understanding of why you prefer A OVER B. It comparing option mixing good element of A with B or toning down or exaggerating some element to create the visual you had in mind.

It normal to get feedback i am not saying there isn't a justification to asking feedback but i think feedback is more reserve to reflect personal touch of who ever make the ''commission'' it mean to flavor their vision to be more personal and a reflection of them. Don't get loose in the feedback.

I personally see Feedback as people letting you know of your ''death angle'' thing you don't have a good awareness of or simple they don't necessary understand why you have taken certain decision and they question those decision base on there own interpretation which is also sometime raising new important question.

My Sketchbook

Perfection is unmeasurable therefor it impossible to reach it.
(01-28-2024, 06:35 AM)Leysan Wrote: Damn Joseph, I guess I'll go cry in the corner first, since your version is like worlds better.

Aw I don't know about that. It seems like I got it kinda wrong actually XD. From the text, I basically was hearing a lot of stuff about romantic tension, enemies to lovers kinds of stuff. I don't think those emotions are reading in the image. So I thought, if the basic story is that the two have fallen in love, and are meeting secretly, then I will start by making that more clear to the viewer and then go from there. And the PO is basically the easiest way I could make that happen. Personally, I actually like the darker ambient scene that you have, and if the things you mentioned are what you are going for, then keep it! As I said before some of the things you have does work, but it works for a different picture than the one I thought you were trying to make. But yeah, you take the feedback in whichever direction you think makes sense, it's not like I'll be offended.

The one thing I still think holds though is that even if you want the naga to be kind of hidden in the shadows, the viewer still needs to see him. I would consider a more subtle beam of light hitting parts of him to draw the eye there, or make the skin a slight bit paler against the dark rocks so it's at least a little more readable from a distance.

My opinion of stuff to work on would actually be more technical stuff. Like we can talk about how the story reads for hours, but at the end of the day, people are going to interpret the scene in their own way, and you have limited control of that. Like if 2 art critics looked at your painting, one could come up with exactly what chat GPT wrote, and the other will say something totally different.

 I tend to focus more on how things look, honestly, despite my previous critique mostly focusing on the read of the story. Like I just look at what's visually engaging. So in this one It would be cool to see the environment more fleshed out, just a little more sense of space and lighting. And the characters and armour/clothing rendered in a pleasing way. All the elements you have here have the potential to be magical, almost regardless of what the story or situation is, so I wouldn't be overly concerned with that direction of things.

There's lots of different things you can do to improve. Maybe the biggest thing for me has been learning to use references better.

Thanks you two for your thoughtful comments. I will have to reread and let them think in.  Thats actually what I missed to push me to the next step after years of stagnation.

Anyway, what I picked up from your comments, is that my composition is not telling the story I want and is not engaging. So is this any better? I want the naga to appear in a dominant position occupiying most of the image. The paladin humble after understanding his mistake.

Should I try more thumbnails before trying to flesh out this one?

"It's better to do the right thing poorly, then to do the wrong thing beautifully."

CD Sketchbook
Remember that only a portion of what you have in mind make it into the picture. Mostly i would argue it the setting, the lighting and the facial expression aswell as there body language that carry the weight of what you are trying to say.

For example you say that the paladin is humble how does that translate does that need to be translate visually? How does the viewer understand that the paladin made a mistake.

I would thumbnail further only if you feel like you have more to explore.

Personally i feel that atleast here there is a sense of a domininant vs dominated which is necessary to avoid a static composition.

But i don't like that the character is showing is back unless they are secondary to the story.You generally see character facing away from us more commonly in concept art of environment they help establish the scale and they often serve to populate the word which otherwise would be empty.

What i would do is instead of the character moving up i would have the character be align in perspective with the naga.

I would have him go down as if he arriving from the surface world and it almost as if he almost pass the naga without seeing him but he slightly glance back at the naga as it was intented .Right now i feel the context look more like a formal meeting there isn't that dimension of ''admiration'' or forbidden affair.It important to have somewhat part of the face visible if you want to correctly describe how the character feel.

By having the paladin show is back you introduce a level of vulnerability and by having the eye look up you imply admiration.
I use renaissance painting to help illustrate my idea it certainly isn't as punchy as a POV but i think sometime it more helpful to give room for the person you critic because otherwise you compare your skill with the pov and it not the intention and it can get in the way.By using someone else work i give you a window do see the general idea. Nothing wrong about being inspired by master.

What is great about those impressive painting is they remind us to tell a story.

I suggest you try some color test next and see what you like.

Attached Files Image(s)

My Sketchbook

Perfection is unmeasurable therefor it impossible to reach it.
I actually think that's a really good comp. it reads well and i think has a more clear intent than the previous version. I don't really mind the paladin facing away, though it might be good to be able to see his face a little. I think having all characters on same plane and same height tends to be more boring but obviously that can work too as it's pretty common.

Thank you again for your comments, they give me something to think about that I wouldn't otherwise. I have tried a few other poses and a different lighting. I feel like I should have tried something more different. But here's where I'm at right now.

"It's better to do the right thing poorly, then to do the wrong thing beautifully."

CD Sketchbook
nice! I like how that's looking so far. I think the colors you have in the big thumbnail are the best. I don'treally see the warm or cool variations as being a big improvement, though I like the bits of purple showing through the gold on the second one.


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