After brainstorming with my client what direction to take on the poster, I created a couple thumbnails that look like those above.
My client liked 2 and wanted to see some options that incorporated a Celtic design. It was decided that 2C was the best option. Somewhere along the line, I had misread an email where my client had actually wanted to see a combination between the original 2 and 5, so I whipped up the following thumbnails:
Now for some better reference photos! My client was generous enough to send me photos at my behest so I could get a likeness of her face and proper body posture. In addition to the reference photos my client sent me, I took the photos of myself in the same position for more information on the hand and head position. The resulting rough line art based on these photos:
When I made this, I drew directly on top of my original thumbnail to make sure the silhouette was approximately the same. To be real, I traced the cello. Yes. Traced. I once considered tracing to be something of a last resort, but have been freed of that mindset thanks to listening to a podcast in which the spectacular Greg Manchess spoke of tracing as being one of the greatest helps in developing his drawing skills.
Next, I printed out the digital line art so I could trace it by hand onto Bristol Board.
After being traced, I continued to spruce up the line art with detailing and some indications of the darkest shadows. I am using a mechanical pencil, so I often have to go over the same spot again after erasing stray lines and consequently fading the intended lines. Interesting note: the cast shadow was not originally planned, but was present in the reference photos my client sent me. It was the perfect touch!
This is sort of what it looks like at the gradient stage, but with a few differences. At the gradient stage, I just have smooth, uninterrupted gradients, unlike what you see on areas like the lips. Also, I don't actually have the shading on the smoke planned out yet, but I thought I would show here to compare its development with everything else. I have a pretty straight-forward plan for light and shadow as I follow my reference photos very closely, but the shading on the smoke I have to pull out of thin air. I use the soft round brush to sculp my way to a believable rendering that matches the lighting on everything else in the image.
In contrast to the smoke, I go straight to the polygonal lasso tool to carve out the "light" for the cello and the cellist. This is on a clipping mask layer about the gradient layer I have for each "flat". The cut-outs on the "light" layer allow the gradient layer beneath to show through, forming the shadows.
This is the first image that my client saw since the last thumbnail sketch. I have put a crayon texture for the hair and the originally planned origami pattern for the smoke cloud. I suggested to my client that we keep the design without the Celtic pattern borders for better design impact. That was all good, but my client really wanted to have the Celtic pattern in there somewhere. We decided to see what the smoke would look like with a Celtic pattern instead of the origami pattern. Also, my client pointed out some errors with the bow hand. Personally, I didn't like the bow, so I redrew that, scanned it in, and worked some photoshop magic to mesh the new line art and the old line art. With the bow line art separate, I was able to position the bow in a way that made the hand position look more accurate.
The bow is now straighter, the cellist is blue, the hair is rendered instead of textured, we have Celtic knots in the smoke, and most importantly, everyone is happy! The last stage was text and then the piece was ready for print.