In my off hours I spend a good amount of time experimenting with illustration: subject matter, techniques, and styles. I like to supplement client work and UI design with concept art and illustration. Fortunately, this has also enabled me to incorporate more unique imagery into a number of design projects, when the tone of the project calls for it.
The Guardians was a piece I created to challenge my personal process. It was easy enough to follow a methodology at work, where I had 8 hours every day. But when I got home I was racing—and rushing—against the clock, and tripping all over myself.
Firstly, I often didn't have much of an idea of what I was making, or would often just pick the first idea and run with it. Turning a doodle into a finished piece has rarely worked out, so I spent a night or so exploring my options before committing to one.
The concept was "trans-dimensional treasure hunter sneaks past temple guardians". Exploration yielded a "fruit kingdom", and turned "guardian" into "warden" into "ranger" and finally into "Rower Ranger". Dumb!
I used these cues to fuel some quick research and reference gathering.
Once I had a concept, I explored some ways of framing a shot. The goal was to separate design from execution. I wanted to have a plan—to know precisely what needed to be made—before I really sat down and started making it. It also gave me smaller checkpoints, which gave me targets to hit even if the project took weeks, which it did.
The scene included a protagonist, and multiple antagonists, so I worked to clarify their designs a little. It was easy to assume the picture in my head would be clear enough, but I wanted to push past the impulse to settle and explore better options.
I picked from the original shot sketches and started experimenting with composition, value, and color, using some photos for inspiration. Once I had a clean sketch, I got to work, making sure to save the effects and low-relief detail for very last.
If the image below looks finished, refresh to see the process GIF play through: