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Art with Erika

the journey of an artist – painting life with purpose

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women and art

“Champagne” – June 15, 2017

Not long after I moved down to Los Angeles, four years ago, I broke out my sketchbook and walked through some evolving ideas that turned into the “Women and Wine” collection.  As I was doodling page after page of crappy thumbnails, my brain stumbled upon the idea of collaborating women, fashion, and cocktails.  My first scribbles were of women standing next to over-sized glasses of alcohol wearing beautiful dresses. The thumbnail sketch for “Champagne” featured a woman whose dress turned into bubbling liquid in a shimmering flute. From there, the collection of three women named for white, red, and rosé wines took shape and was finished in the fall of 2016.  I decided to revisit my original inspired sketch so that I could bring “Champagne” to life.

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I enjoy the idea of collaborating my old profession, costume design and fashion, into my artwork. Over-exaggeration, extravagant elements, and lots of little details thrill me to no end.  It’s an unfortunate thing that I don’t have the finances or the time to create costumes, as many of them cost well over $1000 in materials to create – and I am an all or nothing kind of person with those projects.  But, my newfound love of painting in Photoshop has proven to be more than satisfactory.

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I enjoy painting and drawing in raw media but more often than not, a lot of very tiny detail is lost within pen scribbles and paint blotches, unless the canvas is over-sized. (And I don’t have room for that in my 200 square foot tiny space.) What I love most about Photoshop is that I can achieve an incredible amount of fine detail that would have been impossible to achieve if I had tried to paint the same thing on the canvas. A lot of my costuming in the past was consumed by rhinestones, bead work, and the tiniest of details. In person, you could see the fine elements on the costumes themselves, but the artwork that went along with them (the concept sketches) were not as exciting. (At least, not to me).

“Champagne” features an abundance of small detail. From her strands of hair, to her delicate jewelry, and the shimmer and glimmer of champagne and chiffon, this painting embodies a subtle strength and definitive elegance.

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It is a wonderful feeling to be able to see the improvement in my artwork as I complete each piece. The digital learning curve is starting to straighten out, and I feel that each project that I take into my hands becomes a new favorite of mine.

Above is a video featuring a slideshow of stills from start to finish for “Champagne”.  Below are select step-by-step stills and close-ups along with walk-through descriptions and notes. (You will be able to see the detail better on this blog post, as opposed to the video, but the video is fun, too!)

Thank you so much for taking the time to visit my blog!  I hope you enjoy reading about and watching “Champagne” as much as I have enjoyed creating her.

‘Til next time!

 

 

55FINAL
“Champagne” – By Erika Robertson – Digital Painting – Photoshop – 2017
01
Original thumbnail sketch for “Champagne” from 2013 (It’s been a long time!)
05
First sketch following the flow of the original drawing.  But it isn’t looking too great…I need to change the angle of the body.
06
Much better positioning of the body, but some adjustments still need to be made.  The flow is really sloppy right now.  It needs to be more straight forward and confident.
07
This positioning is much better.  There is also a great balance of straight and curved edges which makes the foundation interesting.  I love the straight line on one hip that contrasts with the heavily curved hip on the other side.
09
I re-draw the left arm to bring a little more life and purpose to the angles of the arm.  I didn’t like the way the hand cupped over the hip.  The fingers grazing the waistline give it a little more tension.  I also adjust the size of the figure and the glass flute.
13
The background is black, so I lay the color down.  I know I will love the contrast of the glitter and champagne colors against the dark background.  I also change the color of the lines of the figure to something closer to a flesh tone.
15
I play around with the idea of draping fabric that circles around the glass, as well as arm jewels.  All of these elements mimic the shape of the champagne glass and I work with trying to find a solid balance of all of the accessories before moving forward.  It’s important to plan out your steps as much as you can before proceeding, otherwise you will have to edit TOO MUCH later on.  Plan in the beginning and save time later on.
18
Since the glass is a solid object that doesn’t move, and since the figure is emerging from it, I finalize the outline of the glass right now.  It will not change at all, save some minor reflections, and this way I can build the rest of the painting up around it without worrying about it.  I start to lay down color for the figure.
19
Shading and layering the basic lines of light and shadow.  The main light source is going to come from above.
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I add the facial features, as I think they are one of the more difficult parts to balance out.  I try to do the more difficult elements first, so that they don’t weigh on my mind and seem so daunting.
24
I smooth out the skin and adjust the color to make it pop a little more.  I want a darker skin tone, but not too dark.  Something that will look beautiful against the gold of the dress.
25
One of the last things that I do, before trimming the boarders of the figure, is to highlight the skin with a white light brush.  It makes everything pop a little more, and it is nice to have that reflective look of the light bouncing off of the skin.
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I erase the edges and make them crisp!  But, I trimmed off a little too much and made her TOOOOO thin….I don’t like it.  (She is already skinny enough and I don’t want her to look unbalanced)
27
This is much better.  Now, I need to work on the hands….One of my least favorite parts…….
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I haaaate drawing hands and feet (which means I should probably draw them more…)  They just take a long time to do, and I used to actually draw blocks for hands or hide them behind the figure.  But, they are so expressive and such an important piece to most of my work, now.  They can add or take away so much in a painting.  I highly recommend them, even though they do take a long time to draw.  🙂
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I lay down the color for the hair and placement for the bun.
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I paint color upon color, and strand upon strand, layer after layer.
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I add more detail and a splash of light to her hair.  I think I used about 10 different shades of brown and black to get the richness that I wanted.
34
I thought I wanted a “light-filled” champagne liquid in the glass, but it looked like it was too much, so I decided to go with a “see through, against the black” look, instead.
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I add just the slightest hint of champagne color to the edges of the glass, and add the bubbles.  I had always been fascinated by champagne bubbles, as a kid.  I loved how they started out so tiny and concentrated only to float straight to the top of the glass in little lines.  (Fun fact:  Champagne was my favorite smell when I was little.  I used to ask my mom if I could sniff her glass of champagne when she would order it on that rare occasion.)
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The dress is going to be a see-through jewel-encrusted chiffon.  I add the base layer of the dress to the figure and blend it into the champagne.
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I was going to draw the shawl in the same way as I drew the figure (layering and then erasing the edges), but I decided to change my method…
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I referenced the original rough outline of the chiffon fabric that was sketched out in the beginning.
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On a different layer, I start drawing the back half of the shawl.
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I want the shawl to be very very see-through, so I start taking away color until I find my “happy place” and am satisfied with the see-through effect.
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On a separate layer I do the same with the front of the chiffon fabric.
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And I erase the layer until I am happy with how it looks.
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Jewels are so satisfying to paint.  Thousands of little dots give the illusion of chains or jewels draping from her arms.  The design isn’t planned out, but an art deco theme emerges with each strand that I add.  I usually let intuition lead me with details like these.  I feel like I am summoning Erte.
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I finish the other jeweled sleeve.
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The longest strand in the back was a little too wide and it didn’t look like it was falling properly, according to the weight of a chain of that size, so I fixed it.  I also added four more strands to the back to balance out the area.  I want the busy work to be on the arms, though.
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The rest of the gold shimmer is added to the dress and the chiffon fabric.  Hair jewels wrap around her head and connect to the back of a simple minimal earring.  (I really love this element)
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White shine is added throughout the painting on the jewels.
55FINAL
Finally, the shine of the glass is added along with a sparkle on her lips and eye.
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
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Finished detail of “Champagne”
55FINAL
“Champagne” – By Erika Robertson – Digital Painting – Photoshop – 2017

“Angelica” – June 12, 2017

Thirty is a big year for many people. It’s a major turning point where we leave behind our ignorant twenties and start solidifying ourselves in the mold of adulthood. It is the beginning of many wonderful adventures, and from what I hear from older generations it is only the start of the best decades that lie ahead of us.  On May 27th I turned thirty-one, and I can say with full confidence, that thirty had been the most pivotal and rewarding year of my life. It was filled with a lot of heartache, depression, and turmoil that transformed into growth, forgiveness, confidence, and love. Twenty-nine was the year that I was found. Thirty was the year that I was smashed to pieces and made stronger through adversity.  I find that a lot of the people around me are following the same pattern.

A handful of months ago I was approached by a friend, and was commissioned to create a piece that embodied the woman who she aspired to be in the near future. “A woman who loves herself, a woman who is confident in her capabilities, and a woman who is open to what the world has to offer.”  She gravitated toward the “Rose Wine” painting that I did last year in the “Women and Wine Collection”, but she wanted a number of changes and additional elements:

Woman to be of average height instead of very tall

Darker skin tone

Squarer face

Medium length flowing curly hair (black with brown/red highlights)

Maxi dress with loose floral pattern and halter top neckline

Rose wine

Lavender and roses

A headband to represent an element of peace

Mint (color)

Background maroon, burgundy, or berry red

Confidence

Peace

Openness

I have to say that it was quite a challenge trying to balance everything out (but I really do love a challenge!)  To date, this is my favorite digital painting.  Thank you, Angelica, for setting up an incredible platform.  Without your inspiration, this would not have been possible.  Here’s to friendship, and a wonderful decade full of life, love, growth, and adventure!

Above is a slideshow of the step-by-step process, and below is the step-by-step process with descriptions for the making of “Angelica”.

01Angelica
Every painting starts with a rough sketch.  I like to draw over the original rough so that I can keep the livelihood of the lines.  Sometimes, when you re-sketch from scratch, the movement is lost and the drawing becomes too stiff.
02Angelica
I start with a blue pencil and sketch out the first roughs.
03Angelica
I create a new layer and re-sketch and fine-tune the lines.
04Angelica
The background will be very dark, and in order to balance out the colors properly, it is necessary to lay down the background so that I know how much the drawing will pop against it.  I almost never draw anything on a white background.  At the very least I use off-white or gray, so I can keep track of the whitest highlights of any piece.  You can’t see them as clearly if you are drawing on a white surface.
05Angelica
Because I am drawing a blush dress that transforms into rose wine, I change the hue of the blue lines to something that relates more to the final product.  It is very important that the harmony of the colors is generally figured out in the beginning of the painting, otherwise the final product could be unbalanced.  It’s much easier to fix these things in the beginning stages than to try to fix them when your painting is already finished.
06Angelica
My friend wanted “mint” incorporated somehow, and this step was more of a test to see if a mint colored dress would blend well as it transformed into a pink dress against a burgundy background.  So far, so good!
07Angelica
I add a peach tone to the pink and mint to warm up the painting.  I start filling in and layering the dress and wine to see where breaks and folds will happen in the dress and in the glass.
08Angelica
I layer more colors, and smooth out the dress.
09Angelica
As the dress transforms into wine, it becomes transparent, like liquid.  I erase the edges of the hemline, and the liquid that swirls in the glass.
10Angelica
I use the dark blush colors to shade in sections of the mint dress.  Using colors, as opposed to black and white tones, can bring more depth and life to a painting.  I also lay down the first layer for her skin to see the balance of color between the background and the dress.  The outline of the wine glass is created so that I know exactly where the edges of the dress need to hit and spill over.
11Angelica
I warm up the mint and blush wine up a little more with a yellow and peach shade, so that it is a little more balanced with the tone of the skin.  The wine in the glass is filled in.
12Angelica
The edges of the dress are finished with the beginnings of the splashes.
13Angelica
The edges of the dress and wine are layered.  Folds in the fabric and wine are given solid definition.
14Angelica
Because of the painting and layering from the last few steps, the see-through effect was lost a little bit, so I go over the whole dress and smooth out and inconsistencies and add the clear liquid effect throughout.
15Angelica
An explosion of droplets is scattered around the dress.  It’s here that I really start to feel the magic of the painting appear with all of the sparkles and glitter.  There is a lot going on in this painting but I have always been a “more is more” type of artist.
16Angelica
I start to work on her face and add the most difficult features: the lips and eyes.  I lay down a temporary “hair piece” for her, too, so that I can get a rough idea for her hairline against her features and skin tone.
17Angelica
There was a specific skin shade that was given to me to work with, so I color corrected the tone.  I also started layering and hammering out the details of her arms, neck and head.
18Angelica
Hands are one of the most time-consuming elements, for me.  After they were done, I went around the whole figure and highlighted her skin with a tough of “light”.  Her fingernails are painted pink.  (I love little details like this!)
19Angelica
A rose pattern starts out bunched closely at the top of the dress and cascades out into the pink wine.  There are a few bunches of roses that are barely visible in the pink liquid.  It is the little things that you don’t really see at first glance that bring a picture to life.
20Angelica
The hair is painted in, using many many layers and hundreds of pen strokes in various shades of brown, red, and almost black  (I think the only thing that is truly 100% black in this painting are her pupils).  At the end of it all the hair takes shape and looks like loose waves that spiral into ringlets.  Small strands wisp around her face, neck, and arms.
21Angelica
A crown of roses and lavender circle her head….but they are a little bit too large….
23Angelica
…so I shrink down the size of the wreath.  Her head is also a little too large and not proportionate, so I adjust the size ever so slightly.
24Angelica
“Angelica” – By Erika Robertson – Digital Painting – 2017 – Photoshop   –   My favorite part of painting is adding the finishing sparkles.  (Maybe because I know I am almost done, or maybe because everything starts to explode off of the page, little by little.)  It takes a long time, but the extra bump of life that the shimmer and glitter gives is extra special and adds so much magic.
25Angelica
Detail
26Angelica
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27Angelica
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28Angelica
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30Angelica
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24Angelica
“Angelica” – By Erika Robertson – Digital Painting – 2017 – Photoshop

“Women and Wine Collection” – January 25, 2017

Try and try, and try, and try…again, and again, and again…… Ctrl+z, Ctrl+z, Ctrl+z,…Ctrl+z……Dang it!!!

It has been three long years since the concept of “Women and Wine” was doodled while sitting in my first apartment in LA.  What began as an evolution of rough sketches turned into a few years of tedious trials and errors.  Why?  Because I could not find the right medium for what I wanted to do.  Everything that I tried and tested seemed wrong.  Time and time, again, I would visit this project and scrap it.  I started with Photoshop – tried out a new comic book technique -, I moved into pastels, and went back to the computer again, and into acrylic paints on canvas….the cycle was never-ending.  There would be months, and sometimes periods close to a year, where I turned my back on the paints and mediums.  I was frustrated.  Nothing clicked, nothing worked…I wasn’t happy with any medium.  It all seemed unbalanced, the textures were just wrong…

It wasn’t until November 2016 that I was able to put a finished seal on this project, and it solidified my new art medium in Photoshop (and in perfect timing, right before my art show).  Not only was I able to pinpoint the new technique and exceed my initial vision, but I also found my calling in the art world through this project:  embracing the neutral beauty of diversity.  (I will touch on this in a future post.)

This is a collection near and dear to my heart, not only because of my love of wine, but because of the beauty of the physical differences among women.  There are three pieces in this collection; each one features a general grouping of wine (red, white, and blush/rosé – with their proper glasses, of course).  They also feature women of color: Asian, African American, and Persian (onlookers assume that she is white, but she is, in fact, Persian).  I am proud to say that most people had appreciative and very positive (if not, overwhelmingly positive) responses to the incorporation of colored women in the art.  My happiest moment was my last customer, who walked by with her mother, and did a double take.  She came back a few seconds after walking by the booth, and looked at the woman featured in “White Wine”.  “Oh my gosh!  Mom!  Look!  Look at this!  She has my hair!”  She paused, took in the painting, and after taking a breath she almost whispered, “Oh my gosh.”  She took her hands off of her mouth to rest over her heart, “I have never seen my hair in any kind of art, before.  That is my hair!  My hair looks exactly like this!  That’s my hair!…She is beautiful…”

This is why I create art: to touch people, to make them feel.  And it makes me so happy to be able to fill a much-needed gap in the art world that has been lacking for much too long.

Here is the tedious process that went through the creation of “Women and Wine”.  I hope you enjoy it!

01
The first speed sketch (estimated sketch time: 15 seconds – if you’re curious, haha!)
02
More concept sketches.  I wanted to incorporate costume and fashion design in here, somehow, but I also wanted to combine the women a little more with the wine, instead of having the glasses and the figures standing side by side.  That is when I decided to put her inside the glass…
03
These are the first roughs of the concept of the evening dress flowing into the wine, and possibly becoming the wine…the evolution has started.
04
How much of the wine did I want to be “dress” and how much did I want the dress to be “wine”?  I had to play around with the balances a little more, do get a good “weight” between the woman and the wine glass.  How dramatic did I want the gown, too?…maybe less drama would be more, in this case.  If the dress is too busy, it will distract from the subject matter, and I didn’t want the focal point to be the dress.
05
The first breakthrough for “Red Wine”.  This pose would stay relevant for the remainder of the project.
06
Roughs of possible layouts for “rose” and “white” wines.  I like the different angles of the women, and the use of the scarf to balance out the weight of the wine splashing from the glass.
07
I had to decide if I wanted the ENTIRE glass in the picture, or if I wanted a closeup with the stem cut off.  I really did want to keep the whole glass, but there would have been a lot of dead space at the bottom of each painting.  I could either fill it with background or adjust it and zoom in to focus on the ladies a little more.  Decisions, decisions…
08
The first concept for the collection was very detailed and complicated.  It wasn’t until I started drawing it out on the computer that I decided to scrap it, completely.  It involved three different backgrounds (ocean, vineyard, and city) with three times of day (evening, twilight, and daylight), with the three kinds of wine.  The colors might have played off of each other, well, but it was just too busy.
09
Here is where the ethnicity of the women started to come into the picture.  Ultimately, their diversity would be the focal point that would scrap the busy and colorful backgrounds.  Their beauty and strength in just being “them” brings enough energy to the table without the distracting backgrounds.
10
It is so interesting to look back and see how I changed out some elements and switched details around.  At first, I had the poses for white and rose wine switched around.  I’m glad with the final decision I made.  There was also debate as to the angle of the wine glass, and if it should stand straight, or come into the frame at an angle.  The slanted glass gives the whole picture more energy.  In the end I propped the glasses upright, and the only movement in the paintings came from the ladies.
11
Here are the final quick sketches for the placement and balance of the paintings.  This is where I decided to switch the poses of the white and rose wines.  
12
The first digital sketch of “Red Wine”
13
Adding more details
14
You can see that I didn’t put away the busy background, just yet.  There are some curtains, and a picture of LA in the back.  The picture is used so I can see the balance of the elements behind the window.  There is just so much going on!  TOO MUCH!
18
Here are the final base outlines.  You can see why I got rid of the background….Everything gets lost in everything.  YUCK!
12a
At the end of all of that I was left with this outline!  I loved it, and held onto it for a long time.  But, something was not right…I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong.  I also didn’t feel good about drawing in Photoshop, so I tried to visit my roots in painting to see if that would turn out a little better.
20
I had to figure out the color schemes and what to do with the background.  To the right, you can see the colors of the wine painted on plastic sheets; This is a good way to test the paints and different possible background combinations before committing to canvas and wasting all that material.  A good thing to stock up on are paint chip cards from the paint store.  It makes figuring out color combinations a lot easier when you can see them together to start. Something was wrong with the paint, so I went back to Photoshop…and I couldn’t figure out what to do with the background.
21
Revisiting Photoshop…This is a technique used by a few comic book artists that I follow.  You block out your base colors, and overlay it with a shade and then start to highlight and in order to bring the light colors through the dark mask.  As soon as I got the mask on the red wine I knew that I didn’t want to use this technique…SCRAP IT!  NEEEEXT!!!!  I also HATED the background.  It was okay-ish (not really) for the red wine, but the rose and white wine would have clashed with it.  If I was going to do a “plain” background I wanted to make sure to do something cohesive so that the three paintings looked good together, side by side.  I wanted the backgrounds to be the same, also…but figuring out the color scheme that worked well with red, rose, and yellow, on top of the skin tones, was maddening.
19
So, back to the outline.  I looked at it, again, and I still wasn’t happy with it.  Something wasn’t balanced and I couldn’t figure out WHY.  Turns out it was the scarf.  (stupid, stupid scarf!)  It was too long, too dramatic.  The eye went to the scarf before anything else, and I didn’t want the scarf to be the first thing people saw.  I spent so much time drawing that stupid scarf only to erase it.  But, I am SO glad that I did.  I also decided to straighten the glass at this point, instead if having it leaning off at an angle.  This way, all of the energy is in the wine, the scarf, and the lady.  
22
Once I fixed the scarf, I sketched out the white wine and rose wine.  I printed out the images and took a look at them side by side.  I made adjustments.  “Red Wine” was WAY too thin, so I thickened out her waist, hips, and arms.  
23
I gave “White Wine” a little more of a booty bump.  I didn’t want to fill in her hair, yet, because I would be doing that later.  At this point I decided that I was going to transfer these drawings to canvas and finish them in Pastels!!!  I loved the idea of having a “chalkboard effect” on top of a black canvas!  Onward!
24
The final outlines for “Red Wine”
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The final outlines for “White Wine”
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The final outlines for “Rose Wine”
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These are soft pastels!!!  I spray painted a canvas with chalk spray….but this didn’t work out…….DANG IT!!!!  It just didn’t look right at all…..MOVING ON!!!!…..maybe if I paint…..again……………..
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This is as far as I got with the painting….just the bottom coats for each one of them…………then I scrapped it, again…….STILL NOT RIGHT!!!!
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“This just doesn’t look like it is going to be going in the right direction…hmmmmmm…….???  Something isn’t right.”
30
“Dang it…this is so frustrating…frickin a…”
31
“What am I going to do, now?”
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“Moving on……sorry painting…………………..I can already tell that you just aren’t the right medium for this project…I’ll have to brainstorm, again…”
33
BACK TO THE COMPUTER!!!!  Layer, after layer, after layer, are blended and smoothed out.  I used the same drawing technique seen in my step-by-step of “healing”, only with a lot more layers.  I was really happy with the way that this one turned out.  That is, until I did the next one…
34
“White Wine” was the second painting that I finished, and it was the piece where I had the biggest breakthrough with my digital drawing technique.  The skin was smooth and vibrant, the hair and textures were exactly what I wanted.  I moved on to the “Rose Wine”, which was just as vibrant and smooth and beautiful as “White Wine”, but when I opened “Red Wine” again, after having had such a phenomenal breakthrough, I was less than thrilled.
35
She looked like a corpse, especially next to the other two.  I brightened her skin, smoothed it out and re-painted her.  Her hair was darkened and a lot more life was given to the painting.  I was so happy to finish this project!  It turned out even better than I had imagined it would!
red-wine-rbg
“Red Wine” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop
rose-wine-rbg
“Rose Wine” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop
white-wine-rbg
“White Wine” – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop
women-and-wine-collection
“Women and Wine” Collection – by Erika Robertson – 2016 – Photoshop

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