Witch Challenge: Storm

Witch Challenge: Storm

Posted by Robyn Wall on

Week Three
July 13th through July 19th

I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated by this week’s challenge. I did not have the confidence that I could come up with a wonderful concept for this prompt, let alone fully realize the concept into an art piece. 

These factors led me to decide that I would focus more on my current style, staying away from a more developed environmental composition. I started ideating the prompt of Storm Witch. What characteristics could I give her that would speak to a Storm aesthetic? Clouds, rain, and lighting all initially came to mind. Then I considered designing the character around a more specific kind of storm. Perhaps a tornado or hurricane. To be honest, though, that seemed a little more difficult than I was prepared to take on.

Beginning my search for inspiration photos led to some quite beautiful images. I was in search of imagery that would help me with cloud formations. I wanted to capture the depth and texture of storm clouds as well as I could. 


My first character development was to have the storm be part of the Witch. I would make the sort of typical pointy witch hat of clouds, with rain pouring out of them and forming hair. It was a unique idea that I liked but the resulting sketch was not something I got excited about. It’s strange, really. I get a feeling when a sketch or concept is the right path. That sort of obsession I mentioned in my last post where I just get so excited to bring the piece to life. I didn’t have it for this one. It was a fine sketch. The favorite of social media, even. 


And it is completely feasible that with some alterations and more sketching, I could end up really liking this concept. But I decided that it just didn’t feel me enough to take through to the end. 

My next idea was to have a Witch, still sort of made up by the elements of a storm but with a more definite form. I sketched out a female figure from the torso up. I added my current style signature to her by only drawing out the lower half of her face. The upper half would kind of be shrouded. 

I drew some tendrils of wild hair that I was hoping I could manipulate enough to look like clouds. 

Last, I had some lighting entwined in her finders. I wanted to make it clear that she was controlling, even creating the lighting. Bringing a storm force into existence in her rage and ferocity. 


Now this was a concept sketch I could get behind. I felt a little nervous since my social media community didn't seem to like it as much as I did. But I think it’s important to do the art that you are excited about, not what you think your audience will respond to the best. Because if you as the artist are passionate about the piece, that will show in your work and your audience will recognize that and react more enthusiastically to your passion piece than to something you couldn't put your heart into. 

My excitement increased later Sunday night when I realized how amazing this piece would be on black watercolor paper! Painting on black paper is one of my favorite things right now, but not every piece is right for it but I knew I could pull this off using white as my predominant color. The best part though is that the lighting would be done with an iridescent watercolor called Interference Blue by Van Gogh. These paints are unique in that they are translucent even without adding water and just have a lovely shimmer to them. 

But then…. My excitement was sort of squashed when I realized I wasn't sure how I was going to transfer my 8.5x11 inch sketch to my 12x16 inch black watercolor paper. 

Sketching often takes a lot of adjusting to get the elements and proportions correct, which means a lot of erasing and re-sketching. Why does this matter? Because most watercolor paper has a texture to it which is what allows it to hold so much liquid when painting. If the paper is subject to a lot of erasing, the texture can be scrubbed away. Not good. 

So, recently I invested in some transfer paper to help me with this. A lovely invention which is essentially a thin, almost baking-paper type material that has one side coated in a chalky substance. You place this, chalk side down on the watercolor paper, put your sketch on top of that and use medium pressure to trace your sketch. This pressure transfers the chalk to the paper below it and Voila! You have transferred your sketch while avoiding any need to erase. 

Except, as I mentioned, my sketch was half the size of the paper I wanted to use. But a lot of what art is involves finding solutions to problems. This was just a problem I needed my creative mind to find a solution to. It is all part of the process. 

I could…. make another sketch free hand on a larger piece of paper and could use the transfer paper. That seemed like a lot of time that I didn’t have available for this weekly challenge. In the end, I photographed my sketch and transferred it to my laptop. I blew up the image to be the size that I needed and then traced it on larger sketch paper. 

~ TIP: You want to handle that paper as little as possible during the transfer because, as you may see in this photo, the chalk will rub off onto your paper where you hold the pieces in place. ~

With my image transferred, there was still a little more prep to be done.

To ensure the lighting had the desired effect I imagined, I used a masking fluid pen to trace the lines of the lightning. This is a gluey substance that protects the paper under it from liquids. This way I could freely paint the rest of the image without worrying about preserving the lines for the lightning. 

Masking fluid must dry completely to be safe to work over, but that only takes a few minutes. A short wait later and I was ready to paint! 

Painting on black paper is difficult. Basically, you have to paint backwards from how you normally would. On light paper you are adding the dark shades and tones. With the shadows, you bring the forms to life. On black paper you are using the highlights to form your shapes and figures. It requires a shift in mindset that does not come so easily to me. In a way though, I was sort of glad to still be sneaking in a minor challenge this week since I took an easier route compositionally. 


I broke this painting down in three days. The first day I focused only on the form of the Witch. Painting her face, hands and body took time as my brain had to tell my hand to do the opposite of what it usually would. I wasn't completely sure I was going to pull it off. Half of me thought I was going to mess it up, that is part of why I started with her first. She turned out pretty impressive though, don’t you think?

Here is a little inside secret for you; I hate painting hair. It's awful. So tedious! You have to be incredibly meticulous if you want it to look right. Naturally, I try to get around that however I can. For this piece though I wanted some strands of hair, a couple to add shape to the face and a few more to give the illusion that the clouds were part of her hair.


I completed the hair and clouds on day two. Neither really went as well as I wanted them to but they are both difficult subjects to capture, so in the grand scheme of things they turned out okay. 

The lighting had to be completed the last day because the rest of the painting needed to be completely dry first. This is in part because you must use an eraser to remove the masking fluid but also because I would add the Interference paint over previously completed parts of the piece.

I contemplated using the same technique I developed in week one of this challenge, spraying the painting with a fixative before painting the lighting but I was not convinced it would work with watercolor paint instead of acrylic. I opted to just take the leap and add the lighting without sealing the base first. 

This took a lot more paint and a lot more time than I thought it would, but I absolutely love the way it turned out. You can see how magical the Interference Blue paint is when it catches the light in the video below. 

To wrap up, I thought I would include a list of the materials I used for this project in case you would like to experiment with them.

  • Strathmore Recycled Sketch Pad

  • PrismaColor 6H pencil and eraser

  • Van Gogh A3 black watercolor paper 

  • Saral wax free White Transfer paper

  • Pebeo High Precision Masking Fuild Marker

  • Staedtler Mars plastic eraser for removing masking fluid

  • Van Gogh Chinese White and Interference Blue watercolor paints

  • Castle Art Supplies Paynes Grey watercolor paint

  • Dynamic Distractions size 12 round brush

  • Royal size 2 round brush

These weekly challenges have been so good for me and my creativity. I have loved getting back into the studio and making things I am passionate about is a definite bonus. I hope you're enjoying this process as much as I am.

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