Witch Challenge: Fire

Witch Challenge: Fire

Posted by Robyn Wall on

Week Five
July 27th through June 3rd

This week’s challenge was another daunting one. Fire. Something that is super difficult to represent in a painting. But that is why I included it in the challenge list. I want these weekly challenges to push me. To test my boundaries. To help me build skills and develop a distinct style.  

I chose not to overwhelm myself with more than one sketch this week since this challenge was going to be hard enough as is. Looking back, I wish I had though, because there were some ideas that I wanted to test out that wound up getting lost under the sea of lanterns I drew in my first sketch. The excitement I felt for the composition and character I had created took over, and I just ran with it. 



But look at all those tiny components! As if representing fire wasn't enough of a challenge, I had to put twenty tiny lanterns in the image. Anxiety about being able to pull this piece off with the finesse that I desired set in full force. 

So instead of just jumping like I usually do, I took a more conservative route and decided I should practice a little first. Getting a technique down for how I was to paint the lanterns was my first order of business.


In my original sketch you can sort of see the candles I drew inside the lanterns but when I practice for these minor parts of my piece, I decided I would leave the candles out. I wanted the lanterns to provide the essence of light and fire but not detract from the flames the Witch had created. This helped to make set the tone of the scene without detracting from my main subject. As an added bonus, it likely made this piece a little easier to pull off. 


The practice run with the lanterns also made me think that the best order of operations would be to outline the entire piece with fine-liner pens before painting. You may be able to see the small gaps where my paint did not meet up with the line of the lantern frame and the small overlaps where my outline went too far. 

These are very minor mistakes and likely no one would notice them in the long run but if I can avoid slight mistakes like this, I absolutely will! (SPOILER, I still made a couple mistakes when I was outlining. But as another bonus to doing this part first, the mistakes were simple to cover up when I began painting.)


As usual, the outline took waaaaay longer than I expected. I have to say that it was totally worth it, though. Besides helping assure that my paint was filling the required space, this technique makes it so that I lose no details when I paint.

So with the outline finished, I could develop the background of my piece. 


At first, I was not achieving the depth of darkness at the top and middle of the painting. But with a little patience, and a lot of layers, I finally acquired the desired effect. The Fire Witch looked like she was walking through a magical, lantern lit tunnel. Possibly walking toward something dangerous or unknown, causing her to forge some fire she could use as weapons if need be. 



Letting my pieces dry is one of the toughest parts for me. I often have little patience for it as I just want to crack on and finish the things I am so excited about! 

Reluctantly, I let the background dry overnight so that the dark colors wouldn't bleed when I painted the Witch. 

For whatever reason, I also made this piece even more difficult by making myself attempt hair. Which, if you have been keeping up with my posts, you know I really really hate painting hair. I don't know why I did this to myself. Lol. 

Like most of these challenges, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how well it turned out. I’ve got to work on believing in myself more. Just because I failed at something in the past doesn't mean I should avoid it like the plague.  



I actually really like the way the hair turned out and how the strange ‘veil’ that has become a signature of mine, blends in with the hairline.   

With the Witch and the background complete and looking amazing, it was time to add the dreaded fire.

But first, more practice!


Like with the lanterns, I wanted to have an excellent technique for how I was going to render the fire. Practicing obviously also prevents fucking up the entire piece when I just jump in not having any idea what I’m doing.  

I learned from compositing that it is best to work in the most non-destructive way possible. In Photoshop, this means making duplicates of layers, converting to smart objects, and applying layer masks. With traditional artwork, it is much more difficult to work in a non-destructive manner. That is why I have been trying to develop a habit of practicing the tricky parts first.

So far it has worked really well for me. 


I honestly thought this piece was going to be a disaster. I thought I was going to have to bare my soul to you all and admit that I couldn't pull it off. That I fucked up the piece and had nothing refined or magical to share with you. As a Capricorn, I really hated that thought. Although I do expect it will happen at some point, I am glad it wasn’t this week’s challenge. 

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