Princess Snow

My longtime friend and former travel buddy, Rachel is getting married today! As is my tradition, my gift is that of a custom illustrated poem for the happy couple. This started many years ago (1998 to be exact) and my frustration with wedding registries. 
Well, trying to concept during a) a busy period of freelance and day job stress, and b) holiday stress was not c) fun. However, I did get my basic research and ideas down so that by the time December rolled around, I knew roughly what I wanted to do.
I know that Rachel loves Christmas and all things Victorian and I knew her wedding colors, so I had a solid foundation upon which to build. My initial concept was to have a flowing “Art Nouveau tree that acted as a frame for the image. And of course, I had to include snow to hint at her love of Christmas:
I thought I had a good start and then I got busy with holiday stuff and freelance work (in addition to the day job) and put it aside for awhile. When I came back to the sketch, I was ready to begin work in Illustrator and I just couldn’t. I looked at the image and it just, well, sucked. There was no energy, no life, nothing there. In my rush to “get it done”, I compromised the integrity of the illustration. 
Completely mad at myself for doing poor quality work, I closed down Illustrator and went back to the sketchbook. I then very quickly sketched out this version: 
I couldn’t believe the difference: this version has better detail, more energy and vibrance. This was it! Now off to the computer to really bring it to life. I was going to just do my typical workflow of digitally inking the sketch and adding flat color in Illustrator then add textures and lighting in Photoshop. But I decided that I wanted to try actually painting with my Wacom tablet in Photoshop. It was a technique I’d always wanted to try, but never had the time to do. So I went for it.
I watched a few YouTube vids to get a handle on the best way to get going and then went for it. I laid in my flat colors and basic shapes using the sketch as my template:
And I gradually refined the colors and added shading and texture to the image:
I was particularly proud of a nice little detail I added to Mike’s collar…
I kept my opacities on my brushes low, typically 10-50% range, and rarely 100%. I also kept as few layers as possible to keep the image simple and true. I have to admit, it was kinda frustrating at first, but as the image took shape, I found myself enjoying the process more and more. 
Here is the almost-final image:
The only real change between it and the final framed version is that I made the snow light blue so it would fade to the background more:
After the main image was complete, I used the same background and set the poem in Snell Roundhand:
The text of the poem reads:
Princess Snow
Princess Snow and her sister,
Princess Sunflower,
Traveled together
Far and wide.
Princess Snow loved her sister,
But was still lonely.
So she ventured back home
To her enchanted snow forest.
Her silent solitude
Melted away, though,
Once Princess Snow glimpsed
Her one true love
Approaching through the shimmering snow.”
For my first attempt at a true digital painting, I was pleased with the results. And honestly, it didn’t take much longer than my traditional workflow. You can be sure I will be doing more digital paintings in the future.
And to my dear friends Rachel and Mike, Happy Wedding Day! May your new life together be filled with love and happiness. I love you guys!