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Updated: Apr 24

dark fantasy surrealist art of women and gargoyles floating in front of landscape

(View a high-res image for Ascension and all my other work in the Gallery.)

I put a lot of time into each of the art pieces I make, but if there were a prize for most hours committed to one, Ascension would almost certainly win. I'm not sure this should've taken quite as long as it did, except I was really pushing myself and learning through every step of the process, and that struggle involved involving a fair amount of re-thinking and re-working as I went.

For example, the initial pencil drawing (which you can see here) is the most complicated one I've done in terms of the number of figures, the interplay between them, and how they're fitting into a three-dimensional space. The ink work (here) also took longer than expected because I re-drew and added details to several areas once I had scanned it into Photoshop. And then sorting out the color separations and choosing a color palette was harder than usual due to the high number of objects in the art, and I had to work out how to prevent the final art from basically looking like colorful confetti. (Read more about that effort here.)

Oddly, the actual rendering of the colors (shading, highlighting, texturing, lighting effects, etc.), which can be an amazing struggle sometimes, was fairly straightforward and didn't require much backtracking or edits. It was still very time-consuming to get in there and add details to literally every little leaf, but otherwise the process was pretty much on rails.

Was it all worth it? Well, regardless of how I feel about the art itself (ambivalent as always), I believe I learned and grew more from this one than any other single piece of art I've made, and I have so much more confidence moving into new surrealist horror work beyond this, especially in how I'm handling digital color. (I've already seen that come though in the two pieces I've finished color for since this one.)

Speaking of learning and changing, that happens to be the conceptual theme for this one – specifically growth in response to discomfort or pain. So let's talk about the symbolism and imagery here, and then I'll circle back and go into more detail about the actual color rendering process for Ascension.

The Concept for Ascension

In a sentence, Ascension is about personal growth rooted in pain and an understanding of the fleeting, fragile nature of existence.

The thoughts and emotions embodied in the art represent the culmination of nearly two years of moving through a challenging series of medical procedures involving my mouth and jaws, including two separate jaw surgeries. If you've followed this blog for awhile you'll know this has been a key theme in the art I've made since 2021. (I discussed this most directly in the write-ups for Pillars of Affliction and Invocation of the Seraph.)

At the time I began drawing Ascension, it was clear to me that all the struggle and hard work of the preceding two years had begun to create powerful changes in my life, and I'd gone from essentially digging myself out of a hole in 2021 into completing the foundation for a life I actually desire.

I've talked about this in much greater detail in my previous posts for completed art, but

specific areas where I've seen changes and improvement include my capacity for compassion and understanding toward others, healthier friendships, a clearer sense of purpose and stronger work ethic in my professional life, and a greater commitment to clean eating and vigorous exercise to maintain the earthly vessel I currently occupy. Plus a renewed enthusiasm and clarity for my art practice.

I almost take it for granted at this point, but we live in such a wonderful time where there is easy access to books, podcasts, and other information on literally every topic of interest, and I owe so much of my current contentment and enthusiasm for life to folks like Wayne Dyer and Rich Roll who have helped share the cumulative wisdom humans have acquired over the ages.

surrealist art of skull-faced woman wearing crown

That said, I feel much of my journey toward deeper purpose in life is expressed in the artwork for Acension. The most crucial aspect of this image for me is that the figures are floating unencumbered through space and are actually rising upward. This is a stark contrast to work I did in late 2021 and early 2022 like Unleashing the Cataclysm and the aforementioned Pillars of Affliction in which the figures are heavily bound by tubes, wires, and other objects that root them in place, a representation of my feeling at the time of feeling trapped in life.

The figures also appear strong, almost heroic, powerfully moving forward and upward. It's notable that the primary figures are all female, something that seems to come out of me when there's a clear sense of growth or rebirth happening in my life. In fact, I'd connect this one directly back to Rotting Paradigms, and before that, Gaia, both of which had prominent elements of birth and new life that felt representative to me of burgeoning personal change.

The gargoyle-like demons serve a dual purpose here, just as actual gargoyles in architecture have been interpreted to have two meanings: to warn of evil or danger, and also to protect. So the small winged imps here are reminders of the constant need to stay motivated and moving forward in life.

Probably the most surprising piece of imagery that appeared in this one is the skulls. Naturally, they're a representation of death here, but they're contrasted with the idea of growth and life in the form of flowers and other plant life blooming from their mouths.

pen and ink art of skulls with mushrooms and flowers growing out of them

Since I began this medical process in 2021, I've wrestled with intense feelings of anxiety and dysmorphia around my mouth and jaws. And as difficult as those things have been for me, that struggle has ultimately had a profoundly positive impact on my daily routine and mindset toward life, forcing me to stop taking my life for granted and learn to live with enthusiasm in spite of difficult circumstances.

So the skulls represent a deeply felt sense of my own mortality and how the pain and fear around my mouth has led to the blossoming of new ways of living.

The floating city in the back is stark and somewhat foreboding, yet the figures rise to it almost as if it's a holy place. For me, this represents my deep belief that our darkest life experiences can provide an opportunity to push ourselves, become stronger, and find new meaning for existence.

And did I mention the little baby? All these ideas I've mentioned really come together with him. He marks the dark and sometimes bizarre nature of life, as well as our opportunity to begin again with new life – even if it's not always pretty.

surrealist art of demon baby floating in front of ominous city skyline

The Process for Ascension

Once I had sorted out the color palette and finalized all the flat colors for Ascension ("flats" are the solid colors of each object in the art before any highlighting or shading) it was mostly a matter of going through and selecting each object and rendering it one at a time.

The specific groove I've settled into with that process is to first isolate each object on its own layer in Photoshop and then use a gradient tool to lighten the side of the object toward the light source. Next, I add a granite-like texture using the dodge and burn tools (set to a rough texture) and brushing over the object with each one in a circular motion. From there, I lasso out the portions of the object I want to add shadows to and create an adjustment layer where I drop the saturation and lightness of those areas, as well as tip the hue slightly toward blue or purple.

Once I've done this with every object in the art, I go back over the full image and add the bright edge highlights using a combination of brushes with lassos and bucket fills.

Lighting effects, glows, and atmospheric perspective came last, and those got really tricky and time-consuming on this one. There's been a challenging but satisfying bit of interplay happening on each of these art pieces where I try a new technique when I'm creating the pencil drawing, and that in turn forces me to stretch creatively when I get to color.

In this case, the new drawing elements include motion lines at the edges of each figure, speed lines along the lower and right edges of the art, and especially, the lines coming away from the baby figure to indicate a strong light source. That last one was especially tricky as those lines cut into other imagery, such as the city in the background.

illustration depicting blue women in rags floating through space alongside gargoyles and skulls

Can't say I nailed any of that work, but I did the best I could, and I know that work paid off because I noticed a huge improvement in how I'm handling atmospheric perspective on a piece I finished after this one called Epistemic Machinations. (I shared the color palette and flats for that one in my last post.)

So, that's about it for Ascension. As I write this I'm happy to say I'm now fully caught up on color work, which means I can can make a completely fresh start on new pieces. I have two new pieces of dark fantasy surrealism that I've begun pencil drawings for and feel good about, so I'm fully back in the art saddle now.

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this post, or if you like my work in general, please subscribe for email updates and share my art with a like-minded friend or family member. See you next time.

pencil art of demonic women dressed in tattered clothing

ink drawing of women with skull faces wearing torn clothing

ink illustration of women with blue skin and fangs dressed in orange and yellow clothing

ink drawing with digital color depicting demonic women with blue skin


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