Whew. There were times I thought I'd never finish this one.
My color work is currently several months behind the drawings. I feel like the content and technique of the drawings has been progressing with each new piece, so it's been a little tough to stick with the older work and finish it out. But Gaia plays an important role in the evolution of my art as I seek to get rolling on it again after a long and choppy stretch away, and because of how symbolic this piece is for me, I felt it was important to take it to its conclusion.
So, here it is. The final color art for Gaia.
As usual, I will dive into the inspiration behind this one and then break down the literal art process for the color. If you missed the last post, check out the breakdown of the penciling and inking processes here.
There's a lot to dive into on this one. I went into some detail when talking about the finished art on Unleashing the Cataclysm and mentioned an existential crisis I fell into in 2021. Unleashing really captured my initial emotions and energy, which involved intense anger and a profound desire to tear down the circumstances of my life and start over. Gaia was created immediately after that and represents the calm after the storm for me.
When I began drawing Gaia, I was chatting with a therapist for the first time (which continues to be one of the best things I've done for myself in my adult life), and we were exploring masculine and feminine roles and how those manifest in my life. I think it's safe to say that Unleashing the Cataclysm embodies masculine energy while Gaia embodies feminine energy.
I have always had a tendency to be harsh on myself and others. At the time of Gaia's creation, I was embracing a calmer, more nurturing mindset as I started a new chapter in life, and that very much came through in the imagery.
Let's start with the yoni mudra (the hand gesture she is making) and the multi-armed allusion to Kali.
Kali is a Hindu goddess who is often depicted with four or more arms. She is a protector and a destroyer of evil forces. The yoni mudra represents the womb and is connected to Kali’s life force energy. Performing the gesture is meant to help us achieve a state of calm and tranquility. These were powerful themes to me at the time – I was overcoming the strongest suicidal ideation I'd grappled with while also struggling to work through some profound anger and regret. Some of that anger was certainly directed at others, particularly where my job was concerned, but primarily at myself for my own failures and inaction in life.
Much of the internal work I was doing at the time involved forgiveness and healing for myself for past mistakes, and Gaia taps into a calm, healing, feminine energy as a response to the fury of Unleashing the Cataclysm.
There are also themes of rebirth here, and the infants in the pods specifically represent new beginnings and new opportunities for me.
With the exception of a six-month period in early 2019, I had spent most of a decade away from my art, and as I was making Gaia I had developed a steely resolve to commit myself to the work going forward. That process felt like starting over, and I was giving myself room to explore my art in whatever way felt best.
Also, prior to making this piece, I'd been in a work-from-home office job that had begun causing me deep anger and unhappiness, particularly as it was limiting my ability to pursue personal projects outside of work. Once I was free of that environment, I was able to see new possibilities for myself with my art, this blog, and anything else I chose to pursue. I also knew I wanted to get back to working face-to-face doing something away from a computer.
More broadly, I had begun earnestly learning new information about health and wellness, taking my meditation practice more seriously, and generally adopting a new way of viewing and understanding life, all of which felt to me like a rebirth to me.
The babies' pods also relate to the themes of the yoni mudra and Kali. Externally, the pods are covered in spikes and machinery, yet the babies rest safely and contentedly in their own womb-like spaces. This reflected a feeling I had of the time of being able to find inner peace despite my external world being shattered and volatile. And unlike the sense I had when I was still at my former job, my personal projects and ambitions suddenly felt safe and viable to me.
On the topic of rebirth: the background of the piece is made to look like an oil refinery. Someday I will explore this in greater depth, but I believe I lived a past life and died abruptly in an oil refinery accident. As a child, I experienced powerful emotions and borderline spiritual visions near industrial areas, and especially near oil refineries. In those moments, reality seemed to bend at the edges and I could almost see through the physical world in front of me into another life.
These experiences tapered off around the time I was 9 or 10 years old, and I had nearly forgotten them or just dismissed them outright (as the dutiful atheist I was for most of my early adult life), but the memories of those sensations came back powerfully at the time I was working on Gaia.
I feel I should've explored a past life regression at the time I was making Gaia, as the barrier between life and death for me had recently become very thin. But it's enough to say that the sense of a past life was strong in me, and my recent experiences had rekindled the otherworldliness of oil refineries for me.
Process for the color work on Gaia began as usual, by lassoing out each section in Photoshop and establishing the flat colors. ("Flat" meaning the colors are just solid blocks of color with no highlights or shading.) From there, I tweaked the flats until I found a color scheme I was happy with. That part of process, as it turned out, was remarkably time-consuming.
I had initially envisioned Gaia in purples and blues, but once I had the image flatted out those colors just weren't making sense for me. I tried virtually every color combination I could think of before finding one that really made sense to me.
Here's a look at the full image with flat colors.
Once the color scheme was in place, I concentrated on one piece at a time to add highlights and shadows. As with the color work on similar pieces like Symbiotic and Unleashing the Cataclysm, many of the objects in Gaia received a gradient first. I then lassoed out the highlights and shadows and used the Adjustment > Hue/Saturation tool in Photoshop to shift the hue, tint, and shade of each one.
Final touches included adding color to the line art and lightening in it places to create highlights and atmospheric perspective, as well as a sense of the babies being immersed in orange liquid. I also added glows around the yellow lights and the liquid of the baby pods, plus Gaia's jewelry.
It wasn't easy, but despite all the obstacles that this piece presented for me, both in the penciling stage and while doing color, I'm happy to have finished it. I learned a ton in the process that I've been able to carry with me to subsequent pieces, and I'll always be able to reflect back on Gaia and everything it represents about the moment in which it was made.
Next up, the line art for a piece called Pillars of Affliction, which begins a shift for my art into notably darker spaces. And next week I'll also have the July edition of Preston's New Metal Album Picks.
Cheers until then.