“It’s Complicated” is a digitally-created fantasy landscape composed of travel and garden photos plus digital painting. Photoshop was my art studio.
The main characters are a towering dragon and a female figure of indeterminate parentage, but definitely not the girl-next-door type. The surreal landscape is made up of several areas in the southwest, with the addition of elements from St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Tallinn and my garden.
If you’re interested in finding out how the final image evolved and where the original photos were taken, read on…
THE TITLE: When I considered what the relationship could possibly be between the enigmatic, still female figure and the wild, sharp-tongued dragon, the words that immediately popped into my head were, “It’s complicated”. I had tried out various working titles before , but they didn’t feel quite right. “It’s Complicated” hit the nail on the head!
LAND & SKY: An arch from Arches National Park, ruins from Mesa Verde, and rocks from Canyonlands were blended together to form the landscape. Colors were all adjusted to appear continuous, and I added shadows to make the ruins appear to be sheltered in a cavern. Of course, first I had to remove everything in each photo that I didn’t want in my image. (Similar work of cropping, isolating, adjusting size, tilt, coloring etc. was done on every other element in the picture as well.) The foreground rock with the weird bumps is not imaginary! There really was an area like that in Canyonlands. I have no idea how those bumpy rock formations came to be, but I found them intriguing enough to photograph. The sky, a combination of several photos, was placed behind all the other layers.
FEMALE FIGURE: The winged sphinx is made up from bits of photos I took while on choral singing tours. Her upper body is from a sculpture in the gardens of the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. Her wings, lower body and tail were from a black iron dragon in a shop atop Bled Castle in Slovenia. Her crown is from gold domes of Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. The original female form was a solid, uniform grey. All her coloration was added by digital painting. The final figure in Photoshop is made up of about 25 image and adjustment layers in a variety of blending modes to create different effects.
DRAGON: The original photo was of a metal sculpture in the Anza Borrego Desert, but it has undergone an extensive metamorphosis. In the photo, the lighting was all wrong, the neck too short, and the whole dragon was all a very dark, rusty brick color. Once I had isolated the dragon from the photo and placed him in my image, I created more of a neck to make him look like the dragon I had in mind. When the basic structure was right, I copied the same image several times and layered them all together. Using different blending modes and various degrees of transparency in each layer, I was able to create new lighting affects. All the color is digitally painted.
ARCHITECTURAL ELEMENTS: The building in the middle of the image was taken from a photo of the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, Sweden. I used just a section of one tower. The golden dome atop my tower is from the Catherine Palace of St. Petersburg, Russia. I used several more of those onion domes to make the crown on the female figure as a way to create a connection between her and the building. (The crosses were removed from the domes to avoid any religious reference.) The odd, almost pearlescent coloration of the domes was achieved through layering in different blending modes and transparencies.
The street lamps didn’t need very much alteration. They were from a photo I took in Tallin, Estonia.
PLANTS: There were no plants at all in the landscape that I created. Each bit of greenery and flowering plant was taken from photos I took in my yard or neighborhood. The plants, although the least important aspect of the final image, took the most time. It’s very time-consuming to digitally separate a bunch of stems, leaves and flowers from their backgrounds! There are fairly quick ways to do it in Photoshop, but I’m never happy with the results. I always end up blowing up the photos and spending hours refining them once the basic work is done. After that, each plant section was separately altered for color, lighting, size, and how it overlapped or mixed in with the other plants.