Revisiting the Past – and Proof that One Can Improve

Found the draft of this laying around and decided to finish it up with what I could scrounge up in my scattered files.

I usually don’t look back or touch up pieces once they are done.

When they are done, they are done, they may not be perfect but they are finished. Looking back slows down progress. Also if I look back the anxiety monster eats me more than it usually does.  But as always, there are exceptions.

Back in the halycon days of yore, when I was a young wee, optimistic, Lissa I started working conventions with fifteen prints to sell. Over time I’ve added and removed a lot of stuff from the print books. A few of the original fifteen hang around, mainly due to the fact they still seem to be popular with people than me believing they are very good.

One of these pieces was starting to show its age to me and I felt I needed to give it an upgrade if I was going to keep it around.

We all did weird things in our youth.

People still like this piece – and I have a soft spot for it even if it looks really silly on my display wall these days. Sometimes folks even recognize the rather obscure manga it’s from. (Clover by CLAMP circa 1999)

Sure I really borrowed a bit too heavy form CLAMP’s school of design when I drew her anatomy (they are the masters of weird anime anatomy),  and it was also one of the first times I painted metal in any major capacity to…a varying degree of success.  And I believed I knew more about drawing horses than I actually did…But I still like this piece. I didn’t do the best job at it but I was young and learning. One hopes I have learned at least a little something over the past years.  Might as well try to fix things.

The lines of this piece were so off that I’m not even bothering with a red line or draw over. There isn’t much worth salvaging in the lines – the concept is good – the lines are not.

So I start from basic rough sketches. I was still out of state on my work contract, so these were done on a laptop while I was scooted from various rooms and tables in my sister’s house. After that my brother in law gave me some apology money and most of the work on this was done while I lurked at a local coffee shop that didn’t mind me propping up a table for hours after my teapot had long gone cold.

So ten years and many hours of life drawing classes and anatomy practice later you get this. Don’t ever say improvement is impossible.
Completely unrelated and unendorsed, anyone in need of a good coffee, tea or amazing donuts in Norman, OK area; May I recommend Gray Owl Coffee? Great Atmosphere, Good Coffee and Friendly staff who don’t bother or mind strange red heads sitting there with a bowler hat, laptop and wacom tablet while she swears at drawings of horses. 

The huge issue I have with the first version of this piece was the anatomy. It looked fine to me for a few years and then it started niggling at me everytime it got pulled out at convention.
CLAMP is a manga art group with a VERY exaggerated art style.  I love them dearly, they were a huge influence on me when I was younger, but it’s an odd style to work with.
At the time I originally drew it I was more concerned about being “on model” with their style, than how I personally would draw it, or the feel of the piece. This is probably the best explanation for why I drew her like I did and went “yea that look’s fine.” I also had a bad grasp of foreshortening at the time which probably also played a huge factor in why the poor girls shins are three fifths of her body.

But a bit of sketching I come up with a figure that looks more human and her pose more natural. (I also learned how to draw feet from more than one angle between then and now) A bit of line clean up and I’m happy with her. The work on the wings is a bit of copy paste and distortion to keep the plates identical-ish. I also flip and tweak the other wing in Photoshop cause time has also taught me “work smarter, not harder.”

However while I was patting myself on the back for my mastery of the human figure my sister was looking over my shoulder face palming at the horse.

She is one of those girls who had and never left her ‘horsey’ phase and started correcting my anatomy of this poor battered carousel horse.  I hadn’t really referenced the horse,  beyond a few photos of a mechanical horse sculpture and no one I had shown the line art to at this point knew anything about horses.  At least not as much as my sister.

Sadly I didn’t document her corrections, she didn’t redline it instead she chose to shower me with photos of horses and surround me with various models of equines in poses she felt would be helpful. (By this point I am not in the coffee shop). I sadly don’t have photos of my horse invaded work space or the reference files. The first never existed, and the latter was lost in migration of data. So allow me to share my suffering through random sketches as I struggle to draw the noble equine.

But finally, after a bit of redrawing and some arguing about what sort of pose and expression carousel horses usually have she decides it passes muster and we can be sisters again. And the plastic horses retreat to their shelves of honor. (I kid – I love my sister and am always grateful for feedback from folks who know more about about what I’m working on than I do.)

Now that the horse is greenlit – and my nephew has stopped asking why I don’t make a unicorn instead I can move on to color.


I initially started to try to use the older colors but found I didn’t like them so much.

Now – back in 2005 when I drew this the first time around, my use of color was…not awful. But a bit…haphazard.  Lining the old color scheme next to the new one sort of illustrates my point.  For some reason I really liked this olive metal color that really leaned and pulled everything down to the greens. I also really relied too much on CLAMP’s colors and made poor Suu look rather washed out.

Overall the older piece has a cold feel to it that I am not sure I intended and am not a huge fan of at this point in time. And so I streamline the colors, not in a way that gives me less colors to work with but make them related more to each other. Not sure it’s a great habit or not but I currently try to either use established color schemes or keep things sort of narrowed down palette wise. This allows me to keep things harmonic visually and lets me guide focal points. If the colors are from all over the map there isn’t much of a focus color wise.  With this new pallete the intent is the make the horse pop from the sky and the main figure Suu, to pop from both. The shading will help tie them all together, but the base is a decent start.



One day I will probably try to do a coloring tutorial. When I feel I know what I’m doing. Which is not this night or day. I also don’t have a lot of process images salvaged to to break down the steps this time.

One thing I WILL share – was a major difference process wise in the coloring process from me fumbling around in 2005; between then and now I discovered how to use textures.

Past me had been slaving and crying and trying to get all the metal texture done by hand. Now I’m older, wiser, savvier, and a bit lazier. So instead of me crying over the horse for hours on end I googled and applied a metal texture.

I still have to do a lot of shading and thinking about light sources but a lot less suffering happens.  The horse does end up changing tone a bit more than intended but overall I’m happy with it.

Add a few mechanical birds,  and place them more carefully. (With the original one some folks argued that at a distance it looked like the horse was breathing flames instead of a bird flying by.)

I’m also more careful with the clouds this time round, I still need them to break up the solid background but the last ones I felt got too thick and sort of competed with the white of Suu too much. So this time I make them much softer and less white so there is less visual clutter.

Finally when it’s all over – I have something I’m a lot more pleased with and less cringey about hanging up at the table.


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