Lately I've been enjoying the blog Universal Beauty, which has photos of people in traditional dress from around the world. It has a lot of Tibetan, Mongolian and Northern Chinese peoples, and I loved their styles. I drew this little character in my sketchbook and really really liked her. I named her Zaya.
I drew a few different sketches of her, but they were all kind of stiff. Frustrated, I went to bed one night trying to think of a more dynamic composition, and the idea of the northern lights popped into my head. And then what if the northern lights were animals? Spirit animals? Spirit animals with tribal tattoos? And one of them was a narwhal?
I scanned this thumbnail pencil sketch, and started digitally painting on top of it in my usual process. But soon the reindeer's antlers were getting in the way of the character, so I changed her mount to a yak. But then I was having trouble finding a good reference for the yak, so inspired by James Gurney, I made my own photo reference from clay.
Yep. And that's how you do that.