Earlier this year [a friend of mine] Elizabeth approached me about doing a back piece. Not just any back piece mind you, but a big-ass unicorn back piece. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to do this because for years I had been toying with drawing a somewhat similar idea, and I thought she’d be the perfect candidate for it.
Well, turns out we had slightly different visions in mind as mine was a bit more graphic than hers. She initially sent me an image, which resembled a kid’s bedroom poster, whereas mine was a bit more fantasy based.
My idea was to show a Pegasus mounting a unicorn with little baby “Pegacorns” flying around them in the sky. I pitched this to her and after a bit of back and forth she decided she didn’t want horses having sex on her back. Go figure? So we decided upon a happy compromise consisting of a unicorn and naked woman frolicking in a “shire” as she put it, complete with rainbow arcing across the sky.
We also decided to do it less “animation-like” and more fantasy inspired, so my first step was to begin scouring through the numerous books I have just to jump-start some ideas and get a feel for a style I wanted to work in. I have tons of poster books, fantasy art books, pin-up books…
But when you need to research the very best of the best in fantasy art work a very short list of names comes to mind: Roger Dean,”Views” “Views II” “Dragons Dream,” [above] every Yes album cover, the Hildebrandt brothers, “The Lord of the Rings,” “Star Wars,” Rodney Matthews, “In Search of Forever,” “Last Ship Home” and of course the king; Frank Frazetta, good compendiums are, “Legacy,” “Testament” and “Icon” [below] among others, and “Illustrations Arcanum” is also a must-have. So with my brain now filled with curvaceous naked women and bizarre landscapes it was time to start sketching.
One of my first concerns was perspective. So I found and forwarded an image I knew of by Greg Hildebrandt showing a woman and unicorn to Elizabeth that was close to what I had in mind. She approved, so next I needed to find body positions for both the horse and woman to mock up as a starting point. I found a basic pose for the female at the angle I wanted from a Vargas book, and a decent rearing horse off the Internet.
I sketched these two together real quick and again shot it over to Elizabeth for approval. She approved this basic of basic layouts, so then it came time to start fleshing out the detail and tweaking the perspective into something use-able and more interesting.
Now, when I draw the human figure I try to work from photo reference as much as possible. In order to get things looking right I like to draw from real life, and preferably from photographs I take myself. This way I get the exact pose and angle I have in my head and all proportions are correct. So a quick call to a good friend and about 20 digital photos later, I captured pretty much what I was looking for. I re-drew the face and hair to suit my needs and the design, used the top half of one body (these torso and arms were best) and the bottom half of another (I liked the way these legs crossed better) and had my naked woman.
For the horse I decided to have it facing a bit more forward and completely re-drew it with the help of my trusty “Anatomy Drawing School: Human/Animal/Comparative Anatomy” book, which has proven invaluable lately. The only way to get it right is to work from the best reference, and as someone who makes their living drawing I always say you can never have too many books. So with my nude chick and horny horse pretty much the way I wanted them I began sketching in the background where this fantasy adventure was to be taking place.
This is where the Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews influence began fitting in. I told Elizabeth I wanted to sneak in some silly subliminal images into the background (phalli, weird little creatures doing who-knows-what, exotic plant life, etc) and there are no better guys for this than those two.
The problem was I was trying too hard to throw things in that didn’t need to be there and the background became way too busy and looked like a complete mess behind the main images. Simpler was better, so I nixed it all and settled for a little blue pond, some gray rocks, (that could possibly pass for something else) green grass and foliage for the framework.
Now the rainbow above the unicorn’s head had always been apart of the original design, but I saw I had a big gap just to the left of his head in the sky that needed to be filled. A floating castle in the nighttime sky came to mind, and I knew I had an album in my extensive record collection that just might fit the bill. The album was Citadel by the 70’s prog-rock band “Starcastle,” and wouldn’t you know it… –the cover art again was by the brothers Hildebrandt.
I filled the space in with what I dubbed “butt-plug city,” which is floating in some clouds, surrounded by five-pointed stars and planets, finally I felt the design was complete. I shot it over to Elizabeth one more time for approval and luckily she liked it and had no changes for me.
We were a-go for our first appointment. However, the day before she was to come in I had second thoughts about the unicorn’s front two legs, (someone told me it looked like he was going to curb stomp the girl) so I changed them to more resemble the first horse’s bent legs. But after seeing it Elizabeth demanded I change it back, (I guess she thought the chick deserved to get stomped or something) so I did. The customer is always right, unless of course they’re wrong…
I used a tight seven for lining, which I will bold-in and make calligraphic with a larger grouping once the color is finished in most sections. I am using a custom built liner by my boss Karl Hedgepath to do most of my line work these days. It’s a three-piece steel frame, tig-welded and heat-treated. The side plate is a Scott Sylvia “Henry” design that Karl chopped up to make the machine out of, it has shorty coils and was tuned for me by him to run the way I like it. I try to work fast and it runs like a jackhammer. But it is completely painless, of course, due to my light hand.
(Dave Waugh can be found at Jinx Proof Tattoo in Washington, DC)