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Making Of 'Mantis Queen'

By Nick Miles
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Date Added: 22nd October 2010
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The Mantis Queen came about through my desire to push the boundaries of abstract form within my work whilst maintaining what I deemed to be a coherent, clearly identifiable character silhouette.  For a while now I have been incorporating abstract patterns and shapes into my own work and I wanted to see how far I could push this.

I scoured the web and my personal archive for images to inspire me, something to act as a catalyst.  Quickly, I settled on the Praying Mantis as the basis for my subject.  The varied and exotic forms of this almost otherworldly insect made it ideal for the type of patterns and shapes I wished to use.

I used Photoshop CS3 from beginning to end, and I started with a series of basic thumbnails (Fig.01) to establish the kind of direction I wished to take the painting in.  


I used a limited palette, as at this stage as I had yet to establish the colour scheme.  Not worrying about the colour scheme allowed me to focus on the form of the character and overall composition.  I knew as the piece gained clarity in my mind that a colour scheme would become clear.  From the thumbnails I decided a blend of human and mantis characteristics was best.

Giving the character human characteristics would help to ground her in our world, making her easier to relate to and make those non-human elements all the more disturbing; thus giving the piece more impact.

With the thumbnails complete and general direction established, I moved onto the first stage of painting. I covered my canvas with a number of texture brushes, including a standard chalk brush to remove the dreaded white. There’s nothing more intimidating than working on a blank canvas, and it also helps my initial colour choices as the bright white of a canvas can affect your perception of value, leading to a washed-out palette. Keeping with the large palette brush I sketched in the basic form on a new layer (Fig.02).


I quickly blocked in the darks to lights (Fig.03), giving the various features more volume.  At this stage I was not focusing on blending strokes; I was just putting marks down, keeping the piece developing quickly.  On a new layer I laid out a few shaped brushes that I felt were sympathetic to the forms I observed on my Praying Mantis ref.  The inclusion of these shapes helped to start the painting down the road I intended, and it prevented me from inadvertently creating too literal a representation of the shapes I’d interpreted from my reference.


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