Experimenting with Focal Points and Illustrating for a Variety of Layouts

 In Videos, Works in Progress

Altar to the Stars is an oil painting on illustration board created for the album cover artwork of an upcoming Cultic/Funeral Bastard split. I was given four specifications for the “Altar to the Stars” illustration:

  1. There should be a sexy “Seducer”
  2. There should be an “Altar to the Stars”
  3. It should be able to be cropped for a horizontal cassette, and/or a square CD/lathe-cut
  4. It should have that ‘awesome’, ‘old-school’, ‘orangey’ look (I don’t think orangey is even a word, but… you know).


Initially, I spent most of my time thinking about how to create a piece of art that would work in a variety of different crops, including vertical, horizontal, square, and even circular and triangular. To ensure the finished art would work in all of these layouts, I lightly drew a bounding boxes (square, rectangular, circular, etc.) that overlapped each other on the same piece of paper. Then I sketched the artwork directly over those boxes, keeping the focal point and important elements safely within the edges of each of those shapes. This ensured the figure and altar would never be cut-off if the art was cropped. Check out all the different shapes that work:


Based on the subject-matter and the star shapes that would be in the altar, I knew that I wanted to create a piece with lots of graphic shapes and symmetry in it (squares, rectangles, circles, stars, etc.). Red is an obvious choice for passion and excitement, but how could I tame those raging, fiery reds and keep the piece provocative … What does it mean to be seduced? It’s intoxicating and dreamy. You can only be seduced when a burning desire is coupled with some hesitation. How does a seducer ease that hesitation? She draws you in slowly and carefully, enchanting you with her confidence and poise.

Posture was everything here. I purposefully broke with the symmetry of the rest of the piece to give her a relaxed, snake-like sway. Her head tilts upward and she pushes her chest forward, beckoning you into the painting and daring you to be seduced. I wanted to paint a woman who was powerful, mature and sexy. She had to be a figure with some height, so I made her quite tall (I believe she is about as many heads tall as a male figure would typically be), and I decided not to shy away from giving her a big pair of (ahem) assets? In fact, I decided to place the focal point directly in the center of her chest, using it as the starting point for the entirety of the rest of the drawing. In this case, all roads lead to cleavage.

Focal Points in Art - Wailing Wizard Art

Reference For Altar to the Stars Painting

Figure Reference

This piece wasn’t without it’s struggles. The initial drawing was created from three different references. The main figure reference I used was a much more mature woman than I ultimately planned on painting, but I liked the vibe she gave off, so I definitely wanted to mimic her posture. I used a handful of paintings by other fantasy artists for skin tone reference. The boobs are an extreme exaggeration over that of the original figure, and I decided to re-position her hands in the drawing. In doing so, I overlooked the size of her hands which where GIGANTIC (Trump would be jealous). Thankfully, my good artist friend (Juan Ruiz) lets me bounce drawings off of him, and his good eyes caught this (and her slightly smallish head) before I proceeded into the painting stage.

I definitely chose to paint it at too small of a size. All of that tight line work in the altar and pillars was extremely difficult to paint and much of it had to be done with tiny little brushes and tiny amounts of paint. If I had to redo this piece, I would double, or even triple the size. I believe doing so would have saved many hours of effort.

I had a pretty clear vision for the lighting upfront, but I didn’t have a very clear vision for the colors that would be found in the middle-ground (specifically the front of the altar and the staircase). As a result I repainted this area several times before I found the right transition from the golds and reds into the cooler blues and purples in the foreground area. I’m not sure if this was something I could have planned for in advance. I think it was one of those trial/error experiences, but I have considered doing digital color mockups in the future. It’s hard to say if these would save more time, but they would certainly save paint.

It feels good to wrap-up this piece. I got to try-out some new techniques, dabble in a more graphic/surreal approach to art, and I learned some things about checking my own work, sizing art appropriately, and planning color. I am really excited to see it on the final Cassettes, CDs, Lathe-Cut Disk, and T-Shirt!

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Showing 2 comments
  • Juan Ruiz

    Just read your blog and really enjoyed it and I found the word “boobs” hilarious. It’s fascinating how much thinking an artist has to put into a painting and think about balance, color, perspective, composition, and focal points. Those who are not artists might never understand the amount of thought processes we fantasy artists go through. In contrast, Still Life painting is much easier to paint by a long shot. You captured the art the way you meant it to be. Thanks for the shout out 😀

    • Rebecca

      Thanks Juan! I’ve much appreciated having your input as an extra set of eyes. I might have to borrow those eyes again in the future!

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