Character Depiction of Lady Merreth — The Process

In this post I want to relate the process I followed for a commissioned character depiction of my novel character — Lady Merreth — from start to finish.

Commissioning an artist to depict your character is something I have blogged about here, here, and here and tweeted before.  There are several reasons why an author may wish to do this:

  • A depiction crystallizes the character look if you’re worried your mental image of them shifts over time
  • It’s a promotional tool for your blog and tweets
  • It can give you an idea of what a book cover may look like

Of course, artists do not work for free, and they will usually insist upon restrictions concerning the use to which the finished piece can be put (generally speaking they don’t like the idea of you distributing the work commercially unless that was explicitly part of your agreement). You’ll need to balance cost against value, the same as any business decision.

Finding the artist

I found the artist, Shane Braithwaite, on DeviantArt, a forum for writers, photographers, artists, poets, really any type of digitally creative people and their followers.  Don’t let the name put you off, it’s not a porn site.

I’ve got a page (sort of like a Facebook page) on DeviantArt and I follow a lot of different artists.  Shane was/is one with a style I quite liked. 

I contacted Shane in August of this year through DeviantArt to see if he would take my commission.  He agreed.

The Commission

Single figure, full colour depiction of Lady Merreth with a simple background.

Negotiating the terms

This is the most important step in the process; if you can’t agree on terms, the process cannot move forward.

I had three things I needed to know:

Price — the finished piece would be $90 US, payable in advance.  I had done a little research on DeviantArt about Shane.  I was confident he would produce the piece.  His work is of sufficient quality that he could ask for everything up front.  Payment was made through Paypal.

Terms of use — I wanted to be able to:

  • Post the image on my blog, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter accounts (and other social media I might use in the future)
  • Use the in multi-media slideshow videos

I would not re-sell it in whole or in part.  For example I would not use the image as a book cover.

I would credit Shane in the use of his image.  Most of the time this would be in the form of a link back to his DeviantArt page. 

Timelines — I wanted an idea of when the piece would be finished.  This is a difficult one for artists to nail down and most will not give you an exact date of when the piece will be complete.  This is quite reasonable, as the delivery date depends upon your feedback on the work in progress. 

Shane told me in an email “it could take a day to a week i try not to rush an image , sorry i cant pin that down a little more.”  As I was not in a hurry, this was acceptable to me.

Providing the image idea

Communicating the image idea can be tricky as what you see in your head must be translated into a written description, passed by the artist, and interpreted by them.

The process is helped immensely by the use of references — photos and drawings that give artist a starting point for your images. 

I wanted a simple pose of Merreth standing, sword drawn, on a packed earth road.  I elaborated on this an email to Shane, saying, in part:

I have attached a reference image for the pose I would like Lady Merreth depicted in.  Despite the “blood” on the neck of the model, Merreth is not injured.  In addition, given that Merreth wears a hat, I realize that not all of her face will likely be visible, given the model’s pose, but I would like as much as possible visible.  You can adjust the pose as necessary to make it more dramatic if you have some ideas.

The stock image is from themuseslibrary on DeviantArt and I have purchased the right to use it as a reference.

I would like the simple background to be a semi-arid country side — plains and scrub-brush; very few trees, with her standing on a packed-earth road.  Many of Merreth’s early adventures take place in such an environment. (Think ranching country in the old American West except everyone has swords and crossbows instead of revolvers and rifles).   Time of day (if it makes a difference) is early afternoon. 

Providing references

Here is the initial reference photo.  It is part of themuseslibrary and, as mentioned, I paid a small fee to use it as a “reference” for Merreth’s stance and positioning.

Stock Image from themuseslibrary on DeviantArt

Stock Image from themuseslibrary on DeviantArt

This is not the only reference I supplied to Shane:

SYoshiko did an excellent character reference for Lady Merreth on that page.  The photos at the bottom provide a reference for her face.  Another good reference was done by an artist called Max Forward.

Merreth’s character description is here.

I think the toughest part of drawing Merreth is her hat.  Some people have turned into a sun hat, which it is not.  Again, SYoshiko has done a good job on depicting it.

Initial Sketches

In less than three days I had back two sketches from shane, based on reference images I had sent him:

1 for Lady Merreth image

Idea 1 for the Lady Merreth image


Idea 2 for Lady Merreth Image

Idea 2 for Lady Merreth Image

Ultimately I went with idea #1.  In addition, I provided Shane a further reference for Merreth’s hat:

Another view of Lady Merreth with her hat

Another view of Lady Merreth with her hat

Soft final and feedback

Approximately ten days later I received what I would call the “soft final”.  The image is almost done, pending any last minute tweaks from the commissioner (me).

Lady Merreth image, soft final

Lady Merreth image, soft final

The image was good, but there were some issues with it:

  • Merreth’s hat looked “too bent upwards on its left side
  • The stitching was missing from the side of Merreth’s breeches
  • Both of Merreth’s daggers were on her belt.  She always keeps one in her right boot top.
  • The background looked nothing like what I had asked for, and Shane told me he had changed the background to give it a more “western feel”. 

I sent Shane a quick email regarding the fixes and they were quickly implemented. Resulting in the final image:

Lady Merreth by Shane Braithwaite

Lady Merreth by Shane Braithwaite

Final thoughts

The entire process took about a month, which I think is reasonable.  Artists, like the rest of us, have a lot on their plates. 

Shane is a wonderful artist, and his final image Merreth is great.  He was responsive and quick to implement my changes.  All in all the entire process went quite smoothly.

I would recommend Shane and you can see more of his work on his DeviantArt page.

So what about it, fellow writers?  Would you commission an artist for a character depiction?  Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading, and I will see you again next time.

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