Fairytale Asylum is a collaboration that has been waiting to happen since artists Stephen Chan and Andriana Katsiki (AKA Wundercloud) met in 2007. They instantly loved each other’s work and soon realised that they share a lot of the same inspirations, even though their styles are quite different.
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Eventually they decided to properly join forces and start experimenting by combining their styles into something new and unique. Both love working with characters, especially ones that have some weird or twisted aspects to their personalities, and that became one of the main themes in their collaborations.
”When creating a new piece, we give the freedom to each other to express themselves how they like,” says Andriana. “The harmony of a finished piece comes naturally from the love and respect we have for each other’s work.”
The piece that Andriana and Stephen have created is a journey into the world of Fairytale Asylum – where characters live, play and kill together. They hope you enjoy the trip.
Time to complete
Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator
Andriana began by first selecting an image from her personal library of characters, from which all of the Fairytale Asylum project’s illustrations will take inspiration from.
“The image I chose is from a series of anthropomorphic characters that combine fashion photography with surreal animal heads,” she says.
To begin the project, Andriana cut out the image in Photoshop and placed it on a background colour of #a3948d.
Andriana started to build up the character by doing a colour correction pass using Hue/Saturation. She shifted the skintones down to an unnatural blue colour as the artist wanted to accentuate the dynamic pose of the character. These colours further added to the surreal, almost otherworldly feel of it. A slight gradient fill introduced more depth to the image.
Andriana began to introduce some hand-drawn elements. She printed out the character at around 15-20% opacity and began sketching over the top. She hand-draws a lot of elements in her work, using them to extend other parts of the image in organic ways – in this case, the photography.
Once she was happy with the sketches, Andriana scanned the image back into Photoshop and, using Levels, she removed the guide character, leaving just the drawing. She then cleaned them up and placed them over the original image.
She then added some geometric shapes into the composition to contrast with the sketched elements. Stephen could use these additional shapes as starting points for his own illustrations. At this stage, Andriana looked at the image as it stood and, after a few tweaks to the composition, she passed it over to Stephen to start experimenting.
Her fellow artist wasted no time putting his own mark on the work.Stephen roughly established a way of working having collaborated on a few illustrations before (one of them would find a nice photo and add some graphical elements before passing it to the next person). Stephen opened up the file and saw the imagery, the strange pose of the model and the sketches – and loved it.
“Everything in the piece was great, but I just wasn’t too happy with the composition, the positioning of the main focal point,” says Stephen.
He moved things round until they seemed right, and making adjustments to the composition after a few quick emails with Andriana. Stephen ended up duplicating the model for more impact.
Stephen started with his usual technique for approaching a piece of work – stared at it for about half a day until something suddenly sparked in his brain. He decided to amputate the leg, firstly masking off the section in Photoshop, and then saving a low-resolution version to take in to Adobe Illustrator. “Cutting off limbs is all the rage,” he quips.
With Stephen being quite heavily influenced by surreal and weird artists, Manga and Asian culture, massive worm creatures spewing from the thigh seemed quite perfect. He quickly vectored up some new worms and found some old worms, then quite conveniently copied and pasted them in to Photoshop.
When Andriana received the work back, she had to spend a lot of time considering her next move, as Stephen’s duplication of the central figure had changed the dynamic of the artwork a lot.
“I really liked how it gave a completely fresh feel to the piece, so it inspired me to think about the story that was forming between these characters. My challenge now was to develop the relationship between the new elements and continue to build the story.”
Stephen received the piece back, with a few elements moved and a texture background added. The pink circle that was at the top was now at the bottom. The heavy shape at the bottom seemed like it wanted to drag itself off the page, which lead him to create the drippy character (even the slightest change in composition can spark off inspiration).
Stephen wanted to blend the photographic elements and the vectors a little more, and after staring at the drippy character for a while, it lead to the creation of the melting leg. He drew it up in Illustrator again, using a bright colour, which he found helps when tracing or drawing on top of dark objects. This could easily have been done in Photoshop, too.
“The illustration is now starting to near completion, needing just a few more elements to tighten it,” says Stephen. ”Looking around again I thought maybe an image of a diamond being grasped on to by those claws (in the middle of the diamond shapes) would be fitting. And no illustration would be finished without my axe-wielding little girl.”
Andriana’s response to Stephen’s work was, “Wow! The new characters and vectors really begin to make the piece look solid now, and I was inspired to do some more drawing. I feel like the little narrative had developed nicely, and my new drawings would pull the whole thing together.”
Andriana then toned down the illustration, taking out the pinks so that the other elements were stronger, and so it wasn’t too busy. She and Stephen decided the composition was looking a little dull, so bringing back some of the pink would draw the viewer in to the piece nicely. This finished the piece to both artists’ satisfaction.
“There were some compromises to be had along the way,” says Andriana, “with tweaks to the composition and individual elements being sent back and forth. But in the end the overall look was achieved by working close together, and fine-tuning the composition until we were both happy.”