The Pit – from start to finish

I’ve been working on a new piece and documenting my process with my shiny new camera! I’m learning the camera/editing as I go, so some of these are a bit low-quality, but here’s a good look at how I paint:

Here’s the final image:

I’ve got 3 top-secret assignments to do in the next couple of weeks, but stay tuned for my next personal painting, a cover for my sample comic “Upstream”!

The completed map!

Hello everyone! I have completed my map of a fictional island. I had so much fun creating this, I really wanted to paint a place that I would like to explore. While working on it, I found it helpful to imagine the story of a character from the trading town of Cold Harbour who goes on a journey through these lands. It was a fantastic exercise in design and painting environments, and I would love to do more maps in the future.

First, some process videos:

You can see more process shots on my instagram, @smalyon

And here’s the final! Click for a higher res image:

serena malyon illustration map fantasy rpg

Thanks for checking out my work! Not sure what my next personal work will be, but I’m hoping to do more information design. Maybe something educational next time, we’ll see!

The Subtle Knife (progress)

Hello friends, I’ve been quiet lately, but I finally have more new work I can show you! I recently listened to The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman on audiobook (making it the 5th time I’ve read the book). Its such a fantastic series, and my understanding of it deepens as I age and become more aware of the world around me. As a tribute to one of my favourite book series, I wanted to illustrate a cover for the Subtle Knife (mainly for me, but also to send out as self promotion). Here is the drawing. I tend to draw my city backgrounds on tracing paper so I won’t interfere with the figures if I need to erase a lot or start over.

Lots of trial and error in this stage!

2014-11-05 23.28.10     serena malyon illustration sketch

Once the drawings are done, they are scanned, blown up and transferred to the watercolour paper. For this painting I decided to use some of my 300 lb Arches rough watercolour paper, so I made the piece pretty large. The roughness of the paper is great for granulation and texture, but it makes small details hard to see when scanned, so I had to work big. The finished size is around 16″x 25″.

serena malyon colour rough lyra

The winning colour rough. I found out that (in my personal work) I prefer to paint night scenes, if only because I get to paint little lit-up windows and stars. You’ll also notice that many of my illustrations have a similar colour palette, this is because I cant resist using my favourite paints: alizarin crimson, venetian red, quin gold, prussian blue, and cerulean. I always depart from that simple formula a bit, but you can make almost any colour with those. Once transferred to watercolour paper (I HATE transferring, so I’m not talking about it here), the fun really starts. For this piece I started by staining most of the paper with ultramarine blue ink, giving me a good colour base for the rest of the piece.

serena malyon work in progress     serena malyon work in progress

I work in patches usually, trying to get the first washes down to start defining values. I end up revisiting a lot of areas to make them darker or change their hue as the painting progresses. I’ve also just started using opaque gouache in my work, which allows me to worry less about maintaining my highlights (in watercolour you have to avoid painting areas you want to stay white/light).

The final scan:

serena malyon work in progress lyra I’m very happy with how it has turned out so far, and I cant wait to get ahold of it in Photoshop, clean it up a bit and push my values a bit more. I don’t know when you’ll see the final, hopefully in a week and a half, but things are awfully busy this month! I’ll keep you updated!

In Progress – 80s inspiration

Here’s a new personal piece I’m working on. Lately, my boyfriend and I have been watching lots and lots of horror and sci fi b-movies from the 70s and 80s. Terrorvision, Night of the Comet, Night of the Creeps, Creepshow, Return of the Living Dead II, Basket Case… the list goes on and on. One thing I’ve come to really appreciate is the ability of lighting to completely alter a once-boring urban landscape.

One common feature of these films is the significance of the neon light. Usually if there’s more than one neon light shining on a character, something exciting’s about to happen. Now here are some awesome examples of neon in film from the 70s and 80s:

Creepshow: every bad event can be predicted by the amount of neon in the shot.

Terrorvision: my favourite intentionally-cheesy horror movie. Please watch it.

Susperia: starring Jessica Harper (I love her) and neon lights.

Night of the Comet: a great example of how light changes a landscape.

How could I not be inspired?

The Mural That Never Was

serena malyon nathan swazye calgary illustrators sketch space

This past May, Nathan Swayze and I put together a proposal for a mural at a local school. Langevin school, a school known for its emphasis on science, was looking for a mural to cover a large concrete stairwell next to their playground. Neither of us had ever put together a real “proposal” for a public art project, but we’re always ready for a challenge, so Nathan and I got to work analyzing their call for submissions. Having already done a mural earlier this year (MARKET Calgary), Nathan and I felt that we might actually be able to tackle something of this scale.

Nathan took care of much of the design while I researched things like our budget, materials, insurance, techniques, rentals, and possible long-term care proposals. We both took a week off and worked on it every waking moment. Nathan was composing and painting non-stop while I was calling paint manufacturers and trying to work out what sort of sandblasters we’d need to prep the cement. The research we did was as much for our proposal as it was for us, we needed to know whether we were working on a project that we could conceivably complete. By the due date, we had a fun, versatile composition that we both loved and a proposal that we could stand behind confidently.

nathan swayze serena malyon

One of our preliminary sketches

Our concept was simple, the concrete structure would be covered in a painted timeline of scientific discovery and human achievement. The call for submissions requested that we find a way to incorporate student art into the piece. Our idea was to have students paint the scientific discovery that they find the most interesting, and Nathan and I would place their painting within our mural’s timeline.

serena malyon nathan swayze illustration calgary art langevin science school mural concept art

The final concept that we submitted

Nathan and I went for an interview a few weeks ago and met with the Langevin mural board, and we all had a great discussion about the piece. Though we didn’t wind up getting the job (probably due to the fact that neither of us have ever painted anything on this scale before), we had a great time working on it, and we’re pretty proud that we even got a call-back. The following images are our photoshopped mock-ups of the mural. Photo credits go to the Langevin mural committee.

langevin_1 langevin_2

langevin_3 langevin_4

I think this was a big stepping stone for us branching out into public art. As a subject that was never approached during our time in the Visual Communications (Design) stream at ACAD, we had no real grasp on where to start. From my understanding, writing grant and public art proposals is something learned in the Fine Arts side of the school. Having done some research on our own time and by simply doing our best, we’ve learned a lot about the process and requirements. Now that we know the basics, its opened up a lot of new possibilities for Nathan and myself.

Super-vague-preview time

Its been a long day, and this project is going slower than expected (thanks, LIFE), so I’m just going to upload this little thumbnail of my in-progress illustration. Its going to be an illustration aimed at kids starring everybody’s favourite vampire: Dracula. Lets see if you can make any of it out.

serena malyon work in progress illustration

Vesuvius – Work in Progress

I’ve been working on a piece for an upcoming show with some collegues, so I thought I’d post my process. With every project I start with 20-30 thumbnails, trying to show different concepts and compositions. In this case, I was stuck on one idea for a while, and it turned out a little bit too cliche for me. You can see my fiery gods in these sketches. They worked as thumbnails, but I don’t think there was enough there to keep me enthusiastic about the concept.


After a while I decided to go in a different direction. Instead of showing some vengeful act of the gods, I needed something more solemn, a representation of the aftermath. I chose to go with some ashy giants, mournfully stalking through a ruined city.

vesuvius sketch serena malyon work in process

I started drawing my scene right away. For big, complex pieces like this, I like to draw on tracing paper. Tracing paper’s great because it makes erasing a breeze, which is good for someone like me who needs everything redrawn 3 or 4 times before they’re happy. In the photo, you can see where I’ve scribbled graphite on the back to transfer the image to Arches watercolour paper.

I took a photo of my finished drawing, printed it out on sketchbook paper and did some colour studies. This helped me determine the mood of my painting.

vesuvius colour roughs serena malyon work in progress

Here’s the work in progress on the final. I’ve been building up ink washes to get the textures I want, and soon enough I’ll be painting the city. Keep checking back for more updates!

vesuvius  serena malyon work in progress

Theatre Posters – In-Progress

Here are some theatre posters I’ve been working on for Downstage Theatre. These are just colour roughs, so they’ll go through a few compositional changes before they’re done. My darling Danielle Bazinet did their posters last season, you should take a look. I can’t say what plays these are for, I’ll just let the illustrations do the talking for now.

 serena malyon illustration rough

serena malyon illustration rough