Cover by Jessica Douglas

EMG-Zine Entrance
Printed Anthologies
Free Download of Volume 1!

December 2010

December 2010 -- African Mythology



  • Behind the Art:
    African Watercolor, Part 2
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Laura Pelick
  • EMG News:
    News for December
  • Ask an Artist:


  • African Skin Walkthrough


  • Poem: Shango

    Search EMG-Zine

    EMG-Zine is no longer active, but join the mailing list for other EMG projects and updates. You can also follow us on Facebook.

    Or Support us with an anthology purchase!
  • African Skin Walkthrough
    by Jenny Heidewald

    Africa is 11,508,043 square miles in area (compared to North America's 8,234,570), with a population of over 930 million, and contains a diversity of ecologies, from desert to rainforest. Probably the one that comes to mind first is western Africa with its savannas and myriad wildlife. I decided to look instead at Ethiopia, the home of The Great Rift Valley. The Great Rift Valley of Africa is considered the birthplace of humanity, and is about 4,000 miles long. The rift is the result of three tectonic plates moving away from each other. These plates are moving relatively fast in comparison with other plates, though that is still slow by human standards -- a few centimeters a year. Eventually, the horn of Africa will be separated from the rest of the continent by a new sea.

    The cultures that caught my attention reside in the Omo Valley, a relatively isolated and hard to reach area. The tribes of the Omo Valley have a custom of body painting, used for personal decoration rather than religious reasons. The Omo Valley offers a wide variety of substances that act as colored pigments, which the tribespeople mix with chalk to form the paint paste. Other body enhancements include scarification (intentional scarring of the skin), lip rings (Mursi tribe), piercing under the lower lip, through which things such as feathers, sticks and nails are inserted; ear holes (plugs), multiple earrings, wearing local plants draped on or around the head and neck. Hamer women use ochre-colored clay to coat their tightly ringleted hair; men often wear elaborate clay caps. Colorful beaded necklaces and belts abound, as well as copper and iron bracelets and, for certain tribes, cowry shells sewn to straps that are draped around the body. In some tribes they wear hats made of a calabash on their heads to keep the sun off.

    Most of the tribes of the Southern Omo Valley are pastoralists, meaning that they live mainly off of cattle or livestock. There are occasionally violent battles between tribes when they steal each other's cattle.

    The best known ceremonies include the jumping of the bulls, which marks either a boy's transition into manhood or his pending wedding; and the Donga, which is a stick fight.

    Here is a list of frequently contacted tribes in the Omar Valley: Abore, Ari, Bena, Bodi, Bumi, Daasanech (Geleb), Dorze, Hamer (Hamar), Kara (or Karo), Konso, Kwegu (or Muguji), Mursi, Tsemay, and Turkana.


    I was inspired by my research into the tribes of the Omo Valley, the face painting and plant decorations especially. I also wanted a chance to practice the beautiful dark skin these tribes have.

    First, I sketch out my subject, I want her to have a flower and grass type of headdress, bead necklaces, and dots painted on her body.

    I decide that working with Photoshop Elements would be the best way to go so that I can tweak the headdress and paint dots easily. With watercolor I would have to work out more of these details before transferring the lines to watercolor paper.

    I make a line layer and set it to multiply, and then make a color layer. I will have more than one color layer; I'll normally have one white on the bottom, one background, one skin, one headdress, and others as I go. This makes it easier to adjust each part of the painting without having to worry about messing up other parts. It is a good idea to leave a copy of the line art as the first layer, and lock it, just in case.

    I like to start by flood filling the layer right above the first sketch layer with white. Then I move to the background layer and color by either flood filling the background layer or using a brush that has a color variation and a textured look. I turn off all the other layers before I do this. I decide to use a color gradient fill, to give one side of the picture a warmer color and the other a cooler effect.

    I want to focus more on my subject's face, so I enlarge my line layer. I will work with the headdress elements to frame her face, and not lead the eye out of the picture. I make sure to lock my line layer again once I am done enlarging it.

    Next, I go back to the gradient layer and make a duplicate copy. At this point, I am not sure whether I want much texture in the background or not, and making another layer is the best way to experiment without worry. I take my textured brush and set the color shift high, and the color a bit lighter than the background yellow, I take color from various spots of the background and make the whole background textured. The brush settings are: spacing 13% color jitter: 1261# fade: 39% scatter 11%.

    I make a few more layers, skin and headdress. I lock all layers except skin. Picking a soft kind of round brush, l lay in large blocks of color to get a feel of where I am going; first I lay in one midtone color. I am not concerned about how clean it looks right now. It helps to have reference photos of the skin color. As I fill in a couple highlights and shadows, I make the opacity of the brush something around 58%.

    I lock the skin layer and head to the headdress layer, I decide to add a necklace layer and a clothing layer as well. I have some brushes that I had made from pictures of grasses and mosses; these come in handy for the grass sprays. I rotate the direction of the brushes so there is variation, and layer different ones on top of each other. Spatter type brushes also work well for depicting sprays of flowers. I feel I need to make her skin the deeper color I want to end up with before I can get the right colors for the headdress. I move around a lot in order to keep all parts of my painting at the same stage, so I decide to work on the necklace and clothing bits. I use a brush that has several dots for what will be the bead necklaces and just do a swoop around her neck.

    Back to the skin layer, I work on darkening her skin tones. I keep in mind that the light is coming from the left; with the light being warm the shadows will be cool. I flip the picture a couple times to see if I have any glaring anatomy issues. I decide to move her mouth out to the left a bit more, and to widen the space between her eyes by moving the right one over. I first move the line layer eye then the color layer eye. This leaves an open space on the image that shows through to the background color. There are a couple ways to fill this in--with the brush tool and color picking, the clone tool, or smudging.

    I go to my line layer on the top and reduce the opacity of it to 50%, and erase some of the more distracting lines. I go to the necklace layer and add in a headband to hold the headdress to her head. I put the headband on this layer because I wanted to be able to clear up any vegetation that I didn't like without compromising the headband work. I go back to the skin layer, make a copy of it, and work more on the hues on the new copy. One of the techniques that I use is using the brush in multiply mode, with a light opacity, 18% or so depending. This gives a nice dark color in the shadow areas, dark red for warm areas, blues, greens and purples for cool areas.

    I continue to darken her skin, using rich browns; I am using a soft brush with the opacity set to 47%. Since skin isn't smooth, I switch to a multi dot brush that instead of doing a continuous line does dots as you move it around. I set it to size 37 at 38% opacity. This gives a porous look to the skin.

    I switch back to the headdress, adding in more shapes that are organic from custom brushes; I also desaturate this layer a little bit. In order to get more color without wiggling my brush I set it to airbrush; as long as I hold the button down the color keeps "flowing". I use various premade brushes to add to the grass, the smudge brush comes in handy to alter the uniformity of certain brushes, like the flowers. I use the burn tool sparingly to add darkness to the headdress.
    I go into my lines copy and erase most of the sketch lines, leaving the ones that enforce the picture in areas that I want, such as the eyes. I work more on the necklace, adding in other strands, straightening them, I desaturate the colors more, and us the burn tool to make them darker. I add another layer named "beads" and use a regular round brush to add in the lines to form the beads, I also added in highlights with the dodge tool and some shadows. I go over the brighter areas of the necklace that I want to push into the background with a brush set to low opacity and a dark red color. The interesting thing about the human mind is that you don't have to put in every little detail; the mind will fill it in for you if you give it enough to go on. I am a detail-oriented person, but I recognize the value in a looser painting. I decide to cut out the clothing and shoulders to lessen the distraction in the picture.

    For the final touches, I reduce the necklace in spots, fix her eyes and neck, add the clay markings, and last, but not least, my signature.

    PBS, Explore Africa
    The Great Rift Valley

    Omo Valley
    Omo Body Painting, photos by Hans Silvester WARNING: Nudity

    Photos of Tribes of Ethiopia by Lars-Gunnar Svärd WARNING: Nudity

    Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
    to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.

    Fantasy coloring books from Ellen Million Graphics Get a pre-made portrait, ready to go! A 48 hour creative jam for artists An e-zine for fantasy artists and writers A shared world adventure

    Return To EMG-Zine Entrance

    All graphics on these pages are under copyright. Webpage design copyrighted by Ellen Million Graphics. All content copyrighted by the creating artist. If you find anything which is not working properly, please let me know!

    Ellen Million Graphics Main Page - Privacy Policy

    EMG powered by: a few minions and lots of enchanted search frogs

    Random artwork
    from this issue: