The assignment had been to depict a female elf riding the winds, and raining arrows on foes below. This sort of description is often a little troublesome, as it presents two groups of objects at opposite ends of a spectrum: above and below.
The temptation is to stand the viewer with one or the other group and aim the "camera" towards the other. So, my first sketches had the viewer among the enemies, looking up at the elf firing down. Viewed from below, the sketches looked a bit like she might be leaping down on the group. If she was in fact to be leaping down, I probably would have gone this route.
Another option would be to have the viewer in the air, looking down with the elf at the enemies below. Given the scale and time allowed for this illustration, that view was not going to be feasible, since it would probably include too many enemies for the time alotted. If I went from above and showed the full figure, it might also be hard to pull her forward in space and get her to feel aloft. If I cropped the figure, you might think she was leaning off a balcony or tree or something.
A third option is to pull back the camera enough to get them both in, and this is the way I sought to do it in the end.
But to show the scene sideways, I had to create an image tall enough for separation of the two groups. Ideally, this piece would've been even taller, and I would have had even more space between the two groups, but this was enough I felt, and satisfied the size requirements of the client. I had to have her clearly above the line of enemies, and needed to pose her in a way that made her seem like she was not leaping down. She was to be riding the wind. This is tricky to indicate, wind being invisible.
"Windflight sketch" 11.5x18" Charcoal on paper
My solution here was to have leaves carried along on the wind flow. It would allow me to indicate the direction of the flow, would help to sell the floating aspect, add in a dose of magic to the scene, and also bring in nature elements that are usually tied to the archetypical elf.
From the beginning, my sketches kept indicating a really dark sky. Apocalypse dark. I've never to my knowledge painted a sky quite this dark--black in a few areas. It did allow me the opportunity to create a spotlight effect, however, as if a beam of light had cracked through. It helped to focus the composition by plunging many of the enemies in shadow, creating a ring of focus around the center area, where one foe has been knocked back by her prior arrow.
Despite the fact that she's mostly horizontal, the rest of the composition is made up of diagonals, many of which are constructed to lead the eye around. Essentially, the movement is composed around a diamond in the middle of the canvas. See if you can find it. The hope is that it keeps the eye bouncing around the four points in a clockwise direction. An action scene where your eye doesn't move starts to feel pretty static.
As a side note, I've begun upgrading the size of the images throughout my website, and removing the zoom-and-pan option, which ran in Flash and so was unusable on iOS devices (of which there are so many out there!). So, if you want to see more, head on over and check it out.