Saturday, March 7, 2015

Scarlet Witch Re-design - What Women Want In Women's Characters

Hi folks it's been awhile! Sorry for the silence, just been re-settling to life back in the suburbs of Western Australia after getting back from my 3 month trip overseas at the end of last year. I've been setting up a new studio space, working on some illustration ideas, looking for a "regular job" and just trying to cope with a really hot summer!

The original Scarlet Witch as seen in Marvel comics (pretty awesome image by Frank Cho) next to my take on the character as displayed in the Muddy Colors post

Something happened to my art work recently... it got caught in an online conversation maelstrom due to this article "What Women Want...In Women Characters" written by the creative director of Orbit Books Lauren Panepinto. It featured a whole range of comic and game characters re-designed by female artists like myself working in fantasy art. The concept arose from numerous conversations had in the Facebook group Women In Fantastical Illustration (WIFI for short, if you're a woman and an artist and would like to join send Lauren a message on Facebook). It was a fun challenge to work on and many of us discussed the different ways to tackle the re-design of a character who is usually presented as a sexual object rather than as an interesting subject like her male counterparts. Because the group is so diverse (we come from a wide range of backgrounds, art styles, techniques and from all over the world), the way we interpreted the challenge was going to be equally diverse and varied.

Since Thursday (5th March 2015) when it was first posted, the article has been talked about all over the internet. It got re-posted on Mary Sue, i09, reddit, NeoGAF and even Cosmopolitan! I have never been a part of a topic that has been re-talked about by so many people... it was a bit of a shock...

A sample of the comments for the re-designs

So I thought I'd have a look at what people were saying... some of the comments were really great and some of them... not so great... I really shouldn't have looked. It got a bit nasty, though it could have been a lot worse and some re-designs got a lot more flack than others, especially the re-design by artist Anna Fehr of the character Samus's (Metroid) Zero suit. 

Anna even had to edit the original post to respond to some of the nasty comments she got about her re-design. Here's the link to the high-heeled version she was talking about.

I really shouldn't have read some of the feedback... but I did and now I feel the need to respond or at least to show my design process behind the image - and yes I did do my research :P


I started with some sketches and 2 different ideas on how to portray SW.

The first idea was to tackle the time in the Scarlet Witch's life when she pretty much had a mental breakdown and almost destroyed the Marvel Universe.

"The Scarlet Witch seemingly gained powerful reality-altering abilities from "Chaos Magic"; however, this proved to be an uncontrolled aspect of her mutant power and created a great mental strain on her. An unintentional remark by teammate Wasp about Wanda's lost children apparently drove her over the edge. She suffered a nervous breakdown and lashed out with her new power, subjecting the Avengers to a savage assault and apparently killing Agatha Harkness and some of her teammates. Others were injured or affected by various odd outbursts and incidents. The remaining Avengers gathered including a number of reservists." Marvel Wiki

I wanted to portray a slightly crazed witch holding the two children she wasn't supposed to have.

Watercolour, ink and gouache on Bristol Smooth

The second idea I had was of a teenage version of the Scarlet Witch just learning and trying out her new abilities.

Since time was of an issue and the whole concept was to actually re-design the costume I chose the second idea (and I shall re-visit the first idea another time).

I was going to push the typical "gypsy" look (ie frilly shirt, embroidery, coin scarf, hoop earrings etc) then while doing some research I realised that the term "gypsy" was actually an offensive term and the portrayal of their style can be more theatrical than factual especially with the contemporaries.

So instead I thought to change direction and instead focus on a look reflecting a modern nomadic type who is of Romanov descent living in America. This article in particular helped with my concept. I liked the idea of picturing her as a young late teen/early 20's girl not long before she gets involved with the Avengers. I placed her in the country against a fence on a country path (I love old paintings in particular those done by the Pre-Raphaelites), trying out her new found powers. The bracelets, head scarf and red flowing skirt is a nod to her Romanov background as well as a precursor to her eventual costume in the Avengers. The Chucks were chosen because Chucks are cool and fun.

Some of the images I pinned on my Pinterest page

With the look worked out I started working on the final painting, starting with the original drawing, which was lightly sprayed with fixative. The layers were built up slowly with masking fluid covering some areas to ensure small items didn't get lost.

Watercolour and gouache on 300lb hot press Saunders watercolour paper

The final word on this is a collector contacted me the other day to ask if the art work was still available for purchase :) So no matter who likes it or doesn't like it the important thing for me who wants to make a living and a career out of this, is this - someone liked it enough that they were willing to pay to own it. I win.


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