Art of Color

A few months ago a commenter named Sanjana Baijnath showed up on one of the media threads and informed us of the woeful education most artists get in shading skin tones that aren’t white. One of the regulars (Angel H?) clicked on her link and posted something like “Your art is amazing! You won me over with that image of Demona from Gargoyles.” Those are like magic words, because I love Gargoyles and Demona and really great art.

Skin Tone PracticeTurns out that the praise was spot-on, because I instantly fell in love with Sanjana’s portraits. Her Demona is just the tip of the iceberg. I love that she creates supremely beautiful art that features women of all different shades and types. I resolved that very instant to make Sanjana one of the first artist profiles I did for Fantasy magazine. And now that the mag has launched online, I can shove you all in that direction. Go read Sanajana’s profile and look at her beautiful images, then go to her website to see the full gallery and send an email telling her how awesome she is.

17 Responses

  1. The picture you include in this post is lovely.

    I don’t know if I’m really seeing different “types” of women. Variation in skin color is lovely, but they all look to me like they’re skinny and have the same sort of set of patriarchy/white supremacy approved features.

    I don’t mean to pick on her about this. It does bother me about other fantasy artists, but I think it would be problematic of me to focus on her lacks instead of her good points about the focus of art classes on white skin and the axes on which her art does vary.

    Nevertheless, it was a bit disappointing to have “types” included in your post, and then go and see only the kind of skinny, pretty, angsty women I expect to see in fantasy art.

  2. A further note — the hair on the image in this post is absoltuely gorgeously done.

  3. I also like the hair.

    When I was thinking of types, I was referring to different races, really. But what “race” is a gargoyle, for instance? So I left it at types. I really, really encourage you to take a look through her full portfolio. The pictures I have up on fantasy are a small slice, and they are the ones that struck me particularly. (also, they are the ones that are fantasy-type pictures, for the most part. the sketchbook has more portraits of a non-specific-genre-type like the one at the very top of the page, which I love supremely.)

    Did you see Jamaican Fantasy and Poetry in Motion? Those two I think really capture what i like most about her art. I debated whether to include Lift Off, but I settled for not making it the very first image. I like it, even though it is a skinny white girl, though she is not angsty in my view.

  4. As a visual artist, this is something that really bothers me about our training. But it’s not even just training, really… it’s the influences from which we draw inspiration.

    I do a lot of anime-inspired art, or used to. But there’s not exactly a lot of anime designs of PoC. Or… any, really. This has become very problematic for me when I’m trying to do character designs. I hang around the DeviantArt community, where there is a lot of fantasy/manga art (as well as anthro, photomanip, and lots of stuff like that), but there’s not a lot there for me to draw on in this respect.

    This artist has some good work. Nice to see this kind of stuff. :) I may submit to Fantasy Magazine someday, once I get my portfolio a bit more together.

  5. Yay! I love her art! And yes, that was me who geeked out over her Demona pic. ^_^

    Another thinbg I love about her work is how she works with different styles. The portrait above (too beautiful!) contrasts greatly with the “Jamaica” pic, as well as the Demona.

    Ico: You’re a visual artist and an anime geek, too?! Kewlness!! :D

  6. Yeah, it’s part of what I love about this blog. Sci fi, fantasy, and now gaming (I am so totally a gamer, ABW… very cool that you are, too! :D)

    So you are a gargoyles fan, Angel? There are many on DeviantArt. Some very cool stuff there. :) And yep, I’m an anime geek. I took four years of Japanese classes because I wanted to become fluent enough to go over there and try to draw manga (gave up on that when I realized I love writing more). So you are a visual artist? Do you have a website? :)

  7. Angsty may or may not be the word that I intended. I was trying to thumbnail an attitude toward women in fantasy (and fantasy art) that I resonated with a lot when I was a teen and now find grating.

    The desdemona pic doesn’t have it. And you’re right, Jamaican Fantasy and Poetry in Motion are stunning — and very different from the other work, although they still show the same artistic voice.

    For the record, I had gone over to her website before making my earlier comment.

  8. Gamer here, too!

    Ico: I don’t have a site up for my art, yet. And yes, I’m a huge “Gargoyles” fan! (I even wrote fanfic! ^_^)

    I actually used to live in Japan when I was younger, so going to sites like Japundit and keeping up with the things happening overseas is almost like “being home”. :)

    Mandolin: I’m sorry, but I tried to hold back:
    Demona and Desdemona are actually 2 different characters in the series. The picture is of Demona.

    *slaps hand. Bad geek! Bad geek! No nitpicking!

  9. Angel: You lived in Japan?? OMG, I am sooo jealous! I have visited, but never lived there. Someday when you have your art posted, you will have to show me some. I’d love to see it. :D

    I also have to admit… I didn’t realize Demona and Desdemona are two different characters. Which one is the evil gargoyle? I always thought she was cool.

  10. Mandolin,

    I know exactly what you mean by this:

    “I was trying to thumbnail an attitude toward women in fantasy (and fantasy art) that I resonated with a lot when I was a teen and now find grating.”

    It’s a lot of little things put together – the expressions, the poses, the way they are often made “less” in a weird, intangible way. At the same time, it’s extremely prevalent in fantasy art.

    What I like about Sanjana is her range — on the one hand she does have those typical fantasy portraits, albeit with her own style and unique PoV, and then she has some not-so-typical portraits that really show off her skills. It seems to me that you have to be able to do the former in order to get work in the fantasy art field.

  11. “It seems to me that you have to be able to do the former in order to get work in the fantasy art field.”

    You’re almost certainly correct. And I appreciate all those things you mention.

    Thanks for linking her, and she seems like she was a great choice for your first feature.

  12. Black Girl Gamer here! Also adores art.

    I love this woman’s gallery. Also, I can probably ask it – does anyone know of any other sites that have beautiful fantasy based or Art-Nouveau-esque black art? Because seriously, I’m having so much hell finding good fantasy art or Victorian-esque art of us.

  13. My entirely unsatisfactory response:

    A brief, non-comprehensive glance at Ursula Vernon’s gallery reveals only one non-white, non-asian figure — Animal Companion — though quite a bit of her work shows animal- or plant-women, some of whom are not necessarily caucasian-featured.

    An artist friend of mine who is half-Mexican tends to use herself or her brother as the default when she can’t avoid drawing humans.

    And I guess Barry of Amptoons doesn’t count because of style, but he does do some number of whimsical drawings with black people in them.

  14. Sorry Mandolin, your comment went into moderation because of the links.

    Thanks a lot for pointing out those artists! I’m always looking for more folks to feature on Fantasy and particularly I’m looking for folks who depict PoC.

  15. This is months late, but I thought I’d mention it because it’s kinda relevant and definitely problematic. So recently, I decided to do an anthro portrait of a kitsune character, for which I needed some stock photos of foxes, background stuff, and black women.

    I keep a gallery on deviantART, which is one of the largest art communities on the web, and which especially tends to have a lot of fantasy art.

    When I searched the stock galleries for portraits of black women, though, I found almost nothing. I went through pages and pages and pages of white women in all variety of fantasy garb and poses. But this is deviantART — there are quite literally millions of images here (almost 50 million, at this moment). So where is all the art of people of color? And specifically, where is the stock art that photomanipulators can use to create fantasy art?

    The covers of some issues of Fantasy magazine that I have seen (at least I think it’s Fantasy magazine… or maybe a different mag), for example, are either photomanipulations or digital paintings based on stock photography. Some of it is from deviantART. So the lack of stock photography of PoC is definitely very problematic to fantasy artists.

    It really irritates me. I don’t know what to do about it, other than send a message to the very few stock artists who put up images of WoC and beg them to keep it up. Adds another facet to the problem of fantasy art. Without stock, artists can’t make their pictures.

  16. Ico >> Oh man, I totally know what you mean about the whole lack of POC in Deviantart’s stock resource. I’m always searching for interesting portraits/reference images to help me study lighting, texture, skin tones etc. I must have searched for every single known variation (african, black, even specifics like “dark skin”) and the results were really pitiful. I did manage to find a really good guy (african american, I think) – http://ahrum-stock.deviantart.com/ – I’ve used his likeness in many practice sketches/paintings etc.

    And another thing – when you DO manage to find reference pictures featuring women of colour, these images are always highly sexualised, and totally play up on the stereotypes of the “untamed native” or “jungle girl” etc. and in the case of women of east asian descent – the “oriental” demure stereotypes, or katana wielding girls in mini skirts.

    It is exceedingly difficult to find a decent amount of images of women of colour in everyday poses/situations etc – for example, just wearing casual clothing, or even lighting studies (you need more than 1 reference image for a full blown painting, as most artists work from a whole variety of images to reach their own unique vision)

    Yes, there are a handful of good stock images of POC such as the link above, but a handful out of millions of stock images – that to me, is shocking :( Perhaps its the fact that Deviantart’s core audience is made up of teens in western, first world countries and are of middle~wealthy class, considering the access to technology? And this inevitably means that they are white, hence POC being invisible in their world? There’s a lot of fantasy followers and Anime otaku on Deviantart, and POC are, as we all know, woefully absent from these genres…

  17. It is a real problem… I think you are spot on with the reasons for it. Some of the reasons probably go back to art classes and art school as well. I have never, in 5 years of college art classes/training, and all my high school years as well, painted a PoC in a classroom setting. We get taught all this stuff about skin color, about how to do the bluish undertones of pink/white skin and make it lifelike. We get all these white models (usually women, but occasionally men).

    And I have to say, taking that traditional training background and applying it to black figures has been challenging. I remember in one charcoal class the instructor told us to make the background dark — almost black — so the figure would stand out. Well there was one rather dark black guy in the class so in his drawing, he made the background white. He had to change the instructions.

    It’s the same with anime/manga style. It’s the same with cartoons. All the “rules” of drawing/painting that we learn are for white skin and white features.

    So those artists on DeviantART who actually are enrolled in art classes, or who are looking at anime or fantasy art or cartoons for inspiration, never see anything to use as a reference for nonwhite figures…

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