Ethereal Borders

Ethereal Borders fantasy art print

Ethereal Borders is my most complex digital painting to date. With two main characters as centers of interest and a cityscape in the background, this one really challenged me.

This painting started out back in 2014 as a pen and ink illustration. I can’t seem to find that original drawing and I hope it’s just misplaced somewhere in my studio. For now, I’ll have to show you the drawing as it is in my sketchbook Art Book One.

Ethereal Borders ink drawing fantasy art

There were some modifications made for the painting when compared to the ink drawing. The ink drawing was drawn with only reference used for the horse body. Everything else, I drew out of my head.

For the 2019 painted version, I decided to make this a part of my Realm Ethereal universe. I’ve done this with several other ink drawings. Aeliana and Nenael also started out as ink drawings a few years ago. The most prevalent changes to the original drawing in the painting is the reference I used for both the good prince’s head and the centaur’s head. The prince still holds his charming looks, but the centaur (Adastrion) has a much more developed look.

2019 is the year I really started to dig my heels into digital painting. With that came the realization on my part that using photo reference was only going to enhance my work. That being said, I also ended up using reference for the hands and feet as well as a horse reference for the musculature. The pose of the horse body itself was already composed in the original ink drawing, but I could not find the original reference for it. So, the final painted horse body is a blending of new reference material I found online while retaining the original ink drawings form.

The other component that was a huge composition change was the “bridge” element. In the ink drawing, I think it’s pretty clear that this is some kind of bridge, but not in the real-world, three dimensional sense. In the drawing, as in my painting, it’s fairly flat. It’s also on a different plane than the floating city in the background. I know, this is all fantasy type stuff and part of this process is me making the stuff as I go along.

There are times when I will cue the viewer in on the finer parts of the art and other times when I’ll forget I have a viewer. I think that’s part of the creative process. You get on a roll and sometimes you just keep on rolling.

As I developed the painting, I removed the foreshortened portion of it as I felt it tended to direct the viewer’s eye out of the center of interest. In this case, it’s our good prince (Prince Aegyon) and the centaur Adastrion.

In the end, I made the decision to remove that foreshortened area in favor of showing the Dreaming City in the background. In hindsight, and after some critiques, perhaps keeping that sliver of “bridge” would have explained the perspective a little better.

“Ethereal Borders” was a self-directed illustration for my Realm Ethereal world-building project. As such, each piece is going to be a learning experience. Both in terms of illustration fundamentals as well as content creation. This one is no different. But this is one of my favorite pieces so far.

It’s currently available from my online store at as both a 13″ x 19″ art print. ■

Asreeth Lion Warrior in “Asreeth, Ethereal Guard”

Asreeth Ethereal Guard detail fantasy art

Asreeth, Ethereal Guard is one of my creations that became one of my first online comic book websites. No longer around, www.asreethlionwarrior.com featured the weekly adventures of this half-man, half-lion character. He existed in a world filled with similar half-animal, half-human characters. The inspiration was taken by a Calico cat we had at the time. Print available here.


Asreeth Lion Warrior original concept sketch
The first ever, original character concept sketch of Asreeth Lion Warrior
Asreeth Etheral Guard fantasy art print

The Realm Ethereal Character Timeline

The Realm Ethereal has been a project where my main intent was to create all new, all original characters. I knew one thing for sure when I started working on this project back in 2018: just keep doing it. I am and always will be first and foremost, a comic book creator. I was inspired to draw because of the comic books I first got my hands on when I was in the fourth grade. I’ve never really stepped fully away from comic books. Even now as I am creating digital paintings, I still have an eye with creating my own new comic book series based on these Realm Ethereal characters.

Casia (February 2018)

Casia Minohr was the first character I created for The Realm Ethereal. This painting really began my exploration into this new world I was just dipping my toes into. I knew I wanted to create new worlds and characters and so this was my freshman effort. This was also the very first, full blown painting I created on my iPad Pro.

Kiana (March 2018)

Kiana was a concept that started out by introducing elements (water in this case) into my concept phase. Kiana was initially called my “blue” piece. Looking back at the previous Casia painting, Casia became my “red” piece.

Mirela (March 2018)

Following up Kiana, Mirela became my “green” piece. Mirella’s character was one tied in with the land. Hence, the green theme. By this point, I designated Casia, Kiana and Mirela as “metaterrans”. Metaterrans essentially being super-powered or extraordinarily gifted human-like beings.

Om (April 2018)

From the beginning, I knew I had to create a character who would be the main, most powerful character in this world-building project. Enter: Om, the Ethereal of Vibration. Om’s powers having to do with “vibration” cemented the concept for this character being all-powerful in The Realm Ethereal. He is the first Ethereal.

Kor (April 2018)

At this point in time, I really started focusing on thse “Ethereals”. Om was seen as a “good guy” and, naturally, I had to come up with a “bad guy”. Enter: Kor, the Ethereal of Chaos. In my mind, Kor is more complex than just being all about “chaos”, but I figured he was a good start to introducing some conflict.

Oda (April 2018)

Oda continued my exploration into creating more Ethereals. Oda became the first female Ethereal I designed. I took the concept of Kor’s “hair”, which looks like flames, and wanted to try something similar but different for Oda. I really pushed her hair to become this flowing, ethereal element to her character. Oda is the ethereal of light.

Nor (April 2018)

Nor was a jump back to the “dark side”. I’m still not sure if he really is “good” or “bad”; that remains to be seen. My concept of him being the ethereal of merging stars was that he causes stars to collide. From that, he is one who is able to either create new worlds or destroy them…or perhaps both simultaneously.

Rem (April 2018)

I kind of missed painting planets, and so a large focus this time around was spent on creating the large sphere behind Nor. Nor is the ethereal of sight. It’s no coincidence that his symbol over his face kinda looks like an eye.

Ena (May 2018)

Ena was my next Ethereal creation. She was designed to help balance out who I was slowly defining as the top three ethereals. So, Ena is the ethereal of order. Along with Om (ethereal of vibration) and Oda (ethereal of light), Ena completes my trio of balance in The Realm Ethereal: vibration, light and order.

Aur (May 2018)

To contrast Ena’s visually softer and flowing feel, I came up with Aur, the ethereal of the shining star. His metallic looking skin with sharp, blade-like objects protruding from his back seem to make him more aggressive. The concept of a “shining star” intrigued me with wanting to make Aur a guide of some sort.

Azure (May 2018)

For my next character, I wanted to create a new classification of characters in The Realm Ethereal. And so was born Azure…Ethereal Guard. This is the first design where a character is visibly holding some kind of object, most likely a weapon of some sort. From there, I came up with the idea to have guardians of the ethereal realm. This is also the first time I show the “ethereal flame”, emblazoned on Azure’s chest.

Nenael (June 2018)

For the next several paintings I would be excited to work on this new classification of characters called ethereal guards. They would be neither ethereal or metaterran, but something in between. Nenael was the next ethereal guard, wielding a magical torch. The idea of the “ethereal flame” was also carried through into this design. This is the first painting that includes a background with more than just planets, clouds and rocks. It is the first time I painted some kind of city.

Theon (June 2018)

With Theon, I was exploring a really wild idea: an ethereal guard who has the ability to cast worlds. In fact, my idea in this painting included a world forge (seen behind the character on the right side of the painting.) An idea to be explored in a future story-arc.

Nodeoknakama (July 2018)

Nodeoknakama, the ethereal guard born without eyes. In keeping with creating new characters and worlds, I introduce this ethereal guard who interfaces the realm via a magical staff.

Om Reveal (August 2018)

My designs take a turn as I come up with a new theme idea: Ethereal Reveal. All of the Ethereals have a mask of some sort, over their faces. These are each different symbols I designed to give a symbol for what each Ethereal represents. The concept of Ethereal Reveal is to reveal the faces of the Ethereals.

Oda Reveal (August 2018)

My Ethereal Reveal series continued with Oda, Ethereal of Light.

Aeliana (September 2018)

The Ethereal Reveal would be short lived (for the time being.) At this point, I felt like I needed to challenge myself. Enter: Aeliana, the Lion Gatherer. All compositions prior to Aeliana were all structured around single characters. Not only did I want to add some kind of additional interactions for my characters, but I felt a need to include other creatures. Aeliana is the first painting where I tackled rendering an animal head-on. I referenced the lion in the painting with a small plastic toy lion I bought at my local Michael’s art store.

Eislyn (October 2018)

Eislyn of the Ethereal Sea became the second character creation to include a large, whale-shark like creature. Eislyn is a metaterran.

Casia’s Ascension (March 2019)

By March of 2019, my online comic book had been going full-steam and Casia Minohr became the featured character of the first storyline “The Dreamer and The Dreamed”. This painting was created to show Casia’s ascension scene from my online comic book.

Caelesits (April 2019)

Caelestis is a new Ethereal Guard design created to help bulk up my Ethereal Guard line-up. I have plans to create the next chapter in my Realm Ethereal comic book series centered around the Ethereal Guards. Caelestis is the brother of Azure. This painting also marks a major turning point in my creative process. This was the first time I started painting  full-on grayscale with the intent of moving the painting from the app Procreate on my iPad to Photoshop and then working on my desktop iMac. This was a huge game-changer for me and to date, this is how I have been creating my digital paintings.

Damara (May 2019)

I felt an urge to change the tone of my next painting and to date this probably is the most light-hearted almost carefree looking piece. Damara is a metaterran who is one with all winged, flying insects. Between Damara and Eislyn, these are the only characters that are really smiling!

King Baldor (June 2019)

King Baldor is the first character I have brought over from another series I created from two years earlier, an online comic book called The Hammer and The Fury. He is the first male metaterran I introduced. By this time, I noticed a very definite pattern of including flying creatures in my paintings. I suspect that all these winged, flying creatures are subconscious symbols of my own art career finally taking off (or, at least me making a run at it!)

Avalina (July 2019)

Avalina saw me going back to my Ethereal Guard line up and wanting to bulk up the team even more. This painting is a call back to an older painting I started a few years ago but never completed. This one was an especially gratifying piece because of me finally finishing that piece. And it turned out even better than I could have hoped.

Ena Reveal (August 2019)

As you can see, I jump around in my paintings. For this painting, it was back to Ethereal Reveal. With the most involved background artwork I’ve done in a painting, this one is one of my favorites.

Kor Ethereal Reveal (September 2019)

My “brooding” piece, featuring the Ethereal of Chaos, Kor. I am once again drawn toward working within a limited color palette range. This character also gets a major upgrade in terms of presentation and appearance. Especially when compared to the first version I painted. But with this being an Ethereal Reveal image, that was bound to happen. After all, removing the mask and revealing the character behind can speak volumes.

Asreeth Ethereal Guard (October 2019)

The mighty lion warrior returns! Formerly “Asreeth Lion Warrior” and based on a web comic I published a few years back. It’s especially rewarding when I can rescue one of my old projects and breathe new life into it for The Realm Ethereal. This is fast becoming one of my most popular pieces.

Painting A Humming Bird

The last thing I expected to include in the painting “Ena, Ethereal Reveal” was a humming bird. In fact, in my very first sketch, I wanted to paint frogs. Frogs? Yeah, that idea pretty much came from out of left field. And while the last thing I expected to paint lately was a humming bird, I couldn’t help but notice that the last four paintings prior to Ena, Ethereal Reveal. Each painting below includes some kind of flying creature. From left to right below, I have falcons, a dragon, butterflies and an eagle. The “Ena, Ethereal Reveal” print is available here.

My Secret Art Arsenal: Photo Reference

When it comes to one of my many “secrets” to making art, one of the biggest ones is my use of photo reference. In fact, it’s the biggest one, period. In this day and age, there’s no excuse for finding the right reference photos.

Straight on view, head tilted up. This is always an easy one to blow if you don’t have reference.

Eyes half-closed, looks better when referenced

Eyes fully closed…much better with reference!

Profile shot with contrasting light and dark areas…don’t even try to make that stuff up, especially if it’s a woman and you still need for her to look dramatically lighted and still appear attractive.

This one is challenging enough to draw even with a photo reference. How often have I drawn this particular expression? Prior to his, I don’t think ever. Forget trying to make it up out of my head!

This particular expression could only have been successfully achieved using this photo reference. And even then, the drawing itself might still be a bit wonky. Imagine if I had no photo reference at all!

These three-quarter views from behind are also a gem. Don’t even think about pulling this one from out of your head. That ear in that position will mess with you every time unless you have photo reference!

Did you know there’s more to eyes than just eyeballs? How about the way eyelashes attach to the eyelids and their formations as they bend up and back and down and back? Eyelids? The shape of the eyebrows and the insertion and origin points of the eyebrows from the middle of the brow area of the head? No thanks, I’ll use photo reference when I want this to look TIGHT!

That squinty-eyed look. But remember, she still needs to look attractive. Best chances are by using…photo reference!!

Eyeballs looking up. Trickier than you think. Don’t rush this stuff. Reference!

That darned three-quarter view agin, PLUS looking down at an angle. Tough stuff here…drawing a mouth from that angle is like a booby-trap. Photo reference, baby!

Caelestis, Ethereal Guard

A new Ethereal Guard has landed. Brother to Azure, this is Caelestis. Art print available here.

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Rene Arreola © 2020
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