Petrichor II – What’s in a word?

August 20, 2020

These past couple months have been… Rough. They’ve been really rough for everyone, myself included. It’s hard not to be affected when the world is on fire, the country is collapsing, everything is closed and/or cancelled, and everyone is fighting. I thought I wasn’t really affected, given my daily routine is pretty introverted, but it turns out that all of this hubbub happening in the world put a real damper on my creative ability. Writing has slowed; I sat down to write a few pages and ended up stopping after a paragraph, haven’t picked it up in weeks. Drawing has almost come to a halt; I started an oil painting with high hopes of having it finished quickly, but I petered out fast.

Pretty much everyone is feeling this right now. I totally get it. I’ve been trying to work through this stagnation, and I’ve got some hopes for a vacation week to really put some time and effort in.

Luckily, there have been some good things that have made me continue to move forward. I had a commissioner get my work tattooed (really amazing too!), and then I had another person commission me. It was quite the interesting project, too. I’d like to share it with you.

Words, words, words

The commission was very different from what kind of commissions I usually take. Most of the time, people approach me with an idea, something fleshed out: here’s my character, can you draw them doing x, y, z? I need an album cover, I’d like it to look like this. This was a little different. The commissioner wanted me to think of my favorite word and illustrate it. The commissioner didn’t want to know what it was, and wanted to only see the sketch and the finished work, which was then sent to them as a print. I was intrigued, to say the least. And I wasn’t quite sure how to formulate the word I wanted…

But right off the bat I knew I was going to illustrate “petrichor.”

pet·ri·chor/ˈpeˌtrīkôr/ noun

a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”other than the petrichor emanating from the rapidly drying grass, there was not a trace of evidence that it had rained at all”

Definition from Oxford Languages

I’d illustrated petrichor before, but more in the context of storyline. I figured this would be more vague, less refined, a little less detailed. And I knew what kind of color palette I would use right away.

Traditional Sketch

I’ve been doing a lot of heavy lifting in my drawings lately traditionally, and I think it’s because I’ve been spending so much time in front of screens that it’s nice to take a break. Pack, Water’s Edge, and Role are all oil paintings. The Swan Prince, Siren Song, and The Wolves Descend are all mainly graphite with digital alterations. I thought I’d treat this similarly, and started with a sketch.

Petrichor sketch

The big thing here was just ensuring that I was going to have the texture of the graphite to work with, along with my layout. I knew where I wanted it to break and what colors, so this is what my sketch looked like before I scanned it and worked on it digitally.

Petrichor WIP

This is the midway point where I was trying to determine what kind of flow I wanted, and how it would look. You can see my palette and textures I used, along with some decisions I had to make later on regarding pulling elements forwards and backwards. When I think of petrichor, I think of the misty, humid air right after fresh rainfall during a warm day that may accumulate into fog. I’m frequently taken with warm rain on snowfall, resulting in a blanket of fog – you’ve seen that in works like Ungezahmt, Dolf, Home, and most notably in Hunted. Omit the snow and I think I’ve got what I need.

Final Touches

A silhouette of a human figure walking through a foggy meadow past a rainy forest

I know it seems far removed from the middle image (I forgot to grab snaps in the mid-way stages), but I made decisions here about not using a true black (overexposed) to give it that misty feel, along with adding hints of other colors, streaks of rain, more texture, and ultimately a figurative element to center the focus.

Some time on social media, and someone was able to effectively guess the word! Most guessed “solitude”, or “solace”, or “alone”, which I suppose Waldeinsamkeit would kind of match too, but only one guessed petrichor correctly. Better yet, the commissioner loved it.

I’ve got ideas rattling around in my brain and some rough sketches sitting around (including a revisit to Hunted and Umbra), waiting to be fleshed out, along with a half-finished oil painting begging to be worked, so here’s to hoping I’m getting back on that horse very soon. Crossing my fingers, anyway. Maybe we can all get back to a little bit of normal soon.

Aimee Cozza is a freelance illustrator out of Southern New Hampshire. She graduated from the New Hampshire Institute of Art in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in illustration. Since then, she has been working in a variety of ways completing various illustrations for clients, friends, and for herself.

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