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Mantis Queen, by Nicholas Miles

Published with the author's permission

Over the previous few months, Nick Miles had been experimenting with abstract patterns in his paintings with the aim of opening new creative avenues. The Mantis Queen was a major step for him in that development process. We join him now to describe his journey.


Searching for inspiration I decided the Praying Mantis would be an ideal subject as their exotic forms would work well with the pattern work I wished to apply. I knew I wanted the character to be imposing, someone who would study the viewer as much as the viewer studied them. This very quickly gave me an idea of the type of composition I wanted; I knew the viewer needed to be looking up at the character, enhancing the air of superiority for the character.

Sometimes I have a very clear color scheme in mind for a piece but this time I chose to start in greyscale, allowing me to focus on composition and form. A lack of color scheme from the outset isn’t really a problem because as the piece began to solidify a color scheme would present itself to me.



I have numerous shape brushes ranging from paint strokes to patterns based around tribal designs. Once I have my design I’ll change the shape dynamics along with other settings such as scattering until I have a brush which I feel creates an interesting mark that I can use. It’s all about tweaking until you get the look you’re searching for. It takes a bit of time, but it’s well worth the investment. It’s not enough to have a huge list of brushes and not know how best to apply each of them. It’s a constant leaning process. I am forever adding to and deleting from my brush set.

Once I selected the brushes I thought were suitable for this piece I used them to cover my canvas and get away from the dreaded blank page! Working on a new layer I started to pick out shapes I see within the paint strokes using a palette brush. At this stage I’ll use a palette brush to keep myself as loose as possible and keep the workflow quick and expressive. If I go in with detail brushes, the danger is that I’ll start to noodle certain features too quickly and so lock an idea down before it’s fully developed.

Because I wanted this character to appear quite regal a basic colour palette of reds and creams began to emerge in my mind, so I applied a color wash on a new color layer. Once I’m happy with this I flatten it down onto the main body of the character. I like to keep my layers as simple as possible and at this point I’m happy to have one layer for the background and another for the character.



Looking at my reference I’m struck by the delicate frills which adorn the body of many Praying Mantis. Imagery of fashions established during the era of Queen Elizabeth 1st of England are conjured up in my mind. I know I want the character to appear quite regal and although this wasn’t something I’d considered from the outset, I run with this new concept.If I could tie this exotic character in with design cues from history, it would help to anchor her into our world and make her more relatable, …. well as much as a Mantis Queen can be!

I decide to run with the idea of a royal portrait and frame the character with a simple black border. There is so much going on with the character that I don’t want the frame competing with her. Additionally, I start to break certain areas of the Queen out of the frame to give the piece a more dynamic feel.

On a new layer I applied more of my shape brushes to create the flowing lines over her crest. I then used a mixture of dodge and burn layers to enhance certain areas of these patterns, bringing forward the pieces I liked and pushing back those which I felt where in conflict.

I used simple round brushes to bring out the designs and develop them further.

I purposely kept the face simple so as to draw the viewer’s eye in and offer an oasis in the myriad of patterns. Many of the design elements were in place so I started to go in and refine what I had. Up until this point I hadn’t allowed myself to zoom in too closely, which is another way of ensuring I don’t noodle any one area too much.



It’s well known about the predatory nature of the female Mantis towards the male in courtship; so I ensured the mantis on her hand was male by ensuring he had eight segments in his thorax as opposed to the six in females. This was something I didn’t know before I set out on this painting. So for our poor little green mantis, he might be a tasty little appetiser in the next few moments.

Using various soft light layers, I applied markings to her skin to give her more variation in pigmentation where blood vessels might run closer to the surface. I created another layer for bloom lighting and softened off the details towards the edge of the painting to bring the viewers attention into the glare of the beautiful yet creepy Mantis Queen of the Insect Dynasty!

About the artist

Nick Miles was born in Britain. He graduated from Kent Institute of Art and Design in 2004 with a BA in Graphic Design. Since then Nick has worked in the video games industry as a concept artist for nearly three years at Blitz Games Studios in the UK. In that time he has become known for his exotic character creations as well as the world building exercise he has undertaken known as Exula which he hopes to publish as an illustrated novel over the coming years.

His work ‘Mantis Queen’ appears on page 12 in EXPOSÉ 6. Other works from Nicholas Miles, ‘Harbinger of Kestralia’, ‘The Butterfly Assassin’, ‘The Beetle Lord’ and ‘Sedna’ appear in EXOTIQUE 4, as well as ‘Milani’ which features in EXPOSÉ 4.

Source: http://features.cgsociety.org/story_custom.php?story_id=4749&page=1

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