5"x7" is four times the size of the art cards I've been working with. Huge!
I spent an hour or two looking at pictures of otters and references in DragonArt. At one point in DragonArt, J. Peffer illustrates the principal of giving your figures realistic-looking anatomy, but not by directly basing them on real animals. In so doing, she draws this adorable cat-dragon -- kind of a dragon-skin on top of a cat body. It's so cute! I kinda wanted to do that with this figure, but didn't.
The gigantic pale purple tree in the background is the trunk of the World Tree, so many miles away that distortion from the atmosphere turns it hazy and blue, the way distant mountains look on Earth. I tried to make it obvious that's what was going on by having a receding line of mountains in the nearer distance, but I'm not sure it works. I got the idea from an illustration haikujaguar did which had the World Tree trunk in the distance like this, and thought it was so cool I had to try it myself.
I scanned in the early sketches to, so those who like to see the process can
Many artists who do much better work than I have nifty processes for getting line work onto the painting surface. Many sketch until they get a basis they particularly like, then do something to transfer the final sketch from cheap sketchbook paper onto an expensive final medium. Some use lightboards and trace. Ursula Vernon once described making digitial sketches and projecting them onto the canvas to trace. haikujaguar scans her sketches in, then prints them on watercolor paper.
I am cheap. I do thumbnail sketches until I get the pose down, and then re-draw my favorite of the sketches onto the final media. With the art cards, I was cheap and lazy, so I didn't even bother thumbnailing, just drew straight on the card.
So this is me, trying to figure out how to draw otters, mainly, since I don't have much practice with otters. You can see how cheap I am by the fact that I'm sketching on a piece of paper that has marker bleed-through marks on it, from a marker piece I'd been working on with this sheet behind it. I like the lower right one, so I worked on variants of that pose some more.
These are on stray pieces of beige construction paper, because I still don't care if I ever see these scraps again. I'm trying to make the critter a bit pudgy, hindquarters larger than the fore, because otters are pudgy-looking animals to me -- long, but not thin tube-rats like ferrets.
This is the last sketch that I scanned. After I scanned this and before I started to paint it, I thought 'oh yeah, I should pay attention to composition.' Both Lynx's advice ('don't have the only figure looking off the page') and the rule of thirds suggested I should put something else in, maybe in the upper or lower left section. So I sketched the bird in to give my hybrid something to look at.
And this is my color test. I thought the white caps on the mountains were a little too stark, so for the final I used a greyer shade and less of it. And I made the bird brown and near-white instead of red -- I didn't like the red anyway, and I didn't want the bird to stand out more than my main figure.
I did enjoy painting the bird, actually. The wing pattern was fun to do.