Fantasy Art

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Bob's Yer Uncle!

Add a little bit of hair, some boots, jewelry, a funky sword belt and a loincloth plus change the dowel rod he was holding into a sword and and Bob's yer uncle!   It's fantasy art. 

In the 1880's British Prime Minister Robert, Lord Salisbury promoted his nephew Arthur Balfour to several public offices for which he had no qualifications he even went on to be Prime Minister himself in time.  This is believed by many to be the origin of the expression "Bob's yer uncle" for something that works out perfectly with little or no effort on your part.

I wonder who this guy is fighting with.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Male Models

 It's an unfair cultural thing but female models can usually get away with just sitting there looking pretty while male models are expected to work a lot harder to earn their pay.
  The up side of this is you tend to get far more challenging and dynamic poses from male models.
  Also guys tend to like props more than women do so they're more likely to pose with swords or tools or whatever.
  I like drawing cute naked girls, but I also like drawing action poses which are almost always guys.     This creates what appears to be a sexual bias on my part.  It's assumed that I think of men as heroes and women as pretty props.  This could not be less true, I love drawing heroic images of women, but most of the drawings I'm sharing here come from life drawing class where it's the guys doing all the heroic looking things and the girls all just sit there.
  I don't currently have the budget to hire models on my own so have to work with what I have and this is what I have.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fantasy Costumes

Costumes, or as they were known in ancient times, "clothes" add a tremendous depth of character to your art.  I love drawing nudes and often hesitate to ruin a drawing with clothing which makes perfect sense, but elements of costumes, jewelry, weapons and armor tell a huge amount of the story.  If the character wears boots there must be something about the environment that isn't easy on the feet.  Like little crocogators nipping at your ankles all the time.
The inclusion of musical instruments suggests a culture with some leisure time and artistic expression.  The inclusion of finely crafted metal works could reveal a high degree of technical sophistication or (as is the case here) trade, loot and salvage.

The people in the world of Paracosm, (at least insofar as I've been able to explore it), are actually at a bronze age level of technology.   But you wouldn't know it to look at them because the land is riddled with the ruins of ancient civilizations far more advanced than this one.  Artifacts lie buried beneath the sands of desert tombs or hidden palaces cloaked in hundreds of years of overgrowth. In Joskarra farmers plow fields between ancient colonnades and sleep in the ruined palaces of forgotten emperors. Little more than cave men barbarically resplendent in the trappings of another era.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Adding some Imagination to the mixture

There's some artists out there who paint exquisite depictions of "life drawing models posing for life drawing class."
Most Boringest Art Ever!
I can't imagine why anyone would pay money for that and hang it on their wall.
On the other hand some of these guys are very famous and make a lot more money than I do so feel free to sneer at my sneering.
At any rate I don't want to draw like that, I want my art to look like real people doing real things at a real moment in their life, so if the pose in class is stiff and dull I'm going to change it a lot.

For instance if I take this one to the painting stage it's quite possible that I'll change the angle of her head so she seems a bit more engaged.
I'm imagining her talking to someone, but who?  An ambassador , a servant, a soldier reporting on the war, a suitor or a prisoner?  In any case I think it would look better if her face was turned slightly towards us so that whoever she is addressing is seen from behind and is closer to us the viewer. Generally we're going to respond better to a composition that leads us into the painting rather than one that moves side to side.  So looking past an unimportant character and into the eyes of the girl on the throne makes for a more engaging composition.
Of course in life drawing class this is just how the model was sitting and that's where my chair was and I really had no choice.
In drawing class the model is going to space off quite a lot and look very distant, but you don't really want that feeling in your fantasy art so you have to compensate for it.  Whether you use models or photographs it's never the whole thing.  Your imagination and creativity has to play a role as well.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Breast Enhancements...sort of

Refined the sketch a little bit at home.  Possibly the most important alteration is her breasts.
In the first sketch she's so covered up as to appear androgynous.  she's actually a very pretty and feminine girl she's just small breasted.  I've used her a lot so you'll be seeing more of her.
But I wanted it to be clear in the drawing that she's a girl so I made enough of a change that you can see the curve of her breast past her arm.  I also added very slightly to her hips.  Small change, big difference.
Even if you manage to draw what you see very accurately the drawing still doesn't look like life.  Ironically sometimes you have to fake details to make the drawing appear more real.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Nude Models with Sticks

Did a reasonably nice drawing in class, but it's a little rough, especially the hands.
One friend of mine hates it when the model picks up the broomstick because she feels that there's just
 "nothing natural or organic that a person can do while holding a dang stick."
 I of course think it great when they pick up a stick because I turn it into a sword or a spear or something.  But if I ever start my own studio I'll have to remember that some people don't want to draw that kind of thing at all.  We all have different motives and needs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Riverboat Guard

It's a long slow journey downriver from Ander Falls to Jespar and there are few safe harbors.  Usually guard duty on a river boat is an uneventful occupation.  The quiet drift of the barge and the rhythmic splash of the scull can lull a bored watcher into sleepiness.   But vigilance is a necessity.   Crocodiles  haunt the shore, monster fish (hazardous even to crocodiles) inhabit the depths, pirates and goblins lurk in the shadows of the great forest ready to spring from some hidden cove.

Posing for me was a good way for her to remain watchful while passing the time.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reference Photos

    At the beginning of every life drawing session we do a few three minute gesture sketches which are usually the most dynamic poses, and therefore the most fun for me   But they're hard for the model to hold for a long time so we have to keep them short.  Once the drawing is at home you kind of feel inclined to toss it out because it's not a very good or detailed drawing.  But at the same time it does have great movement and feeling and so you'd kind of like to keep it.
   For this reason I take photos whenever the model allows it because I know I will use the photo as a reference and finish these drawings later.  In fact it's the long poses that I'm more likely to toss out because they are often stiff and uninteresting.
It's also a good idea to zoom in and get a close-up of problem areas which for me are hands and feet.     Not only do I struggle with getting them to look right, but I often can't see them that well at a distance, and my long shot photo doesn't pick up much detail.  I just use the camera on my cell phone.

   Many Life drawing groups, teachers and models consider it scandalously inappropriate to take photos or even to ask so whenever I go to other venues I have to tread pretty lightly on this subject.
I actually started to do it at the model's request, but I always ask, it's just not safe to assume.

3 minute sketch in the classroom.
This might look like an easy pose and for three minutes it probably was easy, but it would be awfully rough on the model's knees to do this for a couple hours.

Perhaps another 20 minutes at home looking at the photo. 

There's two things that an imaginative artist could do with this stick.  One is to imagine it as some kind of tool or weapon and tailor the rest of the drawing to fit that idea.
The other is to erase the stick or never draw it in the first place.  Now she could be combing her hair or talking on the phone.  It's your drawing make it do what you want it to do.

Monday, June 20, 2016


Oil Paint on Board 48" by 24"
I consider this painting to be the final turning point in my strange little journey from sign painter to fantasy fine art.  It contains everything from my past and future at that point.  The background is a faux finish like I've done in dozens of home murals.  There's an octopus which I had  painted a bunch of , but now he's carved in stone suggesting that it's ancient history now.  Her swirling tendril like hair (another style I've left behind) reflects the tentacles behind her. And the bright red lights are a reflection of my former career painting fluorescent window signs.
She's me, sword in hand, facing a new beginning as a fantasy painter.

From the time I was ten years old and picked up my first Conan book with a Frank Frazetta cover I knew I wanted to either grow up to be a barbarian super hero or a fantasy artist like Frazetta whichever came first.
One day I read that Frank Frazetta had done ghost work on the Lil' Abner comic strip for ten years and that this grueling schedule of banging out comics week after week had honed his skills and turned him into the fantastic illustrator he was.

So I decided I needed to become a comics artist for ten years to hone my own skills.
That was the dumbest idea anyone ever had.

Naturally my efforts to break into comic illustration, which I wasn't even interested in, completely failed and deserved to.
Frazetta's fantasy art style comes from comics, my fantasy art style comes from sign painting.  He didn't deliberately make his Conan look like Abner, it just does because he was drawing instinctively and that's how it came out after years of repetitious practice.
For my part, I don't intentionally make my art look like a sign guy did it, it just comes out that way instinctively and I've decided not to fight it because in a way it's what makes my paintings a little different from everyone else's.
I played my strength and used skills from one career path to bridge me into another one.
Ironically the second I let go of the notion of trying to paint like Frazetta, people started telling me my work reminds them of Frazetta.  You could give me no higher compliment.  

Here's four paintings that kind of illustrate my transition from sign painter to fantasy artist and hopefully explains why I still largely identify sign painting as my strongest artistic influence.
It's not where I am now, it's where I come from.
While very different in style these four paintings only represent about a year's time from the top one to the bottom.
All of these paintings have a number of things in common.
1.  They're all about 4 feet long and painted on plywood.
2.  They all have a background that creates a visual border and they all break out of that border which makes them seem larger than the panel they're painted on.
3.  They use bright colors in high contrast to make the subject pop forward.

My sign clients wanted the biggest impact possible.   They'd often asked me to paint letters three feet tall on a board that was only 18 inches tall.  Impossible to do, but not an impossible illusion to create.  Between the bright color, the contrast and the popping-out-of-the-box effect there's an "in your face" quality to all of these paintings that makes them feel bigger than they are. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Play Your Strength

Sign painting was a fun job.  I got to be my own boss and use my artistic skills while learning to run my own business.
 It wasn't exactly the dream job, but it was a lot closer to it than working in a factory had been so I was satisfied for a long while.  Possibly too long, who knows?
But eventually the well just seemed to run dry and I had to find a new way to make a living.
 I had the skills and materials for sign painting, but no customers.
 I had the desire to be a fantasy illustrator, but lacked the skills.
What to do?
 Well it took longer to figure out than it should have, but the answer came to me in a flash when I gave myself permission to let the sign painter in me take over the studio and paint anything he wanted.
A couple hundred of these paintings poured out of me in rapid succession.  In fact I did seventeen paintings in the first seven days, was immediately accepted into a little art show which I'd never done before and by the end of that evening was accepted in my first gallery which led to other galleries and a one man show where I sold nearly everything.

This art uses Bright colors, bold outlines, pinstripes, stamps, borders, abstract shapes, high contrast, lettering and masking.  All the stock in trade for sign painters.
None of this is great art, but you can see how images like this would incorporate easily into a sign for a hair salon, tanning salon, or boutique.
These ones were all about three to four feet long.

You can see Cracks and knotholes in the boards.  You could try to fix it or you could just roll with it.  People really loved these.  When they realized that it was recycled material they loved it even more.
About three feet tall.

There were no rules and no wrong subjects.  It was a liberating time, I did a lot of experimenting with materials and ideas.  Most of this set were the front panel of a drawer with the hardware removed and the holes filled in.
The flying eyeball is an essential sign painter thing going back to the late great Von Dutch.

The two goldfish panels were a pair of closet doors, you know the type that fold up as they open?  They'e about seven feet tall.
The octopus was about three feet tall and people reacted so strongly to it that I decided to do a couple more.  Those sold so well that I did some more...about a hundred in all.
 I became known as "The Octopus Guy".

Like sign painting this never was the plan.  It was a stepping stone, a bridge from one career to another.  Doing all this art  made a much better painter out of me in a fairly short time.  
It was fun and extremely rewarding, even if it wasn't the destination it was vital to reaching my destination.   Since this series was instrumental in making the transition from sign painting to fantasy art  I consider it one of the most important phases of my life.
And I never would have made that transition if I'd done things right.  If I'd followed the rules and used sign stuff for signs and art stuff for art I'd have played my weakness and gotten nowhere.  But I played my strength, the only strength I had, and got farther than I'd ever expected.

Don't do things the way they're supposed to be done, do them in whatever way you are most likely to succeed at them.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Kothic Girl, finished (for now)

"The Kothic Peoples or Kothians are a dark skinned race hailing from Koth, a land on the far side of the Western Sea if you believe that sort of thing.  
The wise ones tell us that if you could sail west long enough you eventually come all the way back around to the east which doesn't make any sense either, but it is what they say, based on the theory that the earth is round and some mysterious force binds us to it.   If that were so then perhaps Koth is located far to the east, and it's just faster to sail east than to travel west over land?  West brings you east and east brings you west?   It's enough to make on'e head spin!   It all sounds like nonsense, would you not be sailing upside-down at some point?  That would be a tale to tell!   I simply must explore this for myself someday."
                                                    From the notebooks of the explorer Kalvan the Unwise (deceased)

Well Kalvan I don't know where she came from, but I wish she'd come back, she was gorgeous.
I'm certain to make a painting of this one some day, I like it very much, which is nice considering I didn't like it at all when I started.

Final drawing notes: Notice how the curve of the cat's body matches the curve of the girl's arms.  This adds greatly to the sense of movement in an otherwise static pose.  Also having his paws come forward relieves the eye from the relentless straight horizontal line formed by the the flats of her feet and her butt cheek.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

How To Draw a Cat

OK so the big cat wouldn't hold still for me to draw him where I wanted to draw him and I know better than to try to force him into position, so what to do?

Most animals (myself included) are basically a pear shape or bean shape which can also be thought of as a couple ovals mashed together.  In fact you can do worse than to think of the entire body human or feline as a whole bunch of ovals mashed together.

Start like this

A couple more ovals form the neck and the head.  But not the tail?  Wrong, the tail is wrapped around an invisible egg shape.  See it now?
If ovals stop working for you use straight lines where you need them.  It's all about you and the look you're trying to achieve.  Sometimes it's the juxtaposition of curved and straight lines that creates tension or movement in a drawing.
This is as finished as I'll usually take the sketch before finding a model or photograph to work from because I know the details won't be right if I keep going, but the general mass shapes work.
It is fun to keep going and see how close to accurate you can get just from memory. 

My human model was uncomfortable with me taking photographs of her which is certainly her prerogative, but unfortunately it meant no photos of the cat either.  I've had to make up a lot of this drawing later and use photos of other people and animals.

That's OK, we have a beautiful jaguar at the Phoenix zoo.  I have a membership which lets me get in early.  Sometimes I've been able to sit quietly with this guy for an hour before the crowds come.  He'll come right up as close to me as possible, look me right in the eye and talk to me.  I don't speak jaguar, but I suspect he's telling me I look delicious.
 I've taken lots of photos, but none will be just what I want in any given drawing so I don't worry about it, I just let it guide me as I draw some kind of big cat.

This is the photo I used most for this image.  Notice none of it is quite the same as it looks in the drawing, you don't need it to be. 
 Don't copy a photo of a cat and try to force that into your composition, it won't work.
Draw the cat the size shape and posture that you want, then find photos and start correcting your mistakes within the frame of your sketch.  Make your reference conform to your idea, not the other way around.

Monday, June 13, 2016

It Must be Fantasy Art it has a Cat in it

There's still a couple anatomy problems here that I need to fix.
If you draw be aware of the effects that one little change has on other things.  Leaning the head forwards will pop the spine backwards a little.  It's a small detail, but if you don't do it it will look all wrong.
Sometimes I can get the model to pose for a moment with the change I was trying to do or let me take a photo.  In this case I mostly had to make it up, but was able to find a photo or two on the web that came close to what I wanted.

You can't often copy.  I'm not saying you shouldn't I'm saying it's often not possible to copy and have it work.  You'll probably never find a photo with the head at exactly the right tilt or the hand in exactly the right posture, or the same camera angle you had so don't even waste your time trying.  Just draw what you want to draw the way you want it to look, but draw lightly and then use references to guide you into a more accurate version of that drawing.  In this case I found a picture of a girl with her head tilted, not quite in the angle I have here, but close enough to fake the difference, plus I got the hair from a couple other photos.

Photoshop can't help you draw on a piece of paper or a canvas, but it can help you scribble ideas all over an existing drawing without messing it up.  Actually I think I used MS Paint on this one which is adequate for this sort of thing and faster.
For her arm to be in that position her upper body is going to have to rotate towards us a little which is good because the full profile is a little dull.  I didn't tell her that because she was a foot taller than me and had a trained leopard.

The cat never held still enough for me to draw him.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Small Change Makes a Big Difference

Turns out that changing the angle of the head changes quite a lot.

 Crossing one arm and laying her head forward not only lends the image a wealth of feeling and mood, but also motion.  Even though she is at rest your eye now chases around her in a circular fashion.  I like this picture a hundred times better now.

I've had people lecture me on global warming while simultaneously reaching past a recycle barrel to throw their aluminum can in the regular garbage barrel.  When I pointed this out to them they told me "I couldn't see the big picture."  He was waiting for god or congress to make one big sweeping change that would fix everything, (including pulling his can out of the trash and throwing it in the right barrel for him) but that will never happen.   Big changes happen when enough little people make enough little changes.  We're all painting this big picture one brush stroke at a time.
Racism didn't go away because of one big mandate it faded away slowly as millions of people gradually changed the way they thought and behaved.
I can wish there was no racism or sexism or crime or pollution to begin with.  Or, since it's here, I can wish I could solve it all with one big wave of my magic wand.  We'd all like a magic solution that fixes everything at once, but that speaks more to our laziness than to our conscientiousness.  We all know that it's going to come down to us finally doing all the little things that we've known we needed to do for decades and we just haven't done it yet.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Whoops That's All Wrong!

There's two things that are terribly wrong with this drawing.  One is the pose which is rigid and symmetrical.  Both legs in the same position, both arms in the same position.  Arms, legs and head all pointed stiffly forward like a statue.   Like a little Kothian temple statue or something.  Maybe I should have made her look like she was carved in stone that'd be pretty cool.   I almost wish I'd done that now that I'm thinking it, maybe some other time.

Life drawing poses can be sensuous or rigid depending on the model or the the mood or the weather or whoever is directing the pose.  This girl was new and I think she was nervous so she stayed rigid which kind of ruined a bunch of otherwise lovely poses.  If only she would have relaxed a bit it would have been so much nicer.

  The other thing wrong with this is that her head is way too big which of course was my fault.  So I was going to just throw this one away like thousands of others I've thrown away, but decided to re-draw the head and just see what happens.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The John Carter of Mars Look

Fixed the leg. That doesn't change the lack of dynamics in the pose.   But sometimes it's cool to have a nice standing pose just to play with costume designs kind of like a paper doll.  Do they even make those anymore?
Having already come to the conclusion that all of these sketches are disposable there's nothing to fear from just trying anything at all with it.
Got rid of the football and gave him a dragon.  Is it going to try to eat him or is it his faithful steed, or just some random non threatening wildlife?  I'd rather you wrote that story, I'm not a writer.
He still doesn't have any actual clothes on, but maybe that's OK.  Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars books had people wearing "harness" but no actual clothing.  The shape of the harness is never really described except with words like "gorgeously decorated"  Or "gem encrusted" but the construction of it is left to the imagination.  This is one way I imagine it looking.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

OMG a Naked Man!

Sometimes people assume that I have some aversion to drawing men or old out of shape people.  This is not the case at all.  I just love to draw, but most of the models who sign up for the life drawing class are college aged girls.  Not that I'm complaining mind you, worse things can happen to a guy than to have nothing but cute young naked women to draw all of the time, but I actually quite like drawing all kinds of people including men.

The world of Paracosm is filled with folks of every description and I'll love to draw them all if they'll sit still for it.

I think it must have been football season when I drew this guy so I threw in a football just for laughs.
Now that we're looking at it, his right leg is much too short.
I love the lighting though.  This strong light and shadow really does most of the work for you when it comes to describing a form.  If he were all front-lit or back-lit you'd have to work very hard to keep him from looking two dimensional.

There's two things here, one is a practice and the other is a product.
In the classroom it's all about the practice. But when I get it home the paper is now a product and I have to decide what to do with it. 
I could develop it into a finished drawing or I could light my grill with it. 
Both are good options.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Phoenix Comic Con

I spent the past four days at Phoenix Comic Con selling Gilead's Goblinz Coloring Books, fantasy art prints and bookmarks.
It was as always a; wonderful, fun, confusing, loud, bewildering, erotic, silly, terrifying, exhausting, sensory overload.  I look forward to it every year, but certainly couldn't handle doing all of the time like some people do.
Now I'm sitting quietly at home in my rocking chair with a cat in my lap.  I probably could do that all of the time, but I won't,  I'll get back to the easel shortly.

This was early in the morning before the crowd showed up.  By the time the doors opened to the exhibit hall there were fifty people for every person you see here.

This is my table just after set-up before the hall opened.  Soon to be on either side of me are famous comic book artist and writer Phil Hester and writer John Layman.  I confess I know very little about comics, but these were two incredibly popular and super nice dudes.  In fact the whole row I was on were all very established comics legends.  It was a nice neighborhood.

Booth Babes!
That's my wife Stellar on the right and our friend Sue in the red shirt.
There's no overstating the value of having people to help you when you work a convention!

While I was there I did some work on a couple of paintings and had a couple finished ones for sale on the back wall.  The paintings didn't sell this year, but they sure drew attention to my work so I'm glad I brought them.  All of those paintings will feature in future blogposts.

I received some startling compliments from some seriously talented professionals this weekend.  It's encouraging and humbling at the same time, but strengthens my resolve to keep doing what I'm doing.  I needed that in a big way so thank you everyone.

Friday, June 3, 2016

"Undresser" Recycling and Being the Best in the World

This is the top piece of an old dresser that someone threw away.  The dresser itself was broken and not worth saving but there was a wealth of usable art supplies on it if you know how to look.
 There is a nice beveled edge around the outside of the board, but the inside of the "frame" was all paint.  The figure fills and even extends beyond the artificial frame.  In sign painting we call this a "super graphic" because it goes beyond the confines of its own graphic format.  I used this concept often when a client had a three foot tall window and asked for lettering that was four feet tall.  It can't actually be done, but the illusion of it can be achieved with this type of layout.
Abstract shapes in a bright blue contrast nicely with the color of her skin.
"Undresser" about 40 inches by 18 inches Oil Paint on a recycled wooden panel.

Interesting side note: this painting was far more popular with women than with men or at any rate the women spoke out loud about it.  It was a woman who bought  the painting.  The most common remark was "Gawd I wish my ass looked like that!"

It's been said in a variety of ways that if you want to succeed at a thing you must do one or more of these three things.

1. Do something no one else is doing.

2. Do what others are doing, but do it in a unique way.

3. Do what everyone else is doing, but do it better than everyone else.

I didn't really know that at the time, but I think this kind of art fits the bill.  These works were strangely popular and all of them sold quickly.
 I started doing things like this because I was broke and out of work.  This was the material that I had on hand so I used it.  But more importantly I was making no effort to be a sign painter or an illustrator or a gallery artist so even though I'm heavily influenced by all three I ignored the conventions and restrictions of all three and did my own thing.

1.  No one else that I know of is painting on recycled panels like this.  There's almost certainly someone doing it, but they're probably painting flowers on it and attaching coat hooks to it or some such, which I also think would be very cool, but it still leaves me in a class by myself.

2.  Lots of people do fantasy art and many are much better than me, but they are either doing it as an illustration or as a portfolio piece to try to get illustration work.  My work doesn't pretend to function as illustration it's a wall hanging which makes it unique as fantasy art goes.

3.  Here's the real trick, you don't have to be better than everyone else in the world, you only have to be better than everyone in Your World and that may be a much smaller pond than you think it is. 
You can be the best there is in the world at your thing if there isn't anyone else doing quite what you're doing.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Ancient Cities and Well Dressed Crocodiles

Having found a nice alternative action for the arm that doesn't demand that we alter the rest of the pose I can start filling in the background.
The fact that she was riding something and waving to someone in the distance is what suggested the rest of the setting.
Clearly she must be outdoors and a good distance away from whoever she's waving too, so that's what I drew.

A few more details in the animal's harness and it all looks great.  Some additional foliage in the foreground gives the whole thing a greater sense of depth.
Will this be a painting someday?  Possibly, or possibly just a portion of a larger painting with more such characters.  Who knows?   These charcoal sketches are nice, but I usually don't consider them to be a finished work of art.  They're more of a concept sketch.

You can see me working on some of these and some oil painting live at
 Phoenix Comic Con this weekend:
 table AA1614

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cha cha cha Changes

The next problem to address is that arm.  We can't just get rid of it although that might be realistic in a world full of crocodilian livestock, but who wants that kind of realism in their fantasy art?
Using vine charcoal (which erases easily) I sketch in a few optional arm poses and sketch her face in through the old arm.  Any posture that changed the height of her shoulder would also alter the curve of the back and spread of the rib cage so I don't want to do that.

The important lesson here that I still have to keep reminding myself is that if something isn't any good then you can't ruin it.  Be fearless, make changes, draw over the parts you don't like.  What's the worst that can happen?  I was ready to throw it out before making these changes so what's to fear?