First up is Amanda Kiefer! Amanda is an aspiring concept artist who currently works in graphic design. You can see more of her lovely, colorful work at her blog at amandakieferportfolio.blogspot.com
(Since you're the first, Amanda, please bear with me if I get a little longwinded. I'm still working the kinks out.) X)
Overall, I really like where you're going. You've got a lot of great concepts and ideas. I really like your attention to small details in texture. However, one thing I've had to learn over the years is that it isn't so much the small details that make a piece, as it is the big shapes and overall composition. I feel like in some of these, you get very caught up in rendering details, when it isn't even really necessary. Focus on how the shapes of the figures, colors, negative space, etc all work together in the piece, and how lighting affects the entire space, not just individual objects.
Let's take a look at your first illustration:
I really like the color scheme and concept here. I like the combination of the watery, aquatic figure and the wing elements; that's a great way to personify Aquarius. :)
Compositionally, his face feels a little too close to the outer edge, which is making the composition feel cramped. I think applying the rule of thirds here might be useful (from about.com - "The rule of thirds says that most designs can be made more interesting by visually dividing the page into thirds vertically and/or horizontally and placing our most important elements within those thirds.") This is a rule that you don't have to adhere to, of course, but in this case I think it would help the portrait sit better in the space if his face was lower in the piece.
You mentioned this was for a calendar project, so I don't know if these are the image dimensions that you need to stick with for printing purposes, but if there is some flexibility, I would consider widening the image a little. Maybe half an inch on the left, and an inch and a half on the right, to give it some breathing room and let you showcase the nice background elements.
I really like the shift from blue/purple to orange/pink across the piece. There feels like there is a little too much white throughout the image, though. Too much white tends to make a picture looked washed out instead of bright. Part of this is matter of personal preference, but I think you could stand to go darker on the sky and columns just a bit ( a darker blue, gray, or orange, perhaps), probably even more than I have here. It could make the doves stand out a little more. Also, with the warm light coming in from the right, the shadows in the figure could be a little warmer (more orange-red instead of the cool blues).
Here's a quick sloppy overpaint, mostly just to show one way to maybe adjust the figure's position within the space.
This is a very nice concept, and I like the treatment and rendering of the individual faces, but it's starting to feel like two separate images put side by side rather than a single unified illustration. It's just a matter of letting the colors interact more. You are already doing this to an extent, but it could be pushed further, especially in the background. There could be a little more blue on the devil and red on the angel; the colored lights will bleed into the shadows and cast colored highlights a little more than they are now. And if the white light on the angel is that strong, it should be casting stronger highlights on the devil as well. I know that they are meant to be sitting in their respective pools of colors, but in order for them to look like they exist within the same space standing that close together, the lighting needs to affect them both. Also, it didn't quite look like there was enough eye contact between them; a quick head angle adjustment for the angel takes care of that.
Here's another quick overpaint to give some ideas of color blending. Nothing major, just a few small tweaks.
I really like this guy. :) You've got a great pose, good gesture, fun design. However, a lot of the energy of his gesture is being lost in all the nicely rendered details. Instead of many smaller brushstrokes, focus on the broader overall sweep and flow of shapes and line. Capture the great sweeping motion of those wings cutting through space, for example; it's such a great gesture, but the wobbly folds of the wings start to counteract it and take away the energy of that line.
This is another piece where there is too much straight-up white. Keep your brightest whites for the focal point only, and tone everything else down just a little (especially on the hindquarters). If the light is equally bright throughout the piece, it tends to flatten it out. Think back to those exercises from school where you had to shade a sphere with the highlight, shadow, core shadow and reflected light. The brightest highlight would only be on one part of the sphere. Keep that in mind when rendering even complex figures- the brightest light will be closest to the light source (and usually your focal point). The rest of the shading on figure/scene/illustration needs to be subordinate to that highlight in order to keep a sense of three-dimensionality.
The underlighting on the tail is a little strong. There will be underlighting there, but it's looking like it's lit by an actual radiant light source rather than by reflected light. Knock those light areas down just a tad.
Here's an overpaint to show both how to tone down the white areas, as well as recapture the energy of some of your great gesture lines (shown in red; those are just overlay lines to show energy). Details are important and a great accent, but don't let details dominate your piece.
This is a very worthy effort. There's lots of good rendering in each individual area. Lovely job with the rendering of the shiny floor, and good work with the creature design and expression on the girl's face. :) However, the storytelling is unclear. It's more descriptive than expressive; by that, I mean that there's so much focus on rendering and describing details throughout the scene, that it becomes less about what's going on in the picture and more about showcasing objects within the picture, if that makes any sense.
Are the aliens the aggressors, or is the girl the aggressor? Her face shows she's afraid of them, but they seem small (even taking perspective into account) and non-threatening. The aliens are brightly lit and well defined, and they're both looking down at the ground, as though they weren't concerned with finding intruders and are just grumpy about their morning jog around the station.
What is the main story or idea that you want to convey? Is it her emotional state? Her connection with her pet/companion? Is it about the aliens running down the hall? Or is it simply meant to showcase the interior of the setting? Each would have a different approach. This is where illustration gets tricky. There's clearly a lot of ideas and storytelling that you had in mind, it's just a matter of finding a way to compose the scene to best tell the story that you want to tell. You could have the camera looking up from below the girl at the girl and her pet, focusing on her face as the shadows of the aliens approach around the corner. Or you could put the aliens looming in the foreground, having them look around menacingly as the girl hides in the shadows down the hall. There are lots of ways to approach it.
The direction a character is looking can create an invisible energy line to which our own eyes are magnetically drawn. You can anchor the energy of the piece by having her gaze point directly at the aliens. Right now she's looking in their general direction, but there doesn't feel like there's a solid connection (not that there HAS to be, but in this case she looks like she's supposed to be looking at them.)
Here's just one possible idea (please excuse my horrible blocked-in figures). The aliens are rounding the corner, more immediate and present, and the girl waits tensed in shadow. You could also play with the angle more if you wanted.
Overall, you've got some really solid ideas and a great sense for detail and rendering. I enjoy your creature design a lot in particular. When it comes to composition, just think back to basics. Don't worry about the details right now, but instead think about the line and shapes formed by the elements in your piece; think about the sweep of energy that the gesture of their bodies make, and about how the gesture and weight of the surroundings can complement or offset that gesture. It's just like those early design exercises in college, where you compose with basic shapes and lines, except the lines and shapes are people and creatures and scenic elements now. I think if you worked on directing the energy and flow throughout an image (which the jabberwocky piece in particular tells me that you can do), things will really solidify. :) Great work, Amanda! Thank you so much for being the first to apply! :D
Also, check out Terryl Whitlach's Creature Design demonstrations for some really great information on animal/creature anatomy and design. I think you'll really like her videos if you haven't seen them yet. :)
All right, this has gotten way too long. I probably won't get to the next review until Monday, but I'll try to get it sooner.