Illustrator Cindy Chu shows us how she sharpened her skills to create the fiercely cute Katana in the 8-week course Digital Portrait Painting.


Hi! My name is Cindy Chu and I am an illustrator from Hong Kong, currently living in Denmark. I got into art at the very young age of five. Growing up with Japanese manga and animation, I was fascinated by the interesting characters and amazing stories in various styles. I dreamt about being a professional illustrator from a young age, but could not find any formal education platform to sharpen my skills in Hong Kong. I took every opportunity to train my technique at school and community projects and have always kept painting as a hobby since then.  A year ago I decided to reconnect with my life-long passion and become a better artist. Words cannot describe how happy I was when I accidentally found CGMA and the portrait painting class! It was exactly what I needed.

My Portrait

For the ongoing assignment of the Digital Portrait Painting course, I wanted to create a character with interesting contrasts. I also wanted to introduce some Asian elements into the painting without necessarily adopting the anime drawing style. My character, Katana,  is a modern samurai who enjoys being cute and girly but at the same time has a strong soul. I gathered some pictures for inspiration on her appearance and her weapon.

Silhouette & Hairstyle

I had a relatively clear image of Katana’s hairstyle from the beginning as I wanted her to have a sharp silhouette. Katana kept her hair short as it was more practical for her samurai training. I did some research on Asian hair styles and found that hair bands and fringes are common for young girls. However, I decided to remove the hair band mid-way through the painting and focused on the shininess/light reflection of the dark hair and the movement of the hair strings to increase dynamism.

Character Colors

Simplicity is a personal preference in terms of color picking. I selected black and red for Katana’s dress because those are my favorite colors to dress in as well! Katana is a girl who enjoys being feminine without going overboard. I want to keep a balance between complex details (lace and ribbons) and simple colors (Black and red) so to reflect her personality. Her dress helps her to stand out from the blue smoky background which is a key element for the Asian touch.

Once I decided on the primary colors I experimented with different secondary colors like wine red, electric blue, and minty green for the butterflies and her make-up. I found that a warmer color was needed as the blue background took up a large portion of the canvas so I settled with a purple butterfly at the end.


It was important to add enough detail to Katana’s dress to reflect her girly personality and to keep the painting interesting for the viewers. I gave her an outfit with a lot of Lolita details like lace trimming, thick belt, ribbons, and layers. The butterfly on the weapon emphasized the contrast between the hardness of the artificial weapon and the softness of nature.

During the class, my instructor, Melanie, also provided really good feedback on how I can improve my painting. In my original concept, there is smoke covering the entire background. Melanie suggested using the smoke as a visual aid guiding the audience to the weapon and the butterfly. She also pointed out that I could use a stronger light contrast on the weapon creating a focal point to capture the viewers’ attention. Without her feedback, I would not have been able to push my painting to its current level.

Final Thoughts

Before this class, my biggest challenge was creating a composition that captures the viewers’ attention. I had a lot of ideas but found it difficult to combine them in a painting. During Melanie’s class, I learned a creative process to systematically put together different elements with the best composition. I also learned how to paint small details in a realistic style to support my character’s design. I enjoyed the class a lot and found the learning experience extremely useful for future projects. I am surprised by how quickly I improved since I joined my first class in CGMA and I cannot wait to equip myself further with other classes in the upcoming months.