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Rising From the Ashes · FiM Short Story ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 2000–8000
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The Incense Burner
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#1 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Wow, this is gorgeous!
#2 · 1
· · >>The_Letter_J >>GroaningGreyAgony >>GroaningGreyAgony
Hrm. There's a lot to like here, but I'm going to nitpick anyways.

Your dragon seems to have gotten a lot more love than your phoenix, which is significantly smaller and less detailed. (No pupils?) The detailed incense burner draws a lot more attention than the sketchy smoke; I think you could balance the level-of-detail a bit better between the top and the bottom of the picture, maybe by adding a few more curves to the smoke and simplifying the burner. For example, the shapes on the cone that holds the incense don't seem to add anything; they feel like visual 'noise' to me, especially since the burner has a very minimalist design otherwise. You don't need pointers for the smoke there, either; the cone/incense combo are a strong enough attention guide, I think.

Other details feel incoherent, too. The bottom of the burner has very elaborate shadows, while the inside of the bowl is totally shadeless. (the incense ash doesn't even have a shadow.) The cone and the top of the rim have edge-lines, but the curve of the bottom of the bowl and the entire incense stick don't. The three pieces of ash in the bowl are very similar, to the point where they look copy-pasted to me, mostly because the tiny piles of ash next to them also look repeated. A small amount of variance in the length would have fixed that.

The symbolism here is great; you have classic duality/harmony stuff going on. It's evocative and clear, and this is very strong concept-wise. Execution wise, this is also good, but there's enough dissonance in the details that it still feels oddly incoherent to me. I'm going to guess that this was partially 3Dmodeled and rendered with ambient occlusion to get the bottom of the bowl, and then the inside was either vectored, or modeled with edges, before the smoke was drawn in by hand. If so, it's very possible that a lot of what feels off to me comes from the mixing of media in one way or another. If you did use multiple techniques, I applaud you; that's clever, and lets you draw on the strengths of each. But... I think it also tends to introduce the weaknesses of each one as well, so pay careful attention to the overall effect you want to achieve.
#3 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Ying-yang, prophecies and the unknown, fortold fortunes and daunting quests. Whoever accepts this artistic inspiration for their writing piece is going to have a field day. Amazingly done with both inspiring and visually pleasing.
#4 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I really love the yin-yang symbol here. I think that the smoke is great. I think that the incense burner is neat.

But the perspective on this piece bothers me a lot. The incense burner doesn't look like it is sitting on the yin-yang symbol, it looks like it is pasted on top of it due to the lack of shadows, and I'm not sure if the yin-yang symbol is supposed to be flat or if it is supposed to be a part of a bowl; if it is supposed to be a bowl, the symbols don't look like it, but the ring around the edges of the yin-yang symbol seem to imply depth to me. The bowl/incense look like they're a CG render, but the smoke looks hand drawn.

All in all, there's a lot of stuff here which, individually, is neat, but as a collective whole, feels like it isn't really coherent. The perspective clash bothers me a lot looking at this.

That said, I can think of a number of potential stories by looking at this, so this works pretty well as a prompt piece.
#5 · 2
· · >>Not_A_Hat >>GroaningGreyAgony
I think this would have benefited from putting more emphasis on the smoke and less on the burner/table. I think a darker background also would have been nice. This shade of gray looks like it's just there to be a background, whereas a black background, perhaps with a gradient coming out from the incense, could have given the impression of a dark room.

I realize that it was most likely intentional, but I am bothered a bit by the fact that the cutie marks are wrong.

Is that even supposed to be a phoenix? The ear and horn make it look more like a unicorn to me.
#6 · 2
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
...man, I dunno. I kinda assumed it was a phoenix because the rightmost bit looks basically like a beak to me, and it fit the duality thing. I guess those twists of smoke could be a horn? I assumed the 'ear' was a crest of some sort, which is common on drawings of the phoenix. Philomena has one. If it's intended to be a pony of some sort, I can't make sense of the muzzle at all.
#7 · 1
· · >>Not_A_Hat >>GroaningGreyAgony
This piece is smooth and crisply executed with vector art and 3D rendering. I agree that the background is rather bland and should at least be graded.

>>Not_A_Hat, I don’t think that’s supposed to be a bowl; I think the Artist would have dipped the perspective on the odd symbols if so, and the moonish mark would not have been visible. Perhaps it’s a sort of lidded container?

I’m in the unicorn club on what that thing on the left is, because of the horn, but perhaps the artist was trying to be ambiguous, or perhaps, was just blowing smoke. :)

Anyway, this is certainly an evocative piece that could spawn many stories, and I like the polish. This can go in my top tier.
#8 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
>>GroaningGreyAgony The bowl bit, at least, I'm fairly certain of. But, I don't think the interior curve is equal to the exterior; I see a very thick-bottomed bowl, with a thin rim. If the surface was flat, then the bottom of the center cone should be level with the rim, while if it was curved up, it would be above it. I'd also expect the rim to look different. But the rim clearly has an inside edge, and the center cone seems noticeably dipped to me.
#9 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
This caption is the ultra-rare Bodhisattfloof, which has transcended its mere textual state to become one with the artwork, and yet remains on the rim of the incense burner to offer enlightenment to its mortal brethren. 15/10, would follow its religion.
#10 · 1
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
I like the contrast between the almost-too-perfect incense burner and its symmetry, and the standoff in the rising smoke. It's a bit too little to serve as a highlight, though... I think the piece would improve if there were more than just gray in the background of the smoke. Maybe a skyline with mountains and a nearing thunderstorm behind the dragon's head, and clear skies behind the pony's? Just an idea.
#11 · 3
· · >>GroaningGreyAgony
Damn, GroaningGreyAgony. You practically tricked everyone while doing that contest of yours. I didn't know you could dish out something this good by just looking at your deviant account.
#12 · 3
>>Kitcat36, >>Not_A_Hat, >>Kritten (nice quads!), >>TitaniumDragon, >>The_Letter_J, >>Not_A_Hat, >>GroaningGreyAgony, >>Not_A_Hat, >>horizon, >>wYvern, >>Kritten

The Incensed Learner

Thank you all very much for the praise and critiques!

I was biting my tongue on this one, and still felt compelled to make a rebuttal comment in the form of a fake review. I had planned to do some fake reviews all along, and it would be silly to always pan one’s own work in a fake review, but still I’m cringing now, thinking of how obvious I was being.

That wasn’t supposed to be a bowl at all. (If it were a bowl, the line I draw here joining the center points of the cone base and the marks would be a curve. *) Still, it’s my fault as an illustrator that I didn’t address that possible confusion. I should have just put a flat disc under the yin-yang and left it at that, but I wanted it to look more dimensional. I should have made it more obvious that it’s just a stand.

I did mean for the smoke on the left to be a unicorn head, but there’s a certain attraction to leaving that ambiguous. I am less happy with the dragon’s head, partly because the transparent brush I used has a pattern that becomes more obvious in the short strokes.

I had no unifying story behind this piece, save that I wanted a unicorn and dragon to be confronting each other in the smoke, but I did want to make the incense burner look mystic and sinister. I tried for this by drawing corrupted versions of Celestia and Luna’s marks, striving to give them the look of evil eyes. The arrows on the cone were inspired by the traditional eight-arrowed symbol of chaos, to give someone the chance to link in Discord if desired.

Technical note: no 3D rendering was involved. This was all done in Adobe Illustrator, with some retouching of the smoke and the spherized URL added in Photoshop. It’s all flat shapes, strokes and gradients, with partly-transparent brushes for the smoke curls.

Thanks to everyone who helped this image to take a technical medal!

* #include <horizon(roger.plz.add.image.embedding)>