ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished piece. This week, Brooklyn-based artist Yao Xiao talks about making the official cover art for Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” single.

Initially, the very first line about the piece was in an email I received one evening last month — just a simple line describing the desired look and feel of the artwork, and the song attached.

The piece started as a series of thumbnails, gauging the overall composition of the single cover.

The idea was to create a piece that embodies the energy I felt from the song. I had the song playing on loop while I sketched thumbnails.

I wanted to create a mixed aesthetic of tarot card, vintage jewels and medieval armor.

The actual drawing was small, but I spent most of the time on researching and designing the outfit. For the dress, I looked into 1920s vintage photos of gypsy women, as well as contemporary fashion designers who have breathtaking warrior dresses. Every detail started with a point of reference, even the shape of the should pads.

I always start with a basic sketch and then draw with pencil on top of it. The penciling took the most time because I was constantly changing and designing the shapes. Once the pencil was finished I went in with a miniature brush and India ink and finished the drawing.

For coloring, I researched photos of vintage jewlery and jewel boxes and tried to mimic their colors for this piece. It was certainly challenging at first to create a piece with colorful jewel tones and still keep an overall dark theme, but I was very glad that I spent long hours trying and got it right at the end. There were 47 layers in the final PSD file.

Finishing the piece took 2 days of in-studio time.

Follow Yao Xiao’s work on Twitter and Facebook.

Previous Artist’s Notebook selects:

Artist’s Notebook: Brenna Murphy
Artist’s Notebook: Zoetica Ebb
Artist’s Notebook: Christian Rex Van Minnen
Artist’s Notebook: Actually Huzienga 
Artist’s Notebook: Cody Critcheloe, SSION

Artist’s Notebook: Ron English
Artist’s Notebook: Molly Crabapple
Artist’s Notebook: Don Hertzfeldt