I was recently commissioned by a collector to create a small portrait of Harley Quinn for him. The collector, who owns several of my paintings, is already very familiar with my work, so he gave me a price range to work within, and then granted me complete creative control over the piece. I didn't even have to submit a sketch for approval. He said to simply surprise him. This is fairly unusual for most commissions, but one of the great benefits of having repeat clients is that they often show real faith in your abilities.
I didn't want to copy a pre-existing version of the character, whether it was the original cartoon/comic book look, or the now ultra-popular movie version of the character as seen in Suicide Squad. This collector has already commissioned numerous artists to create Harley Quinn portraits, each artist putting their own personal spin on her look, and I wanted to do the same. So I tried to depict Harley Quinn the way I personally see her in my head, if she were a real, living, breathing person.
Because of time and budget considerations, I knew this portrait would probably have to be a head and shoulders shot, similar in size to the miniature X-Men portraits I've recently been doing. So I began sketching simple compositions with that in mind.
Preliminary thumbnails for Harley concept
To me, one of the most intriguing aspects of the character is her toxic relationship with the Joker. I tried to describe this extreme dynamic through the slave collar she is wearing. The marred 'Masterlock' logo is a reference to 'Mister J', Harley's pet-name for her Master.
I also wanted to accentuate this theme of 'submissiveness' by painting her face more like a mime who is always silent, instead of the usual rambunctious harlequin look. The blood splatters and smears on her face are supposed to elude to a painted clown face when viewed at a distance. A transformation, of sorts.
Harley is typically armed with a comically large Mallet as a weapon. But I thought it would feel much more real, and much creepier, to have her use a regular sized hammer instead.
I haven't decided yet if the blood on her face is supposed to be that of Joker's, or not. Perhaps a Lover's spat? Or maybe it's the blood of a unnamed victim, killed at the request of her Master? I think I kind of like it being undetermined, and left up to the viewer to decide the rest of the narrative on their own.