Here's few snapshots of how the piece came together:
I started out sketching in the forest setting and experimenting with various iaido sword fighting stance:
I really wanted to show the fact that Akamiko was elderly (an awesome aspect of the story), so I tried several variations with gray or white hair:
I ultimately went with a dark haired Akamiko for design purposes. And finally limited myself to one sword as well (that was also hard: the story has some pretty powerful symbolism linked to the various colored swords):
Halfway through, I realized the image would be stronger if I flipped the whole thing:
A bit further along I realized the image would be stronger still if I flipped Akamiko:
And, finally finished.
created in Photoshop, cs3, with an intuos 4 tablet.