My avatar was painted by the talented Kevin Hsu.
Kevin did really fine work and was really patient with me as I provided lots of specific feedback... nevertheless worded as a non-artist.
Firstly, some backstory detail.
The woman in the avatar is a Witch, but not specifically Alira. The circlet is intended to give that away, of course. Her assassin is intended to be a Shadow, who actually specializes in Damage over Time -- the copious amount of blood is a reference to Puncture, and the facial expression on the Witch is supposed to be the effects of a Poison.
I originally thought to use a Heartbreaker as the dagger, but it wouldn't have made much sense as it's a caster item. And Bino's is, well, pretty much a butcher knife, and that didn't seem particularly graceful to me (it's really closer to an axe than a dagger).
The avatar is really a combination of two pieces of artwork that I like.
The (potentially) more obvious reference is the art for the Magic: the Gathering card, Assassinate.
Here's the artwork in greater detail:
For the less MtG-inclined, It's actually a reference to another card in both mechanics and artwork, called Royal Assassin
. In any case, I really liked the vertigo-inducing perspective employed in this art work and knew I wanted to replicate it for my avatar.
The second influence is the macabre photography work of Jenni Tapanila, the Finnish artist known as suzi9mm. Back in 2004-05 I used to visit deviantArt regularly and suzi9mm was one of the top artists there. Her work is very inspiring, and the way she uses gore can sometimes be outright discomforting. I still squirm occassionaly when I view her work today.
Here's her gallery site.
The specific artwork I reference is one of her "scraps" called Kitty's selfportrait
It's pretty obvious how this one influences the avatar! But moreso than the blood -- which is really rather excessive in this image -- I was struck by the woman's fairly calm, sedated appearance. So I wanted the Witch to possess a similar expression, while slightly toning down the amount of blood so that it didn't dominate the image's color distribution, which revolves around shades of dark gray, white, and red.