The Lazy Artist
Roses of Fairylandby Ellen Million
Early in 2005, I asked for an artistic challenge. A challenge I received! I'd had the pleasure of reading the initial draft of 'Right Angles to Fairyland' by C.E. Murphy, reading along as she whipped it out for NaNoWriMo the November before. She asked me to illustrate a scene from the manuscript - one with six characters, a forest and a lot of roses.
This piece was not so much outside my comfort zone as not even in the same country as my comfort zone. It was going to be bigger than I usually worked, with more figures, and more depth and... it was going to be in color. The sketch and inkwork alone took me three years to complete. Now, admittedly, the bulk of those years was spent being afraid of it, and shutting it, unloved, in my cabinet so I didn't have to stare at it. Finally, last January, I sat down and said, I will conquer the roses!
The inking stage was poorly documented, and therefore, not the makings of a good walkthrough... you'll have to take my word for the fact that it was doggedly done, one line at a time. Each of those carefully penciled roses was inked with the finest pen I could find, and then again with a thicker pen to pick out the boldest areas. After the inking was done, I felt quite accomplished, and I put the piece aside to let the blisters on my fingers heal. For another 11 months.
I was terrified to add color. Color is frightening, and I was so wonderfully happy with the inkwork as it was. Surely I was going to ruin it...
At last, I screwed up my courage and tackled the painting phase.
Each of the following shots is approximately an hour apart. But, subject to painting blur, I would sometimes forget and take them an hour and a half apart, instead. Sometimes I would look up and have no idea how much time had passed. Sometimes, I snapped shots while I was waiting for paint to dry, just a half an hour apart. I was using (find name) paints, squeezed out in teensy little squirts on reused styrofoam plates and then watered down until it flowed well. First, came the layers of Payne's Gray - several dozen of them:
It wasn't until here that I began to put in color - a mild green color on the leaves.
If I thought the green was terrifying, starting to add red petrified me.
It got easier as I added more... and bits of flesh color began to show up on the figures.
As the roses started to go in, I went back to the background and began putting very thin layers of brown and green.
The first layer of roses is finished, but I'm aware there is too much white on them.
You'd think I would be getting more comfortable with this concept of color, but each new section that I start is just as uncertain. I want to keep it all as neutral as possible - with the biggest jolt of color at the roses and (later) at the wound on the fallen king.
The standing figure was supposed to be in red and brown, but as soon as I painted in his belt, I backpedaled - it took too much attention away. I lifted as much as I could off of the area with a barely damp sponge and painted it over in blue, leaving it just slightly purple.
Layers. Layers and layers and layers of green on the leaves, and red on the roses. More red. MORE red.
It was here that I thought about adding streaks of light streaming through the trees. I wanted a little more jazz, just a tad more depth. It's hard to make out in this picture. I started by using a narrow sponge, barely wetted, to lift off some of the paint.
I also laid in more thin layers of paint on each side of the streaks, to bring them out more. I also added a little yellow to the streaks of light, to warm it up like sunlight.
More yellow in the highlights, more shadows, more damned layers of green on the leaves and red on the leaves. And finally (FINALLY!), I scanned it, in 6 parts, stitched it together and adjusted the color (thanks in part to the advice of Pierre Carles and the Fantastic Porfolios critique crew).
Are there roses in my future? Probably. But not for a long while.
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