Adventures in Assemblage
Partners, Part 2
Meditation and the Part-Time Painter
News for August
Interview with Karyn Lewis
Partners, Part 2Behind the Art
by Melissa Acker
On to the painting, which is of course the most interesting part. I'm painting this on a 10-by-14 inch cold-press watercolor block, so I didnít need to stretch the paper -- just drew the image on with a pencil, paying attention to the proportions and the placement on the page. Hereís the drawing weíre working with in case you forgot from last week.
The first thing I did was lay down a simple wash to immediately establish some color and lay down the groundwork for the whole painting -- having a color ground to work from already helps bring everything together. The wash is mostly quinacridrone gold, with some burnt orange thrown in.
Getting the values laid in is my next priority. This step had to be done in several stages as I had to wait for different areas to dry so they wouldnít bleed into each other. I used various mixes of burnt orange, burnt sienna, and winsor blue, as well as winsor red for the mage. I paid much more attention to getting the basic values laid in, as opposed to getting the local colors accurate. This lets me immediately evaluate whether or not the composition is working and what I might need to do to fix it. I sprayed some areas of the background with a spray bottle when they were still damp to start adding some texture.
While this step, again, took several stages so separate areas could dry, all that I worked on was the background. I concentrated on getting the background values dark enough, using dark mixes of burnt orange, burnt scarlet and winsor blue. More than once I used the spray bottle to add texture, and several layers of it creates a lot of subtle movement. On the top rightmost side, just before the wet shine left the paper, I folded a paper towel and laid it down to absorb some wet paint and create a paler area that serves as a wall of some sort -- something that was not in the original composition but that I thought was needed as the piece began to come together. It worked because almost all the colors I am using are staining pigments Ė even when lifted their color remains.
The last thing I did in this step was apply some masking fluid. Masking fluid is a tricky beast, but there are some simple steps you can do to make using it a little less painful. First of all, only use synthetic brushes to apply masking fluid -- it will immediately clog and render useless any brush made of natural hairs. When applying it always keep a bar of brush soap and a glass of water (or two) beside you. First wet the brush you are using, then rub it into the brush soap, making sure itís good and full of soap. Then dip it in the masking fluid and apply it to the paper. Immediately rinse the brush in the clean water, apply more brush soap, and then more masking fluid. Always wait until one layer is completely dry before applying more masking fluid -- applying masking fluid to damp masking fluid is counter-productive. If possible, wait a day or so to paint over the masking fluid -- if itís at all damp, youíll get teeny-tiny little clumps of rubber all over the place.
So there is only a little bit of masking fluid used in this painting -- I blocked in the eye, the gem on the staff and the rings around it, and some random scales on the neck of the dragon that are going to be the lightest ones, struck by light. I let the whole thing dry overnight.
Time to start painting the dragon, the fun part! Using mixes of burnt orange with a little quinacridrone gold, I started painting in the scales, keeping them more abstract in the shadows or in areas that I donít want to draw attention to, and more solid and defined in the areas that are lighter or that I want to draw the eye to; there are about two layers of scales at this point. Areas that are in shadow have a little winsor blue mixed in as well. The skin on the neck is just quinacridrone gold. The robes on the mage are a mix of winsor red, quinacridrone violet and winsor blue. I left the staff blank at this point, as I wasnít sure if I wanted it made of light wood or dark.
A few more layers of scale work done here, mostly adding cast shadows to them, making sure to put the thin line of shadow on the side opposite the light on the staff. Still using burnt orange and winsor blue. A thin layer of winsor red over the mageís robes brings it closer to the local color I want it to be. Thin streaks on the wings start to darken them and add texture, and while the paint was still wet I moved a clean, wet brush through them to keep them from being too stark. Once this layer was completely dry I removed the masking fluid (not shown in this image).
As always, the final stage is a multitude of tiny changes and touch-ups. I ended up deciding to make the staff dark -- more likely to move the eye up into the piece that way. An opaque grey pigment for the gem, with tiny touches of orange and brown for reflected color, finishes the staff up. Very faint shadows on the newly-revealed scales that were under the masking fluid bring them into line. A very thin, dark color was used to finish off the shadows on the horns, head and neck skin. The mage definitely had the most work done; the shadows were darkened, and skin tones and detail were added to the face and arms. Cast shadows were added to some parts of the background, including the walls behind the dragon, behind the tail and behind its front feet as well.
And another painting finished, and Iím quite happy with it. It doesnít completely follow the two sketches I roughed out, either the value sketch or the color sketch, but they were still helpful to reference as I painted, and Iím glad I did them. See ya next month!
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