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March 2010

March 2010 -- Dance



  • Ask an Artist:
    Why the Mirror?
  • Behind the Art:
    Watercolor on Illustration Board
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Priscilla Hernandez
  • EMG News:
    News for March
  • Wombat Droppings:
    Inspiration Gets You Nowhere


  • Many Roles, Part 1


  • Poem: Dance the Sky
  • Fiction: When Death Dances

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  • Watercolor on Illustration Board
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    More recently, I've done more and more work on cold-press illustration boards, rather than watercolor paper. They are suitable for a variety of media, including watercolors, markers, inks, and colored pencil. And as long as you adhere it firmly to a backing (I use masonite panels), and don't use very wet washes, it doesn't buckle overly much. I do tend to limit myself to small pieces, as the larger the board is, what buckling does happen becomes more severe. Generally, when I work with anything larger than 11 by 14, I use thicker boards. Working with illustration board is very similar to working with watercolor paper, as you'll see as we go through this next demonstration.

    As always, the first step is a pencil drawing. Nothing too complicated about that. This particular piece is about 9 by 12.5 inches.

    When I work with illustration board, I usually do the background wash in one step whenever necessary; this limits buckling to the bare minimum. The board is perfectly capable of handling the later thin, drier layers without any problem, which is perfect for me, since that is normally how I work anyway.

    This wash was mixes of quinacridone gold and burnt orange, along with some spatter of violet and burnt scarlet. My handy spray bottle kept the edges of the wash from getting too sharp, which can be a problem when working with boards. While it was still damp, I applied a very, very light tint of cobalt blue to what will be the shadow edges of the bird.

    With the background finished, I moved onto the bird. Addressing local color and texture was my main concern. For the main body, I used a slightly more concentrated mix of the wash I used for the background. I went back and forth from spot to spot to add more texture. I used a light mix of windsor red and cobalt blue for the tail. Aureline was the base yellow I used for the beak and legs.

    I decided the values were much too light on the bird -- it's too similar in tone to the background -- so the only thing I did in this step was apply a rather even tone of burnt orange over the whole bird. It did obscure some of the detail work, but composition is more important than detail.

    Now the real detail work begins. When I work with watercolor, I usually paint negatively that is, I'll paint the dark space around the object in order to paint the object. When I paint feathers, this means I spend a great deal of time painting the shadows around them. This is by far the most time-consuming part of the painting, with each feather often having ten or twelve thin layers before the end. I also added some washes to address the local color in the tail, adding more windsor red and violet.

    Also notice how much different the wing feathers look between step four and five -- I didn't do any work on them, but in a painting everything is relative, especially value.

    More darkening of the shadows, and also added more color and texture to the tail feathers. Some detail work on the face as well.

    Started to tighten everything up bit by bit. I added very thin shadows to the thin gold feathers on the head, and darkened some of the shadows as well. Another wash of windsor red over the upper-tail feathers brought the local color closer to what I wanted it to be.

    Most of this step involved working on the wing feathers, darkening the shadows to push parts of it back. I used several very light, very cool mixes of cobalt blue and burnt orange to gradually add the shadows. I left as much of the base color of the wings alone as I could.

    I also started work on the trailing tail feathers, adding in the actual feathers to the veins.

    More tightening up loose ends and bringing everything together. More shadows were darkened all over, especially on the wings. And the shadows on the lower wing feathers were not just darkened, but made cooler as well.

    Sounds simple, but it involves a lot of very thin layers that dry nearly immediately, so I tend to go back and forth quite a bit -- there might be three to six layers of paint in each step for feathers or fur!

    So we just finished a watercolor painting on illustration board, and we didn't need anything fancy to do it. Just our usual brushes, painting tape, and paint. It looks like a watercolor painting, but I didn't have to stretch the paper.

    Just to make things a little easier to follow, here's a few images of the steps put side-by-side.

    Melissa Acker

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