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May 2010

May 2010 -- Dragons



  • Ask an Artist:
    A Question of Style
  • EMG News:
    EMG News
  • Wombat Droppings:
    You May REALLY Want an Agent!
  • Behind the Art:
    Shell Dragon
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Joseph Corsentino


  • Many Roles, Part 3


  • Fiction: Long Night
  • Fiction: The Dragon of Gettysburg

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  • Shell Dragon
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    I really enjoyed the last 'shell dragon' piece I did, so I thought I'd do another one. All I knew starting out this piece was that I wanted to do a complementary violet/yellow color scheme, and that there would be a dragon perched on a shell.

    This piece was done on cold-press Bristol paper, using Prismacolor colored pencils.

    And, as always, the sketch is the first step we need to do.

    I decided to start with a grisaille undercoat. I dislike using black pencils when I don't have to; even though most of the darker pencils I use have some black in them, they are still richer-looking than straight black is. Indigo blue is one of the pencils I use the most, and, when I do use a grisaille, I usually use either indigo blue or dark brown. In this case, I decided on indigo blue because I knew that I wanted the dragon to be purple, and the blue would make the shadows richer in the end.

    I kept the pencil relatively sharp while I was using it, using very light but tight strokes, keeping them in such a direction that it describes the shapes of the creature.

    The first figure shows the overall value pattern of the dragon worked out, while the one in the center is the final, completed layer of indigo blue.

    You may also have noticed that I left the indigo blue solely on the dragon; the shell is going to be a vastly different color, and the blue color will not be an appropriate undercoat.

    The next step was a layer of lavender. Again I applied it very lightly but evenly, doing my best to cover the paper completely. In places where the light is hitting the dragon, is very light indeed.

    Next I took a neutral-ish yellow and applied it very lightly to the darkest shadows, taking care not to press down at all. Where the yellow went, the color changed from a very deep blue to an almost forest green.

    The center image shows the last step in the grisaille: a final darkening of values, using, in this case, a black cherry pencil. It is a very, very dark violet color, and it goes well with many other colors; along with indigo blue and dark brown, it is one of my go-to pencils for dark colors.

    Although the values get quite dark in places, my pressure on the pencil remained light and even the whole time, keeping a good point on the pencil.

    The difference in the dragons between the middle image and the right-most one is minor; I added some yellow to the eyes, horns and skin. The main work here was done on the shell, using a pinkish color to add a base coat to work from. I kept it flat, not darkening it to illustrate form at all -- just one even coat of color.

    The shell still needs quite a bit of work -- I couldn't just leave it as a flat color, after all -- so I started adding more local color and cast shadows from the dragon's legs. I used a Tuscan red pencil, another pencil that has black mixed in with the pigment, to add a fringe of red traveling along the top of the shell's spiral. It is vitally important, when illustrating a shell or indeed a ridged object of any kind, to keep your pencil going in the direction of the ridges. That way, when the pencil lines show, they are still helping you illustrate the form of the object. The lines that I left showing on the shell all wrap around it. I also used the Tuscan red on the interior, shaded area of the shell, to the right of the dragon.

    With the shell's grisaille mostly done, the next step was bringing the local color into line. 'Local' color is the term that artists use for the actual color of an object; for instance, an apple is red whether it is in shadow or in bright light. To bring out the local color of the shell, a layer of canary yellow went over the whole thing. Just like the base layer, it was relatively even, and my strokes were light. Just a thorough, even layer of yellow.

    I also finished the tail up, using the same technique I used in the first steps.

    Now, take a look at the image to the right up there. It's done to a high enough level of completion that I could leave it like that, and nobody would question me. Continuing, at this point, is a matter of stylistic preference. And I don't like making loose colored-pencil artwork.

    I speak, of course, of burnishing, and of the much debated colorless blender pencil.

    A colorless blender pencil, when dealing with colored pencils, is simply wax binder with no pigment; it is, quite literally, a colored pencil with no color. Its sole purpose in life is to be applied heavily over other colors ("burnishing"), not only forcibly mixing the colors in the process but also pushing the color into all the nooks and crannies of the paper, destroying any white that may possible dare to show itself.

    Now you can burnish with other colors. I often burnish my darks with indigo blue or black grape, and I frequently burnish my lights with white, any of my 10% greys (warm, cool, or French), cloud blue, sand, cream... there may be a few more. However, whenever you burnish with another color, you are effectively glazing with it. Sometimes, that's exactly what you want. For example, I often burnish a light area with cloud blue to imply the reflected color of a blue sky overhead.

    But there are times when you don't want to do this. And that is when you bring out the colorless blender. It, however, has its own way of doing things. Colors can sometimes act unpredictably when you use it; some colors, like indigo blue, will their way kicking and screaming right back to the top, no matter how many layers they're under.

    So you need to be prepared to do some touch-ups, at the very least. There are some artists that absolutely loathe the blenders; I'm not sure why, really. But there you go.

    There are also other things you can use to blend if you don't want to burnish. Rubbing alcohol is the first that comes to mind; it will dissolve the wax and blend the colors together.

    Now, the image below shows the final step before burnishing on the left (it is identical to the last image above), and the image on the right is after burnishing with the colorless blender. That is the only thing I did, and look at the difference it made!

    It's rather startling to watch happen if you aren't used to it, actually.

    Usually, after a round of burnishing -- especially in a large area -- you need to do a little clean-up afterwards. Edges need to be refined with a (very,very) sharp pencil, and details need to be redefined. A good, hard eraser can help clean up little smudges and such.

    I also had to go back in and darken some of the darks, using some black grape -- another really dark and rich pencil -- particularly in the shell, and the darkest places on the dragon. I went back over most of the light areas with more lavender to smooth the transition between light and dark, especially in the shoulder and chest area. Some jasmine pencil (a neutral-ish yellow) was thrown in some places on the dragon to add reflected color (look under the belly and behind the legs). I also had to almost completely rework the feet; most of the detail had been obliterated in the burnish.

    Be careful when added more color to an area that's been burnished; you certainly can, but the paper will now take the pencil differently than it did before. A very light hand is necessary, and prey you haven't put any gauges in the paper, because they will show.

    Now it's what I'd consider a proper colored pencil painting!

    Melissa Acker

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