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Earth CreatureBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Haven't done a unicorn in awhile, so I decided it was about time to do one. This one was done on an Arches cold-press watercolor block. I had to significantly alter the contrast in the image to show the pencil lines I drew onto the paper. When I work with watercolor, I try to keep the lines as light as possible to prevent them from showing in the finished work.
This was done in two stages. A very, very light wash of winsor blue went over the background, and I let it dry before beginning the earth and rocks. Note that for the purposes of this tutorial, I had to digitally add the blue I used, as my scanner has decided not to play nice anymore (a dying scanner is a sad, angry creature).
A light wash of burnt scarlet started the base coat on the earth section of the painting. I left what will be the highlights on the creature white to allow me some flexibility with them later.
The earth-and-rock base coat was done with lunar red rock (a Daniel Smith brand paint) and burnt orange; the lunar red rock is a wonderful color for painting any earthy subject, as it is both opaque and heavily granulating. This means that left to its own devices, it will create a rock-like texture all on its own. The burnt orange brings the color closer to what I am looking for.
I worked on the shadows in a few layers, concentrating on illustrating the form of the background. I barely touched the unicorn at all in this layer.
You can see in many of the darker areas how much the paint granulates; that's the lunar red rock at work!
Time to start making the rock look like, well, rock. Cracks go a long way toward that; they splinter and spread, and become thinner as they go. When possible I try to have the cracks travel in contours, making them do double duty as showing texture and form.
I started some of the details on the unicorn as well. I still haven't actually switched to my detail brush yet; with a steady hand and the right paint consistency, a pointed brush is very versatile.
Now that the composition is well on its way to showing itself, it's time to start pumping up the values and contrast. The shadows, and the color in them, gets intensified with darker mixes of lunar red rock, cobalt blue, and burnt orange. Always, always, ALWAYS vary your mix a little bit every time you dip your brush into it. This will prevent your colors from becoming boring and will naturally vary them.
I am spending most of my time on the shadows, because you generally don't want a great deal of detail in both the light and dark areas of the painting; pick one and emphasize that. Remember, people will look at the detail instinctively. Tell them where to look.
Darkened the shadows up on the creature one last time; now it looks like it belongs there! But it still doesn’t have quite the finished look I want. I want the feet, in particular, to look as if they are made of rock.
It's spatter time.
Spattering, for those who don't know, is when you load a brush (or toothbrush) with paint and then shake it over the painting; the paint flecks onto the painting in a sort of spraying texture. I usually do it by loading my brush with paint, and hitting the handle of the brush against my finger to knock the paint off.
In this case, I did the spattering in several different layers, each time narrowing the area I worked on until finally I was just working on the legs and face.
Here we go, all done! This painting is rather unrefined, but you can see how the techniques I used all add up to build form, texture and contrast to make the composition.
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