Cover by Kate McCredie

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Printed Anthologies
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September 2010

September: Ravens



  • Behind the Art:
    Ink Washes and Crosshatching
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview With Brenda Lyons
  • Wombat Droppings:
    On 23-Book Deals
  • EMG News:
    News for September
  • Ask an Artist:
    Colours Tests


  • Ravens


  • Poem: Asking Lenore How to Write
  • Fiction: Remaking The Raven
  • Fiction: The Messenger
  • Poem: When Raven Alights
  • Poem: Birdtale
  • Fiction: Oskela's Raven

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  • Ink Washes and Crosshatching
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    I love working with ink. I love painting with it, I love drawing with it, and I love cross-hatching with it. Something about working with a nib and a bottle of ink is just fun. But what happens when you are depicting a creature with a very dark local color, or just a dark composition in general? It can take literally hours of work to depict a black creature with cross-hatching. Well, here's a trick I've picked up that can save you a few hours of work.

    As with anything (well, almost anything), first we start off with our drawing. This is a small piece, about 5 by 7 inches, on hot-pressed Bristol paper. It's my favorite surface to do ink work on.

    So what's the first step to our wonderful time-saving technique? A light value wash, of course.

    In this case, I've used a mix of ultramarine violet and winsor blue, just to keep it a little warmer. But if you feel like doing a purely 'ink' piece, you can certainly use some watered-down ink for this step instead. And, of course, you don't have to keep the piece monochromatic -- you can easily add color to it if you like! Note that because I am working on a hot press surface, I have to work my brush very fast, or the brushstrokes will show too much.
    Value-wise, this is a rather middle-of-the-road value, maybe a four or five out of ten. The white of the background is also going to help us make our creature look really dark -- the contrast will make the darks look darker.

    In this next step, I intensified the values in certain areas, and added texture in the wing areas. This step is more about helping me plan my dark values than anything, although some of the detail (the nostril on the beak, for instance) will remain as it is.

    This is more of a stylistic decision than anything, but I inked in the outlines of the creature before I started cross-hatching in earnest. If you wanted a more realistic feel, or if you wanted more lost-and-found edges, you could certainly leave this step out. I used the texture I painted on the wings as a guide for drawing the contours of the various feathers.

    Now, I know it seems like a huge difference between step four and five, but it really isn't; it's just that the cross-hatching makes such a dramatic impact. I switched to a smaller nib, a stainless steel one. In general, I've found the stainless steel nibs are stiffer and better for tight work, while the copper ones are a little better for sweeping lines and the like.

    When I work with an ink nib, I always have a scrap piece of paper nearby that I can test the nib on each time after I dip it into the bottle. This is extraordinarily useful, and limits the ink-splotch surprises that can otherwise happen.
    For this first layer, in particular, it is very important to be as descriptive of the form as possible with the hatching; for instance, look at the lines on the neck. They wrap around it, and describe it quite well for the viewer. Actual cross-hatching is reserved for very dark areas.

    The final step is darkening up the values, and for this step I switched back to a larger, more flexible nib; this allows my lines to be wider, darker, and a little more 'scribbly', for lack of a better word. My main focus was on ensuring that the darkest areas in shadow are at least as dark as the contour lines, and that required a few layers of hatching, in some areas. For the feathers, especially, I kept it somewhat 'messy', as I didn't want any particular feather to stand out; in case, I needed just enough detail to inform the viewer that this is indeed a feathered wing, and that's all they need to know.

    And that's about all you need to do. A simple wash at the beginning of the piece saved me about three or four hours of work, more than cutting my work time in half. Would it still have looked good without it? Probably, but think about how much different the dragon would look without that wash on the neck or head. The lights would be much, much larger, and the overall effect would be starker.

    And, as I mentioned, earlier, it is very easy to adapt this technique to more colorful pieces, as well. Have fun experimenting!

    Melissa Acker

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