News for February
Sick-day Reading, or Sifting Out the Pearls
Interview with Henning Ludvigsen
JackalopeBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
I had an idea to do a painting that was similar in style to the colored plates you might see in older books, what would have been the scientific illustrations of the day. So I started looking through different creatures of folklore, until I found one that struck my fancy. This happened to be the jackalope; a jackrabbit with antlers, and, in some cases, a pheasant's tail and legs. For my purposes, the pheasant's aspect makes the creature more visually interesting, so I decided to go with it.
First, as in all things, I started with a line drawing. This piece was done on a piece of Bristol paper. It has a very smooth surface, and holds the brush strokes of watercolor almost too well, which is useful for the final look I am going for. It doesn't handle wet washes very well at all, though, so very wet layers will have to be applied carefully.
This will be a watercolor piece, and I don't plan on using any masking fluid in this piece (thank goodness!), so it's already time to paint. The background in this piece will be very simple -- little more than a bit of color to contrast against the more detailed subject -- so I decided to get it done and out of the way. I threw in a very quick wash with a round, natural hair brush; it's very soft, and so is less likely to leave a distinct brush mark on the paper. The wash was primarily raw sienna and olive green, with some other colors dashed in very lightly. I moved from left to right (as I am right-handed), and added more green as I moved to the right. Even though the brush was a round, I had enough of a point to suggest blades of grass and add some visual texture.
Once the background layer dried, it was time to start work on the creature. In this step, I laid in the local colors. Again, the body of the creature was mostly raw sienna. The hind legs were aurelin yellow, the tail feathers were winsor green, and the darker areas were a mix of payne's grey and red lunar rock. Because I am working primarily wet on dry, and don't plan on letting the colors blend on the painting itself, what exact paints I use aren't nearly as important as they normally are; the sedimentary aspects of the paint won't come into play.
Detail work time! I pulled out my favorite detail brush, one that comes to a very thin, fine point and takes the perfect amount of water in. I am very hard on this particular brush, and expect that I will have to replace it in a year or two, but it's worth every penny.
The fur is primarily mixes of burnt scarlet and payne's grey, with burnt sienna and raw sienna mixed in randomly. Don't worry about completely mixing the paint on the palette; for this work, it's better if the color is a little different every time you dip your brush in the paint. To get the illusion of fur, you need to paint in lots of very thin layers. For rabbit fur, paint in very short strokes, very close together. Wild rabbits often have black-tipped fur, especially as it approaches the spine, and so darker mixes will not look out of place. The paint dries very quickly with this technique, and as areas dry I go back into them and add more, over and over again. A very, very thin layer of blue was applied to the inside of the ears as well.
More from habit than anything else, I work from the head back. This is what it looks like after about ten minutes of work.
I continued working all the way down the body, going back over parts constantly. I work sort of randomly when I do this, intuition more than anything guiding me. I constantly altered the angle of the brush as I worked. Even though I'm always working in the direction the fur grows, the slight variations give a certain messiness to the fur, as if it's a real animal that has been moving around all day.
This is what it looks like after the first complete pass over the body.
I've included a comparison between step four and step five, in an attempt to illustrate what I mean when I say that I go back into areas. Look at the difference between the back of the neck, in particular.
With the fur well on its way, it's time to start working on the hind legs and the tail. I used a varying mixture of payne's grey for the shadows on the feathers. They will end up having a very dark local color, but I wanted to preserve the green highlights on the feathers, just as you see on some pheasant feathers.
Then I painted in the contours of the scales on the hind legs, using a mix of violet magenta and raw sienna.
More of the same here, although I focused more on value than on specific color. Also painted in the long, plume-like feathers. I am still using the same detail brush I started using in step four.
With everything blocked in, it's time to sit back and take a look at the piece, and make any necessary adjustments needed to bring it together.
As a reminder, this is what it looks like now.
And this is what it looks like after.
How many differences can you spot? The tail feathers went darker, as did the far hind leg, the plumes, the eye, nose, and antlers. More fur texture was added in several places. I made the fur approaching the spine more universally dark. I also added in some old-school text, just for fun. Notice that the farthest away legs have much less detail and contrast, and this helps push them back into space.
And that's all it takes! Hope you learned something going through this with me. Until next month!
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