Cover by Brenda Lyons

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March 2011

March 2011 -- Gryphons



  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Pascal Campion
  • EMG News:
    News for March
  • Behind the Art:
    Griffin in Watercolor


  • The Gryphon
  • Basic Animal Anatomy

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  • Griffin in Watercolor
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    This month's theme is griffins (or gryphons, or whatever). Something I have no problem working with, since they've been one of my main fantasy subjects for years now.

    I don't do many straight watercolors anymore, so we'll be doing one of those. I stretched the paper, something I've covered here many times before. The paper takes about a day or so to properly dry after stretching, so I left it overnight. I used 140lb cold press watercolor paper, as usual. I've found that the watercolor blocks react a little differently to paint than a single stretched piece of paper. For some reason, detail work is harder for me with the blocks.

    Anyway, for this piece I'm just using stretched paper.

    Oh, and before I stretched the paper, I drew the basic drawing I need to get started. Only stretch after you are happy with the drawing, because once the graphite gets wet and dries, it is there forever.

    For reasons I still don't fully understand, I started out with the front wing. I know I wanted the end to be not entirely fully rendered, with the edges somewhat undefined and loose. The wing is very loosely-applied lunar red rock, a paint (made by Daniel Smith) that granulates with the slightest provocation, and I want the extra texture right now. I sprayed some water at it every now and then, and tilted the board as well. Afterwards - again while it was still damp, although not pooling on the paper -- I added in more strokes of lunar red rock, and some quinacridone gold as well.

    Here's a close-up of the granulation on the wing.

    Background time! This step in the background was filled in with mixes of winsor blue and burnt orange. I worked very wet, and sprayed liberally while the paint was at varying levels of dampness. That is why in some places the paint pushed out, and in some places it appears dappled.

    Once the shine on the paper is gone, you either have to wet it again, or stop working. That level of dampness is not productive.

    With the initial background layer done, it is beginning to look like a creature emerging from a misty scene. I like it, and I'm gonna run with it.

    The next steps were done in a few different layers, to give everything time to dry and control paint bleeding into sections it wasn't supposed to.

    Using a much paler (more water than paint in the mix) mixture of winsor blue and burnt orange, I paint in the farthest piece of ground visible. When it gets near the plume of mist in the foreground, I tread very carefully. The wash fades and disappears near the foreground mist; we have to keep it in the foreground, after all.

    The middle-ground was done in the same manner, with a darker mix, and some green and yellow added to warm the color. I threw in the first wash on the rock as well.

    The foreground was again done the same way, and again I mixed in more green and yellow. Warmer colors push themselves forward, and cooler colors fall back. I faded the wash out carefully while working on the ground to keep in the mist in the immediate foreground. While I was working on the rock, I added in some random strokes of quinacridone gold.

    The last layers were on the griffin itself. The far wing faded from lunar red rock into a very pale wash of the winsor blue and burnt orange mix; this pushes it back into the mist more.

    The griffin itself is mostly burnt sienna and burnt scarlet, with cadmium yellow for the beak, eyes and scales on the forepaws.

    All that is left is the detail work, and tweaking the values as needed. Almost all of this was done with a fine, pointed detail brush.

    I added some abstract feather detailing, more suggesting the appearance of feathers than bothering to render every single one. I kept this work on the wings limited to near where they joined the back; I wanted to keep the ends of them very unworked.

    When painting the legs, I made an effort to keep the one closest to the viewer warmer, with more detail and contrast; this helps push the other leg farther back. Note the different in the color of the leg, and the rendering of the scales, in particular.

    The fur texturing involved my usual method of going back and forth over areas, paying close attention to areas of shadow, and always keeping my brushstrokes in the direction of the fur. Some areas of the face have seven or eight thin layers of paint on them by the end. White acrylic paint was used for highlight on the beak, eyes, and scales. I added some random dark markings on the face to add more interest to it, and to keep the eye drawn to it.

    Similar to the wing, when I painted in the tail I let the end fade out.

    And this is the finished product.

    The sweeping, diagonal line of the wings keeps the eye traveling about, and the complimentary color scheme (blue and orange, which make brown) is rather peaceful. I have made a slight mistake though; the yellow scales on the legs are much too bright, and they compete for attention with the head unfavorably. If I did this piece again, I would tone them down considerably. Otherwise I'm quite happy with how it turned out.

    Melissa Acker

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