Cover by Sara Burrier

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September 2011

September 2011 -- Mushrooms



  • Behind the Art:
  • EMG News:
    News for September
  • Artist Spotlight:
    Interview with Inge Vandormael
  • Ask an Artist:
    Ask Ursula!


  • Mushroom References (50 Photos)
  • Mushrooms
  • Gaits of the Quadruped


  • Poem: Mike the Meek Truffle
  • Poem: Mushroom Magic

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  • Camouflage
    Behind the Art
    by Melissa Acker

    Mushrooms in general come in a huge variety of forms and colors. I love the look of the mushrooms and fungi that grow on trees, though, so I'm going to work with them on this piece. It's going to be mostly watercolors with some colored pencil detail work in the final stages. I'm working on ARCHES 140lb cold-press paper.

    I always start with a pencil drawing when I work with watercolor. It's too unforgiving to go in blind. If I know the painting is going to be dark -- as this one will be -- I'll make the pencil lines relatively dark, and stretch the paper afterwards. If you stretch the paper after you make the drawing, the graphite sinks into the wet paper and becomes more or less permanent once it's dry. This is helpful for paintings that are dark enough that obvious pencil lines aren't a problem.

    This next layer is done in two steps. I use a wash of titanium buff over the mushroom parts of the drawing. Once it is dry, I use various mixes of browns to throw in a background wash over the rest of the painting. I make no distinction between the reptile parts and the tree bark; I am depicting a camouflaged creature, and using similar techniques on the scales and bark will help them look similar to each other.

    Now I have to start working on the mushroom shapes. I have been working with a lot of wet-in-wet techniques lately, and I think the technique is appropriate in this case. I take a brush to wet the area inside the mushroom shape that I want the color to spread into. Then I dab in some Winsor blue and quinacridrone magenta and let it dry. As none of the colored areas in the mushroom are touching, I can do the whole layer at once. If there were touching areas, I would have to let one dry before moving on to the next. Doing feathers or scales with this technique can be very time consuming!

    I don't really like the current color of the wood, so it's time to do some work on that. Using even darker mixes of brown, blue and green, I work in each section one at a time. Just like with the mushrooms, I wet each horizontal strip of bark, then add the color. Because in this case the sections are touching, I have to do basically every-other one, then wait for them to dry before doing the ones in-between.

    Up until this point, I have only been addressing local color -- that is, the fact that the wood is brown and the mushrooms are buff and blue, etc. I have not been addressing highlights or shadows or light source at all, and that is one of the reasons this piece still looks so flat and boring. So now I am going to do something about that.

    I start painting in the shadows on the mushrooms, using mixes of Winsor blue, lunar red rock, Winsor green, and burnt orange. Lunar red rock is a very powerful color. It is very vibrant and opaque, making it a colorful choice for dark shadows. It also tends to push into other colors and granulate, which often leads to interesting visual texture. For this reason it gets quite a bit of use on my palette.

    After I have added in the cast shadows, I go ahead and add some scale texture on to the reptile and some bark texture onto the wood. For the bark, I make sure to have the texture fade away as it gets further back into the painting, into the background.

    I've done about all I can do with the watercolor now. Once it gets this dark, doing anything more usually just becomes muddy and ugly. But it's still looking a little too monochromatic for my tastes. So now I'm going to start using the colored pencil to add color, detail, and to sharpen up the edges in some places.

    I work on the eye first. It will be one of the main focal points of the painting and if I can't get that to work, I might as well start over.

    Layers of yellows and oranges add depth to the color of the eyes. I throw in some blue around the thin iris, because I know there will be a great deal of blue in the finished painting and it's always good to repeat colors to move the eye around. Dark violets are used for the cast shadow of the eyelid. I burnish the colors to smooth them out. Burnishing it when you use one pencil -- usually one that is not so sharp -- and use it heavily enough to blend the colors underneath it together and fill the tooth of the paper. I usually only burnish with cream or cold grey 10% (both colors that have a lot of white in them), but with this piece I am using a colorless blender as well. Your average colored pencil is binder (usually wax) and pigment blended together into a stick. A colorless blender is just binder -- it is literally a colored pencil with no color.

    After the eye is done to my taste, I start detailing in the shadows around the 'mushroom' scales over the eyes. Indigo blue in my dark blue of choice. It is very dark, still colorful, and has very good coverage. I also use negative shapes to touch up the edges of the scales -- by darkening the shadows behind it, the edge stands out more clearly against it.

    I keep adding more detail and refining edges. On some of the brown scales, I add a dark shadow on the far edge -- still with the indigo blue pencil -- to add more depth.

    I also start working on the mushroom shapes. I use a sand pencil to add in color around the blue areas of the mushrooms, and a black cherry one to add some purple just underneath that. Afterwards, I use a colorless blender and go through both colors, having the strokes go in the direction of the texture I want for the mushrooms. I use a dark brown pencil -- another of my staples -- to add texture to the outside edges of the mushrooms. And more indigo blue in the darkest shadow areas of the mushroom shapes.

    After finishing the mushroom shapes on the top of the head, I go to do the actual mushrooms on the bark, and add in some more texture on the bark as well. Just as before, I fade the texture out as it gets further in the background. I also add highlights to some of the scales.

    And, when I'm all done, this is what it looks like:

    It's a little darker than most of my work, and not quite as colorful as I would like. But I think I got the effect I was going for.

    That's all for this month, folks, but we'll have another one ready for you soon!

    Melissa Acker

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