Interview with Ellen Million aka The Boss
Stars: A Walkthrough
Stars: A WalkthroughBehind the Art
by Melissa Acker
This is it. The last one. It's been a great run, and I'm glad I could be a part of it.
This demonstration will use several different watercolor techniques, including masking fluid and glazes.
This painting was done on cold-press illustration board. The board accepts the paint a little differently than the paper does, but it's a joy to work with. If you do plan to do wet washes on it, though, you must tape it down, just like you do with paper, because it will warp otherwise.
The line drawing. You can see only the most important details are included. I kept my lines relatively dark, because I planned on several dark layers and wanted to be able to see my graphite through them as long as possible.
The first step involved using masking fluid. I masked in the globe the dragon is holding in its mouth, and many tiny dots that will eventually be stars. I tried to place them rather erratically -- rather than evenly -- throughout the composition.
Some tips for using masking fluid:
Always, always, always use a synthetic brush to apply masking fluid. Those natural hair brushes may be wonderful to paint with, but the masking fluid will instantly clog them hopelessly. Don't do it. Using old brushes is also a good idea, since the masking fluid process is very rough on the brushes and you don't want to be ruining your nice points on something like that.
I've found the best way to apply it is to have two cups of water going, and a bar or puck of brush soap (the brush soap is very, very important). First, dip the brush in cup number one. Then liberally sop the brush in the brush soap. Then dip in masking fluid. Apply the fluid. Then wash the brush off in cup number two, soap it up, wash it off again in cup number one, soap it up, and repeat. After about ten minutes or so, regardless of how you think you're doing, take the brush to the sink and give it a thorough cleaning with warm water and brush soap. Masking fluid is nefarious, sneaky stuff, and it will sink itself in there if you let it.
Also, it will not come out of fabric. Ever. So don't get it on your clothes.
Let the masking fluid dry overnight. There's nothing worse then throwing a wash over a painting and having teeny little bits of mask get all over the place. Just be patient and give it the night.
The initial wash. This layer is a combination of winsor yellow and winsor red. I left the strongest, deepest yellows around the head area. Both of these paints are stains, which is going to be important later. Basically, I plan to use a lot of layers in this piece, and many paints which don't stain can look muddy if you put too many layers over them. Stains, though, tend to layer beautifully.
Once the wash had completely dried, I applied more masking fluid stars all over the background.
Another wash, this time with quinacridone violet and Prussian blue. I painted around the head and the upper ring. One, because I hate masking fluid and don't use it when I don't need to; and two: I decided to leave the ring bare at the last minute. I didn't foresee a problem painting around the dragon, but rings and clean lines can be surprisingly difficult.
Once the wash was on, I tilted the board for a few minutes to make the paint run in a diagonal direction, giving the composition more movement.
Once that was completely dry, I masked all three rings and added more stars.
This next layer was the last big wash on the background. I used very dark mixes of rose of ultramarine and mayan blue, two colors that granulate very well and. I also tilted the board a bit for this wash. I kept most of the blues to outskirts of the painting, so that the purer violets would be near the yellow highlights.
The natural granulation creates subtle forms and shadows all on its own, suggesting nebulas and far off galaxies. It suits the piece very well I think.
Once it was all completely dry, I removed the masking fluid. You can buy special little erasers for the job that work pretty well. Use a light touch, though; you don't want to damage your painting surface. You'll find you'll acquire lots of little sticky balls of dried fluid; that's normal. When you think you're done, run your (clean!) hands lightly over the painting. I don't usually recommend touching your painting more than you have to, since the oils on your skin aren't the greatest thing for it, but this is the best way to find left-over dried fluid. You can feel the different texture very easily.
Now what we have isn't bad, but it needs a lot of work. The stars, for instance, have a lot of weird, sharp edges and many aren't precisely round. That's what we're going to do next.
I have a few old brushes I use as scrubbers. You don't want to use a good brush to scrub paint for the same reason you don't use them to apply masking fluid: you'll ruin a nice point for no good reason.
Anyway. To scrub paint away, apply a little clean water to the area with the brush (in this case, the stars), scrub it with the tip of your brush, and dab it dry with a paper towel or cloth. Repeat as necessary.
Now, because the initial layers are stains, and only the upper layer isn't, only the upper layer is really going to scrub away at all in this piece. And that's fine with me. It will allow me to soften my edges a little, but not so much that I have to worry about taking away a lot of paint at once.
I also cleaned up the edges on the upper ring.
When you're done all that scrubbing, take a break. You've earned it.
Next I applied a sort of grisaille to the dragon's head. A grisaille is a sort of monochromatic underpainting that sets out the values, though they are usually done in much darker colors than this. I was more concerned with patterning out the light and dark, versus making my dark just as dark as I needed them. I used quinacridone red. It is a fairly cool red, but I knew that it would appear warm enough over the yellow base. It is also another stain.
This is the final piece. There's a lot going on here, so bear with me.
I applied a few washes of warm colors on the various rings, to add some shape and depth to them. I also warmed up a few of the stars, as well, just to move the eye around a little bit.
The dragon's head received the most work. Using mostly warm, staining colors, I used a lot of wet-in-wet painting on the mane. The scales on the head were painted negatively (I painted the darks around the scales, instead of painting the scales). The mouth interior was finished up, using the globe as a light source. The horns and the one ear you can see were blocked in. It looks like a lot of work, but it's only about three layers. I tried to leave bits and pieces of the original yellow shining through, to give the piece a real complimentary color-scheme kick. While I was painting, I made a concentrated effort to make it look like the dragon was emerging from the sky, so kept all the details on the head and decreased them as I continued down the dragon.
And that's it for this month, folks. It's been a pleasure spending time here and sharing what I've learned with you. I hope you all have good luck going forward in your artistic endeavors. Don't stop trying, no matter what; you never know when you're going to have that breakthrough that pushes you forward!
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