Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Featherdancer" - Acrylic Painting Process

Lately I've participated in a couple of the challenges, partially as a way to stretch my creative concept character challenges, and also because the challenges have had to do with Pokemon, and gryphons, both of which I couldn't turn down!

For the latest challenge, titled "Glamorous Griffin", the challenge was to create the fanciest, most handsome, elaborate gryphon.  The goal was to create a gryphon of any bird/mammal combination, with the goal of having the flashiest, most flamboyant plumage.  As I like to explore subjects/techniques I haven't done before with these Creature of the Week challenges, I decided to go with a bird I rarely draw.  Obviously raptors would be out of the question, and typical 'glamorous' birds such as parrots, peacocks and birds of paradise seemed to obvious.  Well then, what better, under-appreciated beautiful bird should I choose?


Pigeons, of course!  These 'rats with wings' are often overlooked as city vermin, incorrectly feared for being dirty and full of disease.  In truth, they are no dirtier or diseased than other wild animals, but people seem to hate them because of the mess they leave on cars and sidewalks.  However, if one bothers to take a closer look, their necks shimmer with a variety of greens and purples, and their plumage often features soft lavenders and shades of blue-gray.

Using their subtle colors with touches of iridescence, I decided to enhance these colors and create a marvelous male in breeding plumage.

Color Sketch

I cleaned up the sketch and did a quick color sketch to establish plumage.  I wanted to keep the overall grayed lavender color scheme, but with flashes of saturated iridescent colors to really make it pop.  Though I usually do these challenges digitally, I decided to try this one in acrylic.

Background Wash and Sketch Transfer

I decided to use a piece of 9X12 inch acid-free matboard to paint on, both for the light-green color and for the texture.  With an old, big bristle brush, I mixed a gray-green mixture of White, Black, Sap Green and a little Yellow Ochre, and painted a rough layer.  Once dry, I went back with the same gray-green mixture, also mixing in some Raw Umber and Burnt Sienna.  I didn't want the background to be too saturated, so I made sure to keep adding the gray-green.  When the background was completely dry, I transferred my finished sketch.  To give reason to his dance, I decided to add a bouquet of feathers that would float around him as he twirls.

Underpainting and Values

Still using grayed tones, I began loosely painting in colors.  For the wings, I used a grayed mixture of Dioxazine Violet, and for the blues on the wings a gray mixture of Pthalo Blue.  I aimed to keep my initial palette fairly limited, as I have a bad habit of getting too complex with my colors instead of focusing on how to make a few work well.

Building Value

Acrylics have the opposite problem of watercolors - instead of getting lighter as they dry, they get darker.  I kept having to go back and add more and more white to areas I thought were light enough, as they got darker once dry.  Still using only Dioxazine Violet, Pthalo Blue, and Black and White, I worked on pushing the values (with a little Pthalo Green for the neck). I tend to blend on the surface of the painting, so I often will use a 'dirty' brush to blend.  At this point, I decided I would keep the far wing less contrasted to establish depth.

More Value and Building up Color

 By pushing saturation only in certain areas, you create a more vibrant composition, whereas if everything was bright and vibrant, it wouldn't work as well.  Overall I am pushing the colors only a little, save for highlighted areas.  The tail plume, for example, I want very saturated so I used pure Pthalo Blue closest to the tip, then Dioxazine Violet, Permanent Rose, and finally Alizarin Crimson closest to the base all blended on the surface.  While still wet, I went in with white to get that iridescent blue sheen on the end of the tail tuft.

At this point, I had built up my values to the point where I really only needed to use thin glazes to add color.  Cadmium Yellow, for example, is quite translucent but very bright, so just a little over the primary feathers was enough to saturate them.  I built up the edges of the primary feathers with Pthalo Blue mixed with a little black, then used light layers of Permanent Rose to build up the purple.  At this point, I am building up the last of the value while adding color, as certain pigments are more opaque than others, and need to be mixed with white or black.

Finished Painting

Mixing a bit more of my original gray-green mixture, I used black and Dioxazine Violet for the shadow under the gryphon, blending roughly into the background for texture.  I added a few splashes of Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Raw Umber to add just a little color to the background, still keeping it mostly gray, and lightened the upper left with a bit of white.  The important part here is to keep the focus and vibrancy on the gryphon - if there's too much color in the background, it will complete with your subject!
The iridescent spots were actually not challenging at all to paint.  I painted the spots with Pthalo Blue mixed with black, let dry completely, then painted over with pure Pthalo Blue.  While still wet, I took a small brush loaded with white and smeared the wet blue, creating a subtle 'shine'.  I went back with a glaze of Green Gold to add a little extra color, and used a very thin layer of Green Gold for the green on the neck.  For the blue, I used a very thin layer of Pthalo Blue, and for the purple, just a hint of Alizarin Crimson mixed with Permanent Rose.  Because I had built the value up before, the glazes had a good foundation and didn't need any additional work to create the illusion of iridescence.
The floating feathers are a mixture of the colors I had already been using.  Here's a complete list of the colors that went into this painting:

Alizarin Crimson
Permanent Rose
Cadmium Yellow
Yellow Ochre
Sap Green
Green Gold
Pthalo Green
Pthalo Blue
Dioxazine Violet
Burnt Sienna
Raw Umber
Mars Black
Titanium White

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sneak Peeks at my Upcoming Book: Winged Fantasy!

Though I've been a bit quiet here on Featherseeds, I've announced my upcoming book on my other art sites.  My first art instruction book, titled Winged Fantasy: Draw and Paint Magical and Mythical Creatures from IMPACT Books, will be available in bookstores, art stores and craft stores nationwide in July, as well as for order online.

My book features 144 pages full of color and black and white illustrations, as well as step-by-step instruction on how to paint winged fantasy creatures such as dragons, gryphons, pegasi, and other unusual winged beasts!  Here are a few sample pages to give you an idea of what's inside:

I wrote this book for all artists, from beginners to intermediate and beyond.  Often I'm asked for tips on how to paint feathers, and this book is chock full of that, as well as avian and bat (dragon/wyvern) wing anatomy.

Birds birds birds!

Though there are plenty of avians in this book, there's only one 'bird' chapter - I have entire chapters reserved for dragons, equines, and other winged animals.  I also put in a few 'easter eggs' in this book.  The gray cat in the illustration above, for example, was designed after my wonderful kitty named "Stolen Cat", who sadly passed away in October of 2013.

Winged Fantasy doesn't just focus on the typical design of standard creatures.  Inside you will find zebra pegasi, songbird phoenixes, and alligator-inspired dragons.  I explain how to create your own strange and wonderful creatures, while giving tips and tricks on how to use watercolor.

Any questions?  Comments?  Let me know!  There will also be bonus content online, including an extra step-by-step and possibly a video tutorial.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Smaug - Sketches and Studies

Lately I have been working on larger canvases and in acrylic - quite a change from my preference of painting small and with watercolor.  After returning from IlluxCon in September, I have decided to try and focus on the basics - better composition, greater value, and a better handle on color.  I also decided to strengthen my portfolio with non-avians, since I love to paint fantasy creatures of all types, but you wouldn't know it from my bird-centric portfolio!

I came across the Harper Collins Smaug Art Competition a month ago and decided it would be a good exercise to add a dragon to my portfolio.  Though I read The Hobbit back in middle school, I wanted the vision of Smaug to be fresh in my mind, so I re-read it before beginning my sketches.

Thumbnail Sketch:
To me, Smaug was his most terrifying when laying on his treasure, just rising to speak with the 'thief' he couldn't see.  Not only massive and powerful, but cunning as well - even the strongest and most clever could fall prey to his 'dragon-spell' if he spoke to them for too long.  I wanted to show him just rising, peering in the direction where he knew Bilbo to be hiding, but even his sharp eyes could not spot the invisible hobbit.

Second Sketch:
There were a few things in the thumbnail sketch I wanted to change, such as the size and placement of Smaug's head, and the position of his forelegs. I scanned the thumbnail sketch in and repositioned and resized things in Photoshop, then printed it out and refined the sketch with pen.  Here I began adding the details, such as a 'crown' of spines and horns.

 Since I will be painting this on a piece of gessoed Masonite, I transfered the final sketch onto the 11X14 primed board with red transfer paper, since the dragon will be mostly red and gold.

Value Study:

 In Photoshop, I painted a grayscale value study over the final sketch to figure out where my shadows and highlights would be.  I wanted the main light source to be the reflective gold he is laying on.  In the book, it seemed to me that there was very little light in the great hall where the gold was, save for from the gold itself.  Obviously gold does not emit its own light, but does reflect light very nicely.  Here, for the sake of the illustration, I made the gold glow more than it would, and made it the main source of light.  There is also a bit of light coming from Smaug's fiery throat, and from his glowing eyes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sizing Matters - Why Paper Manufacturers Changing Watercolor Sizing is a Bad Move

About two years ago, I bought a watercolor sketchbook for field sketches.  I discovered I loved how the paper took my paint, so I decided to buy a pad of the paper it was made from - this paper was Canson Montval Watercolor Paper.  Now, any watercolor artist will tell you that the surface you paint on affects everything.  Illustration board takes paint differently than cold-press watercolor paper, for example, and hot-press takes it differently than rough-press.  Watercolor paper surfaces are treated, and this treatment is known as 'sizing'.  The term 'sizing' has nothing to do with the dimensions of the paper, but rather how it absorbs and accepts paint.  Regular sizing is essential for successful painting, and a poorly-sized paper can destroy a painting.

For the past year, I have been painting with this paper, and recently (after going through the rest of my 15X20 pad during a massive project), purchased another pad.  The pad was identical in markings, appearance and labeling, so naturally I assumed it was the same exact paper.  I transferred my drawing to the paper, and after a few washes discovered it was not acting anything like my beloved Montval paper from before.  In fact, previous washes were coming up.  The surface was closer to a rough-press than a cold-press.  Washes seemed blotchy and rough, and the colors were not blending as they used to.  I was distraught!  I had already started three paintings with this paper and was on a tight deadline - I could not restart them.  I tried to work with the paper as best I could, but the quality was lacking.

The purpose of this post isn't to call out a particular paper manufacturer (though I am quite steamed at this company for selling me what turned out to be, essentially, a bait-and-switch in terms of quality).  It is to ask - or rather plead - with watercolor paper manufacturers to not switch their sizing without warning the consumers.  In what way could they do this?  A simple change in labeling on the cover of the pad or block of paper would suffice.  Something as simple as "new sizing from our 2012 paper" would help artists immensely.  We would know to test the paper first before leaping right into extensive projects that are a terrible waste of time and money if the paper ends up not performing as expected.  For watercolor artists, we rely on our paper to act the same, each time, every time.  We purchase specific paper because we know exactly how our techniques will meld with that paper.  When the paper doesn't perform as expected, that hurts the artist.

Here is a simple test I did to show how three different watercolor papers performed with what I call the "tree bark test".  Each paper is labeled - I used the new pad of Canson Montval Paper (140 lbs, cold-press), a pad of 'student grade' Canson XL Pad Watercolor Paper (140 lbs, cold-press), and Fabriano Artistico Watercolor Paper (140 lbs, hot-press).

Step 1:

The first step is using a concentrated mixture of Indigo and Sepia watercolor with a #2 round to paint in bark details.  The paint is thick in places, so I of course expect a little lifting and bleeding when I put the next layer down.  I let this layer dry completely before the next step

Step 2:

With a #6 round and a light wash of Raw Umber and Colbalt Blue, I painted over each branch.  Here is where you can see the catastrophic failure of the Montval paper.  Although the first layer was completely dry, a simple, gentle wash brought up most of the paint beneath, creating a muddy, dark mess.  Even the 'student grade' Canson XL paper performs better, and the Fabriano performs best with minimal bleeding.

This is not an isolated problem.  Other watercolor artists have experienced sudden changes in watercolor paper sizing, resulting in problems with their paintings.  Of course art supply companies should be free to change their product to create improved products for their customers, but it seems these sizing changes are resulting in a decrease of quality of the paper.  This is unacceptable, and for those of us who make a living by painting, we need to have a steady, quality product.  We cannot spend time and money guessing which paper will work and which will result in a muddy, awful mess.

In closing, I have two requests for watercolor paper manufacturers.  The first is this: if you must change the sizing on your papers, please make it known on your labeling so your customers can be prepared and test the paper appropriately.  Otherwise, you are harming your consumers and we will leave your product for a different one.  The second request is not to change the sizing in your paper unless it has been thoroughly tested as a positive change.  If it is becoming too costly to produce paper with the original quality, it is better to raise the price of your paper than to lower the quality.  I, and many artists, would much rather pay more for the same quality paper we have come to rely on, than to pay the same as before for an unusuable product.

And this product is, in a word, unusuable.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Balance - Watercolor Process

I was commissioned to create a painting featuring a great blue heron and a great egret, with the same twisting, intertwined feel as "Radiance".  With the long, twisting necks of the heron and egret, I had a lot of fun coming up with ideas for composition.  Finally, we settled on the below design.

Final Drawing:
As with Radiance, I drew the first bird, and then mirrored it upside down in Photoshop.  This way, I was able to redraw the image so both birds 'fit' into one another.  However, I left the water on the top and the bottom slightly different, since water flows unstructured and wild.

 First Washes:
With the great egret, I had to be very careful not to go too dark.  Being a white bird, I needed to chose my shadow colors carefully, and apply them in multiple, light layers.  I created a color sketch that I was working off of, and to match the style of the edges of the piece being darker than the center, decided to make the primary and secondary feathers of the egret light brown instead of white.  I also made the crest of the heron a vibrant blue instead of slate gray.  The beaks are a light wash of cadmium yellow.

For the heron, I started with a very light wash of raw umber mixed with naples yellow for the inner wings, with a wash of caput mortuum (a reddish brown) mixed with dioxazine violet.  For the first washes for the water I used washes of ultramarine blue going to pthalo blue, and then to turquoise.  I made sure not to mix them too much, since ultramarine is more of a 'true' blue, whereas pthalo blue is more cyan, and turquoise is a blue-green.  Mixing these blues all together would create a bit of a muddy blue, taking away the vibrancy I wanted to achieve.

Here I began putting in the details of the feathers.  For the primaries and secondaries of the heron, I used a more concentrated mixture of caput mortuum/dioxazine violet, and for the egret I used sepia.  In order to achieve the slight gradient of light to dark in the primaries/secondaries, I carefully wet the paper, then used a flat brush to gently brush a more concentrated layer of the original pigment, dark at the ends of the feathers, carefully lightening until the brush had only water at the base of the feathers.

For the heron, I am using a variety of colors, ranging from raw umber, caput mortuum, sepia and burnt sienna.  The egret was a bit trickier to shade, since even a very light wash could go too dark very quickly.  Most of what I used to shade the white of the egret was naples yellow with a very small amount of ultramarine violet.  The blue of the tiny bits of background is a wash of indigo.

 Feather DetailsL
In this step I painted several layers of feathers.  As with all my watercolor paintings, sometimes it takes me 5 or 6 layers - painting, letting dry, painting, letting dry - until I build up the details enough.  If you go too dark too fast, you risk losing the subtle detail of the feathers.  Caput mortuum is a wonderful color for this heron, since it is a reddish brown with just a hint of purple.  To really bring out the color on its neck, I laid a few washes of rose madder down.  The inner-wing feather detail on the egret is more layers of naples yellow with just a touch of raw umber.  To get a 'milky' appearance that blends well, I mixed it with a little white gouache in the shadows.

For the details of the beak, I used cadmium orange, and some indigo for the darker spots.

 Water Details and Final Feather Details:
Unlike the birds, I did not use a lot of washes for the water.  As you can see in the previous steps, I only laid down one wash until this point.  For the outermost bits of water, I concentrated using a true blue (ultramarine) and used a light wash of quiacridone rose to push it towards purple.  Closer in, I used turquoise and pthalo blue, and for the greenish water I used turquoise for the darker areas and very light washes of green gold.  As with my first wash, I was careful not to cover the white highlights.  For very very fine white spots and lines, I used a white gel pen.

I continued to use the same colors as before to build up the feather detail on the birds: for the heron, caput mortuum, dioxazine violet, burnt sienna and raw umber, and for the egret, naples yellow, raw umber, ultramarine violet, and sepia.

Reflected Blue Light - Final Piece:
The lighter highlights on the primaries/secondaries is just a little white gouache.  I also took a very light wash of white acrylic to soften the shadows on the egret.  I also added reflected blue from the water on the birds.

Adding reflected blue from the water is what makes this piece complete.  You may have been thinking "the water kind of clashes with everything else" when seeing the previous progress shots, because the only blue in the painting was in the water, the heron's crest and the jewels, and it was a very vibrant blue.  At the final stage I did two things - I added very light washes of pthalo blue (the dominant blue in the water) to the birds in places where the blue would 'reflect' off of them, and I added just a tiny bit of van dyk brown (a dark reddish brown) to the deepest shadows of the water.  By adding a dark brown to the blue, it connected the blue in a subtle way with the rest of the piece.  And by adding a blue wash to the rest of the piece, it connected the birds with the water, while still letting them keep their original colors.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Akhraiiu - Gryphon Portrait Process

I'm trying to work more in acrylic, so for the upcoming Dragon Con Art Show, I planned on having a number of acrylic pieces.  Below are three process shots of an 8X10 inch acrylic on board painting of a gryphon portrait.

Basic values in gray, with a greenish gray background.  At this point I am to find the light and shadow.

Basic Details:
Details, still in grays.  I start to tighten the detail on the feathers and face.

Here I start putting in glazes of color, going thicker where I want more vibrant color.  Since I already have my shadows established, I can simply concentrate on color.  I also deepen the shadows that went dull with the glazes with more color, for example adding a bit of green and black with the burnt sienna to make a deep, rich shadow for the feathers.  I'm only using a few colors at this point - burnt sienna and green gold for the feathers, with black and white. 

Final Details:
I add a bit of green and raw umber to the background to really make the reds of the gryphon pop.  To make the palette even more interesting, I add just a touch of permanent rose and dioxazine purple to the rearmost feathers.  All in all the colors I used were:

Burnt Sienna
Hooker's Green
Green Gold
Burnt Ochre
Permanent Rose
Dioxazine Purple
Raw Umber
Mars Black
Titanium White
Unbleached Titanium (for some areas where I wanted a less stark white)
Phthalocyanine Green (for the jewel details)
Colbalt Blue (just a touch for the cool gray of the beak)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Signal - Sketches

With summer conventions coming up, I'm always inspired by the huge paintings I see in the art shows.  It reminds me that I want to work bigger, instead of squishing all the detail into an 8X10 or 9X12 painting!  I've wanted to paint another large (11X14 for me is large!) acrylic painting for a while, featuring gryphons, so after doing some sketches, I came up with the idea of a gryphon holding a flag as a signal for other gryphons to fly into battle.

Final Sketch:

I am trying to pay closer attention to composition lately.  As I learned long ago, the eye automatically tends to travel from top left to bottom right, so you want to catch the viewer's eye and move it around the composition while breaking that straight 'dive' to the bottom right.  I aimed to create movement from the gryphon in the foreground, to the middleground gryphon, all the way to the group in the background.

For colors, I didn't want to go with the same plain blue sky.  I looked through some photos I took of sunset skies and found some inspiration in the yellows, oranges and deep purples there.  It also gives a yellow glow for the highlights, with cooler blues for the shadows.

Color Sketch:
I may add another brown/red gryphon down below just above the trees so there isn't a large expanse of 'dead' space.  It will also allow me to bring some of the red of the flag and jewels to more of the composition.