Saturday, September 22, 2012

Portrait practice and nature studies

Lately I've been in a mood to practice digital portraits.  I adore seeing the color and value artists achieve with skintones digitally, and I suppose the final push was when I got a bunch of brushes from my friend Sam Hogg, whose digital (and traditional) work is incredible.  She also pointed out something that should have been obvious to a friend and I that we never knew was possible in Photoshop - brush opacity controlled by pen pressure.  I'd long been controlling brush size with pen pressure, but never knew you could control opacity that way as well - I always thought if you wanted your pen to control opacity, you had to use a program such as Corel Painter.

You'll probably think that I've posted these two digital portraits out of order, since the first is much better than the second, but the first portrait is with photo reference, and the second is without.  For my second sketch I wanted to see how much I could 'remember' about facial anatomy and color/shadow without consulting a reference.

Referenced from this photo by Faestock on DeviantART:

Primarily I'm trying to improve my facial anatomy.  My biggest problem spots are noses - even in this sketch, when I finished, I realized the nose was actually too far to the left (her right) and I had to move it over.  Even using a reference, I tend to go 'blind' when it comes to the human face (and body).  This is something I hope to improve upon by practice.

No reference (and it shows!)

Here my weakness with noses is pretty apparent, as well as an all-around unfamiliarity with the human face.  You'd think that being a human myself, I'd be pretty familiar with the features, but it's amazingly difficult to 'remember' all the subtleties to a nose, or the flaps of skin around the eye.  The colors are also weaker compared to the first.

Today, I decided to have lunch on my favorite rock at a nearby wooded area that surrounds the town reservoir.  On my way back, I found a stunning red maple leaf with bright green veins - a leaf that was probably just starting to turn but fell off the tree prematurely.  I took it home with the intention to paint it, and noticed that by the time it was in my house, it had already started to darken and dull!  It's as if autumn leaves have a built-in 'leave me outside' mechanism.

Autumn Leaf Study (watercolor on paper) :

 Even with all its imperfections, I still like this study.  Somehow, the roughness and looseness of nature studies seem more forgiving than human anatomy - perhaps because we, as humans, are more familiar with the appearance of our own species than the world around us.  Or perhaps it's nothing so complex and there's just something beautiful about loose nature studies!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Allegiance - Second Half and Finished Painting

I thought I had posted the second half of this progress, but it appears I didn't!  Better late than never, I suppose!

Building up More Color

This stage focuses more on building up the color on the feathers.  Painting with watercolor involves a lot of layers, so while this may seem like an insignificant step, it's actually the result of a number of layers.  If you try to achieve this depth of color in one layer alone, it's not going to look right.  I used a combination of raw umber, sepia, and Van Dyk brown for the upper wings, with some raw sienna for the reddish parts on the secondaries.  For the legs, I used Payne's gray to start painting in the shadows of the fur.

Ground and Pillar Texture
To give the ground and foreground rock texture, I masked everything else with tracing paper, then used an old toothbrush loaded with sepia, Payne's gray, and white gouache of varying amounts to splatter the ground.  The key here is to aim for irregular splatters - big, little, oblong spots, concentrated with pigment, and also watered down.  The result is a believable texture, and not one that looks like paint splatters.

On both the ground and pillars, I painted in cracks to give the place an old, worn feel.  Using a bit of white gouache, I painted along the edges of the cracks to give even more dimension.  I also added more detail to the banners, adding shadow along the top which is being cast by the foliage of the trees they're attached to.  Otherwise, they look like flat shapes of color.

Finished Painting
 Here I add the finishing touches - another layer of raw umber and yellow ochre to the feathers.  I also used a bit of acrylic to glaze even more red on the secondaries, and to deepen the shadows with a very thin layer of black.  This end stage is where I deepen the shadows and intensify the colors, particularly in the grass.  Noticing the banners were still looking flat, I tried to add some waviness and intensify the color.

The foreground pillar was bothering me with how flat it looked, so I added a shadow to the left, which brings more attention to the subject of the painting - the gryphon.

For the first part of this progress post, please see Allegiance Work in Progress Part 1:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Allegiance - Work in Progress Part 1

First Shadows:

With my preliminary sketches complete, I start by painting in the shadows.  I will go back and refine the shadows, but this is a good way for me to establish the figure.  The light source is bright sun, situated high in the sky, but casting its light on the gryphon's back.  I have to keep in mind how each object will cast shadows, such as the banners on the trees, and the wings of the gryphon.

I use a mixture of dioxazine violet and sepia for the feathers, and a mixture of Payne's gray and sepia for the trees and stones.  The shadows of the columns are a combination of ultramarine violet and raw umber, mixed with a little white gouache.  I also put down a light wash to give the grass some shadow, to avoid flatness when I add color later.

First Washes
For the primary and secondary feathers, I mix ultramarine violet, sepia, and just a touch of ultramarine blue.  At this point, my main focus is to get a smooth was over everything - I'll go back later and work on shadows and details.  The grass is a wet-on-wet combination of green gold, sap green and viridian, with ultramarine violet in the shadows. I went back to give the columns some more definition, with a raw umber/white gouache wash, and more ultramarine violet/raw umber/white gouache for the shadows.

White gouache allows me to keep a color smooth and 'milky'.  This is especially helpful for very low-opacity colors, or colors that granulate.  Certain blues, for example, will look blotchy no matter how careful you are, and that's just the nature of the pigment.  For the background, I'm careful to use just a little pigment with white gouache, to keep the illusion of atmospheric perspective.  This is likely as dark as I will go with the background, with just a few details added later.

Building up Color
I notice the shadows are a bit lacking (particularly on the ground under the gryphon) so I begin to build them up.  It's important to keep an eye on your contrast and how dark you're pushing your pigments.  With watercolor, it's always easier to go from light to dark, instead of trying to lighten after you've gone too dark.  You might think that white gouache, for example, can fix that, but white gouache often fails to get a section as light as if you simply used a light watercolor wash!  White gouache will never be as light as the paper.

The shadows on the ground are mostly a combination of ultramarine violet and sepia, with some Payne's gray (a blueish gray) closer to the gryphon's paws.  Since the sun is so bright, the shadows will be darker and sharper closer to the gryphon's limbs, and fade as they go out.

The next post will look at the rest of the process, and include the final painting.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Allegiance - Sketches

I was looking through an old sketchbook and found a little sketch I'd done while at my table at DragonCon. DragonCon happens to be the highlight of the year for me, because I get to see friends, and because the art show just floods me with inspiration! I also received a lot of feedback about my work, and made it a goal to try more complex poses and compositions.

The sketch just kind of came out. I had an image of a gryphon bowing, and instantly the word 'allegiance' came out with the sketch. Now, several months later, I finally got around to proceeding with doing something with the sketch.

First Sketch:
I scanned the sketch and brought it into Photoshop to figure out the composition.  Eventually I started to put in columns...and banners...and suddenly what was just meant to be a single gryphon turned into scene with perspective!

Perspective Sketch:
Though I cropped it out, I originally extended the canvas far to the left so I could find a vanishing point for the lines.  The image was starting to go in a direction I hadn't planned on, but I went along to see how far I could push the composition.  Finally, I transferred it to my illustration board, and finalized the drawing.

Final Drawing:
I didn't want the gryphon to be indoors - it seems any king or queen a gryphon would pledge his or her allegiance to would be one who doesn't cage themselves inside walls.  Then what would the banners hang on?  Trees, of course.  Wild oaks with twisting, unruly roots.  I found there was a problem with the expanse of negative space in that lower left triangle, so I thought of what should go there.

My thinking process began to mingle with the story that was brewing in my head, eventually pushing the composition to be structured (with the columns and straight edges of the banners), with wildness added.  The winding trees, the woodland designs on the banners...perhaps this is a faean 'hall'?  Even still, a gryphon is a wild creature, not a being of straight lines and carved angles.  The gryphon here is a little out of his element with the columns...bowing down but still with a wary eye.

Color Sketch:
I recently received some feedback from a group of very skilled, professional fantasy artists who pointed out that my skies are consistently too dark.  Reading their comments was like light suddenly flicking on - it was something I couldn't quite figure out on my own until someone pointed it out!  Although in this piece the horizon line is almost off the paper (you can see it just barely in the upper left of the background), I had to keep in mind the background would also need to be of low contrast and low saturation.

I am also trying to use less saturated colors overall, and I plan on painting this mostly with watercolor, and using washes of acrylic to really push the values.  I hope the acrylic will also help me achieve the smoothness I usually lack with watercolor.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Piebald Peacock - Process Part 2

If you haven't seen it, you can find part one of this process post here:

And a note: in this post when I refer to the 'tail', I am referring to the long feathers that grow from a peacock's back, which are often referred to as its 'tail'. For the sake of layman's clarity, I have used the word 'tail', but please note that they are not part of a peacock's true tail!

As I was still working on the tail, the client requested the wings have less white and more natural plumage, as seen in the leftmost color sketch as seen in the previous post. This was no problem, as I hadn't started any of the wing detail, and with the feathers that needed color being white, it was an easy addition.

Adding Detail:

I studied quite a bit of piebald peacock reference to figure out how the white feathers of the tail should look. The feathers behind the white ones would be a mixture of natural and white, so I made the area behind the white feathers the same dark brown as behind the natural feathers. Since I will be painting the details with white acrylic, there is no need to paint in the negative space - the white acrylic will be opaque over the watercolor.

At this point, I started to paint in the detail of the peacock's body and wings, bringing shadows to the primary and secondary feathers, and dark edges to the brilliant back feathers peacocks have. The head and neck are of particular focus, since the brilliant blues and greens are part of what makes these birds' plumage so impressive.

Final Details:

With white acrylic, I painted in the feather shafts and the loose vanes for the white feathers. Overlapping and steering away from a uniform direction for the feathers is important here - this 'wispiness' is part of what makes peacock tail feathers so iconic. I also took a bit of artistic liberty with the white feathers. There is no 'ghost' of the eye or other markings that the naturally-colored tail feathers have, but without it, the feathers looked blank and too bright.

I added even more detail to the back feathers, which is what really made them pop. These feathers are not simply green with black, but they have an 'arrow' of blue surrounded by reddish brown. Little details like this are what makes the difference between the feathers looking 'drawn on', and actually being part of the bird. It may be tempting at times to omit certain details, but having patience and painting them in (such as the barred patterns on the tertial and scapular feathers) really helps bring the bird together. When we look at a peacock, we may be tempted to see them just as their beautiful tails, but there's so much more than just the tail that makes a peacock.

At this point I am ready to put in the background, which will be a simple blending of colors. As you can see, the white of the wings and the neck really don't pop with the current white background.

Finished Painting:

I used washes of raw umber, Van Dyk brown, and sepia, with a little phtalo green here and there to bring the whole composition together, then went over the dried washes with a layer of white gouache. Compared to the previous image, you can see how the white of the wings pops out and unifies the figure. All in all, this painting is about 95% watercolor, with the only acrylic used being the white acrylic for the white feather vanes and shafts of the white tail feathers. It's 8 X 11 inches on hot-press Fabriano watercolor paper.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Piebald Peacock - Process Part 1

My favorite commissions are those involving birds I've never painted before. Not only does it present an opportunity to paint a new subject, but it's also a challenge. I was asked to paint a piebald peacock, which is a peacock with both regular coloration, as well as patches of white plumage.

To start, I did a number of sketches for the client, who said she wanted the wings to be spread. Obviously the tail also needed to be a focal point, which meant the poses needed to be from the back.

Note: For the sake of biological accuracy, I must point out that a peacock's 'tail' feathers are not actually part of the tail at all! They are very, very long feathers that grow from its back. You can see a peacock's true tail, spread in the back while it displays here:


The client chose pose #2, with a partially-spread tail and spread wings. I refined the sketch, and did two color sketches:

Finished Sketch:

Color Sketches:

The client was specific in where she wanted the white - a few patches in the primary feathers, and some of the white feathers with regular 'eyes'. Since the colors were so specific, I only had to do two color sketches to determine where to put the white. As a note - the client requested a 'spontaneous watercolor splash' background, but I used a temporary purplish-pink background simply to show the colors in the color sketch. The final painting will not have that background. #2 was chosen for its symmetry, so I started on the painting.

First Washes:

Since the colors are so tricky in this piece, I put down a very simple wash of the base colors, before starting on any shadow or detail. The tail will be especially challenging because of the nature of peacock feathers - the vane is loose and 'flowy'. To show an example of what I'm talking about, look at this fanned peacock tail. Note how you have bright green feather over the dark shadow of the feathers behind. With watercolor, you can't paint thin, light details on top of dark shadow, so I would have to paint in each thin strand of shadow in individually. With watercolor, it's important to focus on both the positive and negative space and plan what you will do with highlights and shadows.

Note how the brilliant blues of the eyes look pretty dull. Although I used a very brilliant shade of Turquoise (Holbein), it looks fairly drab when surrounded by such low-contrast yellows. But take a look at the one eye where I put in the detail of dark brown, and you can see how that blue starts to pop.

Tail Detail (Part 1):

Here you can see a bit of the progress from right to left. On the right, I've only started painting in the feather vane with Pthalo Green. The 'sword' feathers are Turquoise. On the left, you can see how I went in with a dark mixture of Van Dyk Brown and Payne's Gray to paint in the shadows. With acrylic, this would have been much easier - I would have painted a layer of dark brown, and then simply gone over the brown with the lighter green. With watercolor, it's very difficult to go dark back to light, so if you want to preserve a brilliant and bright color, you must paint your darks around it.

The feathers at the base of the tail have a wash of Turquoise, gradually blending to washes of Sap Green as they approach the ends. I will be using white acrylic to paint in the feather vane of the white tail feathers, mostly to achieve the brilliant white and fine detail of those feathers.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Radiance - Final Progress and Finished Piece

At this point, it's mostly details I'm adding to the painting. These are the steps of adding more and more layers, and slowly pushing colors and value.

Color and Value:

To really bring out the vibrant purples in the falcon's lower wings, I use Quinacridone Rose. This is a vibrant shade of magenta, but when used in light washes, can really make the difference between a cool blue-violet and a warmer red-violet. I used to be very shy of transparent washes, especially if the color I was using as a wash was extremely vibrant. I feared using a little magenta over blue would suddenly turn the whole thing bright pink! However, with transparent mediums, this is not as much a danger, especially when the base layer is so dark.

I did the same in the eagle, using washes of Cadmium Orange. Unlike Quinacridone Rose, Cadmium Orange CAN overpower the layer beneath quite easily. It is a slightly opaque color - not opaque in the acrylic sense where it can be used to completely cover a layer, but opaque in that the pigment can 'cloud' the color beneath. Therefore, I was careful to use little pigment and more water, and simply use more layers to slowly push the feathers towards orange. Once dry, I put a wash of Aureolin Yellow over the entire eagle (except for the bottom-most feathers). Washes like this are important to bring the colors together.

To brighten the blue on the falcon, I alternated between washes of Turquoise and Cerulean Blue. I switched to Colbalt Blue the lower I went, to keep the cyan-blue-violet color flow. At this point, I put more details in the gems and 'gem feathers' on both birds, as well as on the smaller feathers on the heads and neck.


Peregrine falcon plumage is recognizable by the beautiful barred patterns on the feathers. This is where I ran into a bit of a dilemma. If I painted the feather bars, it would ruin the symmetrical effect of falcon and eagle, as golden eagles do not (typically) have barring on the wings. If I left the barring off, I felt the falcon would be lacking in part of its 'plumage identity'. After thinking about it a bit and discussing with a friend and fellow artist, I decided to paint just the hint of bars on the wings, but taking liberties to still keep it 'in sync' with the eagle.

Peregrines also have a lovely effect on the ends of their feathers where the tips are lighter than the rest of the feather. This gives their feathers a lovely layered effect. To achieve this, I used a bit of concentrated white gouache on the longer feathers, and white gel pen on the smaller feathers. Below, you can see how white gel pen can be blended using water. It's almost like white gouache in pen form!

The feathers on the left are pure gel pen, whereas the feathers on the right have been softly blended with a wet brush.

Finished Piece:

Most of the work at this stage was in acrylic washes. One of the advantages of using acrylic is its opacity. This allows me to push the colors even further, and even go lighter in places. An example of this is the Cerulean Blue on the left-most feathers on the falcon. It pushes the value a little lighter, thus creating a brighter blue. To get an even deeper shade of orange, I combined Cadmium Red and Cadmium Yellow acrylic and used a very watered-down wash. One of the risks of using acrylic over watercolor is going too thick, and unlike watercolor, there's no 'lifting'! However, when used in light washes, it's possible to meld the medium with watercolor, without getting an obvious mixed-media effect.

To see the previous two posts on this project, please see Radiance - Work in Progress Part 1 and Part 2

Friday, January 13, 2012

Radiance - Work in Progress Part 2

First Washes:

Using a mixture of Van Dyk Brown and Payne's Gray, I laid a wash for the eagle. For the falcon, I used a wash of Thio Violet (a Quinacridone/Perylene mix) and Payne's Gray. Since everything was so wet, I had to wait before painting anything else (to avoid bleed). The area surrounding the 'gems' were dry, so I put a light wash of Quinacridone Rose for the bottom gems, and Green Gold for the top.

More Washes and Value:

Next I started to work on value. Once the first wash was dry, I layered additional, light washes of Thio Violet+Van Dyk Brown (eagle) and Thio Violet/Payne's Gray (falcon). Using a concentrated mixture of these colors, I went back once the washes were dry and put in the overlap shadows of each feather. Closer to the head of the falcon, I switched to just Payne's gray, since the color shifts from violet-blue at the bottom, to a cyan at the top. I did the same for the eagle, switching to just Van Dyk Brown as I went closer to the head, as the color will shift from shades of red, to yellow.

Color Layers and Value:

With my main shadows in, now I continue with even more layers. Instead of value, however, the purpose of these layers is to build color. Over the falcon, I still use the combination of Thio Violet with Payne's Gray, but with more violet. As I gradually paint the layers, I use a bit of Colbalt Blue, and then a very light mixture of Turquoise Blue and Cerulean Blue as I go up. Using the dark mixture for the shadows, I water it down a bit and start painting in some texture on the feathers.

For the eagle, I build up the color with Thio Violet/Van Dyk Brown, and as I go closer to the head, start using Cadmium Orange, and then Aureolin Yellow. Keep in mind I am painting many, many light layers! It's very hard to go lighter without getting a blotchy mess, so to build up your colors and value, it's important to gradually build up your layers. This results in rich, blended color and value.

Also at this step, I start building up the color in the gems. I may end up using acrylic to really make those gems vibrant. For both birds, I start putting in a bit more feather detail, particularly in the head.

To see the beginning of this project, please see: Radiance - Work in Progress Part 1

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Radiance - Work in Progress Part 1

Currently I'm working on a large (11 X 14 is 'large' for me!) acrylic painting. I'm just about done with building up the value, and when I'm working on a lengthy project, I have to have something else to do on the side. Otherwise I get restless!

Rough Sketch:

To find a 'side project' idea, I ended up going through my sketchbook for inspiration and found a few thumbnail doodles I'd done, one of which was a spiraling bird design. I solidified the design a bit.

Final Drawing:

After resizing the design, I transferred it to a sheet of 7.6 X 12 inch illustration board, and cleaned up the drawing.

One way I'm trying to improve my work this year is to spend more time in the sketch and planning stages. Looking back, I noticed I tried doing this earlier in 2011, but gradually fell back into my bad habits of immediately jumping into painting! I'm especially happy with how this piece is starting out, so I decided to do some value studies, and a color sketch.

Value Study:

I did two value studies. The first had fairly steady light throughout the piece (and was quite dark), and the second (seen above) features light radiating from the orb in the center.

Color Sketch:

For color, I had the idea to use the two birds' natural plumage as a springboard for more 'fantasy' colors. The peregrine is mostly slate blue and the golden eagle is mostly shades of brown, which I used as a basis for a more colorful palette. The colors will not be as saturated in the final painting - this is simply a color sketch for me to see how the colors will work beside one another.

I'm torn as to whether to paint this mostly in watercolor, or to plan on using the watercolor as an underpainting, and then using glazes of acrylic over it. I love watercolor, but there are limitations, specifically when you want opaque effects. I love using white gouache, but I've started falling in love with the effects you get with acrylic glazes. Any suggestions are welcome!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Barred Owl - Omar

After a lengthy gap due to the untimely death of my computer, I am now able to scan and post artwork again! Hurray! The laptop I was using in the meantime had a very poor screen, so it was several months before I could scan any work. Here is a continuation of the previous post, finishing the painting of Omar, the barred owl.

Shadows and Details:

At this point, I really started pushing the shadows, particularly in the left of the image. Unlike with opaque media (acrylic, oils) where you generally work dark to light, with watercolor you work light to dark. Lifting color is possible, but difficult, and you can never go back to the pure white of the paper once the paint is down.

I also put in the detail of the wings with a wash of sepia, and darkened the eyes with a mixture of van dyk brown and payne's gray. At this point, I've only used a handful of colors. If you add too many colors, you tend to get mud, and the painting can fall 'off key'. The colors I've used so far have been sepia, van dyk brown, raw umber, payne's gray, dioxazine violet, ultramarine violet, and naples yellow. White gouache is what I used to pop out some of the feathers in the shadows.

Finished Painting:

A loose wash of sap green, cadmium yellow, and viridian green helps pop the grayish-brown figure out. I used a mixture of van dyk brown and payne's gray for the feather shadows on the wing, with a dab of white gouache for the highlights on the eyes.