Saturday, October 10, 2015

Jackrabbit Step-by-Step

I've had a request to provide a step-by-step of how I've been drawing and painting my animal portraits (you can view some of them here on Flickr), so here we go!

The first step is finding a good photograph.  I enjoy really studying the animal's face, particularly if I like the animals expression, so I need a photograph that will show the face clearly. It's a bonus if there are some interesting light and shadows on the animal.  I have been able to take some nice photographs of animals at our local zoo, but for the purposes of this tutorial I shall use a photo that anyone can access.  One marvelous source of copyright-free photographs is the National Image Library of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Many of their images are in the public domain so they are free to use as artist reference.  The gateway to their collection is here, but note also at the top of the page links to various Flickr pages.

4x6" crop of the USFWS photograph
For my tutorial I chose a photograph of a Blacktail Jackrabbit taken by Scott Rheam of the USFWS.  I've checked in the description and it is indeed an image that is in the Public Domain.  Yay!  I love jackrabbits!  I like the expression on this ones face.  However, I feel compelled to change the composition of the photograph to really focus on the face, so I crop the image using Photoshop Elements.  I know the final sketch in my sketchbook will be 8x12", which is a 2:3 aspect ratio.  I set up the crop parameters to 4" wide by 6" tall in Photoshop so it will end up cropped to my desired
aspect ratio.

Draw a grid on your sketch page in pencil
So now I have a photograph to work from, let's begin!  Though many times I draw totally free-hand, I find I do a better job drawing if I use the grid method of drawing, and since I like my animal faces to look representative, at least structurally, I go ahead and do that.  I draw my grid lines on the paper lightly with pencil.  My sketchbook is 9x12" in size (Strathmore Mixed Media Visual Journal), so I first draw a line using a t-square about 1/4" or so from the holes made for the spiral binding.  I then measure and draw a line 8" from that.  Now I make little tick marks at 2", 4", and 6" along the short (8") side, and at 3", 6", and 9" along the long (12") side.  Then using my t-square I draw the lines at the tick marks.  This divides my sketching area into a 4x4 grid.

Reference photo on Android tablet
Now I turn to the wonders of today's technology.  My husband got me a Nexus 7 tablet for my birthday a couple years ago and I love it!  It's a wonderful way to look at reference photographs without using any printer ink!  And there are Andoid apps available that are helpful to artists.  Here I am using the free app called Grid Drawing Assistant, which allows me to overlay a grid (of my specification) onto any photograph.

Pencil rough sketch
I could at this point go right in with ink, but I instead cautiously block out the basic shapes in pencil, always noticing where the lines, features, and shapes in the photograph are relative to the grid lines in the app and on my paper.  I am using my Ohto Comforcil 2.0mm lead holder, with 2B lead in it, which is easily erasable with a kneaded erasure.

Inking with a Kuretake Brush Pen
When I am satisfied with the rough sketch, I start drawing in ink.  For many years I've been content with fine ink lines provided by my Lamy Safari EF fountain pen (filled with Platinum Carbon Black ink, which is waterproof), or other fine-tipped technical or fountain pens.  But lately I've been exploring the brush pen and I am really enjoying the expressive lines you can achieve with those.  You can get a range of line widths, from super fine to very bold, depending on how you handle the pen.  The pen I am using is a recently-acquired Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Brush Pen.  It comes with ink that is NOT waterproof, so I filled a Platinum Converter I had with Platinum Carbon Black ink instead.  When I am finished and it has had time to dry, I used my kneaded erasure to erase the rough pencil sketch and the interior grid lines, keeping the two vertical side lines (though I think this photo was taken before I did the erasing!):
Inking with Brush Pen Complete
Yellow and Rose Underpainting
There is a highlight in the eye of the rabbit, so for convenience I put a dab of masking fluid where the hightlight should go.

Now starts the next phase, watercolor painting!  Since I am working in my studio (rather than on site) and I have plenty of time, I go ahead and do an underpainting first.  I learned this technique from artist Jonathan Frank and I have really been enjoying the results.  Basically, I use a warm yellow (Daniel Smith New Gamboge was my favorite until they discontinued pigment PY153 so I am turning to Da Vinci Hansa Yellow Deep PY65) and a rose (Quinacridone Rose PV19).  I "map" the two colors according to areas of light and shadow as dictated by the values in the photograph, letting them mingle as they will.  I do this no matter what the final local colors will be.

While this is drying I need to figure out what my palette will be for this guy.  What will be the pigments I use?  Here is where I feel the most out of my comfort zone, because I like to experiment and try new things and I usually don't feel like I know what I'm doing.  My vision for my art is to make things colorful and interesting, and harmonious.  I study other people's art that I really like and try to figure out what palette they are using for that particular piece of art.  One of my favorite animal portrait artists is Amy Ringholz, and I've been studying her works to try to look at options for my color palette (she is an oil painter, but I think it can translate to watercolor okay).  On one wolf painting of hers I was inspired to try out what I discerned to be a similar color palette in my color journal:

Color palette inspired by Amy Ringholz

So the paints in this palette are:  New Gamboge (or Hansa Yellow Deep), Quinacridone Rose, Quinacridone Violet, DS Monte Amiata Sienna, Phthalo Blue Red Shade, and Cobalt Teal Blue.  I explore some mixtures, but for this rabbit I decide to go for general warm tones of siennas and neutralized greens.  And of course purples using Phthalo Blue and Rose or Violet.

I use those purples to further map the shadows on the face, stroking in color and softening them with a separate damp brush.  I am using a couple of size 12 brushes:

Purples to map the shadows
I used a greenish yellow for the iris of the eye.  When that dried, it was time to finally suck it up and work on the local color using the siennas and greens I was telling you about.  It's kind of hard to do because I have to imagine them, as they are not easily seen in the photograph itself.  But I take a deep breath and dive in, with a flurry of intuitive strokes, mixing, and softening the strokes with a clean brush.  I also paint the pupil of the eye, cheating to get a nice black by using Payne's gray mixed with Quinacridone Violet.  This is the result of putting in the local color:

Local color painted

Whew, that wasn't so bad!  So I take another relaxing calming breath now that that's over and think about the background.  My rabbit is generally light, and I tend to love dark backgrounds, so I decided on a dark blue-toned background.  I  try to keep within the color palette that I'm already using.  Phthalo blue is a powerful pigment and a good base for a background here.  I neutralize it by mixing in the Quinacridone Violet, Quinacridone Rose, and Hansa Yellow Deep.  While the wash is still damp I spritz it with rubbing alcohol to get some texture.

First layer of background

I think I'm almost done!  I decide the background needs more intensity, so after it dries I glaze a layer of Phthalo Blue onto the background.  I remove the masking fluid from the eye highlight, date the sketch, and I am done!  The final sketch is at the top of this tutorial.

I hope this step-by-step tutorial was helpful to you!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Wax Resist on Yupo Paper

I want to share with you a really fun technique for watercolor painting on Yupo paper using a wax resist.  See those wonderful white lines in this painting of a ukulele?  That is from wax!  How did I get them?  It's really very easy!  Here is what you need:

  • Yupo paper
  • wax paper for baking
  • fine ball-point pen
  • a drawing or printed copy of a photograph that you want to paint, at the size you want your painting to be.
The process is simple:

  1. Lay down your drawing (or printed copy of a photograph) on top of your Yupo paper.
  2. Tape the drawing to the Yupo paper, hinge-style, on the top or one side.  You don't want the drawing to slip!
  3. Slip in a piece of the wax paper (wax side down, if one-sided) between the drawing and the Yupo paper.
  4. Use the fine point ballpoint pen to draw over the lines of your drawing, thereby transferring wax onto the Yupo paper.
  5. Remove the drawing and the wax paper and paint!
It might be difficult to see your drawing, except for the dents the pressure of your ballpoint pen put into the Yupo paper, but part of the fun of this method is to see the drawing revealed as you brush on your paint.  Try it, it's fun!

Oh, and how did I get that texture in the washes?  That is easy too!  Just fill a little spray bottle with rubbing alcohol and lightly spritz onto your wash while it is still wet.  It creates such cool textures!

[Edited 1.23.2015 to add:]

That red ukulele painting was so fun to do, I did a series of them!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Colorful Greens

Birds of Paradise, 8x10" ink and watercolor on Fabriano HP
As I prepared to paint these birds of paradise, I realized that I should try to make the greens more colorful than I usually do.  I had been reading Penny Soto's book Painting Glowing Colors in Watercolor in which she demonstrates a technique for underpainting then overpainting your subjects.  While I am familiar with underpainting, I am just now realizing how fun it is to make them really colorful!

Colorful underpainting complete
After drawing in the shapes of the leaves and flowers, I had some fun with underpainting the leaves.  I actually did two layers of underpainting.  The first layer was a very light wash of greenish yellow (New Gamboge + Manganese Blue Nova), with touches of Organic Vermillion, Quinacridone Rose, and Phthalo Blue RS mixed in to my wet washes.  This first layer was meant to show through for the light stems and veins of the leaves.  The second layer of underpainting was really fun, where I deepened the colors on the parts of the leaves between the veins.  Here I used a base of Winsor Violet and added Phthalo Blue for the deeper areas and Quinacridone Rose for the lighter areas (blending into clear water).

The photo shown with the underpainting complete also includes a dark background mix of all above colors.

Once the underpainting was complete, I worked on the colors in the flowers (mostly New Gamboge with some Organic Vermilllion), then the overpainting on the leaves.  For the leaf overpainting I mixed up a green from New Gamboge and Phthalo blue and lightly washed that over the leaf shapes.  The lighter areas got either mostly water or mostly New Gamboge, where the deeper areas got a higher concentration of the blue.

Once I was satisfied with the painting, I used my rapidograph pen to make the ink lines.

Photo credit for the birds of paradise goes to Nicke Reeves Payne.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Fun with my new Chacos

I'm a big fan of Chacos, I have been wearing them for 10 years. But I'm not the kind of fan that has to have 20 pairs of my favorite shoe--no just one pair is fine with me.

Well my favorite pair recently died on me, after nursing them along for 10 years with one resole and one re-webbing.  So I recently got new ones, and wanted to "commemorate" them with a painting.

I'm not that big into Still Life as an artist, but for Chacos I will make an exception.

 I set up some DIY lighting using a tripod, metal clamp-on light, and a plastic white table.
After drawing the outlines of the Chacos onto an 8x10" sheet of Arches 140lb cold press watercolor paper with pencil, I started painting.  It seems to me that getting strong light on your subject and capturing the value range is pretty important.  So I started by doing a purple under-painting (using Quinacridone Rose and Ultramarine) for the values.  I started exploring the blacks here also by adding New Gamboge to my mix.

When the under-painting and first blacks were dry, including a wet-into-wet of the three colors for the gray of the sole, I worked on the straps.  For them I used mixes of Manganese Blue Nova, Phthalo Green Blue Shade, and Ultramarine.

For the final touch I mixed up some wet puddles of the teal and the purple to load a brush with and create some splats.  Blowing through a straw at the resulting splat puddles created the radial lines.  A fun little commemoration for my beloved new Chacos.  May they last me another 10 years!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Finding the Sketchbook for Me, Finding Myself

Writing down my thoughts has come naturally to me all of my life.  I have been keeping a written diary/journal pretty much continuously since I was a girl, since I started my very first diary in 1975.  I still have that diary from 1975, by the way.  I have all of my diaries and journals though the years, because keeping a diary or journal has always been precious to me.  I learn about myself when I write out my thoughts and feelings, I work to solve my problems and issues, I take notes about what is happening in my life that I can refer to later if I forget.

Drawing and illustrating, on the other hand, is something I recently developed a habit of and I still feel like I am still in training for.  If you've been following me in this blog, you've seen me try my first sketchbook, and several thereafter, of all different types, makes, and models.  It taking me awhile to learn about this new part of myself and what works for me.  It feels like I've tried them all.

But I may have settled on a system that leaves me feeling content, a system that is working for me now.
You see, I've have recently learned about myself that I cannot keep an illustrated journal without wanting to write a lot of stuff right beside it.  I just can't let go of my love of writing.  I tried to not write so much, especially in sketchbooks that contained expensive paper meant for watercolor painting.  I tried keeping separate books, one I would sketch and paint in and one I would write in, but I didn't really like working in separate books, either.  It got too confusing having to decide what to put where, or where I put what.

I found that when I put pretty fabric over the cover of the Canson Universal Sketch book (my only real gripe about this particular sketchbook), I have found the perfect place for me to feel free to write AND sketch AND paint to journal my life.  The books are so cheap (less than $4 at Dick Blick for 100 sheets per 5.5x8.5" book) that I feel like I can put anything in them without "wasting" paper.  The paper is smooth with just a hint of tooth, and surprisingly strong for 65 lb paper.  When I draw or write in ink, it doesn't bleed or even show through to the other side.  And to my delight, it takes a layer or two of watercolor paints with only the slightest puckering!  When I paint on it, it's almost like painting on hot press paper, which I am really growing fond of.  I kind of like the splotchy effect I get with it!

The paper does get weakened if I work it too much with the brush though!  But this is a small drawback, especially since I have actual watercolor paper I can use whenever I want to make a "real" watercolor sketch or painting (which is something I do also pretty much every day).

I love that I can feel free to use it for a quick ink-only cactus and rock study outside, or to draw some thumbnail drawings to see if they could work design-wise in a future painting.  It's a place I can explore things on a whim, and write about the experience of doing it.

And it's a place where if I want to study value and not necessarily color, I can do that too!

What do I call this wonderful book where I feel free to put anything?  There are so many names people use for it:  sketchbook, artist's journal, illustrated journal, junk journal, or just--journal.

Whatever you want to call it, I am feeling happy right now that I have found a kind of book that I can feel free to do most anything in, and treasure later, in spite of the book itself being cheap, or maybe because of it...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Compact Sketch Kit

I thought I'd share with you a compact kit I took with me on a recent 3-week trip that served me well, and I will take the same kit on our upcoming 16-day Grand Canyon river trip!
The bag is an Eagle Creek Pack-It Quarter Cube, and has a nice little carrying handle and a mesh cover. In the bottom I fit pens (Platinum Carbon Desk Pen and a Uniball Vision Micro), a mechanical pencil, 2 water brushes (fine and large), travel brushes (daVinci 1573 10 and 5), mini mister, pocket knife, reading glasses, stencil (bristle) brush for spatter, small piece of straw, 1/2 contact lens case holding a piece of kneaded erasure, and two small clips. I have a homemade palette from a Fisherman's Friend cough drop tin. Paper is a few sheets of 4x6" watercolor paper (in this case, Fabriano SP). I keep several more sheets of paper in a separate bag to refill this kit as needed. I have a piece of non-corrugated cardboard as a paper support, lined with contact paper and edged with artist tape. I clip a sheet of paper to the support when I sketch. I made a viewfinder from a piece of 4x6" watercolor paper to help me frame my compositions (I taped embroidery floss for the cross-hairs). The paper, support, and viewfinder are stuffed into an empty Canson watercolor 4x6" block. A Sea-to-Summit X-shot is used as a tiny collapsible water container. I usually I have a water bottle with me. Oh, and let's not forget a piece of Viva paper towel!
For those who are interested in knowing the paints in my palette, they are (starting at upper left): DS Hansa Yellow Medium, DS New Gamboge, DS Organic Vermillion, DS Q. Rose, DS Q. Violet, HB Manganese Blue Nova, DS Cobalt, DS French Ultramarine, DS Phthalo Blue GS, DS Phthalo Green BS, DS Yellow Ochre, DS Q. Burnt Orange, DS Burnt Sienna, WN Winsor Violet.
Here are some sketches I made during that 3-week road and river trip this May through California and Oregon:  
Agate Beach just south of Crescent City, CA

Rafts awaiting rigging along the Rogue River, Oregon

Along the Rogue River, Oregon

Sprekles Temple of Music, San Francisco, CA

Pacific Grove, CA

Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Saturday, March 15, 2014

What do you see in your blobs?

One of the artists I admire and whose blog I've been following for some time is Karen Blados.  I was first drawn years ago to her precisely-drawn sketchbook pages, but in recent months I've noticed an evolution in her art.  Now I am seeing her be a lot more free with the paint, and it looks wonderful!  One particular post ("Kind of Controlled Chaos") gave me inspiration to try this for myself.  You start with paint blobs on your paper, then you construct a drawing in ink that is perhaps suggested and guided by the paint blobs themselves.  Then you further develop the painting with more paint and ink, all using your imagination as your guide (with a healthy dose of understanding where form shadows should go!).

I started with some paint blobs myself, using Permanent Rose and Opera Rose with touches of violet and yellow:

Though I would have loved to draw in cone flowers like Karen did in her work (I just love cone flowers!), that isn't what I saw in my blobs.  Instead I saw a different kind of flowers suggested by the blobs (I doubt these are real flowers!):

It was difficult for me to do this drawing based only on the blobs, because I am so used to using a live or photo reference.  But once that was done, then came the relatively easy part of deepening the colors and values on the flowers (and adding a leaf), then playing with a spatter for background:

This was freeing to do, though a bit of a stretch for me!  But fun because I could really amp up the color more than I might of if I had been using a real photo reference.  I recommend trying it!  What do you see in your blobs?