As part of my efforts to not just write and paint full time, but to actually get my work out in front of people, visible to the world, and hopefully engage people’s interest, I am going to try to document my “process”… Whatever that means. In this case, it means that I have taken a series of photographs of the painting I created this week, ‘audacity of hope’, showing each step along the way from basic background to completed painting.
You may have seen the first image, which I posted Monday night, which is pretty basic. I painted a simple, nearly cartoonish background. Blue sky, green hills, using the style I’ve been developing for creating interesting, dynamic backgrounds. This, in itself, is pretty straightforward: big, soft brush, lots of water, usually just one color and white – though sometimes I’ve used multiple colors, and often I’ll pre-create the hue I want from multiple inputs – this time I wanted a pretty basic palette, so I used the pure blue and green that Utrecht gave me. That was actually all I did with the painting on Monday.
Tuesday, it was time to begin the real work, so I booted up Photoshop and iPhoto, and got down to the digital part of the project. I took the photo from the previous day, and adjusted the image to “pop” the painting itself out of its background and into square, plus appropriately proportioned for the actual canvas size, as pictured at the right. This itself is a pretty straightforward thing to do, as long as you keep in mind that you don’t want PS to be creating any new information about your image – which is to say that all dimensions should stay the same or get smaller, never bigger. After this step, I cropped down so I was only working with the canvas, and then switched to iPhoto to find my “reference material”.
Which is to say, a few blurry photos, from my iPhone, of a doodle in the margin of a page of notes I was making at work one day. You see, sometimes I’ll be doodling and see something I really like, and I’ll work on it on the page, but then want to recreate it as a full-size painting. ‘eat to fill the void’ and this untitled one with the face are two more examples of this sort of starting point. As it goes, I have already got more tiny scraps of paper with notes and drawings on them than I can keep organized. So I decided to try to keep digital records of my sketches and notes instead, as long as my iPhone (which I always have with me) has a camera built into it anyway – thus, I took a few photos of this weird little guy that day and threw away the original sketch. Turns out that what I had been remembering as a “monster with robot head” (I kept remembering the little guy holding a giant balloon in the shape of a robot’s head) was actually a “weird little guy” (that’s the name of the photos in iPhoto – must have been what I was thinking of him that day) thinking about a camera. Weird. It also turns out that the iPhone’s camera isn’t particularly good at taking clear photos at close distances, so all three images of my doodle were relatively blurry. I took the best one, cut out the relevant part, converted it to black and white (to further clarify the lines), and placed it into the image in PS of my canvas-in-progress. I then spent some time re-sizing and and adjusting the placement of the drawing until I was satisfied with the composition. This sort of pre-visualization, especially within digital tools, really helps with the way I think about things. For example, the total height from the bottom of the creature to the top of the thought cloud is exactly half the height of the canvas. Also, the slightly horizontally off-center camera in the thought cloud is off-center by the same difference as the rest of the foreground imagery is off-center from the canvas. Next step: plug in my Wacom Intuos tablet (I have a very nice 9×12″) and trace the line art in a new layer in Photoshop.
Easy-peasy, I’ve done that plenty of times – I used to to online comics, remember? Speaking of which, I’d also been thinking of using the same coloring techniques I’d used on comics in the past, combined with those from ‘eat to fill the void’, to color this piece. So I added another layer in PS behind the lines I’d drawn and filled in some color. Just rough color for the time being; I was planning on adjusting the actual paint colors by eye (and by how the paint was behaving when I got to that step), not to reproduce exactly what showed on the computer screen. He had never not been purple in my mind, so purple he remained. Playing with the coloring a little in Photoshop allowed me to get a feel for the composition as a whole, and how the size of the elements and the contrast between the colors drew the eye around the piece, which was helpful to really clamp down on a complete vision for it. To get the drawing from the screen to the page, I used a tried-and-true technique that I would love to have the money to remove from my repertoire: I flattened the image to light grey lines on a white background and printed out “tiles” of the image with a reference line to the curves of the hill included so I could line up the printouts to the canvas.
Then I taped together the pages carefully in alignment, applied graphite (with a soft-lead pencil) to the backs of the pages where the lines were, and affixed the pages to the canvas so that my reference line matched the curve of the hills. From there, I carefully traced both the outside and inside edges of the thick line work with a hard-lead pencil, which transfered some of the graphite to the canvas. Taking the pages away from the canvas, I carefully and painstakingly went over the faint lines I’d created (and some that hadn’t transferred as well, I traced over again through the pages) with the hard-lead pencil, eventually creating a complete outline to paint to. I included many of the internal lines, which I knew I would be painting over in the first coat, as a reference to where to adjust the tint of the colors I would be applying. You can just barely see the lines in the picture on the right, below:
After giving my back a break for a few hours (I was in quite a bit of pain after bending over the thing, tracing and re-tracing the lines for hours), I got to work putting down some color. This, I don’t much know how to describe. It’s painting. I painted. I thought about how the creature’s colors ought to be related to its shape a bit, I thought about how I wanted it to be lighter at the top and darker at the base, about enhancing the contrasts between parts that were separated by thick black lines by creating different tints… But … it’s just painting. Originally, the thought cloud was pure white, but I didn’t like it. I didn’t take a bunch of photos, but it went through about a dozen phases from as purple as the creature’s belly to pure white and most things in between, with varying degrees of homogeneity (as opposed to streaks or obvious brush-strokes of varying hue and tint). I definitely wanted the thought cloud to be not the intense and pure white of pure titanium white; I wanted his thoughts to be “the same color he is,” as Mandy put it when she saw it. You may not believe it, looking at the end result, but I believe I spent more time trying to get that thought cloud right than it took to carefully lay down the colors in the shapes of the creature below it.
I let that sit overnight. To dry, sure, and also because it was late evening by the time the thought cloud was done on Tuesday. There was a lot of paint in that bit needing to dry. This morning, when I began work on it again, I put the paper back over the painting again and re-traced the internal bits: the camera outline and the creature’s eyes. I painted the color of the camera… well, close to the same as I painted the creature, I guess. In a way I don’t really know how to explain, except to say that it definitely involved a lot of thought and carefully adjusted hue, tint, and shade. That grey camera body contains not just black and white, but blue and purple as well. In some places (esp. in the flash) I was able to create the impression of yellow/brown as well. The lens of the camera is basically pure titanium white, though admittedly I didn’t properly clean my brush in between the camera flash and the camera lens, so there may be a tiny hint of grey to it. Oh, and then while previewing the photo I’d taken of my work for this post, I noticed I’d forgotten something, and colored in the two other features on the camera, one of which must be the shutter release? I don’t know, but it was in the original doodle. I took another photo after adding that.
Now, since I wanted to photograph it this afternoon, in the afternoon sunlight, I had to get a move on, and I wasted little time eating lunch before tackling the black outlines. I tried several brushes I thought would be “small enough,” only to find that they weren’t, and ended up using a brush that – last time I used it – I remembered being too small for my huge, shaking hands to effectively handle. Time and practice apparently make a huge difference, as well as confidence and determination, and after a couple of hours of painting tiny black lines and carefully building them up to be the exact thick lines I wanted, I was getting pretty good. My back was hurting, my hand was sore, and by the time I got to the final outlines of the cloud and the camera (working left to right, so my hand wouldn’t smudge the drying paint, instead of element by element) these things were causing me to make mistakes. Nothing I wasn’t able to correct or cover up, but … I may have been helped to spread the work out over another day, or a few more hours. My hand became strained and tired enough that it was shaking from exhaustion rather than nervousness. (I am beginning to believe that my problems keeping my hands sure enough to draw and/or paint a straight line stem somewhat from a nervous disbelief in my ability to draw and/or paint well. Vicious.) A little break, then fifteen minutes painting the white accents on the flash, and it was finally done.
I took it outside, set up my tripod, and photographed the finished piece. I then spent an hour or two working on a title for it while curled up on the couch, half in / half out of sleep. The final work, ‘audacity of hope’, is available for purchase now. For details, please see wretchedcreature.com