Experimenting and Moon Boats

If you’ve been following my Facebook or Instagram feed, you’ll know I’ve been experimenting for a while now. Trying new media, trying new styles, trying to re-find myself I suppose.

A lot of my artworks these days start from nothing. No idea, no inspiration. Just me and a blank canvas and a pencil-brush-marker-whatever drawing tool I feel like at the time. And I just start drawing and see what happens. Or just start painting. Sometimes it doesn’t work and gets left behind to maybe come back to later (I’ve had a couple of “resurrections” of such pieces that then turned into something lovely). Every one has been a lesson in some way.

I’ve been trying to document the process a bit more, but I’ve never been a very methodical person. So basically I sometimes remember to snap photos. I wanted to share the series of photos from my recent painting, Moon Boat.

Stage One

01

I was excited to score some 12×16 inch cradled wooden panels at a local craft store which is nigh unheard of here in Australia. Even a lot of the big art stores don’t stock them. So yay! I decided I wanted to try mixing a whole bunch of mediums on it, so I primed the board with Daniel Smith’s watercolor ground. Then I splashed a bunch of watercolour paint on it. Then some salt to try and draw out some texture. The paint didn’t hold very well to the ground. I’ve used it a bunch of times and never been very happy with the results, but I know others who love it… Maybe I’m not using it right, or got a dodgy batch? I was hoping to have more texture than this to start with, that could be the backdrop for whatever I painted over the top, but oh well, moving on.

Stage Two

02

I’ve decided on a Moon Boat concept for the panel, and do a blue wash to head down a more purpley colour range. I mark out a sphere then roughly apply gold leaf sizing in the shape of a crescent moon and water, then apply pure silver leaf to it. I’ve been enjoying adding some gold and silver leaf to my works. Because shiny.

I realise afterwards I really should have sketched in my figure first and I’ve made some problems for myself, but that’s what you get with this rather unplanned and impromptu method. There is something to be said for careful planning!

Stage Three

03

I sketch out the figure, based on a reference photo. I only have the top half of a body to reference, so drawing the feet is hard and I spend a long time twisting my own feet at weird angles to try and see how they should look. The watercolor ground continues to annoy me. A tiny drop of water got on her shoulder and lifted the paint right off it. I also have to sketch so softly or it digs into the ground. But I’m happy with the look of the figure at this stage. Still don’t know what else I’m doing with other details yet. Working unplanned like this is a process of Take Action – Ask “What next?” – Take Action – Ask what next, etc etc.

Stage Four

04

I add a string of bells and some flowers because I’m now sure what else to add. I like bells and flowers. They’re my go to.

I want to finish this artwork in oils, so I make a grayish-purplish-brownish glaze and apply it all over, then sponge some bits back off with tissue for texture. I use the same colour I mixed for the glaze and some white to start adding form to the figure. The oil paint is taking well to the board, except where the silver leaf is.

Stage Five

05

I continue building form for the figure, her hair, and dress. I’m working mostly in greys, then start to add some warmth to her skin with reds. I have a very limited palette of oil paints so far, just two yellows (warm and cool), two blues (likewise), two reds (you get the picture), black, white, paynes grey (which is just a must have for me always), raw sienna, and burnt umber. I’ve done all my oil paintings thus far with just these. I’m using Liquin as my main medium for mixing.

Stage Six

06

I continue to apply layers to the painting. By this stage it’s probably had 5 layers/work sessions on it with drying between. I’m still learning oils, and tend to make areas too dark, and then make them too light when trying to adjust that, and then make them too dark again, spending more time than I need to. But I’m starting to get used to them and enjoy the feel of them as I paint. Still trying to work out how to get other mediums working with it. How lovely would this look if the original watercolor wash had held to the background and showed through around the figure?

I decide to call the artwork done at this point. The ground I used initially is still feeling a bit fragile and I don’t want to poke it too much. I also quite like the raw look it still has at this stage. Sometimes so much freshness and energy is lost from the sketch stage the refining process.

Stage Seven

moonboatscan

The raw scan, straight from the scanner without any cleaning or color adjustment. It’s a lot more pale and purple than my photos from my smart phone, which is a bit more true to how it appears in real life, but it still needs some adjusting. The scan won’t be able to capture the way the silver flashes in the light either.

Stage Eight

words

I’ve been wanting to try and include words into my artworks, and this moon boat image seemed like a great one to experiment with. I came up with a phrase for it, and decided to try a hand written approach rather than just adding text digitally (great idea, from someone with terrible handwriting and no calligraphy training!). I wasn’t quite game to write directly on the original so I sketched it out on a sketchbook page with a copic marker pen. I didn’t rule lines or anything, which is a great indicator of the “not being very methodical” thing I was talking about before, but I kind of wanted that more rustic feel. If I wanted perfect calligraphy, well, I’d just use a font. I scan the words in and apply them over the artwork in photoshop while I clean and color correct the image. I also apply a splatter of starts digitally, because I’m too chicken to do it to the original.

Stage Nine- Final

moonboatfinal
(Click for larger)

And here is the final artwork. She was a bit of a crazy experiment from start to finish, but I do like how she ended up.

I learned lots during the process about all the different mediums I tried and how I could have done things better that I can apply to future works, so that’s the most valuable part for me.

The “Moon Boat” original painting (sans words and stars) is up for auction now.

Out of stock
Sold for: US$360.00

Painting Tips and Tricks

A selection of tips for traditional painting. Most apply to all painting mediums (watercolor, acrylic, oils, etc) and some are more specific.

Brush care:
When painting, I use lots of different size and shape brushes that I keep altogether in a pot. When I use them, I leave them out on the table next to me, because I often will reuse the same brush a lot for each painting. This also means that once I’ve finished painting, it’s easy to grab up all the brushes I’ve used, take them to the bathroom, and give them a good clean. You can get specialist brush cleaning soaps and liquids, but some warm water and just a little shampoo work just as well.  Washing brushes carefully and thoroughly after each use is a great way to look after your brushes and keep them lasting just a bit longer, by both conditioning the hairs, and removing more bits of paint than a rinse with plain water will.

Know your pigments:
Not all watercolour paints are made equal. Many people know there is a difference between opaque and transparent watercolours, but there are also staining, non-staining and granulating colours. Knowing which kind of pigment you are using really helps control your painting when layering, lifting colour, using washes, and all aspects of painting. If you use a staining colour, you’re going to have a lot of trouble lifting that colour back off the paper if you want to. Most watercolour brands will have a colour chart available which notes the different aspects of each colour, many downloadable from their websites.
It’s handy for almost all kinds of paints, watercolours as well as acrylics or others to have a chart, and also for ease of memory, sort and keep your colours in seperate groups for opaque and translucent, or even make up your own quick colour chart with notes as to each colours properties for quick reference.

Different brush types: 
Get annoyed when you just can’t avoid brush strokes in your washes or textures? Normal sable or synthetic brushes are great for watercolours, you need that firmness/springiness in them for fine details and precision, however, for large washes and free painting areas, try some soft chinese brushes. I use wide chinese style brush with super soft fibres for flat washes of colour, and a large pointed mop brush for painting in smaller areas where I need a little more precision, but still a smooth wash of paint. Bristle brushes are seldom used for watercolour painting, and personally I find for any painting medium they are only good for special textures, dry brushing, or scrubbing paint back off an area.

Smooth gradients without a brush:
For  watercolour washes, you can pour a wash of the paint onto the paper for a super smooth gradient. Control the area the wash will go by brushing in the area with clean water and a soft brush first. This creates a sort of mask- paint will move freely within the water, but if you’re careful it won’t flow onto the dry paper beyond. Pour the paint wash into the wet area from a small cup, or medicine dropper, and tilt the painting and steer the paint through the wash area until it’s all covered. Medicine droppers are also great for wet in wet textures or dropping drops of clean water into coloured washes, to create interesting backwash textures.

Tissues and painting:
This is a tip which made my life infinitely easier when painting. It’s simple, and yet works so very well! When painting, particularly watercolour, the amount of water on the brush is crucial in how the paint will react with it and the paper when the brush is loaded.
To maintain the right level of moisture in your brush, it works really well to keep a tissue in your other hand when painting. That way, you can dab your brush on it to remove excess water after you wash the brush, or dip it in your waterpot to wet it. You can dab a little, or dry it quite a lot, depending on the next stroke you want to make. You can dab off excess paint too, and you can even use the tissue as a blotter for lifting accidents off your page as well! Once you get used to using a tissue like this, you feel naked painting without something in your other hand.
Generally, you want your first strokes to lay down colour to be a medium to heavy load of paint/water. Once you’ve layed down some colour, you might want to soften and blend the edges of the paint stroke, in which case you will want a clean brush with a low to medium amount of water in it. With watercolour, if your brush has too much water on it at this stage, the water will backrun into the previous stroke and can ruin the smoothness of the stroke. Using the tissue means you can soak off much of the water from the clean brush after dipping it in your water pot, and avoid backruns.

Salting Watercolor:
One technique I see people always curious about, is salting. It’s a quite old technique, but a great one that can acheive wonderful results. A nice clear example of it’s effect can be seen in the background of this artwork-


That star like, dappled texture is created when salt is sprinkled onto a watercolour wash while it is still wet. The salt then sucks the moisture out of the water where it lands, leaving the starbust effects. For those wanting to try it, experimentation and practice are needed, but once you understand the process it’s really quite simple.

Ways to get the best result-
1. Sprinkle the salt on when the wash is still wet, but not soaking. The paper should still have a slight shine of water, but no “puddles”.
2. If possible, you want salt that hasn’t already absorbed much moisture from the air. Salt is highly absorbent like that. I once left a small plate with salt out on a humid day and came back to find a puddle of water. You could try storing your salt with some plain rice (like they do in salt shakers at restaurants), or packets of moisture absorbers.
3.  The type of watercolour paint quality and pigment type can also affect the outcome. I always recommend quality paints (artist grade over student grade) anyway, and these will get a better result for this technique as well. Granulating pigments will get a different look to non-granulating, and staining pigments may not work as well in general.
4. You can use many different types of salt, from large rock salt to fine table salt, to achieve different effects. Try a few different types to see which works best for you. When using large rock salt however, you may want to dip each piece in water immediately before placing it onto the watercolour paint, because they need the extra contact to the paper the water gives it to suck more water from the painting. Some artists use tweezers to place individual pieces of rock salt just where they want.

General Painting & Drawing Tips

A few of my best bits of advice for creating art in general.

Cool colours and Contrasting colours for lively shadows:

To make your pictures look more vibrant and real, and avoid boring, muddly browns and greys, using cool colours and contrasting colours is the key. Any time you draw or paint shadows, or things that are supposed to be white or black, try using a blue, cool purple or green instead of black or grey and it will look better. The colour you choose should match the rest of your colour scheme, and it helps for it to be a contrasting colour (eg, purple is the opposite of yellow, blue is the opposite of orange, red is the opposite of green). Using black or greys will make your image look flat and lifeless as these colours rarely occur in real life.

The right canvas:

Something I tell people a lot, because no one ever told me and it’s something I’ve found indespensible now I know, is to always use the right paper for the right job. For mediums such as paint (acrylic to watercolour), pastels, coloured pencils, they will never look good on the wrong paper. These are high demand mediums, and need the paper to match. Coloured pencil needs a thick paper with what is called “tooth”. This means the surface is slightly rough, to take the colour well. Otherwise the waxy pencils will just slide over the top, not leaving a smooth shading of colour. It doesn’t have to be textured as such, but some tooth is generally needed. Water colours generally use a LOT of water while painting. If the paper is too thin or weak, it will tear apart, buckle and become a mess. Using a proper watercolour paper, particularly a 100% cotton paper of a heavy GSM (thickness) will greatly improve the potential of the watercolour, allowing you to use more water, more layers and more interesting techniques. Think of it this way- have you ever tried to wash a stain out of cotton? Works ok right? How about out of a sheet of paper? It will fall to bits. When you use cotton paper the watercolour is much easier to manipulate. It blends effortlessly, and you can even lift paint back off by gently scrubbing the paper with a brush if you accidently get it wrong without worrying about damaging the paper too much, unlike normal papers.

The paper I use, which I think is a great multi-purpose paper, is Arches 300gsm smooth cotton watercolour paper.

Practice, practice, PRACTICE:

Some people think that art appears magically, because they only see the finished product. They don’t see the hours and hours of painting and drawing involved. And more importantly, the YEARS of practice that have come before. It is like the story that talks about a lady that sees Picasso in a coffee shop. She asks him for a portrait of her, and he quickly draws a portrait of her in five minutes and hands it to her, and demands $5000 for it. She complains, “But it only took you five minutes”. He replies, “No, it took me 40 years.”.
A lot of younger artists get frustrated with their skill level, and think they will never reach the level of the artists who are their idols. But consider that many of these artists have been painting for decades. And not just a painting every few months, but practicing every single day.
The point of this is that excellent artists ARE excellent because they work hard at it. They draw and paint all the time. They read books and take classes. They push their boundaries and paint things that will challenge them to learn more. Maybe there is a little talent there to start with, but like anything else it’s the time and effort you put in that counts. If you want to draw and paint well, practice, practice, practice! If you think you can’t draw faces, then just keep drawing them until they are right! Don’t give up or avoid doing something because you think you can’t. You will probably suprise yourself when you try. You will find that if you spend some time every day, or at least every week, your art will improve so quickly right in front of your eyes!

Mixing Mediums:

Every different art medium (a medium is what you paint or draw with, like watercolour, pencil, charcoal, etc) has it’s own special properties, abilities and downfalls. Using just one pure medium per artwork can create amazing results when you work with the mediums own special potential, however, sometimes, you want the best of all worlds. And using mixed mediums is a great way to get interesting results using two, three, or more mediums in the one artwork.
For example, watercolours beauty lies in it’s spontenaety. How you can use the way it moves almost of it’s own design through the water and the paper, creating interesting textures and effects. Many techniques like salting only work best with watercolour. However, it has some downfalls as well, such as it is difficult to create more darker, richer colours, and you can easily overwork the paint making it muddy and ruining smooth washes.
Acrylic paints, on the other hand, can be used to create very dark, rich, detailed paintings. But it doesn’t work as well for washes or special textures and effects that watercolour does. So why not get the best of both worlds and use both mediums in the same artwork? For example, you could create a background wash with salting effects in watercolour, but paint the figure or object of the painting in acrylics. When used in certain ways, you can paint acrylic over watercolour or watercolour over acrylic (more difficult). You may then want to go further, and use coloured pencils to do more detailed work over that, or an opaque gouche paint. Sometimes I use a little pastel over the top of my paintings and smudge it in for smooth glows or mists.
What mediums you use and how you use them depends on the result you want to get, and also how the mediums interact with each other. Much of this takes practice in the different mediums to understand their properties well before putting them together. My best advice is to just experiment and go with it!

Fear of losing your wonderful sketch:

I’ve been there. You’ve sketched up a stunning concept and you love it. But you’re terrified to paint it in case you stuff it up and that’s it, gone for good! But why does it have to be that way? We should be free to experiment and have a go at our painting without that fear. If we stuff up, we should be able to just have another go, and if you prepare well, you can.

For almost all my paintings now, I scan my sketch in before painting it. Often, I’ll sketch in my sketch book, which I couldn’t paint in anyway because the paper quality isn’t right for it, then scan the sketch into my computer from there. After that, I have the sketch available for as many tries as I need to get the painting right. I will then print the sketch out lightly onto my painting paper using my large format, waterfast printer. I’m lucky I have that available. If you don’t, you can stick to painting at letter size and use a home inkjet (just be aware if the ink isn’t water fast, you may need to use a fixative of something else to stop the sketch washing away). Otherwise, and this is a bit more work, you can print the sketch out on a few pieces of plain letter paper to be stuck together into a larger sheet and trace the sketch onto your painting surface. It’s not as ideal as printing the sketch directly, but still saves your original sketch and lets you have as many goes as needed to get the painting right.

Video- Digital speed painting animation

I took a few snapshots of this digital sketch as I was painting to show the way I paint digitally by roughing in shapes then refining. This sketch was done for Sketch Fest in about 45 mins.

(If the animation doesn’t play for you, open the direct image here- https://selinafenech.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/moonlitpathanim.gif )

Fairy and Gargoyle Painting Walkthrough- with Videos

It was about time I created another step by step walkthrough of one of my paintings developing. Many of my methods have changed, and I work a lot more in acrylic now than in watercolours, and often use both.

This artwork will be purely in acrylics. I had the idea for this just pop into my mind as I was falling asleep one night, as inspiration often does when half asleep. Sometimes these images are very clear and I try and match them as close as possible. This one was a little vague on some details. I just knew I wanted to paint a glowing fairy sheltering from the rain under a gargoyle (or “grotesque” technically).

So I start with some quick research-

Gargoyle image search on google

I hop on google image search and browse gargoyes and grotesques for a while, work out what kind of gargoyle I want it to be. Something not too humanoid, but not too dragon, a bit in between.

Fairy and Gargoyle Thumbnail Sketches

Then it’s time for some rough thumbnail sketches. These are only maybe 5x10cm in size. I did the one on the left first, but decided I didn’t want the scene to be straight on (the sketch also sucks!). So I thought I’d turn it around to the side a bit. I then scan the thumbnail image in and open it in photoshop.

Finding a model for the fairy

Now, I want to find a model. I know roughly what pose I want my fairy in, but I’m not 100% set on it. So I open up saved reference photos of models (most are from www.deviantart.com and the stock models there). I find one that’s really close to what I want, but not quite.

Photomanipulation of model

So, I do some quick and dodgy photomanipulation work in photoshop and put a different head on the model. I also want to change the position of one of the arms, but will do that while I’m sketching. Please excuse the very rough censoring here for younger or more prudish readers. This is the body of Amiba Stock and face from ClickyPenPixie Stock on Deviant Art.

Mock up of fairy and gargoyle artwork

Now, with my model and my thumbail sketch, in photoshop again I do a very quick photomanipulation job to mock up roughly how I want the artwork. I grab a photo of some clouds, a moon, and some rooftops and drop them in, and use my wacom tablet to very messily sketch in some more details. It doesn’t matter if it’s a complete mess, it’s just for me to get an idea of whether the image in my mind will come together, and help me establish the colour scheme and composition. I’ll also print out a copy of this to keep in front of me while painting to keep these things in my mind- you’ll see it in some of the photos below.

Watch me sketch up the artwork in this time lapse video. This is sped up to nearly 10X actual time. Unfortunately the end is cut off because my battery went flat.

Cleaned up Sketch

Here I have my sketch, scanned and cleaned up in photoshop. I sketched this just in my sketch book, but am going to blow it up to twice the size (from A3 to A2), and print it using my Epson 3880 printer. The inks of this printer are waterproof and archival, so I can paint right over the printed sketch. I often do this, because it means I can sketch in my sketch book and not worry about ruining good expensive watercolour paper if the sketch doesn’t work.

Coating paper with Gesso

Because I want to paint in darker colours and don’t really require the strengths of watercolour for this work, I’m going to paint entirely in acrylics and gesso the paper first (gesso is a medium for sealing and creating a less absorbent working surface). Even when painting entirely in acrylics I don’t always gesso the paper. If I don’t, it means I use a more watercolour technique of layering transparent colours, but when the paper is gessoed the paint behaves differently, a little more like oils, perhaps. If I weren’t gessoing the paper, I would have lightened the sketch before printing it so it wasn’t as strong as seen here. So here, I’ve taped the sheet of A2 Arches hotpress watercolour paper (what I always use) to a MDF board with masking tape, and begun rolling gesso on with a sponge roller.

Adding some texture

This is going to be a quite dark artwork, with the fairy being the main source of light, so I want to start getting some dark paint onto there and darken the values of the paper down from the bright white it starts at. I get a small house paint brush and Paynes Grey acrylic, and roughly brush the surface, darker at the edges, lighter in the middle. I use a tissue to sponge away paint from the fairy if it gets on there (I’m messy!). This is just about creating texture and darkness, so I’m as messy as I want to me. Rough brush strokes done, I clean the brush, and spatter clean water all over to create those spots you can see. Once that’s dry, I spatter again with watered down paynes grey.

Building up the forms

Time to start working on the shapes. I’m still working fairly roughly, it will all be refined more as I go. I just want to block in the forms based on the light source now (the fairy). Still just using Paynes grey and a big brush, I rough out the shapes of the gargoyles muscle structure, the wall and the clouds.

Adding a second colour

This is basically just going to be a two colour artwork, pale yellows and blue greys. Because the fairy will primarily be golden, I use Raw Umber acrylic to start defining her form a little before I lose her under other paint. I want the sky to have a yellow misty glow as well, so use Naples yellow (opaque) muted down with a little raw umber to smooth out the lower sky area where the darker clouds aren’t, and also brush that same colour all over and around the fairy, and where her light falls on the gargoyle.

Working on the wall

Well, there’s no more avoiding it- time to start working on the details. I’m trying to be good and work from background to foreground here, which generally is the best way to work (but I don’t always do). It’s good to work this way because you want your figures to look like they fit in the environment, so you want the environment there first as a reference for their values and colours when you start painting them.  I’ve tidied up the clouds a little with more naples yellow and white paint, and with varying mixes of naples yellow and paynes grey I’ve painted in a few rows of silhouetted rooflines. On the wall itself, I’ve done a number of layers of paynes grey to build up the decorative scroll work carving. You can see it’s changed from my sketch- it was lost underneath the other paint already by this stage, so I sketched something new out on top. Often having to do something again makes you change your mind on what you want there anyway. I paint a few cracks in paynes grey, and highlight the right side with naples yellow, and our wall is basically done.

I want to lighten some parts of the stone wall to look like lichen. Watch how I do it in the following video! You can also use this technique to some extent with watercolour on paper as well.

Refining the background

So the background is pretty much done at this stage, but no doubt I’ll poke at it again more later (I also have to add rain, right at the end!). I’ve defined the clouds some more with white and naples yellow, and added a few flying bats (or are they gargoyles?). Now I can move onto working on the two stars of the artwork- the fairy and the gargoyle.

Working on the gargoyle

I start working on the gargoyle first, since he surrounds the fairy I need to have him pretty well defined before painting her, since her glow is going to get painted over the top of his details. The rough brush strokes I made before are a great base for refining the details further, and often the rough brush strokes bring out great shapes that you wouldn’t get from careful brush work. I darken edges and smooth some areas, always trying to keep the light source in mind as I work. The gargoyle will be faintly backlit by the moon as well, but I’m mostly focusing on the lighting from the fairy.

Time to paint the fairy. Here’s a time lapse video of me painting the fairy in mostly raw umber and naples yellow. This has only been sped up to 2X normal speed so you can see how my brush strokes are handled.

Working on the fairy

The gargoyle is mostly done now, so I start working on the fairy. She is getting painted in a mix of raw umber, naples yellow and titanium white at this stage. I paint in the veining of her wings in white, and then we get to some more brush abuse, using a very dry brush and scumbling (yes, it’s a word!) some naples yellow all around the wings and the fairy again. Scumbling is the method of glazing a lighter, opaque colour over darker areas of paint. I do a lot of dry brush work when painting in acrylic in this way, and really mash up and scrub my poor brushes.

Here is a short video of me lightening the fairy’s wings using this technique. Normally I keep the tissue in my left hand (as you’ll see in another video), but had my camera in my left hand here so it was a bit awkward with the tissue on the painting itself. I always, always paint with a tissue in my left hand, and end up with a big pile of soggy, paint covered tissues by the end of a painting. They are just indispensible for controlling the amount of paint and water on a brush. I feel naked without one!

Fairy being refined

Finally, a little more colour! All I’ve added here to the fairies skin is a few hints of Rose Pink, but it makes her glow even more, doesn’t it? I’ve also decided I want some of her tattered skirts hanging down the wall, so paint them in in a mix of white and naples yellow. I continue refining her features and figure in a mix of all these colours (raw umber, naples yellow, rose pink and white. A tiny bit of paynes grey for her eyes).

Fairy finished

Now we’re cooking. After the fairy has some work with darker colours, I get stuck in with the white and make her glow. I hit all the highlights, and give her a rim glow as well. Since her clothes are essentially a dirty white, they also get highlighted with lots of white. She’s just about done.

Final details

Time to have fun splattering again. I use the same technique on the gargoyle as I used on the wall, spattering with clean(ish) water then rubbing away the lifted paint with a tissue to create lighter spots of “lichen”, and then spattering dark spots of paynes grey as well. Then I spatter white paint all around the fairy by loading a bristle brush and flicking it with my fingernail. I decide I want a hint of colour in some of the grey areas, and with a dry brush I glaze on some dioxazine purple mixed with storm blue, very very thinly in some areas. Did you know the only difference between glazing and scumbling is glazing is dark/transparent colours and scumbling is light/opaque colours? Also here I’ve given the gargoyles wings some rim lighting in white as well.

Scan before adding rain

All done now- except for making it rain! Because the rain is going to be painted all over the top of this, I scan the artwork in first, just in case my experimental rain doesn’t work. Above is the scanned image, not yet colour corrected. You can see how different the colours from my scanner turn out compared to the photographs.

Final artwork finished and scanned

And here is the final artwork with rain added, scanned and colour corrected in photoshop. The rain was added with a large brush, streaking watered down white paint, and watered down paynes grey for the falling drops, and then flicking white paint on with a bristle brush for the areas that are hit with rain.

Painting Process Walkthrough for “Hide and Seek”

I get many people asking me how I go about my paintings. It’s a hard question because I barely ever follow the same process twice! I’m always trying new things and experimenting so the process isn’t always the same, although it can be very similar. Below I have photographed the artwork “Hide and Seek” as I worked on it to give an insight into my artistic process.

Step One:
This obviously isn’t the first step in starting an artwork. Unfortunately I only had the presence of mind to start photographing the work at this stage!

I start an artwork, of course with an idea. This idea is often sketched out at tiny thumbnail size in little compositions sketches that no one could make out except for me. Then I sketch wildly on a peice of cheap catridge or copy paper. My sketches generally have a LOT of construction lines and look like wet dog hair and make a mess of the paper. Once I am happy with the sketch I then transfer it neatly onto my final work surface, normally watercolour paper, by tracing with a light box.

This is the stage you see to the left. The lines are clear and soft, there is no shading, only outlines, as graphite shading will just muddy the watercolour. I normally use a sharp H pencil for these outlines. I have already begun painting in the background.

Step Two:

When painting I generally try and get some or all of the background in before working on the figure. It’s good to work this way for various reasons (lighing, colour, etc).

I’ve used a combination of wet in wet technique (dropping wet watercolour onto the wet paper surface) and salting for the background. Sprinkling salt onto the wet watercolour produces the spotty texture.

I think that the face is often the most important part of an artwork, so while I’m waiting for parts of the background to dry enough to keep working on them, I also start painting in the face. Just the main features of eyes, nose, mouth and jawline.

Because you can only work watercolour so much when it’s wet, you will need to be patient and leave sections until they dry. That’s why moving around the artwork and working on different sections while the other areas dry is a good idea, just be sure not to smudge the wet areas with your hand! You’ll see here I’ve started washing in an area of the hair while waiting for other areas to dry.

Step 3:

I don’t want any white of the paper showing through in the background, so I wash over the leaves areas and vines with the appropriate colours. This will give me a darker base to work on once it has dried.

Now the background is dry I have added some splotchy darker areas to suggest more foliage. I have also started painting in the hair at this stage and the flesh tones on the face. I paint the hair much the same as I will the foliage. I want it to be quite dark so the white flowers in it will stand out. So I wash a dark brown over the entire area before using an even darker colour and layers of washes to define the hair.

The key to watercolours is layering. Generally watercolour is used as a transparent medium, that means each layer of paint adds colour to the last, slowly building up the picture. You can see this layering process here in the face and leaves most.

Step 4:

Finally I begin to work on the rest of the figure. I start shading in the flesh tones. Unless I want a darker image I don’t do a flat base wash for the flesh like I did for the leaves or hair. I want some white of the paper to be preserved.

I also start painting in the colours for the clothing at this stage.
Fairy Art tutorial Hide and Seek WIP
Step 5:

Continuing to move around the areas of the artwork, I go back to the leaves again. I start using darker greens to define the leaves, and more importantly, the spaces between the leaves.

I’ve also done the vines at this stage.

Step 6:

Painting directly over the green base with a brownish colour, I paint in the design of the corset fabric.

I also darken the hair and finish defining it with many fine strokes in a deep brown.

I have painted in the wings using an opaque white paint called gouache.

The skin has had another layer of colour painted on, and the leaves further refined with more layers.
Final Steps

The leaves are individually painted to show the texture of veining on them. Once it is completely dry, I use a white watercolour pencil to add some highlights to the leaves and wings. I use some more white gouache to add further spots and highlights and then it’s done!

Painting Walkthrough “Gossamer Princess”

Below are a collection of photographs that I took while painting the artwork “Gossamer Princess” to demonstrate some of my techniques and processes I use when painting. Obviously not all of my paintings are done the same way, and I use different mediums and techniques all the time, so this just shows a little of how I work. Sorry about the poor quality and blurry photos, I often had to take them very quickly and keep working.

OK, Starting out with the sketch, I masking tape it to some board (not actually properly stretching the paper though) and I use masking fluid to cover up the whole figure and butterflies. I don’t often use masking fluid, but as you’ll see in the next step, I REALLY needed to for this one! The tool I use for masking fluid is in the photo, the rubber tipped thing, it’s great for getting a precise line with the fluid, but I only outline the detailed edges of large areas with it, then paint in the area with a soft brush because I find it can damage the surface of the paper.

Sometimes even when doing large washs I don’t use a mask, but you can see above this is why I couldn’t live without a mask for this one! This technique is really cool, I got it from the “How to make watercolor paint itself” book. Unfortunately as you have to work so fast I didn’t get a photo of the first step, which is basically painting one big yellow circle in the middle, then a big red circle around that, then a big blue circle around that, filling the whole area. You then tilt the board up, and spray it with a misting spray gun so all the paint runs into each other, mixing the colours and running all over the place (and would be all over the figure if I didn’t mask it off). You just keep turning it around and letting it run and blend, using a tissue to try and gently mop up the larger runs or where it pools around the mask as you go. And watch you don’t spill it all over your carpet, lol 😉

I’m going to be having lots of clouds in the background, so I ruin my nice even wash by using a tissue to sponge up some colour, and then clear water to create more starburst things (can’t remember the technical term) and creating the beginnings of cloud like textures. In this photo you can see two of my favourite brushes in the photo, chinese soft brushes. The big mop I use for things like washes in the first step, and the smaller round brush I use for all other wet in wet work where I want to drop paint in delicately without having to mash a brush onto the paper. I’ve masked out the cobweb and fairies wings as well now over the first wash so they have some light colour in them, but won’t be darkened by the next steps, then repeat the same wash process for a darker background again. That’s what the three pools of blue, red and yellow paint on the side are prepped for. You can also see a medicine dropped near them which I use for adding in water to my washes.

Now I’ve got the nice glowy wash down, I want to put in darker clouds. I use a mix of dioxanine purple with some warm yellow to tone it down (using complementary colours rather than browns or greys to darken colours creates a richer less muddy colour). I use my big chinese mop with clean water to wet down areas, and then drop in paint with the smaller round chinese mop. The chinese brush is so delicate you can sort of guide and poke and move the wet in wet paint with it without screwing it up like you can with other brushes if you try poking at washes.

As usual, I’m terribly impatient (and know I’ve only got the one day to finish this painting), so as soon as my clouds are dry I strip off all the masking fluid and tape. I then use white gouache to touch up the cobweb, wings, and add sparklies!

I can finally get to work on the figure, yay! I do some detailing in the face first because I’m always impatient to get the face done! I use dark reds, browns and blacks for the facial details. Then I use Rose Dore, one of my favourite colours for skin tones, to shade in the whole figure.

Then I use that brilliant dioxanine (or however it’s called) purple again, diluted down a fair bit, to continue shading the skin even darker. Then a cobalt blue for the deepest shadows… I want her skin to have very purple shadows to match the purples in the background.

Then the magic step! Take some yellow ochre, or some other light yellowy orange brown colour, and wash over the whole skin, and viola, you have skin tone! (except it looks all blurry and gross from my camera here! Sorry!)

I paint in the hair with one of my other favourite colours, Neutral tint, and a tiny bit of opaque white again for highlights. When painting hair, I always use a small to medium size brush, that still has a good, neat point on it (so one of my newest brushes instead of an old one) so that I can create the appearance of neat individual strands of hair.

I paint in the butterflies, also with yellow ochre and neutral tint, and then the dress… Then over the top of the dress I add all the little sequiny looking sparkles with white gouache, some final touches and she’s finished!!
As you can see my scanner picks up the true colour much better than my digital camera. By the time I was finished I was also without any natural light (about 10 o’clock at night!), which is generally a big no-no for painting, (and photography), but it needed to be finished!

Watercolour 101- An Introduction to Watercolours!

A lot of people ask me questions about how to paint with watercolour. It’s easy to feel that watercolour is an intimidating medium. Mistakes are hard to fix, you have to work quickly. But it’s also a beautiful medium and not as hard as it can look. Below is a quick introduction on using watercolours and a few fun tricks and tips.

Starting out- You first need the tools of the trade. If you want to have a serious attempt at watercolour you need some serious tools. A lot of people just have a quick try, don’t use the right materials and then give up when it doesn’t work, which is often the fault of the poor quality materials.

Brushes– Sable or Synthetic? Both have their advantages, and are fine for watercolour painting. Some brushes such as ponyhair and other soft brushes aren’t suitable, you need something that keeps it shape and spring when wet. Sable is lovely, but expensive, synthetic don’t last as long, but are much cheaper and work almost as well. A quick note though, do look after your brushes well! Never leave them standing in water, clean them well and give them a good shampoo every now and then. It sounds silly but it will keep them good much longer. Also, never use your fine brushes for mixing paint, use an old brush for mixing, scrubbing and any other rough work.

Paper- You want a good paper, and most good watercolour paper is very unlike any standard paper. Ever got a piece of copy paper wet? Not pretty, lay a brush on it and it will bead and tear. Watercolour paper is thick, absorbant and resistant to tearing when wet. It’s often made of 100% cotton, and comes in hot pressed (ultra smooth) cold pressed (medium) and rough. The texture is up to you, but I suggest a good medium for starting out.

Paints- Pans or tubes? Again, it’s very much personal choice. I prefer pans, because then you have your palette laid out before you, without having to squeeze out tubes everywhere. There are quality differences between the brands and price ranges, but even the cheapest will suffice for starting out, although once you get started you will realize that cheaper brands do have much inferior pigment that can be muddy, grainy, and not allow use of certain effects like salting.

Starting your artwork.
You have your idea and grab your pencil. Wait! Watercolour paper is great for watercolour but not adding pencil before painting can be risky! Unless you’re a very confident sketcher, it’s a good idea to sketch your idea on a separate piece of paper, anything will do, cheap copy paper is fine. Scribble all you want and get it right there, because lead pencil is hard to rub off watercolour paper and can damage the surface from the pressure. Once you have your sketch you need to get it from there to the watercolour paper. There are a number of ways to transfer. Having a light box is the easiest, you simply trace your sketch onto the watercolour paper. You don’t even need a light box, you can, if you’re careful, tape your sketch, covered by your watercolour paper up to a bright window and trace it that way. Otherwise, turn your sketch over and shade in the back of it with a dark lead pencil (4b or more) then turn it back over, place it on top of the watercolour paper and draw over the lines of your sketch firmly and it will transfer to your watercolour sheet like carbon paper. Your sketch on the watercolour paper needs to be fairly light, and just lines, little to no shading. Lead pencil can blend with the watercolour and make it muddy and yucky.

Preparing your watercolour paper– I personally don’t do this because I’m lazy, and I also use 300gsm paper which is resistant to buckling when wet, but it’s good practice to stretch and tape down your watercolour sheet before painting to prevent the paper buckling and deforming because of the water. You want to soak your watercolour paper completely for a few hours or even overnight, place it on a non-absorbant surface and smooth it down with clean hands then tape down the edges with gum tape and allow it to dry completely. This will keep it flat while painting.

Finally, brush to paper!
The thing about watercolour, is it’s all about how much paint, and how much water is on your brush. If you’re using pans, the paint starts out completely dry, it’s just pigment and base to hold it together. With tube paint as well, you will most likely be adding water to it to spread the pigment further. Do some experiments before you start your painting to get the feel of how wet or dry the brush should be when painting. The wetter the brush, the more it flows smoothly, the dryer it is, the darker and more vibrant the colour. A good way to control the amount of water on your brush is to always keep a tissue in your other hand while painting which you can dab your brush on to soak up that excess water. And try to keep your water pot as clean as possible! Even have two pots, one for washing brushes, and another that stays clean for mixing colours and painting.

Wet in Wet- An important aspect of watercolour is how it reacts when wet, and how water reacts with it. When watercolour is painted on a dry area it behaves like most other paint, but when painted onto a wet area is diffuses and spreads, becoming soft. This can be very useful for creating soft gradients. Try wetting an area of the paper, loading a fairly dry brush with colour then brushing it across the wet paper to see how it behaves. Another behaviour of watercolour is it’s reaction to clean water. Clean water dropped onto, or painted into a wet painted area can lift the paint back off the paper, and spread it away from the clean water like a halo. This is good to practice to learn how to clean up any mistakes quickly before they dry!

From light to dark- Watercolour is a subtractive medium. You start with a white surface, which basically means a surface reflecting lots of light. As you add colour onto it, you make the surface darker, subtracting light. The more layers you add, the darker it gets, and there’s not really much going back. The only way to make it lighter again is to use an additive medium, such as acrylic, where you can add light back on over the top. With watercolour you want to start painting in your darkest areas first, though not with pigment too thick or dark all at once! If it’s too saturated it will easily bleed out as you add moisture around it. The darkness comes through layers of paint more than a single hit. Any very bold colours can be added at the end.

Lifting paint and cleaning mistakes- When talking about water I mentioned that clean water will lift the pigment back off the page. If you make a mistake and it’s still wet, you can often lift the paint back up with a dry tissue, but if it’s already starting to dry, drop some clean water onto the area and let it soak for a second to release the pigment and then try lifting it off with a brush or tissue. If it is completely dry, you can still clean away some of the paint. Soak the area as above with some clean water, and use a soft brush, or if you are careful and your paper is strong, a bristle brush, to gently scrub the area.

Opaque and Transparent Colours- Not all brands are the same, but most generic watercolours have different kinds of colour, transparent and opaque. Some colours inherently have more white pigment in them, making them opaque when painted over, others are just the colour pigment which is like a glassy transparent wash when painted on. Depending on what kind they are will affect how the behave on the paper and what order you may want to paint your layers of colour.Here is a list of a few general colours and which type they are (this often can change depending on the brand, and the quality of the paints).
Transparent- Viridian, Sap Green, Burnt Sienna, Permanent rose, Alizarin crimson, Cadmium Lemon, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine, Raw Sienna, Naples Yellow
Opaque- Burnt Umber, Raw Umber, Cadmium scarlet, Cadmium orange, Cadmium yellow, cerulean blue