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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

(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.

Sold for: US$360.00

Digital Painting Walkthrough- Finishing up


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It’s time for me to finish this mermaid painting off. I let it sit for a while, pondering where it was at and how to proceed, and got back to work on it this week. I finished it off over two full days (including lots of breaks for baby play and maintenance!).

See the starting stages of this painting at my previous post https://selinafenech.com/2012/developing-a-concept-with-digital-painting/

You can click on most of these images to see much larger versions!

The first on the left in this set is where I finished off last time. Not a bad beginning, but I’m not loving it. I start playing around, see if I can improve on the composition now I’ve looking at it fresh again. In the middle image I’ve darkened the background, and then in the third from left I’ve repositioned the man’s arm. I mostly did this to save myself from what I like to call the Nipple Dilemma. I have nothing against nipples in art myself, but as this is is for mass publication in the oracle deck I’m avoiding any body parts that might cause an issue. 🙂 Sure she could have been wearing something, but I didn’t feel a bikini (of whatever sort) suited this mermaid.

Next it’s time to start getting rid of those bulky black sketch lines. Using my favourite all-purpose painting brush, I start painting over the sketch lines, or erasing them if they go outside the figures. I use the same brush shape for my eraser when painting as well. The brush I use the most looks like this, and if memory serves my correctly I got it from a pack shared by Melanie Delon on her website.

My favourite brush shape for all purpose painting and blending.

After I’ve painted out the sketch lines with the standard paint brush, I use Photoshop’s new Mixer Brush tool (new in version CS5, or possibly CS4? I can’t remember…) to blend the brush strokes a bit. I use the same brush shape again, set on Moist, Light Mix, and work as if I were blending wet oils or acrylics on paper. I try not to blend too much, I still want a bit of a painterly feel to the image.

Here’s the zoomed out view of the image at this stage, sketch lines painted out and some blending done. I haven’t blended all areas (mermaids tail for example), because some areas will require a different treatment later.

Time to zoom in there again and fix those faces up a bit! The mermaid’s face is a bit wonky. It’s a tough angle and I don’t have a model reference photo for this one, so I’m just muddling through as I go. I do the mirror image flip a few times while painting the features in to get a bit closer to what I want. I decide that I also want the man’s eyes showing, even if they are closed, so I paint over his hair and add a visible eye.

That’s where I finished that day…

So I open up the file the next day, and like my usual indecisive self, I decide I’m not happy with it and start playing around with the composition and colours again. I decide I want a bit more of an angle to the poses rather than the mermaid being so vertical. Free Transform in Photoshop, which lets you rotate and transform an object in just about anyway, is one of my most indispensable tools! The mermaid and the man are on their own layer together, above the background, which makes it easy for me to keep moving them around. I also change the colour scheme, shifting towards more of a cobalt blue than the teal it was before. I use the Hue and Saturation adjuster for this, selecting just the Cyan range of colours and shifting them further into the blue/purple range.

Time to stop messing around and do the hard work of refining the painting. I’ll work on the background first, then move to the figures. I use a rough, painterly brush on the spines in the fourground so that they look jagged and nasty. In the image above, you can see the two zoom scales next to each other. This is how I normally work in photoshop, with two windows of the same file open side by side, one zoomed out so I can get a sense of the overal image while I work zoomed in on the window beside it. You can open extra windows for an artwork in Window>Arrange>New Window For (filename)

I fix up the little background cages, but decide not to touch the rest of the background too much. I like the painterly splotches it has going. All I do is add some sparkles to the waters surface, and brush in some light rays. To get the light ray look, it’s a process of switching to and from brush and eraser- painting lines down, erasing back into it, painting streaks, erasing streaks, until you get a nice soft but streaky look.

More refining work. I add some rim-lighting to the figures to make them pop a bit more. Again, I’m working with no reference so it’s all a bit like trial and error. Light sources are hard to get right, and I’m imagining that, realistically, the man’s body would be casting that shadow on the mermaid’s face. But that’s a bit unfortunate because it makes her face dark and bleh. So adding a little rim lighting helps bring it back into focus. I’ve worked on the man’s hair in this one as well, adding some wavy strands.

Lots of painting, painting, painting. I finally get to work on the mermaid’s tale, and do use the Mixer brush a little, then the normal brush over the top again to bring up a few highlighted scales. Because the figures are relatively small compared to the overall scene, I don’t refine them quite as much as I might if they were larger. I paint in details of the mermaids hair and fins, and stop to ponder again.

Final touches and I call it finished. I decide there needs to be a little more texture in the background, so add a texture layer to simulate bubbles/debris in the water to give a bit more depth. I also paint in some bubbles streaming down from the man- yes bubbles will float up, but I want to give the impression that the mermaid is pushing him upwards, leaving the bubbles behind as they go (which will float up after them later). I also shift the colours one last time, taking it back slightly towards the teal range again. What can I say? I’m fickle.

I’m not in love with this artwork, but I’m pretty happy with it for one where I had no models to work from. Models make so much of a difference! While I can try and use my 20+ years of drawing experience to figure out how a nose might look if tilted to that angle, while underwater, with light hitting it from this angle and reflections from that angle… there’s no way I’m going to be able to get it as true as real life.

Did you enjoy seeing my painting process? Or learn something new? If you did, please consider buying a copy of my ebook “Memory’s Wake, a fantasy novel for young adults. It also has a bunch of my artwork in it! I’m trying to break into an Amazon top 100 list, and every sale counts. Consider it a donation 🙂 http://www.amazon.com/Memorys-Wake-ebook/dp/B005502KA8/

Developing a Concept with Digital Painting

I’m working up a new mermaid concept for one of the cards in my upcoming Mermaids Oracle deck with Lucy Cavendish. I’m attempting to save work in progress shots as I go to show how I paint digitally. I don’t work exactly the same every time I paint, but here is an example of one way I work. I’ll describe what I’m doing at each stage under the image. Click the images for a larger version.

First I lay in some colour and rough background, just to get myself grounded. I love this aqua and light peach combination of colours, hinting at a sunset or sunrise above the water surface. I use a really large brush size and scribble the colour on.

For this artwork, I want to paint a mermaid lifting a man up to the water’s surface, away from ominous claw-like shapes in the bottom of the image. The concept provided by the deck author is for “Soul Cages” from which mermaids sometimes rescue men.

Once I have that rough background in place, I start roughing in the figures. And I do mean rough! I’m not working with any reference photos for this artwork, because I had a specific pose in mind and couldn’t find anything close enough. Reference photos make things so much faster and easier, especially for complex poses like this but we’ll see how I go… You can see the man has legs sketched in more than one position, still testing pose details.

More sketching, mostly on the man’s leg positions. Again, he’s got a “double” foot sketched in, me playing with positions.

Time to start cleaning up my mess. I solidify the lines I’m happy with and erase out the one’s that I’m not. The mermaid’s hand on the man gets the chop, it was wrong. The man’s face (bottom half only) comes into focus. I’m not sure about the idea of not showing the man’s eyes, but I like how his hair is falling. Eyes are important in artworks, one of the main things a viewer connects with, and this artwork (with the angle of the mermaids head as well) hasn’t got much in the way of visible eyes. It might change. I’ve also used the free transform tool to rotate and reduce the overall size of the figures. Free transform is to one tool I miss most between digital painting and traditional painting!

Time for a change up! I need a new perspective to get these figures right, so it’s Mirror Image trick time. Switching to the mirror image of your sketch can give you a new view on things and help get a better drawing.  I sketch in a hand for the mermaid I’m much happier with, and a little shading on the man, who’s shoulder gets cut down to a better size. I decide I’m not happy with the mermaid’s body at all, it’s got to get redone from scratch (but keeping that hand I like!).

Lots of construction and mess around the mermaid while I’m trying to get her body sorted out. Getting a bit better, but still not right.

I’ve been looking at the figures for too long again, time for another switch to refresh my eyes. Mermaid’s body is coming up better now, so I start cleaning things up again.

I add in some more shading to the mermaid to get a better idea of her 3D presence, and give her some rough hair.

Fins! I wanted to do some really soft, wavy, feather fins for this mermaid. I also darken the bottom of the image a bit more with a simple gradient layer set to Multiply in the blending options.

About time for some colour, right? The card description talks about red-haired irish mermaids, so we’ll go with that. Red is a great colour for mermaids anyway, lovely contrasting colours for water settings! I add a little of the rusty red to the mermaids tail as well, and do some subtle skin colouring for skin that looks like it’s underwater. Dark grey/purples and greeny browns make up the skin palette, with a touch of the same peachy colour as the water surface for highlights. While adding colour to the hair, I’ve given it some more shape- digital painting for me is just slowly working each piece of the image from rough to refined. I’ve also done another free transform, reducing the size of the figures in the image again.

I go back to the background to finish up this concept. I add a couple of murky “cages” in the background, occupants included. A few hints of fish and bubbles, and add some more detail to the water surface. The man also finally gets some pants.

There’s still a lot more to do on this artwork, but this is the stage where I’ll normally stop and leave an image alone for a while, so I’m looking at it fresh when I go back again. I also want to contact the author and see if this artwork is working for the card description, and this is a good time to do so. While most of the image elements are now in place, I haven’t spent any of the hard hours of detailed refinement work still to go. It probably took me an hour and a half to get to this stage (between getting up every few minutes to drag my exploro-baby back to her approved play area).

This sketch actually went fairly smoothly for me, considering the lack of reference. Only a few complete limb rearrangements. I try to keep different elements on individual layers in photoshop to make painting easier as I go (background, figures, hair normally gets it’s own layer, foreground details like the bubbles).

I’ll try and remember when I get back to this artwork to keep saving stages and continue this walkthrough, or at least post the completed artwork so that you can see how much it changes in some ways, and doesn’t in others, from this stage. 

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!