Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Painting Process for 'Elusive'

This was a personal painting done in oils. I'm staying pretty busy with my freelance work, which is mostly digital, so I usually have to squeeze the traditional stuff in between jobs. On top of that, I wanted to submit this for next year's IlluxCon jury, and the deadline for that is... tomorrow. So, I had to paint this entire piece in about 12 hours. I figured I'd talk about the process and thoughts behind it a little. 

Like anything worthwhile I do, this image floated into my head while I was brooding over something else. I did some tiny thumbnails over the next day or so, trying to hold on to the feeling that I had when my reptile brain first threw the image at me, and once I hit on a design that evoked that first impression, I dove straight in. I did the pencil drawing directly on a primed masonite board. Working on this short a deadline means planning the whole painting process ahead, especially since I didn't have time to shoot direct reference for the pose. So, it's important at this early point to get as much important information down as possible. I started with the larger abstract shapes to match what I though worked in my small sketches, then worked out the poses and structure, then clothing and details. Once I thought I had enough to work with, I sealed the drawing with spray fixative. Don't breathe that stuff. 

I then moved to slathering the panel in transparent layers of paint to establish the big notes, especially the shadow areas. I was chiefly using large, loaded bristle brushes at this point and a fairly limited palette- titanium white, yellow ochre, venetian red, alizarin, burnt sienna, ultramarine, prussian blue, and phthalo green. I used liquin as my medium to speed the drying time. It's a good habit to go over the lines during the block in, rather than work your paint up to them, since it gives you more control over how hard or soft you want your edges to be. Sharpening and cleaning edges is easy to do later, but softening them is a chore if they're hard to begin with. 

By this point I'd started to lay in the dark notes, like the rocks, the man's pants and the girl's hair. I'd switched to mongoose hair brushes by that point- they're soft and easy to manipulate, but can hold a lot of paint, so they're hard to beat. Almost all the light areas in the water are the white panel showing through where I'd lifted the paint off with paper towels. After that, I started laying some opaque paint on the figures, first blocking in the shadow notes of the girl in a high key to preserve her overall light shape, and then slowly modeling the large forms of her body. Her foot looked clunky at that point and I procrastinated a long time before addressing it. It's hard to tell in the photo, but I intentionally kept the light areas of her skin fairly low in value, one to preserve the moody atmosphere, but also in preparation for laying the lighter clothing on later. I used the same approach on the man's arm- first, the darker skin of the arm itself was blocked in and modeled; then, the shadow sides of the wet shirt were painted over that, and then finally the highlights (which are NOT white!). The folds of the wet cloth are not copied from a photo- they're designed to help reveal the movement of the arm underneath, and the choppy shapes are to preserve some of the violent tension of the whole painting. 

A friend of mine helpfully pointed out that the girl's shins were way too short, so I did a little corrective surgery, which also helped to deal with the clunky foot. With most of the major blocking in done, I finally got to the fun stuff- diaphanous drapery. As with the man's shirt, I worked on the shadow sides of the wet cloth clinging to her, but much more softly, gradually working to the shining highlights on the edges of the dress and in the creases. Again, the folds are placed to emphasize her movement, where she's bending, where I want to show a form wrapping around. They're also designed to flow more and give an airy look, in contrast to the violent folds on the man's clothing. Other contrasts were similarly installed- her relaxed foot opposed to his firmly planted one; her arm gently wrapping over over his head, opposed to his tightly grabbing her; the much more subtle value and color shifts on her body, opposed to the stark values and chromatic notes on his. 

Once the figures had been refined to the point I wanted, I returned to the background, fixing up the values and colors and cleaning up rough areas, especially edges. When I was happy with that, I did a final pass on the focal areas, particularly the girl's face and foot and the guy's hands, and punched up some of the dark accents. Even in the finished painting, a lot of it is fairly loose, just a dark stain on the white panel in many areas. That play between opacity and transparency is one of the many joys of oil paint, and something you can use to your advantage if you plan for it and won't have time to go in and tighten everything up. Hope all that blathering is interesting to someone. Cheers!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Reclining Nude

A quick sketch from photo that I did over Livestream. Mostly playing around with the chalk brush in Painter and trying to stay broad and avoid getting into detail. It's nice to loosen up now and then, with all the illustration work I normally do.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sketchbook Pages

Some scans from my sketchbook.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012


I got some time between jobs to work on a personal piece last week and took some shots of the process. It's an oil painting on 12X18" wood panel.

The digital value sketch. I hadn't figured out how I was going to color it at this point, so the value pattern is slightly different than what I ended up going with. A red key light felt like the right direction, and it posed an interesting challenge, since it's an inherently medium-dark color at full chroma. That meant compressing the value range more than I'm used to, while avoiding crushing all the darks. That Craig Mullins study I did a few weeks ago is still paying dividends when it comes to handling that sort of thing. 

The loose drawing done over an old painting that I sanded down. I'm using reference photos of abandoned prisons, especially the Eastern State Penitentiary, and photos of myself in the pose. No, I'm not posting them. 

Normally I'd block in the whole value pattern in monochrome before going in to the actual painting, but for this one I went straight in to the figure, which I'm going to key the rest of the piece to. I'm also trying to make this efficient, since I don't have much time between jobs, and the piece is simple enough that I don't think I'll screw myself by skipping a step. I don't have a standard color palette for every painting- on this one, I'm using- Titanium White, Yellow Ochre Pale, Cadmium Red Light, Winsor Red, Quinacridone Red, Transparent Oxide Red, Dioxazine Purple, Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Green, and Blue Black.

Painted the wall and the key light. The rock textures were a lot of fun, as rocks tend to be. The downside of skipping the value block-in earlier is that the painted area is now much darker than the surrounding area, so it's hard to properly judge whether I've made mistakes or not. At this point the red light looks more like red paint.

The painting near-finish, with the rest of the room done. As it turned out, I'd made some of the red light casting on the side walls too dark, nearly the same value as the blue of the walls in shadow. Once it was dry, I went back and painted over those areas with a lighter red, and lightened the top-planes of the broken fragments on the floor. I also dropped some glazes on the shadowed parts of the walls. The final is the first image in this post. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Environment Concepts

Some environment concepts for a game I'm doing some designs for.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Mullins Study

I've wanted to do a study of this Craig Mullins piece for a while, since... y'know, it's Mullins. 

I figured out a lot of what I tend to do wrong with my pieces right from the beginning, just by studying the big shapes. Something you see consistently in all good painting, and which I still need to make myself pay attention to in my own work, is very strong silhouettes. Everything here is divided into light and shadow, but their overall shape is maintained. The light being cast on the floor is used to carve out the silhouettes of the people in the crowd, so that most of them read even with very little detail. Attention is first paid to the large abstract design. Notice how the big shape of the crowd blends seamlessly into the large vertical structure.

The shadows in this are also airy, with very dark accents only used in a few select spots. This allows them to carry much more color and texture information. Trying to figure out how this is done is one of the reasons I wanted to do the study, because in my own work I tend to either crush the shadows till they're nearly black, or go in the other direction and wash them out. That might be because I take the value too close to the light- in the Mullins piece, the shadows get very light in areas, but the degree of value separation from the lights is always consistent. 

Flow of light is important in the whole piece. The dark shapes in this get significantly lighter as they go back into atmosphere, but counterchange is used to keep them clear. Few of the shapes- the pillar on the left, for instance- have the same value from top to bottom though. If the pillar were the same value the whole way, it would look pasted on to the picture. It's darker than the arch behind it at the bottom, but as the arch lightens towards the top, the pillar does as well, without ever getting light enough to break the shape. You can see flow of light, and color shift, on the floor as well. It's more orange towards the right, near the windows. It cools and lightens as it goes back in space.

This is as far as I took the study. I didn't get into any detail, and didn't pay as close attention to edges, but still did pick up on how important they are to the piece. None of the big shapes are changed much from the earlier stage, aside from a little refining, but edges and texture are used so masterfully within those shapes that you can always tell what the material is. Definitely makes me want to hit the material studies, something I tend to neglect. Knowing those properties allows you to suggest how something looks without having to go in and render the crap out of it.

Another thing that the study reminded me of was the need to paint with a harder brush. It's not a problem I run into with oils, but in Photoshop I still find it so challenging to make the exact marks I want that I veer towards softer-edged brushes and pen pressure turned out. It makes it easier to inch towards what I want, but the flipside is that it becomes much harder to make a bold, clear shape with a sharp edge easily. I need to return to the hard round every now and then.

Edit: Notice how, even with the piece I'm copying right there, and full awareness of having this problem, I've still managed to make a lot of this just a little too dark. Note to self...

Monday, June 11, 2012

'Alien' Studies and some recent work

I am doing a really bad job of keeping this thing updated... I'll blame freelance. 

I've started doing comp studies from film stills- something I should have done years ago instead of only studying old paintings, especially since I want to work in that industry. These were done from the original 'Alien.' Such a gorgeous movie. It continues to blow my mind that these shots that seem so busy and full of mechanical details and complex lighting are actually so (deceptively) simple. Big shapes. Very clear silhouettes. You can tell what's going on from a mile away. 

This being an old movie, I also really appreciate how subtly a lot of the color is done, compared to the over-the-top complementary color usage these days. If anyone knows a good reason for the bright yellow-lit helmets in Prometheus, besides "It stands out against the blue backgrounds," I'm all ears. (Don't get me wrong though, that movie was still bloody gorgeous.)

Some recent work. These 2 are paintings for a client's sci-fi film pitch. Some of my more fun assignments. 

Cover illustration for Jared Sandman's new novel, 'Blackstone.' 

Finally, a portrait I did of the late Christopher Hitchens for the 'Notorious' group show at the Modern Eden Gallery in San Francisco. I haven't had a chance to work in oils much lately, so this was a real joy, and I finally got to do some experimenting again. I might post some of the sketches and process shots in a later post, once I get them scanned.

Monday, April 2, 2012

'Rout' Process

I finally finished the oil painting I've been working on in my free time. Though I'd post some process shots.

I went through several sketches for this one, some of which I've put up in earlier blog posts, and finally landed on this one. Another awesome artist, Josh Godin, gave me some feedback on it that I tried implementing in the final- moving the horse on the right over a little to give the main rider some breathing room, putting some more contrast on that main rider, playing with the shapes of the flying dirt in the foreground to better suit the arcs of movement, and closing the window of light shapes formed by the guy's arm on the upper right.

I used a 20x30" stretched canvas for this. The major shapes and drawing were done in vine charcoal, since it's easy to erase and I wasn't working from a preparatory sketch.

Major values for the foreground, middleground and background are massed-in using thinned out raw umber.

The entire painting was going to be keyed to the main rider, so I painted him first.

This was the last progress shot I took. Once I got the ground done things started to fall into place, but some things still needed major corrections. The fortress in the background bothered me from the get go, and the sky was too plain, so I painted over the whole thing and added a cloud, which made it look like the dragon was coming down for the sky, so I played that up. I'd also gotten rid of the horse and rider flying through the air, so I needed to add more evidence of the carnage in the background, behind the main rider.

With the major corrections done, it was just on to refining, which is probably the most time-consuming part, and for me, the least interesting. Gotta slog through the boring parts though :). This is also typically the part where I hit the reference the hardest- I try to take my pictures as far as possible from imagination. At a certain point, I can't fill in the information from my head any more though, so I need the reference photos to tackle details.