Arrow: A Look Into The Process, Part Two

I left on this process with my final pencil drawing for Arrow. 

Final drawing for Arrow, transferred onto 140lb (300gsm) hotpress watercolor paper

Final drawing for Arrow, transferred onto 140lb (300gsm) hotpress watercolor paper

The next step was to move onto tone and color studies. 
I will admit this isn't something I have used a lot since college, unless I feel the need for it in client work. But it is something that is important to process, and so it's one thing I am going to be exploring more. 

I have a few frustrations with this step. There has to be a happy meeting of getting the right amount of information, without dedicating too much time and creating a very small, concise miniature piece of art, before you even begin the painting. I am still struggling with finding that place in my own process. 

Another thing is finding the right surface. I have been exploring printing out a smaller version (about 5x7) onto different papers. Ideally I would use the same surface as the painting, and in the end I might have to take that option more seriously, but for now I am looking for a less costly way around that. My preference would be to do this in the media I am working in, rather than in digital, which is something I am not comfortable with. 

Attempting to make a color study. 

Attempting to make a color study. 

Trial and error color and tone study on regular print paper, with some photoshop

Trial and error color and tone study on regular print paper, with some photoshop

Above was what I shared in class. It was a definite miss, and so Rebecca came to the rescue with helping me figure this out, and also providing me with something more tangible to work from. 

Firstly she pointed out that I work more opaquely with my watercolors, which is true. Next came the first push outside of my comfort zone:

1) Don't be afraid to lay in a large color wash. This means not using the while of the paper, which happens to be more of a result of habit from how I learned in college. 

2) My figure is my main character, and everything else is a supporting element. I need to keep this in mind as I continue ahead. 

3) Work in main shapes and value scale basics (or in other words, less is more).

A) Decide my lightest value (in this piece it will be the doves)
B) Wash in the entire piece. This will help to unify everything. 
C) Decide on the darkest dark (her hair). Build this up, don't start out at the darkest!
D) A step down from the darkest tone will be the cloak. Establish a ground color before building up shading (establish how dark the actual fabric will be)

Rebecca recommended a pearly green grey color to tint the skin of the figure. She wanted me to keep my shadows on the lighter side, rather than going for saturation. With a strong drawing, it will be ok if I leave some things under rendered without the overall feel looking like it's not complete. This is also something I struggle with.  I'll just have to keep in mind a quote from Marc Scheff, another instructor in the smArt school program, who sometimes drops into the different classes. "You need to ebb in order to flow".

A process of working on colors, using a less clean version of the final drawing. The center is the color comp created in class by Rebecca, and the far right is of a piece by Miho Hirano, which I am using as a guide for both tone and color (but mostly tone)

A process of working on colors, using a less clean version of the final drawing. The center is the color comp created in class by Rebecca, and the far right is of a piece by Miho Hirano, which I am using as a guide for both tone and color (but mostly tone)

Rebecca proceeded with the color study, and also a few small tweaks to the final drawing. In this middle piece, which was the study she did during my crit time in class, she had gone with the figure being the lightest tone, and the birds the second lightest. However I switched this around when I started the painting. A big help was looking at another work from an artist, in this case Miho Hirano, to help me understand how to translate information. The colors were a bit too muted for what I had in mind, but it was because we worked with more of a focus on color with Miho's piece at this stage. 

Contemplating color tweaks, Rebecca does a digital color study

Contemplating color tweaks, Rebecca does a digital color study

The above piece applies some of the previous mentioned notes, especially in regard to color. This wound up being closer of an idea I had in mind for how the actual painting would turn out. My own color studies continued to miss the mark, and are definitely something I need to figure out to help with my process, and in the end, the final painting. Rebecca worked digitally, but it's not a tool I am really comfortable with. However traditional studies fall short as well, so I may need to mix some digital in the future.  

Working off my notes from the critique and laying in an overall wash, as well as working up tone.

Working off my notes from the critique and laying in an overall wash, as well as working up tone.

Establishing my color and base tone for the cape, which is my second darkest element.

Establishing my color and base tone for the cape, which is my second darkest element.

One of my favorite parts is painting in the skin tone!

One of my favorite parts is painting in the skin tone!

Stopping point before the next class session and critique. 

Stopping point before the next class session and critique. 

A look as I flesh out the painting, making sure to work with my reference as well as the color study provided by Rebecca. Also notice the scan of the work isn't the same as the previous pictures via my phone camera. Neither was similar to the actual painting. Just another art problem. 

A look as I flesh out the painting, making sure to work with my reference as well as the color study provided by Rebecca. Also notice the scan of the work isn't the same as the previous pictures via my phone camera. Neither was similar to the actual painting. Just another art problem. 

At this point in the painting I was feeling a lot more comfortable and confident. It was still a bit awkward for me to use myself, but this time it was less difficult to render than Ariadne had been. That said there were still some things I needed to keep in mind.

1) I need to watch the dark areas and shape language. Especially in the shadowed areas around the arm holding the arrow, both above and below. The same applies to the areas of the stomach (again and area I am really uncomfortable with rendering), and the breast area. 

2) Rebecca felt that the cast shadow on the arm with the dove was reading oddly, and suggested lifting it out all together. This was an important lesson in really deciding what information was important vs conflicting. It was a reminder that I don't need to be a slave to what I see in the picture. 

3) Hair is still something I struggle to render. Rebecca pulled up some pieces by Tran Nguyen and we took a look at how she paints hair. Specifically at shape language just the way it related to everything else in the piece. 

A) Keep my hairlines soft. This is especially apparent in Japanese paintings. 
B) If I need to go in and add delicate detail, it is totally ok. Even if it's not with a brush, but with pencil instead. Again, breaking me out of a bad habit. 
c) Lighten up areas around the mouth, which I tend to make too dark.
D) Cool my skin tones a bit in some places. This is easily remedied with some washes of blue or green as opposed to the violet or pink that I love to use for skin. 

NOTE: Use your phone to look at your piece in greyscale as you work!

NOTE: Use your phone to look at your piece in greyscale as you work!

One nice thing from when I was playing more with Photoshop as a media was the histogram tool. It allowed a pop up window of the piece you were working on to be shown in greyscale so that you could keep an eye on tone. It was also a small window, which meant it was easy to see if some things weren't holding up. 

It's a great tool to use, and when I am painting with my watercolors, I still like to see what my work looks like in greyscale. So I always keep my phone near at hand for this. Working on client work it's extremely useful to see how a piece holds up small. This is especially important if you are working on card art!

KatGBirmelin_wiparrow2016
Princeton Select Fix-It Brush

Princeton Select Fix-It Brush

Just a note, the above was when I pulled out some of the shadows. There are a lot of ways that water colorists use to pull out pigment. Normally I use a damp brush, which I did in areas of this painting. But sometimes it's not enough, so I used this specialty brush. It has a stiffer, slightly tapered bristle. I've only used it a handful of times, but it's one of my favorite tools, and it really came in handy in the piece that followed Arrow. More on that later.  

Saved the birds for last, not just because they were the lightest area, but because I was a bit uncomfortable rendering them. 

Saved the birds for last, not just because they were the lightest area, but because I was a bit uncomfortable rendering them. 

KatGBirmelin_Arrow_2016

The final piece came out so beautifully in the end. I really had a lot of stuff going on with this piece, and learned so much. I also came a little closer to being comfortable with using myself as a model in a pinch, and that to me altered the original symbolism of this piece. Or maybe added another layer to it. 

One last detail I added, which I wasn't sure about until the very end, was adding some Finetec metallic watercolor to the golden areas. I am happy I did it, and only with it was something I could capture better in a picture. I guess you'll just have to take my work on it, or come see this original in person.