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. 

Just A Quick Couple Little Things

I got a little overwhelmed with projects last month and was only able to work on one of the four pieces I wanted to do as tag along bits to Month Of Love. Recently I fell in love with working with watercolors on toned drawing paper, and I plan to do a few more of these small 5 x 7 inch pieces once my new supply of paint arrives via mail. And with Spring just around the corner I am hoping to delve back into some mycology pieces once again. 

BoushLeia_KatGBirmelin2016

Leia as Boussh, the bounty hunter. Seriously one of my favorite costumes, even if it's one that has the least screen time. 
 

StarWarsLadies_KatGBirmelin2016

Samples of the watercolors on toned drawing paper that I have been really enjoying. Rey and Leia have been shipped off to a charity, but I have held onto Padme for the time being and have plans to post her up for sale, along with a few others later this year. 

WIPLeia_KatGBirmelin2016

Here is a shot of me working on a new piece. I was at our local game shop working on this while my husband played Armada with a friend. This piece should be finished up pretty soon, I just need to get some white gouache to finish her up, since white watercolor doesn't lay down well on the toned paper unless it's in a million layers. 

MushroomStudy_KatGBirmelin2016

Lastly, I am really looking forward to getting outside a lot more this year to paint, and maybe take a look for some neat mushrooms to study. 

New Work With AEG: Process

Shortly before Origins Game Fair I was asked if I would provide any work for an upcoming game that AEG is planning on launching sometime later this year. I came as a recommendation to the art director at the company, and after a few emails back and forth, we came to an agreement and I was given three pieces of art to design. 

 Thumb nails roughly to size of the final art of a field of flowers

Thumb nails roughly to size of the final art of a field of flowers

I was given descriptors of the art I was to create from the art director. The first was a field or meadow of flowers blooming. This card has something to do with a restoration process that takes part in the games. I tried to express a range of ideas of this description for the art director, and he chose to go with number four. 

 Thumb nails roughly to size of the final art of a magical seed

Thumb nails roughly to size of the final art of a magical seed

The next card was of a magical seed, either in hand or some other vessel. Once again I tried to offer a range of this idea. I liked both number two and number four personally, but the art director chose number three. 

 Thumb nails of a majestic stag roughly to size of the final art

Thumb nails of a majestic stag roughly to size of the final art

The last image was of a majestic stag, who is the guardian of a sacred grove. The art director chose to go with number three. 

With the decisions made, I gathered some reference material to help me flesh out the final drawings. I used the thumbnails blown up to a more workable size to help me with the layout, and the reference images to help me with things that were a bit wonky. 

The art director left me to my own devices in terms of colors, which I found largely satisfying. It did take me a bit of tweaking on the final pencils, which were also sent in for approval and possible revisions before I got to painting. I don't often paint plants or animals, so I started in on the piece that I thought was going to be the most difficult. 

The flowers. 

 This is what the final drawing of the flowers looked like as I taped it down for paint. 

This is what the final drawing of the flowers looked like as I taped it down for paint. 

For all three of the pieces I transferred them to a sheet of Arches hotrpress watercolor paper at 140lbs. I then dry mount them to a piece of Masonite board with black painters' tape. Since these were all pretty small pieces, and I was still in the process of painting my Lini piece, I taped all three pieces down to the same board to work on. 

 Phone picture of my desk setup with all three images taped down on the same board....and my messy, messy pallet

Phone picture of my desk setup with all three images taped down on the same board....and my messy, messy pallet

Please excuse the phone pictures. Our beloved camera met it's fate while scuba diving in Australia with my husband, and we have yet to replace it.
But this ought to get the point across. I did have to prop the  board up higher via an unopened sketchbook because my neck was cramping from looking down so much.  

 Slowly building up stuff here, and starting on the piece I felt I would struggle the most with.

Slowly building up stuff here, and starting on the piece I felt I would struggle the most with.

 Final pencil for the seed

Final pencil for the seed

 Process on the seed piece, again, with the phone camera

Process on the seed piece, again, with the phone camera

 final pencil for the stag

final pencil for the stag

 Initial wash on the stag piece

Initial wash on the stag piece

Normally when I am working on multiple pieces I will work a bit on one, and rotate to the next, ect. But since the pallets here were so different I didn't want to mix in too many colors on my pallet (hah, as if!) where the colors on the paintings would get muddy. So I only worked on these one at a time. 

The stag was a little bit different because I used blue over the entire image early on rather than, for lack of a better phrase, a more paint by number approach. I also used a clean, damp brush to lift out areas of pigment where I did not want the blue wash to be prominent. I did not do this on the other images. While I do use some white ink in my work, I try to mostly leave the white of the paper to show through. 

 Process of building things up. Also I like to shoot my hand in with the piece for scale.

Process of building things up. Also I like to shoot my hand in with the piece for scale.

The process on all three is largely the same, and I admit that I am not really great at documenting this because I get very focused while working that I often completely forget to document things. Also in regard to the napkin under my hand, it helps me to stop my flesh from rubbing against the surface and transmitting oil to it. Or rubbing pigment off the surface. 

Since watercolors don't allow you to paint light over dark areas, I often work dark to light. I also look at my values using the black and white setting on my phone to make sure that the values are working together well. In the image above I am painting in some areas of value and leaving alone the areas that I want to remain lighter. 

 The last wip shot

The last wip shot

Once I feel like I have a good idea for my values I start to lay in color. 
Most of the time I feel like I have a very solid understanding of what colors I am using in a piece, and I have worked with watercolors enough to understand the relationship to working with these colors in layers over one another. When I am not feeling confident, or a client requests color studies I will tinker around with them. 

And the finished pieces....

flowers_katgbirmelin2015
seed_katgbirmelin2015
stag_katgbirmelin2015

These are only slightly tinkered with in photoshop to make sure the scanned art looks as close to the originals as possible. For the glow in the magic seed picture I used FW acrylic ink light green. I find that this is much more vibrant than regular watercolor. 

I am not sure what game this is for, or when it is due to release. I will keep you posted on that front. Now onto other projects. 

Sample Art for Paizo

I finally finished my sample portfolio piece of Lini and Droogami today. She was put to the wayside for a bit in need of working on some commissions for clients, but I have finally managed to get her all done with time to spare for adding her to my portfolio. She's already on my main website, but I want to have her in my portfolio book come review time at Gen Con with AD's from Paizo. 

Let me share with you a little peek into what it took to create this piece. 

r&rsketch_kgb15

It really started out with a doodle in a sketchbook of her head. I have been wanting to court Paizo as a client for a while now and after much pushing and prodding by my artistic friends I decided it was time to start on a piece. It was recommended to have at least one of their iconic characters in a portfolio so they could see how their IP translates in my style rather than having to guess. 

So I sat down and did a couple small sketches, decided which I liked, and did a drawing based on that. Then I browsed for some reference material to help me out with some things. 

 Wayne Reynolds is a beat when it comes to detail

Wayne Reynolds is a beat when it comes to detail

On Pathfinder's website I was able to look at images of Lini and Droogami for reference to the characters. I was also able to read a bio about the character that was helpful in coming up with an idea for the illustration. The image above was produced by Wayne Reynolds. 

I gathered a few more images to help me with details for the drawing, including a reference photo lent to my by my buddy Lucas. Once the drawing was finished I traced over it on my light table and taped the board down. 

 Sketch for transfer on the lightbox

Sketch for transfer on the lightbox

 Started paining this on vacation

Started paining this on vacation

 about 75% of the way there...

about 75% of the way there...

I like to work on Arches 140lb hotpress paper. It has a smooth surface which I find ideal for drawing on, though I have been told by others that it is harder to blend on without leaving streaks. I guess I'm just used to the surface. I buy mine in blocks, tape them to a piece of Masonite board (I like to use black artist tape because I don't tend to paint dark enough, so it helps me to have something to gauge my tones from).

I use a blend of watercolors. My pallet is always looking like a total mess. 

 My pallet has only ever been cleaned twice....I like it dirty

My pallet has only ever been cleaned twice....I like it dirty

I start out with dropping in my shadow areas and placing in colors. I tend to paint intuitively so I don't employ color studies much at all unless I run into a problem in determining what colors I want to try beforehand. Then I simply enjoy the process of painting. 

Watercolors can be a tricky a medium to use. There are a number of things that come up in painting with them from inconsistent paint pigment, to weird sizing issues with the paper, ect. I did learn a lot of techniques in college and I do paint in watercolors all the time so I have gotten used to developing a relationship with the media. It just takes patience and a lot of practice.

 "Rest and Relaxation". 

"Rest and Relaxation". 

The final piece was done on 12 x 16 inch Arches hotpress paper, but the actual size of the live art is closer to 10 3/4 x 13 inches. The above piece was scanned into Photoshop and altered to better fit into the framed section. 

This piece will be featured in the portfolio of work I take for a review in the hopes to someday get commissions from Paizo on their Pathfinder property. Aside from playing the game, I am and have always been a huge fan of the artwork done by the artists of the IP.