Roast rabbit – and an art revelation

I had a clear “where have you been all my life” moment yesterday. After using gouache quite satisfactorily on Gil-galad, not just for highlights but also for some rendering, I decided it was time for another stab at gouache.

Gouache is often described as opaque watercolour (and indeed, many languages use no separate word for it), and can either be applied thickly and even paste-like, much like oils, or in thinner washes, much like watercolour. I’d often thought about trying around with the former, mainly because I’d been using only the most transparent of watercolours in recent years and felt that going opaque was just the opposite of what I wanted. One and a half years ago, roughly, I bought a book on painting animals in gouache, and faithfully copied the examples. It worked, but I didn’t like it. My gouache tubes went to the bottom of my art cupboard again.

I’d been thinking about the medium again and wanted to take another shot at it, when I looked at some paintings in my “inspiration” folder whose technique had always baffled me and it hit me: They weren’t watercolours. They were thinly glazed gouache paintings.

Gouache has a pastelly, fuzzy quality to it that I’d never really given much thought.

I immediately decided to try that. My mother had asked for a picture of Sam Gamgee roasting a rabbit, and it looked like just the thing to try in gouache.

I painted very much the way I always do, except that I mixed in white instead of relying on the white of the paper. The white gouache made for a fuzziness that just turned blending colours into an absolute dream. The greenery in the background also just fell onto the paper effortlessly. The only thing I’ll do differently next time is that, instead of a thin blue shadow map, I’ll do a bolder, more neutral shadow line the last time, and drop in the blues later, while it’s still wet.

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I recorded the painting process and uploaded it as a timelapse here.

The original painting is available in my Etsy shop!

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Crossing the Alps

Across the wild alps

Across the wild alps

This piece really gave me a hard time, but it’s probably very fitting that, in mid-October, I struggle with a piece depicting Hannibal struggling with the Alps in mid-October. My losses were in paper and pencils rather than mules and men, but it seems crossing the Alps isn’t meant to be easy.

The lineart stage alone took me a week and four pieces of paper as I redrew this bit and that and put the pieces back together again. The colour was even tougher. I don’t think I’ve ever painted anything as complex as this. I’d say I mostly succeeded. Another parallel there.

Before I started, I made myself a greyscale sketch in Photoshop, so I knew where to get how dark in the final piece.

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Then I mixed some Phtalo Blue, Indigo and Shadow Violet in one compartment of my palette, some Ochre in another, and then some reddish brown from leftovers I had in my palette (probably mainly Burnt Sienna, Piemontite Red, and Sepia).  I sprayed my entire canvas with water and added a very light blue wash, then going into all the bits that are exposed to the light with extremely thin Ochre.

Then, when this had dried, I painte a rather uniform pale blue sky. The picture is going to be busy enough; when everything else is done, I’ll decide how many clouds this piece can handle.

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Next, I started painting the mountains in the back of the image. I used a pale Blue, mainly Phtalo, and painted the “negative space” around the snow. I mixed in some green to suggest a few trees further away.

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Then I went about detailing the rock-faces closer to us, with mixes of different blues (more Pthalo here, more Indigo and Shadow Violet there), intermingled in the shadows and rockier parts with different, toned-down browns I mixed above.

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I make sure never to get too dark, but more and more detailed towards the front.

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More details and deeper shadows to the rocky bits.

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I painted a thin brownish/bluish wash across the army and the space below them, to tie them in with the surroundings. The group of three men, immediately behind Hannibal and the soldier he’s pulling to his feet, is overlaid with a muddy wash so they won’t distract from the two later on.

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I then decided the empty triangle of sky could well use another mountain, plus a few bluer shadows on the other mountains, which I painted in with Phtalo and Indigo.

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Next, I set out to paint the mountainside to the left. It’s completely in shadow, and I mixed some more reddish tones into the blue.

Down there, you can already see me detailing out the rocks with a brownish wash. The colour consists of everything I have on my palette at this point. 
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Finished detailing. Not too much – I want the detail to be almost lost in the rock face later on, enough to look finished and non-monotonous, but nothing to distract from the figures.

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Next, some skin, bronze and leather.

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Outfitting Hannibal’s Libyans with warm winter clothes. Quiet there in the back, I’ll get to you eventually. The elephants go first.

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More detailing of the figures in back. Simultaneously, I determined how dark my darkest spots would be in this image – Hannibal’s hair – to set off the rest against it, and to have something to check the column against, to keep myself from getting too dark in the background.

And well, after fiddling with hundreds of little figures for hours that don’t look like anything, I needed something rewarding to paint.

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In this painting, my approach is very un-classical. Instead of going strictly from light to dark, I made sure to lay done some guidelines, shapes through the painting, forcing myself to keep an overview rather than getting lost in the details.

Like the fact that Hannibal’s sword is four inches long. >_<

So this is where the mixed media part comes in, and I mixed some dark burgundy with gouache and fixed that sword thing. Next, I added some bright colours (not gouache this time, still sticking mainly to the colours I’ve previously used) for Hannibal’s clothes. They’re too bright as of now, but I plan to make generous use of dark shadows and liquid watercolours to tone them down and add that extra punch that liquid watercolours excel at.

The shields of the men in the back have also been detailed with a mix of ochre/Burnt Sienna/violet mixes already in use. No new colours have been introduced here.

I also painted over the entire army in the back again with a good brushful of dirty water. That got rid of the little white flashes of unpainted whites everywhere, and tied them together neatly. I’ll go in later to pick out some bronze helmet highlights.

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Liquid watercolours in action, picking out shadows.
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Some gouache too, for lighter highlights, which I rarely do, but which are needed here.

The colours look off in the photograph; the original looks much better.

As gouache palettes, I always keep the plastic lids of Chipsletten crisps (Pringles-like,but Chipsletten taste better). They’re the perfect size and quality for palettes on an overcrowded desk like mine.

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The epiphany of the week came with the realisation that a watercolour that looks off is ruined, and a gouache painting that looks of may just not be done yet. That’s a concept I never really grasped. The next step will be to understand how to go on. I manage well enough with gouache in metal and clothes, but skin is not very successful yet. A part of me refuses to paint skin with anything opaque, which seems to be my problem.

Last details of the Celt’s helmet…

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And the clothes of the men in front.

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Sealing Maedhros’ fate – walkthrough

I’ve split the previous post, so that it now contains only the thoughts about the picture. Now here’s the creation process for the image “Sealing Maedhros’ fate”.

The sketch was made in Photoshop. I like sketching digitally; it allows me to move around people or groups of people, flip images to check the averse effect, and anatomy errors are corrected far more easily. I’d actually moved to Photoshop with this piece after trying to sketch on the pastel paper directly, but that’s some unforgiving paper. It turned out such a large mass of people was too ambitious a project to do on pastel paper directly. So I decided to do the lineart on normal drawing board and print it onto pastel paper later. (I have an A3 printer I couldn’t do without anymore!)

The next stage was a clean lineart. As usual, I printed out the digital sketch above on A4 drawing board – faintly in pink – and then drew the lineart over it. The lineart is later scanned, and the pinkish sketch filtered out in Photoshop using Ctrl+U.

In the process, Curufin got the best redesign this character has ever had – actually, a side effect of a redesign of Fëanor I’d been planning all along. It was time to move away from the Prince Valiant haircut. I allowed the Twins to keep that.(Interestingly, the two “recent” Curufin pics – a commission and a collab with Anke Kathrin Eißmann – had Curufin long haired because we’d agreed on that.)

This new look is inspired by British actor Stephen Billington – he had a minor role in Braveheart (famed for being thrown out of a window by Edward the First) and he looked perfect.

Curufin narrowly avoided another redesign, when my four-year-old daughter looked over my shoulder while  was drawing, wanting to know who everyone was and what they were doing. I was just drawing Curufin’s sleeve when I asked her. “Any idea for a pattern I could use there?”

She thought for a moment, then, “Rabbits.”

I did debate putting in some rabbits as a joke, but then decided that it would effectively have ruined the image. XD

Doing the lineart on drawing board rather than pastel paper has another nice effect – the lines are far smoother and the detail works much, much better. The shading, on the other hand, looks much nicer on the rougher paper, so I then printed out my lineart to some A3 size pastel paper, and started shading.

And what a wonderful excuse to go overboard again with Elven clothing designs.

Here you see the finished Amras and Celegorm on the right, and a half-shaded Maglor on the left

Here’s the shaded picture.

That dark blotch over Curufin’s head is hairspray. The best fixative there is. Usually. Maybe I just scanned too soon.

For the finished pic, I used the gouache mainly and most strongly on Maglor (the front figure), to avoid having too many brights tearing the picture apart. Finished image is at the top of this post. :)