Tutorial: Painting with Acrylic Inks

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The latest huge new discovery of 2013 were acrylic inks (used to paint “Fog over Trasimene“). They’re quite similar to watercolours in many ways, but more versatile. They come in little bottles with eyedropper lids, just like the liquid watercolours I love to work with.

I’m working with three different brands here: FW Daler/Rowney Acrylic Artists Ink; Rohrer/Klingner Zeichentusche (drawing ink); and Liquitex Ink. The handling is almost identical to watercolours: I use them with my normal watercolour brushes, thinned down with water or undiluted. No changes there.

All the brands I use come in different opacity levels: from transparent like actual watercolours to opaque, and in this case, opaque is really opaque. I work with a selection of mainly transparent ones, to preserve my watercolour look, but have a few opaque ones, mainly light tones like white, for highlights. In order to keep them apart, I used small blue self-adhesive dots to paste on the opaque ones, so I don’t accidentally grab the wrong bottle. Like watercolours, different pigments have different lightfastness ratings. I’ve made sure only to buy lightfast paints. tut_acr1 The other huge difference is: when acrylic dries, it’s completely insoluble. When you add layers in watercolour, you will always slightly dissolve bottom layers. In acrylics, you can use completely transparent layers that leave all the detail work in place underneath. Whether you add dark shadows or light fog – I did both in the “Trasimene” pic linked above – it opens a world of opportunities.

With watercolour, you have to work from light to dark, for several reasons. You can’t paint light skin next to black hair; the black hair will run into your light skin. And you can’t add light colours atop dark ones. In acrylic, you have no limitations. You can put dark hair down and later add a light yellow across the whole image – nothing will run. You can add light highlights to dark areas – just use opaque paint.

The downside of that is: your palette. With watercolours, you can reuse, rewet, and clean palettes without problems. Liquid acrylics are pretty much there to stay. With tube acrylics, that’s bad enough; with liquid ones, you have the additional problem that you need a palette with small “pots”. My solution is a lucky one – in Germany, we have outrageously yummy sweets called “Toffifee”, which come in little blister packs. They’re perfect for liquid acrylic palettes. When I’ve completely mucked them up, I can just throw them away. So now I have a great excuse to keep buying Toffifees. Yay.

The picture is a commission for the wonderful Paul, for whom I’ve already done “A Sorrowful Meeting“. It’s his character Laerminuial, a Noldo jewel smith from Rivendell.

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I haven’t arrived at the definitive paper for acrylic inks yet. I’ve tried around with Canson Montval and Schoellershammer – Montval tends to cake ever so slightly, but Schoellershammer has some really unfortunate speckling qualities, so Montval it is. Generally, I’m still working with watercolour papers, as I still want the overall feel to be more watercolour than acrylic.

In the photo below, the first light yellow wash is already in place.

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I had one huge “PANIC!” moment connected to liquid acrylics: They speckle when wet. Dramatically. Most dramatically: Rohrer/Klingner Antique Gold Green.

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When this happened for the first time – in the face, of all places – I did panic, and ripped up the whole thing. Later, after the ripped-up painting had sufficiently dried in the dustbin, I saw that the face was perfectly smooth again. And that even works with Rohrer/Klingner Antique Gold Green.

Lesson learned.

When the background wash had dried, I applied some basic wet-into-wet washes for the columns and shrubs, allowing the colours to mix on the paper. I did the skin in the same soft rosy wash.

This works pretty much like watercolour. Overall, the following steps all mimic my usual watercolour techniques.

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I then proceeded to put down the basic colours for the dress and hair. For the dress, I worked around the ornaments the way I usually do – I can always go darker later, or lighter, to pull everything together. Right now, I just wanted to have the basic colours down. And watercolourist that I am, I still feel that leaving something light looks better than painting it light. :D

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Now comes one of the wonders of ink.

In order to give a colour to the ornaments on her dress, I can just lay a wash over the whole thing. I can tint, I can darken – all in transparent ink; the paint underneath is left untouched and crisp. If I tried the same thing in watercolour, the layer underneath would blur.

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More detailing to the shrubs, skin, lamp, and dress.

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Below: More detailing (lamps, shrubs), deepening of shadows (background, columns, shrubs, dress) and tinting. Tinting is one of the greatest assets of acrylic ink. If a colour isn’t as you want it – add a wash of what you want. Acrylic ink, like watercolour, lightens as it dries, and also “deadens” a little. Overall, that’s like an inbuilt safety net, with unlimited correction possibilities, as you can always just add another layer as you find you need them. You can see I work in a sort of island hopping approach – deepening shadows in different areas of the painting as I feel necessary, to keep the overall thing coherent.

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Lastly, a bit of more detail work – the leaves, and some highlights on the figure.

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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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The Darkening of Valinor

This is a commission I took on last November (…!), for a wonderful guy and one of the greatest clients I’ve ever worked with. He wanted a painting of Fëanor holding his slain father, and the scene quickly evolved from there.

As usual, the fist sketches I made were digital, so I could shift around elements and try out what looked good where – digital thumbnailing. In the margin, quite a lot changed; the centre was pretty clear for me right from the start. Only Fëanor’s head went all over the pace during the sketching phase.

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At this stage, I took it to pencil and paper, lightly sketching out Fëanor and Finwë.

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In the end, I had everything where I wanted it (and had corrected Fëanor’s leg and Finwë’s head wound). For the centre image, I had been working in A4 format, which I find easiest to handle. (Especially on a desk otherwise overflowing with unmarked exams – school really kept me away from drawing for the better part of 2013. But you probably noticed that from the absence of pictures this year.)

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I then started on the background. For this, I printed out the centre piece on an A3 sheet of drawing board, in light orange, so I could filter it out digitally later and put the two different elements together but was in less danger of smudging anything. I wanted the centre piece there with me, because the entire piece was to have a unity (Fëanor was to be in direct eye contact with Morgoth across the different picture elements, and later, I continued certain flow lines across the borders- such as Fëanor’s clothing continued in Manwë’s clothing behind Nienna).

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Drawing Morgoth.
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Outlining the Valar. Ungoliant would be redrawn completely – she looks absolutely wonderfully terrifying, but I assembled her wrong – the legs are attached between the head and the main body of a spider, not on the main body. I can’t believe I studied spider anatomy for this image, and actually desensitised myself (huge arachnophobic here) enough to be able to google wolf spiders and draw them as terrifyingly as I could make it. Incidentally, the desensitising effect was enough for me to clean the basement floor for the first time since we moved into this house. If I’m feeling particularly daring, I might scrounge up the courage to pack up the spider-infested tent that has been lying around in the laundry room since last September.

Apart from arachnophobic concerns, another huge topic was how to portray the Valar. I’m really glad that the client gave me completely free reign with this. I had a hard time finding back to my view of some of them – I’ve seen entirely too many Morgoths, Mandoses and Manwës looking entirely too pretty. Many will disagree with me for Manwë, and feel free to, by all means – I know that “they took the forms of the children of Ilúvatar”. And yet, Tulkas has a beard, and when I first read the Silmarillion, I imagined the Valar like Greek or Norse Gods, with Manwë definitely in the tradition of Odin and Zeus.

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Fun fact: Nienna, for me, has always looked like the woman in the video of “Babe” from Take That. The song was in the charts in 1993, while I was reading the Silmarillion excessively during my last year at school, and the video featured a solder coming home from a war (?) in a wintry landscape, where a woman clothed head to toe in some sort of black gauze was walking through the ruins of a Russian palace covered in snow, usually with her head in her hands. I’d never been much of a Take That fan (my teenage tastes were rather unusual – Maedhros, Hannibal and football players instead of Mark Owen and Gary Barlow), but the video fascinated me visually. And gave me a clear vision of Nienna.

 

Next up: Watercolours!

In the Deepest Wildwood

Remember these two? They started out as a thought experiment (“What if Dior’s sons had been saved and brought up by Ents?”), but as I never really subscribed to the idea, and as it’s June and Damh the Bard’s song “Noon of the Solstice” is playing right now, this’ll be it.

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This is the first painting deserving of the term since February. I can’t believe I survived this long.

The first sketch of this one was this:

 

Materials used: Schmincke tube watercolours (Light Ochre, Chromoxide Green Brilliant, Cadmium Yellow Light, Burnt Sienna, Sepia), Schmincke Gouache (White and Yellow), on Canson Montval paper. Size: 28×57 cm.

Note. Below, I’ll only talk about “Green” and “Ochre” etc, but these will always be the above mentioned.

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In the first step, as usual, I print out my lineart on the paper (see here). Then I wet my canvas with a sponge and prepare some of the Yellow, Ochre, and Green above in my palette, making it a light and even wash with my English wash brush.

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Also as usual, I dab some paint off the lighter parts of the figures with a tissue.

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Next, I add some more Ochre, Green, and Burnt Sienna to the figures with a size 4 sable.

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When everything is dry, I rewet my entire canvas, and prepare a very dark olive mix, made from Green, Ochre, and Sepia, splotching it around the edges with a size 12 mixed synthetic/sable brush. I splash some water into the wet paint too, to produce natural-feeling textures. The paint up there is still wet; it will lighten during drying.

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On to the figures! I use the same olive mix as above, applying it with a size 4 sable brush.

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Then I prepare a lighter green mix, of Green and Yellow, and use it in the head for some more colour variation.

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The paint dries very fast, and I can add detail with my darker olive mix immediately. For this, I use a size 0/5 synthetic brush.

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First figure finished.

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The second figure will have more colour variation throughout. For this, I prepare three mixes: Pure Sepia, Green+Yellow, and Ochre+Yellow.

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I dip my brush into these mixes in turn as I paint, and allow the colours to mix on the paper.

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I add some variation to the ground level, too, using mainly by olive mix, but also dipping in any of the others from time to time.

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The front figure will have more detail than the back one. I use my tiny forte brush and use all my colour mixes freely for variation, painting around some of the leaf detail to make it stand out lighter.

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In the end, I bring out some details again with gouache (white and yellow, mixed with a tiny bit if green watercolour).

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Next, the berries are painted in a Sienna/Sepia/Ochre mix and highlighted with my very light yellow-green gouache mix too.

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Finally, I go in with Sepia and darken some bits to the right and bottom of the figures.

The harp no longer sings

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This is a concept that has occupied me for years, resulting in several pieces already. It’s symbolic rather than illustrative of any given passage in the text – Maglor, a remnant of the Elves in Middle-earth but excluded from his people, caught in a world of his own where music no longer brings consolation, surrounded by the ruins of the former greatness of the Noldor, whose downfall he had a part in.

I’ve never really done much with the “ruins” part of the scenario; half-hearted attempts at best, probably because I really struggle with architecture of any kind. Now, though, I’ve decided to give it another go.

This is a more refined version of the first sketch.

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Here’s the lineart:

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When I print the lineart, I tint the ruins in the background more greenish and very light, so that it will mostly disappear in the finished painting, and reduce the ruins to faint structures that could just as well be from a dream.

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This picture is a great excuse to make excessive use of my new Cobalt Turquoise from Schmincke. For the first background wash, I mix it with Chrome Oxide Green and a touch of Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow, and apply it very thinly with a soft brush, lighter at the top and darker at the bottom.

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I then re-wet everything, and paint darker streaks, that will look like sunlight filtering through tress – or through water. I want the whole lighting here very ambiguous.

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After this has dried, I use the same colours – more green here, more blue there – very thinly to paint the detail in the ruins.

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To make it less monochromatic, I go in with a bluer tone, and paint the shadows in the areas between the streaks of sunlight. This is the point where my camera decides “This is all just green. Yeah, whatever.” I hope my scanner is more sensitive later…

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In all the following, excuse the turquoise colour mash, please.

Next, I add some Ochre to everything in the foreground – first the structures, to suggest sandstone or a similar stone.

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It gets a greenish-blue layer for shadows, to make it stand out less. I then decide Ochre will make a great foundation for the figure too. This looks very yellow now, but will mostly vanish under the greens and blues of Maglor’s clothing later, only serve as a “grounding” in the light situation around him.

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Some detailing in the ground – mainly with Ultramarine and duller Indigo, but with the brush dipped into Chromoxide Green, Cobalt Turquoise, and Ochre here and there for colour variation.

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Detailing on the leaves, again with the whole range of greens and blues used above.

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The skin is done with Burnt Sienna, as usual, but thinned down beyond recognition with my dirty water, which is now a nice green-blue concoction, rather thick too, as it’s dried overnight. Comes in extremely useful for making any colour fit the mood of my painting.

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I use the same principle with the hair tone, which is Sepia with a lot of dirty green water. The shadows are done with a touch of Indigo, too.

(Give my camera a kick here, please. Thanks.)

On the image on the right below, I’ve re-drawn the eyes and brows slightly with a Sepia marker, as the lineart was starting to dull under the paint.

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Below left: Next, I put in the base tones, very light, of Maglor’s clothes. I choose a mix of Cobalt Turquoise, Ultramarine, and Chromoxide Green for his tunic, and a more Indigo-heavy tone for the cloak. The hose is just my dirty water at this point. ;)

Below right: First layer of rendering. I build the shadows up slowly, mostly with Indigo, to avoid getting too dark too soon, and adding another layer here and there to add depth.

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Below: detailing on the arm guards. (I love doing Maglor’s arm guards.)

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After darkening and shading, and detailing, we arrive at this.

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Final touches include painting the falling petals with white gouache.

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The Oath has been awakened – painting

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In painting this one, I was facing the challenge to have a lot of reds, even in the sky, and horses – which sometimes leads to dangerously girly-calendary motifs.

So far, I seem to have succeeded in not falling over on that side of the fence. I know that because my daughter, a great fan of horses and pink, keeps looking at the picture on my desk and walking away without saying a word. That’s her way of saying, “Really, mum, such lovely horseys, and such ugly colours. I’d tell you so but I’m afraid of hurting your feelings.”

Yay!

Note: The colours on the photographs deviate really far from the actual ones at times. When I used the flash, they’re too yellow; when I didn’t, my daylight lamp resulted in too bluish tones. The entire pic is too large to be properly photographed with the means I have.

The lineart is, again, pencil, scanned, tinted and photocopied onto watercolour paper. See here if you have any questions.

My daughter would have loved the first stage. I overlaid the whole pic with a warm light red wash composed of Madder red and Ochre, dabbing some paint off the horses and figures, particularly the upper parts, allowing all those twenty-eight horse legs to blend into the rest.

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Then, I added streaks of more red into the sky, and blotches of Chromoxide Green, Madder red mixed with Ultramarine, and Burnt Sienna into the ground, for the colours of heather.

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Next, some Ochre, Sepia, but my violet mix from above for the stones. Later, they’ll be lighter than the rest.

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Next, I proceed to paint more heather. I mix more Madder Red with Ultramarine, and paint the upper edges of patches of heather…

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While the paint is still wet, I rinse my brush in the orange-y dirty water in my water container, and drag the paint down with it. The jagged top edge remains unaffected, the rest…

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… is blurred and diluted.

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Patches of heather:

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I proceed to muddy the sky (and frustrate my daughter), and add a dirty wash of Burnt Sienna and Ochre to the top margin of the painting, drawing it down with more dirty water.

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The ground now gets a second wash of my violet mix with Burnt Sienna, darkening it and softening the edges of heather.

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I allow it to bleed into the horses’ legs, to merge them with the ground. A while ago, I used to cleanly separate every element of the image, and sometimes, that would result in cut-and-paste looking picture elements.

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This is a sort of middle stage, from which I can start to add layers. It’s also the sort of stage that’s already starting to look good, and which I can safely leave on my desk without cringing whenever I walk past it…

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After a good night’s sleep, I decide that the ground is too light, and add another darker layer, effectively killing my detailed heather. Which isn’t so bad. It’s still there in a blurry way, and will look very organic when I’m done.

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Now, for the sky. I rewet the upper portion of the picture, mix some dramatic dark violet (with Madder Red, Ultramarine, Indigo, Sepia, and Burnt Sienna) and paint streaks into the wet areas, allowing them to run.

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The ground is dry at this point, and I start to paint the orange shrubbery around the stones. For this, I use gouache – watercolour wouldn’t have been visible. I also redo my heather in the same way I did above.

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I then add some highlights, again with gouache, to the shrubs and stones, and paint a few stray patches of wild wheat.

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Then I go as daring as I get and use green to paint the sallow thorn and the far hills, adding a few berries into the branches.

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Now, finally, the figures. I start with some reds and ochres to see how it looks. Yup – looks good!

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I paint the figures and horses with a fair deal of island hopping, working on whatever spot begs my attention (and is dry), mostly sticking to one colour at a time, more or less.

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More detailing.

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Just to show you how small some of the bits and pieces here are… The entire piece is 65 x 32 cm. … That’s one cent, btw.

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Some final touches with white gouache to spearpoints, hair, fur.

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Finished piece and detail shots: https://goldseven.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/the-oath-has-been-awakened/