Monday, December 15, 2008

Behind the Front Lines II - Pastel Portrait - Coloring With Pastel

I'm still recovering from the sheer number of commissions I've done for clients these past months, and once I finish the last of my responsibilities I'll post a few for everyone to check out.

For right now, I'm finishing up some of the other things I've needed to attend to, and starting at number one is the Gumby Pastel Portrait.

Emphasizing the Monk
Those of you keeping track of my project remember that I originally chose this particular subject in order to emphasize the idea that the monk parakeet named "Gumby" and the model are sharing a laugh.

Up to now, the only way I've emphasized that point is to draw the image with Gumby fairly centered in the middle of all the image's negative space. There are a couple reasons why Gumby stands out though...

1. The model is looking at him. Think of the people in any image you see as arrows, pointing your attention at whatever the artist or photographer wanted emphasized. By simply looking in a certain direction, we tell others around us that there is, "something over there" that is worth attention.¹

2. The lines in the image generally go toward Gumby. If you look at the drawing, you'll probably be first drawn to look at the model's face. From there, the downward angle of her hair and of her upper arm carry attention down to the base of the image, and from there the forearm and a few of the wrinkles in the dress go toward the bird. Gumby, however, is isolated in the negative space, and so the attention must jump to refocus on the girl, making it generally easier to find your way to the bird than away from it.

Now we use color to add more reasons to focus on Gumby. Note that as the post continues you'll see process photos; I'll refer to them directly as I come to their sections in the post, but to avoid clumping them all together I've spaced them through the remainder of this post, so their proximity doesn't really have anything to do with the text near them for the first few photos.

Color Me Pastel
I basically just have an assorted set of 20 Sennelier Soft Pastels that I work with. I've purchased a couple more individual sticks to capture skin tones more effectively, but I'll tell you right now that professional pastel artists have tons of pastels in every hue possible.

The reason for this is that pastels are generally not considered a medium to mix. Unlike paint, in which you can blend colors together to achieve different hues², pastels don't mix. So, pastel artists have as many hues as they can to overcome this shortfall.

This does not, however, stop you from mixing colors to a degree - you just have to take advantage of a person's eyesight to achieve the color you want. Basic pigment color mixing is called Subtractive, whilst the mixing of light colors is called Additive. I'll avoid getting into how the two work (you can click on this wiki link if you're interested), but when we can't mix the colors to get a result we want, we can lay the colors close to each other, and allow their proximity to blend into a color. This is essentially how your television and computer monitors work. In artwork, we cross hatch the two colors by applying the pastels with short gentle strokes.

There are two great reasons to apply pastels with short gentle cross hatches though. The first is the whole color mixing thing. Two is that you don't waste the pastel when you apply it in this fashion. I think many might be eager to give these pastels a hard push against the paper to fill in the color like you would with crayons, but that's a mistake. If you did it that way, you'd breeze through the pastel in a day, and if you ever bought soft pastels before ($$$) you'd know why that's something to avoid. So light little strokes are the ticket.

Head Towards the Light
Remember that in the previous Behind the Lines post I said that we'll be working from dark into light? Well, I did. So guess what I did? That's right! I start with my dark colors and go lighter as I get to the end.

The process is pretty simple when you get into it. Simply look at the area you want to start coloring in, and ask yourself what color the shadows are in that area. Remember that color theory will have you see warm shadows in cool light, and vice versa for warm light. This means that our model, which was lit from indoor lights that are very cool in color temperature, had warm shadows.

I went with dark purples for shadowing, but I also chose an ultramarine blue that I thought also worked well to hatch in with the purple (although I probably would be better off keeping it completely warm). I used these colors primarily for the model's hair and skin, and also the feathers on Gumby. Don't forget that you'll be going back over these areas though, so don't fill them in, just lightly sketch the color onto them.

When you're ready to get lighter, take the next lighter color up and go from there. It's important that you're always referring to the photograph you base the image on. Essentially you are matching the colors you see there, but even if you weren't (for monochromatic, bi-chromatic, etc. pieces), you'll still be matching the values you see, and that photo is the most important tool you have to represent the model realistically.

I find that it's best to constantly step back from whatever I work on and look at it from a distance, but it also helps to get a mirror and look at your work through it. Doing these sort of things allow you to view your image in a fresh way, rather than up close where it's easy to lose track of the bigger scope of a piece. Perhaps the best help you can have in this regard is another set of eyes completely.

Pastel application, like most things in art, is a practice of patience and concentration. Go slowly, carefully, and make sure each mark you make is calculated against the effect it will have on the piece. With pastels you don't have the option to erase mistakes like you did with pencils.

Always remember that you're going dark to light though. The piece should build up in front of your eyes as you add the lighter hues, but all at once, not section by section.

Hold on though, let's not get too ahead of ourselves...

The Color of Attention
We still need to use color to emphasize Gumby, and that means that I chose something which would make him stand out against the background.

Green and red are complimentary colors of each other, and this makes them stand out against one another in a pleasing way. So, I went with red for the background, and I was pleased with a second result, which is it slightly blends with the model's skin color.

This effect doesn't hide the model because of her dark hair and the light orange and yellow highlights on her skin, but it does add to the general removal of focus that I'm going for.

The Final Touch
Finishing involves a lot of tiny focused work. I use a few things to help me get the soft, blended look that helps with details. A blending stump, sanded to a point is great for putting in details in pastels; you simply rub it in the color you want and then apply it to the drawing. The same tool also works in picking up color off the piece, but always make sure it's sanded clean before touching it to new color areas.

You can also use the erasers and chamois you've used before if you decide color is too intense in certain areas, but they always need to be clean before being used so as to avoid muddying the colors on the piece. As a general rule though, your use of erasing tools like a kneadable eraser and chamois should be done sparingly. If your follow the rules of patience and calculated marks with the pastel, you'll barely need erasers anyways.

Like every piece of art I ever attempt, there is usually a good two or so hours of nitpicking and detail work. The difference between doing this and not can be the difference between looking "Great!" and it simply looking "OK". Plus any art professor you'll ever meet has an uncanny eye for this type of thing. The amount of times I've heard the words, "Looks great, but when will you finish it?" is too many to count. I've learned my lesson.

The best way to do this of course is what I mention above...step away from the drawing, look at it in a mirror, and get other people's perspectives. Most important for professional artists is the customer's opinion, although I'd recommend not asking art editors whether or not they think something is "done" or not...very unprofessional! For portrait pieces like this pastel though, often you will be dealing with a single private client who cares about the look of their commission, and will appreciate having a say in the way the piece ends up.

Is It Done Yet?
Click on the image for a larger version.

Don't forget to apply a light coating of spray fixative³ on the pastel when you're done. For my piece, the pastel is still bound to the masonite with artist tape when I sprayed it. After spraying, I carefully removed the tape and signed the piece in the border area that was left untouched under the tape.

For storing and transporting, get a good piece of glassine that covers the piece completely, and keep it laid flat in a folder, portfolio or envelope. I recommend buying Alvin Art Envelopes, because they include a black acid free matte board that looks great with your artwork, and the envelope itself is a solid piece of thick plastic.

And that, as they say, is that. I hope you enjoyed and/or at least found interesting, this latest installment of "Behind the Lines". If anyone has questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section of the related section, or in the main post for all sections.



"If they took away my paints I’d use pastels. If they took away my pastels I’d use crayons. If they took away my crayons I’d use pencils. If they stripped me naked and threw me in prison I’d spit on my finger and paint on the walls." - Pablo Picasso (unsourced)

¹ As an interesting side note, people with Autism have trouble reacting this way.
² Red and Yellow = Orange for example.
³ Don't forget my tips on spray fixative from the last post!

Previous Posts in this Project: Reference PhotographyLaying in a Foundation ILaying in a Foundation II

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Behind the Front Lines II - Pastel Portrait - Laying in a Foundation II

The Gumby Portrait has been done for awhile now, but hopefully you'll find the continuing process reports on it worth the wait.

Now, the next stages are very pivotal to the overall development of a pastel painting, so please read through them and make sure you understand everything before moving on with your own paintings!

Beginning the Foundation: Continued
So here's where we go darker, and wouldn't you know it, but I don't do enough of a good job. If you look at the drawing at this stage, it's getting darker, but I'm not really taking it to a solid 7-8 scale darkness like I should.

"But Ian," you ask, "What does it matter if I'm supposed to go back over this all with the soft pastels - won't they cover all the charcoal up?"

Well, it's important for you to start dark and work your way to the lighter hues as you progress on the pastel application. This is mainly because of the nature of soft pastels; you shouldn't really overlap darker onto lighter because of how the different colors combine on the support. Plus, soft pastels, especially the Sennelier Soft Pastels which I use, are damn expensive (but very much worth the price), and so to start dark and go lighter means you are using a hell of a lot of black pastels to begin the foundation. Charcoal, being cheaper and just as dark, works well enough; but also permits you the ability to see your under drawing once you've taken a few extra steps.

So go dark, but only after you are sure your main drawing is satisfactorily correct in proportion in placement. Like I've said in the previous post, the darker you go the less you will be able to correct without serious damage to the paper. The drawing above also points out another side to the coin though; don't be afraid to get darker! I probably should have gone up a few more steps on the value of my drawing before proceeding to the next step, but I didn't.

Beginning the Painting: Fixative and Charcoal
If you look to the right, you see the result of me not going too dark. Granted, it isn't terrible, but instead of a very cloudy appearance, the darker areas should really stand out much more. I'm getting a bit ahead of myself though...

After you bring your charcoal line drawing to a sufficient darkness, you want to spray it down with fixative. This is to prevent everything being destroyed as you lay down an overall coat of charcoal on top of the entire drawing.

Workable Fixative is what you want to spray your drawing with, and I use Krylon because the product is solid and so is the spray can nozzle. You might be fine with cheaper art store brands, but I've found them to be lighter in consistency, therefore making it necessary to lay more coats down. Some advice on fixative: be careful and be watchful of what you are doing! It's so ridiculously easy to destroy a drawing you've labored on for several days with one stupid moment of inattentiveness. I know this because it's happened to me more than once. Here's some bullet points on applying spray fixative:

• Read the directions and follow them to the letter! The most important thing is to be outside when you spray this stuff - do not do it in your bathroom or in a stairwell...get outside and do it proper.
• Fixative will stain whatever surface your work is laying on; such as the sidewalk, a wooden fence or a drop cloth. If that will bug you, put down some paper that is at least a foot larger on all sides than your work.
• When you are letting your artwork dry between coats, cap the spray can and place it away from the artwork. Make sure your artwork itself is properly anchored to the ground or wall and can't be blown away by a sudden gust of wind.
• Begin spraying AWAY from your work, because the nozzles will spit, and that is not at all desirable when it hits your artwork. By starting this way you begin to spray first away from your drawing as the can starts spitting, and then you can swing the spray over to your drawing.
• Several light coats are better than one heavy coat. Of course, you'd know that if you read the directions on the can...right? That being said, give every coat time to dry fully (10-15 minutes).
• Put down at least 4 good coats, spraying evenly from side to side on one occasion, top to bottom on the others. When you can drag your finger tip over a dark, and hopefully unimportant, area of your drawing with minimal charcoal residue coming off on your fingers, you're good.

After you've sprayed down the drawing with fixative and let all fixative dry on, take a stick of charcoal and drag it sideways up and down the drawing until you've covered the entire support with a light coat. Then, get an old sock or paper towel, and rub the charcoal into the drawing. Repeat a few times, but not so much that you darken the paper to the point that you can't see your drawing underneath.

The photo in this section is partially the result of me not going very dark with my initial line drawing, but not putting enough fixative down probably has something to do with it as well. All that being said, I can still see my drawing, so all is not lost! What you want at this stage is to have a nice dark background to go lighter from, but you don't want to have lost your under drawing which helps you keep everything looking tight and realistic.

Next up we put down the soft pastel! Stay tuned!


Previous Posts in this Project: Reference PhotographyLaying in a Foundation I

Friday, June 06, 2008

Behind the Front Lines: Batman Bike Process

Well, it's a little late, but that shouldn't be a surprise by now to all my die hard readers (Hi Mom!). Here's the long awaited process behind the Batman on a Bike bag illustration.

First, I used a few reference images for the project. I found a great mountain bike photo from Flickr, and a couple images of The Batman from a Google Image Search. To find these guys, I scrolled through photos using the awesome Internet photo browser plug-in called PicLens which I highly recommend, even if all you do is check out photos on Facebook or MySpace.

1. Ok, once you find the reference images to work with, you need to plan out the image. For this project I simply used my iPhone to take a nice front photo of the messenger bag. Then...

2. ...I printed out the photo in black and white on just a regular sheet of paper so I could start drawing right on to it. To be fair, I'm not good enough to start immediately drawing out the final plan; I sketched out Batman on a bike a few times in my sketchbook first. I usually try to work out my ideas in my sketchbook before I settle with a final approach. The photo printout is mainly to give me a quick way to gauge how the final product will look, but it's also a great way to show the client what their illustration is going to look like. Here you can see that the original design included a city in the background.

3. Once the design is approved, I mounted the front flap of the messenger bag to a piece of masonite that I had laying around. It just so happened to be a perfect size for the flap, so I was pretty lucky. Otherwise I would have gone down to the Home Depot and got one cut to size. Masonite is pretty cheap, and it makes an excellent drawing board when you need one, but if you don't think you'll ever need it again, I'd say try any sturdy flat surface panel, like a cookie sheet or better yet, a cutting board.

4. Next I used the sketch I made and the reference photos to guide me as I penciled in my illustration. It was done with an HB pencil, which is comparable to a typical #2 pencil. To erase any lines I used a mars plastic eraser, a magic rub eraser and my awesome Sakura electric eraser. It was during this phase that I showed the drawing to my brother, who thought the image was cool without the city, and so I just started inking the image sans background. To ink, and color, I used Sharpie markers. I found that inking in the outlines worked really well with a dual tip (fine/bold) black Sharpie.

5. The coloring for the Batman was pretty straightforward, all I had to do was match the color scheme from the images I found on the Internet.

Now, the bike's color actually took some time to decide on...and yes, I realize it's the color from the reference photo. The reason it was tough was because I had to weigh the fact that it's Batman...so why would he ride a red bike? But then I had to ask myself why the hell is he on a bike? In the end I though I didn't want to go black or blue with the bike because I wanted the bike to stand out. The best color to go with for that effect is yellow to contrast the blue of Batman's cape, but because there is already yellow in the belt I figured just sticking with red was fine (plus yellow just didn't seem like the type of bike color you'd expect to see in Gotham). Seriously...this took an hour to figure out.

For any of you out there thinking of doing this yourself, a word of caution; Sharpie bleeds when used on ballistic nylon. I found this out early on and ended up reinforcing my black outlines to compensate, which ended up being a good thing. The lines are thicker than originally planned, but overall they work better than the thin lines. So, the lesson here is keep your initial lines thin; put in the color; then go back over the lines to finish the coloring job. When coloring, avoid going over the same area more than necessary so you don't saturate the fabric. If you want to go over it again, wait awhile for it to dry and lay down several light "washes" of color.

Also, since Sharpies don't really come in a variety of hues, I used cross hatching and overlapping lines to vary the shading in areas - specifically on Batman's suit and face. This was a very time consuming process, but worth it. Just remember that you have almost no room for error if you try this, so be slow and patient.

6. Because I was pretty much making this stuff up as I went along, it seemed pretty reasonable to spray the bag with scotch guard to protect the illustration.

Well, I'm hesitant on recommending this step. As I was doing it, I started to reactivate the Sharpie color and therefore cause more bleed during the spray; so I immediately stopped. If you feel luckier than me, I'd say definitely keep the spray coats light and do it during a bright sunny day to speed drying times between coats. You can see from the photo that I was sure to protect the parts of the bag that didn't need scotch guard, including the buckles, with masking tape and a garbage bag.

What would have been awesome would be practicing the entire job, from Sharpie to scotch guard, on some scrap material, and not the bag; but I had no idea how to get scrap ballistic nylon. Maybe it would have been worth while to email R.E. Load and ask if they could send me some scraps?

7. So here's the final product! I'd love to hear what people think, and especially find out if anyone has suggestions on improving the materials used and the process in general.

Overall though, this was really fun to work on! I'm actually a little jealous that my brother gets to have the bag and I don't...but it's not like I can't make my own someday!

Hope someone out there finds this useful! Good luck if you decide to try it!


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Holy Messenger Bag Batman!

Batman BikeMy big bro offered to let me skip rent next month in exchange for illustrating Batman on a bike on his R.E.Load bag.

So here's the result, and I'm pretty happy with it; happy enough to make a behind the lines post on it and show some process photos.

It'll take awhile to compose that though, and I wanted to show off the bag sooner rather than wait for the process post.

Hopefully I can get it out to you guys sometime next week!