Progressing toward the finish, I refined the skunk, the armadillo, mandrill, tortoise, hare, manatee, dolphin, dodo, puffin and ostrich.
I paid more careful attention to the skunk anatomy and detailed out the armadillo and its armor (not as difficult as you might think).
I corrected the details of the mandrill’s facial anatomy, intensified the colors and added the highlights to the mandrill’s facial ribbing and nose to make his skin look more glossy. Obviously, I also worked on and finished his fur as well.
The tortoise received his proper skin and shell textures. The rabbit became a hare and I painted light showing through his ears.
Finishing the manatee didn’t take much work; mostly smoothing stuff out and making sure that the simple details on his face were clear and accurate. Then, I finished the pocked texture of his muzzle.
The dolphin detailing went pretty fast as well, mostly smoothing his skin out, checking and correcting the facial anatomy and adding the scratches.
The dodo just needed to be more carefully refined and highlighted.
The puffin finally got his full due with a smoothing out of his body and anatomical attention paid to the flight feathers of his wing.
The ostrich’s facial feathers and neck texture added a veracity to the painting.
As I’m doing all of this touch-up work, I am also adding more white to the pure white areas of the background, trying to make it as opaque and as flat as I can. At the same time, I am looking for ways to lose (soften) edges here and there. This picture’s main weakness is too many hard edges.
Just a few more lessons — we’re on the home stretch!
We’re quickly wrapping things up here as I continue to finish refining more of the animals.
I tightened and refined the bee, bat, cobra, luna moth and hummingbird. I lengthened the wings of the puffin a little (and paid better attention to their anatomy), especially after hearing the same comment over and over (“Do puffins fly?”). Like the other animals in this painting, the puffin has been caricatured. And, yes — puffins do fly. I saw flocks of them flying in Alaska.
The mantis got a new paint job as well…
…as did the moose and wolf. That wolf may look tight to you at this size but, believe me, in person you’d see that I painted that fur pretty darn loosely. With the moose I made sure his nose was darker than the rest of his face to bring it out. To that effect, I also added some reflected sky color to the top of the nose to make it pop forward even more.
The anteater received a disapproving eye and more nose detail.
I loved finishing the star-nosed mole and weasel. The re-painting/retouching was nice and simple.
It didn’t take much to finish the panda, either. I made sure his black continued to be less black than the chimp’s black and that his white fur for the most part wasn’t really white.
I’m starting to see the light at the end of the 39 animal tunnel…
At this point in the painting my task just more or less becomes the refinement of each animal. I need to make sure the detail and style is consistent with every critter pictured. In the case of this particular painting, I want it to be tighter — but not too tight. I want this painting to feel fresh and spontaneous — not overworked and detailed to death.
I decided to render the cassowary first because I wanted to get rid of the dirty blue that resulted from my glazing transparent blue over the sepia underpainting. It would become a good reminder of the brilliance of color I wanted to have appear in spots throughout this painting.
The same thinking was applied to the macaw. I wanted those dull reds to become bright.
The walrus needed a lot more work to make it believable, so I plunged in, ferociously refining the crude sepia rough. I knew that the flamingo’s head was off (I painted the first one from memory), so I referred to my photo reference to create a more accurate portrayal.
The skunk head anatomy was way off, so it got repainted, too. If you look carefully at this detail, you can detect where I originally had placed his eye.
I like the porcupine and anteater; I can already tell that any repainting or touching up on them will be minimal. I don’t know why — maybe it’s the color palette or the loose application and modeling of paint — but to me the anteater looks very Frazetta-ish, even though I can pretty firmly state that Frank never painted an anteater.
I put some more work into the chimp, hyena and sabertooth.
I smoothed out the chimp’s beret, giving it a velvety quality and texture. I also focused on his face and hand. I looked at how Lawson Wood painted his chimps. I used some of what I picked up from Wood then combined it with my own particular vision of how I wanted this to appear.
I tightened up the hyena a bit, deciding to make him pleasingly plump. I added the rest of his spots. He’s my favorite creature in the painting. I can’t help but grin when I look at his self-satisfied (and very human) smile.
I chose to overlap the sabertooth’s right saber tooth (on the picture’s left) over the hyena’s shoulder. If you look carefully, you can see that I still need to add some more opaque paint to this tooth as you can still see a faint shadow of the shoulder coming through the bottom half of the tooth.
I started refining the Jackson’s chameleon a bit, too.
Tomorrow: More of this Boring Detail Stuff! Woo hoo!
There’s a big change to the picture as I add what artists refer to as “local color”. Local color is the basic general or average color of an object.
Up until now I have been painting with acrylics. Once the sepia underpainting was completed I switched to oils. I like to use alkyd oil paints. Winsor & Newton makes them under their Griffin label.
Allow me to extol the virtues of alkyds. Alkyds are fast drying oil paints. They have been around at least since the 1920s. They give me all of the advantages of both oils and acrylics — but none of their disadvantages. They dry quickly, although not quite as quickly as acrylics. If I’m plein aire painting on a hot day here, alkyds will be dry to the touch in two to three hours. They’re oil paints, so they have the same great blending abilities as regular oils. Unlike acrylics, alkyds don’t change values after they dry. Like regular oils, what you put down on canvas is what you’re going to get. Your paint won’t become darker (like acrylics) or lighter (like gouache) when it dries. With traditional oils, you’re supposed to wait 30 days to apply a transparent glaze to your picture. With alkyds the recommended wait is a day or two. Recommended varnishing time for traditional oils is a year after completion of the painting. With alkyds it’s one to three months. As far as glazing (covering areas with a transparent layer of color; this is how Maxfield Parrish got such luminous, almost stained glass-like colors in his pictures) goes, alkyds are a a bit more transparent than regular oils, so the glazing is better. You get a much more consistently even reflective surface with alkyds than you do with traditional oil paints.
End of alkyds sermon/plug.
I get my paintings to dry even faster with the medium I use to thin my paints: 50% turpentine, 50% Liquin.
OK. Sometimes I’ll paint in the local color with opaque or translucent colors. In this case, I really like my sepia underpainting, so I want to retain as much of it as possible. To do so, I painted my local color in transparent glazes over my underpainting. I am sort of tinting my underpainting with color. I can control the intensity of the color in my glazing process by adding more or less pigment to my medium. Lots of medium with very little pigment gives me a pale glaze. Minimal medium with lots of pigment gives me a very intense color glaze.
In establishing the local color I begin “spotting” my color just the way I spotted my blacks and whites in the sepia version. I don’t want a cluster of color in one part of the painting and nowhere else (that would trap or seduce your eyes so that you wouldn’t want to look anywhere else), so I look for ways to distribute chunks of color around the picture to lead the viewers’ eyes all over the canvas. Note that the green of the T. rex shows up on the other side of the canvas as part of the cobra’s coloring, as well as on the luna moth, the toucan, the hummingbird and the Jackson’s chameleon. That green on the T. rex also pops (separates) the giraffe from the dinosaur a bit.
I was initially worried there wasn’t going to be enough color in this piece (I wanted it to appeal to children) but my fears proved to be unfounded.
With the establishment and thoughtful distribution of the local color, I can now begin rendering each creature.
First, I went in and more or less finished the toucan. I also blackened the chimp’s fur. I usually don’t use black straight out of the tube; I like to mix my own black, combining burnt umber with ultramarine blue. I can control the temperature of the black that way. More blue, cooler black. More burnt umber, warmer black.
But in this case I wanted the viewer to look at the chimp first. The artistic rule I’m using here is that to direct the viewers’ eyes to the most important part of your picture (or the part that you want them to look at first), the area that this will happen will be where you place your darkest dark against your lightest light.
So, I painted to chimp’s fur pure black and the edges of the canvas he is working on pure white. I also painted his beret a kind of purple that is only hinted at in the rest of the painting. Now that I’ve got your attention with the chimp, I can begin directing your eyes elsewhere.
Here’s the finished sepia version of the painting. This has all been executed in acrylics so far, by the way. I usually do my lay-ins with acrylic paints. Their very fast, quick drying nature makes corrections fairly easy. I hate that they dry about 10% darker, though, which is why I almost never use them for my finishes.
You can see that I added detail to the bee, the cobra, the wolf, the armadillo, the bat, the luna moth, the hummingbird, the tyrannosaur, the preying mantis, the Jackson’s chameleon, the moose, the sabertooth, the star-nosed mole and the weasel. I also performed my first clean-up of the white background areas.
Although I describe this as the “finished” sepia version, that doesn’t mean the elements within the picture are no longer subject to change. For the most part the appearances of all 39 creatures will, indeed, pretty much remain as they are. A lot of these animals, however, were painted with barely a referral to my research materials. The most glaring example is the mammoth, whom I painted completely from (my faulty) memory. You’ll see big changes in that hairy guy as I make major corrections to its facial anatomy in subsequent steps.
I’m continuing to refine my sepia painting. I’ve painted a reasonably detailed panda and ostrich. I’ve also added more refinement to the mammoth and warthog.
There’s more work now on the porcupine, anteater, armadillo, tortoise, octopus, giraffe and camel. The koala is gone; it has become the tortoise’s domed shell. Almost finished with the sepia lay-in!
It’s interesting to me how much the limited palette here of raw umber, burnt umber, yellow ochre, black and white suggests a broader range of color. This was something I learned in art school. A particularly valuable exercise in my Painting 1 class was having us do a series of paintings using only black, white, cadmium red light and cadmium yellow light. It amazed me how by putting certain colors next to each other gray could appear to be blue and that this simple, four color palette could be used to convey a full range of color. Mixing black and yellow produced an olive green; a nice brown was made by mixing black and red, and so on. Of course, using a limited palette also makes it very easy to unite your color scheme.
My wife, knowing how the deadline for this picture is looming (and loving this sepia version), is now beginning to beg me to stop and keep it a sepia painting on into its finish.
The refinement of the sepia lay-in continues with more detail added to the anteater, the skunk, the flamingo, the wolf, the hyena, the chimpanzee, the bat, the sabertooth, the mandrill, the rabbit, the macaw, the dolphin, the echidna, the manatee, the star-nosed mole and the cassowary.
I also quickly punched up the tusks of the warthog with two slashes of white, further enhancing the spotting (or distribution) of my whites.
I noticed in the previous lay-in that the heads of the hyena, the sabertooth and the panda are all leaning in the same direction, so I quickly repainted the sabertooth head so that it was cocked at a different angle from the other two.
Now that I am happy with this lay-in, I’ll begin refining it — still in sepia.
I began the refinement by tightening and further rendering the flamingo, the walrus, the chimpanzee and, just slightly, the cassowary and the Tyrannosaurus rex.
In rendering the chimp and flamingo I looked at Lawson Wood’s work for inspiration (I have a binder I put together that has every cover that Wood painted for Collier’s magazine; I also own several book collections of Wood’s fine anthropomorphic animal pics), as well as posing myself in a mirror for the chimp’s hands (the chimp represents me, after all).
I used photo reference in refining the walrus but for the cassowary and T. rex, at least this far, I just worked from memory. I’ve drawn and painted so many tyrannosaurs (and since this was a cartooned T. rex) that you’ll see I never ended up referring to any reference even on through the finish of this animal.
I’m happy with my rough, so now it’s time to move from paper to canvas.
Since this painting is going to have its own wall in the exhibition, I want it to be large. The first canvas I purchase, however, won’t fit in my van. I walk it back to the art supplies shop and exchange it for a slightly smaller (4′ x 5′) canvas that will fit in my car.
At home I makeup my palette. I’m going to paint a sepia version of my rough in acrylic. I use black, burnt umber, raw umber, yellow ochre and white. The yellow ochre is used to warm up my browns in the painting.
I block in the entire picture using a very big brush. This takes about an hour. Again, once it is has been quickly blocked in I can tell right away whether or not I’ve potentially got a decent picture.
I hate using rulers and I can’t stand “squaring up” or projecting in order to enlarge a composition. I have found I like to eyeball the enlargement, hoping for “happy accidents” that will improve the painting. It also makes the enlargement process less laborious and mechanical. Besides, If I don’t like my freehand enlargement, I can always go back to my rough and carefully correct what I don’t like.
What I’m creating here is a large value painting, that is, a black and white (brown & white, actually) version of my painting. I need to know that this composition and design work on their own without the distraction of color.
Just as much as I’m “spotting my blacks” (arranging the blacks in such a way that they subliminally take the viewer on a journey throughout the picture), I am also spotting my whites.
Normally, I’d first paint the entire canvas a middle value mixture of raw umber and white. Then, I’d arrange my darks and pick out (or “spot”) my whites. But in this painting I already know that much of my background is going to be pure white. I’ve left those parts as white canvas here, rather than painting the white canvas raw umber, then painting it back to white again. Why work twice as hard as you need to?
Like I said, I’ve totally eyeballed this whole thing. I did measure to locate the center of the canvas because I want that chimp’s canvas to be right smack dab in the center of the bottom of the painting. I love how the severe rectangle of the chimp’s canvas acts as a visual anchor and antidote to the organic rhythms and designed chaos of the rest of the picture.
But I didn’t use a ruler, however, to paint the chimp’s canvas edges. I want this painting to have a very loose, organic feel to it.
You’ll notice I eliminated the zebra (replacing him by moving up the koala) and moved the dodo from the left hand side of the picture over to the right.
I took a page of my sketchbook and filled it with an 8″ x 10″ (the proportion given to me by the museum) pen and colored pencil rough of the animal painting. I roughed the design out quickly in pencil, then just as quickly inked it, trying to retain the freshness and energy (or what I call “the juice”) of both the idea and the design.
I like working on this light brown toned paper as it allows me to add white (in this case, white Prismacolor pencil) to my drawing. I also darkened areas with burnt umber Prismacolor pencil. This rough was a refinement of my thumbnail (see yesterday’s entry). Here, I’m trying to formalize the design of the picture and my values (dark and light) system. Note that I am trying to have an engaging silhouette that will be easy to read at a glance, especially across the top half of the picture.
I narrowed the list of animals down to about 39. Peruse this piece closely and you’ll see tomorrow that I moved some of these animals around on the final canvas and eliminated or traded out some creatures in the lower half of the picture.
I find the thumbnail and rough part of the process very exciting, as I can tell pretty quickly whether or not I’ve got the potential for a decent picture.