To begin with:
A Robot and Flower
Gouache on 9x12 watercolor paper
This is the first proper painting I've done in a while and it was meant to be thrown together really quick just as a sketchbook piece, but I feel like it went a little bit further than that. I had such a blast making it though, that I wanted to share my process and some of the joys and frustrations of making this baby.
This piece was done for the August Artwork Challenge in this forum with the theme of "technology." when I first looked over the challenge I had a dim idea of what I wanted to do and lazily put some ideas down on paper I wasn't really super happy with. My main goal was a large ancient robot or mechanical thing trudging through a dank and dark forest finding a flower and being interested in it. Initially I was worried that it might be too derivative of something like Castle in the Sky, but with some reassurance from the good folks in the Art Challenge thread I decided to go ahead with my ideas. Light due date for the piece was August 24.
Cut to August 23. I was sitting around and thought to myself, "Self, we should get on that art challenge, we can slap something simple together just for the participation trophy. Let's go." So off to sketchbook land. Because of this challenge, during the month I had gone over and reread Dresden Codak (which I recommend both artistically and story...istically) so there were some ideas percolating there. My intnetion now was just to get something down on paper, maybe get some ink lines on it and a couple of quick watercolor washes and call it good.
My first doodle was a big change from other things I had done. Whereas most of the others were side views of the scene (which now gives me a yet different idea for a similar painting, because of Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, also good movies) this one turned out to be a more head on view. Now, when I sketch out ideas like this I try to start light but it usually ends up with pretty heavy lines and atrocious line economy. That's somewher eI really need to improve. I feel like when I'm done with a lot of sketches, I can tell what is supposed to be going on with a picture, but it's harder for that picture to communicate it to others because they're only seeing the (very messy) end result, in contrast to my experience with the entire build up of the picture. Anyway, here's what I came up with that made me happy. I probably could have gone on to do more sketches but I felt pressed for time and since this wasn't to be a fully perfect piece I called it good.
Next came the move over to the actual painting surface. I just recently moved into an apartment with enough square footage for some modest studio workspace so I have a drafting table I can use now to work at. I grabbed a piece of Canson 300 lb. watercolor and taped that sucker down. I didn't have either transfer paper or time to get it so I just sketched as lightly as possible the picture onto the new surface. A kneaded eraser was tons of help here.
The two biggest differences between this picture and the sketch I think are the wider composition and the curved neck. The composition is to better fill the page space while the change in neck position was a really deliberate choice incidentally sparked by a recent viewing of the new Ducktales reboot (or rather, Disney Animation in general.) It is a principal of good character design to avoid visually symmetrical character and also to give your characters as recognizable a silhouette as possible. In the sketch, we can see that the robot's head is buried in its torso and abdomen silhouette and overlaps its crotch. To avoid that I twisted the robot's position just so in order to give it a little more dynamic feel and give that head some more attention.
Next comes shading. We're still on the 23rd here. (I'm a stay at home dad, which will come up again later.) I make and study medieval illuminated manuscripts and other art and one of the few instructional pieces we have from that time period includes Cennino Cennini's The Craftsman's Handbook, which is an excellent resource for not only medieval tempera painters but also apparently modern forgers of medieval paintings. I used Cennini's method of building up shadows in ink washes for this piece by starting with heavily diluted ink (about two or three drops of Higgins Calligraphy Ink to a tablespoon of water) and strengthening it with a couple drops of ink after each pass to darken shadows. I feel like it worked pretty well butin consultation with some Leonardo sketches later I think I could have gone a lot darker. Also, I had wanted to keep the main character fairly high key while darkening the background pretty heavily. However, i didn't do ink washes for the shadows ink the background cave because that a.) would have used a lot of ink, b.) might have buckled the paper, and c.) would have taken FOREVER! Quick shot of shade washes.
That seemed like a good work for the day. The next day would be washes and then we could post it and call it good.
Got right to work on laying in colors and quickly realized that gouache wasn't going to cut it with just watercolor washes. For that I should have used actual watercolors. But of course I only have reeeally cheap Hobby Lobby (like $5 for a set) watercolors just for playing around with. I have much better gouache paints so I stick with those. Also I am more familiar with gouache from working aforementioned illuminated manuscripts for SCA scroll work. Colors go on fine though and things are coming together nicely. I like the fluidity of watercolors and the strength of acrylics and oils. I like to start with a midtone in laying in color and then work to dark and after that throw in the highlights (Thanks,Obama, er, wait... Cennini.) In summary, Gouache is pretty much right up my alley.
I was chugging right along with the backgrounds, because I hear that with gouache you basically paint from the back of the painting forward (which in this case, also seems to sort of imply outside in, but not really, but sort of.) I had just gotten done with the backgrounds and was getting ready to start on the robot proper and then comes the siren call of my daughter, "Daddy! I poop!"
The two year old needs her diaper changed, which seems reasonable enough, and it seems like a good reason for a quick trip to the bathroom for me, too. Great, right? Two seconds and then back to work. But when I get back SOMEBODY has decided that artistic expression is valid at all ages and skill levels.
Now, I guess I should have seen this coming. I had been shooing her from paints and brushes all day. This is the first place we've lived since she was born that I've been able to really work on painting in front of her so she was bound to be curious. Still, a day and a half straight work seriously compromised by a few flicks of the errant toddler is gut wrenchingly hard to deal with. I;m just glad it wasn't an oils piece. Wouldn't that have been rich? Hah!
So I got angry, and my daughter got a time out. I had to take a few hours away from the piece and stew over my existential angst and my failures in life (chronic depression, amirite?) Fortunately, my loving wife, who is super understanding and really supportive helped me get back on track and actually get working on the painting again that same night.
This is where the opaque qualities of gouache came in handy. I was pretty easily able to cover up my daughter's creative insertions and keep going pretty strong. Layed in basic colors on the robot and got to bed. Not finished in time technically, but whatever, I'm good for it in the long run.
On the 25th I was able to get in about a half day's work because we had a ren faire demonstration to help with that weekend. I got most of the robot shading done but there were still a lot of details to work with. I had to work really hard to pull myself away from the canvas here and I also took apart most of the studio to take to the ren faire and do art demonstrations. Most of the weekend was just internal pining for wanting to get back to the robot, which made drawing muscle figures in a renaissance style much more difficult. Fantasy robots are not Raphaelian angels. Sorry, no picture of this stage of the work. I forgot to snap one.
And then, when we did get home and I finally got everything set up my artistic ennui also set in and I was unable to work on this for a whole week. Blech. Everything was set up and all my distractions (that is to say, my laptop) were focused toward working on painting. (The laptop was next to the drafting table.)
Finally, FINALLY, last night, the art bug hit again and after the day was basically done. After dinner was cleaned up and the child was in bed I was able to sit down and enjoy putting the final details on this piece. The highlight went on the jewels. The wires went on the back and more texture went on the stones. I painted from about 8 until 12:30 before being able to stop and say to myself, "That's good enough."
And that brings us back to the top picture which you are free to C&C. I know there's a lot wrong with it and I am happy to discuss those things and ways to improve them, but I don't want to list them all up front. I probably have some more things I could still do to this piece to make it stand out more but I'm not sure how much further to push it because I am wary of "gilding a lily" as my wife has so elegantly stated.
Anyway, thanks for reading this far. Cheers.