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January 30, 2013

Marriage Announcement Illustration

A few weeks ago my girlfriend Claire and I got married.  The first thing that popped into my head, once it became apparent that we were going to get married at City Hall, was Norman Rockwell's painting "Marriage License" that he did for the Saturday Evening Post in 1955:

Claire and I decided to put together a little marriage announcement for our friends and family, so I made an illustration based on Rockwell's for the occasion.  I tried to copy his composition as closely as possible, while also modernizing it and bringing in a few specific elements from the Oakland Hall of Records, where our license was issued.

It was fun paying homage to a real master.  Hopefully Mr. Rockwell is not rolling over in his grave because of this.  If you ever get the chance, you should visit the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.  The collection is incredible, and they have some wonderful programming.  

Next week it's back to the watercolors!

January 23, 2013

100 Watercolors #54 - Tower

This week's theme was a bit tedious to draw and paint, but I'm pretty happy with the end result!

Next week's theme: Waiting

January 9, 2013

100 Watercolors Process: Part 3

Last week I inked the finished drawing onto watercolor paper.  Before I dove in with the paint however, I decided to do a digital color rough.  I do this sometimes with more complicated compositions to try and figure out some of the value and color choices before I start painting.  Here's what I came up with:

The main thing I learned from this is that I wanted the little boy's room and the christmas tree to both pop with warm colors while the rest of the composition was going to be cool colors.  I didn't even print this out and look at it while I was working, I just did it to get my brain thinking about the painting.

Here are the tools that I work with:

I use one of those little Windsor Newton travel watercolor sets with 16 colors and then an additional mixing tray.  All my brushes are synthetic sable hair, rounds, at three different sizes (2, 4 and 8).  I usually tape down the paper to my clipboard so that it doesn't buckle too much while it is getting wet.  I also use scrap watercolor paper to dilute the colors or test them out, and it's always a good idea to have some paper towel handy, to quickly soak up mistakes.  Let's get started!

One of the great tricks Claire showed me is to wet large areas with plain water first, before trying to cover them with paint.  This makes it much easier to spread paint over it later, and it will go on much smoother and more consistently than if you try this with dry paper, but make sure you let the water seep into the paper.  It shouldn't be wet on the surface when you go back in with paint.

Here is the first layer for the carpet.  I've found that for really dark values, I can't get it in the first pass.  It will take multiple layers, so you can have a lot of fun with that by placing an odd color choice underneath.  When the second (or third, or fourth) layers are placed on top, you get this really cool interplay of color.

When I first started doing watercolors, I was confused whether I should first paint large background areas or smaller foreground areas.  I was lucky enough to take a great watercolor workshop with Emma Skurnick and she said to go for the backgrounds first, so that's what I do now.  She also recommended that you use larger brushes for larger areas, so that you can cover more area quickly.  Above you can see all the first layer of background color in place.

Another key thing Emma taught us was that you should never work consecutively on two areas that touch, because the colors may bleed into eachother while the paint is wet!  Usually I work on two paintings at once, so that while one is drying, I can work on the other.  In this case, I decided to work on some of the warm interior scenes, because they were not touching the larger background areas.

Above you can see that I applied the second layer of background paint.  The walls turned out a bit more greenish than I was planning, so for the rest of the painting I tried to put in a lot more blue, to pull out the blue of the wall and to hopefully mute the green.

For the railings and moulding, I couldn't quite think of the right color, so I decided to work in layers.  I first painted the woodwork in "daylight" color, which you can see above (the door is still wet!)

I then go over the wood with a second layer of blue paint to darken it and bring it in line with the rest of the composition.  I am planning on doing the same thing with both the warm areas, but I'm letting them super dry at this point so that I can get some hard edges with highlights/shadows.

Next I went in and finished up the christmas tree area.  I layered a bunch of blue paint and tried to get a highlight on the wood baseboard leading into that room, and by leaving a bit of the yellow glow showing through.  I also went over the handrailing one more time so that the value was closer to the background carpet.

I then finished up the first layer of the bedroom (painting the kid) and added a blue layer on both of the parents.  There was now paint on all areas of the painting, so I actually went to bed at this point and let all of this dry over night.

In the morning I came back in with some more blue paint to work out the values for the parents and then added the shadow layer on top of the kid's room.  

Once it has dried, I usually go in one more time to push some of the values a bit more, darkening up various areas.  This definitely didn't turn out exactly the way I had it in my head, but I had a lot of fun working on it, and I got to try out a lot of different techniques.  For me, this is what the 100 Watercolors challenge is all about.  

The very last step is to get the painting online!  To do that, I scan in the painting and bring it into Photoshop.  Last summer at the CCS Children's Book workshop, the incredible Scott C. gave me a tip to "bump up the levels" on watercolors, to help make the colors a little more vibrant.  This makes a world of difference and really helps JPGs and print-outs look a lot closer to the original painting.  Here's how it turned out:

I hope this was interesting and/or helpful for people.  Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

Next week's theme: Tower

January 2, 2013

100 Watercolors Process: Part 2

Last week we saw my brainstorming process for the theme of "Keeping a Secret."  Here is the thumbnail that I came up with:

The next step is to pencil out the illustration at 100% reproduction size.  Since the finished piece is going to be inked separately, I just draw these in an old Moleskine sketchbook full of drawings from New York.  I never used the left-facing pages, so I have a lot of blank pages to work with.

I used to ink my drawings and then transfer them to the watercolor paper and ink them again, but this double-inking made everything feel very stiff.  At some point I watched this amazing video of Sir Quentin Blake painting and it really helped loosen me up.  It gave me the confidence to attempt inking directly onto the watercolor paper.  To help me do that, I scan in the original drawing and then bump up the levels in Photoshop until the pencil lines are nice and dark.  I then print this out on a blank sheet of paper:

For this project I am just using cheap watercolor postcards that you can find in any art supply store.  It is not the best paper, but it's good enough for this project.  The ones I'm using are 4" x 6" with 140 lb. stock:

Next I tape the printout underneath the watercolor paper and place it all on a light box.  I then ink the drawing directly onto the watercolor paper using waterproof ink.  I usually set my original sketch next to the light box so that I can consult it, because it is not always easy to see through the watercolor paper, especially with smaller details.  At first, not being able to fully see the drawing stressed me out, but now I really enjoy this step.  I have to improvise a bit, so the inked drawing usually turns out slightly different than the pencil sketch.

Below you can see the drawing half inked, on the illuminated light box.  For this drawing I used a G-nib for all of the foreground elements and then a hunt 102 nib for the tiny details in the distance.

And here is the final inked drawing, with the light box turned off.  I usually let this sit at least overnight before I start painting, otherwise the ink will bleed into the colors (even with waterproof ink).

Next week I'll break out the paints!