Oils and acrylics
Alex Stone recreates a character.
For this workshop, I’ll be painting a character known as The Bony King of Nowhere. It’s loosely based on an animated short from a classic British children’s show called Bagpuss, wherein the Bony King finds his throne to be too cold, and sends his subjects to find him something warm to sit on. This is my favourite kind of assignment, because it gives me something to loosely grab on to, but run with in whichever direction I choose and turn into something that’s my own.
Early on, I get a creepy vibe from the title itself and choose to move away from the cuteness of the original short animation. I decide that I want the king to have a skeletal and unsettling appearance. He’s not the happy, kind king depicted in the original story. He gazes into an orb, perhaps observing the subjects that he’s sent on this quest. I don’t explicitly describe this narrative in the image, instead preferring to leave it to the viewer to interpret as they please. I imagine Nowhere to be a cold and empty place. The king’s hall is dark, lit only by a narrow shaft of cool blue light. Its vast size is only hinted at by the enormous pillar in the background.
I enjoy the challenge of working in a limited colour palette, as well as the mood that it can capture. By focusing my palette on strong blues, I hope to convey the coldness of the space as well as an otherworldly, magical quality. A spotlight will draw the eye to the character himself, and build up a dramatic effect in an otherwise quiet, uneventful moment.
1 Start with thumbnails
I start by quickly sketching out ideas on a sheet of scrap paper. They’re very small, only about 1.5 inches on the long side. At this stage I want to find a general composition or gesture that I like.
2 Digital explorations
Once I have a few thumbnails that work, I scan them and build them up in Photoshop. I’m focusing on my value structure first, and secondly, colour. This stage should start to give me an idea of how the final painting will look.
3 Create a detailed drawing
Moving ahead with my selected rough sketch, I do a detailed drawing on Bristol paper. Now is the time to start using any reference photos that I may have.
4 Painting a colour study
I trace my drawing on to a small piece of watercolour paper and do a fast, loose version of the finish in acrylic paint. I do this to help determine exactly what colours I need to mix for the final painting. In this case I do just one, but I’ll repeat as necessary until I know exactly what I want.
5 Preparing the surface
I take a lightly sanded piece of masonite panel and apply an acrylic gesso. While the gesso is wet, I smooth it out with a foam paint roller. I do this two or three times, ensuring that the gesso gets the chance to dry between applications, and lightly sanding between each coat.
6 Transfer the drawing
Using a blown-up print of my drawing and a sheet of graphite transfer paper, I trace the drawing on to my board. Afterwards, I go over the lines with a pencil just to darken them enough to see once I put down my undertone.
7 Put down an undertone
Using a watered-down mix of burnt umber and ultramarine blue acrylic paint, I put a wash over the entire board. This seals in the drawing so that it won’t smudge, and also gives me a middle tone to paint on top of.
8 Do an underpainting
From this stage onwards, I switch to oil paints. I block in the shadows and try to get back some of the quality of my drawing. I’m using a mix of burnt umber and ivory black, thinned with Gamsol.
9 Mix colours on a palette
Using my colour study as a point of reference, I mix all of the colours that I’ll be painting with for the first session. I repeat this step for later sessions as necessary.
10 Start on the figure
I start painting the figure since, being the focal point, it’ll use the widest range of values. This helps me adjust my eye for the rest of the painting. I block in lights and darks, taking care to not overwork anything. I’m trying to let each brush stroke do as much work as possible.
11 Finish the first pass
I move on to the rest of the painting, approaching it in the same way as the figure. I’m taking care to keep my value range narrower in areas that are not as important.
12 On to the second pass
I go back into everything to build up more light and shadow. I’m also focusing on using my strokes to describe the texture of the throne, and the reflection in the floor.
13 Glazing and details
I push the areas that I want out of focus back with a dark glaze. I also work on fine details such as highlights and edges, and correct anything that doesn’t look quite right. The painting is about 99 per cent finished.
14 Stop right there
I turn the painting around and leave the studio. I’ll do anything to not think about it. Play video games, watch a movie, take a walk, or just go to sleep. If I can afford to, I’ll leave it until the next day.
15 Last look and final tweaks
I come back with fresh eyes and put in any lastminute details I may have missed. Then I sign it, and once the painting is dry to touch, I apply a thin coat of Liquin. This brings out the vibrancy of the colours and deepens the darks that tend to get lost when the paint dries. This is not a replacement for a final varnish, which will be added later.