ImagineFX - - Fantasy Illustrator | Workshops -

1 Pre­par­ing the panel

I be­gin with a 24x36-inch piece of birch ply­wood with a nice grain and min­i­mal wear and tear, which I pick up from my lo­cal hard­ware store. I then dry brush be­tween four and six coats of gesso on it with a soft, broad brush, work­ing vig­or­ously and us­ing no wa­ter so it sets quickly. I take my time on this stage, and am care­ful to make sure the paint is even, and the sur­face is sealed prop­erly with a new coat.

2 Pre­par­ing the sur­face

I use an elec­tric sander to sand out any ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties be­tween coats un­til I achieve a smooth, eggshell-like fin­ish. I use 100 grit in be­tween most coats, and fin­ish it with a finer grit. I don’t want it buffed “shiny” smooth, but I don’t want to have to work with any glar­ing sur­face ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, ei­ther.

3 Sketch­ing in from the ref­er­ence photo

Once the gesso’s dry, l lightly sketch out my tree us­ing a 4H lead pen­cil. I lay a grid on top of my ref­er­ence in Pho­to­shop, and then draw a cor­re­spond­ing grid of six-inch squares on my panel to help make sure the draw­ing is cen­tred and sized prop­erly. I work from a pho­to­graph that I took out in the back­yard. I’m care­ful to get the large branch forms blocked in as ac­cu­rately as pos­si­ble, but I’m not labour­ing over the smaller branches. I’ll just paint them in di­rectly, us­ing the larger branches as guides for place­ment.

4 Set­ting up for the un­der­paint­ing

I’m us­ing olive green and re­fined lin­seed oil. Olive green is great to un­der­paint with be­cause it’s trans­par­ent, which al­lows for a broader and more pred­i­ca­ble range of val­ues on top of the white ground. Fur­ther­more, it’s a warm, neu­tral colour that isn’t too over­pow­er­ing. I use mostly bris­tle brushes for this stage of paint­ing. They en­able me to ap­ply a lot of paint, scratch tex­ture back in, and eas­ily ma­nip­u­late edges and vol­umes. I also use a va­ri­ety of mop brushes to stip­ple tex­ture and small liner brushes for branches. I use the back of the brush to scratch high­lights and I also have a few lit­tle rub­ber tipped tools and a syn­thetic wash brush to help cre­ate ma­nip­u­late paint.

5 And breathe…

I use only re­fined lin­seed oil as my medium. It takes a cou­ple of weeks to dry enough to work on top of again, but I find it’s help­ful to be stuck in this stage for a while so I can work back into it and fix things that are both­er­ing me. I also like it be­cause it’s non-toxic, and pro­duces no fumes so it’s safe to breathe and doesn’t stink up the room.

6 Paint­ing my un­der­paint­ing

I start from the trunk and work my way up. I try not to over­work things at this stage, be­cause a lot of it will be painted over even­tu­ally. I’m aim­ing to es­tab­lish the shadow shapes and be­gin to de­scribe the sur­faces. Us­ing a mop brush, I be­gin to block in the canopy of leaves. It’s im­por­tant to not over­load the brush be­cause we don’t want to go too dark on those leaves.

7 Greater con­trol

I break out the liner brushes as I move up to­wards the top to paint in those smaller branches. I ro­tate the panel and use a mahl stick, which gives me greater con­trol over the widths of the branches. A good rule of thumb is that they al­ways get thin­ner, and off­shoots are al­ways thin­ner than their par­ent branches.

8 Glaz­ing the paint­ing

Once it’s dry to the touch, I be­gin glaz­ing trans­par­ent colour in. I mix a so­lu­tion made up of 50 per cent galkyd, 40 per cent turpenoid and 10 per cent re­fined lin­seed oil. I then lay out my trans­par­ent paints. I use Payne’s Grey, Alizarin crim­son, In­dian yel­low, Ul­tra­ma­rine blue, Pthalo green and trans­par­ent Red ox­ide lake. I mix com­bi­na­tions of these colours with my medium and ap­ply it ac­cord­ingly.

9 It’s colour time

I be­gin lay­ing in the leaves by blot­ting a mix­ture of Pthalo Green, In­dian Yel­low, and some trans­par­ent Red Ox­ide Lake us­ing mop brushes. I use Ul­tra­ma­rine Blue and Alizarin Crim­son on the tree trunk, and add more In­dian Yel­low to the mossy ar­eas. I lay it on pretty lightly, and wait at least 24 hours be­fore lay­ing an­other layer on. Af­ter three to four lay­ers the colours are di­alled in. Glaz­ing gives a depth to the colours that’s dif­fi­cult if not im­pos­si­ble to achieve work­ing opaquely. I also re­ally like the tex­tures that build up.

10 Opaque ap­pli­ca­tion

When I fin­ish with the glaz­ing, I be­gin paint­ing opaquely on top. I pre­pare a full pal­ette of paint and be­gin to work into the paint­ing, look­ing to cor­rect draw­ing er­rors, ac­cen­tu­ate high­lights and shad­ows, and re­fine forms and edges. I look for op­por­tu­ni­ties to vary the tem­per­a­tures and punch ac­cents.

11 Vary­ing my marks

I be­gin to de­tail in the leaves and the smaller branches, and also re­visit and de­tail the larger ones. This stage can be a few passes, where I work both wet-in-wet and dry brush­ing. It’s a “what­ever works best” sce­nario. I’m also try­ing to break up the sur­face, and avoid too many sim­i­lar-look­ing marks.

12 Fi­nal de­tails and er­ror cor­rect­ing

I come back in with pure opaque colours and dot them on us­ing small rounds and lin­ers in sort of a pointil­lism fash­ion. This en­ables me to mod­u­late large fields of colour with sub­tlety and con­trol. The hard part is over, and now I’m just pol­ish­ing it up, fix­ing mi­nor er­rors and ac­cen­tu­at­ing ar­eas. This is also where you get to de­velop the sur­face of the paint­ing, and make it cool to look at up close.

13 Ex­pand your knowl­edge

And that’s it! Hang it on your wall and im­press your friends and fam­ily. Your paint­ings will make great gifts too. But in the end, you reap the re­ward of hav­ing a deeper knowl­edge of the time-hon­oured tra­di­tion of oil paint­ing, the com­fort of com­plet­ing a process and mak­ing some­thing phys­i­cal, and a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the in­tri­cate and pro­found beauty of Mother Na­ture.

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