Work­shop: How to de­pict a chem­i­cal el­e­ment

Mark Zug com­pletes his project of paint­ing fig­ures based on the pe­ri­odic ta­ble of el­e­ments, trans­form­ing chem­i­cal prop­er­ties into per­son­al­ity traits

ImagineFX - - Contents -

Mark Zug paints a fig­ure based on an el­e­ment from the pe­ri­odic ta­ble.

My ca­reer spent cre­at­ing fan­tas­ti­cal be­ings for books and games does not scratch ev­ery cre­ative itch that I have. One such itch has been my Noble Gases se­ries of paint­ings, which I con­ceived nine years ago. In them, I imag­ined those six chem­i­cal el­e­ments com­ing to life as fe­male icons. For ev­ery one of those paint­ings, I took the prop­er­ties of the el­e­ment and con­ceived it in both hu­man and artis­tic terms.

To start, the palette of all six pieces re­flects their re­spec­tive emis­sion spec­tra: the colour of light the gases emit un­der elec­tri­cal stim­u­la­tion. Neon emits red-or­ange, so I had my palette for this char­ac­ter. The names of the gases are based in Greek, and evince some­thing of their qual­i­ties; neon comes from neos, or the new. Xenon is from xenos – the strange, or alien, ow­ing to its rar­ity here on Earth, so for that noble gas I painted an alien phys­i­ol­ogy. And so on.

The red-or­ange palette of neon and its theme of new­ness sug­gested lava. In fact, Neon was the first piece of the se­ries I com­pleted, but for a num­ber of rea­sons it was a cre­ative miss for me. I didn’t like it the­mat­i­cally or vis­ually, so I put it away and went on with the rest of the se­ries.

For this work­shop I’ll take a fresh run at it. I’ll cre­ate a new round of thumb­nails not at all sim­i­lar to any I’ve done be­fore, while keep­ing the theme of lava as an el­e­men­tal force rep­re­sent­ing re­newal.

Mark’s an award-win­ning book and mag­a­zine il­lus­tra­tor. He’s also painted card art for Magic: The Gath­er­ing and Dune. Visit his web­site for more ex­am­ples of his art, in­clud­ing his Noble Gases se­ries:

Thumb­nail­ing some pos­si­bil­i­ties

I de­cide on black skin and bright red hair for my fe­male char­ac­ter from the be­gin­ning, and cir­cle around to my other el­e­ments. I want her to be do­ing some­thing in the com­po­si­tion, rather than look­ing pas­sive. Fi­nally, I have a good tech­ni­cal draw­ing to work from.

Trans­fer the draw­ing to the can­vas

I pre­pare my ges­soed and stretched 24-inch can­vas with a layer of oil/alkyd colour re­lated to my fi­nal palette – in this case, a pale or­ange. On this I do a trac­ing in pen­cil, us­ing an Ar­to­graph pro­jec­tor.

Es­tab­lish the un­der­paint­ing and back­ground palette

On this draw­ing I do a monochro­matic un­der­paint­ing us­ing black oil paint di­luted with sol­vent. I let it dry, then go over it with a semi-opaque layer of wet-into-wet oil paint. I’m paint­ing all the lava ar­eas back to white, so that they will have plenty of bright­ness built in. This is also the stage where I es­tab­lish the back­ground palette.

Us­ing paints that bring ex­tra vi­brancy to the com­po­si­tion

I give the lava its first colour us­ing cad­mium reds and or­anges – toxic pig­ments that I don’t usu­ally use. But in this case, I need their ex­tra in­ten­sity. Note how the first cool colour on her scythe-like tool re­acts with its warmer un­der­paint­ing.

Re­fin­ing the fig­ure’s ap­pear­ance

I be­gin the fig­ure’s flesh tones in fully rounded colour, us­ing as ref­er­ence any im­ages I can find of the dark­est peo­ple on Earth.

Pick and choose from my ref­er­ence sources

Do more of the same, ev­ery­where. My ref­er­ence is om­nipresent, and never ex­plic­itly re­sem­bles any­thing in the paint­ing.

Push­ing the back­ground

In the fi­nal stages, I bring the back­ground into sharper fo­cus, give the ash plume some ex­tra def­i­ni­tion, and add the di­aphanous cur­tains of fall­ing ash that I had seen in my mind’s eye.

Var­nish en­hances the paint­ing’s con­trast

The last stage is re­touch var­nish – a 1:1 di­lu­tion of da­mar var­nish with tur­pen­tine – ap­plied with a hake brush af­ter the paint­ing is fully dry to the touch. This brings back a uni­form gloss and deep­ens the con­trast.

Mark’s first at­tempt at de­pict­ing Neon left him cold, de­spite the red-hot na­ture of the com­po­si­tion.

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