Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The evolution of a painting -

OK, ok, I'm finally posting about the painting I did at the workshop.

It started with choosing from a list of book cover 'assignments' supplied by Irene Gallo - all from actual books being put out by Tor. The topic I chose was "Plant Life" - the description being "A human figure that mixed some aspects of a plant life -- it could be fantasy or science fiction. It could be a mix of human plus weeds, moss, flower, vines, etc. Still, a strong emphasis on the human form."

After spending the last two years doing twinkly flower fairies and sweet little garden gnomes exclusively, I decided that I wanted to do the 'evil' version of a garden gnome. What if Baba Yaga had a garden? What would it contain, and what would her garden gnomes look like? After a couple of blissful evenings researching 'scary plants', I started doing some very rough thumbnails of something that would work for the format of a book cover.

See? Rough!!! But that's usually how I work out the compositions to my paintings - large, scribbly shapes and value - only decipherable to me - to help me visualize the best way to put the picture together. Most of my thumbnails are not much more specific than this.

When I have the composition basically worked out, I start gathering my specific reference and begin a series of drawings on tissue paper so that I can just keep laying a new one on top - keeping what already works, and refining or changing what doesn't. It's gotten so that I rarely draw on 'real paper' any more after the thumbnail stage. I also kinda love the ultra smooth surface of the Canson tracing paper that I use. When I have the details fairly resolved, I blow it up to whatever the finished painting size is to be and fix or resolve anything else that needs it.

(Stack of various versions of the drawing on tracing paper)

This is what stage I was at when I went to the Master Class. After our first lecture the first morning, we all trundled over to the studio and tacked our sketches up on the wall for our first critique. It was just like school all over again, as your piece was dissected by the faculty and all the students look on (and in this case, the faculty in question was Boris Vallejo and Rebecca Guay. Boris Vallejo was my critiquer!!! And guess who was the first student up to be critiqued? You guessed it - moi!)

The vast majority of the attendees were painting Serious.Scifi. Neither staff nor students really quite knew what to make of me or mine (the only middle-aged, children's illustrator who was doing a whimsical rather than a Serious Piece in attendance). I got a lot of people walking behind my easel who would pause and go..."huh....mmmm...............nice....?"

Anyhow, Boris, in the nicest possible way, pointed out all the ways that my anatomy and perspective kind of sucked. ("Other than that, it's a very nice piece"...) I felt a bit panicked at first since all of my usual resources - my camera and printer, my laptop and Google Images - were not at my disposal as usual. In my ultra-exhausted, jet-lagged state, I was almost ready to throw up my hands in despair at my lack of ability and resign myself to only watching the demos and listening to the lectures rather than trying to draw... Tearfully seeking reassurance from a fellow-critique-member from home that night, I happened upon a solution to my anatomy problem (magnified by me doing a non-human figure):

See late-night, sleep-deprived ingenuity - wadded paper, masking tape and Q-tips! Luckily this was enough for me to be able to see where the far shoulder and pelvis were in space and I was able to salvage my drawing. Got an 'OK' from Boris the next day (and I am happy to report that a good night's sleep resolved a great deal of my angst as well).

I took my newly corrected, full sized sketch to the local copy shop to be scanned and printed out small for value and color comps and large, on heavy paper to paint upon (the coolest, best thing I probably learned all week! But more on that in another post).

After some experimentation, I worked out a color and value scheme that I wanted to follow - and then I began to paint. Initially in my normal watercolor technique:

You can kind of see some of the 'scary plants' I chose to include: dragon arum, blood sedge, dead nettle, ghost fern and eyeball plant. :-) (How cool is that!!?) This is about the stage that normally I would consider myself finished. Fairly transparent washes, kind of Rackham-esque. But a large motivation for me going to this workshop was to learn Rebecca Guay's technique of under painting and then continuing with oil glazes on top. So I bravely soldiered on...

After quite a bit of faculty input (it's been about 20 years since I've really touched oil) I pretty much covered the entire painting in oil paint. I will have to go get this scanned since this photo does not really show the cool detail (and doesn't the lighting make ever so much difference? The watercolor version was not significantly different in color-temperature than the oil, but the camera has made it so...)

After my initial learning curve of applying thicker paint to a slick surface (and feeling like a kindergartner) I actually got to really like some of the aspects of the oil - the dark darks you can get, the bright highlights that are *additive* rather than subtractive, the luminosity of the color... I am hoping to do one of my next contracted books with oil glazes.

So there you have it. "Wicked Whimsy" vs. Serious.Scifi.

That's about as far as I go at present.

Next up: My list of The Next Professional Steps I am Taking to Further My Career


d. moll, said...

Very cool, indeed, love the plants and not a bare breast in sight, you were daring! I like it.

Chris.P said...

Such an interesting and informative post Tara. You give a real insight into the way you work in the way you compose your images with tracing paper etc. I guess I do the same thing but using photoshop, decapitating heads, moving trees etc.

I tried oils in college but found that working in reverse ie the way you handle lights and darks quite disorientating compared to watercolour.

I have tried glazing techniques using acrylics where you finish the painting, let it dry, then obliterate it with dark and light glazes over the top. Selectively sponging away the glaze at just the right stage of drying is scary, as you face the possibility of never seeing the painting again:¬).

Like in your excellent pieces, the effects of glazes in unifying a painting and creating atmosphere are rewarding.

Merisi said...

Dearest Tara,
my sincerest compliments,
what wonderful work you accomplished!
I love love love the finished work,
but also immensely enjoyed following you through the creative process and practical steps. Simply amazing.
Summery greetings from Vienna! :-)

dinahmow said...

Great explanation of your progress to date! Although it's a million miles from what I do, I very much enjoy the "how" and can often translate certain points and ideas to my scribbles.
Oh, by the way, don't be tempted to sniff that dragon plant. Its common name is "dead horse lily", and not without reason!

Unknown said...

I am so glad to see that you got to oil paint again! It IS fun, isn't it?

Soozcat said...

In high school I had a writing teacher who used to make us chant, "I must divorce my ego from my writing," as though it were a mantra.

It didn't work then; still doesn't. It's really, REALLY hard if not impossible to be wholly objective about your own creations.

Kudos for sticking it out through the angst and feelings of insufficiency to create something really special. The quality of the work itself illustrates that you don't have to ape what everyone else is doing to make something worthwhile. It's your work, anyway, not everyone else's.

Tart said...

Oh, it's been really fascinating seeing the pics and reading your descriptions of working in new ways and seeing your heroes in action - it's so rewarding to get out of your familiar surroundings and take time to learn and experiment. Keep writing about it all - it's just as much fun for us!

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. You really led us through the process with you and the end result is fabulous. Congratulations on working through it. (love the masking tape, q-tip guy!)

Hayden said...

Fascinating stuff! As I know exactly zero about painting/drawing, seeing these process steps made it a lot more approachable.

As for the final product - it makes me want to write a story about what goes on behind that door...


Anonymous said...

Different from the Tara I have learned to know, but it really has its charm :-)

Merisi said...

Good afternoon, Tara!
Re you question about the "why" of the hut on the parliament building:
Click on the images, and you will be taken to a November 2007 post, where I explained the reason. ;-)
(I had a visitor from Washington State here over the Fourth, took him to the train station this morning. Thought of you, since you both live in the same State.)

Maddy said...

Fabulous insight into how your work evolves, with stunning results of course.

roz said...

Absolutely fascinating, Tara. The cover art is fabulous! I'm sorry you went through some angst (I would have too) but look at the ingenuity that came from it! WOW.

I'm just now catching up on your workshop and it looks like you got so much out of it. (Just read your goals in next post up)
Makes me want to take a workshop.

Gretel said...

Golly Tara, you make me feel ashamed, the amount of thought and care you put into your work...I love your lay figure! What happened to him? Did he have a sad and sorry end in the wastepaper basket?

tlchang said...

That really is the process for 'big illustration' apparantly. You should see the amount of referencing our faculty does for their work! It's breath-taking (but then so are the results). I don't do this much work for everything (spots, interiors - they get a much lower level of pre-treatment), but it definitely is the process for me when I'm working on covers.

And yes, alas, Q-tip guy ended up in the recycle bin.... He served his purpose and was then discarded - as so many are. :-)

Maddy said...

Here visiting again to show my daughter - how to progress - big daughter.