In the last Frankenstein post, you read about the final drawing being applied to the paper. Naturally, the next step is the painting. In this case, it is to be a watercolor painting.
Watercolor is not necessarily a medium to use if you want to have absolute control over where the paint goes and how it dries. It tends to pool in areas on your paper, if you are working on a slight tilt it’ll run, and if it’s not quite dry, it’ll blend. It works differently if you paint onto dry paper than it does if you paint onto paper that has been watersoaked. If it dries, you can hit it with more water and work it some more. It’s kind of a living wild animal all it’s own.
And for those of you curious, I use Winsor & Newton watercolor paint with a variety of brush makes and sizes. What matters to me is that the bristles are soft, and the round brushes maintain a point. I also employ the use of my airbrush now and then.
When I do a piece like this, obviously the central interest of the composition is the character. He’s the reason for the painting, and he’s the subject you are most dying to paint right away. Bup – bup – bup! You must hold off on those urges, and do the background (BG) first. Why? A. Because color is relative, and B. the overlapping nature of painting comes into play.
Let’s deal with A: What is white? Your white shirt looks different inside than it does outside, right? Inside it could be gray, or slightly blueish. Outside? Maybe a little green if you are standing in a field, maybe even more blue if the sky is blue. See, color is relative to the environment. Color reflects. The paper I start with is white. If I started on the character, I’d be picking tones that looked good in a very bright environment. I need to first make my environment the mood and tone it should be so that the character’s coloring looks correct in the scene. Since the Mona Lisa is my model, that means my BG will have warm tones (browns). So, I started by laying down a coat of light brown that I will build upon. I neglected to scan the piece with this stage by itself, but here’s a small section that survived when I did scan it.
I laid this brown down on the most distant parts of the BG, and I did it on wet paper. I “paint” water onto the area first to get the paper more malleable. If I don’t do this, the paint will dry pretty immediately which will cause unwanted streaks. A more even flow to the color is desired, so the paper is made wet. Then I added the brown. As you can see, I didn’t stay in the lines. The brown seeps into the character. That’s ok. Other darker colors will kinda cover that later on, plus, as written earlier, your coloring is affected by your environment. The brown will only help Frankie look like he’s really in the scene.
So then B: the overlapping nature of painting. If you work from back to front, you can paint broader and more efficiently. For instance, the next stage was to paint the sky. I can go nuts with the sky, painting it even in the areas where the mountains will be because they’ll cover that portion of the sky. If the mountains were done first, then when doing the sky, I would have to paint right up to the edge of the mountains. This would probably give me an undesirable visually distracting hard line all while taking too much time to paint.
So, on with it. The sky. Mona’s sky is a pretty normal cloudless brownish/yellow sky. If you know the story of Frankenstein, you know the sky HAS to be stormy. Let me tell you, my ordeal with the sky was a stormy process.
Again, I needed to work wet on wet so the colors can mix and swirl and be turbulent. I mixed some greenish gray colors, brownish gray, etc., and started dabbing in colors to try to get that cloudy, stormy, overcasty look. After finishing the sky, I stepped back and realized it was a complete mess. It resembled a mud puddle more than anything else. I was trying to make the horizon line lighter in color to suggest distance while making the top darker. It wasn’t happening. So, out came some fresh water to wet it down which was then blotted up with paper towels. The sky was back down to a grayish brown stained tone, which was fine, and then it was repainted all over again. Wouldn’t you know, once again the results were terrible. I tried airbrushing some areas, salt was thrown into wet areas (try it sometime and see what happens) – nothing worked. It was probably about this time that I was muttering under my breath and pacing the studio.
When you start a project like this, you have an image in your mind of what you want it to look like, yet you are working in a medium that has a mind of its own. At some point in the process, you have to abandon your perfect mental image, and see the unplanned beauty that is coming forth out of the paper.
I think I let it sit for an hour or so, then made another attempt. Whether real or imagined, I was becoming afraid that the stamina of the paper was going to be exhausted. The first colors were laid in. Not too bad. Threw in some others, got some darks in there, pulled out the airbrush to lay in some subtle smoothing, and as the paint was halfway dry, I hit parts with a squirt from a water bottle.
When the sky was dry, I even went back in to lighten certain areas by adding lighter paint, but also by painting with pure water and dabbing color back up. This is how I was able to form some of the swirling cloud shapes and the look of distant rain falling. When I sat back, it wasn’t what I had in my head, but it became something neat that I hadn’t expected. SUCCESS! Of course, it’s not quite done. If you recall from the rough sketch, a bolt of lightning will be in the sky, but that will wait until even the character is done.
So, the rest of the more distant BG came together when I laid in color for the farthest mountains, the little water area, the castle, more hills, the angry mob, and all that jazz. Everything from back to front.
Browns, reddish browns, greens and even purple thrown in here and there for good measure. Through all of this, the colors have been kept somewhat lighter and loose so that they are a little “out of focus”. All to help keep the BG from being the star of the show.
Now with Mona, you have that area in the foreground that is kept really dark. It’s as if she’s sitting in a chair and no light is exposing it. So that’s what Frankie must have as well. This time I laid down a much darker brown, because I want to keep the warm tones going, even in this dark “black” area. I’m not a big believer in solid black for areas you think are black. I may use a little of it here and there to make other colors be darker versions of themselves, but rarely am I using solid black. With a big flat bristled brush, I painted wet on wet again laying in that dark brown, then a reddish brown, then purple here and there, and then a much darker brown. When that dried, it was a little too streaky, so I took the same color and airbrushed it in to get a more even tone, though not quite eliminating the brush strokes. I still wanted a hint of them.
So, there you have it, the basic painting of the BG. Later, after the figure is painted, I’ll go in and finesse the BG some more with paint and colored pencils, but for now it is done. And now you probably know way more than you thought you cared to about my thinking process in using watercolor on the background!
Next in part 5 – beginning the character!