Painting the Rocketeer: Step 2

Today you will read about the beginning of the painting process of my latest illustration – an 18×24 inch piece featuring Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer created for a group art show in Los Angeles. If you are just joining us with this post, perhaps you would like to start at the beginning with Step 1 by CLICKING HERE!

Step 2

Yesterday you read about the conceptualizing and planning stage for this illustration that pairs up Indiana Jones with the Rocketeer in their united quest to rid the world of Nazis. After working out the final drawing on the computer in Photoshop, that same drawing needs to be transferred to watercolor paper.

I printed out a muted version of the drawing onto Strathmore Layout Bond paper that was in the studio. It is sturdy enough for an inkjet printer, and thin enough that the pressure of a pencil will push its way through the paper and the graphite paper underneath to put the drawing on the painting surface.

Yes, graphite paper. I explained and photographed this paper in a previous step-by-step tutorial last year. You can CLICK HERE to quickly read about that process if it is unfamiliar to you. Go ahead. We’ll wait for you.

So, here is the final drawing on my nice Arches watercolor block paper. The graphite paper can come out light in some areas, but since graphite is just pencil lead, you can easily erase and draw with a pencil to darken it as needed, and change to your tastes. The pencil lines should be dark enough to be seen through the watercolor paint that will soon cover the piece. If you can’t see your lines anymore, then you’ve just crippled your ability to accurately finish the painting!


The paper with the final drawing transferred and ready for paint!


Okay, so you probably noticed a yellowy substance covering our heroes. I failed to snap a picture of just the pencil art without that goo on there. If you really analyzed that color comp from yesterday, you might have noticed some aggressive painting for the background – the color burst around the heroes, paint spatter emanating from the center, and also all that red everywhere.

Normally I would use airbrush frisket to mask off an area, but this particular paper is very textured, and the frisket will not adequately protect the central figures from any of the background painting process. So I used a liquid frisket. It is a liquid latex you can buy in art stores that resembles rubber cement in a way. You spread it on the areas where you don’t want paint, then let it dry. You can do your painting as messy as you wish, then later remove the now solid “liquid” frisket with a rubber cement remover. We’ll get to that later.


This is the bottle of liquid frisket I’m using at the moment. It came with that applicator device with a skinny tip and a chunky tip. You have to use this gently because I’ve found that it can scratch the paper surface if you press too hard.


So, painting. With the needed red color fully mixed, and lots of it, I wet the paper generously with clear water and let it soak in. This will help watercolor paint to go down smoothly over a large surface. The first red layer is spread with a big soft brush, and while it was drying, I sprinkled salt in certain spots of the background. As the paint dries, the salt absorbs the paint where it landed creating interesting speckles on the surface. With two action heroes fighting enemy soldiers, my goal is to have a bit of a gritty surface.


With one layer of paint on the background, the red is still a bit light, but all those speckles created by salt helps give the background a little energy.


Applying the red paint went through several layers, as also the application of more salt. After a layer would dry, the paint could look bunched up in spots, so then I would just wet my big brush and lay down some water to help smooth the whole thing out a bit. All in all, I think there were about 4 or 5 layers of red and water applied to the BG just to get it satisfactory.

In the image below, notice that there are some darker red splotches on the BG. Those were created by dipping a brush in the same red paint and dripped onto the canvas while the paint was all still wet.


Here is one of the extra layers of red applied that is still wet. Salt was thrown on there again, but the results can’t be seen until the paint dries. Notice how the paint beads up on the liquid frisket.


The last step for today is painting that brighter burst in the middle. For that, I used my trusty old airbrush. I mixed two more shades of red with gouache this time (an opaque water based paint), each lighter than the last, and built it up dark to light. This can only be done once you feel the whole BG is working because it would be much harder to undo this if you had to go back to change the main BG later. This isn’t a tutorial on how to airbrush, but just letting you know the tool I used to create that burst behind the heroes.


The frisket continues to protect the characters from the red ravages of the airbrush burst.


By the way, in between layers of spraying that burst, I used an old toothbrush to spritz some small spatter with a lighter red color in the center. I also used a larger brush and did some controlled paint flinging to get larger drops to spread out from the center of the piece. A fun but messy stage that if you haven’t done it many times before, you should practice on a side paper before you risk ruining your picture.

So, that is how the background was painted. Come back tomorrow as we start on the figures!