Tag Archives: shadow

What do I paint second?

Michael asks:

Thanks so much for posting your technique, I am currently working on my first painting and have been doing exactly what you’ve done here. i think i did do something wrong though, a friend of mine said to do a light wash over the entire piece ,but I think it just confused me. Anyhow , why do you not put more detail in the underpainting, are you modeling further with your glazes?

I’m not sure what the light wash is for, either.  I’m assuming you’re using acrylic paints, which dry to a hard finish and so allow you to paint a wash on top of them.  I use gouache, and a wash would scrub off whatever was painted underneath.  So, I start my paintings with washes and build up to opaque brushstrokes. A wash is paint made transparent by adding water.  A glaze is paint made transparent by adding a medium—for acrylic, glazing medium; for oil paint, linseed oil and varnish—or glazing medium.

I do an underpainting to block in and organize big areas of light and dark.  I long ago found out it’s too complicated for me to figure out light and dark and color all at the same time.  There’s no point in me putting lots of detail in the underpainting, because I’m only going to paint the same details on top with opaque paint.  In fact, to discourage myself from getting into details while underpainting, I use an oversized brush.

Here’s a step-by-step example of how I build up from an underpainting.  This is a continuation of a previous post, What do I paint first?

Hide and shriek!

Here’s the opening spread from Where’s My Mummy? This scene shows Mama Mummy getting Baby Mummy ready for bed—but Baby wants to play one more round of hide & shriek.

Since they’re mummies, I designed an interior to look like the inside of a pyramid, with lots of Egyptian details.  The legendary art director at Candlewick, Caroline Lawrence, felt the setting didn’t convey enough ghoulishness, so she asked me to redraw the scene with a gothic interior.

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Revised sketch with gothic details below.  Architecture geeks will note the new shape of the columns, rough-hewn stone walls and groined vault arched ceiling.

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I changed the oil-burning lamp to a candelabrum, but doused the candles in the color version because they were causing me lighting/shadow problems.  I kept the sarcophagus bed from the first sketch.

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The light is coming from a single source.  More dramatic and easier to paint.  Also, the viewer’s eye naturally looks to the light source, which is where I put Baby Mummy.

 

Underpainting

When I paint, my favorite medium is gouache (rhymes with squash).  It’s opaque watercolor and versatile: I can water the colors down to transparency or paint them on thick and opaque.  If I need to make a change after the paint’s dry, I can soak off most of the paint with a damp paper towel and start over.

Since my style is so cartoony—which was not a selling point with children’s art directors when I started out—I learned to paint in a classic sort of way.  My goal is to make objects in my pictures look three-dimensional by modeling them, by rendering the light and shadow.

Figuring out light and shadow while worrying about color is not easy!  I found it’s simplest to separate the two activities.  I paint light and shadow first, then add color on top later.

The first step is called underpainting.  I like to use a warm brown, Burnt Sienna, for that step.

Here’s a page from Where’s My Mummy? another collaboration with my pal Carolyn Crimi. This story is about Baby Mummy’s one last game of hide-and-go-shriek before bedtime.  All the monsters in the graveyard are getting ready for bed.

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I should mention that as usual, I was behind schedule with this project and got lots of painting help from the talented Rhonda Libbey, who blocked in big areas of color.

Okay, first the sketch:

mummy.revise.08

You can already see many of the shadows in the sketch.  The scene’s a graveyard, so shadows are important for mood.  Here are the shadows painted in Burnt Sienna:

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You should be able to tell from which direction the light’s coming.  I try to avoid detail in the underpainting and concentrate on the masses of light and dark.  It’s really an abstract design.  I didn’t paint the vines growing on the tombstones, for instance.  Now here’s the color painted on top of the warm brown underpainting:

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I was trying to evoke those old black and white monster movies, so I used a very restrained palette, or range of colors.  There are few bright colors in this book.

One of the nice things about the warm Burnt Sienna underpainting is that it peeks through the cold neutral overpainting here and there.  I think that the underpainting also helps to unify the illustration by giving all the colors something in common.

You’ll notice that I haven’t yet painted the Baby Mummy.  First I paint my backgounds, then  I paint the characters.  That helps me keep all those elements consistent throughout the 32-page book.

Here’s another image—in progress—from the same book.  I haven’t painted the characters yet, just the background.

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And here’s the finished painting.  Dracula gets a bright red bathrobe.

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