Tag Archives: underpainting

Mystery!

Here’s a piece I did just for self-promotion. Every couple of months, my agent asks her artists to produce an image based on a theme. This theme is Mystery. When generating ideas I stayed pretty loose. My first sketches were kind of Sherlock Holmes-ish, Mystery-of-The-Sphinx-ish with Holmes opening an antique Egyptian box in his famous rooms in Baker Street. It wasn’t grabbing me, so I thought to move the whole scene to the inside of a pharoah’s tomb. Sort-of Holmes and Watson became sort-of Indiana Jones and Short Round. The rough sketch shows Egyptian antiquities—chariot, scrolls, statues—for flavor, but as I drew I thought to heighten the suspense by having the deities’ eyes light up at the same moment the casket is cracked open. Indy is unaware of the danger while Short Round watches in alarm.

I didn’t take the sketch to a tight version. I wanted the painting to be fresh while I worked out the lighting. I have 2 sources of light here. One of them is the red lantern I had with me on countless camp-outs when I was a Boy Scout in good ol’ Troop 92.

Edward Teach

As a follow-up to my last post about Queen Anne’s Revenge, here is the man himself—the terrible Edward ‘Blackbeard’ Teach. I show him in close-up so you can see the slow-match fuses he used to weave into his whiskers and set alight before attacking a ship. You can find him in P is for Pirate, now available in bookstores—or drop me a line in the comments for an autographed copy.

Pirate captains were elected by their crews and could be voted out. To keep his crew in line, Blackbeard constantly showed himself to be more fierce, more outrageous than anyone else on board. Seated with his rogues during dinner, Blackbeard fired a pistol underneath the table and wounded one of the crew, just to remind them who he was.

Blackbeard had to be mindful of his crew’s appetite for liquor—for rum, an ardent spirit distilled from molasses. Without rum, a crew would mutiny, as this excerpt from Blackbeard’s log attests:

‘Such a Day, Rum all out: – Our Company somewhat sober: – A Damned Confusion amongst us! – Rogues a plotting; – great Talk of Separation. – So I looked sharp for a Prize; – such a Day took one, with a great deal of Liquor on Board, so kept the Company hot, damned hot, then all Things went well again.’

R is for Revenge

Queen Anne’s Revenge, that is. Queen Anne’s Revenge is the name of Blackbeard Teach’s flagship—though I have to admit I don’t know why he chose that name. Queen Anne ruled Great Britain & Ireland while Blackbeard was alive, so maybe he considered himself to be a privateer on behalf of the Crown? Was he not happy with the War of the Spanish Succession? I’d like it if, in the comments, someone could offer a better reason behind Teach’s name for his ship. Writers Alexander Pope, Jonathan Swift & pirate aficionado Daniel Defoe flourished under Queen Anne, so maybe her reign really was culture’s balmiest day—but why did she need to be avenged?

Anyway, he only captained Queen Anne’s Revenge for 3 years before she sunk off North Carolina. And so I had the wonderful opportunity to paint a sunken pirate ship for Eve Bunting’s new book, P is for Pirate. It was also a chance to pay tribute to fantastic illustrator Lloyd K. Townsend. When I say ‘pay tribute to’, of course I mean ‘steal shamelessly from’. I’ve admired Townsend since I was a wee lad, seeing his paintings in National Geographic. One in particular, from 1979, shows the sunken Spanish treasure ship Tolosa. This was my—cough—inspiration for R is for Revenge. Hey, at least I turned the ship around to face the other way!

Herewith, work in progress:

Q is for Queen

Here is one of my favorites from P is for Pirate, the notorious Grace O’Malley—Irish queen & pirate captain. She was a contemporary of Queen Elizabeth I and reportedly had an interview with Gloriana (who, after all, had a soft spot for buccaneers).

Queen Grace has been the subject of songs, at least one play and even a musical. So far as I know the swashbuckling Maureen O’Hara never played her in a movie, but what perfect casting that would have been!

I show Queen Grace in an Errol Flynn pose with her ruffians behind her. In the sketch I thoughtlessly drew a baroque-looking ship like we’re used to seeing from piracy’s golden age. In the final painting I used the Mayflower—much closer in style to a ship from Queen Grace’s time—as reference. Same deal with the costumes: they’re Elizabethan. I first drew her in men’s clothes but thought she looks much cuter in a dress.

A is for Articles

Here is your Monday dose of P is for Pirate—available in bookstores everywhere by Eve Bunting from Sleeping Bear Press.

The Articles were the pirates’ ethical guidelines which set out rules for behavior & working conditions aboard ship. New crew members signed them before becoming part of the ship’s company. Did you know that the pirate captain was elected—and could be voted out if he didn’t meet the crew’s expectations?

Pirates who couldn’t read or write made an X at the bottom of the contract and a clerk would write next to it, “John Manders (or whatever the sailor’s name was), his mark.”

The Picture of Oscar Wilde

Here is the third in a series of three images for the Pittsburgh Public Theater‘s season brochure—specifically for the world premiere of L’Hôtel, a new comedy by Ed Dixon. The cast is stars from the recent and distant past. I showed you Sarah Bernhardt. and Jim Morrison. Here now is Oscar Wilde.

By the way, this painting and the two others will be on display at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh Alumni Show which opens this evening and continues through July 20th.

Goldie Socks in progress

Oh, happy day!  My computer, before it had its nervous breakdown earlier this year, absolutely refused to recognize some of my old disks.  Now I pop in a disk and voilà!—some old files I’d thought were lost forever are back again.

I worked on Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians, by my pal Jackie Mims Hopkins a few years ago.  I’d just gotten a digital camera and was beginning to document the progress of my paintings.  Here’s one scene where I’m painting the inside of the libearians’ house.  Goldie Socks settles down to read a book in a couch that’s too soft.  At the end of the sequence, Goldie is still only an underpainting.  I’ll come back later and paint her into every scene.

Painting over the underpainting

Joanie asks:

I have yet another question if you don’t mind since you have been so kind to answer all my others! I understand the importance of an underpainting since it establishes all the values before you add the color but when you are painting over your underpainting how do you keep all the colors from not mixing into each other and creating mud? Thanks!!!

John answers:

Ah, that’s the tricky part!  If you’re using gouache, you need to exercise a great deal of restraint while laying down those colors—once your brush makes the stroke, STOP!  Don’t give in to the temptation to blend and scrub and fuss.  Gouache is a straightforward medium.  There’s a point at which, once crossed, the painting looks overworked.

But that’s my technique.  If you want to have the option to really work the paint without disturbing the underpainting, you might try spraying workable fixative on the underpainting once it’s dry, before you apply the top colors.

More on underpainting here.

Stella the storyteller

Here’s Stella, from Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes.

Thumbnail sketch for pp 6/7. Stella the storyteller sees her rival, Joe Bright, in the back of her magic story-telling chair.

Tight sketch for page 6.

A close-up of my color map for the book.  These are small color sketches of every spread, all next to each other.  It’s easier to plan the palette, or color choices, for the entire project when I can see it all at once.  The scenes with Joe Bright feature warm yellows; the ones with Stella are cold blues and purples.  Stella tries to foil Joe with 3 different devices—these are acid green, so the reader can identify them easily.

For example:

Here’s the painting for page 6 in progress:

Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes

I just got my catalogue from Upstart Books, and Joe Bright and the Seven Genre Dudes is available!  This is my second title I’ve illustrated for author Jackie Mims Hopkins.  We previously worked on Goldie Socks and the Three Libearians.

Upstart publishes books with school librarians in mind.  Here are some work-in-progress shots from Joe Bright. I’ve already posted wips here and here.