And Then The Sky Fell
This walkthrough is going to be a long one, as it covers some very intricate watercolour techniques, from initial set-up to brushwork, acetates and fixatives.
The first portion demonstrates how I use watercolours on a main human figure. The methods I adopt may seem unusual as they seem to defy the nature of this medium.
The reason why the long process in creating this painting was documented in so many stages, is because ever since my introduction to oils, I have decided that this would be my last watercolour painting for some time. It was my most arduous and gratifying journey with a watercolour painting, one that through all the downfalls finally led to the light.
This was the first time I used traditional watercolours for the majority of the painting, in lieu of watersoluble crayons. Also a first is the more adventurous use of mixed-medium – a dangerous path that was too thrilling for me to pass up.
The first step is to create a clean draft. I like to use a 2H lead for just the right amount of precision and minimal smudging.
This is 18×24″ on Arches hot press watercolour paper.
It is very important for me to get everything right at every stage; attention to the smallest details definitely pays off in the end.
A photo reference of myself was used for the figure.
The eel skeleton was too much fun to draw.
I used a flexible ruler to create curved guides to which the shape of the eels could follow.
Flowers are always pleasant to render. These are magnolias.
My first attempt at Nouveau! The frame took a lot of geometric calculating, especially for the circular portions.
The draft is now complete. It took one week.
To begin the colouring process, I always add a few drops of Windsor & Newton Ox Gall Liquid to my water, as I find it improves flow, and also slightly slows drying time. This gives me a bit more freedom, especially when it comes to correcting mistakes.
It is easier for me to pour the Ox Gall in the bottle cap and then add the drops to my water, rather than pouring directly from the bottle, as it tends to go everywhere and make quite a mess.
Also shown here is a porcelain container where I have prepared the colour I will be using, which is Indigo, from Windor & Newton’s Artists’ Watercolours.
Here is how I usually set up my watercolour workstation. I have my tilted drafting board, water and colour on the left, a folded double-sheet kitchen towel for dabbing under my left hand, and a folded single sheet kitchen towel for blotting under my right.
At this point I have already worked on the figure’s face.
A closeup of the brushes I tend to favour. From bottom to top -
• Robert Simmons Sapphire series slanted brush, 1/4
• Windsor & Newton Series 7 pointed round, 000
• Windsor & Newton Series 7 pointed round, 00
The first two brushes are the ones I use the most.
To begin the shading process, I take the 1/4 slanted, wet it just a little, and dip it in pigment…
I then dilute the colour slightly by dipping the tip of the brush in water…
The brush tip is then dabbed gently, once, on the double-sheet kitchen towel, to get rid of excess pigment…
And then the brush is finally brought to paper, in quick, deliberate strokes.
The single sheet kitchen towel now comes in handy, as it is used to blot away excess saturation and makes it easier for me to attain a smooth gradient later on.
Now I have switched to the 000 pointed round, to begin with the stippling process.
Very carefully, I go over the areas that I had just painted with the slanted brush, filling in tiny little gaps, and also intensifying saturation where necessary.
And this is what the little 000 can achieve. The technique is basically pointilism.
It is indeed an arduous venture, but one that I have to embark because of my infatuation with getting everything as smooth as possible. In effect, this is really a simulation of airbrushing.
Her right shoulder (left in the painting), that bit of neck, and the one collar bone, all in all took about 5 hours.
And so this goes, one segment at a time, often revisiting previous areas for touch-ups.
Finally, the first layer of colour for the figure is complete.
Her eyes are composed of Windsor Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Burnt Umber, and Ivory Black, and a bit of Copic Multiliner 0.05 was used on her lashes.
The hair is Dioxazine Purple, all rendered with a 003 round. Her eyebrows and lips are tinted with the same colour.
The palette seems somewhat disjointed, however it serves its purpose as an underpainting.
What I need to do now is create an acetate mask.
I begin by taping the painting down to a large surface that I can easily move around, in this case a drawing board.
Masking tape is my preference as it is easy to remove. It is quite sticky, so in order to protect the paper, I stick it against my forearm, as the oil residue on my skin helps remove some of the tack.
Having secured my painting to the drawing board, I now cut down my acetate to size. This is Grafix Clear 0.75 Acetate.
The acetate sheet is then taped over the painting.
Using a permanent ink pen, one that is used specifically for drawing on clear film/plastic/glass etc., I carefully go over the general outline of the figure. The brand used here is Itoya Fine Point System 0.3, and it is resistant to both water and smudging.
Having completed the ink outline, I remove the acetate sheet from the drawing board and bring it to my self-healing cutting mat. Now I begin scoring the outline with a #6 X-Acto blade, which does a pretty good job as this acetate is quite thick.
The shape was scored, so now all I need to do is lift it out carefully. Sometimes I need to bring on the blade for sharp corners, otherwise the acetate will just tear and possibly ruin my mask.
The acetate mask, now complete, is then replaced carefully over the painting. The positioning needs to be exact, otherwise it could make things difficult later on down the road.
Tiny pieces of UHU Tac are slipped under some parts of the acetate to secure them in place…
… like so.
And now comes the really fun part. Without Krylon Workable Fixatif, I would never be able to layer on deep pigments like I do with my watercolour paintings.
Note I am no longer in my studio, and have moved to the garage with the door open. Workable Fixative, like most stuff that comes out of a spray can, is quite toxic, and needs to be worked with outdoors. Even then, further protection is advised, and while not shown here, I had my T-shirt over my mouth the whole time I was operating the spray can.
While this photo might seem humourous, what I’m doing here is an important step. The can needs to be shaken vigorously for 2 minutes prior to usage, and because two arms are better than one… well. There you have it.
Before applying the Workable Fixative to my painting, I first test it out on the ground, to make sure the nozzle is working properly and the right amount of viscocity is coming out.
Now the real deal.
Keeping the nozzle around 6 inches above the work surface, I begin spraying diagonally over the acetate mask, from top to bottom.
I then repeat this process once more, except this time I go the other way around, from bottom to top.
When the job is done, the can needs to be inverted and the nozzle pressed down until the spray runs clear.
The acetate mask was removed and saved for later possible use. Here I am, tinting the skintone with dioxaxine purple. The good closeup stuff comes next.
And now the true potency of Workable Fixative is revealed.
Here I am using a Windsor & Newton Series 7 pointed round 1, running Alizarin Crimson over the Dioxazine purple of her hair. Without the aid of Workable Fixative, the underlying layer of colour would very likely run, and a lot of detail would be lost.
The reason why an acetate mask is necessary, is because Workable Fixative can greatly change the texture of a work surface, and I wanted to keep all areas surrounding the figure clean and untarnished.
This is how I prefer to work, rather like cel-painting with watercolours, because I am able to get something very clean and precise, while still utilising the wonderful qualities of this medium.
This is my Dr. Ph Martins Bleed Proof White ink. An indispensable medium for sharpening up details in my watercolours.
Going over the strands of highlights in her hair, using white ink.
Here is a closeup of the figure, after further layers of painting.
A very sheer layer of Dioxazine Purple was used over the darker parts of her skin. After that has dried, I washed a bit of Naples Yellow over all the painted segments.
Alizarin Crimson was used as a second layer of colour over her hair, while Windsor Blue (Red Shade) helped to establish the deepest shadows.
Magenta and Windsor Blue (Red Shade) were used over her lips and eyelids.
Finally, diluted Dr. Ph. Martins’ Bleed Proof White ink was used for highlighting.
The figure is done at this point, until I revisit it later to unify with the rest of the painting.
Started work on the healthy eel. I think it was a mix of Indigo and Antwerp Blue I used on him for the first layer.
Introduced Quinacridone Magenta to the head portion, and a mix of Aurelin and Cadmium Lemon to the tail, creating a rainbow effect.
Further intensified the shadows, and did a lot of cleaning up with the gradients.
Beginning of the eel skeleton. I honestly can’t remember the formula for this green but I do recall using Permanent Sap, and maybe Windsor Blue of the Red Hue, as well as Cadmium Yellow, though I can’t say for sure.
Eel skeleton finished.
A lovely Olive Green for the decaying eel’s body.
Brushed a bit of Iridescent Gold on the decaying eel, using Golden Fluid Acrylics.
Started work on the flowers with another formula that is now mysterious to me. I love that apple-green, how unconventional it felt to use on flower petals.
Did the flowers’ stamen.
This was a load of fun. I painted the Nouveau-style frame with acrylic Iridescent Gold, using regular masking tape for the straight lines, and curved masking tape for the half-circles. This peculiar masking tape is popular among model car builders, which I had to order especially for this occasion. It’s just tape, but with an elastic spring, allowing it to be surprisingly maleable.
Finished the frame.
At this point I made more acetate masks for the eels and flowers, and had them sealed safely beneath workable fixative.
Evidently after a huge pouring session, using pinks, blues, yellows and purples.
I applied gold mica flakes to the girl’s face and the decaying eel, as I felt it ties everything together.
A light wash of Iridescent Gold was applied to the entire painting at the end. It shows up nicely against darker areas.
Double swirls of Holbein’s water-miscible oils in Opera Pink centre the image, and the final touch was a little speech-bubble I wrote on and cut out. The Kanji means “Heaven”, or “Sky”.
The finished painting can be viewed here in the site’s gallery.
It took four months to complete – the longest I had ever spent on a watercolour painting.