I talked at length about conforming to local norms. Specifically, I talked about moving to Virginia Beach and my eventual push into beach themes, ie. sea creatures.
WELL. I now have quite the list of sea creatures I'm going to (probably) eventually paint. This time, no plant like background... Dun dun dun. Yes, I know I market myself as mostly a botany nerd, but I have felt a tug towards trying more animals and interesting textures from other scientific illustration inspiration. I present to you... A Seahorse!
Yes, the majestic, cheddar cheese orange seahorse (not its real name). I actually used a dried seahorse as one of my inspiration photos in addition to the regular cute little orange guys. I know they are typically more rounded and generally squishier (maybe?) looking, but the sharpness of my drawing felt more antique to me. Probably because most illustrations of seahorses in the old-timey days were actually dried specimen. If you google "antique seahorse" you can see examples pretty close to Cheddar here.
I've talked about my inspiration and why I paint the things I paint (hint, it's usually pretty damn intentional). But I haven't talked about my process once I have a subject. So, here's a little taste:
We start with a (usually pretty shitty) sketch. I am... not the best at sketching. I sketch the same thing over and over until I get something I can live with... or can fix in photoshop as was the case with Cheddar the Seahorse.
This sketch was done close to about a year ago when I first started testing the waters (pun!) of beach themes. I liked the overall style... but not so much the tail.
For a brief moment, I was planning on having him hang out in a bunch of seaweed, so that's what he's holding on to with his little tail. Cute, sure, but I quickly got bored of that since he was already going to be so busy with all those little boxes on his body.
And, did I mention how tiny this sketch is? It's only a few inches tall. I could barely sketch the tip of his tail, let alone paint it with any dimension.
So into the scanner he went. I chopped, slimmed, stretched, and twisted in photoshop til I had something far more... aesthetic... more Fibonacci less "I'mma grab this plant right here."
Ya, much better on my math loving brain.
So I had a good sketch to go off of, and I could print it whatever size I wanted! Naturally I made it a lot larger... like an entire page large. Then it was just print, and using graphite and a burnisher, transfer over to my watercolor paper.
Painting: All my paintings start with two colors: raw sienna, and raw (or burnt) umber. Thin layers of each build up to give me my base for dimensions and shading.
Here's a quick scan once I finish what I call the "Sepia Stage". Pretty cute, isn't he? He has some great contrast at this stage and always read "antique scientific illustration" no matter what subject matter I'm painting.
Next comes the more interesting colors! In this case yellow and orange.
"But wait a second?" you ask. "Isn't the background blue on that first image?"
Why yes... very observant of you. See, it was around the finishing stage of yellow, orange, and a dash of white... When my FB posts started gaining some comments about matching my previous fishy painting. "What if we want matching prints?" "Will the prints be blue?" I even went so far as to post a "Finished!" triumphant sepia background post which got the "I wish this had a blue background" message.
So I did what I've done quite a few times before... polled my friends and family for which version they liked better... with 4 options:
Upper Left: the original look, though I photoshopped Cheddar onto a standardized wash background. The sepia background matches 90% of my paintings.
Upper Right: the requested blue background. I took the standardized wash and photoshopped it to get the same blue tones as Nemo has.
Lower Left: Black and white. This was from the scan I took at the sepia stage. It had some extreme contrast, which I loved, but was far less exciting that bright orange.
Lower Right: Sepia tones. If I was painting just for myself, I'd probably stop at this step with a lot of my art. heh.
The results: at least a full 50% of those polled said Blue Background, but I was very surprised that every different variation got at least one (if not many) votes!
Blue wins fair and square. It could be the contrast (complimentary colors), or the possibility of matching other sea creature prints... or maybe people just like blue. I could be sad that it's not the route I would have gone, but in the end, I want to give the people want they want! And there's always the sepia original I can keep for myself. ;)
Hope you enjoyed my process! I think I'll probably have a bit more in depth instruction on the different techniques I follow in a later blog.