Mermaid Painting

I’m the type of fellow who can get bored doing the same thing for too long. I also find when drawing or painting that a frustrating problem is easier to solve if you let it sit for a bit and come back to it. You can look at it with a fresh eye and you’re less likely to make stupid decisions when you’ve cooled off a bit. So, while painting the clipper ship commission that I posted about recently, I also started working on a mermaid as a way to take breaks.

Mermaid on rock in surf ©Jameson Gardner 2014

It wouldn’t be much of a break from oil painting if I started another oil painting. So the mermaid would be watercolor (sortof). I’d been meaning to order some Arches paper from Utrecht, but not knowing I’d want to start this painting until the day of, I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t have any suitable watercolor paper. So, I just did the drawing on a sheet of regular drawing paper. I wanted to show a moment of decision when the mermaid, having received a potion from the Sea Witch that will make her human, resolves to use it. It is a big decision that will require sacrifice and provide an uncertain future, so, it is supposed to look a little ominous and she a little melancholy.

I got my reference from the great and vast internet. Usually for something like this, I’d prefer to shoot my own reference, but I didn’t plan this in advance, and had to settle for Pinterest and google. That can, of course be risky if you don’t play it right. Just yesterday, I was dropping off a painting at the Harris Fine Arts Center at BYU, and among some works hanging there, I assume from a freshman drawing class, I noted an image that I have definitely seen before, probably in National Geographic (it kind of destroys your credibility as an artist when it looks like you just copy other peoples photos). That being said, I’d be very surprised if you could correctly identify any of my internet reference sources. That isn’t just because my sources are obscure, but because when I create a piece I have an idea, and usually thumbnails or sketches of what I want. Then if I can’t shoot my own reference, I look for images that can inform my work and fill in the details I need. I usually use reference from the internet to help me accomplish a piece I’ve already planned, I don’t plan a piece based on the reference I find.

While drawing I ran up against another little quandary. I haven’t ever imagined that mermaids would actually wear clothes. They are fishfolk and fish don’t have a lot of use for clothes. I also felt that adding shells or something like that would automatically introduce her into our system of morality. And wearing only shells she’d probably fall nearer the skanky end of that spectrum. Initially I imagined that I’d just use the age old tactic of long hair to cover her chest. I tried it and didn’t like the result. It kind of ruined the balance and composition. So, I finished the drawing with the hair on only one side. When I was done, I asked my wife what she thought. She said she liked it, but pointed out that even if they don’t worry about clothes in mer-culture, there are kids from human culture, who’s parents are deciding what values of modesty etc. to teach them, who follow my instagram and other social media. That was a valid point. I gave in and determined to do two versions. The authentic mermaid version, and the approved for all audiences version. I traced her torso and added shells on a separate paper, intending to paint those as I painted the main image and digitally combine them later.

Mermaid on rock in surf ©Jameson Gardner 2014

When the drawing was done I mounted it on a panel using matte medium. I painted several layers of transparent washes until I came to a point where I was of two minds. One of my minds said “I like this, it is kind of high key, but you should keep it.” my other mind said, “If you are going to put that on your blog or website, people will want deeper values and more contrast.” Lucky for me, modern technology lets me have my cake and eat it too. I photographed it, and continued painting digitally so that I could keep the original how it was.

Mermaid on rock in surf ©Jameson Gardner 2014

When I digitally paint into a traditionally started piece, I tend to use similar methods to the traditional medium I started with. In this instance, that meant several additional transparent layers.

Being finished I’m glad to have all three versions—the original, the digital and the digital with shells. Hope you enjoy it too.

Mermaid digital color sanshells squish2 blog

Mermaid digital color detail blog

Clipper Commission

Clipper Ship Emerald Isle

I just finished this painting of the Emerald Isle, a clipper ship built 1853 in Bath, Main. The client commissioned this to commemorate her ancestors, several of whom immigrated to the United States aboard the Emerald Isle in 1868.

With some information about the ship and the ancestors’ crossing, my first step was to do a series of thumbnails with different perspectives, croppings, and the ship in different attitudes. I sent this sheet with several of those to the client to begin our dialogue about the composition. Over and over I’ve heard artists and illustrators caution not to include any thumbnails you wouldn’t want to paint, because invariably, those will be the ones the client will choose.

Well, of my thumbnails, I didn’t really like the composition or perspective of #3 or #6, but I thought I would include them for variety’s sake. The client liked #6 🙂 With a little discussion about what she liked about 6 and the compositional and dynamic advantages of #2 (my favorite), we were able to make a plan to adjust #2 to suit us both.

Clipper Thumbnails

Next, I prepared a larger sketch and value comp implementing the adjustments from the thumbnail. When the client approved that, I moved on to painting.

Clipper ship Emerald Isle commission value comp.

Though I paint on both canvas and panel, if I have the choice I usually go for panel. Gessoing it myself, I can not only control the overall texture, but also that of specific areas.

Once the board was gessoed, I made my first time-robbing blunder. Every project has to have one or two, so I am happy that this one wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have any transfer paper on hand—so I decided rather than go to the store, I would just make my own. I sprinkled a sheet of thin sketch paper with graphite powder and rubbed it in with isopropyl alcohol. It looked pretty good and I proceeded to make the transfer tracing from a printout of my sketch.

When I pulled the sketch and transfer paper away, it revealed a mess of graphite in which I could sort of make out the crumbly outline of a ship. I had used too much graphite powder and it caked pretty thick in some places. I wiped away of as much as I could and re-gessoed. While the gesso was drying I made a trip to the store to pick up some transfer paper ;).

Process shots of clipper ship Emerald Isle Commission.

Finally with a good transfer, I went over the drawing again by hand, sealed that with matte medium and did some light acrylic washes to establish a little color and value. Then, with the acrylic dried I switched to oils and painted the sky. Next I did the sails, then half the water. I painted the hull before the water on the right side so that I could let it mostly dry before doing the waves that overlap it. Once it was all painted in. I spent time making adjustments etc. and then I did some thin glazing with burnt sienna (my favorite pigment) to help tie the colors together—I think I’ll have to make another post later about my approach to color. I hope you enjoy.

Clipper Ship Emerald Isle commission on Easel.

One Week of Inktober

I decided to participate in Inktober this year. The whole thing was started by awesome artist Jake Parker a few years back, and the gist is to create an ink drawing each day during the month of October. Of course, it helps motivate you not to slack if you are sharing those daily on social media. I’ve shared each of my drawings on Instagram, but I thought it would be fun to include the first week’s worth together in a post.

Inktober drawing of girl with hair blowing. painted with acrylic washes. By Jameson Gardner Art.

My first Inktober drawing was this portrait of a girl with her hair blowing a little. I try not to judge my success (it’s hard) by how many people are following me, or how many likes an image gets. There is always that 18 year old who’s drawings look like mine did when I was 10 (literally, I don’t mean a fine artist who is intentionally simplifying or exaggerating forms—I am just talking plain old amateur), yet who has thousands of followers. That can get me down if I’m not careful. Anyway, despite that, I do pay attention to the response. This first one had, by far, the biggest response on Instagram. Maybe it was because it was the first day and people were pumped to look at the first round of Inktober drawings, or maybe people just liked it. A few days later I went ahead and painted some acrylic washes onto it to see how some color would look.

Inktober Girl 1 Drawing

Inktober 2

For my second drawing, I imagined up a scene of a soldier in battle who is surprised by a goblin leaping through the air. I didn’t love the composition on my sketchbook page, so I broke it down and tried to create a sort of fractured comic frame. I don’t really do comics or graphic novels—but it was worth a shot. The response on this one was significantly lower. It has still reached what I’d call the medium range. I think I posted this one later in the evening which may matter too.

Inktober drawing with fairy. By Jameson Gardner Art. Inktober drawing with damaged spaceship. By Jameson Gardner Art.

My third drawing was a fairy. Response to her was low. I spent quite a bit of time on her and I thought she turned out pretty nice. I wonder if displayed small on instagram, she didn’t have the bold blacks to attract attention. Some of the nice details of the drawing may just have been missed at that scale. Don’t hesitate to click and view her larger to see if you agree with me.

The damaged space ship was next. I admit it was a quickie. It got only slightly better response than the fairy.

Inktober drawing with frigate heeling in the wind. By Jameson Gardner Art.

This frigate was next. I worried a little while drawing it that people wouldn’t understand the angle of the masts and spars. the wind is supposed to be coming from the right. So the spars are angled to allow the square sails to still catch some power. That is also why it is heeling to port—all the pressure pushing the masts that direction. Anyway, I guess my fears were unfounded. This one did second best for likes. I don’t know if it was the drawing or if people just love ships.

Inktober drawing portrait of girl. By Jameson Gardner Art.

Inktober drawing with dragon skull. By Jameson Gardner Art.

So, this other girl portrait wasn’t my favorite. It is just as simple as the first one, but not as elegant. I guess it is just a little dull. The response wasn’t great either. It’s tied with the damaged spaceship for likes. I’m not surprised.

Last drawing of the week was the dragon skull. I tried to combine features from dog skulls with antelope skulls. You are probably wondering why I didn’t just look at lizard or dinosaur skulls…. well, because I didn’t. 🙂 The Dragon Skull scored in the mid-range. It was a later evening post too, so that might have affected it.

Hope you enjoy these. Inktober isn’t over. There is more to come. Check out my progress on Instagram @jamesonart

Watercolor Girl in Armor

I just wanted to draw something the other day. So, I found some reference of a face and did a little drawing.  Just plain faces are great, but I have a tendency to want to add swords, bows or laser cannons to a lot of the things I draw. So, I put this girl in a suit of armor. I liked it. and I decided to watercolor it.

Watercolor painting of girl in armor by Jameson Gardner Art.

Luckily, I had done the drawing on Arches 88 a fairly hefty printmaking paper. Unluckily, I hadn’t done it on watercolor paper. I did scan it and try printing the drawing onto watercolor paper. It worked fine, but the only watercolor paper I had laying around was some of that cheap stuff that you buy in a pad at the craft store. I don’t believe that more expensive is always better… but in this case it is. Cheap watercolor paper has this weird artificial tooth that feels like it has been stamped on.

I opted to just try painting on the original drawing. I tested the corner of the paper first, and I’m glad I did. it sucked up the water and pigment like a rookie camel at his first oasis. This printmaking paper has no sizing (the stuff they put in paper that makes it less absorbent) and that wasn’t going to work for me. I ended up coating the paper in acrylic matte medium, which rendered it significantly less absorbent. I did the coloring with Acryla gouache handled watercolor-style. You can do all the same kinds of washes, but it won’t lift of bleed once it dries.


Preliminary drawing for watercolor painting of woman in armor by Jameson Gardner Art.

Drawing for watercolor painting of woman in armor by Jameson Gardner Art.

I tried to design armor that would look elegant, but functional. We have a surplus of  warrior women wearing armor or outfits that reveal all but the most vital areas and protect none of the vital organs. This is my take on Women’s armor.

Progress shot watercolor painting of woman in armor by Jameson Gardner Art.

All in all, I was relatively pleased.

 

 

Watercolor Girl in Dress

watercolored ink drawing of girl in medieval/ renaissance dress.

Yes, “Watercolor Girl in Dress” is a pretty lame title. But, it describes what I’m talking about.
I just finished this ink/watercolor project. This image was born from a combination of my love for the work of Arthur Rackham, which makes me want to do watercolored pen/ink, and the fact that my sister owns a cool medieval/renaissancey dress.
I started by shooting reference photos of my sister in the dress. We just tried different poses and I decided which to use later.

I would include the photos here, but I haven’t asked her permission to show them—they look a lot like the drawing, only more photographic.

Work in progress shot of drawing girl in medieval/renaissance dress

Using the photos for reference, and having found a hairdo on pinterest that I liked, I made a pencil drawing on watercolor paper (Arches).

Work in progress shot of drawing girl in medieval/renaissance dress

I inked the drawing with a Pentel brush pen (I like the thin black pocket version best). I used to use a nib pen for stuff like this, but you can get really great lines and variety with these pens without having to dip or clean.

Work in progress shot of watercolor girl in medieval/renaissance dress

For the next stage I use watercolor techniques, but with acrylic gouache. The result is very watercoloresque but once it’s dry, the acrylic polymer sets and it won’t run if you rewet it. As you can see, I forgot to stretch my paper before I started painting. It buckled quite a bit and I had to soak and dry to flatten it when I was done painting.

Work in progress shot of watercolor girl in medieval/renaissance dress almost finished.

finished ink and watercolor drawing painting of girl in medieval/renaissance dress.

Once finished painting I photographed it because my scanner is tiny, and overlaid a some handmade textures using photoshop.

I suppose I could just paint my textures right on the paper, but I like to be able to play around with the layers until I find how they work best. I also like to preserve the original the way it is.

Hope you enjoy. I’ll be selling prints on Etsy.

From Mind to Paper: Thumbnail Sketches

pen and ink

Anyone who has taken illustration classes has probably been expected to conform to some sort of process involving  thumbnail sketches. Thumbnails are small preliminary sketches that communicate the gist of an idea. I think sometimes students feel like the only purpose of thumbnails is to figure out an idea and if they are already thinking of something awesome it is an unnecessary step. Well, I am a believer that there is more to it than that.
In my experience both as an illustrator and as a graphic designer, translating an idea from your mind to your paper or design isn’t always as easy as it seems. When I worked for the BYU Universe, sometimes my coworkers would ask me to take a look at designs that they felt were struggling. I told them to explain to me what they didn’t like about it. The response usually included something about how the idea in their head had been significantly more awesome than the version they had actually produced. Of course, we would proceed to discuss the specifics of what was falling short, but I think problems like that could be avoided with a little more work on the front end.  The purpose of thumbnails is to avoid errors in translation from mind to paper. Figure out what is important about the idea. Figure out what compositional elements can convey the important things and what can create the right feel. And remember, if the composition works small it will work large.

You might have a specific image in your head, but until you draw a little version of it, you aren’t going to realize how vague your imagination can be sometimes. Don’t forget the golden rule of creativity either: Your first idea usually isn’t your best idea. I think I’ll write more about that later… but for now, use thumbnails to try some variations, chances are they will get more creative and interesting as you go.

Thumbnails can also convey the gist of your idea to a client before you get too invested. I think most illustrators and art directors are on-board with the process of approving thumbnails, sketches/comps and then the final piece. Thumbnails can work for a lot of other people too though. Landscape commission, or portrait? Show the client a little sketch before you spend a ton of work on it. Thumbnails for graphic design could save some hassle too. My coworkers and I used to complain about all the changes for which our boss or clients would ask. Sometimes I think we were totally justified, but other times we probably could have avoided it by sending them a sketch of what we were thinking.

So don’t underestimate what a Thumbnail sketch can do.

Image

Thumbnails can convey the gist of something even when they are really tiny. All of my thumbnails included here are 2″ tall or smaller.

Preliminary sketch for illustration from Tremsin and the Firebird

Thumbnails can be used to jot down ideas for characters or objects too, not just entire compositions.

masked villain, comic book

Hidden Face

Oil on panel, woman in veiled headdress from fantasy culture.

This is a painting I did fairly recently. It is Oil on panel.  It isn’t supposed to reflect any real-world culture or religion. Once again, I’ve painted something that is actually directed at the fantasy crowd. I started with a sketch, transferred that to toned paper and worked in some highlights. I scanned the toned version and printed it and then mounted the print on my panel using acrylic matte medium. I painted in three stages.

Stage 1 involved painting until I was really tired of painting on it.

Stage 2 was taking a break and not working on it.

Stage 3 was looking at some of the artists I admire and thinking about how i could improve what I had done based on what I learned from them.

Stage 4 was doing the things I learned in Stage 3.

Yep, I told you there were three stages, but it was really four.

Sketch for painting oil portrait on panel

Toned drawing for oil portrait on panel

The Firebird

Image

This is my take on the Firebird. Of course, when most people say “the Firebird”, they mean Stravinsky’s ballet. If they don’t mean Stravinksy’s ballet, they probably mean “I have heard of the Firebird but I don’t really know what it is or how its story goes.”

The funny thing is, there really isn’t just one story of the firebird and the ballet for which Stravinsky wrote music, draws elements from various tales, but faithfully follows none. In short, the firebird is more of a recurring character in various Russian folk-tales. In fact the firebird usually seems to take an “and the” sort of role.  My illustration could be entitled: “Princess Vasilisa and the Firebird”.

On this image I went straight from my sketch/drawing to digital, but I tried to color it in a way that would feel like it is still made of something, like you wouldn’t be surprised if it was on a sheet of traditional vellum.

I was hoping to channel a little bit of Arthur Rackham, I don’t know successful I was at that, but I hope you like it.

Image