Sea Witch Concept Exploration

I have a few narrative ideas that I am finally working on in earnest, now that I am on hiatus from studio jobs and focusing on my personal work. One of my ideas involves a reinvention and extended version of the classic, "The Little Mermaid", focusing on the story of the Sea Witch.

For this story, I wanted to fully explore who or what the Sea Witch might look like in the aesthetic I want to create. My story has a few evolutionary versions of this character, but to start I wanted to focus on what she might have looked like during the classic tale when she meets the little mermaid.

Since I haven't done a lot of creature work in my career, I thought I might dive into an online course to see where it might take me. I found a summer online course at CGMA with Bobby Rebholz  that seemed to fit the bill for a general overview of creature invention. I'm so glad I took the course. 

The first thing we focused on was iterating. We put together pages of references for research and then had to come up with as many variations as we could, anything that came to mind immediately. This stage was really amusing; I could have gone on forever!

After submitting the sketches, we focused on picking out a couple of thumbnails that worked best. I had a hard time choosing and in the end regretted not choosing a few different thumbnails. However, going through the process was entirely worth it no matter what the result. 

This sketch, above, for instance, seems less threatening and more benign than I would have liked to express. The design is based on a manatee, who are pretty gentle creatures, and a lion fish, which are quite poisonous.

I really like the idea of a fish that has fins that come up towards it's face when wishing to appear threatening. This variation was based on salamanders and flying fish.

After we submitted ideas for a few basic designs, we focused on iterating the head. This was the class I think I got the most out of since the head is really what the characters interact with and is so memorable and impactful in dialog scenes.

These versions (above) were really fun to draw. I looked at everything from giant squid to walruses to even bats. In the end, I decided they were too derivative of Cthulu for the sea witch I wanted for my story. In my story there is another creature of the deep that I want to be reminiscent of Chtulu, so I decided to save any mouth/head tentacles for that creature instead of this one.

^^^ this page is just me messing around, to be honest. lol

Next class we focused on a few poses for the few variants. At this point I knew the manatee like creature was not really cutting it for my story, but it was still fun to draw.

While I am not entirely sure of this ^^^ design, I do like the slinky quality it offers. I also like wispy hair and head lures that might throw off unsuspecting prey in the dark. I like bioluminescence, in general, for a Sea Witch, and tentacles of some sort for arms seem creepy. When I drew this version I was thinking about moray eels, as well, which have such great faces. 

For our last class, we had to do a few studies of the final animals that we were studying as a basis of our design. I landed on the Hellbender Salamander and the Bamboo Shark as most of my inspiration points, but there were definitely some other ideas in there, too. 

And the final painting of my final design for the Sea Witch.

And a few detailed head studies and a version of the witch in full light.

Although I am most likely going to edit and revise this character to fit with my story, I am glad I went through the process of taking a creature course. There were a lot of great discussions about considerations, acting, and posing that I hadn't thought about and I learned a great process for coming up with an entirely new animal. 

I am unsure when I will be able to finish my story in full since I am pretty deeply in the process of creating a huge series of paintings, drawings and sketches around a fairy/dryad/seasons story at the moment. But I will keep picking away little by little on my Sea Witch story, as much as I can. 

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Thanks for reading!


"Earth", "Sun", "Moon" Mini Series/ Process

For quite awhile I've been kicking around the idea of a series of paintings having to do with our solar system in relation to earth. Although I have a lot of ideas, I wanted to start off with a really small series that included either animals or insects each relating to the Earth, the Sun, and the Moon. After a lot of sketching and thinking, I landed on a cicada, a bee, and a moth. I chose these insects because cicadas hibernate in the earth for many years, bees are active in sunlight hours, and moths are nocturnal.

I also wanted these to be illustrations rather than scientific studies of any specific species. It was really a challenge...I messed around with embellishing each insect with symbols and landed on a few, but then altered those in the final paintings. 

All of these are drawn on heavy weight duralar vellum, a surface I really like for graphite studies. The warm tone you see underneath is a table top.

I gilded each 6x6 panel in three metal leafs, copper to represent the Earth, Gold to represent the Sun, and Silver to represent the moon. (I ended up double gilding the copper panel to remove the seams you see in the photo)

I should note here that these panels are all oil gilded rather than water gilded. Oil gilding involves applying oil size and allowing it to dry for a specific time before adhering the metal leaf. Water gilding is a different process that yields great results, too, and is often used for making very slick and shiny surfaces, which I wasn't necessarily interested in for these little pieces. Also, I gilded the panels straight onto a white gessoed surface instead of applying a base color (typically called a "bole"). 

I scanned my drawings, made line drawings in photoshop, then printed out the designs to the specific size I needed, and then transferred them to the gilded panels. This time I used white graphite transfer paper so that the line work could show up against the metal leaf. 

I painted a closed grisaille underpainting first so that paint adhered to the surface before adding color. I'm glad I did because the metal leaf was slick to paint on, requiring some layers of paint as a base before adding color.

One really cool thing about the metal surface is that it reflects light even in the middle of the night with all of the lights turned off. I tried to capture this a bit. (Sorry for the shaky cam!)

After the grisaille under paintings were finished, I moved to detail color work. I found with each one that balancing the transparency of the wings for "Earth" and "Sun" against the metal leaf was quite difficult. I probably spent more time working on the wings than any other aspect of each painting. It was also difficult to gauge the color structure while painting because the shimmery metal leaf would change during the day and change the nature of the color. In some cases I repainted the color layer twice in order to adjust.

Varnishing these paintings took a few tries, as well. I ended up reapplying the varnish and stripping it a few times. I think a matte varnish works really well with these. The metal leaf still looks shimmery and the painted surfaces end up having a nice matted quality that contrasts well.

The finished paintings, "Earth", "Sun", "Moon".

I plan to continue this series with larger pieces later this year, which I am very excited about... For the mean time, I am in the midst of two more gothic themed paintings, one of which you can follow along with on instagram and twitter:

Thank you for reading!


"Ancient Grief" plus process

Participating in Inktober for the past two years has really been helpful in improving my inking techniques and exploring new ways to render a subject in ink, and it has also been pretty great for generating ideas that I'd like to develop further. This painting, "Ancient Grief" came out of a series of sketches I did as prep for Inktober while I was thinking about a connective narrative for all of the pieces for the month.

"Ancient Grief", oil on gessoboard panel

For the past few years I have been waking up around 5:30 am. After I get some coffee, I spend a few hours drawing in my sketchbook in the living room, usually while listening to ambient music on my headphones. I've found that if I don't think too much about what to draw, subjects begin to tumble out of my mind. This entire series of sketches was one of those mornings. 

Apparently I am not alone in this experience. Many artists and writers dedicate their early morning hours to their craft and have reported it as a unique period of productive creativity. This short article sums it up pretty well: Why You Need to Write First Thing in the Morning.  

Early morning sketching has therefore been at the very core of finding images that resonate for me and is a sacred part of my process. 

Most of these sketches ended up being a part of a larger narrative that I used for my Inktober pieces, a story that I've not finished. I wrote about my last inktober series here.

But one sketch in particular stood out as something I'd like to paint rather than ink; it had an extra sense of mood and emotion that brought it into a different realm than the other sketches. I developed it as a larger sketch in order to figure out more details and think about a composition that might work as a painting.

After the sketch was finished, I transferred it to a panel using saral graphite transfer paper. (Next time I would rather use an oil transfer for this step, which I'll talk about that in later posts.) This time instead of painting on a white board, I decided to tone the entire canvas with raw sienna, yellow ochre and white, and then painted in the rough shadows before going into color.

For the palette, I chose a pretty limited palette of Natural Pigments Lead White #2, Lead Tin Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Cad Orange, Raw Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, Burnt Sienna Raw Sienna, and Italian Green Umber. 

Originally, I was going to use the exact same limited palette of custom mixes I made for my Seasons series (as described in my last post), but I thought instead I could just create the mixes in a close enough range to match that palette on the fly. 

Also, I wanted the keep the focal point on the emotion of the scene and didn't want to distract from the color of the character. I wanted the fairy to have rich red hair and pale skin, similar to some of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings I had just seen at the Palace of Legion of Honor in San Francisco. 

This painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "Bocca Baciata", 1859, had such a beautiful contrast in the hair and skin that I wanted to see if I could create a similar contrast and delicacy in my painting.

Although she is laying on a bed of fall leaves, I thought I would depict them as a monochromatic drawing rather than paint them in full color. Originally I wanted the leaves to be much more loose and sketchy, but after I painted the fairy and the bone, it seemed like I needed to tighten up the leaves...so they became sort of a monochromatic painting in the end.

Hard to believe, but fairy wings and insect wings are really time consuming to paint. At first I thought they might be the easiest to paint, requiring just a few highlights and accents to make them feel transparent. However, I ended up fiddling around with the details quite a bit to get them to look shimmery, and honestly I still feel like they aren't shimmery enough. (This reason alone is probably why I will make a billion more fairy paintings...)

Since this painting is connected to the story of my inktober pieces, I am going to continue along with these paintings and more inks throughout this year. Stay tuned for more and follow along! 

If you've made it this far down the page, thanks for reading! 


"Seasons" series/ Process

Earlier this year I finished these four small paintings. It was a huge breakthrough because I spent so much time planning and figuring out technical details (process outlined below). More importantly, they represent an aesthetic I've been trying to figure out for some time, which recalls my love of fantasy inspired by illustrators in literature and history. All of these subjects have been deep influences on my interests throughout my life, yet I never quite knew how to channel it all.  

Below is my process. For those interested, feel free to ask any questions. I am happy to give more details if they help.

Seems like video is the best way to view these. 


The first thing I did was work up some quick loose sketches in my sketchbook, then these studies below. 

Because I wanted my paintings to have gold and silver details, I needed to carefully consider the palette. I scanned the drawings and then played with color palettes in Photoshop before I actually painted them. I really liked a muted palette against the brightness of the gold and silver and went with it. 

I thought about making some custom black frames, but decided against it, at least for now.

Because the drawings were scanned, all I needed to do was print them out to the correct size for the transfer. I transferred the drawings using saral graphite paper on to panels that I gessoed and sanded a few months before. 

The method of painting I use is called indirect oil painting. It is the oldest form of all the oil painting techniques developed by Dutch painters, sometimes also called the Flemish method. Indirect oil painting involves a few layers of underpainting in warm tones, which is called a grisaille. This first layer, the "open grisaille", is always really unattractive looking, but it is important to get some paint on the surface so that subsequent opaque layers can adhere to the panel. 

After the first open grisaille, I began the second grisaille, which uses white paint and is entirely opaque.

For all of these paintings, I designed the palette to be limited to a few custom mixes. 

My limited palette comprised of mixtures I made from a typical palette of colors. 

After coming up with the base color palette and marking down how I made the mixtures, I began the color glazing stage, following the color mock ups I did in Photoshop, which I have in front of my on my ipad at my desk. 

In regards to technique, glazing color on top is fairly easy, it is just takes a few layers in order to cover the underpainting underneath. I love this stage the most. It finally feels like everything is coming alive.

After they were finished, I used a matte varnish rather than a glossy varnish. I wanted to make sure the metal leaf details didn't compete with another shiny surface. 

And this is the part that took me literally months to figure out...gilding.

I had so many frustrating experiments on test surfaces that were not working the way I needed them to. Gilding on oil paintings, it turns out, is a little more involved than gilding on paper surfaces. I see a lot of artists using gilding in their work, but it is not at all easy when you want a specific design and are working with oil paint, which tends to want to grab the metal leaf, making brushing away the excess a nightmare.

I ended up taking a class with Lynn Rutter on gilding techniques. I am so glad I did. I learned a huge amount in information in two days that answered a lot of questions and provided important information about how to make sure that materials like oil paint and varnishes underneath the gilded surface interact well and archival for a long time. For all of the gilded details, I painted used twelve hour oil size and then used various metal leaf when the size was ready. Because some metal leaf tarnishes, I also learned about the importance of using shellac (and which kind) to create an isolation layer. 

These are the samples of gilded surfaces we learned about in Lynne Rutter's two day weekend class.

I used twelve hour size. Timing it is important, so you have to make sure your schedule is clear twelve hours later, otherwise the gilding window closes and you have to start all over again. The photo above is what it looks like while it's drying.

After that, brushing it off was fun, too, except that sometimes the edges weren't as crisp as I'd like them to be. I had to double leaf the details in some places. 

The finished piece.

Much more to come in 2019!
 If you've made it this far down the page - THANK YOU.


Inktober 2018

Once again I decided to challenge myself and try out Inktober 2018 to see if I could improve my inking ability. 

I have always admired ink drawings more than other kinds of drawing because of the boldness and confidence immediately indicated by committing line to paper and using two values to define any given subject. A particular favorite inking artist is Italian artist Dino Battaglia, who worked primarily in the 1940's-1970's illustrating comics and graphic novels. I love his use of texture and negative shapes, and his compositions are pretty incredible, too.

You can find more of his work online, but there doesn't seem to be a lot, unfortunately. Someone needs to put a book together!

With Battaglia's work in mind, I started out inktober trying to figure out where and how I could include texture. It was not at all easy. Not only did I have to draw the composition, but then had to figure out some sort of value pattern where I could commit a texture as a third value. I found texture in general worked best with a small bit of reindeer moss or gauze and a somewhat dry stamp pad. The texture didn't come across as clearly if the ink was too wet. 

My materials were mainly: Platinum Carbon ink, an inking pad and reindeer moss for textures, sometimes gauze, Dip pens and small brushes. I used some pro-white occasionally to clean up extra lines I didn't want. I inked everything on Strathmore bristol board 4 ply plate surface. I also used masking film.

I also experimented with a dark background, white paint and a roller with white paint to get additional texture. I had to mask out the area, which was really time consuming.

I really like that dark background texture a lot - will probably find ways to use it for other pieces in the future. I may also redesign this piece since I think it's too top heavy and not as clear as I would like it.

However, as inktober progressed, I decided that perhaps it would be better to get a feel for how dip pens worked and how I could indicate value with cross hatching and line work. I ended up using texture as an accent rather than feature.

In the piece below, I primed the paper with a thin wash of acrylic titanium buff, a technique I've used for a long time in my sketchbooks, usually if I want to paint on top of the sketchbook paper. It makes a nice gessoed surface that accepts watermedia. Also, it turns out, makes a great surface for inking.

Another artist I really love is Arthur Rackham. He did a lovely series of illustrations all in silhouette, which I've always admired. I wanted to try at least one silhouette. I toned the paper with a light grey wash of acrylic, let dry, then a few touches of textures, and then painted the forms with a brush. The hardest part I think is the clear design. I'd love to try a whole series of these.

And this one has the same general idea, but with some modeling in the silhouette. 

Towards the end of inktober I was inking and re-inking at least 2-3 times. I think it's good practice to re-ink pieces because it gives you a chance to not only warm up, but also loosen up and see if you can push the subject further. Each time I re-inked a piece I did not regret it. I'd post my original inks for these here, but I cringe every time I look at them, sorry. :)

I think I inked this one over 3 times...finding reference of a pelvis bone was really tough. I also was unsure about the composition, so I tried out a few ideas before finalizing this one.

For the very last piece, I switched from using a dip pen to rapidiograph pens. What a relief! I had more control over the thickness of the lines, which I generally wanted fairly small. I also started working larger, which I think helped a great deal in getting the kind of detail I wanted. 

The drawing alone took a full day to complete and edit at a larger size.

 Inking took about a day to complete, with a few extra hours the next day to make some final edits and additions. 

I put a warm filter on the drawing for the final shot. Is that cheating? I don't know. I like it better, though. Toned paper always has a nice feel to it that I like.

NOTE: You may be wondering about why all these fairies are messing around with old bones in the forest. There is an answer, but I am not finished telling the story. I like the idea a lot and will continue adding to it over the next couple of months in between painting work. 


In all, I ended up creating nine pieces, which falls far short of the intended 31 days of ink drawings. However, the intent is to improve, and I feel like I worked pretty hard during the month. I experimented with ideas and compositions as well as story telling, acting, and overall value design. While I wasn't able to finish the mini story I am telling in these pieces, I am still left feeling like I made a journey that has left me in a better place than where I was last inktober. 

If you've read this far, thank you! 

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