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25 June 2015

Of a Wedding and a Return to Acrylics

Recently, I was commissioned to do an acrylic piece for my nephew's wedding.  I had done a piece for him when he was born, and this would make a nice companion piece.
This was a definite departure for me, in that the subject was worlds away from the fantasy/horror/comic and character design work I've been doing for the past few years, and more so because it's been at least a decade since I've done any actual painting.  My workflow has become almost entirely digital, and producing a finished product using more traditional materials was challenging and somewhat daunting.
Nevertheless, I invested in a good set of Liquitex paints and gave it my best shot.  The images that follow (shot rather poorly, I admit, with the camera on my Nexus 4; I'm an illustrator, not a photographer) are the results.

As always, we start with a sketch.  In this case, time was a consideration, so the sketch was done at the final size of 16 x 20 so that it could be worked up into a final line drawing and transferred to the board.

In thinking about this piece, I was inspired by the work of Amy Crehore, who seems to do some fantastic things with wood, so I decided to try working on a wood panel.  This turned out to be a good decision.  I tend to work my acrylics a LOT, and after a while, even the best illustration board gives up little bits of fibre that roll inseparably into the paint.  Meanwhile, canvas does not excite me, as I don't like the way the paint tends to settle into the valleys in the material; I like more control over my color.
At this point, able-bodied art assistant Cameron came in to apply several layers of gesso to the board to smooth out its surface.  After much priming and sanding, he also transferred the drawing to the board and did the underpainting (which I shamefacedly forgot to photograph).  I knew I was going to lean towards a blue-oriented palette for this painting, so I had the underpainting done in a dark green.  From there, I started laying down some paint. Here you can see the basic design and palette that I'll be carrying through the painting.

One of my problems with working in paint is that I tend to get bogged down in the details very quickly, and it takes me much longer than it should to finish a piece.  I knew I couldn't do that with this one, so I tried a different approach, drawing on lessons learned from my digital workflow.  Rather than start with my usual right to left, finishing an inch at a time method, I did the painting in layers, adding slightly more detail with each layer, working from back to front, with the intention of ending with the smallest details.

The mountain range turned out to be quite a challenge for me.  It was based largely on a tattoo design that had special significance, and I wanted to retain features of that design while adding more realism.  Working from dark to light, ending with white highlights and a sunrise on the left, I eventually achieved something close to what I was aiming for.

More details, with highlights added to the water and more features added to the plants.  The plant on the left is the dogwood of British Columbia, and the one on the right is the pitcher plant of Newfoundland, reflecting the bride and groom's heritage.

Another layer of detail brings out the features of the dogs and adds the fishing boats in the middle distance.  The boats represent the parents and grandparents of the couple, some of whom have passed on recently.

A lot more detail in this pass, bringing out the sunlight more and more features of the dogs. I should point out that at this stage, I'm mixing everything.  I don't use color straight from the tube often in painting, as unmixed colors tend to be overpowering.  Even the white of the dress sleeve has a small amount of blue mixed in.

In the final pass, I add final highlights with some unmixed white. And so on, until, finally, we're done, with about two days to spare.  My poor photography does not really do the colors justice.  I've always liked both the color and texture of Liquitex paints. My only complaint about this set was that the Burnt Umber had nearly no emulsion in it, and was just a tube of clay.  I had to improvise around it in the skin tones using sienna and pthalho orange.  
There's lots that I like about the final piece, but as always, there's lots I don't like as well.  I'm still not completely happy with the mountains, and the dog on the left ended up a little too large, amongst other things.  However, a hard deadline meant I did not have time to work this piece any more, so a splash of fixative and some wrapping and it's out the door.
The piece seems to have been well received, so I guess in the end it's all good.  The takeaway for me was that I kind of miss working in acrylic and should spend more time on it, as time allows.  Also, I really enjoyed working on a wood panel, and will definitely return to that.

Some final detail shots of the painting.  I took a bit of symbolist approach, so everything in it is meant to be in some way significant to the people involved.

As always, I'm happy to read or hear what you have to say about the work.  I've got no illusions about my talent in this area, so feel free to be critical in the comments, or in email, or by hitting me up on Facebook.