Monday, May 31, 2010

"Epona harnessed" finished

I'm not too enthusiastic about the result, this picture hits almost all my current technical limits, but it served its purpose well. I learned quite a lot on handling saturation both by mixing various grays (in the ground and puddles) and by alternating layers of complementary colors (on the body).

Before trying again complicated poses and point of view like this one I feel the need to go back for a while to practice anatomy and improve my palette choices. I'll be starting soon a sketchbook on as now I'm exercising steadily every day and I need most of all to work with more continuity. The best studies and speed paintings I'll keep posting here too (along with WIPs of full pictures of course).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Epona Harnessed" WIP 2

I wanted this picture to be a hard exercise at controlling saturation, so I'm keep it very low except for the most exposed areas of moss-skin. Most of the picture at this point is Van Dyck brown and Payne's gray, with the reddish part being burnt sienna. I'm now covering that with the layers of green and green/yellow, though it will require adjusting later to make the transition from shadow to light smoother, for example on the visible leg.

The thing on her butt is going to be a still smoking fire brand. Horses are branded all the time so it's logical whoever is keeping her tied also wants to mark her as his property.

Phtalo green I find to be the hardest hue to handle along with ultramarine. They are the hardest to mix, due to green overwhelming any other color even when added in small quantities and ultramarine causing sudden hus shifts and losing its hue and turning muddy very easily. But green is also terribly hard to glaze as it tends to turn opaque and lose a lot of strength when dried. Altough it might be due to traces of titanium white or some other pigment in my brand of choice - the great guide to paints by Bruce MacEvoy explains similar issues but it's often hard to tell whether the paint's brand has a quality issue or the pigment is just limited in that way.

Speed paintings are excellent way to test palettes and paints, so I'm doing more of them as warm-ups. Not yet doing one a day but that's what I'm aiming for now.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Alex the parrot

I've been thinking for a while of making a picture of Alex the parrot, now I'm cooking what might be the right idea.

This is a slightly anthropomorphic version of him, with hands, bird-like backward knees, and a body shape similar to that of the owl from Harvest Moon. He is in the lab sitting upon a perch, in front of one of the magnetic boards he used in exercises with letters and numbers, but this time he is ready to actually write (with one of his own tail feathers). Other objects are a bird cage (top left) and a studio lamp (the top right things are the arm and the lampshade):

The plush lion is there for a reason: the picture is modeled after icons of Saint Jerome, the patron of translators and writers and translator of one of the most important editions of the Bible who was often portrayed with a lion. I think the role this parrot has had in improving the communication between humans and animals is worth being remembered among the highest and most important.

By a lucky accident the color red is also associated with Saint Jerome - and there is even a picture where the Saint appears with an African gray parrot like Alex:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"Epona Harnessed" WIP 1

I removed the antlers she had in the sketches because they didn't look good for the composition (they would be too mmuch prominent given the pose and add too much weight at the bottom of the picture), and also because they didn't make much sense in this context. Epona is the deity of horses anyway... I'll paint proper deer another time.

Epona is lying on muddy ground between two puddles which will show reflected clouds and trees. This time I'm using more natural/desaturated colors and the underpainting is low saturation too, a mix of ochre, burnt Sienna, neutral gray and phtalo green. There are three main areas:

1) The challenge with the ground is giving it the wet/muddy feeling and keeping the saturation very low. I've started with a mix of Van Dyck brown and Payne's gray, and later layers will be the same plus white and possibly bits of other hues.
2) Epona is going to be mostly cool gray and green/yellow - she doesn't have fur but a coat of moss and grass, with the mane and tail made of long leaves like these of some swamp plants. I've started with a layer of red (burnt Sienna) as underpainting for the greenest areas and Payne's gray for the shadows.
3) The reflected sky will be the lightest area, the color will be similar to the mud's but overall cooler and much lighter. Plus some accents of orange on the clouds to balance the green of Epona. The main challenge here is painting a convincing surface texture for the water, but I also want to paint an interesting contrast between the mud and the sky, to make the scene look firmly on the ground and yet suspended in the sky at the same time.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beksinski and monumental buildings

What exactly makes the buildings in Beksinski's paintings feel so imposing?

The masterful perspective, the point of view from below and the composition are surely part of the reason, but there's more. He could make buildings look imposing even when seen from above and even when they are tiny in the background.

In the last picture above there is the clever detail of the window light, which is very small, suggesting the tower is very large. But in all the picture I think the illumination plays a major role. His most impressive buildings are stuck by light and better defined in the top part, while the building's base is often blurred, hidden in shadows or smoke. In the real world such an effect is most visible on mountains and huge buildings like skyscrapers when they cast shadows over each other.

To some extent we have an innate perception of natural facts like these, as part of our ability to keep orientation and recognize landmarks. As a consequence, I think that the fuzzyness in the lower part of his buildings suggests they are as imposing as mountains because they are stuck by light in a similar way. But because the shadows are also large and imposing, it also suggest the presence of other structures of similar size in the vicinity, right outside of the visible area. These paintings create the feeling that the viewer is surrounded by immense building and huge masses of clouds, even thought most of them are implied and not part of the scene.

Vertical structures surrounded by clouds, symbols of death, weird lights, desaturated colors etc. also remind of a very specific icon of the XX century... but this connection (of which I think Beksinski was well aware) is mostly symbolic and not as obvious as that with the behavior of light on mountains.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Currently painting the Epona picture and working on other ideas, especially two:

- As a teen I spent several happy summers in Ibiza along with my parents. Ibiza is mostly known as a party place but the northern part of the island is very tranquil, with a lot of Mediterranean bush and half-wild areas, and it is traditionally a beacon of European hippy culture. There are a few hippy shops and markets which sell oddities too. Most of it is cheap mass-produced stuff, but sometimes I found items which could not be found anywhere else 20 years ago, such as religious postcards from India:
Avatar of the elephant god Ganesha

These icons are full of details which have a symbolic meaning or reference some Hindu religious stories. I'm thinking of a painting in a similar style, with a feline avatar holding slightly different/modified symbolic items representing virtues and facts of the XXI century world:

I had thought of a tiger but that would be too obvious, and also not good because tigers are a very negative symbol in hinduism, while this is supposed to be a firendly deity. She is going to be a snow leopard instead. Nowadays we are kinda obsessed with bringing rare and obscure things to the spotlight, and snowmeows are rare and obscure animals which have become famous only in the last fifty years or so. They look "edgy" for some reason, probably because of the cold/pale colors. Also they manage to keep some privacy in the wild in spite of all the people who want to film them, which nowadays is quite an achievement. :-)

- Another idea comes from a recent streak of good books and documentaries about food and the risk of a global food crisis in the near future, for example BBC's Jimmy's Global Harvest, Jimmy's Food Factory and Future of Food. These are videos everybody should watch, as in 10-20 years it will be extremely important to have a good start and understanding of the situation.

The idea started again as a fantasy scene. I was rather impressed by the description of cattle feedlots in the book "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan and it led to a weird vision of a feedlot as a shady cathedral. The idea was to show a pregnant cattle smoking hard and looking very distressed in such a setting, oppressed by tall corn containers which formed a monumental, grim architecture, as in some paintings by Zdzislaw Beksinski:

The cow would be sitting in front of a large crate with such corn towers in the background:

I even figured out a logo which looks like a Christian cross for the fictional corporation which owns the place and has corn as its core business:

I was thinking of using a style similar to Beksinski's, morbid and apocalyptic. But such a scene would be cheesy and useless, it'd be just empty rethoric. So I'm keeping the elements I like - the pregnant cow, the feedlot looking like a cathedral - but I'm dropping the grim atmosphere. The cow won't look distressed but rather soothed by smoking and just a bit apathetic/resigned. The feedlot will look rather polished like the engineering achievement it is. There will be a crows of other cows too. I have a very specific atmosphere in mind for this painting, a bit surreal, not easy to describe in words... I'll just have to show it as I go on.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A small Gauguin parody and study

Still studying color theory and making color tests like crazy. I did a small painting for the friends of  the FurryMania forum based on Gauguin's "Spirit of the Dead Watching (Manao tupapau)". The colors are based on a photo which is probably quite different from the original (most other photos are not so green and less saturated), but I liked the photo's green/sienna contrast so I used that. The hoopoe Greta is a character by Sans Souci (take a look at her cool sketch blog!).

Studying the details of Gauguin's painting was interesting. Here he curved the border of the sheets to make the foot almost tangent with it, softening the contrast between the foot and the sheet border. The foot would have broken the border too strongly without the little curve I marked here. The fold under the feet adds variety in the middle of the fruits/flowers pattern below, and adds detail to the area to balance the detailed cushions area.

On the girl's head the bed's border becomes very thin, shifting the viewer's attentio to the figure's face. I tired to keep this effect along the hoopoe's crest.

In the original the shape of the bed sheet is broken by the orange cushion. This is a detail I omitted but it was a mistake because it was very important: it connected the girl's dark shape with the dark background by breaking the bed's border and this adds a lot of depth to the bed, balancing the effects of the loose perspective and shading. In my version the sheet is too striking and the hoopoe looks almost floating in the void. I realized it before finishing but the cushion area was already cluttered because of the boar and there was little room to fix the mistake. A lesson learned.

As seen in the grayscale version the orange cushion is an intermediate value between the light and the dark shapes around it, resulting in a very harmonious values map.

The animal on the background of the original is probably an ox with an oxpecker on top of it - I couldn't find any information about it - but at first glance it looked like a boar with a long ear, and since the forum has a boar mascotte too I turned it into a boar. The curves on the far right of the original may also be the backs of other oxes grazing.