“Harbinger” has been one of the most time-intensive pieces I’ve created to date. It was created for the 3rd Annual Prisma Artist Collective show at Spoke Art in San Francisco, California, opening February 7th, 2015. I have greatly enjoyed creating work for every Prisma show I’ve been a part of, as the roster of the collective inspires me to create work worthy of being included among them… at least I’d hope so, anyway.
I probably spent 30-40 hours total creating “Harbinger,” with about half of that time spent on building and drafting the piece before I even brought a brush to it. Here’s a bit of the process in pictures, much of it captured and shared via my Instagram account.
The idea began with the form I created in my sketchbook. I’ve been doing my best to dedicate more time planning my work – gathering reference (photographing it myself when possible), doing color studies, and photoshop mock-ups. Doing all of this helps to guarantee a piece that I feel good about in the end, but there is still some organic spontaneity that occurs while painting the piece, as working with watercolor usually requires anyway.
Once the form was sketched out, I thought I might imagine that she’s a harpy, and went from there. I wanted to be inspired by interesting feather patterns, however, and looked up pheasants and peafowls, though I used an eagle’s wings for reference for the top portion. Then, I sought reference for the unique position of the form. I realized that it wasn’t quite a comfortable, natural position, so I cut and pieced various references together, including some from a friend-of-a-friend that offered to model this pose for me. Out of respect for her privacy, I won’t be sharing the full reference here.
Next up, I mounted the watercolor paper to the 16″ x 20″ cradled wood panel. This is a technique that’s fairly new to me that I have wanted to try for a long time, but it wasn’t until the fragility of my stretched pieces really became an issue that I finally tried this method out. I followed fellow artist and friend JAW Cooper’s tutorial on mounting paper to wood. I’ve since done this a few times and will be writing a tutorial of my own soon, since I’m now doing a few things differently, so keep an eye out for that.
Once the paper was ready, I created my background texture with watercolor, water, and salt. Once dry, I spent several hours drawing the piece out.
Once the full piece was drafted out, I made some decisions regarding the color palette and the color patterning of the feathers. One of the most frequently asked questions I get (if not THE most) is whether I use masking fluid. It’s very rare that I do, because I can avoid an area with watercolor by being precise with my brush, usually carefully following the contour of a line and then filling in. The time it takes to accomplish that is often much less than it would take to fill an area with masking fluid I’m trying to avoid, be just as precise, and then rubbing it away. The only cases in which I use it are one such as this: I was planning to paint an overall wash of red over the feathers, but I wished to keep the middle design of the feathers the background color. I could avoid those areas, but because I wanted the color evenly distributed, the time and effort spent on masking those areas would end up being worth it. In retrospect, I should’ve masked off the hair that touched those feathers too.
So, when I do use masking fluid, I use Grumbacher’s miskit. It smells horrible (all masking fluid does), but I find that it does the best job. The consistency is pretty even, and it peels up nicely. It does deposit a slight orange-ish hue if you leave it on for too long, though, so try not to keep it on for more than a few hours if you really need the paper underneath to remain white. In my case, it made no difference and the miskit remained on for about a week. For applying the masking fluid, I used a cheap brush that I frequently rinsed with water as well as Grafix’s “Incredible Nib,” which I LOVE.
Ready to go! I’ve got my colors selected: “Permanent Brown” and “Blue Apatite Genuine” by Daniel Smith, “Payne’s Grey” and “Delft Blue” by Grumbacher, and “Winsor Red Deep” by Winsor & Newton. My reference is printed out for easy access, my brushes, water, and salt are ready to grab.
Describing the process of painting the piece is difficult, because it’s very intuitively-driven, but these process photos should give an idea of what order I chose to paint the piece.
This is a scan of the final piece, which I titled “Harbinger.” I felt that it was fitting to the idea that she’s a harpy, but also for the other symbolic elements in the piece.
The original painting has sold to a collector, but it will be on view at Spoke Art in San Francisco from February 7th through February 28th. For those that are able to make the opening, there are 25 free 8″ x 10″ prints up for grabs to the first attendees!
Update: A close friend of mine was able to make it to the opening a took this picture of “Harbinger” up on the wall!