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Fantasy Art Technique

Painting a Mermaid

Most of my fantasy work is approached in a similar way. I've used the mermaid demonstration below to provide a rough outline of the techniques I use.
All of the paintings in the fantasy gallery have been created in water-colour with the occasional use of small quantities of gouache &/or acrylic. Although water-colour is not the easiest medium to control it is the one that I am most familiar with and find most adaptable.
DemMer1.jpg (11333 bytes)STAGE 1 For me, the the most important stage in developing a painting, especially a complicated painting, is detailed planning and layout. Before I launch into a painting, I like to have a reasonable idea of what it is that I want to achieve. This stage will include basic planning (detailed drawings and reference for individual subjects/components, composition -making sure all the elements of the painting fit together in harmony on the page) and creative planning (establishing color themes and light source - which direction the sun is shinning from, atmosphere and treatment). For this painting I used Saunders Waterford  paper, my usual choice. It is fairly robust and has an interesting surface texture.
DemMer2.jpg (12868 bytes)STAGE 2 First of all masking fluid was carefully painted over the mermaid tail and left to dry. The initial background wash was then applied using a mixture of French ultramarine, cobalt blue, alizarin crimson and a weak mixture of cadmium orange and yellow for the sun rays. Applying the initial wash involves wetting the paper with clear water (I use a sponge or large brush) and then adding pigment. This is called the wet in wet technique. The intensity of the wash depends on the amount of pigment added. In watercolour painting, colours are lightened by introducing more water and darkened by adding more pigment. For me, the application of the initial wash is probably the most unpredictable and hazardous process in painting the picture. This is partly because when laying in a large wash I have a limited amount of control over what the paint will do when it hits the paper, as well as a limited amount of time in which to finish it (the whole wash must be completed before the paper is dry otherwise unsightly runbacks or blooms may occur). Once the wash was dry, the coral was suggested using a slightly more concentrated mixture of the background colours alizarin crimson, and the blues.
DemMer3.jpg (14745 bytes)STAGE 3 Next the masking fluid was removed and the upper body and tail were painted. When painting the Figure I prefer to start with the most difficult aspect, usually the face. When painting the skin tones it is important to consider the context in which the figure appears. For instance in the mermaid painting I have incorporated the background colours into the skin tone. This helps to achieve unity in the painting and ensures that the figure doesn't appear to be superimposed onto the background. Developing the body form and creating depth, softness and elasticity is a slow process and in this example took more than ten washes and glazes of various intensity and colour. I start of with washes of lighter tones and gradually build up the darker areas.
DemMer4.jpg (17224 bytes)STAGE 4 To further enhance the illusion of depth, the (silhouetted) arc of fish that circle the upper body, were suggested in lighter tones and with limited detail. The Dolphins were then painted using the same colour and intensity as was used for the corral. The black and white stripped fish (Moorish Idol) in the foreground were painted in more detail with a mixture of Prussian blue and French ultramarine. The white stripes were painted over the top of the initial water color wash with gouache.





DMerSt5.jpg (21897 bytes)STAGE 5 A stronger mixture of colour was added to the coral in the bottom left corner. As I didn't want to distract from the mermaid I kept detail to a minimum. In general, strong foreground tones help achieve a sense of recession and frame the focal point. Finally the small orange fish were rendered in gouache with a mixture of cadmium yellow, red and white.
When I have finished a painting I put it away and come back to it a day or so latter with a fresh eye. I then seem to automatically focus on what I think that I could have done better. A painting seldom turns out the way I imagined it would. 'Happy mistakes' and the spontaneity of art and watercolour painting in particular can make results unpredictable but can also give a piece character and sparkle - you never quit know what you're going to get and I think this is one of the beauties of painting. In this watercolour I feel that the figure lacks the fluidity and sense of motion that I originally intended. Having said that I still think it works and I am pleased with the painting.

                                All images at this site are copyrighted and  are the specific property of Scot Howden. Removal or reproduction in any form without permission is infringement of the copyright law. 2008

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