My mom always takes the most lovely pictures of sunflowers. I’ve wanted to paint this one for a while, so I tried it in digital watercolor in Painter.

I have not yet mastered those darn digital watercolors.

What always throws me is the way the color drips down the canvas before it ‘dries’. So painting with them is kind of unpredictable, but not the same way that real watercolors are unpredictable. Real watercolors stay pretty much within the area you wet on your paper, and you can paint fine details with a ‘bead’ of water on your brush. Not so with digital.

I think I’ll redo these in some other brush type, like the oil pastels. One that I’m good at.

I’ve been in a slump lately, both from lack of iron and lack of sunlight. We’re having our Tule (too-lee) fog in California right now, and when you’re used to the sunlight, going for weeks and weeks without it gets to you after a while. But today the fog blew out of the valley and I’m feeling sunny.

Chauvet Pont d’Arc cave paintings

I just heard about this cave today, and it intrigued the heck out of me, so I started doing some research.

There’s these caves in France called the Chauvet Pont d’Arc, and they have really old, really awesome cave paintings in them. Mostly they’ve come back into public interest because of some dude making a documentary about it, which you can read more about in detail here and also see the trailer.

I’ve also read a lot of nonsense about “oh there was gas in there that made people hallucinate” and so they drew “horrible monsters”. Yeah, you can see those here and read the descriptions. Nobody seems to have had much problem with it until the new documentary came out. Seems half-human half-animal creatures are found in most cultures.

Anyway, all that blather aside, from a purely artistic standpoint, the cave paintings are really, really good.

Considering most cave paintings are limited to stick figures, the detail on these are amazing. You can clearly recognize the horses, lions and rhinos. Not bad for an artist in a cave with no reference material in front of him. I think what I love the most are the sketchy lines to imply lots more of each creature.

Shunosaurus: half painted

Background reference:

As you can see, I have most of the dinosaur’s color blocked in and I’m toying with his shading. I don’t have a proper dappling on him yet, because I needed some idea of where the light was falling through the leaves.

I have three layers of bamboo sticks and three layers of leaves: dark, middle, and light for each. It really gives the forest some depth, but boy it makes my compy chug. Poor old compy. I save about every five minutes in case of (not unknown) crashes.

Anyway, don’t you love the way the light comes down at an angle through the leaves?

Work done so far:
Shunosaurus value study
Shunosaurus sketch

Shunosaurus sketch

I wanted to draw a Chinese sauropod in a bamboo forest. Upon doing some research, I settled on the Shunosaurus, because there’s lots of skeletons of that kind and they know pretty much what it looked like. Unlike a lot of Chinese sauropods, which are only known from, like, a leg and part of a neck. Kind of hard to get good skeleton pictures that way.

Anyway, when we were in Virginia, we were driving past endless miles of forest, and suddenly drove past a large swath of bamboo. The bamboo was green and healthy-looking, despite it being 35 degrees outside, and it was quickly spreading through the forest. It alarmed me. Left alone, bamboo tends to take over and choke out native growth.

Then I was thinking that it’s such a shame that all the sauropods are gone, because there was an alpha-herbivore for you. Their necks had such a huge arc-range that they could stand still and eat massive chunks out of a forest, the way elephants do, only more so. I’ll bet a bunch of sauropods could have kept stuff like bamboo and kudzu under control real easily. Alas for our deprived world with 99% of the really useful animals gone!

Anyway, here’s my references:

Shunosaurus skeleton. You can even see the club on his tail, waaaay down at the end.

Bamboo forest with flowers in the foreground. I thought it made the perfect spot for some large animal to come peeking out of the darkness back in the bamboo.

Step by step: Clouds progression

This is a continuation of this post. I promised a demonstration of how I layered together my colors, so here it is, rather sloppy and scribbly, but it should give you an idea of what it looks like.

This is just basic painting technique. In oil paints, I believe it’s called fat over lean, because your darks are a very thin layer of paint, while your lights are big chunks of it.

First, the reference pic:

Originally from this photo

First, some kind of warm, sunset background. Just a pink-to-gray gradient with some orange smeared over it, eyedropper-lifted out of the same area in the photo.

I see this particular cloud as kind of a loose pyramid. Here is that pyramid with big chunks of the darkest areas blocked in. I tried not to go for any detail at this stage. I just looked at the biggest, darkest areas in the cloud and put them in as big circles.

Building up some midtones now. This is where I started to flesh out the cloud’s actual shape.

Found I had some additional shapes in a shade between my midtone and my shadow, so I picked up a slightly darker purple and blocked those in.

Now for the second-brightest lights! This is the fun part, because it’s where the cloud really begins to pop. But the best highlights are built on a firm foundation of shadow, as some artist said who I can’t remember. The orange is eyedropper-lifted from the photo.

Notice that I’m starting to make my shapes and “puffies” smaller and smaller and more detailed. The eye goes to those bright areas first, because of the high contrast there, so you want to make the high contrast areas interesting.

And finally some touches of the very brightest color, a very light yellow.

This is far from done, because now you should go back and refine your dark areas, and make them puffy and cloud-like, always paying close attention to the shapes in your reference. My example is just a quick and dirty example of what dark-to-light painting looks like.

Wanderer, step by step

I’ve been staring at really great paintings of clouds lately, and decided I was going to learn to do that. But I’ve had no idea how to grasp cloud structure. They must form shapes, but I’ve never been able to figure out what those shapes are.

Then Stapleton Kerns gave me a clue on his blog. In this post, he says,

“I want to contend that drawing is the most important element in the landscape (excluding design anyway) When I teach, the students ability to paint the landscape is the same as their drawing ability. Those who have had atelier training, before the cast, usually have the best results. Students who have drawn heads, or done lots of still life seem to do well also. I have had many students who just want to do the landscape and have neglected to do the studio work that builds drawing ability and they are more likely to flounder.”

I pondered this and pondered this. Heads and still lifes making it easier to draw landscape? Why would that be?

Slowly it dawned on me. Drawing heads and still lifes are very measured and precise. Often you spend hours trying to get one element the exact right shape, or in the exact right position, triangulating with rulers or grids. So … I should be measured and precise when butchering my way through a landscape? How would this apply to clouds?

I went and looked for some clouds on Google, and found this one that appealed to me.

Originally posted here

But the light was coming the wrong way, so I flipped it.

And I gritted my teeth and forced myself to sketch out the shapes I saw in those clouds.

And Sonic, because I was going for a sort of lonely mood.

Next up was the background gradient and sky. I colored on top of my gradient, instead of a new layer. Oops.

Then I spent the better part of the evening layering together the clouds, paying close attention to the masses of shadows, midtones and lights. (Tomorrow I’ll do a more detailed post on what this stage looked like.)

And some ground, using the same colors in the sky. I scribbled all over the ground with the Variable Oil Pastel, which pulls nearby colors into itself and smears it around. Makes it look like I really slaved over that grass.

Then I threw some shading on Sonic. He’s really just there to have something in the foreground against the clouds.

And some grass around his feet to make him mesh with the rest of the image, and I called it a night.

I think my first attempt at grasping cloud structure was a success. I just hope this photographer doesn’t hunt me down and sue me. I’m not making any money off this scribble, I swear.