Sunday, July 29, 2007

Painting the snowflake

Recently I received an email asking that I detail my process of painting with acrylics. Using my Robert's Snow snow flake as an example, here is my process (sometimes, because I tend to work differently with each project). Please excuse this jumbled post.

Well, for one thing, I prefer using oil paints, but even with fast-drying agents, for me, oil paints take too long to dry.

I began using acrylic paints after illustrating my first book. I just didn't feel like doing the turpentine thing, and the waiting-to-dry thing, so I purchased a book on using acrylics, and that's what I've used ever since.

Inspired by a photograph of my son, I created this sketch. I created a couple of other sketches, too, but settled on this image.

The snowflake was sent to me from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It was pre-cut from masonite (I think). I covered it with several layers of white gesso, which serves as a primer and provides a white painting surface. Normally I don't use gesso — or masonite, for that matter — so this was a first for me. I was surprised at how transparent gesso really is — or maybe I just purchased the cheap stuff, I don't know. It took about five applications to completely cover the dark-colored masonite and to get a preferred painting texture.

After applying gesso to both sides, I realized I'd forgotten to drill a hole in the ornament for the purpose of hanging. No problem, I thought. Like any self-respecting man, I own a hand drill. Took me awhile to locate it in the chaos of my garage, but I found it. But finding my smallest drill bit was literally like looking for a needle in a haystack since it isn't much bigger than a sewing needle. But I found it, too. Then, I had to find the key to unscrew the drill bit — another needle. Once I found the key, I discovered it was stripped. I couldn't switch drill bits. Desperate, I tried the old Cub Scout technique of rolling the bit between my hands like I was trying to start a fire, but that didn't work. Frustrated, I decided that whoever purchased my snowflake would also get to find a way to hang it.

After the gesso was dry, I transferred my image to the snowflake. Over it, I layered a coat of burnt sienna paint, allowing the drawing to show through.

I started painting the background first, using cool winter colors that would recede. Then I blocked in the foreground, using warm colors. In the paint, I mixed in a generous portion of acrylic retarder, which I've discovered will allow me to keep my paint out in the open, uncovered, for two or three hours without drying.

After all of my colors were blocked in, I worked the finer details using less retarder. I wanted the detail work to dry immediately so I could keep working.

I finished the snowflake in about three hours.

If I were to do this over, I'd have created a smoother painting surface. Generally, I like texture, but in this case, the gesso base was too rough for painting in such a small area. Created some interesting and unwanted textures in the facial area. Also, had I known how much my wife would have liked the end result, I would have painted two.


Rita said...

I love posts that show the process like this!! And, man, I feel for your wife on this. If I were her, I would want to keep this, too.

idoni said...

Thanks so much for the explanation... I am a struggling student in illustration, so lots of questions... do you outline with a marker or with paint? Again, your work is so beautiful!

Don Tate II said...

idoni, In this case, yes I did use a marker, a Sharpie. However, normally I'd use a brush and paint or ink. I was in a big hurry, so I took a shortcut.

If you're a student, I'd suggest mastering pen and ink or brush and ink, and not using a Sharpie.

My best to you.


rindawriter said...

I enjoyed this tremendously. Do post this on your website some place when you get some time! Folks love this "stuff" on websites also.

The snowflake is utterly charming, and maybe you can do a surprise one for your wife for Christmas!! You can just glue on a classy looking hanger on the back, Don, too. I am using this fantastic stuff called Weld-Bond that is nontoxic and you get at Ace Hardware stores,etc., or on line direct. Use thin layers and clamp it and just let it set for 2 days! Incredible sturdy bond! And all nontoxic, safe for children to use.

Using your tracing paper tips, I just completed my first embroidery design! LOVE that trancing paper...yeah!

Liz in Ink said...

I just love this process post, Don! Thanks!

a. fortis said...

Great post! Thanks! I'm always fascinated by other artists' process. My husband also usually paints a warm undercoat over his gesso layer, though in his case I think he uses Mars orange. (It has a similar look, though, to a diluted burnt sienna.)

Wonderful snowflake!

jules said...

I, too, love to read about an artist's process. Thanks for posting this. Love the snowflake!