Watercolour in Progress

Work in Progress, watercolour 30x42 cm Canson Montval, Cold Pressed/Fine Grain

Work in Progress, watercolour & graphite 30×42 cm
on Canson Montval, cold pressed/fine grain

Here’s a quick (read: low quality) snap of a piece I am currently working on for The Art Order’s latest challenge. Lots of swedish summertime themes coming through this one, and the tree and rocks from around where I live. I’m really happy with how it’s going – much better than my last large-scale watercolour attempt – but I’m now getting to the point where I’m increasingly wary of messing it up. I can feel that I’ve slowed down and become less adventurous. I still have about three weeks to finish it up, though, so there’s time to get wild and find out how far is “too far”!

New work in progress

"Jehanne with Apple Blossoms" Acrylic on panel, work in progress.

“Jehanne with Apple Blossoms”
Acrylic on panel, work in progress.

It’s summer and hard to concentrate on finishing projects, but I have several paintings on the go. The one above is a larger acrylic version of a watercolour I played around with last summer. I’m having a lot of fun with this one, and since it’s been “in progress” for two years, I’m happy that it’s nearly completed!

I thought I was going to do an acrylic underpainting and then work in oils, but I became interested in how the acrylics were handling on the panel, and I liked how they built up in thin washes. It’s a bit of a rubbish photo and doesn’t really do the actual colours justice, but I’ll take a proper photo when it’s done.

Here’s another WIP that’s been kicking around since one of last winter’s Stockholm Sketchjams – a certain red-maned warrior woman:

"Hyrkanian" Watercolour and Digital, work in progress.

“Hyrkanian”
Watercolour and Digital, work in progress.

This began as a large-format watercolour, but it sort of got away from me – I’m still just starting out in watercolours and felt like I maybe bit off too much! I photographed what I had and took it into Procreate on my iPad. There was a lot of Sergio Toppi emulation going on when I first sketched this (obvious, it seems to me), and Swedish artist Karl Mårtens was also an inspiration, but stumbling across some work by Enric Torres-Prat for a pulp western really helped me get motivated to keep going on this piece.

May 7th, 1429

May 7th, Dawn - 21x27cm, Digital, 2011

May 7th, Dawn – 21×27 cm, Digital

Five hundred and eighty-five years ago today, Jehanne d’Arc led the French army under John of Dunois in the taking of the Tourelles, the heavily fortified and turreted gatehouse at the southern end of the bridge that led over the Loire river and into the besieged city of Orléans. She was seventeen years old. It’s an amazing episode both in Jehanne’s own story and the Hundred Years War itself – her first major military victory and a turning point in the war. The six-month siege itself was lifted on the 8th, and to this day, Jehanne bears the name La Pucelle d’Orléans - “The Maid of Orléans”.

Remembering this date reminded me of a painting I started in 2011 on my iPad, but never finished. I was inspired by N. C. Wyeth at the time, and had wanted to do something with a reduced palette. I’d also wanted to catch that feeling of very early morning in the springtime, that fresh but chilly feel to the morning air. Pulling the picture back up out of my files, I decided to finish up the last remaining details I’d intended and post it here to honor Jehanne and the day.

It was interesting to revisit a painting from nearly three years ago – I was mystified by some of the things I’d done, and sometimes had no remembrance of actually doing them! I’d almost certainly create this picture differently today, but I still like it and still feel good about it. I think there’s some nice passages, even if there are also some slight inaccuracies. I’m toying with the idea of doing a version of this on a big canvas with acrylics or oils…

At any rate, spare a thought today for Jehanne la Pucelle.

Old Year, New Year

So far, there’s been a lot going on for me in 2014 in all respects, but I’ve managed to keep it all together for the most part. The first priority of the year was to look at my work from 2013 and pick the pieces I feel are worthy to send to the Spectrum annual. This past year I seem to have stumbled into a kind of style without quite meaning to – pencil/ink illustrations with digital colour. I realised that most of what I’d want to submit this year came from this one direction I explored, and they seemed to hang together well.

My 2013 Spectrum Annual submissions.

My 2013 Spectrum Annual submissions.

Second priority of the new year was to finish two pieces from 2013 that just needed that final push of effort to complete. I wanted to get them sorted so I could move on to new things. One of them is a larger-scale acrylic painting called Winter VI that I’ve been working on since last march, and it was great to finally wrap it up and include it in the Spectrum submissions. Howard Lyon’s amazing and enlightening post Feeling Gray Today at the Muddy Colors blog gave me the final key towards finishing  - I repainted the face for the third time and finally achieved what I was after thanks to Howard’s insights (not the best photo, sorry!):

Winter VI - 60x50cm, acrylic on canvas.

Winter VI – 60x50cm, acrylic on canvas.

I also created two acrylic portraits to give as Christmas gifts, and was quite pleased with the results – again, it was right after reading that remarkable post, and in contrast to the nearly 11 months I spent circling Winter VI, I created this portrait of the eminent John Wheeldon in just one of the five hours I had available in which to paint it:

John Wheeldon - acrylic on canvas.

John Wheeldon – acrylic on canvas.

Lots more on the go and some fun new things to show already, but I’ll make other posts for them. I’ve also started the second term of my oil painting course under Barbro Runefelt- Taltavull, so I know some good things will come from that…

Happy 2014! (and thanks again, Howard!)

Valkyrjan IV update!

ao_bbdragon

I’m very pleased that Valkyrjan IV was selected by the jury for inclusion in Jon Schindehette‘s upcoming Inspiration book project. It’s very exciting for me as the jury was composed of some of the top artists and art directors working in fantasy and science fiction publishing today – not to mention that the challenge submissions were filled with wonderful and strong work from all quarters! I’m somewhat surprised to find myself in such company.  I always imagine that my personal art sensibilities are a bit arcane and old-fashioned.

It’s a nice validation of the piece, I think – one that I’ve laboured over for years, trying to find the right way in. I had an idea for a darker, more “historical” treatment of a valkyrie about four years ago, and my first attempt was with ArtRage and a Wacom tablet in January 2010. Soon after that, I started using an iPad for my painting  (which I much preferred). I came up with an improved version that I was happy with at the time, but I eventually felt dissatisfied again.

The idea stayed on the back burner until Northern Light Workshop 2, where I decided to take some digital sketches and try to execute the final in acrylic on paper. I think it worked out pretty well considering how rusty I felt with analog painting, and both the instructors and my fellow classmates were very encouraging to me about the picture. Still: not satisfied.

I’d recently had a fun photo reference shoot with Elin Hökby, so I asked if she’d help me get this valkyrie sorted once and for all, and we ended up with some great material. John Jude Palencar’s Rag and Bone piece gave me some new ideas, and I decided to combine it all and go for version IV. The final process is detailed here, but wow – what a long road to get a piece realized! Below is a capsule history graphic showing the key development stages (along with some side diversions):

A "short" history of Valkyrjan IV.

A “short” history of Valkyrjan IV.

I’m really pleased that it all seemed to pay off in the end, even if I sometimes felt like a dog that would not let go of a chewed-on shoe! I also enjoy seeing how my work has changed in almost four years (or not changed in some cases). For instance, here is the original treatment of the valkyrie’s chain hauberk from four years ago, compared to how I handled the same item today:

Chain mail vs. chain mail...

Chain mail vs. chain mail…

Back then, I was slavishly trying to render every detail, thinking that this would be impressive in and of itself (sometimes it can!). Four years on, I’m letting line suggest the outer form and just giving vague hints about the surface of the garment. I don’t know if one approach is necessarily better than the other, but I feel the way I am working now gives me much stronger results. Happily, the judges of the challenge felt the same way!

Thanks again to Jon, Irene Gallo, Lauren Panepinto, Julie Bell, Terryl Whitlatch, Terese Nielsen, and Rebecca Guay for their votes of confidence in my work – it means more than I can properly express.

Valkyrjan IV

18x30 cm, Sepia Ink on Watercolour Paper with digital colour.

18×30 cm, sepia ink on watercolour paper with digital colour.

This piece is my submission to ArtOrder’s November 2013 Inspiration Challenge. It hasn’t actually been easy to be inspired right now, as this is perhaps the least inspiring time of year here in Sweden. There also hasn’t been much spare time lately for a project like this, so I had to take a lot of short periods of time where I could find them.

I’d been working on this idea on and off since the second Northern Light Workshop, where I’d been trying an acrylic painting of this theme with varied results. Unsatisfied, I invited the gracious Elin Hökby to come back to the studio to help me with poses, and she was interested in the direction of the picture. With her help and support, I came up with enough material that I felt I could get the feeling I was after for the piece – a darker take on the valkyrie inspired by the rune stones I’d seen in Visby on Gotland.

Painting a valkyrie at Northern Light Workshop 2 in 2012.

I wanted to try the so-called “Rackham technique” I’d read about on William Stout’s blog (watercolour over warm-toned ink lines), and so I traced out my sketches on Canson Montval watercolour paper. I used a waterproof Faber-Castell sepia brush pen to ink the linework. I was sort of a nervous wreck doing this, but everything worked out. I was admiring the finished line art when I suddenly realised I’d left out a letter in the old norse translation. I sat there in shock for a while, trying to decide how to handle it. I was going to scan the linework before colouring it anyway, just in case, so I scanned it and fixed the mistake in Photoshop.

I printed out the artwork onto new sheets of the same watercolour paper, but somehow it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I was quite depressed about the whole situation. I finally decided to take the pressure off myself and just colour it digitally. I have a set of digital watercolour brushes created by Justin Gerard that I just love, so I felt better directly about this decision. I still want to try a proper test of the Rackham method, but it’ll have to wait until the next piece!

The finished sepia inking on "Valkyrjan IV".

The finished sepia inking on “Valkyrjan IV”.

From that point, things went well. Even though I set out on this piece with Arthur Rackham and John Bauer firmly in mind, when I look at the finished work, I see how much I’ve been influenced by Hasui Kawase in the colouring. I can even see Mucha and Moebius in there in places. All of our various  inspirations are whispering to us as we work, I suppose.

The text in the framing is a fragment of stanza 54 of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I in old norse, which I hope I’ve managed to translate (and spell!) correctly. It says approximately, “Down from the sky came maidens with shining helms…”. I wanted the overall tone to be a bit ominous, and to include the ravens, who are sometimes associated with valkyrie. Her garb is closer to actual viking styles, and she carries a saga-sized drinking horn!

I wonder what the judges of the challenge will think of it – it’s a powerhouse lineup of famous artists and art directors, so no pressure there. At any rate, I learned so much creating this, and I’m motivated to take things further next time – to have the courage to colour the entire piece with watercolours…

Prästinnan (work in progress)

"Prästinnan" - Work in progress 24x32 cm Watercolour on paper

“Prästinnan” – Work in progress
24×32 cm Watercolour on paper

I thought I’d post this crappy photo of a work in progress. This is another watercolour experiment using the new “All Terrain” set I bought from American Journey. I love this palette, and I’m having a lot of fun learning to use it. This is a portrait of a friend of a friend in her absolutely amazing warrior priestess live-action roleplay costume. What you can’t see here is the large wooden portable shrine she has strapped to the back of her plate armour! It’s not the best resemblance of Frida unfortunately, but other than that I’m generally happy with the way the picture’s working out. Really enjoying watercolours…