For this installment let’s leave behind all the pixel wrangling from last time and look at something quite drippingly analog.
It is no secret that I have a long-standing interest in cephalopods and watercolors. So of late I’ve been combining the two in a series of of postcards based on actual species documented in Cephalopods: A World Guide. For the purposes of this post I documented some of the stages of painting the maori octopus displayed at left. I’ll try not to get all Joy of Painting about it.
It’s important to keep in mind that the style of watercolor I do would be described by anyone actually trained in classical watercolor techniques as “completely wrong.” I never studied anything or took a class on technique. I just wing it. Anyway…
Step One: Sketch It
Watercolor is hard enough to control without also having to think of drawing and composition at the same time. So I give myself some lines to work inside.
Step Two: Wash It
Lots of loose and wet to set up the basic shapes and tones. Nothing too dark this early. Layers are what makes it.
Step Three: Texture It
I work in some texture and modeling in a really rough way and let it dry like this in anticipation of…
Step Four: Push It Around
One of the interesting things about watercolor is you can always move it around (to a certain extent) later, so just pushing some clean water back into the softens up the blotches from the previous stage but, if you don’t overdo it, the general texture can be maintained.
Step Five: More Color
Time to work in some of the orangey and yellowish. Should I have done this before I put in so much of the reddish-brown? Probably, yes. Know how many levels of undo there are in watercolor? Zero. Now there’s some repetition of steps three through five, trying to work up the color and modeling without getting it all too muddy. Also the background needs some attention.
Step Six: Cheat
Here’s where I really diverge from watercolor orthodoxy and get out the pens, white and sepia. Lots of stippling to add to the texture of the beast and to put in the highlights seen in the source photo. Orthodoxy will only get you so far, and masking fluid is too expensive and annoying to deal with.
(Confidential to Pearl: are we really still doing the “pointless, irritating scrolling message in the status bar” thing? Wow.)
Step Seven: Let It Go
A really important step in watercolor is knowing when to quit. There’s a point where pushing it around any more is going to result in mud and increasing dissatisfaction. After you’ve been at it for a while you’ve got what you’ve got and you want to stay on the correct side of the diminishing returns horizon.
And this is where I ended up with this octopus.
In closing, here’s an Octopus song.