Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tutorial: Painting "Specters" (acrylic and oil)

WIP shots for my painting "Specters" which was part of my "Tarnished" series for La Luz de Jesus Gallery in 2010.

"Specters" - sketch for a painting about albinism:


Here are process photos from the first time I transferred "Fade/Specters." The window-lightbox method worked well:

After mounting the paper to heavy museum board I sealed it with matte medium, clear gesso, and washes of acrylic: (Background trees also painted in acrylic.)

Layed in some tones and light washes of color and work on the croc:

The start of the oil-painting phase. The richness of oils is working far better in getting all the albinos to still pop despite the overall high-value/low chroma:

More work on the critters:

Birds done:

Touchups on background trees with oil:

And finished!:

JAW Cooper
33"x25" framed (24"x16" image)
oil and acrylic on mounted stonehenge

"Specters" Detail

Tutorial: Painting/Sketching "Minions" (graphite and gouache)

This was one of many pieces I did for the LA Weekly in 2010. More of a WIP breakdown than a tutorial but you can still see some of my process:


From thumbnail to sketch.

From drawing to graphite tones.

I worked a little differently on this one, laying in all the tones in graphite rather than ink and then washing over with gouache and building it up from there. I have to say, I love the control and detail of graphite but the tones are not as smooth as with ink (duh). I think my ideal would be a mix of both.... next time...

Tutorial: Painting "Prance" (acrylic and oil)

This is more of a WIP than a tutorial but still shows some of my process: I've been super busy on a number of projects and here is one of them! This large oil painting ("Prance") will be in a show in Hong Kong in a couple months! More info coming soon.

Rough Sketch:

Refined Sketch:

Transfered Drawing:

Oil Painting in Progress: (The brown is the acrylic underpainting.)

More progress:
Finished at last!
This painting is currently on display in Hong Kong and is for sale. If you are interested please contact the gallery director James Churchill:

Tutorial: Painting "Sacrifice" (ink and gouache)

This painting "Sacrifice" was part of my series "Erode" that was on display at the WWA Gallery February 18th – March 10th, 2012 as part of their "Critters and People and Things of That Sort" show.

I hit a road-block when I initially put in the background in pale blue... ugh... what was I thinking? It took me a while to come up with a solution as the white india ink had sealed the paper so I couldn't paint over it in gouache. I laid in the black branches in black india ink today and am much happier with the contrast and the way it pops the colors. Crisis averted!

Here is a shot of my standard painting process- using india ink washes to lay in the tone and then colored washes of gouache on top. I broke this painting down by color- painting all the blue, then all the yellow, and moving up to orange and red, then I went back and touched up any other color that needed it.

Photos of the finished painting... I just need to sign it:

This painting is *SOLD*.

Tutorial: Painting "His Father's Eyes" (ink and gouache)

This piece titled "His Father's Eyes" was for the WWA Gallery's "Horrorwood" show in 2010, and was inspired by the movie "Rosemary's Baby." I executed it in my usual fashion- transferred the daring to Stonehenge paper via lightbox, mounted it on heavy museum board, and painted it with india ink washes and then gouache on top for color:

Here was the initial sketch of Rosemary and her "baby."


I wanted to fill in the space around her in an oval with satan... here was the separate sketch:

Here is a comp of the two sketches put together. I think I'll fade the devil away into feathers or something since the legs read funny when partially obscured. I'm planning on calling this painting "His Father's Eyes.":

The transferred drawing. (graphite on Stonehenge paper, mounted on museum board)

The first washes of ink. (Dr. Ph Martin's "Black Star" waterproof ink; matte)

Finished with the ink tones:

Built up color with washes of gouache:

Here is the progression from drawing to finished painting:

Here are the paints/tools I used:

The Winsor & Newton Series 7 #5 brush is expensive, but I do almost ALL of my gouache painting with it because it is so well made and has such a fine, natural tip. Definitely more than worth every penny.

This piece was be on display and for sale at the Horrorwood show at the WWA Gallery in Culver City, which opened October 15th, 2010. This piece is *SOLD*.

Tutorial: Old Painting Tutorial From 2009 (ink and gouache)

*Very old painting tutorial from 2009. Wouldn't have posted it except it breaks down the steps a bit more than my later painting tutorials... my apologies for the shitty paintings (again, 2009.)

Paints: black waterproof india ink, brown waterproof india ink, and Winsor & Newton Gouache in spectrum red, prussian blue, and permanent white. (I often work with a limited pallet.)

Brush: Winsor & Newton series 7 (#5)
Pencil: Colorase in Tuscan Red
Paper: Stonehenge paper in white with museum board adhered to the back using matte medium for structural integrity

This is really important: LET THE PAINTING COMPLETELY DRY BETWEEN WASHES IF THE AREAS YOU ARE WORKING ON TOUCH. Otherwise it will look mushy and colors/values will bleed into each other. It really helps to be working on a couple at a time so you can rotate between them. You can also use a hairdryer to speed things up.

Another note: Gouach is water soluble but waterproof india ink is not, so you should try to only put gouache on top of ink and not the other way around or cracking and weird shit could happen. It's ok for little details like pupils in eyes and buttons but any extensive ink washes should be done before the gouache.


1) I sketch on regular printer paper with colorase pencils, usually in carmine red.

2) Once I like a sketch I scan in and use photoshop to turn it black and white and increase the contrast and print it out at the size I want to paint it.

3) Using a ghetto lightbox I made from a glass shelf from a mini fridge and a fluorescent light I transfer the drawing to stonehenge paper using colorase pencils in either tuscan red, light blue, or carmine red.

4) I mount the paper to museum board or a wood panel using matte medium, let it dry under a heavy book for a couple hours/overnight, and then trim away any excess paper/board with an exacto knife.

5) I establish the values with washes of waterproof india ink.

6) I use washes of gouache to build up color and further refine value. At the end I use white gouache opaquely to hit shiny highlights like on noses and in eyes.

7) I go back with my colorase and reestablish any linework that was covered in the gouache stage to crispen up edges.

Details of painting process:

This is the first wash of the india ink, thinned way down. This helps establish initial values in the skin and creates a ground for the clothes.

The next wash starts to establish and refine value relationships.

Many washes later, I'm finally happy enough with the contrast and how the clothes are reading to move on from the black india ink.

This is the end result of several washes of brown india ink applied to select areas.

Color at last! Only using spectrum red gouache I slowly built up the warmth of the skin and the color of the clothing. To get gradations like in the cheeks, apply the watered-down gouache to a small area then quickly wash your brush and just lay a line of clean water on the blending edge of the still-wet paint.

The next color: prussian blue. Again, just built up in thin layers. I also mixed a new purple-red for the jackets using the blue and red because I wasn't happy with their tone.

The final product. I kept building up colors and contrast until I was happy, then I went through with a thick, opaque mix of permanent white to hit the highlights. Finally I went back through with my tuscan red colorase pencil to pick the lines back up and crispen up the edges and voila!

Elapsed time for both together: about 6 hours. (It takes as long to do one as to do two because either way you need to wait between each wash for it to completely dry.)

Tutorial: Transferring a Drawing Via Lightbox

As promised here is my quick tutorial on how I transfer a drawing to the final paper while trying to preserve the spontaneity and spirit of the original.

#1: Here is the original drawing: carmine-red colorase pencil on bond paper.

#2: Photocopy the original drawing at kinkos to make it black/white and scale to the desired size. Tape this photo copy to the back of your nice paper using guides drawn on the back to center it. Use a low-tack tape (such as drafting tape or artist's tape) so that you don't rip the paper when you eventually remove it.

#3: Have a scrap piece of the same high-quality paper you are transferring to off to the side to test what grade of pencil will work best for this particular drawing/substrate. Start the drawing off holding the pencil at an extreme oblique angle to make soft, thick, gentle lines. You don't want to have the pencil in a detail-death-grip as you don't want to commit to any strong lines yet.

#4: The drawing is transferred using a light-box with broad strokes made using the side of the pencil.

#5: Here is the drawing with the light-box turned off to see the strokes better.

#6: A detail shot to show how soft, flowing, and loose the lines should be.

#7: Go back with the point of the pencil to pick out details/ refine your soft lines. The girl on the left has been detailed out, the girl on the right is untouched.

#8: Close-up shot after both have been detailed-out. You do not want to go back over ALL of the lines you established in step 4, the beauty is to pull some out and let others fall back creating subtlety, variation, and levels of information.

#9: Go back like the detail-crazed noodling-freak that you pretend not to be and render the shit out of the hair (or whatever you want to focus on.) Add subtle shadows to the face with a french stub, use a kneaded eraser to pick out highlights, etc. Again, you still want to leave some areas soft and loose.

**To keep the paper from being smudged as you are working keep a paper towel under your hand and pick it up to move it (don't drag it against the paper.)

**Pick a good-quality paper, I prefer Stonehenge and Arches 88 (both are thick, luxurious, and quite smooth for details.) Be a little careful with the Arches though, it is super soft and it's very easy to destroy the integrity of the surface/tooth.

**When taping use artist's or drafting tape.

**To pick the appropriate hardness/softness of pencil, consider the size of the drawing, the tooth of the paper, and the intricacy of the details. Usually the smaller and more detailed/intricate/delicate the drawing and the smoother the paper the harder the pencil you will want to use and visa versa. I usually range from an H to a 2B for the lines and will occasionally stray softer or use powdered graphite for very dark areas when shading, or when I have to cover a lot of area.

Any other questions about this tutorial? Post them as a comment and I'll try to respond as completely as possible!

Mounting Tutorial

Painting Tutorial

Turorial: Mounting Paper onto Wood or Board

I am frequently asked about my process of mounting paper onto wood or museum board. I've spent YEARS refining this process so I apologize in advance for the length of the explanation!

REASON: I mount paper on wood or board is because I prefer to transfer the delicate details of my sketches via light box rather than using transfer paper or similar methods. To use a light box your surface has to be thin enough to allow light to pass through (paper), but to paint without having your surface buckle or curl you need to work on something sturdy enough to hold up against water and the test of time (wood or board). My process combines the best aspects of these two surfaces.

DRAWBACKS/PRECAUTIONS: Though paper mounted on wood/board is more structurally sound than unmounted paper, if exposed to the elements (moisture, sun, dirt...etc) it will still deteriorate. If the work is commercial then this is not a particularly big worry, but if the work is for a gallery then I recommend framing the piece behind UV-blocking Plexiglas (for gouache/watercolor/graphite/oil/acrylic) or sealing the piece when it's done with an archival non-yellowing spray or varnish (for oil and acrylic.) Not absolutely necessary... just something to consider. One other thing; oil paints in particular are corrosive to paper and can yellow or literally "eat away" at paper over time. Some people consider paper an unsuitable surface for oils for this reason. I love painting oil on paper, but I always seal the paper with a combination of sprays, clear gesso, matte medium, and acrylic-paint washes after transferring and mounting the drawing but before painting. Again... food for thought.

PAPER: I recommend using a heavy printmaking paper such as Stonehenge (favorite) also suitable are Somerset or heavy Rives BFK. The process will be really hard or impossible if you use thin paper as it tends to buckle and tear in the mounting process. If your light box isn't very powerful be sure to get white paper as opposed to grey or cream.

MOUNT: I recommend archival wood for gallery work and museum board (~1/8") for commercial work. Museum board is expensive but won't buckle as much as illustration board. Be sure that if you are mounting on wood, hardboard, or gesso board that they are archival (AKA: non-acidic/won't leach chemicals) or they will yellow your painting and may even eat away at the paper itself over time.

: I recommend you b/w "Kinko's Copy" your sketch to increase the contrast, darken the lines, and adjust the size of your sketch to make transferring easier.

: You MUST use Matte Medium. There is NO substitute. I've tried so many things, just trust me on this.

*Stonehenge paper
*Archival wood or museum board
*Matte medium (no substitute)
*Cork-backed ruler
*Artist's tape
*Light box
*Paper towels
*Large brush
*Fine-grain sandpaper wrapped around a flat 2"x5"x1" thick piece of wood (or something similar)

1) I trim the paper 1/4" bigger in length and height than the wood. (So the border is 1/8" all around when mounted)

2) Tape the sketch to the back of the paper using artists tape so it won't shift around and transfer your drawing on a light table. (You can tape it to a window in the daytime if you don't have a light table.)

3) Choose a location to mount; it should be flat, level, clean... any grit or dings in your surface will be impressed into the surface of the paper as it is being mounted. Put down an even layer of paper towels that extends past the size of the paper in all directions (to absorb moisture and cushion the paper.) Place your paper on the paper towels, face/drawing side down.

4) Put one additional piece of paper towel to the side (for later) and gather your matte medium, gesso brush (the bigger the better), and the wood or board you plan on using.

5) Squirt a generous amount of matte medium onto the wood/board and immediately start spreading in around with the brush, sweeping the excess off onto the spare paper towel. You need to work FAST but still achieve an even coat. Use the brush to glob just a little extra Medium onto the corners and along the edges if the size of the piece is large. This will ensure that those key areas bond well. This part should take no longer than 1-3 minutes depending on the size. It's best to have a friend help if you're working larger than 2'x2' to be sure that you work fast enough that the Medium doesn't dry before you can mount.

6) Flip the wood/board over, holding it above the back of the paper/drawing. Visually line them up and lower the wood/board onto the paper. Press down gently to force the Medium to touch the paper, being very careful not to let the wood/board shift around.

7) Flip the whole thing over, including the paper towels. Smooth the paper down, using circular motions and working from the center out to push out any air bubbles and to flatten out the Medium. (Keep the paper towels flat between your hands and the paper/drawing to keep the paper clean and to prevent the friction from compromising the integrity of the paper's surface. Use your hands to bend the excess paper just a bit around the edge of the wood, this further ensures that the edges bond strongly.

8) Flip the whole thing BACK over again so the wood is facing up (and the paper towels are flat on the bottom) and put a piece of paper or paper towels on the back as well and pile heavy books on top. Make sure the weight covers the whole back and is even, the paper towels on the top will protect your books from any matte medium that seeps out.

9) Leave it for 2 hours at a minimum. Leave overnight if possible, the larger the piece and the more matte medium you use the longer it will take to dry. If you only have time to leave it 2 hours, use a hairdryer to be sure it's dry and fully set. If you don't fully dry it and the paper is even imperceptibly moist from the matte medium the surface will be more prone to damage as you start painting/working on it.

**If you are mounting on board, just trim off the extra paper with a sharp Xacto knife and you are done! (Cut from the front, using a cork-backed ruler and trimming a little of the board too for a cleaner edge.)

**If you are mounting on wood, continue:

10) Remove books and VERY GENTLY test a corner by tweaking the excess paper to check that it has properly bonded to the corner of the wood. Place paper down/wood up on a cutting board and trim the excess paper with a fresh Xacto knife. Do not trim too close to the wood, maybe leave ~1/32" still sticking out.

11) Flip back over so the sketch is up and take your fine-grained sandpaper (wrapped around something flat so you sand evenly) and use firm downward strokes at a 90° angle to the edge of the wood to sand off the remaining paper and to further strengthen the bond at the edge. This will also make it so that nothing can "catch" on the paper and rip it off the wood in the future. (Warning! Downward strokes ONLY! Upward strokes will catch on the paper and pry it away from the wood.)

12) DONE! I've tried to be as specific as possible, but the only way to perfect the process yourself is to practice.

I hope this was helpful to someone out there! Don't be intimidated, it probably takes longer to read all this shit than to actually mount the paper.