Thursday, January 26, 2012

More From the Watercolor Years... and The Painting That Blew Away.

Have you ever had a painting blow away? I mean, have a gust of wind actually take it and send it sailing off to Oz or wherever, never to be seen again?
          I didn't think so. That kind of thing only happens to me.
Story, 1995. Watercolor, chalk and colored pencils.

See the shafts of light in the background?
Cheap trick No. 1:
Rub in some blackboard chalk

In my last post, I talked about finding an alternative to watercolor that was opaque and allowed me to paint a lot more thickly than I ever could with watercolors. But before gouache became my medium of choice, I kept experimenting with watercolor, coming up with some (admittedly) cheap tricks.

However, right before I switched from watercolor to gouache permanently, I did a few more watercolor pictures that I was actually happy with. Imagine that! 


Sister Moon, 1995. Watercolor, colored pencils.
Cheap trick No. 2: Enhance colors with colored pencils.

I wish I had made the moon a little rounder. 
 Using a circle template would have been a good idea...
But despite my lumpy moon,
I'm still fond of this picture.

There are other pictures I did during this time period that I'd like to do over, using gouache this time... and also with about 15 years more experience to hopefully make them better pictures.

Not to mention that I have fantasy pictures I did in college that I'd like to try again, too!

To see how much I've learned over the years, it's fun to try doing an old picture over again. Even ones I've been thoroughly disgusted with...

But so far, the ones featured in this post I did only once and I think they have stood the test of time for me. Or maybe I'm just sentimental about them. I still like them and don't want to re-do them, even if some of them are M.I.A., as you'll soon read...
My Iguana Got Really Big, 1995. Watercolor.  A true story.

My brother gave me a pet iguana as a joke for Christmas and
it ended up growing about five feet long (tail included.)
When I moved to Arizona, the iguana went back to live
with my brother. "Your turn, now," I told him.

I started experimenting with watercolors mixed with pastels and colored pencils. To make textures I used sea sponges and old toothbrushes (you load an old toothbrush up with paint and flick it with your thumb to make everything from tree bark to ocean spray to "sparkle" effects. Can be messy, but damn, it's fun. )

Green Man, 1996. Watercolor.
With sponge-dabbing and toothbrush-flicking special effects.

And there's blackboard chalk. Who knew it would be so useful for making "mist" effects without an airbrush and the need for a ventilator mask? With watercolor (or gouache) you just rub some cheap drugstore chalk --yes, the kind kids use to draw on sidewalks-- over a painted area, and it sort of diffuses the scene with a mist. (Plus you can erase what you don't like.) Then you go back in with paint and lightly bring out details.

 It's what I used to make the ghost in this picture look transparent:  

Ghost, 1997. Watercolor and blackboard chalk.
Another example of Cheap trick No. 1.

A way to enhance watercolor pictures that have been, just a little bit overworked is to use colored pencils to help bring  back some of the color. If a picture becomes muddy, you (and I mean ME, of course) can help fix mistakes caused by your complete ineptitude with the medium by the gentle application of Prismacolors.

Lightly use the colored pencils (think of a "glaze") over the trouble-areas and this can help restore some of the lost color.  You can even go over the colored pencil with paint again.

"Wait!" I hear you purists yell. "But that's CHEATING!"
To which I respond (rather rudely): "Well, it's MY painting and I can do what I damn well want!"
Um, sorry... Just having frustrated college flashbacks. The colored pencil technique did seem to work well with the painting below but I didn't have long to enjoy my success due to a freakish gust of wind:

Merman, 1997. Watercolor, colored pencils.
The painting that blew away.
True story: Not long after I had finished this picture, I was outside photographing my artwork with my old-fashioned 35mm camera. I was leaning the pictures against my car to take photos of them. My car was parked on the street.

You can see where this is going.

Luckily, the street I lived on had next-to-no-traffic and I went on merrily taking pictures until a sudden gust of wind from nowhere whisked up all my pictures and sent them hurtling down the street.
It was probably high comedy for anyone watching me chase them and of course this was the day someone decided to drive a car down my street as well. Waving frantically at the driver (who I'm sure thought I was a complete lunatic) I gathered up all my paintings safely. Or so I thought.

The "Merman" was the only one I never hard as I searched for it afterwards. Thankfully I
had snapped one--ONE!-- photograph of it before it blew off to Munchkinland or wherever it went, and that's what you see above.

Hopefully, if anyone ever found it they at least had the decency to keep it. I DO want to see my pictures go to good homes, after all...

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gouache and Pez Dispensers

Gouache. So, what is this stuff? It has a funny name, pronounced "gwash." Today I'll talk about how this very old medium became my Very Favorite Paint in The Whole World.

Unicorn, 1997. Gouache. Yes, trying some new stuff. Read on...

When I had become a little more comfortable with watercolors, some people I worked with  commissioned me to do an unusual group of pictures for them. These people happened to collect Pez dispensers. As proper Pez aficionados they traveled the country to Pez conventions to seek out all manner of Pez paraphernalia.
King Ghidorah vs. Mothra, 2005.
Because I'm a geek.

Who am I to judge, someone who, along with a gazillion books about the Pre-Raphaelites, also seemed to collect a vast amount of Godzilla toys?

My assignment (if I should accept it) was to paint several pictures of Pez dispensers that would be made into posters and postcards and sold as Pez Fan Art (yes, there is such a thing) at conventions.

Well, money is a great motivating factor for a would-be illustrator no matter how bizarre the subject matter, so the next thing I knew I was painting my first Pez dispenser in watercolor.

I like to paint and draw fantasy scenes above all else, and this is what my clients wanted: Pez dispensers in landscapes or with funky backgrounds. Okay. So far, so weird. After they saw and liked the first one I did, they gave me this one to paint:

A Pez dispenser with a hand holding an eyeball, made sometime in the sixties. Apparently very sought after.

Yup, I was the woman for the job.

They wanted it to have a psychedelic background like in a Peter Max painting. Bright colors. And nope, watercolor would not do this weirdness justice.

What to do? What to use? Oh wait, I still have that box of stuff left over from college that I never knew what to do with. What was it called again...?

The stuff left over from college.

When I started at Pratt, I had been given a list of art supplies I'd need for class. A lot of it I used and a lot I never used at all. This stuff fell into into the latter category.

Gouache. Sometimes known as bodycolor. Incorrectly called poster paint. Still, I thought, it'll give me nice flat, opaque colors for a poster, right?

                               So I began the picture and this was the result:

I know, not up there with Edward Burne-Jones' "Star of Bethlehem", but it was a start.

But I was astonished by this "new" paint I discovered.

I found:
1) It blends like a dream.

2) It dries to a velvetty matte finish.

3) You can use it thick as oil or acrylic--or as transparently as watercolor.

4) It works and plays well with other media. I was to eventually use it with colored pencils, pastels, chalk, as well as regular watercolors. You can even make it "permanent" and waterproof  by adding a few drops of acrylic medium.

I tried it on the next couple Pez pictures, using it like I would my watercolors.

Don't laugh! This was serious artistic experimentation going on here.

Gouache has been around for a very long time. It was used as early as 14th Century Europe and takes its name from the Italian, "guazzo." Art historians prefer to call it bodycolor. What makes it thicker than watercolor is the addition of gum arabic and also chalk. (Hmm, I was
already mixing up blackboard chalk and watercolor, but that's another story...)

I started using gouache in my fantasy paintings, trying it on these two first:
Pumpkins, 1997. Bodycolor. Oh, all right, just gouache...

Hopi Kachina Dancer, 1997. Done for my sister who had just moved to Arizona.
(I was still in New Jersey at the time...)

I soon realized that I loved using this stuff and it's odd when I hear people say it's hard to use. I don't find that's the case, because for me, it's a perfect fit. Best of all, I also don't feel like I'm wasting paint when I use it because when it dries on the palette, just add water and you've got wet paint again. You can't do that with oil or acrylic.

Rainforest Dragon, 1997. Gouache.
 Anyway, this is how painting a psychedelic Pez dispenser actually helped me find my medium of choice.  Here's some more from 1997, the year I finally used That Stuff I Had From College (and so glad I still had it.) :

Kirins, 1997. More of That Stuff.

1997 was apparently good year for painting creatures... Well, what year isn't?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Teaching Myself to Paint; or... Watercolor (You're Doing it Wrong)

After five years of art school, I never managed to learn how to paint. That came five years later.

Winter on Horseback, 1994. Watercolor.
When I graduated college, I wanted to be an illustrator... but unfortunately I didn't have a style or a favorite medium. Art school was very helpful, to be sure, but my instructors looked down their noses on imaginative art and most especially the kind of art I was very
fond of: comics.

This was the eighties, and comics were not valued as an innovative art form as they are now. Two decades after a professor told me that comics were a "low art", they're teaching courses in graphic novels at the same college I attended.

 Oh, the irony.

But that's the subject of a different post. I've always seemed to be born too soon or too late...
Or maybe I should have just skipped art school altogether? Nah. I loved life drawing class. There's no better way for an artist to learn to draw than by spending hours drawing from a model. That in itself was (almost) worth the price of college admission.

Anyway-- painting. I never had painting classes. They were not required as part of my Communication Design curriculum.

 Bummer. Should have taken them anyway.

I digress again. I needed to learn to paint. So I went to books, which God knows I have a lot of. Because they were handy, I had my portable plastic tray of watercolor paints. It seemed to be the only medium I had any patience with. Acrylics dried too fast (and you couldn't blend them after they did) and oils dried too slow. Besides, oils were messy and smelled funny.

One of the books I consulted, and pretty much how I felt about
my efforts to learn how to paint.

So my trials and tribulations with watercolors began.

Watercolors are a transparent medium, meant to be applied in carefully thought-out layers of color, lest they get very muddy. Well, that didn't stop me from charging in and laying the paint on so thick it would give a Victorian watercolorist a heart attack. I was trying to use this more delicate paint in the way you would  use the other two discarded media. In other words, I was DOING IT WRONG.

But... I started to like it. Especially when I found that the secret was to always have a good brush with a "sharp" tip. Sort of like a pencil. I had more control that way.

My favorite brush is a Round (left).
I buy student versions of them because I still
have a tendency to beat the hell out of them.

I find these brushes are the most like drawing tools which, for me, are more comfortable.
More evidence that I'm most certainly DOING IT WRONG.  But you know--? It works for me.

MY brushes--considerably more beat up and less expensive than the ones shown above....
When I found a way to paint that I liked, after much trial and error, I started doing "remakes" of older pictures I thought had promise but had really screwed up one way or another. For instance, "The Fisher King" (below) I did three times. THREE times. Before I finally got to the version that I was most happy with (that is now hanging on a wall in my parents' house. I knew I finally succeeded when it met Mom-approval.)

"The Fisher King--Version 3", 1995. Watercolor (with some colored pencils and chalk). Mom-approved.
A theme that I like to work on a lot in fantasy pictures is "The Four Seasons." Each season had a disastrous turn before they reached these versions:

All done in 1994, all watercolor, all about the second try...
Even this one had a predecessor:

Spring Fauns, Version 2. 1995. Watercolor.
But I suppose the moral to all this is:

Keep trying, keep experimenting, don't give up. You can never do THAT wrong.

And I haven't even gotten to the good part yet--


Coming up next Post:
Gouache and Pez Dispensers.

Oh, and one last watercolor, Version One and Only: (yay! finally...)

Baron Munchausen, 1995. Watercolor, baby.

When it was suggested by a friend that I should to begin a blog of my own, I responded the way I usually do when asked to present myself to a possibly large group of people:
I got instant stage fright.

Blog fright. Blogaphobia.

Ramble on about myself to strangers? (Or even people I know and like?) Yikes.

But here I am, making the awkward introductions. Oh, it'll get easier, I suppose. Even if  I'm writing to the sound of chirping crickets...but that's really okay. I LIKE crickets..

This blog's purpose is for me to share my artwork, sketches, cartoons and whatnot. A sort of portfolio-with-commentary.

And I also anticipate straying and talking geekishly about
the things that interest me, be they fantasy novels, Pre-Raphaelite art, graphic novels, films, etc. You get the idea. Being nerdishly self-indulgent.

Wolverine, 2001. Gouache.
 A little about myself: like it says at the top, my name is Raine Szramski and I call myself an illustrator though I work at a used bookstore for a steadier paycheck and health insurance. In this blog you will encounter what I do when I'm not at the bookstore...or sometimes, as in the case of the Pre-Raph Cartoons, what I do on my lunchbreaks.

So welcome aboard. I'd like to introduce you to the three styles I like to work in:
My painting style:

Book Wyrm, 1998. Gouache.

My graphic novel style:

Heaven and the Dead City, 2010. 

And some goofier stuff:

From the Pre-Raphaelite Sketchbook Cartoons.