Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Starting Keats... (Part 1)

It's been awhile since I posted on The Watcher Tree since I've been busy with several projects: Heaven and the Dead City, the Pre-Raphernalia blog ( and new cartoons)-- and most recently a bookmark of Oscar Wilde for Graphic Classics. But I miss doing paintings unrelated to these projects (in my non-existent free time, since I also hold down a 40-hour a week job at a bookstore!) and often months (or years) can go by before I return to an idea for a painting.

This is one of those cases. I began a painting of poet John Keats that has been frequently interrupted for projects with actual deadlines.  I thought I'd share  the steps I take to get to a finished picture. In this case, it's far from finished, but this is where I am so far...

The original sketchbook drawing...

           Bear with me.

I wanted to do a new painting in gouache of a drawing in my sketchbook inspired by John Keats' poem "Ode to Autumn". My idea was to have Autumn herself as a fairy muse to the poet as he wrote.

And true to my propensity for  always getting an animal in a picture as much as possible, I added a kitten who is fascinated by Keats' feather quill pen. Though Keats was a cat lover, it's never mentioned if he had a feline of his own. Still, he was born on Halloween and I thought a black cat was appropriate. (I have a weakness for black cats as it is-- I have two.)

I photocopied and enlarged the sketchbook drawing and
transferred it to tracing paper.

On the tracing paper, I adjusted the figures as needed, found some cat reference and a font I wanted to use for the lettering in the banners.

Then when I was (sort of) happy with the revised sketch on tracing paper, I transferred the drawing --using a light-box-- to a sheet of vellum bristol paper to do the final drawing and painting. (I find that vellum bristol has the best surface on which to paint -- plus it's inexpensive and comes in pads.)

I printed out the type in the font I'd chosen, then traced it onto the bristol paper as well. I also adjusted it as needed to fit the shape of the banners.

The next stage was making photocopies of the drawing to look back at as I start to paint. I also use smaller photocopies to paint on to see which colors I want to use:

I taped the finished drawing down on my table so that when I begin to paint I can hopefully prevent the the paper from buckling.

(left) These are the colors I wanted to use (more or less).  I played around very loosely with my gouache on a photocopy.

I let myself be as sloppy as I wanted while doing this. Again, playing...


(below) The next step is "inking" the drawing. This is my way of sort of  preserving the pencil drawing underneath and I use waterproof sepia gouache. I do this incase I need to wipe paint away at a later stage.

You can see I smudged some of the ink on Autumn's face.
These "oopses" can be corrected easily in the painting stage...
This stage is also to figure out values (lights and darks) before I add color.
When I'm done with the sepia, then I get out the other acrylic gouache to make a sort of waterproof underpainting.

The idea for me is to keep these colors bright so I can later blend regular, non-waterproof gouache on top of it, and sometimes colored pencils,chalk or pastel as needed in places.

Using the color sketch as a guide, more flat tones of acrylic gouache...

And then the most fun, longest and often most frustrating part of the painting begins when I pull out the regular gouache paints and start blending on top.

So this is where I've left off so far-- the painting is at its awkward adolescent stage.

 I will post Part 2 when the painting is finally looking finished....
             More to come.


  1. Thank you, Raine! This is really fascinating. I had no idea there were this many steps involved in creating this type of picture. It looks awesome so far!

  2. Thank you, Samantha! This is just how I work, and I'm sure most people don't use as many steps as I do-- and probably paint a lot faster than me as well! But this is only my system and other people will do it other ways, lol. Thank you so much for commenting! :)

  3. Good to see people still using good old-fashioned gouache! A long time ago I used to work in a commercial art studio in London where the most fantastic works of art were run up by people working with gouache - and all to be used on advertising billboards and in magazines, seen for a few days or weeks and then forgotten. This looks delightful. And Keats a most worthy subject.

  4. Thank you for your kind words, Robert! Gouache is my favorite medium and I love looking at old illustrations done with it. It's a very versatile medium and you can get some wonderful effects with it. The bonus is that it also cleans up very easily, unlike acrylics and oils!

    It's so sad about the "disposability" of that advertising art you were able to see. :(
    Traditional media is becoming very rare in graphic arts these days...

  5. This is my first time to your blog. It's amazing, inspiring, beautiful. After reading this sometime, I may pull out my paints and work on that unicorn of mine for, well... maybe ten minutes. Which with me is good.
    I will be checking out your preraphaelite blog, I'm a fan. Oh, and speaking of which, I recognized your work from Kissed Mouth... and it's HYSTERICAL, and gives you such a special feeling to have these people be special to you and appreciate the fun way you're handling them. Well, I'll be back.

  6. Thank you so much for your kind words and for stopping by to read!! It makes me so glad I can inspire someone for even ten minutes. ;) Please do that unicorn!

    Thanks about Pre-Raphernalia as well! I'm desperately trying to get caught up on new cartoons to post...