Sunday, March 11, 2018

Big Blue Octopus Tutorial

Hi guys.  Last week I painted a large octopus watercolor.  I thought you might like to see my process, so I took photographs along the way.

Phillipps working on watercolor.  2018.
 This is me working on my painting, Big Blue Octopus.  I know, I know.  What a deep, poetic title!  What can I say?  I am very boring and matter-of-fact with my titles.  I do this so I won't forget which painting is which. 

This shot was taken towards the end of the process.  Let's go back to the beginning.

After deciding on the size and sketching out an octopus, I do a small color test.  I knew I wanted the octopus to be blue, but I wasn't sure what color to make the water.  After this color test, I decided l liked the all-blue palette.  In some ways, that will be more challenging, making the some of the blue pull forward and other parts recede.  But I liked the limited color palette.  And I love blue.


Next I took a piece of large, clear plastic and traced my octopus.  This will be the mask so I can loosely painting the background and not worry about covering over my subject.  I cut it out just inside the lines...


... then I glue it to the paper with liquid frisket.  Liquid frisket (a.k.a. masking fluid) is something watercolor artists use to cover a portion of their paper to keep it white.  By cutting my plastic a little thinner and smaller than my actual octopus, I can paint the frisket over the edge of the plastic and onto the watercolor paper.  That way I am creating a seal between the paper and the plastic and I'm filling out the rest of my subject.  Now the octopus is completely masked off.  (I could also paint over the entire octopus - that that would be a LOT of masking fluid.)


When I am painting a subject that is underwater, I like to be very loose and wet with my background.  I will throw a bunch of water and paints on the paper.  I'll swish things around, turn the board left and right, splatter water on there.  I'll just get really loose and crazy until I think it looks good.  (Remember to keep areas light and paint others darker.  Even though it's loose, it's it still requires composition.)


Good thing I masked that octopus out, right?  Look at the mess!

When the background is completely dry, I carefully pull up the masking fluid and plastic, revealing a nice, white octopus.


Ta da!


But I can't paint it yet.  Now I need to go in and mask out all the little suction cups.  It's tedious, but careful work and planning help to make the painting good.  If I didn't do this part, I'd have to paint around all the suction cups, and then I'd get weird drying and inconsistent paint colors. 


Notice that there's a blue smudge on my nice, white octopus.  Sometimes that happens.  Sometimes some paint seeps underneath the masking.  I lightened it up a bit with water and I don't worry about it since I'll be painting the octopus blue anyway.


This is a first pass at painting the octopus.  While the paint is wet, I add in some dots and spatters that will soften and bleed out.  This gives the illusion of texture on the octopus's head.


Here's a detail look after a couple more passes over the head.  I've worked on the eye a bit, adding shadow to the bottom and leaving the top almost white.  And I've gone over the lower head with paint, leaving some dots blank.  You can see that the masking is still on the suction cups.  Also, notice how I'm able to distinguish between the front tentacles and the back tentacles with darker colors and shadows.


When I'm happy with the blues and the purples under the tentacles, I lift the liquid frisket off of every suction cup.  It's important to make sure all of the paint is dry before you do this or else you'll smudge paint on the clean paper.  That would be a big bummer.

Then I go in and paint the soft pinks and purples in the suction cups.  It takes a little while to do all the detail work, so I put on a good podcast or some mellow music and enjoy the process.  Then I need to add in shadows to the edges of the suction cups and to the tentacles, below the suction cups.  The shadows really makes the painting come alive.

When it's close to being finished, I take a lot of time to observe the painting and pay attention to where my eyes go and if any area looks lacking.  Sometimes I soften hard lines.  Sometimes I add deeper colors.  Sometimes I lift colors out.  When I'm 90% happy, I stop.  There's a real danger in over-painting or working something to the point of ruining it, so I try to stop before I do that.

Then I sign it and it's done.

Big Blue Octopus                  2018                      J. C. Phillipps
I should also note that I use Arches paper.  For this painting I used 140 lb cold press.  It's important to use a good paper, because quality paper can take some abuse without ripping.  I'll use cheaper paper for smaller, dryer paintings.  But when I work wet and large, I like to build it up on high quality paper.

Thanks so much for stopping in!
I hope you enjoyed a peek into my process.
Have a great week -

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