The Old Country: Step-by-Step

2017. Gouache on illustration board.

Step 1. Thumbnail and Sketch

This piece emerged out of a tiny thumbnail sketch (about 1×2 inches) with the simplest scribble of the concept. The key ideas of the thumbnail were that the horizon line would be in the lower third of the composition, the car in the center, and a single-point perspective view of the streets converging into the distance. The tall buildings in the background serve as kind of a backstop to the implied depth of the scene.

The drawing was done over the course of several hours with HB pencil on Crescent hot press illustration board. Actual size is 7×12 inches.

Step 2. Revising the Drawing

The initial rough sketch was scanned and tied down digitally:

Doing a digital pass was helpful for a few reasons. First, being able to mirror the drawing horizontally makes it much easier to fix slanted verticals or other areas of skew. Second, I was able to sketch in the rough lighting on the digital file before moving back to the drawing board:

Rough digital lighting/color

After I was satisfied with the direction of the drawing and basic lighting, I printed out the refined drawing (not the lighting sketch immediately above). I tiled the image onto 2 sheets of copy paper and taped them together to get an actual-size printout. Then I returned to the original board and re-worked the pencil drawing, using the printout as a reference. Then I taped off the edges of the drawing and began the painting phase.

Step 3. Underpainting

I used the gouache lift-out technique demonstrated by Thomas Blackshear. The first step in this process is to paint an all-over wash layer of a middle value. I planned for the primary transition between the warm buildings and the cool blue of the sky, so for this phase I used burnt sienna and ultramarine. (Holbein & Winsor-Newton gouache)

Once the primary wash was laid in, I scrubbed out highlights with a clean damp brush:

Because gouache doesn’t ever fully adhere to the board, it’s possible to scrub back to almost completely white. In the process, I scrubbed out a good deal of pencil work as well. However, I still had my full-size reference drawing as a reminder.

Step 5. Defining Darks

After a bit more time scrubbing out the light areas of the board, I began to bring the drawing back to a stronger presence. I “inked” the drawing with ultramarine blue gouache for the distant cool areas, and with burnt umber for the foreground. At full strength, burnt umber attains a very dark value; however it is easily diluted to a wide range of browns. Burnt umber is a bit cooler than burnt sienna, so the linework tends toward a grayish hue against the warm underpainting. Unlike watercolor or ink wash, gouache is very forgiving because it can be erased, lightened and reworked easily.

I used thin layers of burnt umber to lay in the most important shadow areas, such as underneath the car, and behind the paw-print sign to help the white of the sign pop out.

Step 6. Color

This part of the process is difficult to describe in detail, as it is mostly intuitive. There are some basic color scheme principles I wanted to maintain, such as a complementary palette based on the sienna/ultramarine underpainting. However, there were places where I chose arbitrary colors, such as the yellow of the lower-right pup’s dress.

The warm-neutral palette of oranges, brick reds, browns, grays, and golden colors is intended to communicate the antique charm of a European city. The cool notes in the background (the sky and green domes) are complementary.

This diagram represents the approximate color gamut of the image. The dominant scheme is between orange and blue, with the rest of the less-intense hues falling on the warm side of the color wheel.

Final Image

The final piece was scanned, touched up slightly in Photoshop, and color-corrected to taste.

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