This HUGE 32" x 40" Mouse Guard Watercolor was auctioned off last weekend at the Heroes Con auction. The money raised from that auction go to help fund next year's HEROES. And since they are one of the best cons out there, privately owned by folks who really care about comic creators & fans, and they always put on a great show, I was happy to do an original piece for them. Today's Blogpost will walk through the steps used to create this piece.
Usually I don't do pieces this large. The exceptions being live art donations at a show like HEROES. There I'd be up on their stage, provided with materials and an enormous sheet of mat board to create something live while fans watched so they could prepare to place their bids later that night. Well, this year, I opted to do the piece at home in my normal controlled environment where I could do something more detailed and exciting. I did a few pencil sketches (the mouse and weasel are separate drawings added together in Photoshop), with some stock border pattern dropped on the top and bottom to frame the piece.
The grid overlayed on the photoshop work up above was so I could accurately line up and tape all of it back together when I printed this 32" x 40" image out on several sheets of 8.5" x 11" paper! Yikes. I didn't have a projector available to me on short notice, so I opted to do this patchwork technique I used to use when needing to affordably make large signs in-house at my old job back at the antique store: "15% OFF ALL ANTIQUE RESTORED LIGHT FIXTURES IN JANUARY". Here I was starting to regret not doing some image simple enough to not just be drawn out on the board directly.
To then get the image from that huge patchwork of printouts, I had to coat the back with graphite. I used a super soft (7B) Graphite stick and on the lightbox was able to make sure I was covering the backside of the image only where the lines were. This way I didn't break my hand rubbing graphite onto place that would never need it. Here, I was really starting to regret not doing something simpler that could just be drawn directly onto the board itself.
After the graphite was applied, I flipped the patchwork over, taped it to the mat board, and started tracing over my lines with a ball point pen. The pressure of the ballpoint transfers the graphite from the back of the printout to the mat board's surface wherever I've drawn over with the pen. It was very late (or early AM) when I finished this step. It too was arduous, but I was having a more positive feeling about the final piece at this point. After some sleep, I'd start tackling the painting of it.
Using a cheap tray of watercolors, I started applying washes and then building them up, letting natural splotches happen at times, while carefully controlling where the paint went at other times. Below is the progress of the washes:
Yellow/ochre buildup on the knotwork border
The large sky area wash that I left blotchy while purposely keeping the area near their faces the lightest.
Filling in the areas between the knotwork darker
Mouse fur & Cloak
Splotchy happy accident helmet
When I'd finished the painting, I didn't think the piece was done. This is a classic thing for me. I work the watercolor thinking that I'll make the image strong enough to not need line, but ultimately get disappointed in the lack of focus of the final piece...and add line. And for it to look more like a traditional Mouse Guard piece (to get the most of a bid out of it), I knew the line would be important. So, I let the paint really dry, and left the inking for the next day.
The last step was to add in the linework. I first considered using pencil to "ink" the lines, but found that it didn't pop enough to accomplish what I needed, especially near the darker valued areas of the painting. So I switched over to ink pens, large permanent (but archival) markers. I used a few of my stippling tricks, but for the most part left everything an even lineweight to let the watercolor rendering still do most of the talking. To the left, is the final image and below details of the Mouse & Weasel.
San Diego Comic Con July 8-12
Boston Comic Con July 31- Aug. 2
Long Beach Comic Con: Sept. 12-13
Baltimore Comic Con Sept. 25-27
New York Comic Con Oct. 8-11
Art-Bubble Comics Festival: Copenhagen: Nov. 14-15