I've always loved painting shows, and I've always loved painting, but my process does not readily lend itself to the public television format. Where Bob Ross can crank out an eyepopping masterpiece with broad appeal in twenty-four minutes flat with the unblinking eye of the camera on him all the time, I tend to sit hunched on my living room sofa for hours on end. Not very camera-friendly, plus my white-guy-fro is just nowhere near as cool as Bob's.
But, unusually for me, I actually took a fairly thorough series of photographs while I was working on this piece, so I've decided to make my own little Joy of Painting instructable about it. Happy little instructable. Living there in the forest.
Step 1: Decide What to Paint, and Draw It If You Want To
In this case, what I wanted to paint was a picture of Jim Henson's famous Muppet characters, but dressed up as the killer puppets from Charles Band's long-running series of low-budget horror films, Puppet Master. I had wanted to do that for a while, but couldn't decide on which characters to use until I was re-watching The Muppet Movie, at which point I realized that Janis from Electric Mayhem looked eerily similar to Blade from Puppet Master, and this really got the ball rolling. The shape of Beaker's head made him a natural fit for Tunneler. And I chose Scooter for Pin Head mostly because I just really like Scooter.
So, once I had selected my Muppets and Puppets, I sketched a simple layout for the image. This is an 8x10 canvas. I sort of wanted to do it upright to better mimic the shape one of the movie posters, but I think the horizontal composition makes more sense for the image and ultimately, that won out.
Step 2: Background, Check!
So I went with the blue and white "burst" style background. This began by painting the full background area with an uncut phthalocyanine blue, then cutting through it with lighter and lighter blue while the paint was still wet. By the time I got to the central area around beaker, I was using pure white, and then I took the dark blue and cut back in from the edges. It's obviously acrylic brushwork, but it achieves a similar effect to the original airbrushed posters.
Once the background was established, I used a scriptliner brush to trace the outside pencil lines that had disappeared under the background paint, and blockout white to erase the dark parts inside the lines.
Step 3: Janis
When I paint something like this, I typically use a three-part process for each color area. There is the base color - in the case of Janis' face, it's a deep yellow - with a highlight and a lowlight. First I paint all of the areas that require the base color, let that dry, and then re-paint them as many times as necessary to make me feel happy with the richness of the pigment. Then I add a lowlight - it could be a deeper shade of yellow, or a sepia, or a brown. Often I will experiment with different combinations until I find one I like (in this case, I believe it's a sienna) and begin to lay in the darker areas. The perimeter of her face, the jawline where the puppet mouth opens, a shadow below her chin, under each eye, and under the brim of the Blade hat she wears.
The highlight color is just white. I use the white to brighten up the base color, and essentially sculpt contours onto her face with it. Then I add more white and brighten a smaller area, increasing the illusion of three dimensions, and finally add just a couple of very bright highlights on the nose and chin area (the parts of her face that are farthest forward.)
In the third picture here you can see that her facial area has all three steps completed, while the lips have just the base color and lowlights finished.
Step 4: Scooter, and More Janis
Scooter's face, of course, is done in exactly the same manner as Janis' face. They're built from the same felt, after all.
The brown sweater is highlighted in the same manner, but with a slightly different tactic. I'm terrible at painting cloth, it's a weakness of mine, and painting KNIT cloth is the worst of all. I don't even try to make it look real, but I do try to suggest the texture with the way I highlight it. I streak across in rows, and add bright highlights in little blobs. If you add highlights to each side of a seam, and along the ridges of the most prominent wrinkles, you can more or less make it look like cloth as long as nobody looks too closely. But hey, it was never meant to be photorealistic. What am I, Bob Ross?
Step 5: Beaker
Typically, I combine white with a red tone, an orange tone, a pale yellow, and a brown. I put them all on my palette and add the colors to the white a little at a time, mixing until I have a base color that I like. Then I reserve some of it to incorporate later in highlights and lowlights. Add white for the highlights, add more of the brown tone for the lowlights.
I used just black and white for his drillbit head because I didn't want it to look the same as Janis' blade and hook. I added more red to his haircolor so it would stand out from Scooter's orange hair. While I did Scooter and Janis' hair like yarn, I was freer and streakier with Beaker because the actual puppet's hair is not yarn. I allowed the tips to remain translucent so that the drillbit was visible behind the hair
For the finishing touches, I added some more black and white. I used the scriptliner to add partial black outlines to the figures, which makes them pop out from the background. Obviously this does nothing to strengthen the sense of realism, but emphasizes the comic or cartoonish quality of the image, I think. And I added a few stronger white highlights for the same reason: on Beaker's and Scooter's hair, on the nose areas of all three Muppets, on the clothing, and on the metal weapons.
Oh, and also signed it. The painting is called MUPPET MASTER.