Introduction: How to Paint a Painting
Or, more specifically, how I painted THIS painting!
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.
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Step 1: Decide What to Paint, and Draw It If You Want To
I do want to! This is where Bob Ross and I really differ. I've always been jealous of people who can just tackle that blank canvas with brushes and paint, allowing their image to evolve naturally as they go along. But I'm not that guy. I'm the guy who gets a very specific idea and wants to make sure it comes out just right, so I tend to do rather a lot of sketching on my canvases.
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!
I work in layers. I almost invariable start by painting the portion of the canvas that lies deepest in the background. In the case of this painting, I wanted to recall the movie posters that Charles Band's Full Moon Pictures was putting out in the late eighties and early nineties, which were these stylized airbrush designs. The usually had colorful abstract backgrounds with realistic figures in the foreground, and often no middle ground at all.
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
Now things start to get fun, bringing the characters to life. My process here might be different from someone who has a lot of money, because I buy really cheap paint. I think they call it "Student Grade" paint. It tends to have a lower pigment content than expensive paint which means lower opacity and more coats are required to achieve full coverage. Some people don't care, but I do! I like a deep, intense, bright color with no white canvas peeking through. But that's me, maybe it's not how you want to do things. I just feel like when I do a painting, I am trying to create the illusion of a real thing in a two-dimensional space, and if I am constantly seeing the depth of the brush strokes or the texture of the canvas through an object, then it destroys the illusion.
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
I laid in the base for Scooter/Pin Head's sweater with a basic brown, then while that was drying I went to work on finishing Janis. She was mostly done aside from the black bits. I painted in all the areas of the hat and overcoat, adding a very mild grey highlight to the collar and brim. The blade and hook were painted with the same phthalo blue-and-white combination as the background, except that I added a touch of black to darken the metal and to help it stand out as separate from the background area. Being metal, I also added a couple of bold, white highlight, set off with darkened phthalo blue. It's a cartoonish way of depicting metal, but it works!
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
I went with more of a "natural" skin color for Beaker. I don't have a special base that I use for your basic Caucasoid flesh tone, so I always make it up every time I need one. The most important thing to remember, if you do that, is to make ENOUGH, because if you're not using a premixed tone and you don't have a special recipe, you will NEVER be able to perfectly match it again if you run out.
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.