Tuesday, June 4, 2013


 One of the great things about living in LA is the absolutely incredible late evening drawing workshops that Jennifer Fabos puts together. I've been to several of these over the years and they never fail to be a source of entertainment, great socializing, and getting the creative juices flowing. One of my Retrowood stories, Gypsy Twins, originated in one of these sessions when two of my favorite models, Sara and Cassandra posed at Siamese twins. But I think this is the first time I've actually come up with a painting.

(These were the sketches of Larva drawn during the Turkish Delight workshop.)

 The workshop was called Turkish Delights, but since ancient Egypt is currently my focus these days, I used trappings from that environment for my reference. The model was the lovely and appropriately exotic Larva La Larva, whom I've only had the opportunity to draw a couple times, but I'm hoping there are many more sketch sessions to follow.  What really helped were the photos taken by master photographer Greg Autry . For my approach to painting, I really need something more than a 20-30 minute sketch to capture all the nuances of the model. Photo reference is really essential to me. Thanks, Greg! And my thanks to you, Larva!

(Photos by Greg Autry  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Greg-Autry-Art-Photo/262689913797400 )

(Some of my reference. Odd, I've used the kitty drawing in the upper left a number of times and just now noticed my little Repo peering out on the left side.)

Once I had the chance to digest the material I came up with a quick little rough of what I wanted to do with the illustration . Using the myriad of Egypt reference and cat photos I have around, I worked out the basic composition combining it with Greg's photo.

(In my sketchbooks after I do a drawing in class, I'm usually adding to it to create an interesting composition on the page. The doodle on  the left was the rough for a drawing used in last week's blog.)
 The next step is to produce a fairly detailed pencil drawing on a piece of illustration board.I adjust whatever I think is needed in the composition so that it reads quickly and clearly. Things are added and rearranged until it seems to work. There are no right answers, although there are certainly plenty of wrong ones.

Once I have the drawing worked out and finished, I  mask off the working area and tape it down to a piece of masonite. I then do a quick watercolor wash over the entire illustration so that I have something to work against. Next I start the linework working in acrylic paint. At this stage I use french ultramarine blue, cadmium red light and burnt umber to create a dark line for the objects and furnishings, and a warmer,lighter reddish brown for the flesh. Then I apply washes of a combination of these three colors to create the shadows. This was a system used by a lot of the illustrators that I admire such as Robert Fawcett and Albert Dorne, except they tended to use colored inks and dyes since acrylic paint was still in its infancy. (If you aren't familiar with the Famous Artist's course you should check it out. It's the best compilation I've ever seen on drawing and storytelling.)
To create as much mood as possible, I continue to add more shadow. I use the photo of the model as the basis of the lighting source and try and keep it consistent with the figure.
Using the strongest darks and opaque white I'm finally finished with the painting as a tonal study.

While I don't produce finished digital paintings, I do use Photoshop where ever I can both for shortcuts and safety. In this case, before laying on the finished color I tried to work as much out with layers to see what combinations worked best. 

Adding the color to the work is less labor intensive for me than the tonal process, but I've found it's never as simple as just washing a color over a section. Each color has different degrees of transparency and opacity, and with each wash you have to readjust slightly your tonal work. The last bit of work is working strictly opaque and adding highlights to the entire piece.

Next time I run through this process with another recent painting where I tried adjusting the order of the steps...adding on all my darks and light on top of the color. See you then.


  1. Hi Mike,
    That's a great demo, keep up the good work.

  2. Thanks, Harry.
    It was great seeing you last month. I just wish you were around out here to sit in on one of these life drawing workshops. For those you who aren't familiar with his work, Harry has written what I consider the best book I've seen on the "inking" process:http://www.amazon.com/Drawing-Ink-Harry-Borgman/dp/0823013855/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1370381955&sr=8-2-fkmr0&keywords=drawing+for+reproduction+Harry+Borgman.
    Best, Mike