The finished piece:
Paints: Createx Illustration
Surface: Schoellershammer 4G Illustration Board
Airbrush: Iwata HP-CH/Iwata CMC Plus/H&S Evolution AL Plus
Various Erasers(Electric-3 types, Hard/Soft Pencil Erasers, Kneeded, and large soft erasers)
I chose this reference picture because I really liked the composition of it along with the fact that it would challenge my detail capabilities.
My first step in any project is to create a color palette for the project. Each color swatch in this image was selected from specific areas of the image to lay a good opaque base to the painting. When picking the colors, I generally always go with a highlight and shadow color at a minimum. If I see an area that I feel needs more depth, I do a highlight, mid-tone, and shadow, though most times this is not necessary because the mid tones can be created by shifting the highlights with transparent colors.
Here is the color palette I used for this project.
I personally use Pixelmator(Photoshop alternative for Mac), I created this template which I use for each of my projects and pic the key colors in the image using the eyedropper tool to fill each swatch. I then use these swatches to make color matched opaques to give me a good starting point using capped opaques then tinting with transparents to bring depth to the painting.
Color matching takes time, but makes the process of painting and correcting mistakes easier.
After the colors are picked, I create a stencil by using the Desaturate function the photo editing software and use contrast/brightness settings to get some good contrast and deepen the shadows. I then use the threshold setting(creates a black and white instead of greyscale). This gives me a good outline and defines the shadow areas well. Notice I used an eraser to remove most of the black from the background. I did this to save toner in my printer because the background had no detail.
On the stencil, only the darkest of the darks are cut from the stencil to map out the painting. This gives me a good reference point so I can freehand in the rest of the painting.
Notice in the image above, that I have the stencil hinged above the painting with masking tape, so if I need it to redefine a sharp edge later on, I can fold it back in place. I just tape it on the back side of my easel to keep it out of my way. I used Createx Illustration Black reduced about 20-25:1 to get a really light reference point as seen in the image. On the left side of the easel, I have a modified License Plate that I bent to hold my tablet in place. I put a high resolution copy of my reference to my dropbox account so I can have access to it from all my devices.
In this is the first step adding the lightest colors of the image as an opaque base. The color was initially mixed to be the lightest yellow in the eye, but as a base it was applicable in other parts of the caiman and the water.
This is Color #2 on the Palette.
I start erasing the first layer of the brighter highlights and begin adding Color #1 to give some more depth.
Note that I also masked and sprayed some black in the pupil of the eye to give some visual reference to what the darker colors will look like.
More erasing and adding color #3
Added some base opaques to the body of the caiman using colors 7,8,9, and 10. Most of the visible colors on the snout and head are #10 in varying value.
Some black also added to the background, and some base blue/green put in the water.
More depth added with the same colors and some black.
Some reduced black mixed with #10 to darken the shadows, but not go to pure black. The pupil of the eye was re-established at this point.
Since the body of the caiman is getting close with the opaques, I start some of the shadows and darker tones in the water.
Here is where I start tinting with transparent paints. I can see at this point that the colors on the snout and head are not as vibrant as I want. I start with a base of Burnt Umber and add some Cobalt Blue to kill the chroma a bit and start tinting the boxy and darker edges of the eye and shadows with it.
Here I start tinting with some blues, greens and violets where I see them in the reference.
More deepening and shifting of colors to more closely match the reference photo.
Final shadows and green tints added to the painting with the signature and covered with Liquitex ‘Satin Varnish’ to protect the paint.
Step by step provided courtesy of Jeff Gardner AKA ‘Jagardn’, thanks buddy!