Girl in Canyon fantasy piece- FULL DEMO
Philip Howe Fine Art
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Fine Art - Figures,Portraits, Other Subjects
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Early work_ 1980's, 1990's
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This piece is a hybrid illustration of ink line, oil, and digital. Normally I would paint opaquely and work edges into backgrounds, smooth out areas, and go for a more realistic overall look. On this one, the line holds the tones in place and the subltle areas are reinforced with a hint of line beneath the paint and the final digital effects. This allowed me to work very fast, the entire piece was finished in one day. With opaque paint, the tendency is to rework areas and keep finessing the overall effect. But I wanted a bit more graphic look to this piece which helps suggest the fantasy or surreal idea.


Here is a very rough sketch from my doodlling. It's always fun to see what can come from just doing abstract ideas. For most sketches, I still use pencil or switch to a Wacom digital tablet, like the Cintiq, which allows you to draw on the surface of the screen for more accurate, fresh sketching.

Once I get the idea set in my head, I try to shoot a model, rarely making the figure up. I had reference for the chair, but the canyon, etc, was just designed to fit the girl in the chair.


Above, the full drawing is inked in or printed out onto watercolor paper. I used a heavy WC rough D'Arches 300 lb. stock. The rough surface is ideal for giving a similar pull as with canvas. I wanted to keep the line very clean and not have to redraw it, so I printed it out onto the paper at 24 x 30 inches, large enough for me to play with the coloring and not worry about the details yet. The line will hold the details if I do it right, keeping the oil paint very thin and translucent, not opaque. The drawing is then coated with 2 passes of acrylic gloss medium, using a wide brush, and strokes in horizontal then vertical directions. I let the first coat dry for several hours, and the 2nd overnight. This seals the paper. If you don't do this step, the paper will just absorb the oil and it becomes an unworkable stain that dries darker and sinks into the paper. WIth the acrylic coating, the color will sit on top of the surface. I don't recommend this as a permanent solution, since the oil may not hold onto the acrylic surface forever, but it's the fastest way for commercial work to achieve a look that might otherwise take days. 



Above, the Water Color paper is mounted to a panel and ready for the oil paint, after sealing with acrylic. You can see very little paint on the left side of my glass palette. When you paint transparently, you don't need a lot of tube color, since you are simply tinting or staining the surface with more medium and thinned color, as with any glaze on white. The idea is to use very translucent colors, although most colors will thin to a beautiful translucency. Avoid all white and ochres, as these are too opaque and will block out too much of the line work below the color.

Below, the initial wash of Liquin medium and oil color, painted boldly and quickly. This looks like a mess at first, but accurately placed and takes some practice putting down the right amount of paint at first, with direct strokes a bit darker than needed, for now. I use a medium size filbert to blot and stroke the color on until I am ready to smooth it out. Using Liquin medium, I know the paint will start to set up and get tacky in a few hours, so I begin to cover the piece in sections like this to give me a few minutes working time in each area. The classic method uses slower drying linseed oil or other, and it can take days to a few weeks, depending on the color, to allow the paint to fully dry before the next coat. I usually just do one pass before shooting it digitally, or a 2nd pass to darken it a bit, when the color is dry overnight.

Another approach, at this point, would be to use Gouache, as I did for many years with my commerciall work. The advantage of gouache is that you can rework it and it dries within minutes. You can pull out highlights and buff it back by hitting it with a mist, of water as from an airbrush, or fine spray bottle. Unlike acrylic, which is waterproof. Gouache and watercolor can be easily lifted from the surface so long as the surface is coated with either gesso or clear acrylic or similar coating. Some illustrators will take the drawing stage much further than this simple line work, filling in a complete grayscale with pencil to get a near photo-graphic base, spray fix that, then seal it and work in oils or gouache over that. The gray acts as a quick underpainting, similar to a brown base done in a drybrush manner. Once you understand the effects and the simplicity of the approach, there are a variety of methods you can use to get the base tone down. Recently, I even tried pastel over Clear Gesso, which gives an immediate base of full color, but I found it was a bit too grainy after spraying with fixative. 


The first two images, above, show the paint before I buffed it out with a mop and bristle brush, just above. If you don't buff it out, and there is no rule that says you have to, the paint, for me, is just too blotchy looking. Once I buff it, I can splatter it with a solvent, like Mineral Spirits or turpentine (which I no longer use, too toxic.) Or I can just build up smooth areas. Even if you feel you have ruined the piece, you can always wipe out what is there, with a soft rag, before it sets up or gets tacky, and then start over again above the line work. The line work, of course, can be seen easily beneath the color, much better than a grayscale drawing or underpainting, if that's the look you want. 

Below, I start pulling out highlight areas and buffing them here and there. With oils, you can smear edges and blend and tweak colors into one another, with the line work holding the shapes. I pull out stains of color, going for a slightly darker initial coloring first, then tinting or pulling back from that, with a subtractive approach. This technique works great on canvas as well, although it's harder to get the line onto canvas as clean as on paper or board. If you haven't tried subtractive painting and you want a stained glass or jewell effect, this is a nice approach, one that illustrator Bernie Fuchs mastered brilliantly. With enough patience (which I don't have) you can build up multiple layers of thin color to achieve a luminous look similar to how Maxfield Parrish achieved his lanscapes, the originals of which are really stunning in the right light.


I continue around the girl, doing the background first, then begin her coloring with the same quick approach. If you try this look and want to splatter areas to get a textural effect, or even push towells or other textures into the wet paint, you want to make sure your are careful or the other areas may pick up the spray and begin to run from the solvent.

Below, this is all the farther I took the painted piece before shooting it digitally and then enhancing it by overlapping it as a layer via multiply, etc, in Photoshop. I tried to take the best parts of each section and keep as much line as needed to suggest a more graphic look. At the bottom is the finished illustration after the digital effects were added. I will probably go back into the painting and finish it more, since it would take just a day to tweak it and turn it into a more finished painted piece, but for commercial art, its the digital file that is the important thing the clients want today.


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