Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas Ambush Watercolor

By Justin Gerard

"Holiday Shopping is Dangerous"

I'm working on a new watercolor painting for the Holidays and today I'll briefly be going over my process from start to finish.

To begin with, I always do a series of unintelligible thumbnails. I won't bore you with those, they would only further convince you I'm a crazy person. They are the sort of thing that a lawyer might show a jury when trying to get their client an insanity plea. 

"Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Today, the defense will prove to you beyond a shadow of doubt, that our client has completely lost his marbles. No sane person could commit to paper what you are about to see.  Observe! These markings here are what he called his 'artworks.' (The crowd gasps, the judge gavels for silence. A woman in the jury shrieks.) The defense moves that we drop ALL charges based on the grounds that my client has a super-sized case of stark-raving McMadness."

Once I have scribbled my thumbnails down and committed them to the computer, I burn them as evidence and mix the ashes into my triple espresso coffee before getting down to work.

In Photoshop take the best thumbnail and adjust it until it really captures the narrative I am after. Once this is established I do small drawings like the ones above and below to get to know the characters in my scene.  I also now go and get reference and do studies of any animals or figures in the scene. This part is laborious but I find that if I skip it the final product always suffers. Better to get your mistakes out now at the beginning than later on when you are knee deep in colors.

Once I have my characters drawn out I assemble all of them together on a rough comp.  This I print out at the final size and transfer it using a carbon transfer to a sheet of heavyweight paper.

Tight Drawing 

For this watercolor I am going back to my trusted old Strathmore 500 series 4-ply Bristol board. I begin with a light drawing in blue colored pencil and then a tighter refined drawing over that in brown. This gives some energy and variety to the lines.

 Initial Watercolor Wash

I lay in the initial washes in warm tones using yellow ochre, burnt sienna and raw umber. I work up the values with thin washes of color. Once I have established a value pattern, I go in with blues and cool tones. This registers all the colors and deepens the value further.

Final Watercolor
12" x 16"

Once I have finished laying in all of my watercolor I go through with acrylic white to add highlights and soften some of the shapes (especially in the faces).  I do this sparingly since I want to maintain the watercolor feel for this image. I also add some volume and saturation to the high-color areas using some of Holbein's Acryla-Gouache. I like this paint for bright opaque color as it is more sensetive than acrylic and interacts well with the watercolor. Also it goes on matte, which also helps it look natural with the watercolor.  While I like it for brightening colors, I do not like it for shadows as it tends to make them too flat and opaque for my tastes.  

After this dries I go over the painting again with some color pencil again to recapture any lines that were completely lost. And with that the watercolor is finished! I'm still not sure what I will be titling the piece.  "Black Friday Deals"? "The Perils of Holiday Shopping"? I'm not sure exactly what this Dwarf's story is, but I like to think it has something to do with him getting the very last Mechanical Toy Dragon in the dungeon shop.  


This watercolor and the drawings will available in our store this coming Tuesday along with some really spectacular new work from Annie Stegg Gerard which you can check out here.

Next Post: Digital Trickery! 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Making Walnut Ink

-By Howard Lyon

A friend of mine, Stephen Haws, showed me his sketchbook that he took to Italy and it was full of beautiful dark brown ink drawings.  I asked him where he purchased the ink and he said he made it! (he made the sketchbook too, maybe that can be a future post)

I asked him if he would teach me how to make the ink.  He did and gave me some of his ink as well.  The great thing about making this ink is that if you are going to make a little, you might as well make a lot!  It makes a wonderful gift for artist friends.

The ink is very easy to make.


  • Whole black walnuts in the husk
  • Water
  • Salt or rubbing alcohol or white vinegar


  • Gas burner or camp stove
  • Stainless steel or enameled pot
  • Glass bottles
  • Cheese cloth or a fine sieve or old nylon stockings
  • Rubber gloves
  • Large cloth for squeezing out pigment


1. Collect 40-50 black walnuts that are still green or juicy black in the husk.

image from
2. Let the walnuts sit in the pot until they all turn black.

3. Cover the walnuts with water.

4. Boil for 6-8 hours.  Add more water as needed to make sure it doesn't all steam off.
5. Once cool, remove the husks from the nuts (use rubber gloves).


6. Boil again for a few hours and let sit overnight.  The more you reduce it down, the darker your ink will be.

7. Place the large cloth over a clean container and pour the ink through it to strain out the solids.  Once you have all the solids in the cloth, you can close up the ends and twist the cloth to force out as much pigment and liquid from the husks.  You can now throw out the solids.  I read they contain a bit of poison that inhibits plant growth, so don't mulch them into your garden or flower bed.

8. Now you can pour the liquid through the cheese cloth or fine sieve to remove and remaining solids.

At this point if you let the ink sit it will develop a gnarly looking mold.  Click on this image to enlarge and look at all the amazing color and texture in this mold! 

I have read a couple tips to prevent mold.  Once site recommended adding some rubbing alcohol and another said they added white vinegar and salt into the mix as a preservative.  I went the rubbing alcohol route with this batch.  I have also heard of adding cloves or spices to give it a nice smell.  

If you should get mold on your ink, it comes off easily.  It forms a satusfying pudding skin type surface and you just scoop it out with a spoon.  In the photo above, that whole layer of mold came off in one piece.

9. Bottle the ink.  I ended up with 96 oz. or three quarts!

10. Draw with a dip pen or brush (don't use a fountain pen).

Drawn with a Tachikawa mapping nib on cold pressed watercolor paper

11. Make a nifty label for your ink.

12.  Draw some more!

Drawn with a Tachikawa G-nib on hot pressed watercolor paper

Thanks for giving this a read.  Let me know if you make some ink of your own!

Howard Lyon

Thursday, December 8, 2016

AD Access

-By Lauren Panepinto

If there's one question I get more than any other, it's how do you get access to Art Directors? Many of the Muddy Colors columnists have spoken about the importance of professional feedback, and how it can really light a fire under you and push your work to the next level. If you want to be commissioned for illustration jobs, who better to talk to than the very Art Directors you want to be hired by? But we're a busy folk, and even though we make ourselves as available as possible at events and conventions, it can still be hard to catch some time with us. For shy artists uncomfortable with networking in crowds, it can be even harder. And if geography or budget don't allow travel to conventions and seminars, then you've always been at a bit of a disadvantage.

One of the very first columns I wrote on this blog was about Approaching Art Directors: how to find us at conventions, professional events, and on social media. Then there's the whole article on Portfolio Reviews. And then a whole article about how important face to face networking is. Every year at cons like Spectrum and others, Art Directors give hundreds of portfolio reviews to artists…but what happens if you don't live in a major city where companies that use art are based? What if you can't afford to get to conventions? What if you need more help than just the 5 or 10 minute portfolio review you're able to snag with an AD even if you do get to attend a convention they are at?

Hunting Art Directors is an important part of the job of becoming a professional illustrator…but it's also the part that artists universally have the hardest time with.

Now, I am happy to see that Art Order, the site run by Jon Schindehette, who has Art Directed for many properties, including ThinkGeek, Treehouse, and Wizards of the Coast, has added a brand new service to the site: Online Art Director Access. Art Order is a great site in the family of educational beacons in this community (like Muddy Colors, smArt School, Drawn and Drafted, and others), and it specializes in one-on-one artist career development. Jon has always been a champion of the mentor/mentee system, and this new service takes that relationship online in customizable levels of access.

At the new Art Order Career Development page you can schedule Portfolio Reviews, Mentoring Sessions, and (my favorite) hit the Panic Button with a growing roster of professional Art Directors in varied fields.

Currently there are 5 Art Directors available for 30 and 60 minute portfolio reviews, longer term mentoring, and 15 minute Panic sessions where you can get an immediate AD response to a specific piece you may need help and guidance on.

I spoke to Jon Schindehette about his vision for the site, and Art Order on one hand is continuing to specialize in making that mentoring process and career development more accessible, and on the other, walking artists through entrepreneurship with printing, product development, and manufacturing. These are services that artists ask me about all the time, and I am happy to be able to send them to Jon and Art Order.

If you've ever wished you had an Art Director on call to give you honest feedback and help you make your pieces better, then check out Art Order's new services.