Saturday, March 10, 2012

Pilot Whales in Watercolor

After spending even more time than usual at my computer this past week working on various graphic design projects, by Friday afternoon my eyes were fried and I was feeling stuck. I enjoy long-term projects, but it can also get frustrating not to see much for results on a day-to-day basis. Simple watercolor paintings are becoming my cure for mid-project burnout. I force myself not to overanalyze the subject matter - I just pick something quick that inspires me and sketch it out without much planning, then start painting it in. I try to finish within a few hours.

This one turned out ok and, miraculously, I even remembered to take some progress photos!

Pilot Whale Pod (progress 1)

Pilot Whale Pod (progress 2)

Pilot Whale Pod (progress 3)

Pilot Whale Pod (progress 4)

Pilot Whale Pod

The colors are a bit washed out in the final scan. It looks truer to the second to last photo above. I didn't bother to adjust color since it'll have to be re-scanned anyway if I want to do anything with it. I've reached my limits of patience with my scanner, which has been producing crappy, blurry images and keeps making some darker areas show up as a splotchy mess (like on the darkest parts of the largest pilot whale). The scan you see above was my sixth attempt at adjusting settings on the scanner to fix it. I guess I need to find somewhere local that can scan my paintings professionally for me. Whether it's my scanner or user error, scanning these myself just isn't cutting it anymore. Maybe someday I'll have my very own awesome large-format scanner (haha...). Also, the painting is just slightly larger than my scanner so there's a bit of cropping, most noticeably at the bottom edge.

Some technical notes on working in watercolor: to achieve texture like is in the water of this piece, I use a combination of spritzing fine droplets of water from a spray bottle and sprinkling salt on the surface in various stages of drying. For dark colors, I build up layers of lighter colors while letting them thoroughly dry between coats. I also almost never use black, but instead "build" blacks and grays out of other colors to give it more richness and depth. For example, the black and grays on the pilot whales are layers of mixed Payne's Gray, Phthalo Blue, Cobalt Blue, and Phthalo green.

I think I'll play around with this one digitally a bit once I have a better scan of it. You can view the details of the piece in larger sizes at Flickr.


  1. Marvelous. And in my favorite medium.

  2. Thanks Scott! Watercolor is growing on me so much lately it might soon become my favorite too.

  3. Nuu, don't play around with it digitally! ;) It's beautiful!

    I jolly well hope it does become your favourite medium.

  4. Ha, thanks Niroot! Don't worry, no original paintings will be physically harmed in the editing process! Odds are, any attempts will end up in the digital garbage can. I haven't been able to successfully pull off any real paint + digital illustration combos in the past, but I'm driven by my enjoyment of both mediums to keep trying.