Painting the Ditch Dragons – step by step

It’s been years since I’ve completed a ‘painting’ in this way, so I took a series of photographs as I painted the Ditch Dragons that I showed you in the previous post. I say ‘painting’ in inverted commas because it is part painting part drawing, and this is probably the main reason I stopped using this technique – I find the classification ‘mixed media’ curiously irritating because it could mean anything at all, and seldom is any further information given. And it slightly offends my purist nature. But it works, and it is a technique I invented for myself, though I am sure others have done so.

So – the Ditch Dragons. This is the original drawing – actually done on a tablet – which I am liking a lot for working out complex drawings though it’s not as nice to draw on as actual paper:

Ditch Dragons 1
Ditch Dragons 1

I then print the drawing out, trace it, and transfer it to watercolour paper. The watercolour paper I’ve already stretched on a board to keep it flat when it is wet.

Ditch Dragons 1a
Ditch Dragons 1a

Here is the first part of the ‘colouring-in’ stage:

Ditch Dragons 2
Ditch Dragons 2

The next few days I spend covering the paper with thick layers of gouache paint in what I hope will be about the right colour. This is all a bit of guesswork, plus experience, because in the end I will wash most of this paint off. Gouache is like watercolour (you could use watercolour mixed with white where necessary), it’s a water-based paint and so just as it’s put on with water, it can be washed off with water as well. But it doesn’t wash off totally, not from paper – it leaves a stain on the paper as you’d expect. Some pigments leave a strong stain, others wash off almost completely. The ones that wash off well are no good for this process, I am carefully choosing the pigments which will stain the paper. To find which these are, you just have to test each one first – paint each one on some watercolour paper, let them dry, and see how they wash off.

Ditch Dragons 3
Ditch Dragons 3

Colouring in and more colouring in… At this point it gets a bit messy, but the fun thing is that if you use quite thick paint for the first layer and you are careful laying down subsequent layers of paint, the stain that you’re trying to achieve on the paper will be the first colour you lay down, so, if you look at the photo below you can see I’ve painted bright green leaves at the top of the hedges. There are actually a lot more bright green leafy bits underneath the dark murky greens, which are soon to be revealed. Also, some of the dragons have been covered up, but again, laying down the darker colour carefully it won’t disturb the orange layer, as long as the orange is thick and opaque. In this way I only need to paint carefully up to an edge once and then the background can be laid on top, but be careful not to drag the wet brush over the underneath layers – which is why the dark greens and the sky in the following photo are dabbed in blobs with a large brush.

Ditch Dragons 4
Ditch Dragons 4

The paper is finally covered in paint, and now is the fun bit. I took the picture as you see it below and put it in the bath, and rinsed it with cold running water and a soft brush, gently brushing off all the paint that would come off.

Ditch Dragons 5
Ditch Dragons 5

…and this was the result. Obviously more work and adjustments are needed, they always are, but it creates a good solid background to work onto.

Ditch Dragons 6
Ditch Dragons 6

Imagine you are painting on glass and going to see the picture from the other side of the glass: whatever colour you put down first is the colour that you will see. This is exactly what this technique is all about. This is why I started with the tiny details very carefully, and finished with a messy sky.

Here’s a close up section – the white flowers of the hogweed were painted white at the start.

Ditch Dragons 7
Ditch Dragons 7

Still needs more work of course, and actually this part of the process is something I have used for years. What I haven’t done for a long time is then to finish the painting in coloured pencil – this is what makes it a bit of a step back in time for me, but there’s so much detail in the leaves here that this method seemed very suitable, and I’m having fun with colour again – I seemed to have almost forgotten about colour lately. The advantage of this method is it gives you the control of using coloured pencils, with the boldness and saturation of colour that paint gives. Having to call it mixed media is probably a small price to pay.

Ditch Dragons 8
Ditch Dragons 8

2 Comments

  1. Fantastic tutorial! I’ve been doing a lot of gouache resist lately but never thought of using this technique. I’m not much of a purist. And I agree about drawing on a tablet. I’m going to have to try this technique, thank you for posting it! N.

    1. Thank you! Have fun experimenting 🙂

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