Category Archives: How-To

I Regret Nothing

meglyman_MLPMy Little Octopus

11×14″ gouache on board

SOLD

This was a super fun commission and I have no regrets. Using gouache on flat areas of color, the way it was designed to be used, is both satisfying and frustrating. You had better mix enough of that color to get coverage and not have too much water mixed in, or you’re screwed.

Also, painting tiny outlines is oddly theraputic.

Octophant

meglyman_octophantOctophant by Meg Lyman

8×10″ gouache and ink on board

SOLD

Thanks to a fan’s suggestion, I present the octophant! This was a fun textural piece. I used a yellowish underpainting and layered grey over the top, then textured it with a plastic shopping bag to look sorta like elephant skin. I put the bag down haphazardly on the wet paint, put a heavy book on it, and let it sit overnight.

The octophant was textured with brushwork – wet in wet strokes, plus some dry brush. Gouache is the best to play with. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Ghost

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Ghost by Meg Lyman

8×10″ gouache on board

Etsy listing

Who knows what tragic fate met this octopus? Was its demise untimely, caused by an errant seal or bird? Perhaps something more sinister… It’s up to you to put this haunted soul to rest by avenging its death.

This was my first time using Multimedia Artboard, and it was fun to play with! Using watered down white gouache on the black board was super fun. It dries more transparent than you lay it down, giving you some cool ragged puddle effects and opportunity for multiple layers. Next time I’ll try painting more opaque on them to see what happens.

Painting on Matboard

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Anna and Elsa by Meg Lyman

3.5 x 4.5 inches each

Gouache on matboard

One of the joys of being a gouache painter is the toned background. There are plenty of ways to get this effect in various media, but it’s fun and handy to paint right on whatever background you find. Some of the toned/colored supports I’ve used with gouache include matboard, Canson Mi-Teintes Board, Pastelbord, Colourfix board, Canson pastel paper, colored ACEOs, notecards, and various other colored papers. Some are more archival than others, some are rougher, some smoother; some are flimsy and some sturdy. Matboard is probably my favorite, for several reasons:

  1. It’s cheap – often art stores will have scrap bins and you can get pieces for $0.50
  2. You can get archival material if you want it (Canson Mi-Teintes Board is a good one, already cut to size)
  3. It has a nice texture – not too smooth or rough
  4. The surface can usually take a bit of abuse
  5. It’s sturdy – it won’t buckle and you can wave it around all crazy-like
  6. It comes in lots of pretty colors

Little left-over scraps are great for quick studies or plein air paintings. I also use them sometimes as backing when framing up ACEOs. In conclusion: matboard is great for gouache people!

Sweet Zombie Jesus

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Bovid I by Meg Lyman

9×12″ oil on board

Etsy link

When I ordered this super awesome cow skull someone on Etsy found in the desert, I was excited. I was not, however, prepared for the sheer size of the thing. I pulled it out of the box, said “WOW,” and cradled it in my arms for an hour. I love it way more than I should. I wanted to paint it as soon as I laid eyes on it.

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Note: larger than it looks

I set up to paint it on a cloudy day, with no lights on, just the nice north light overcast coming through the window. This limited my time – good practice for plein air. Plus I procrastinated and started after noon, but that’s neither here nor there.

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Daylight… almost… gone…

I paid special attention to values on this, which is something I’ve always eyeballed, to the detriment of every painting I’ve ever made. I dusted off the value finder card and actually matched my paint to the values coming off the skull. I was surprised by the things I learned doing this, as is often the case when I actually pay attention.

The first thing I noticed is that the lightest value coming off the skull wasn’t the lightest value on the card, and ditto with the darkest. I would have painted it with the full value range if I hadn’t known that.

I have four tubes of Vasari paint – I love them very much – and I wanted to use them all on this, so they drove my color choices. I set up an orange cloth to get some nice, warm reflected light in the shadows. Then I laid out some color strings, matching them to the skull with the value finder.

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Color strings being born

My colors were Vasari Raw Sienna, Naples Yellow Extra, Silver Point, and Cerulean Blue, plus some Blue Ridge Turkey Umber for the darks and some titanium white. The first three values of light blue I mixed were 9, 8, and 7, out of 10 on my value card. I tried to follow the very subtle shifts in value on the light side of the skull, which were totally obliterated by the camera shot above. And the one below.

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bad photo, sorry

So I know the photo is washed out here, but you can still see some of the value shifts if you squint. And you can see the second thing I learned today – the light blue values that looked pretty dark on my palette look absolutely white on my dark blue toned board. I’m certain the toned board would have caused me to push the value range too far on the light side of the skull if I hadn’t measured.

This stuff fascinates me! I bet that when I’m painting on a white surface, I do the same thing with darks – lose the subtlety of the value range because of the contrast with the ground. No wonder classical painters and the old masters toned their boards and did ebauche and all that fancy stuff. I had read about all that stuff but learning it the hard way really makes it stick. It also makes me excited to try it again next time.

p.s. this is one of those studies I was talking about – practice still life, plus skulls, will feature in a future larger scale painting. I promise.

 

Sorta Still Life

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Apple by Meg Lyman

6×6″ oil on board

Varnished on top; unvarnished on bottom

SOLD

I’ve always simply imagined lighting for my cephalopod paintings – since I don’t have an actual octopus to paint and I’m idealizing them anyway, it seemed the best course. I have a good general idea of light and shade principles from life drawing – good enough to get away with anyway. But when I got it into my head to paint an apple octopus (like you do), I figured I should give the still life test a try.

Painting the apple still life was hard enough, but then incorporating imaginary bumps and nooks made this extra challenging. The apple part looks serviceable, but without an actual applepus to paint, it’s hard to get the lighting down. Maybe next time I will sculpt eye nubs out of play-doh or spitballs or whatever and stick them on the apple. Either way, I am reasonably happy with the result and I learned a lot from it. That means the painting was successful, right? Right.

I also did some interesting color mixing for this one. I made up “color strings” – a James Gurney term meaning different values of the colors I planned to use. I need to work on the whole “changing value without changing chroma and hue” thing, but that’s another post.

apple_strings

My tube colors for this were, left to right, Quinacridone Red (M. Graham), Golden Barok Red (Old Holland), Cad Yellow Golden (Michael Harding), and Nickel Yellow (Williamsburg). I used white and black to mix the bottom 3 piles of varying values of grey (OK OK, bluish grey), then used those plus titanium white to darken or lighten the tube colors. The hue shift with Cad Yellow and black is very green, and fun to play with. The Quin Red strayed into blue territory and I didn’t use much of its mixes. I have so much to learn! I feel like I’m at a stage in my learning where I’m going way faster than I realized. That is good but kinda overwhelming.

Aside: the board I started with was some amalgam of leftover colors that I slathered on with a palette knife months ago. I have no idea what they were, but I chose my apple colors so they’d work well with it. Gives a nice texture, too, no?

A final note: see how sunken in oils can get when they dry to the touch? Especially the darks. Varnishing makes them look all rich and shiny again. Magic!

Illustration Board’s Limitations

One time I was ordering illustration board online and forgot which brand I liked. I bought some thick, many-ply Crescent, the one-sided kind. I promptly got distracted and forgot about it.

I found it recently and thought, “quit being wasteful with your business resources,” and cut some up into standard sized bits. It had warped badly in the intervening years, and it submitted to my paper cutter only with a lot of muscle. (Note to self: sharpen paper cutter.) I set out to paint a cephalopod with a background, trying to actually Do A Background, Damnit like my to-do list says. I toned the inked drawing with watery gouache, tentatively laying in values. I’ve done this before, and it usually involves quite a bit of water. The Crescent wasn’t having any of that.

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That picture was taken while it was still damp, and I had already tried to smooth out the bubbles by gently pushing them flat. The wrinkles almost made me give up altogether, nevermind the fraying ply edges and the warping. I had to pull up the top ply and re-lay it, and the adhesive between plies is obviously weak, but nonetheless yucky.

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But… I persevered, thinking, how am I going to learn if I don’t try to salvage this? Also I was thinking, what am I going to do with half a dozen sheets of worthless illustration board? For this painting style anyway. And after a few more layers of water and paint – although none so watery as the first layer – it actually smoothed out and looked OK. You can still see the wrinkle if you look hard enough, but I think it gives it character. And I had to bend the board pretty strenuously to flatten out the colossal warp it developed.

Lesson learned – do not use a lot of watery paint on Crescent illustration board. Maybe my beloved Strathmore can take it better… but that’s another post for another time.

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Totoro by Meg Lyman

6×12″ gouache and ink on illustration board

SOLD

Kitties

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Sprocket

5×7″ oil on board

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Zev

4×4″ oil on board

Cat practice! I’m still fumbling about for my personal “style” with oils, and I’m trying to utilize techniques from other artists that I admire. These two are inspired partially by my class with Qiang Huang, particularly his emphasis on edges and brushwork, and by Karen Mathison Schmidt’s fantastic pet portraiture, particularly her wonderful use of color. I love emulating the styles of other artists- it very clearly highlights

1. how difficult it is, this thing they do and

2. the things I love and the things I don’t love about painting in that style.

Sure, it looks fantastic when they do it, but I am not (obviously) practiced at it, and also maybe it’s not for me. It’s so much fun to try new things and learn how to make your art your own.

Blue on White

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Stitch by Meg Lyman

Postcard size, gouache and ink

SOLD

Any other gouache gurus out there have a tough time getting the lighter blues to play nice with white paper? They do fine for me on toned paper, and the darker blues (ultramarine, prussian) do fine on white paper. But the lighter blues (cerulean, cobalt, and turquoise somewhat) just don’t want to smooth out. They tend to look blotchy, and get looking kinda chalky when layered. I’ve tried several brands of each and it’s repeatable across brands. Anyone?

I feel fairly good about this one, but I got the effect after much fiddling. I ended up laying it down out of the tube, evenly over the entire blue area. Then I scrubbed most of it off with a paper towel… and repeated the process over and over again. The paper took a beating well, so I got lucky. I guess that’s the way a lot of paintings work, isn’t it?

Squees and a New Horizon

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Squees by Meg Lyman

16×20″ gouache on Aquabord

For sale at GenCon

I’ve been wanting for a while to change how I paint, both in subject and technique. I feel stagnated and that my abilities are not being challenged. I have a lot of ideas for subject matter, and although doing fewer cephalopods will certainly disappoint some fans, I truly need to expand.

Don’t worry, there will still be a calendar.

I took Qiang Huang’s class because his technique fascinates me. I have such a long way to go, but I want to practice and learn more about using deliberate brushstrokes and alla prima. I believe I can do this if I practice enough, and it will work well with the subject matter I have in mind. I decided to do a first practice with this more deliberate technique using a more familiar subject matter and a more familiar (but more challenging!) medium. I’m very happy with how it turned out considering it was experimental.

Critiques welcome!

Below are some WIP shots. For those curious, I underpainted the entire board green except for the squee bodies. Then I put on thick white paint straight from the tube in vertical strokes with a 1.5″ flat brush. The rest was done with 1/2″ and 1/4″ flats. I loved using the biggest flat brush I could on each section. I also tried to do as little blending as possible, and used dry brushing on the bee fuzz with paint straight from the tube.

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WIP 1

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WIP 2