Category Archives: How-To


Girctopus by Meg Lyman

Gouache on ACEO


A spoof on Gir from Invader Zim. I haven’t really watched the show, but someone requested him and he’s super adorable.

I created the background effects by starting with a piece of sturdy black matboard. I cut it to ACEO size, sketched the character, and then used the black matboard as the outlines. It’s fun to paint negative space!

Gouache on Colourfix Board

Fire Spider WIP by Meg Lyman

I’ve been working on this Fire Spider piece in my brain for quite some time. I made a bunch of sketches and laid out the composition in thumbnails. I then drew it out full size:

I knew some things weren’t right, so I accepted the gracious invitation from a friend to do some critiques. Not a whole lot changed, but I think the final drawing is a huge improvement. I transfered it to a sheet of Art Spectrum Colourfix board (sand color):

I bought this board years ago, and never got around to using it. I’ve been a bit scared of it, although I’m not sure why. The surface is some sort of textured acrylic base, akin to Pastelbord but less rough and sandpapery. It can take nearly any medium, so I went with gouache.

After I transferred it, I used spray fixative because the pencil lines smear easily if not protected. I let it dry overnight, then laid out the first wash with Holbein Pure Blue (PB17) and some ox gall to give me a rough layout of the darks and lights. It turned out OK overall, but I had some areas where the paint wouldn’t stick to the surface at all, kind of like I was trying to paint on a Rain-x-ed windshield:

I can’t figure out exactly what’s wrong. I’ve had problems before with gouache sticking to acrylic primers, but not this bad. Also, the board is years old – you can see that weird lighter arc in the transfered drawing above that had developed over time. I wondered if it was the spray fixative, but the affected areas seem random (I sprayed the whole thing, although some areas were thicker than others). Maybe too much ox gall? But I mixed up the wash really well and used it fairly evenly.

I’ve had problems with oil paint sticking to spray-fixed gesso as well. I prepared this board with high-quality gesso, transfered the drawing with graphite, and spray fixed it. The first layer of paint is M Graham Quinacridone Violet (VP19) thinned with Turpenoid, and a month after painting it’s still sticky to the touch (although bone dry) and it scrapes off very easily:

(I know I should let painted boards lie, but Sprocket hairs stick to EVERYTHING)

The spray fixative is the only common element, but I’ve used it before without issues. I wonder if it’s getting old or I’m laying it on too thick. Anyone have ideas? I’m going to soldier on with this one, hoping that the first layer of gouache, plus a less “washy” second layer will work. I hope.

Oils on Gessobord

Blue Crab

Blue Crab by Meg Lyman

6×8″ oil on cradled Gessobord

$85 – e-mail to purchase or visit Etsy

I’ve painted with oils on Gessobord only a handful of times before. It seemed to work fine. This time, however, was challenging.

I slathered some thinned paint on it a couple years ago to create the basic shape, and promptly forgot about it. When I pulled it out of the closet to finish it, the thinned paint was obviously dry as a bone. I sized it with walnut oil to help the new paint stick – I’d heard that was a good tool to get new paint to stick to old paint – and laid in the background grey. I let that dry a few days and went in with the colors. I had my hand resting on the dry background paint while working, and eventually noticed this:

Great. I must have rubbed it too much or something. I’ll fix it later. Moved on to another area and found a cat hair buried in the grey paint, which is not surprising considering the fuzzy menagerie that lives here. It’s happened often before and I’ve become quite adept at pulling hairs out of wet and dry paint with a palette knife. I went to remove this one, and with one delicate touch, the knife did this:

Now, I admittedly wasn’t this rough on my previous Gessobord oil paintings, but I am becoming wary of the surface nonetheless. It could be any of the following:

1. The years-old underpainting

2. The sizing

3. The Gessobord’s surface

After stories from Larry and personal experience, I have a fear of inferior gesso, and am considering re-gessoing all the prepared panels I buy. Anyone have experience with these things?

Larry’s Painting Class, Take 2

Larry’s Warrior painted by Meg Lyman

12×18 ish oil on masonite

I attended another of Larry Elmore’s painting classes in September. We all used the same drawing and he showed us how to paint it. Mine isn’t great – there are a few things I’d like to change – but I learned a LOT. It was so fun to be with other artists, painting 10-12 hours a day, learning, and having a great time. It was great to see how much I’d improved from the first class, and how much easier I find oils now than I did then. Much less frustrating. Fun, even! I itch to do larger, grander paintings, and gouache doesn’t do well with large, expansive areas.

This class also got me thinking about my career and life. More on that later.

Thanks, Larry! Also, critiques welcome.

Fredrix Watercolor Canvas

I enjoy painting on canvas with oils. I’ve been wanting to try gouache on canvas. (I want to try gouache on everything. It washes of faces and gesso but stains clothing. Go figure.)

So I tried gouache on canvas. It failed miserably. In general, canvas is primed with acrylic-based gesso, making it ideal for oils, but gouache simply won’t stick to it. It literally washes completely off.

So you can imagine my thrill when I saw Fredrix Watercolor Canvas, which is primed with something-or-other specifically designed for water-based paints. Finally! A canvas that will take gouache!

Except, not really.

I’ve found that one of the critical differences between gouache and watercolor is the thickness of application. Watercolor can be used thickly, but for the most part, people water it down quite a bit and use washes and layers. Gouache can be used this way too, but the washes rarely turn out as smooth, and layering without lifting requires finesse. Gouache is more suited to thicker, opaque application. Unfortunately, this canvas is great for washes and horrible for thick application.

I’m not sure what it is about the absorptive qualities of the cotton canvas + special gesso combination, but washes sink in, whereas thick paint does not. It sits on top and will come off with even the small amount of moisture on your (seemingly) dry finger. I learned this after I painted the sky of The Witch and rested my hand on it to work on the trees. There were little finger whorls all over the sky and bits of white canvas showing through. It had to be repainted.

If I had taken the time to read the label on the canvas, I would have seen that one of its virtues is “superb lifting ability for easy washes and corrections.” Layering, therefore, is nearly impossible, especially with thick paint. The first thick layer is fine, but once the canvas gets wet, forget it… everything lifts right off. Reworking can only be done after everything is completely dry, and even then it’s a tricky operation. I don’t have the patience for it.

I was able to use fixative spray on it after I finished, and the canvas took it wonderfully. No changes to the finish or colors. However, even with several coats of spray, the gouache will lift off with water. At least it was safe from my fingers at that point!

It is durable and doesn’t buckle. That was nice.

So… this canvas will work with gouache, but in a limited capacity. Washes work, and if you want a messy, textured painting. I simply chose the wrong support for this detailed painting. I estimate it took me twice as long to paint than if I had used illustration board.

Today’s lesson: test your medium+support combinations on small projects before you have only a week left before the painting has to be done.

Duh, right? *sigh*

Another Step-by-Step

Another quick step-by-step demo, on a simpler piece. This technique is quick and easy and I can do it in my sleep now. When convention time rolls around and I have to do dozens of these, it comes in handy… but it gets old. Makes me want to break out the oils, or at least do a complicated gouache piece with a full background an no outlines.

Luckily I have a dozen of those complicated kinds of pieces I have to get ready for Dragon*Con, which is in a month. A MONTH. Pardon while I go panic and paint all day.


Step 1: Sketch, transfer.

Step 2: Since this is on dark-ish paper and the character is yellow, I lay down a white base layer. Without it, the yellows end up very dark and neutral. My advice when painting on dark paper: do a test sheet so you know what colors might need assistance.

Continue reading Another Step-by-Step


So it’s been a while because 1. I’m on a business trip in Colorado, 2. I just turned in my control sheet for the Dragon*Con art show and ambitiously filled it with paintings I haven’t even started, and 3. I have commissions to finish. Excuses, excuses, I know. So here’s a ridiculously detailed step-by-step view of how I do my “turn your character into a cephalopod” commissions.

Whether your character is a cat-lady, an elf warrior, or a sparkly vampire, I can transform it into a cute octopus with a hobby. The first step is to get a character reference and ask what “accessories” to include – like ears, wings, or game controllers.


Step 1: Sketchy

Continue reading Step-by-Step

Racquetball WIP

Racquetball Squid, a.k.a. Davy Jones’ Gym Locker

12×16″ gouache on Pastelbord


Last month I finished one of my more involved paintings. You know, the kind that actually has a background and tells a story… one that I planned out very carefully. I get one of these done every once in a while, between commissions and fun, quick little paintings. I try to focus on improving one specific aspect of my painting skills during each one, while hopefully maintaining (and improving) the skill I learned on the last one.

(Click the thumbnails for bigger versions.)

This is the beginning of the Racquetball Squid. The first thing I did was try to block in the background with a wash, to help establish darks and lights. And the first thing I learned is that watery paint bleeds on Pastelbord. BAD. Almost as bad as a paper towel. But that’s OK – it’s just a block-in, and I could still see my pencil lines. I used wax paper and foil to help create the textures.

After the wash dried, I completed the locker background. Texture is fun! But the best part about it was adding compositional lines. I used lines hidden in the background elements to draw the eye toward the focal points. The main focal point is the eye of the squid on the left, and the secondary focal point is the eye of the squid to the right. Can you see all the lines I pointed at that first squid’s eye?

Next I filled in the racquet. One good suggestion I got was to push the darks darker for more contrast. There’s enough to know it’s a shadow, but it isn’t as convincing as it could be. At least I was able to push the top of the racquet into the background. By the way, it’s really hard to paint sports equipment without real-life reference.

Here’s a supreme example of the wash bleeding on the Pastelbord. Yeesh.

Anyway, the next and final step was to color the squids. I believe I succeeded at my goal; the left squid’s eye is definitely the biggest focal point. Do y’all have any other suggestions?

Gouache and Masking Fluid

I’d only ever used masking fluid once before, and it didn’t go all that well. I learned a lot, though, and when I tried it again this week, it worked splendidly. I feel that this qualifies me to give you advice.

Before the advice, though, a question: How long does masking fluid stay “good?” I ask because when I bought the fluid, it was… well… fluid. It’s been almost two years since then, and I didn’t open the jar once. This week, I opened it to find a custardy paste that didn’t budge, no matter how long I held it upside down and shook. The brush went right in, and after diluting it with water, it worked OK (save for a few chunks). I threw it out after that, because life’s too short to mess with chunky art supplies. But does anyone know the shelf life on the stuff?

Gooey questions aside, the experiment went surprisingly well. I used cold-press illustration board, masked an area, waited until it was dry (still sticky to the touch, though), and painted over and around it. Incidentally, I flattened out a piece of wax paper on the painting while it dried, which is how I got all those cool textured areas.

Masked gouache

Once the paint was dry, I attempted to de-paint the masking fluid. Last time I masked something, I ended up smearing the paint that had dried on the mask all over the white area while I was removing it. This time, I tried to clean it… but the paint was stuck. So I recommend cleaning off the mask when the paint’s still wet.

I used this gummy eraser-type thing to remove the mask. It worked fabulously. I used a dragging motion in big swaths, much like you’d use a kneaded eraser on large areas of pencil. Some of the mask stuck to it (see red corner), but I can always cut that part off for next time. I don’t know what it’s called, but it’s designed specifically to remove masking fluid.

Rubber Thingy

So, masking fluid + gouache + illustration board works great. The end. Questions?

Zoo Life Drawing

Zoo sketches

Sometimes you can really get your sketch on. Other days, not so much. Warm-ups help, but even so, some days you’re just not feeling it.

Recently I’ve been frustrated with my lack of ability to imagine a certain perspective or viewpoint of something that exists only in my head. Practice makes perfect, but I’m fairly sure I’m never going to have a racquetball squid to draw from life. Still, drawing from life really helps hone your skills… and you can apply that to drawings of real or imaginary things.

So, to ease my frustration, I headed off to the zoo this morning to do more life drawing. I really didn’t have my sketch on today, but I made myself keep doing it. I didn’t improve much throughout the day, but the general practice really helps. I noticed it was easier for me to sketch today than it has been in the past. Go, me! Experience points!

The best part of being a zoo member in Atlanta is that you can get in half an hour before the general population. I was the first guest inside the zoo today and got some great one-on-one time with the animals who usually have crowds of screaming children blocking the view and idiot parents telling their children “look at the bobcat!” instead of reading the sign right in front of them that says Clouded Leopard.