Category Archives: WIP

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.


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.


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.


Totoro by Meg Lyman

6×12″ gouache and ink on illustration board


La Ofrenda


La Ofrenda by Meg Lyman

11×14″ gouache on paper


This one was a labor of love. It taught me artistic patience, and that I will forever need extra tubes of M. Graham’s “Gamboge” gouache because I am maybe a little obsessed with it. In honesty, I am very pleased with parts of this and very displeased with others. I suppose that’s always how it is when you’re trying new things… but I bet you can’t tell which parts are which. If not… success!

Here’s a bit of a WIP: I drew it out on 11×14″ paper, transferred it to this glorious cold press paper, Strathmore Aquarius II. So velvety. I underpainted a sort of grisaille of magenta to help me remember light sources. It helped but I didn’t stick to it religiously.


I chose a limited palette simply by picking only a few tubes of paint to use. Then, paint! Some of it is opaque and some transparent. The sugar skull was painted in opaque, and looked awful, so I scrubbed it with a paper towel and got this lovely transparent, textured finish. Also it didn’t buckle but a little bit, which was fixed by wetting the backside (once it was all done) and pressing it overnight. Paper love!


Lemon Shark


Lemon Shark by Meg Lyman

4×4″ gouache on Claybord Textured, now known as Aquabord


He’s a bit of a sourpuss.

This is, of course, a continuation of the shark pun obligation I created for myself when I painted Blue Shark. Below are a few WIP shots showing how I used masking fluid for this one. It’s very helpful for flowing underwater backgrounds, although the stuff I use is blue and that makes it harder to see underwater. So to speak.


Painted-over masking fluid (applied along the edge of the shark outline)


Masking removed, imperfectly so. Workable nonetheless.

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.

The Witch, Part 2

The drawing: finished! The transfer to canvas: complete! The underpainting: glowy!


I transferred the drawing to Fredrix Watercolor Canvas just like I transfer things to paper. This is my first time using watercolor canvas, and I will have a thorough review of it later. *grumble*

I didn’t use fixative or masking because I didn’t know how the canvas would handle it. I did a few tests on the back to see how layering would work, but that’s about all I did in preparation. Despite the limited success with layering, I decided to do an underpainting. That would ensure that any “white” space would have some color.


I used this eerie green because I intend to use it as one of my light sources. Guess which!

Also: Part 1

The Witch

I have a list of intricate, storytelling-type paintings that I want to do. It is long. It is ambitious. I haven’t done a painting like that for myself for a year, and it’s long overdue. Fortunately, I’m never short of ideas. Unfortunately, it takes something like a big convention to kick me into gear.

I got the idea for this painting 2 years ago. That seems like a long time, but I’m so busy that these complex ideas never get put to paper right away (like some of the simple ones do). This is a Good Thing. It means that if I still like the idea a month (or 2 years) later, then I know it’s really worth doing. It also gives me a lot of time to think about how to execute it. I’ve found that I really need to know a complex idea inside and out for it to be a well-executed painting. I do a lot of mental planning at odd times – while driving, while walking up the stairs at work, in the shower. When I’m not using my brain for daily cognitive challenges, it tends to drift into the art realm.

When I do one of these paintings, I try to learn and apply a new skill. The first time I tried this, I focused on the skill of storytelling: using the image to answer the questions: who, what, when, where, why, how, and why should anyone care? This led to keeping a journal for each of these complex ideas; I answer all these questions, and describe in writing how I will use art tools to execute them. This is an extremely useful tool to have! The next one, I used compositional elements to draw the eye to the focal point. It worked like magic. Every person I asked told me their eye led them right to the desired focal point. AMAZING.

This time I’m going to focus on quality of edges, on top of those other things I’ve learned. So, here are the first steps – after journaling the “story,” I decided on a 12×12″ format and started doodling thumbnails. I played with focal point placement, perspective, and light/dark contrast. These are really rough but they help a bunch in the process.


See all the little notes I scribble to myself? They’re ALL OVER EVERYTHING in the planning stages. They help.

Another advantage to having an idea simmer for a long time is doodles. Every once in a while I’d doodle the main character or the scene. When the time comes to do the final drawing, I have several sketches to choose from as a starting point. This was my favorite doodle; the perspective, lighting, and anatomy are all going to be different in the final. But it was one small step along the way that ended up being very helpful in the end.


Yes, that’s a toad skeleton at the bottom. I go all the way.

I am nearly done with the final drawing. Will keep you posted as things progress!

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