A basic excersise on how to play with texture
One of many aspects that determine a successful outcome of virtually any figurative artwork is the ability to depict the structural properties of a large variety of materials. Objects around us all have different textures, each of which has unique properties with regards to color, reflection, smoothness (or not) and so on. In short, objects provide us with a series of visual cues that define how a material looks like and enables us to recognize it as such.
Recognizing and depicting materials are skills that every artist should strive to master and understand. This is what this article is all about, explained in a very simple way. Your eyes, as always, are the most important instrument here, simply because if you are able to break down and understand the texture of a material, you will also be able to replicate it on canvas or paper.
The main idea is to depict old, weathered sandstone. Without resorting to any reference I will use my memory, or my mental library if you like, to imagine and improvise how such a piece of material could look like. Also I will take the occasion if you don't mind, to demonstrate a few basic masking techniques, at the same time explaining the logic behind them. For some of you this is straightforward and you've already been there and done that, but for those of you with less experience, this article might perhaps provide you with a better insight of the many possibilities that this medium has to offer.
This project is not meant to be a master-piece, but a straightforward exercise. First of all I will need a simple object that I can use to depict in stone.
Personally I find the cubes and spheres which are usually used for this kind of work to be somewhat boring and there-fore I will sketch the word "stone" on a piece of paper, in such a way that it matches the nature of the material.
An approach like this is certainly more motivating to work on, and more fun as well. There's no rule which says that exercises should be boring.
With the backing paper still in place, I will now put a piece of frisk film on top of my sketch. The translucency of the material allows the sketch to shimmer through, and all the thin, subtle lines can easily be traced without using a light tray.
Tracing is done with a 2B graphite pencil. The matte frisk film which most of us use is preferable because it is easier to draw on.
To avoid damage to the delicate surface of the frisket with the sharp point of the pencil, make sure it is degreased and don't apply too much pressure.
In this step I will position the mask onto the board, and all the areas that will receive a stone texture are carefully cut out with a sharp X-acto knife, so in this case that is simply the outline of the word "Stone".
The inner piece of foil is then carefully removed and should be placed back on the original backing paper to avoid damage, because we will need it later on when we get ready to add shadow and more detail.
I can now start playing around with paint. I use a small dish to mix a base color which is composed of one part burnt umber (Liquitex no. 128) ands 10 parts of water.
A tissue is then crumpled more or less into a ball-shape, in such a way that the surface becomes irregular. This is really easy to do, and you just need to have a good look at this picture because that says it all.
Other materials will yield different and often very interesting results, but more about that in future articles.
Next, use the tissue to soak up some paint from the dish. Be careful not to overload since this could spoil the effect you want to achieve.
Dabbing the soaked tissue onto your board will provide a texture as shown on this picture. Too much paint will "drown" the board and blurr the texture.
It is best to remove excess paint on a separate piece of board before applying it onto the area on your artwork.
This technique is really very simple, but nonetheless I would advise to become familiar with it before you use it on one of your paintings.
Here you can see the result after I increased the paint to water ratio to enhance the texture (I added more pigment to the mixture). The difference can be seen by comparing picture 5 with this one.
A tip to remember: when applying this technique near or on a frisked surface, make sure the edges of the mask are firmly rubbed down before applying any paint.
Should paint flow under the edges there is always the possibility to let it dry and use a scalpel or other tools to remove the errors, but preventing it to begin with will avoid frustration altogether.
The result is not exactly breathtaking, so I decide to add more texture. No big deal, because remember that I am playing around, improvising as I go along.
I will now mix a color with white and umber (Liquitex no. 432 and 128), which is then used to spatter an irregular pattern on top of the previous one. To accomplish this, I lower my pressure to around 0,5 bar (6-7 psi). Now we're getting somewhere...
A stone texture like this leaves room for variation (and deviation) but still it is always a good idea to go slow. Work with small steps at the time and study the result with regular intervals. Adding more paint is easy, removing it is much more difficult.
With the above steps the basic texture is done, and it's time to move on to define the shadow areas. For this I will use Paynes Grey (Liquitex no. 310). This color is particularly interesting because it is a neutral tone, carefully mixed from primary colors. Because of that, it will provide you with much cleaner shades as opposed to using black and white is a similar value, which would instead be inclined to become muddy if you apply it on top of a colored surface – not so with this gray.
The outline mask that was removed at step 3 is now carefully put back in place. After that, each section has been cut using an x-acto knife, without removing any pieces. The areas in question were already drawn with pencil at the beginning, and they simply comprise of all the lines that you can see on my sketch. After cutting the mask, I will use a logical sequence (dictated by common sense) and sculpt my painting by removing one or more pieces of frisk at the time, shading the areas as I go along.
To visualize this process so you can follow exactly what is going on, I will also, from here on, add a small schematic drawing to each picture. The black sections, as depicted on drawings 8a to 13a, clarify which pieces of frisk are removed in the step that is being discussed. Here we go…
Here is the first stage. The darker areas clearly show which piece of frisk has been removed and sprayed in.
The curvature and shadows that will create the illusion of dimension are defined with a highly thinned mixture of Paynes Grey. These sections will also become the darkest, which is part of the reason why I do them first.
Confusing you say? Don't worry, it will all get clear later on. Also, check out the edges of the frisk. I used a pencil eraser to remove overspray - this allows me to get a better impression of the result.
Interwoven within this article are some basic masking tactics:
The letter E sits behind the N, so I will first remove the mask that covers the lower area (to keep up, check out the small pictures below as well).
While dealing with the sides of the letter S, previous shadow areas are sprayed over and will consequently become slightly darker again. It is important to mention that the pieces of frisk which are removed in previous steps will not be replaced.
Yet another step along the road. Surely you must have noticed by now, that I am mainly working on the lower areas of the letters and this has a reason. Each time a piece of frisk is removed, I will - just as I did before, slightly overspray the other uncovered areas nearby as well.
The amount of water that is added to my shading mixture makes the otherwise opaque paint translucent. This is exactly what I want because, although I want some areas to become quite dark, I don't want to lose any of the texture in there.
We can round off this sequence by defining the side on the N.
I have now reached a stage where all pieces of frisk have been removed one by one, following a sequence of dark to light. The faces of the letters are still covered with frisk and I will now turn my attention to these areas, because I want to add more depth and variation.
Also here, the approach that will be used dictates a certain logic, which is tough to explain in writing, but easy to show.
Photo 12 and 13:
The faces of the letters will be approached in a very similar way, so again I will remove my masks in a sequence from back to front. This enables me to deal with shadows and overall shape of each section at the same time. I will use a strongly diluted umber (Liquitex no. 620) to enhance the impression that the letter is positioned behind the O.
I will then proceed with a small but important detail: The area where the N overlaps the E needs a small shadow. An acetate mask cut to shape, and Paynes Grey, is used to define that shadow. The reason why I use acetate for this kind of work is because it provides a softer edge than frisk.
On your left, picture 12 shows a stage with the remaining frisk on the O and the N removed.
In turn, picture 13 shows the result after these letters have undergone a similar treatment as well. Also here, the shadow that is cast by the O onto the N is defined with an acetate mask.
n case you wonder, yes the letter O on picture 13 looks somewhat strange, but that's because it is the last face of the letters that is still covered with frisk.
Here you can see the painting after that last piece of Frisk, which is mentioned in the previous step, has been removed.
It finally starts to look like this will become a convincing stone texture, but there is still a lot of work to be done.
The shadow areas provide a good sense of depth and dimension, but overall it still looks too slick for my taste so let's do something about that. It might be just an exercise, but that doesn't mean it has to be boring, right?
Before I continue with the letters, I will first deal with the background.
There is nothing much to say about it except for the fact that it's main purpose is to enhance the letters. The famous KIS rule (Keep It Simple) is the secret here.
I will first position a piece of frisk over the word and cut the outline with an X-acto knife. The airbrush work that follows is very simple, but just to be on the safe side let me show you what I have done. A basecoat of Naptholred (Liquitex no. 292) is applied first.
By the way… to avoid any confusion, on this project I decided not to work with buffered colors or similar techniques.
Napthol red as you can see, is a rather cold hue. On top of the Napthol base, I will use Paynes Grey and the airbrush to gradually darken the corners. I will then, again, use red on top of the gray to blend in the various shades and the result is what you see on this picture.
This little red/gray/red trick will avoid the darker reds from becoming muddy.
This picture clearly shows that I regularly remove overspray from the edges of the mask that covers the word "stone".
I do this carefully with a pencil eraser. The reason why I bother is because it enables me to see and adjust if needed, the contrast and color relationship between the background letters, without having to remove the frisk every five minutes.
You will find more information on this in the tips and tricks section soon. Next, I will finish this stage by adding some white near the area between the letters.
Surely you can see the color shift that has occurred while adding white on top of the reds.
I knew this was going to happen though, and now you also know why I chose such a cool red to begin with: the entire background is now warmed up by overspraying it, not too heavily, with a very thin and strongly diluted coat of Bronze yellow (Liquitex no. 530).
This will not only warm up the reds the way I like them, but at the same time this will also take care of the color shift. A final touch still needs to be added with white, near the edges of the letters.
The overall contrast it still somewhat low though, but we"ll take care of that later.
The stone texture is still not interesting enough, and for a change I will use a brush and tube paint from Liquitex to add more texture and detail.
Regular paint as it comes in tubes is less pigmented than airbrush paints which can be an advantage. In this case, brush strokes tend to be less defined which helps to blend them in naturally with the airbrushwork. For now I will work only on the letters N and E.
If you take a closer look at this picture, you will notice that some areas are slightly darker than others. I will use these random patterns to add more relief to the stone.
Here is how this works: Using a brush and strongly diluted Burnt Umber I will subtly enhance (darken) some spots.
Acrylic paint is very flexible to use and if you thin it to a high degree (in this case about 1 part of paint to 20 parts of water) it will react like watercolor in such a way that you can build up pigment very slow and precise.
Whenever you use this technique be patient and make sure to leave enough drying time between layers.
To close down the case, I will also add a few cracks and round off some of the edges. This will be done in two steps:
As you can see here, I will first use a mixture of Burnt sienna and Paynes Grey to add some cracks in a random pattern. The same mixture is also used to add minor contrast adjustments on the edges of the letters to separate them from the background.
Just the same as with the airbrush, you can pull out detail with a brush by adding several thin layers, which is precisely the approach that I am using here.
All these details like little pits and cracks will now be finished by adding some dimension to them.
The key is knowing when to stop and not to exaggerate, so work slowly and exercise restraint.
I will use a mixture of bronze yellow and white to add a light edge to most of the detail that I have added before. As you can see, this makes all the difference. Just the same as with it's darker opponent, I will use this color to add more contrast to some of the edges as well.
I am almost done here, but first I will add a minor correction to the background. The lightest area's, close to the letters, still need a little bit more contrast, so once more I grab the airbrush and white, but only apply this to enhance the contrast very close to the letters.
At this point I don't want another color shift and therefore I make sure to stay away from the warm tones. The only thing I will do is lighten up the white that is already present. If you compare this picture with photo 18, it is clear how much difference a small amount of brushwork can give.
All done! Here we are, the result of a small jam session with paint, improvising as I go along.
As mentioned before this is not a work of art, but nobody says it should be. Surely it is fun to try this out, especially for those who are less experienced.
A larger version of this finished painting can be seen by clicking on this link .
If you would like to have a high-resolution line drawing at true size (my sketch), ready to print and trace on frisk film, click here and save this to your desktop. Have fun with your own explorations of color and texture!