Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Old West Art and A.W.O.L. #6

by Justin Gerard

This is a painting I did recently for the KrabJab Studios show opening February 8th.  

It started as an art history mash-up of Fairy art and Old Western Art. 

By Fairy Art I mean the classical Victorian paintings that involved magical little people in fantastic forest environments. By Old Western Artwork, I mean the American paintings that prominently featured cowboys and indians, Texas, cattle drives, stagecoach robberies, and any painting that involves Teddy Roosevelt. 

Why? Because they have absolutely nothing in common and it seemed like a really good challenge.

Fairies vs. Cowboys: GO!

For the Wild West aspect, I wanted to try one of those scenes that involves a cowboy on a leaping horse which has just been spooked by a rattlesnake.
Since we are working with fairies here, we fired the horse and got a seahorse instead. We also sacked the rattlesnake as well, and picked up a few Jellyfish.

Watercolor on Hot Press Paper

One interesting problem I ran into rather quickly was that, without legs, it is hard to make a horse look panicked. 

Oh well, onward! It's too late now. The deadline is nigh!

Now we've got to find a way to make this work. That is the fun of a challenge like this. The trick will be to make this legless horse's expression and his tail convey the panic that those horses in the wild west paintings would able to show through their contorting legs.  


After having found a way to make the seahorse seem panicked, I realized that I now needed to deepen the environment more. It needed more of that magic that the Victorian artists injected into their Fairy Art. 
So I seal the entire watercolor painting with spray fixative and a thin layer of matte medium. After this has cured I add a layer of oils over it.   

The oil gives a subtlety and depth to the image that I would have a hard time achieving with watercolor alone. 

Lastly, because I can't help by tinker... I did a quick digital experiment over the watercolor.
(Please! Please don't strike me! I was only tinkering! I didn't mean any harm!)

Part of my love of digitally monkeying with my work is that I can zoom in so close and do really interesting detail work.
My vision isn't quite what it used to be, but I still want to get down into the details because there are always such wonderful little stories to tell in them.

I wish I had cyborg vision like in the movies.  You know, like Iron Man can't quite see what that thing is over there.
No problem. Enhance.
And BOOM! He can see it.  That is what I want.


If you get a chance stop by and see the show at KrabJab on the 8th!


  1. I love this piece, and it's always both entertaining and fascinating to find out what goes on "behind the scenes" in the creation of your work.

  2. Very nice! How do you apply the matte medium? Does any of the watercolor reactivate or smear when you do?

    1. I only apply the matte medium after spraying the watercolor with a few heavy coats of fixative. So by the time the medium is going everything under it is well set and there won't be any smearing.
      Actually, I guess if you wanted to give the underpainting a sort of ghostly quality you might just go straight to matte medium without spray fixing though. It might give an interesting effect.

  3. Wonderful art! What medium is the second pic? Marker comp? Love it all. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ah, I should have labeled those. The second pic is actually a digital comp over my original tiny pencil thumbnail drawing. The one after that image is of the tight drawing on hot press (which I apply watercolor directly onto.)

  4. Well, now I feel a bit silly for sending an email; this answered every question I had! Really great piece, and as always it's cool to get a look inside the process. I love the concept of a western/fairie mash-up. Dissonant ideas really can lead to some of the best concepts.

    1. Hey Micah - in answer to your other question of what fixative I used - I believe it was a few layers of matte fixative.
      As for the thickness of he Matte Medium, James Gurney says you can essentially just squeegee a layer of matte medium across this surface and it should suffice to keep the oil out. So I am applying a very light coat.

      And the paper was probably just some heavyweight Arches hot press. I like it, but may go back to using my old Strathmore 500 in the future.

    2. Hey Justin! So, there's a lot of media going down on that Hot Press Arches. How did you manage to keep that from buckling/cracking, etc.? Any time I apply even a thin wash to mine it buckles like crazy. Thanks!

    3. Thanks Justin! I'll definitely give that a shot. I've been doing most of my finished drawings on bristol (although not Strathmore 500, gotta look into that) lately, because of its versatility, so maybe it's time to switch over to Arches or even give Fabriano a try. Thanks again for sharing!

    4. Will,
      I taped it down pretty heavily to board, but I didn't really soak it like I should have. So this one buckled a bit more than I like and I had to retape it once. In the future, I will soak it more before stretching it and I might even sue butcher tape or something heavier than standard artists tape.

    5. Interesting. Yeah, buckling is a constant battle. Thanks for the info Justin!

  5. I love this piece! Absolutely beautiful work.

  6. Your work never seizes to amaze me. As an aspiring art student i always look at your work with this awe and want to dive in. Great piece!

  7. Will you be selling prints of this at Spectrum Live? I really hope that you will, I absolutely love this piece!

    1. Hi Ania,
      Yes! We will be selling prints of this one at Spectrum!