Saturday, January 24, 2015

Taking a big bite - part 1

I think there is great value in taking on projects that are ambitious.  You don't have to look beyond Muddy Colors to see some great examples.  Donato's incredible large scale Tolkien paintings, Justin Gerard's massive battle scenes filled with hundreds of characters, Arnie and Cathy Fenner starting Spectrum (remember to enter!) and building it into the institution it is today and many other works and projects come to mind.  Dan Dos Santos is working on a killer large painting right now as well, I can't wait to see it when it is done!

It is inspiring to see people reach high and then keep climbing.  I have found that I go through phases where I take on fairly safe work and then I build up a little ambition and bite off something a little harder to chew.  When I do that, I really grow.  Those pieces mark periods of greater change and progress... and stress.  The stress goes away though and the progress stays with you!  I highly recommend it.

I recently started a large painting (large for me).  It is 60"x60" and has 30 figures in it, just under life sized.  It is going to be similar in presentation to Norman Rockwell's painting The Golden Rule.

My wife has been helping me with this project by finding models and costumes of kids from many different countries and ethnicities.  I have had a photoshoots in two different states, coordinating with models, wrangling costumes and working out the composition as I go.

I have been doing studies of each of the faces as well as a full sized drawing.  Here are some of the studies done so far along with :

Lola, 11"x14"

And a quick time lapse of the study:

Silje, 8"x10"


Isla, 8"x10"


Starting the painting.  Canvas is toned, drawing is transferred, first pass on face begun.

Below is the underpainting pass for one of the faces.  I will do a second pass to refine the painting, add more texture, color and detail.

A few more faces with the underpainting complete.  The face on the right has a quick flat wash that I will paint into to finish the underpainting.  I can do the underpainting for two faces a day and will spend another day to do the refining pass.

That is it so far.  I will update more in the future.  I have learned a lot on this piece so far and I am just getting started!

Now my question for you.  Do you have any projects that have been too big or overwhelming at first, but have been instrumental in your growth?  Share links and experiences in the comments!


Howard Lyon


  1. Wonderful post Howard and just the inspiration that I've needed!
    My challenge/project this year might not seem all that big to most, but for me it was definitely overwhelming at first:
    One small 5x7 oil painting a week or gouache/oil study for Watts online
    And one large(16x20 or in that Ballpark) illustration a month.
    I've just barely finished my first year of Watts Online and it was fairly drawing intensive and loads of fun...but I've been itching to paint! I've only done a small handful of monochromatic gouache paintings and I've only been painting in oils for about two this challenge is about learning some new techniques, learning how to tell stories with my art, learning what I want to paint--what my vision is, and learning my own process. I also figured it'd be a steady way to build up my portfolio from scratch and have a few submissions for Spectrum next year...

    And I failed at meeting the deadline in the first week because I was too focused on the large illustration instead of starting my weekly painting. As I learn new to me techniques, it seems like each part of the process takes forever. But I'm starting to find a schedule for keeping small paintings and my larger work on a productive rotation that ensure the first gets done and the later progresses. Already I've learned a lesson from making a huge mistake on a tiny painting that would have taken me MUCH longer to learn on my larger piece...I added too much strong solvent(spike of lavender oil) to a glaze and it lifted/dissolved patches of color from the face of the dragon I was painting. Thankfully I was able to fix it with a few more opaque and glazed layers!

    I'm also documenting this while process on my youtube channel, Journey to the pressure is on for me to keep myself accountable when I have to answer to an audience every week. :) Its been surprisingly fun and fulfilling despite the self-induced stress and anxiety. It certainly quells any hesitation or uncertainty when it just has to get done!

    1. Rachael - That is excellent. Just think at the end of the year, you will have 64 more paintings done and a huge amount of experience and progress under your belt. I look forward to following what you do.

      And for everyone else, here is a link to Rachael's channel:

      Keep it up!

  2. Also, just wanted to say that I've loved watching your painting and studies progress through instagram. Even your studies are beautifully finished pieces on their own. Can't wait to see the final painting! :D

    1. Thanks! I am anxious to see it come together as well. :)

  3. 1. Well, this is my first visit to your blog. We are a group of volunteers and starting a new initiative in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a marvelous job for us. Thanks

  4. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and adore finding out additional on this topic. If feasible, as you acquire expertise, would you thoughts updating your blog with much more details? It is extremely useful for me.
    Jhon Paul

  5. Whew, that IS ambitious! What a cool goal, though-- and despite the rigors of having to coordinate all the model shoots and the studies, that aspect sounds kind of fun, in a way? Pulling together all those little parts and having them click into place.

    I did this ( piece for myself last summer, which was ambitious for me, and it took pushing through numerous 'I don't know what I'm doing with this part' moments at almost every step of the way... but I certainly learned more for having done so! And as a result, a lot of the value I got out of this piece was later, when I was able to get critique on it at Illuxcon-- and that really helped me to figure out what I need to work on next.

    1. Sasha - great job! I love the little details, like the guy about the pry the eyeball out. I have always like fantasy paintings that depict what might be mundane, or everyday life in that fantasy world. It gives it more depth. I had fun with a couple dragon paintings, showing one getting sip out of a river and another chasing down a deer. Dragons can't always feast on maidens and knights in armor!

  6. Great post Howard. Thanks for the inspiration and knowledge you put on here.

    This was a big push for me just to do two figures:!/zoom/mainPage/image_1a4t

    1. Adar - Thanks for sharing. There is a lot going on in that painting. Great details. Going from one figure to two in a painting is a big step and I like how you didn't skimp on the background either! Keep pushing!


Contact Form


Email *

Message *

Whatsapp Button works on Mobile Device only

Start typing and press Enter to search