Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas Ambush Watercolor

By Justin Gerard

"Holiday Shopping is Dangerous"

I'm working on a new watercolor painting for the Holidays and today I'll briefly be going over my process from start to finish.

To begin with, I always do a series of unintelligible thumbnails. I won't bore you with those, they would only further convince you I'm a crazy person. They are the sort of thing that a lawyer might show a jury when trying to get their client an insanity plea. 

"Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Today, the defense will prove to you beyond a shadow of doubt, that our client has completely lost his marbles. No sane person could commit to paper what you are about to see.  Observe! These markings here are what he called his 'artworks.' (The crowd gasps, the judge gavels for silence. A woman in the jury shrieks.) The defense moves that we drop ALL charges based on the grounds that my client has a super-sized case of stark-raving McMadness."

Once I have scribbled my thumbnails down and committed them to the computer, I burn them as evidence and mix the ashes into my triple espresso coffee before getting down to work.

In Photoshop take the best thumbnail and adjust it until it really captures the narrative I am after. Once this is established I do small drawings like the ones above and below to get to know the characters in my scene.  I also now go and get reference and do studies of any animals or figures in the scene. This part is laborious but I find that if I skip it the final product always suffers. Better to get your mistakes out now at the beginning than later on when you are knee deep in colors.

Once I have my characters drawn out I assemble all of them together on a rough comp.  This I print out at the final size and transfer it using a carbon transfer to a sheet of heavyweight paper.

Tight Drawing 

For this watercolor I am going back to my trusted old Strathmore 500 series 4-ply Bristol board. I begin with a light drawing in blue colored pencil and then a tighter refined drawing over that in brown. This gives some energy and variety to the lines.

 Initial Watercolor Wash

I lay in the initial washes in warm tones using yellow ochre, burnt sienna and raw umber. I work up the values with thin washes of color. Once I have established a value pattern, I go in with blues and cool tones. This registers all the colors and deepens the value further.

Final Watercolor
12" x 16"

Once I have finished laying in all of my watercolor I go through with acrylic white to add highlights and soften some of the shapes (especially in the faces).  I do this sparingly since I want to maintain the watercolor feel for this image. I also add some volume and saturation to the high-color areas using some of Holbein's Acryla-Gouache. I like this paint for bright opaque color as it is more sensetive than acrylic and interacts well with the watercolor. Also it goes on matte, which also helps it look natural with the watercolor.  While I like it for brightening colors, I do not like it for shadows as it tends to make them too flat and opaque for my tastes.  

After this dries I go over the painting again with some color pencil again to recapture any lines that were completely lost. And with that the watercolor is finished! I'm still not sure what I will be titling the piece.  "Black Friday Deals"? "The Perils of Holiday Shopping"? I'm not sure exactly what this Dwarf's story is, but I like to think it has something to do with him getting the very last Mechanical Toy Dragon in the dungeon shop.  


This watercolor and the drawings will available in our store this coming Tuesday along with some really spectacular new work from Annie Stegg Gerard which you can check out here.

Next Post: Digital Trickery! 


  1. The goblins were not happy getting a toy dragon instead of a real one.
    Looks beautiful so far, can't wait for the digital step where everything becomes solid and colorful. Top stuff!

  2. Your painting process reads like a recipe from a wizard's grimoire. I find this completely appropriate and enjoy it greatly.

  3. Haha Thanks guys! Looking forward to round 2!

  4. I am totally with you on the crazy early thumbnails that are only comprehensible to me. hee hee. loved your post.

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