Raising the Roof
The thought was thunk, the plans were drawn, the stage was set and the
cast was assembled. But when, you ask, will any work actually
And so, at long last, we get to the part where I actually show some
Introduction to the process
I like to work from the background to the foreground. This has some
disadvantages. The biggest one, in my opinion, being that you have to
draw around all of the objects in the foreground. This can lead to
problems later and interrupts the flow of shadows, textures, etc when
you hit something thin crossing the background.
On the other hand, it lets me lay down the approximate
values so that I can get the objects in the foreground right the first
time. And more importantly for me, it saves the "fun" stuff for later.
If I do the background first, I can have fun with it while still looking
forward to the creatures in the foreground. If, on the other hand, I color
the creatures first, I lose interest in the background before I start it.
Basically, it's a big psychological game, but recognizing it doesn't stop it
from happening. The simple fact is that if I color the background first, I
really enjoy it and don't rush it. The final word on order is that you have
to work on your piece in the order that feels right for you.
That said, it made sense to me to begin with the ceiling.
I ended up using five different colors in the ceiling. "Ended up," is
perhaps misleading because I'm not actually done with the ceiling yet.
It's good enough for now and I won't go back to it until I've finished the
rest of the piece. Only then can I adjust the fine details of shadows
The five colors, in simple chart format:
In prismacolors from left to right: Indigo Blue, Tuscan Red, Dark
Umber, Bronze (not metallic), and Yellow Ochre. (People familiar with standard
oil or acrylic paints will know the first three as being fairly
analogous to Prussian Blue, Alizarine Crimson and Burnt Umber)
A Five-Step Program
And at long last, the ceiling is done! (Well, okay, not really...)
- I first laid down a layer of indigo blue.
(Note: We're looking approximately at the region
labeled 5 in Issue #3.)
I used this step to figure out the details of the wood. I played around to
create the basic grain and cracks. Then I went back and filled
in the area between the major grain lines with "minor grain lines" that
really only amount to lighter haphazard lines following the flow set down
by the previous pass. Below is a close-up of this step in
- I had learned from oil painting that
Prussian blue (indigo blue), alizarine crimson (tuscan red) and either
pthalo green or burnt umber work really well together to make a close
approximation of black. A "near-black" which is
much richer than the flat, dead black obtained straight from a black pencil.
So my next step was to go over the indigo blue with a layer of tuscan
I went over the dark areas precisely, but only loosely went over the filler
regions. This is basically because the smaller lines become the grain as
more layers are put down, being imprecise actually helps create a more
natural, semi-chaotic texture. As you can see in the detail below, the
darks are still not black and the overall color is purple.
- As mentioned above, the ceiling still needs either a
pthalo green or a dark umber layer. Because the ceiling is wood, brown
seemed more appropriate. I went over the deep cracks once again, this
time with dark umber, applying more pressure to intensify the darks.
I also used the brown as a darker filler, genuinely coloring in the white
areas. As you can see in the close-up below, this layer
resulted in a deep, rich black in the cracks, as well as an overall brown
base layer. The actual color of the wood is now starting to develop.
It's important to note, however, that there is still plenty of white
paper showing through.
- While the ceiling is looking more like wood, it's
still very flat and monochromatic. At this point, I took out some scratch
paper and tried laying different colors over the dark umber. After a few
experiments, I found that I liked how bronze and yellow ochre looked.
The next layer started with heavy bronze at the edges and a bronze-ochre
mix in the middle. The result is a subtly warmer, lighter feel in the center
of the ceiling, as you can see in the pic below.
(Note the color "bronze" in this case does not refer to a metallic
colored pencil (see the color chart above), but
rather a greenish-brown hue.)
In all the layers I kept my pencil moving in the direction of the
wood grain. But starting with dark umber, I no longer worried about
"drawing grain." The earlier, loose lines with indigo blue and tuscan
red took care of that. The effect is only strengthened by consistent
stroke direction throughout each step, including this one.
It's also important to note that this layer is a burnishing
layer. That means that I used a bit more pressure this time to really
color in the white specks and create a smooth surface.
- Finally, I went back with another layer of indigo
blue (already present in the picture above). This pass served two
purposes. First, it re-emphasized the major cracks. Second,
it darkened the left and right sides of the ceiling, giving the
impression of shadows.
If At First You Don't Succeed...
... and to be blunt, you won't succeed at first. To put it
another way, you don't know how dark, light, yellow, or whatever, the
ceiling needs to be in order to blend with the rest of the picture.
Are the edges dark enough? Are the cracks too distinct? Even if you've
done a full-blown grayscale layout of the patterns of dark and light, the
white of the page around the ceiling will trick your eye
into seeing a dark ceiling. So at this point, you simply have to accept
that it's good enough for now. When the rest of the room is done, spots
will need to be revisited, darkening portions, adding hints of blue
here and yellow there, until it all fits. I already suspect that the ceiling
needs to be darker. But how much darker can only be decided
after I've filled in most of the rest of the piece.