The fairy tale world is one of extremes. Sure you’ve got cute princesses and benevolent fairy Godmothers, but parents also abandon kids in the forest, who become imprisoned by a killer who intends to cook and eat them! The fairy tale world is one of magic and hyper-reality, and that’s how I sought to represent it in my painting, The Frog King!
Style and Approach
When I approached the Frog King image, I wanted my picture to look like a painting, and to do that I approach the final image in the same way I approach an acrylic or oil painting. I decide how I’m going to paint each area, mix a small palette of colors for the given area, then apply brushstrokes with as much freshness and economy as possible. Stylistically, for a piece like this I’m walking a line between the water colorist in me versus the oil or acrylic painter. The former wants to create work that is atmospheric, loose, textured and transparent, while the latter wants something solid, tangible, where it feels like you can pick up objects in the scene, and walk in the scene, yet without it being photographic.
Usually when I read a story I am instantly hit with a vision of how I want to depict it. I then need to get that image on paper quickly and clearly. I do lots and lots of tiny thumbnails. Working this small allows me to focus entirely on the big picture, without getting bogged down in details.
Next I do a few slightly larger sketches to provide a little more detail and resolve any remaining questions. I'm still not working very large (4 x 5 inches), and not looking for a lot of detail at this point, I’m just trying to establish the basic elements quickly. This is as far as I go with sketch work before starting to paint. I don’t do tight pencil drawings, because I want the brushstrokes and shapes in the final painting to be as fresh and dynamic as possible. I don't want to be simply filling in, coloring or tracing over existing line work, as this often results in the final image looking more like a colored drawing than a painting. I scanned the sketch, brought it up to the right size (2,100 x 2,700-pixels or seven by nine inches at 300dpi), and made it a Multiply layer in Photoshop so all the white areas are transparent.
Planning the Palette
Under the sketch layer, I create a layer for planning the colors, which will ultimately become the final painting layer. Using the Lasso Select tool and the Fill tool in Photoshop I lay out a few shapes, and fill them with color. This forces me to think only of big, simple shapes, and flat, solid colors. To avoid unsightly haloing between the different areas of color as I adjust them I don't use any anti aliasing. I’m not going for photorealism in a picture like this. I don't want lots of deep black shadows and desaturated colors. I want bright colors, and in order to do that I need to get them under control not by simply subduing them but rather by setting up extremes and the connecting colors. The final color rough, with the pencil sketch overlaid, conveys most of the feel of the final picture, yet it takes only an hour or so to get from thumbnail to this stage.