My Dirty Little Secrets

Theres a lot of stuff that I tend to get excited about in regards to my materials, and for me one of the most exciting and fun things about working with ink and water based media is all the different “technical” aspects involved. Some papers are really chunky and give this great texture to everything, while some papers are incredibly smooth and with a matte ink can look like you painted on glass. Because of this, I’ve lately been really obsessed with doing testers and swatches and compositing my illustrations together into some sort of freakishly expensive frankenstein of materials. So thats my dirty little secret. I’m not precious about my originals, and I don’t really care too much about having everything in the original ink on the original sheet because I feel like I can do a whole lot better if I let the unnecessary go and focus on the little details that I think make all the difference.



“I feel a cold northern breeze play upon my cheeks, which braces my nerves and fills me with delight.” ― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (I was trying to find a good quote from Frankenstein about creating a monster, but this is just so good out of context that I’m going to leave it. )


This piece was one I did a few months ago for my senior thesis, and I really enjoyed doing it. I even bought an old ant farm, hacked it to pieces with a saw, got some custom cut plexiglass and made it a really rad frame that currently sits in a closet. What you see above though is also approximately 7 different pieces of paper. The majority of the work is something that no one will ever see. Well… unless you end up at my house and we have a few beers, in which case I’ll probably shove a painting of the dirt in your face and yell at you, “LOOK AT IT. LOOK AT MY DIRT THAT I HAVE CREATED.”



That’s totally ok with me… the fun of this piece was figuring out how to do parts that no one will ever notice or pay attention to. Hell, most of the illustrations that I do have so much prep work that goes into them that by the time I’m actually painting it, the majority of the fun is done, and the rest is more like meditation. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE inking and that whole part of the process, but for me, the greatest joy is in the prep work in figuring out how to paint a texture or surface that I have no clue how to do.



Take the dirt in the background of that piece, for example. I probably wasted 5 good sheets of expensive watercolor paper before I even did the one I ended up using. Thats another dirty secret of mine. I’m horribly inefficient with my materials, but I kind of have to be. I could do testers on shitty paper, but it won’t look the same. The first thing I did was experiment. I tried mixtures of alcohol and ink, solvents, all kinds of weird shit thats probably going to someday give me cancer, and I did it all on one sheet in a poorly ventilated room while horribly tired. Because the delirium is a huge part of the equation. I’m not going to show you every combination or tell you exactly what they are, because that’d be horribly boring, but heres two details from a few sheets.




And eventually I found out a very specific way that involved measurements, baby syringes, Ink, other chemicals, and absolutely no brush that led me to that damn painting of dirt. And no one would ever know that if I didnt just write all this stupid stuff down.


The rest of this piece is a similar story from inception to finish. I didn’t paint every single one of those ants individually because the original is only 13.5 inches square. If I didn’t value my sanity, I probably could’ve gotten my smallest brush and sat there and planned around it, but really that’s insane. Especially with inks. Yes, you can totally paint darker on top of lighter and all that jazz, but you can’t go the inverse. If i had a lighter passage above a darker passage, I have to plan that out and know where I’m going before I even dip my brush because if I fuck that up, then theres not much I can do to fix it. So for me, If i want it to be perfect, I’m going to do these parts in pieces so I have absolute control over them.




That little bastard up there is the ant you see all over the brain. I knew they’d be small, and I knew that there’d be a ton of them. I didnt need to paint it to be photorealistic, I just needed the shapes to be somewhat in the right areas and the values to be correct. Because heres another one of my dirty little secrets: When you paint something bigger and you shrink it down, your little mistakes become a lot harder to see and the overall painting looks a lot tighter than it actually is. Theres a balance to that, though… I don’t ever go above a certain “threshold”  if I’m going to be shrinking something down, because there are diminishing returns. After a certain point, it just draws attention to itself and looks out of place. So I try to balance it.


Heres a pretty good example of this.




This thing is 11 inches x 17 inches in real life. That figure is probably about half as big as i painted it.



This is the original painting of the girl. Now, I could’ve sat down and figured out how to paint her transparently and to size, but my way was much quicker and more efficient and I think it came out better honestly. So I guess thats my biggest dirty little secret. I’m a very hardworking lazy person, if that makes any sense.


All in all, I think the end result is the most important thing. Having an original is great, especially if you’d like to sell it, but to me the only time I’ll work all on one sheet is if it’s a commissioned piece and someone is paying me to do so. Otherwise, I’m going to continue to use 5 different pieces of paper to get 3 different textures and drop them together in photoshop. And honestly? A lot of people do that. I think all illustrators have their own little secrets. Some have a texture they throw over a final in photoshop, some have help with colors from their spouse or friends, some might purposefully degrade linework in photoshop. All of these things are rad ideas, and I’m totally going to steal them in the future if they can help me make the best work I can. So maybe thats the illustration industries dirty little secret too: We’re all a bunch of hardworking, lazy bastards.













Thanks for reading.

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