Here’s a video showing the creation of my Tree of Life 3′x4′ oil painting that was created for my own personal collection. It’s hard to say how long this painting actually took to complete because I started it in 2010 and finished it in 2013. I worked on it between projects and it actually sat half finished for over a year and a half during that time. Enjoy!
I recently finished this painting entitled Dragon Dive. The painting was created for my son, who has been writing a short story with these characters in it. As soon as I read the scene of the warrior fighting the dragon high in the skies, I knew I had to paint it. In this post, I’ve included plenty of progress photos and descriptions so you can see how the painting was created, but my wife and I also filmed a video during the entire creation process that you can see below. Make sure to hop on over to my YouTube channel to see more videos and please subscribe if you’d like to get my updates.
Painting Process Photos
Thumbnail sketch #1. I originally pictured the warrior straddling the dragon’s neck as he swung his axe high above his head. Since this painting was not for an actual client, I was comfortable creating very loose thumbnail drawings. If this project were for a client, my sketches would be more refined than what you see here.
Thumbnail sketch #2. Same as my first thumbnail, but a slightly different angle.
Thumbnail sketch #3. I felt having the warrior straddle the dragon made it seem as though he were riding the dragon and not struggling enough to fight it. So I decided to draw the warrior gripping one of the dragon’s horns, falling alongside him, while swinging his axe. It seemed to convey more of a struggle and placed the warrior in a more dyer situation since losing his grip on the horn meant certain death for the warrior.
Final drawing. Happy with the composition of my third thumbnail sketch, I then moved on to creating the finished drawing. The drawing is large, about 18″x24″, and drawn on Arches beige-colored drawing paper with a sienna brown Prismacolor pencil.
Photocopy. I took my drawing to a local copy shop to have them run the drawing through a large copy machine, which is mostly used for copying blueprints. The photocopy only costs about $4.
Drawing transfer. I use an Ebony Pencil to coat the back of the photocopy with lead. My painting surface is a piece of masonite that I have coated with 2-3 layers of white gesso.
Transferred drawing on masonite. Once I’ve taped my photocopy to my painting surface, I use a ball point pen to redraw over the lines of my drawing. Because I coated the back of the photocopy with pencil lead, the pressure from the pen transfers the drawing to my painting surface. This photo shows the transferred drawing on the masonite.
Brown acrylic underpainting. I use burnt sienna (brown) acrylic paint to create the underpainting. I could use oil paint for this step, but acrylic paints dry much faster and allow me to save a bit of time.
Brown acrylic underpainting. Detail photo of brown acrylic underpainting.
Sky - first oil paint layer. I used oil paints to put down one layer for the sky. Colors used were Prussian Blue, Cerulean Blue, and Titanium White. Before applying the colors, I painted on a thin layer of linseed oil so my paints would more smoothly glide across the surface. After this, the painting must dry for at least two days.
Sky - second oil paint layer. This second layer of paint is done just like the first layer. I paint on Prussian Blue and Cerulean Blue oil paint and then add Titanium White to it directly on the painting surface. The white mixes with the blues and creates a lighter blue. However, I am laying down thicker amounts of paint in this step and starting to build up the cloud formations.
Dragon - First oil paint layer. Using a mix of Burnt Sienna and Cadmium Red oil paint, I paint the first layer for the dragon. This stage is important because I’m starting to “sculpt” the different forms and muscles of the dragon with the brown oil paint. I leave it darker (more paint) in some areas and lighter (less paint) in others. The painting must dry for a day before I can begin the next layer. Note: This stage dries faster than the earlier sky layer. Why? Because the sky layers had Titanium White mixed in with the blue. The brown paint had no white mixed in with it. The two slowest drying colors, in my experience, are Titanium White and Cadmium Yellow. If you use these colors, leave yourself 2-4 days for drying time.
Dragon - First oil paint layer. Detail photo so you can see how I start to “sculpt” the muscles of the dragon.
Dragon - Second oil paint layer. After the first oil paint layer is dry, I approach the second layer of oil paints much the same way. I create a mixture of Burnt Sienna and Cadmium Red paint that is thinned out with linseed oil. However, after brushing on that thin mixture, or base, I use a thicker, more opaque mixture of Cadmium Orange, Yellow Ochre, and Titanium White to build up the forms. Since the thin base I put down is still wet, the thicker paint mixes with it, allowing me to give form to the dragon’s muscles. I then use a smaller brush, along with Cadmium Yellow and Titanium White to create highlights on the various forms.
Dragon - Second oil paint layer. Detail photo so you can see the various forms, such as muscles, start to take shape.
Dragon - Second oil paint layer. I’ve worked up the dragon’s body just like I painted the head in the previous steps.
Dragon - Third oil paint layer. After the painting has dried for a day or two, I am able to do the previous steps again. I apply a thin base color, or glaze, over the dragon and paint the forms again using thicker paint. The difference is that now I am getting more detailed in my approach. Because I have already laid down two layers of oil paint in previous steps, the paint is not gliding across the surface so easily, which is a good thing. The surface of the painting has more “tooth”, or texture, to it and I’m able to really focus on creating forms and highlights.
Dragon - Third oil paint layer. Detail photo so you can see how thick the paint has become in this third oil paint layer. Those muscles have good form now.
Warrior. The warrior is painted with all the same steps as the dragon. With each layer, I must let the paint dry for a day or two before continuing. Not having done a color study before beginning the painting, I was unsure what color the warrior’s cape should be. I painted it yellow, and then blue, before finally settling on red. This photo shows the cape when I was planning to have it be yellowish-brown. I’m glad I didn’t. Also, if you look at the warrior, you’ll see just how loose and messy the painting is. It’s at this stage that you may start to second-guess yourself and think you’ve ruined your painting. My advice is to hang in there. Let that messy layer dry, then go back and work it up again, and again, and again. With each layer of paint, the figure has more form, more detail, and better lighting. It will all come together in the end. Oil painting requires perseverance and patience above all else.
Final painting. I painted on a thin glaze of Cadmium Yellow over the sky and parts of the dragon and warrior to unify the painting and bathe everything in warm sunlight. After that, I worked up all the highlights with a mixture of Titanium White and Cadmium Yellow. Next I painted in other details such as the arc of blood from the dragon’s face to the warrior’s axe. Using Cadmium Red, I had to get the curve of the arc just right in one try because once you put Cadmium Red down on your painting, there’s not much chance of cleaning it off. It’s a very strong pigment.
Final painting - detail 1. Used a toothbrush and very thin red paint (thinned out with mineral spirits or thinner) to create the splatters of blood around the arc of blood.
Final painting - detail 2. Warrior
Final painting - detail 3. The darker shadows you see in this detail were put in with a thin glaze of Burnt Umber (brown) oil paint.
Final painting - detail 4. There is nothing fun, I repeat NOTHING FUN, about painting dragon scales. And I didn’t even paint them as detailed as I’ve seen others do. I was so glad when those scales were done.
Final painting - detail 5. I used a toothbrush and very thin red paint (thinned out with mineral spirits or thinner) to create the splatters you see over the dragon’s body.
Thanks for looking through this very long post. If you have additional questions about the process used for this painting, feel free to ask in the comments section.
Remember that Thumb Wars book I illustrated for Klutz/Scholastic? Just say yes. Well, a smaller version of the Thumb Wars activity has been included in Wendy’s Kid’s Meals throughout The United States and Canada. You can even catch a glimpse of my thumb wrestling ring artwork in the Wendy’s commercial. Many thanks to my wonderful art director, Jill Turney, for being such a joy to work with and pushing me to create fun illustrations for this wonderful little book that I can honestly say my kids and I have enjoyed very much. I’m honored the team at Klutz chose to include it in their Wendy’s promotion.
A limited edition print of the artwork I created for the Mail Me Art - Short and Sweet book and gallery show is now available online here. The page also has a link to the video of me creating the art if you haven’t seen that yet.
Here’s a video of me creating a drawing of a warrior in my Monstrosity art book for a fan. The drawing was done with an Ebony pencil, a white Prismacolor pencil, Black India Ink, a Loew-Cornell Brush and a very dirty toothbrush
A video of me creating a decorative mask painting that will itself become an envelope that is to be used for Mail Me Art, a collection of art sent through the post and displayed in a gallery show, as well as published in a book by HOW Design Books. To learn more about Mail Me Art, please visit http://www.mailmeart.com