Monday, March 30, 2015

Cobalt Studios: Summer Scene Painting #5

Cobalt Studios 

Finished Woodgrain
While we painted the weathered wood, there was a certain amount of dry time that we had to deal with.  To combat that, and to make the best use of our time, Rachel and Kimb would have us work on two projects simultaneously.  While the weathered wood was drying, we worked on our finished wood project, and vice versa.

Step #1:  Cartooning
Most great paint jobs begin as great drawings.  When we draw our projects in scene painting, we call it cartooning.  For the finished woodgrain project, our cartooning began with a pounce.  A pounce is a piece of brown kraft paper with a design perforated into it that powdered charcoal is then rubbed on.  The powdered charcoal falls into the perforations and leaves a trace on the work.  The pounce we used only dealt with the corners of the wood panels we were to paint.

Once the pounce has been applied, we used straight edges and permanent markers mounted in a bamboo to complete the drawing.  We use permanent markers so they will bleed up through the first few layers of paint to give us indication lines.  By the time we are done, the marker lines won't be visible, but they will guide us until that point.

Muslin after the pounce has been applied

Inking with a standing straight edge

The piece as inked

Step #2:  Base Coat
I probably need to mention that prior to the pounce and inking, we primed our flats with starch.  I never skip the priming step.  It's a recipe for disaster to do that.  Just recently, I was walking across the stage where I work and noticed the trap door cover after the stage floor had been painted.  I pointed out to my student, "Remember how told you I can always tell if something has been primed or not?"  Then I pointed it out to them and they got it.

Our base coat was very similar to the base coat we had for weathered wood, except it was a little more refined and we used warmer, cleaner colors.  We used orange and yellow earthy colors for our scumble.  Once again, it was like a hybrid ombre/scumble.  Long strokes lightly blended along the length of the wood pieces we were painting.

We always start in the "lowest" point, in this case where the panels were going to be.  The section in the middle where all the graining is vertical is where we started.  Then, while that paint was still wet, we painted the horizontal portions above and below.  The reason we start that way is so we don't have to be careful on the first step.  We can paint with reckless abandon because we're going to come back and clean up the edges with the paint that covers them up.

In this step, it's important to remember the horizontal trim pieces in the recessed panels.  The scumble always follows the direction of the woodgrain you are going to paint.

Unfortunately, I don't have photos of the whole process here, only the finished thing.  Just know that the middle section of vertical stripes was painted first.  Notice how the permanent marker is showing through.

Step #3:  Graining
For this step, we used our one inch Purdy to create the woodgrain.  We had a handout on different kinds of woodgrain and we had been taught about how the different types of woodgrain grow and are cut for display.  Then we had practiced on the bogus paper.  We were ready to go.

The first step was to woodgrain the recessed panels.  I like a good "cathedral" woodgrain in recessed or raised panels.  It just looks more elegant.  I made an attempt to bookmatch the panels, meaning making them a mirror image of each other.  I put a scrap of bogus paper on the top and bottom of the panel as a friskit to keep the paint from the sections I didn't want that type of woodgrain on.  I also did some individual graining with the Purdy on a couple of the other boards.

When that was done, I took a custom brush for woodgraining, a four inch chip brush that had been cut up for just this purpose and filled in the straight grain.  We used a wash of burnt umber for the woodgrain.

Bookmatched cathedral woodgraining in the panels

Custom graining brush

The graining of the whole piece.  Notice the transition from the Purdy to the custom brush on the lowest board

Step #4:  The Wash
We wanted this to look like a cherry finish on our piece of wood, so we used a burnt sienna wash over the whole thing.  The wash tends to bring everything into the same world.  It provides a lens through which the whole piece can be seen.  In the picture above, the graining and the base coat look broad and obvious.  The wash blends them.  

It is important to paint the wash in the same direction as the woodgrain.  At this point I'd like to say something about the choice of colors we used.  We used yellow and orange earth colors for the base, a greenish brown for the woodgrain and a reddish brown for the wash.  What that means is that this piece of woodgrain will respond to just about any color of light a lighting designer can throw at it.  It will look good in just about any color of light.

The wash applied

Step #5:  Shade and Shadow, Dark Toner
The most important thing to remember when doing this kind of trompe l'oeil work is light source.  Where is your light?  What direction is it coming from?  What will it strike first?  How long will the shadows be that are cast from it?  Imperative.

At this point, we had a classroom discussion where we were given sheets of paper which had a drawing of each of the different kinds of moulding we would be painting the highlights and shadows on.  We took charcoal and chalk and drew in the shadows and the highlights for each type of moulding.  Having the worksheets available was very helpful when painting our details.  We taped the paper at or near the part we were going to be painting so we'd have that ready reference.  I'm always amazed at novice painters that think they can paint from their minds without the reference.

There were four worksheets total.  One had the detail of the crown moulding.  One was the top left corner of the recessed panel.  One was the bottom right corner of the recessed panel and the last one was for the base moulding.  Once you complete the worksheets correctly, the painting becomes pretty easy.  It's much harder if you have to just think about it.

In order to replicate the roundness of some of the moulding, you have to paint the fuzzy lines that were talked about in a previous blog post.  Essentially, you paint a strip of clear water on the edge you wish to be fuzzy, then draw a brush with paint in it along the straightedge on one side and the clear water on the other.  A little bit of futzing on the water side and voila, a fuzzy line.  Fuzzy line painting at Cobalt was one of the great revelations for me.  I had painted things like that before, but this time it was institutionalized and put there for a purpose.  The teaching had been codified.

All of the shades and shadows were painted with a lining stick and a brush on bamboo.  None of this is freehand.

We painted the shades first.  Shade is the shadow that is on the object which is more like where the absence of light is.  For that we used burnt umber and ultramarine blue mixed together and thinned to a transparent wash.  

Next we painted our cast shadow.  A cast shadow is that shadow that falls away from the light from one object to another object.  Our cast shadows were ultramarine blue and velour black, mixed and thinned.  In other words Payne's Grey.  

We also added a little dark toner for areas where two pieces of wood came together in the same plane but we wanted to make a little distinction between them.  Dark toner was just our shade color thinned a bit more.  It's a very subtle thing but very beautiful.  In the finished piece you don't really see the dark toner but you feel it.

The shades painted

The worksheets

Shade, cast shadow and dark toner applied

Step #6:  Highlights and Zingers
The highlights were mixed, once again by taking the local color (one of our base colors) and adding the color of light to them.  For this we chose an amber light so our highlight was an orange/yellow.  Some of the highlights, like the shade are on rounded objects.  They needed a fuzzy line as well.  For me, I like shadows to be transparent and regular highlights to be translucent.  The zinger, which is also called the flash is painted opaquely.  It's very small and is the highlight color with white added.

The highlight was added to the edges of the recessed panel, or the trim around it and we painted a fuzzy line in the concave curve in the mouldings.  When that was dry, we added the zinger color with a straightedge and a very thin brush to give that extra bit of drama and authenticity.  I don't like a zinger to go all the way across in an unbroken line.  I like it to come and go a bit.  I don't think I was completely successful with that point on this project.

Highlights added.  Notice the translucent quality of the highlight in the moulding

And the zinger added.

Step #7:  Bounce Light and Cut Lines
Bounce light is a secondary light source.  For example, in this piece we decided that the main light source would be a window from the top left.  That light would be amberish.  Our secondary light source was from a fireplace directly in front of the panel and at ground level.  This bounce light was more orange than the highlights.  Bounce light is kind of subtle, or it should be.  Subtle is a relative term, however because if you paint it too subtly, in a larger house it might get lost.  What we think is broad from up close may read better in a thousand seat auditorium.

The last step, after the bounce light has been placed is the final cut line.  We use straight velour black for the cut line.  The cut line is a very thin line painted with a one inch Purdy, in the deepest part of the shadow, where one surface joins to another or a change in elevation.  In other words a cut line is a transitional line.

Bounce light added.  Notice the bright orange line at the top left and in the upper moulding in the recessed panels

The cut line.  I photographed this while the cut line was still wet.  Serendipitously, the location of the cut line show up in the picture pretty well.

The Finished Piece
Once our work was dry, we all put them up around the room and talked about them.  I have two pictures, one a close up of just this woodgrain and the other which shows both pieces, the weathered wood and the finished wood, together to show how it was painted.

The two pieces together

Closeup of the finished woodgrain project

This was a very rewarding project.  I think it turned out pretty well.  I am pleased with it.  Once again, you have to be able to see the end from the beginning.  I think that's one of the most important skills a scenic artist can learn.  

After twenty-five years, I finally got to study at Cobalt!  I hope to go back sometime.  Wonderful experience.

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