Yay, this is my fave piece of my "I, Human" collection!! I love Daft Punk, as much for their beats as for their enigmatic, machine-longing-to-be-human personas. This is a larger piece, 15x22", and really saturated and vibrant.
I've been getting a lot of questions about this technique and requests for process pics (it seems that a lot of people associate watercolors with sheer, pastel washes of tint, depicting pastoral scenes or animals). I thought I would include process pics showing what I do, with a little explanation on each of how to do it. Would that make this a mini-tute? I'm not sure, but if anyone decides to experiment, I really want to see the result!! Caution: this is a long post, LOL. OK, on with business....
OK, I always use gel watercolors in the tube. They are so much less work, because you don't have to sit there and scrub a pan of dried cakes to rehydrate them, only to come up with a pale wash and a ruined brush. With the tube paints, you can use them completely undiluted if you want, and really get that vibrancy. I also use soft, thick, squirrel hair brushes that hold a lot of water and paint, because using a lot of both is the secret to really saturated color.
Also remember that there's no such thing as a mistake! As Bob Ross says, "there's no mistakes, just happy accidents." One of the best things about water color is that it's so forgiving. Put too much or too dark a color on? Just rinse your brush, dab it on a paper towel, and use it to sop up the excess. Rinse again, and use it to spread and blend whats left. Went out of the lines or dripped in the middle of your lovely ocean vista? Here's the best part- if you take a stiff-bristled paintbrush with clean water, you can scrub at an area (dabbing with a paper towel), until you erase the offending area. If the paper pills, let it dry, and smooth it out with some fine-grit sandpaper.
One more thing for this technique- think HIGH contrasts! The darks should be super dark, the lights equally light. Think more like black and white, and less like dark grey and light grey. The contrast is what gives these paintings such an eye-catching quality- no hazy, pastel washes here! OK, now really on to business...
Mini-Tute! (Lots of hints and tips throughout)
So first, I always sketch out what I'm going to do; I never just start slapping paint down. The technique for watercolor is really different than with oil or acrylic. With them, you paint the darkest stuff first, and add the highlights last; you create the object first, then add the dimension. With watercolor, you paint the lightest parts first, then the darkest; in other words, you paint the dimension first, then create the object around it. You have to know which areas will be the lightest, because those might not have any paint at all.
I sketch very lightly (I increased the contrast here so you can see), and sometimes I do the bulk of the sketching on typing paper, then do a rubbing onto the watercolor paper, if I haven't drawn the subject before and expect to do a lot of erasing. I've also been known to do a pencil rubbing of an image from a magazine or google image search, when trying to learn how to draw certain proportions. No sense in ruining the good paper!
Since I have to decide where my highlights are first, I decided that the "sun" is shining from the upper left of the page, meaning that the lower right will be in shadow. I don't use brushstrokes, but instead use a soft squirrel hair brush that holds a lot of water, and sort of dab it all over. I purposely don't blend the colors smooth, but leave it "chunky," so that later I have definite contrasts in shade or color that I can outline.
I do a lot of layering with the watercolor, using a lot of paint and a lot of water, to get the deep, rich colors. Here I'm continuing to layer the color, being sure to keep the lightest parts in the upper left free from paint for now (or with just a very sheer layer).
Here's the fun part, adding the lights! Here's a little tip for painting light: never paint the light itself, only what's around it. Ever see Star Wars? Notice the light sabres- they're not actually red and blue, they're white! The color is just a halo around them. So when painting light, leave the actual light white, and paint a haze of color around the light, with the most color saturation concentrated right against the white. Even if it's a white light- the white halo will wash out the background, creating that glare. There, I've spilled Thomas Kinkaide's secret. Go forth and make millions.
More lights! I like how the LED strip around Tomas' (silver) ear came out (I added more contrast in later pics). All the colors on Guy's (gold) helmet are flashing lights. His is my favorite, and it's kind of funny that his helmet is so vibrant, since he's the quiet, shy, introverted one.
Now I've added the face covers. Since I wanted more of a flat finish here, I went ahead and used brushstrokes, but still left light areas in the upper left. Black takes a few layers to really look saturated, as you'll see in upcoming pics. With watercolor, you'll want to let the paint dry totally before adding another layer, or you risk your paper pilling or warping, creating potentially undesirable puddles.
I've added the leather jackets (they look grey because this is just the first layer). With clothing, I'm not usually too detailed. The subject is the face, and generally I'll just do a skeleton outline of the clothing, and the viewer's mind fills in the details. As long as you get the basic shape, you get the dimension. Another tip- I always add a hint of shoulder when I do a portrait, because otherwise it's just a weird random head floating in space. It anchors the face, and provides greater depth to a painting, since the viewer can imagine the rest of the body just out of sight.
Now I'm adding the color! Again, I use a LOT of paint and a LOT of water and a BIG soft brush, always dabbing, never stroking. Let the colors blend, blob, and flow how they want, leaving areas of light and dark, and some with no paint at all (this will give a lot of dimension). I always butt the color up to the subject, but never closer than about 1/4 inch. That little slice of white really makes the subject pop, and ensures that it doesn't all become a muddy mess. I also make the part next to the subject the darkest, so that it pops even more (you'll see in the next pic). The splatters are from blowing through a straw, or just leaning over and blowing on the page (although I've dipped my boobs in the paint a few to many times to keep doing that).
First layer of black, while it's still wet.
I've gone through and deepened the contrast on the helmets more (meaning, I've made the shadows darker), as well as in the black cloud around them. Now I've started the white outlining. You can do this with a liner brush and white paint mixed to about the consistency of ink, or do what I do, and get an ordinary white gel pen from the office store. Mine is a Pentel, but Bic sells them, too. For this, I outline around anywhere there is a sharp contrast in color or shade. I try to make each line closed, or have it end either against another line or off into the white page. It just looks odd with too many random white lines floating all over the place, but a closed line looks intentional.
Even though you can't really tell in the pic, there are color variances within the black, where the colors underneath are peeking through. Those are the areas in black that I'm outlining. I'm also outlining in the colored areas.
I suppose I should've done this with one of the darker colors, but it was getting late, lol. Here is the yellow before I had done much outlining, so you can see the variations in the color...
...and now you can see where I've outlined those variations.
Here's a closeup and full shot of the final products!! I added some little twinkles to the LED's in Guy's helmet (full disclosure- I want one of my own. I would totes go grocery shopping in that thing). To make twinkles, just do a little 4 or 5 pointed star in white over the color haze around any light.