The Cover Painting: Preparing to PaintAs I explained in Part 1 of this series, due to time constraints and other considerations, I decided I would draw and paint the cover illustration in separate layers, scan in the pieces, and use Photoshop to complete the image. With the drawing and color comps finished, next I needed to decide which creatures to group together for each painting piece. Those that were overlapping each other made the most sense to paint together.
Then, I printed the sand dragon, Marmoken warrior, sphinx and chimera on one piece of watercolor paper, and the Minotaur, crowned ibak and hydra on another.
The remaining creatures (the glass dragon, Paki, pancake glider, hook-legged bodeo, and lantern bat) would all be painted separately.
The following is an excerpt about preparing watercolor paper from my Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures manuscript that didn't make it into the book:
"When using gouache, watercolor paper is a great surface. Depending on your preference, you can use a cold press paper, which has more texture and is able to hold large amounts of water for very wet washes, or hot press paper which has a smooth finish but can not hold heavy washes as easily. This demo was created on 140 lb. Arches cold press watercolor paper.
If you have access to a scanner to scan your drawings and a printer that can handle watercolor paper, the easiest way to transfer your finished drawing down to the paper is by simply printing it! Consult your printer's settings to see what size, shape and thickness of paper your printer can accept. Another option is to take your drawing files to a local print shop to see if they can print it on watercolor paper for you. You can also transfer your drawing the old fashioned way, using a light box to trace your finished image onto your watercolor paper. If you're feeling confident, you can also start a fresh drawing directly on the paper you plan to paint on. In that case, no transferring is necessary!
Once your drawing is transferred down to your paper, it's time to secure the paper to a rigid surface for painting. Watercolor paper tends to buckle when a lot of water is used, especially at the wash stage. If you don't want to deal with annoying ripples and wrinkles in your paper, stretching the paper is the answer.
1. Prepare a rigid surface, preferably any type of board that can handle staples. If you can find a wood soft enough, you can use a light duty staple gun to staple your paper down. If you prefer not to staple your paper, you can also use brown gum art tape, which sticks the painting to the surface when wet. You must leave space on the sides of your painting when you use this tape, however. Because it sticks permanently to the paper, it must be cut off of the painting when you're finished.
2. Fill a utility sink, large basin, or even bathtub with water a few inches deep. Immerse your watercolor paper in the water for 2 or 3 minutes. When you remove the paper, hold it up and allow the water to drain off the surface. The paper should be thoroughly saturated after having soaked up water.
3. Spread the paper out onto your board and staple all around the edges, keeping the staples a few inches apart. Make sure the staples are close to edges of the paper, not in the actual image area of your illustration. You don't want holes in your final picture!
4. Tape off the edges of your painting with artist's tape, up to the borders you wish to define. This will give your painting a crisp edge and will avoid water spillage over the sides of your paper, preventing a big mess.
After your paper has been stapled down to your board and is completely dry and flat, it's time to start painting!"
Want to see this process step by step?
Then watch this excellent demo of the paper stretching process made by Terese Nielsen: