Notes on “Butterfly Soul” — the other half of the prior painting.

I finished Side 2 of my Exquisite Corpse project earlier this week, but was too worn out to post about it.  Plus, I’ve learned that people seem to like a balance of images and content, and quality in both, i.e., not-spam.  Quality over quantity, yes?  So I decided to hold off on posting until I could deliver that.  🙂

Side 2 of my skeleton section, done.
Side 2 of my skeleton section, done.

I kind of feel a little weird in that I wasn’t the only one in my class to have made a green skull.  In addition, the main critique happened before Spring Break, and I didn’t check to see if my work was too similar to anyone else’s before charging ahead with it.  Contentwise, we’re very different, and techniquewise, we’re also very different.  I just ended up going with green and yellow because 1) I’d just bought Emerald Green and Cadmium Yellow Light Hue (neither of which is required for my class), and was dying to test them out, and 2) I realized they would make a very good contrast with an Ultramarine to Magenta range for the background.

I was surprised.  People really loved this composition, seeing it from the back through my easel.  It does have a message behind it, which is something that I feel new to portraying in Fine Art format.  One of the friends I’m in class with told me that it seems painting suits me…a really nice compliment, especially considering that I’m taking my first-ever painting class, this semester.

This piece was really fun to make.  I didn’t know quite where I was going with it, but I stuck mostly with a cool color range (even the yellow and green are mostly cool-leaning tones), and added yellow on the highlights to make them pop forward.

Actually, watching this grow was super fun!  I used some Chrome Oxide Green to dull down the color, and a tiny bit of Phthalo Green.  I got Emerald Green because I realized that the Chrome Oxide I had was desaturated/greyish, and that the Phthalocyanine Green was looking neon and nearly turquoise.  I wanted a bright, more yellow-leaning green.  To keep the yellow from dimming the green, I used a cool leaning yellow (one which leans blue-violet), which to my surprise, I found under the name of “Cadmium Yellow Light Hue.”  Usually with the Cadmium colors, I expect them to be warm-leaning (towards red-orange), but this one actually wasn’t a cadmium pigment anyway, being a “Hue” formulation.  I basically went by the color I saw in the tube, and not by the name.

Anyway — mixing a bright yellow-green is possible by mixing a green which leans yellow in its overtone, and a yellow which leans blue.  This way, the overtones do not absorb the green light that bounces off of the paint.  If I’d mixed Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue (which leans orange) and Phthalo Green (which leans blue), the blue and orange would have combined to create a chromatic grey overtone — and the green would be muddied by that grey.  Sometimes this is wanted, but I was not advanced enough to feel confident in tackling that.

I totally didn’t even put out a full palette while I was working on this, either, which is what my teacher wants us to do.  The skeleton is shades of green and yellow, and the background runs from Ultramarine to two different purples, to Magenta, all mixed together except at the bottom where it’s pure Magenta.  If I’d been up for more complex color mixing, I would have put out a full palette, but I was intimidated enough as it was…

The butterfly there — I had to add in multiple layers of white to be able to get an opaque enough ground for the yellow to stand out and not show obvious brushstrokes, even though the Cadmium Yellow Light Hue was supposedly opaque.  It wouldn’t have been necessary if I’d painted around the butterfly form when laying in the background in the first place, but I was having a hard time really even considering that when I was doing so.

The skeleton itself, though — the ground for that is largely bare gesso.  That explains how I got such luminescence out of the yellows and greens — the gesso is being reflective.  I did first cover up some spots with white acrylic because of the dirty look to them — this was on plywood with an unsanded surface, covered in a gesso with a good tooth — so the charcoal wasn’t coming out very easily.  I could have tried harder by scrubbing with a wet rag or sponge or something (sponge, I might try, next time — I didn’t think of it, then), but I didn’t want to deal with the fibers that would be left behind, or eraser fragments.

One thing I learned from the other side of this (the painting is double-sided), though, is that I need to white out or wipe off unnecessary lines before painting over them with transparent pigments.  I also learned from both of these compositions that I need to pay attention to which pigments are transparent (like Ultramarine and Magenta and Dioxazine Purple) and which are opaque (like Emerald Green and Cadmium Yellow Light Hue).

I’ve found that even pigments which say they are opaque, though, like Titanium White — they don’t always even easily block out the contrast of black charcoal on white gesso.  The other side of this, shown earlier on this blog, here — had very thick and dark lines done in vine charcoal, sealed with acrylic medium.  I added coat after coat of white and Umbers (Raw and Burnt) to try and cover those lines, but eventually I gave up.  The underdrawing on the painting shown above, though; that was traced onto the plywood after I coated the back of my original with charcoal.  I pressed hard with an acrylic paintbrush handle to transfer the drawing, meaning that the lines there couldn’t have been more than 2mm wide.  In contrast, the lines on the Moe painting (the red one) were about 6mm wide.

I’m thinking now, both from this painting and the greyscale still-life I did earlier, that if I don’t want the underdrawing to show through, I shouldn’t make it bold.  In practice, what happens anyway is that the lines mostly (if not fully) disappear, in what would have been ideal for me on both of those pieces.  2mm is quite wide enough.  🙂

The dots in the butterfly’s trail — those are also dabs of Titanium White which are overlaid with yellow.  I started to add in Yellow Ochre at the bottom, but then didn’t like how it looked, and covered it up again.  The highlights on the butterfly’s wings are Yellow Ochre, too.

And the teeth were really fun.  That was white mixed with Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow Light Hue, I think.  One side of each tooth has a little more Ultramarine, and the other side has a tiny bit more yellow.  I’m glad I made the teeth lighter than the rest of the skeleton — I really like how they came out.

Almost the very last thing I did were highlights and shadows on the bone surfaces, and that was in yellow and Chrome Oxide Green and Emerald Green.  Oh, right — and deep shadows are in Ultramarine, over a dark charcoal-grey background (sealed, like the rest of it).  I tried to keep the palette somewhat limited so as not to introduce a clashing color that wasn’t integrated with the rest of the composition.

Phew!  I didn’t get around to what I really intended to write about here, but that can go in a separate post!


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Haru ("Codey") is a third-year Master's student in Library and Information Science, hoping to find a way to fuse their desire to make the world a better place and to finance their art.

One thought on “Notes on “Butterfly Soul” — the other half of the prior painting.”

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