Rocket Girl Redux: Step by Step
I started with an image that my business partner Mike Bellamy drew and that has been our shop’s longtime logo. I wanted to keep the overall composition more or less the same but make my own version. I changed up the proportions, added a tiny RR logo , and gave the girl more Alphonse Mucha styled hair. I love that art nouveau stuff.
Typically when I’m sketching I like to use Prismacolor Col-Erase pencils on heavy vellum, which can stand a fair bit of abuse from erasing and sketching. The Col-Erase pencils are pretty good at staying where they’re put and not smudging too much. Some details in here are just plain pencil too.
After I’m happy with my sketch I’ll use the pencil guidelines on the back of my paper and artist’s tape to adhere the vellum in place. Artist’s tape is great. It’s a little less sticky than masking tape and usually less acidic. To ink this project I used Faber Castell Pitt pens. They’re more of a pigment liner than a regular pen. They come in multiple colors and in a variety of sizes.
This is the final pen lined drawing plus some pencil lines to establish where the star frame goes. I didn’t want a heavy line on those. You can really see in this photo how dirty my paper was in the beginning. I think it would drive most people nuts but to me it’s kind of freeing.
I keep my palette on the left. I’m right handed. I don’t want to bump the palette or the rinse cup with my arm or drip shit across the painting dipping in and out. I only use one brush at a time. The same one does water and paint. I also don’t “spitshade.” That’s where you use your mouth to rewet your brushes. I use Dr. Ph Martins Liquid Watercolors and a heap of them say how toxic they are on the side of the bottle. Years ago I used to spitshade all the time and would go to bed with the worst heartburn and stomachache all the time. It turned out all the paint was eating away my throat lining. So now I use a damp sponge or a paper towel to wick away excess moisture from my brushes.
Using one of my medium brushes I brush water onto the area I’m trying to paint. I stay within the lines and try not to wet more of an area than I can get to before the water dries. You can always re-wet an area, but there’s a certain sweet spot as the water is drying when you touch paint to it and it just floats on the water in a semi-perfect gradient. After wetting the area I pay attention to the light from my lamp and when the section looks damp, but not shiny like there’s still water on the spot, I dry my brush off on the paper towel and dip into my lightest wash. When I place my brush to the area I’m painting I always set it down on the spot that is supposed to be the darkest and feather out in semicircles to the lightest point. Then I rinse my brush out in the water. Dry it off and work in reverse. Quickly I go back to the lightest area with my damp brush and feather the edges smooth. I continue dipping in and out of the various washes to build up my contrast. I’m didn’t do any straight black at this point. In this instance I left that until after I finished the color so it didn’t get too dark.
Here’s what it looked like after I finished with the flight cap.
After the black washes were dry I moved on to my Dr. Ph. Martin’s. This stuff comes in a wide range of colors and in transparent and concentrated varieties. The brown here is Van Dyke in transparent. The transparent colors are great because the black shows through even after I’ve overlaid the color, which adds value and gives it a much richer look.
Onto the skin tone. I used FWLiquid Acrylic’s Flesh Tint plus whatever else wa dry on my palette. Don’t ask me what it is. If you look close at the photo of my palette there’s a speck of a pink in the left hand corner that I was grateful for when doing the rouge on her cheeks. I use the liquid acrylic in areas that I wont be re-working the colors much. It’s rich, opaque and permanent. Not a paint for dilly-dallying.
At this point I did something I regretted. I used this transparent watercolor from Martin’s for the lips and diamond logo on her cap, which was fine, but using it in the big star was a bonehead move. The star was done in pencil, so there was absolutely no border between the two different colors. As soon as I moved onto the border of gold on the star the colors kept bleeding together. Live and learn. I also used that red Pitt pen to add texture to the lips and do the cap’s trim and stitches. I could have done it with a brush but I’m an illustrator not a purist. Whatever gets the job done. The red gradients were done by wetting the area next to the girl’s face except the tiny border of white I left. Then filled the corner of the star with color and blended it out to be smooth. Ish.
Next I moved on to Hydrus, which is a more pigment heavy watercolor made by Dr. Ph. Martin. It’s re-workable after it’s dried and will run if you get other colors on it. Hydrus is a lot more opaque and rich looking than watercolor which is important in the lighter tones. I used Yellow Ochre for the darkest areas of the hair. I was just trying to get some tones in there and planned on adding the structure later.
To help hide some of the leaky red I went into the gold color with a Prismacolor marker called Goldenrod and upped the value to a darker tone. I used the marker because I figured it would be less wet and give me better control.
For the goggles I watered down some Slate Blue from Martin’s and worked around the perimeter of the goggles to give them a see-through look. This is why using the Liquid Acrylic flesh tint was important. If I had done this section with watercolor it would have bled all over the skin tone and ruined it. Instead I was able to overlay the color with ease. I mixed the blue and the brown to up the contrast on her eye shadow. Then I mixed that blue with a little flesh tint to make a light blue for the pupil.
More Pitt pens for the hair. I used some sort of yellow ochre color to add in the lines for the individual hair separations.
After everything was dry I ran through the whole thing with Copic Toner grey markers. There are various tones here—light, medium and dark. I use them where I need to up the contrast. In this case, mostly the eyes and goggles and some drop shadows here and there.
Next I used Pen white ink and a fine sable brush to go through the whole painting adding shiny stuff to it. Texture on the hat to give it that leather look. Glean on the metals. Wet lips and a twinkle in the eye. This stuff makes a huge difference.
Done and done. Real happy with how it came out. Hope ya dig it. Part 2 will be about the lettering