Monday, April 26, 2010

Art of Ben Walker Launch & The Bear Mouth Tree


My name is Ben Walker. I'm an artist and illustrator based out of Sacramento, California. I draw and paint a lot of "weird Western" stuff including (but not limited to) bears with guns, freaky jackalopes, and etcetera. I also have my own line of T-shirts (more on that another time) and I run an alternative drawing studio here in Sacramento called Pompsicle which brings cool models in costumes to artist who want to hang out and draw them.

So, I've got some stuff I've been wanting to post in some sort of journal, but on the Internet; a sort of "ternal" ...I'm still working on the name. I'll be showing my process on some of my projects, writing about art shows and conventions, and putting the spotlight on other artists and illustrators I enjoy. Plus I hope to create and post some cool personal projects done just for this..."ternal".

Thanks in advance for reading!

Now I thought I'd start by showing the process for a piece I recently created for an upcoming solo show called Those Wicked Woods. This show will be at Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco and opens May 1st, 2010.

Artistic Process: Black River and The Bear Mouth Tree

This piece was done with ink and Dr. Martin's dyes on Claybord. For the postcard I hand-lettered the title of the show separately and added it with the rest of the info digitally.

My artwork is very concept driven. I try to always have some story elements and action in whatever I do. The tough part is that I often expect to have an entirely new concept behind each and every painting I do. That's crazy! This makes for too much time spent sitting around wondering what to do next instead of just drawing/painting. So I've been making a point of exploring my established themes and stories further. One way to do it is to take a fresh look at previous work that had a great concept but the execution... just didn't do justice to the idea behind the piece.

For example: Night of the Bear Mouth Tree. This painting was part of an art show I put together for Halloween 2008. All of my paintings were black light sensitive. Anyway, its a cool idea, a native American warrior fighting for his life in a giant Venus Flytrap, but it could have been drawn better and done with a more approachable medium.

Night of the Bear Mouth Tree, black light sensitive acrylics on wood panel

A lot of what I did for Those Wicked Woods is on Claybord (a newish product made exclusively by Ampersand). I just recently started playing with it and fell in love. The velvety smooth surface takes to pencils (and erasers) nicely. India ink can be brushed on or even done with a quill pen if you're careful about it. I've also been working with Dr. Martin's watercolor dyes lately. On the Claybords, these dyes are somewhat unpredictable but in a fun, "happy accidents" sort of way. The cool part is that it can all be scrapped or scratched away to (near) white.

I started with an 11"x14" smooth, white Claybord and sketched out the warrior and "bear mouth tree" in pencil. A note about story elements: You'll notice for this version I added a vulnerable target in the "bear mouth tree" to give our warrior a fighting chance to get out of his situation.

I then mixed some sepia tones and "warm greens" with Dr. Martin's dyes and watered them down. The first layer was mostly water and some sepia tone brushed over the whole thing. I let that dry, then with a toothbrush full of the color in one hand and a spray bottle of water in the other I spattered the panel, mostly on the outer edges. If anything looked to dark I just dabbed it with a paper towel before it dried.

The drawing stuck pretty nicely but I figured that from then on I would go ahead and do this step first, let it dry then do the drawing.

Next I mixed a couple colors to fill in the main shapes. This is where the unpredictability comes into play. You can test these washes on illustration board first and I even tested colors in the little spots I knew would be drawn over with black ink. But I'm never %100 percent sure what it will look like when the colors are applied to the Claybord and dried. Generally they will be a lot less saturated and cooler. Colors seem to shift if they have not been stirred recently or if you over brush certain areas. But for me, it all results in this "warm-n-dirty" aged look that I go for anyway. Plus it sort of looks like you mixed a whole family of similar colors when it's really done with only one or two.

The key is to do these washes as quickly as you can so staying in the lines takes a back seat as a priority. So crappy edges and runny blobs of color can result.

That's why the Claybord is so cool! With a sharp X-acto blade (#11) held flat to the board you can shave the color back easily. I only did this in a couple bad spots where black line would not be enough to clean it up.

I then used brushes and india ink to do the line work. I didn't do a lot of scratching into the black for this piece; just a little highlight in his hair and some hatching in the dark areas to add definition.

(Please excuse the difference in color on the final image. the process pics were snapped quickly in the studio with my digital camera and this one below is a high quality scan.) After a couple days of looking at this piece I decided it was sort of floating in the middle of the composition and needed some interest and tone in the corners so I spattered more warm greens and dark orange tones. Done! The colors do reactivate when wet and are prone to fading, so an acrylic spray varnish is a must.

This piece and more like it will be up for Those Wicked Woods, Art of Ben Walker at Mission: Comics & Art in San Francisco. The show opens May 1st, 2010, 7-11pm. I hope to see you there!

Your pal,

Ben Walker

P.S. I am pretty new to working with Dr. Martins dyes and Claybords. If you have any thoughts or tips on either, feel free to comment.

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