Wylie Beckert


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Painting (Now With Real Paint!) Posted on 26 Oct 2013

oil over watercolor painting study
Digital artists have a hard time of it. We're used to accusations of "digital trickery," and have to answer questions like "isn't it amazing that a computer does this all for you?" To top it all off, traditional artists like to kick sand in our faces at the beach and "accidentally" spill turpentine down our laptops in art class.

I never really learned to paint properly. Most of my "paintings" in art school were Sharpie and paint-pen monstrosities on Masonite, and if I ever picked up a brush seriously while I was there, I certainly haven't done so since. Lately I've been wanting to get back into traditional media for a few reasons:

  • I saw a ton of awesome paintings at Illuxcon. Living in Maine (scenic armpit of the Northeast!), the only art I ever see is online, so the difference between the digital pieces and the traditional pieces that I admire is nonexistent. Seeing paintings in person that I'd only ever seen on a computer screen drove home the difference, though - maybe it's seeing things at their original dimensions, or being able to see the texture of the ground it was painted on and the other physical characteristics that distinguish it from a shiny digital painting.

  • I don't get a lot of enjoyment out of coloring a piece digitally. My favorite part of the process by far is the pencils; the digital coloring stage always feels like a somewhat arbitrary afterthought after all the interesting decision-making that goes into nailing down the drawing. Worse, I haven't been entirely happy with the end result of the process. I've been finding that the most successful digital pieces I've been doing are the ones that simulate a traditional look in some way - flat tones that feel like watercolor, or detailed areas with lots of brushstrokes. In a lot of ways, I think it would be easier to get these effects with actual paint.

  • I'm officially going to be attending the Illustration Master Class next summer! The faculty is packed with some awesome artists who work traditionally or semi-traditionally (I'm in the group focus with Rebecca Guay, Greg Manchess, Scott Fischer, Iain McCaig, and AD Irene Gallo) and with so many experts around to assist, I'd love to at least have the option of traditional media for my IMC project. Since I definitely don't want to try to learn to paint in a single week, far from home and studio, whilst simultaneously trying to come up with the BEST ILLUSTRATION OF MY LIFE, I need to get cracking on this as soon as possible.

This little painting of an octopus headdress is my first semi-successful attempt. It's oil with a watercolor underpainting on gessoed Bristol paper, 5x7". I'd originally started out painting over an original pencil sketch, but botched it badly and had to start over using a dark blurry printout from a cell phone picture I'd snapped early on. Happily, the gesso covered pretty well, hiding the crappy image quality while leaving just enough of the printed lines visible to work from.

The underpainting is watercolor - mostly applied in large solid sections, allowed to dry, and then lifted out of the highlights with a wet brush. Once I had the underpainting the way I wanted it, I gave it a few coats of acrylic spray to seal it.

oil over watercolor painting study

The finished watercolor underpainting.

I didn't have a specific color scheme in mind when I started out, but I took snapshots at regular intervals and did Photoshop mockups to help plan out my next move at each stage.

oil over watercolor painting study

The first pass with oil paint.

Since I was working with a fairly rendered underpainting, most of the oil painting involved glazes to alter and deepen the colors, and detail work in the face (it seems like I can never draw a reasonable looking face in one go). This first pass was done as a single layer of paint, thinned with walnut oil, which I was able to quick-dry in a 200° toaster oven to save me the wait for the final round of glazing. I have yet to ponder the archival implications of this process, since I don't think Girl With an Octopus Hat is going to be remembered as my magnum opus, but in retrospect I should probably at least look into whether or not walnut oil will spontaneously combust under this sort of treatment. I watched it very closely.

oil over watercolor painting study

Finished out with thin glazes to tweak the color.

On the whole, I think it was a worthwhile experiment. Maybe I did more painting in the past than I remember, or maybe there's some carryover from my digital work - but after the initial false start the process was surprisingly predictable and controllable. I can definitely see getting to the point where I can mimic (and improve upon) the look of my digital pieces with a little practice.

And, what good would the marvels of the internet do us without an animated gif to document the process:

 oil over watercolor painting process animation

Hours of painstaking labor cavalierly reduced to a few seconds.


Illustrious Interview Posted on 18 Sep 2013

No pictures today - I'm still adjusting to my everyday life after an awesome weekend at Illuxcon, which I'll dedicate a blog post to in the near future. Until then, an informal but heartfelt thank you to all the artists, art directors, and friends who went out of their way to make the convention such a great experience to me.

I've been inundated with new and exciting projects this week, so blog posts will be sporadic and/or completely nonexistent. Rest assured, I am holed up in my studio producing new art for the future edification of my loyal followers. To tide you over until I surface, here's an interview about my art courtesy of writer/editor Alex Hurst's "Illustrious" interview series. She had some great questions that 1) Made it clear that she knows more about my work than I do, and 2) Gave me the opportunity to try to think intelligently about the nature of my own work for a change.

Check it out here.


Illuxcon Posted on 11 Sep 2013

digital illustration by Wylie Beckert - dark and light priestesses wield a bird and a bat, respectively.
Here's the latest work - dark and light priestesses of the Order of the Inexplicable Headwrap, maintaining an uneasy balance. I'm slated for a couple of portfolio reviews this weekend, and this piece was created in hopes of filling the card-art-shaped hole in my portfolio.

Said portfolio reviews will be part of my trip to Illuxcon in Allentown, PA. I hadn't originally planned on attending, since my understanding is that the convention experience generally includes the three things I fear above all else (people, social interaction with people, and the light of day) but Marc and Lauren talked me into it and, admittedly, they always seem to know what they're talking about, so my bags are packed and I'm actually looking forward to it.

For anyone else who's attending, I'll be wandering the area Thursday through Sunday so feel free to flag me down and say hi. Better yet, if anyone waited until the last minute to make their reservations and ended up staying at the scenic Econo Lodge/Rodeway Inn (like me!) and wants to commiserate and/or share cab rides to the convention, shoot me an email.


New Work: Sword and Sorcery Posted on 01 Sep 2013

digital illustration by Wylie Beckert - a magician, a thief, and a warrior.
A magician, a thief, and a warrior. This illustration was based on some thumbnails I'd drawn for a "three cloaked men" fantasy cover brief during Marc & Lauren's Illustration 101 course. Since most of my class time was taken up with the first two projects, I never got past the thumbnails on the third brief; but, with some portfolio reviews from sci fi/fantasy art directors at Illuxcon looming and precious little relevant art in my portfolio, I thought it would be a worthwhile project to finish out.

illustration thumbnails
illustration thumbnails

(Top: the first round of thumbs; bottom: further compositional tweaking.)

Since the project now fell solidly in the "personal work" category, I forsook pretty much everything about the brief in order to include a lady swordsman (swordswoman?) and a fanciful smoky fireball of magic. Everything was sketched out in pencil on Bristol (no powdered graphite this time around) and finished out digitally.

pencil sketch for an illustration by Wylie Beckert - a magician, a thief, and a warrior.


Tutorial: Powdered Graphite Posted on 14 Aug 2013

powdered graphite drawing
I hate doing large areas of uniform pencil shading - it's not why I signed up to be an artist, and my fragile little wrists just aren't built for it. I'd been wanting to try out powdered graphite for a while, but since the local art supply store here in rural Maine only stocks wagon axles and tobacco, I never quite got around to acquiring any.

Enter the fantastic Kelley, who normally takes a cruel joy in showing me up with awesome art over at her website but, in a moment of pity, was kind enough to mail me a huge bag of the stuff just in time for a recent bout of pencil-based projects. I thought I'd document the process I used for the pencil/powdered graphite underdrawing for Full Blooded - an 11x14 piece with a lot of solid blacks that probably would have destroyed my hands if I'd had to pencil them all in normally.

General advice: this stuff is messy, travels far, and sticks to everything. Put your work surface on top of a drawing board, some newspaper, etc, and use a sheet of scrap paper under your drawing hand to keep your greasy hands off your nice drawing (and vice versa). You'll want to work top to bottom, left to right (if you're right-handed) to avoid accidentally over-blending your finished work.

powdered graphite tutorial
1) Sketch in the outlines. You'll lose a lot of these in the shading process, so don't put too much time and energy into them - just give yourself a general guide to work with. I'm using a lightbox, and have my original sketch taped to the back of my working surface to limit the amount of invention I need to do. Mask off any areas (borders, important details) that need to be absolutely white. Sprinkle a tiny amount of graphite (really tiny - like less than 1/8 teaspoon) over your dark areas.

2) Use the edge of an index card to gently push the graphite around the paper for even coverage. Note that your "brushstrokes" will show, so you'll want to be consistent in the direction and angle you push the graphite. Here, I'm working in vertical lines.

powdered graphite tutorial
3) Tap off the excess graphite, and use a large soft brush to brush away any residual powder. At this point, you can use a tissue or paper towel to rub the graphite into the paper and soften the directional strokes left by the index card. Note that your color is going to be a little bit blotchy at this stage - you just want to make sure that there are no extreme dark or light areas.

4) Use a soft pencil (a 5B shown here) to shade in the darkest tones of your sketch. I know, you thought you wouldn't have to do any pencil shading with this method. Bummer. Fortunately, you can do a pretty rough job here - the layer of graphite already on the paper makes the surface a little bit slippery, and rough pencil strokes won't cling to the paper the way they would if you applied them to a clean sheet. Just darken things up a little, keeping the direction of your lines more or less consistent.

powdered graphite tutorial
5) Use a tissue to soften the pencil shading and blend it around the paper.

6) With a kneaded eraser, start to pick out the light areas of your drawing. If you pick up too much graphite and get a harsh white area you didn't want, you can blend in the surrounding graphite with a tissue.

powdered graphite tutorial
7) Go back in with the pencil of your choice (I used the 5B again, along with an HB mechanical pencil for the sharp details) and start drawing in the shapes and edges of the final image.

8) Continue around the image in the same way - pulling out the lights with a kneaded eraser, and deepening the dark tones with pencil. As you can see, although I only applied the graphite powder to the upper third of the image, over the course of working on the drawing a thin layer of graphite has migrated all the way down the page, leaving an even, light overall tone to work from.

This all probably looks like just as much work as doing it all in pencil, but you'll have to take my word for it that it's quite a bit easier, less time consuming, and the results are generally better looking. I also like the softer effect that the powdered graphite gives, and how forgiving and reworkable it is compared to heavy pencil shading, which tends to gouge and flatten the surface of the paper.

Powdered graphite also served as the base for the upper half of Gaslight Dogs - and once again was a huge labor/time saver; this is probably going to become a permanent fixture in my process.


<< Previous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Next >>


Painting (Now With Real Paint!)

26 Oct 2013
Illustrious Interview

18 Sep 2013

11 Sep 2013
New Work: Sword and Sorcery

01 Sep 2013
Tutorial: Powdered Graphite

14 Aug 2013
SmArt School Project 2: Gaslight Dogs

06 Aug 2013
Art Director Challenge/Short Fiction

28 Jun 2013
Exposé 11 Master Award

21 Jun 2013
New Work: Whispers

04 Jun 2013
New Work: Pointless Quest

26 May 2013
New Work: The Turnip Keeper's Lantern

20 May 2013
New Work: Nest

12 May 2013
Some Daily Sketches

20 Apr 2013
New Work: The Fold

09 Apr 2013
Materials & a Work in Progress: Wolf Boy

30 Mar 2013
New Work: February Sky

08 Mar 2013
From the Sketchbook: Whiskey Foot Party

04 Mar 2013
New Work: Summer Wine

05 Dec 2012
From the Sketchbook: Disgruntled Cocktail Rabbit

15 Nov 2012
From the Sketchbook: Kindred

15 Sep 2012
PigPen Theatre/Buffalo Picture House: Bremen

01 Aug 2012
From the Sketchbook: Mohawk Boy

25 Apr 2012
New Work 1/21 - Bad Fish

21 Jan 2012
The Slow, Halting March of Progress

20 Oct 2011
News? Cute.

10 Jul 2011