Author: ElvenstarArt

Harvest Moon Finished and Stretching Process

(Newer updates toward the bottom…)

9/25/12: Hi everyone! I’ve been working on and just finished my Halloween sketch for this year! I think that I’m going to call it “Harvest Moon.” I love this time of year! It is definitely my favorite time of year, with the weather cooling off but not as cold as winter yet. And it is such an inspiring season!

While I was working on this sketch, I took some progress pictures that I’m going to post below. I often show paintings in progress but not how sketches come together. Sometimes sketches, such as small ACEO sketches or 4×6″ are very quick and are done in an hour or so, but this 9×12″ sketch took several hours, so it was great for showing step by step.


Often, before beginning work on a sketch, I’ll do a little messy concept sketch, just to get the basic idea and composition worked out before finalizing it. I like to have a generalized idea before starting. I really liked how this one turned out, so I didn’t change much in the final sketch. I already had a pose in mind before starting this one, (model: Faestock) but often I get the idea first and then have to go hunting for just the right references to get the anatomy as accurate as I can.

When drawing a full-bodied figure, I almost always start with the body and save the face for last. I know many find working this way strange, but I’ve found that it works best for me. I get the proportions more accurate when I work on the whole body at the same time rather than doing the face first and working my way out, if that makes sense. And it makes getting her positioned on the page how I want her easier. I can’t tell you how many times when I used to start with the face that I’d find the figure off center on the paper or even run out of room for the feet! When I started working this way I don’t encounter problems like that.

Now it is time to transfer this to watercolor paper and start painting! I don’t know how much of the painting process I will show, but I am going to be stretching the watercolor paper again for this one, and this time I have some gummed tape and gator foam board. So I think I will show what that is like to work with. Hopefully my first experience with it will go smoothly! Check back if you’re interested in seeing how that goes. 🙂


I was hoping to have gotten started on this a few days ago but I didn’t get the chance until tonight. I really won’t be able to get going on the painting until tomorrow since I have to allow time for the paper to dry after stretching it.

This is only my second time stretching my watercolor paper. I tried it for my “Midnight Travelers” painting this summer for the first time. You can see that process HERE. I didn’t really have all the “right” materials then and didn’t want to wait for them to be shipped to me, so I just made due the best I could with what I had. After a little trial and error I got it to work and was very impressed with the final result! The paper was so flat and smooth that I’m sure that I will do this with all my larger paintings from now on. I don’t really think it will be necessary for smaller ones like 5 x 7″ or smaller. I resisted this for a while because I just didn’t want to do this extra step, but I finally caved after messing up another painting due to the paper warping. I did the same thing with masking fluid for a long time. I resisted using it, but now I see it as a necessary evil.

This time around, I’m going to be using gummed tape and securing my paper to gatorfoam board. I’d never heard of this board until I’d read up on paper stretching and had seen it recommended a couple times. It’s a bit thicker than regular foam board (about a 1/2″ thick) and has a water resistant surface, so when you lay your wet watercolor paper on it, it won’t absorb any of the liquid and warp the board. I got one that is 16 x 23″ since most of my work is smaller than that, I think it will work fine for me. I love how lightweight it is too and it also doubles great as a drawing board for drawing away from a table. 🙂 The gummed tape or kraft paper tape comes in a huge roll like pictured. That aught to last me a while!

My kitty, Freya, was looking on to make sure that I did this correctly! lol


So I cut my paper to the size I want it. I left a 1 inch border around the outside for the brown tape and then since there is no way to remove the tape from the paper afterward, I left an extra 1/4″ border that will provide a little space for framing and I’ll cut away the brown tape. I’m picky like that. lol

Once the paper is dry, I will add masking tape to tape off this border and keep it paint-free. I’ve heard that you can soak the tape off of the gatorfoam board, so I hope that true.

Next, I cut four strips of the tape for each of the four sides of the paper.

To soak the paper, I have a plastic container filled with water. In order to wet the strips of gummed tape, I used the sponge brush pictured. I already had some of these from another project and they’re in the perfect 2″ size!

So I dip the paper in the water for about a 1-2 minutes and then lay it out on my gatorfoam board. I use a paper towel to run over the paper to flatten it and wipe off all excess water. You can use a clean sponge for this too. If using paper towels, make sure they don’t have a pattern printed on them as this can transfer to your paper.

Then I wet each strip of gummed tape with my sponge brush and stuck them down one at a time, making sure not to get any of the glue onto the to-be-painted surface. I hope that I didn’t smear any in there! I really tried not to, but I won’t be sure until I start painting. That seems also to be a good reason to include an extra little border like I did. If I got any glue in the little border, it won’t matter.

That is all for now. I need to allow this to dry and then I can transfer my sketch to the paper using graphite paper. So far this seems like a great method to do this! Much easier than the staples I used last time! 🙂



Going well so far! Now after some masking fluid, I’ll be ready to start painting! 🙂


*Update* 10/25/12:


I finally finished this painting. I had hoped to get it done sooner, but I didn’t get to work on it quite as much as I hoped, so it took longer. I’m really happy with how it turned out though. I liked painting the harvest moon and I like the atmosphere it creates! I always love when there’s a harvest moon! The scan unfortunately didn’t pick up on some of the subtle coloring in the background. There’s some golds and rose coloring in the glow from the moon that the scan just washed out. I think I may try re-scanning and adjusting the colors again.

It’s 9 x 12″ done in watercolor and white gouache. Hope you like it!


Since this was the first time that I tried stretching my watercolor paper using this method, I wanted to show how it was removed and worked out. I have to say that I really love this method! I’m definitely going to be working this way from now on. The painting so smooth and beautiful and I didn’t encounter any problems while working. I don’t know why I waited so long to try this.

Here is the painting all done while still taped down to the gator foam board.

The first thing that I had to do was to remove the masking tape that left a clean, white border around the image.

Then, using an X-Acto knife and a t-square as a guide I carefully cut along the edges of the paper. There was a little ridge in the tape where the papers edge was, so it was easy to see where to cut.

I’ve heard that some leave it with the brown tape, but I don’t like it, so I used my paper cutter and cut it off, leaving just the small white border around the outside. I think it looks nice this way and it leaves a little space for matting and framing.

And see how nice and flat the painting is!! It looks just like it did before I even put any paint on it. Why have I been avoiding this step again? Oh yeah, I was being lazy.  But no more! For any painting that is larger than 5 x 7″ I’m going to stretch from now on. 🙂

And here is the next great part…

I’d heard that if using gator foam board, that the brown tape can be soaked off of it. So I wet some paper towels and laid them over the tape. I let it sit for about 40 minutes and…

It came right off and the board is good as new!!

I was a little worried about that, as these aren’t that cheap, so I didn’t want to have to buy a new one all the time.

So there you have it. My first attempt at stretching watercolor paper using brown gummed kraft tape and gator foam board. And it worked out perfectly! I hope you enjoyed seeing the process and the finished painting.

Happy Halloween everyone!  🙂

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Unicorn and Fairy WIP


I’ve started a new artwork, and here is the sketch! It features a dark unicorn and fairy. I’ve only ever drawn a couple unicorns, so I was overdue to do another one. Of my others, one was a commission and the other is a really old drawing that I don’t even have on my website.

Last month sometime, I was watching the movie “The Grey” with Liam Neeson and was inspired by all the wintry landscape. And for some reason a unicorn came to mind. I can’t explain how these things happen since I don’t even know myself. lol That’s just how it came to me. And I decided to pair it with a pretty fairy, since I haven’t painted any fairies in a while. My Fairies Gallery is lagging behind, without a single painting from this year added to it. It’s time to rectify that. 😉

When I sketched this I didn’t really leave enough room for the background I had in mind. So I’m going to paint it a little larger than I originally planned to add some extra space for the snow and trees.  I took the scanned sketch into Photoshop and made a mock-up of the coloring I’m thinking of using for this. I don’t do this for every painting, but sometimes for ones I’m not entirely sure about or are a little more complex.
As I mentioned before, I want this to be a wintry piece, which considering it is about 100 degrees out today, sounds pretty great to me! Okay, so it doesn’t have to be winter, but I would definitely be happy with some nice Fall-like weather right now. And some RAIN too! We’re having a bit of a drought here in Michigan. Everything is so brown and ugly.  ANYWAY… the mock-up I did in PS is basically the direction I’d like to go with this. The colors with real paint will of course vary from this some, but it’s gives me a good idea how to proceed.  Hmm… I tend to work in blue a lot, don’t I? 🙂

I have no idea what I’m going to name this painting yet. I’ll give it some though as I work. Meanwhile, I welcome any suggestions.



I wish that I was further along with this painting, but I just couldn’t gather the energy to work on it much during our 2 week heat wave. I think my brain quit functioning for that period of time!  lol It was just way too hot. I have air conditioning, but it is old and just doesn’t do a good enough job when it gets to be over 95 degrees. It’s better than nothing, I’m sure, but it was still pretty miserable during the day.

Anyway, the heat finally broke this week and it has been a beautiful low to mid 80s. So time to get back to work. I made one disastrous attempt at this painting. The background turned out all wrong. So I’m trying a different approach.

I’ve actually managed to go this long as a watercolor artist without ever stretching my paper. I often work small enough that the paper buckling isn’t a problem, and when I have done larger paintings I’ve gotten lucky enough that any warping of the paper didn’t effect how the painting turned out. But this is the second time this year, where I’ve had a wash turn out awful due to the paper buckling and have had to trash the painting. So I’m finally caving and am going to stretch the paper for the first time with this painting. This was kind of a spur of the moment decision, so after soaking the paper in water, I stapled it to foam board. In the future, I will get something more substantial to attach it to. I have some hardboard panels, but I they’re too thin to put staples through and they’d be really hard to remove. So hopefully the foam board will do for now. I’ve read that gator board is a good choice so I think I’ll try that next time.

Once the paper is completely dry, then I’ll transfer the sketch onto it. I’m also going to put some masking tape around the edges for a clean line, though I know I’m going to trim off at least some of the border. In the future, I will leave a larger border too. This one is cut a little close. Oh well.  🙂

I just may update this tread with some more progress of this painting, so check back if you want to see it!



Well, I’ve learned that foam board is NOT a good surface to attach this to. It seemed like it was going to go well, but then I get up this morning and see that it curved the whole board as shown in the photo. I knew that it might absorb the water since the foam board surface is just paper, but I hoped maybe it would still stay flat because of the foam. No such luck.

So, I’ve started a new method. The thing is that I have to use materials that I already have right now. The craft stores I have around me (Michaels, Hobby Lobby) are pretty worthless for a lot of art supplies. They don’t have any kind of board that would be good for stretching and don’t even have gummed tape, which would be nice to try instead of staples. I usually order a lot of my art supplies online, but I don’t want to have to wait for them to arrive. I’ll get them for future use, but I want to get started on this painting now!

This time around, I’m going to try using a piece of hardboard that I have. The main reason I didn’t try this in the first place is that I would have to use heavy duty staples, which will be harder to remove, and that the board is only 1/8″ thick and my shortest staples are 1/4″.

I’ve solved the thickness problem by taping a layer of foam board to the back of the panel. This gave just enough extra thickness that the staples didn’t poke through the back.

After cutting the paper to the size I want it, I get a container of water and dip the paper in it for a few minutes. Then I lay it flat on the board and smooth it out with a paper towel, pushing all the excess water off of the paper. Once I’m sure that it’s flat and ready, I start stapling it down.

So, now I have it stapled down and am currently waiting for it to dry completely. Fingers crossed that it will work out this time!

7/11 Part 2:


Ready to move on to painting!


Yesterday, I laid down the first washes of the painting. It seems as if it is going to work really well with the paper stretched! Pictured to the right is an example of the new wash/s beside my first attempt on unstretched paper. That is the version I threw away and started over. In some cases, I don’t mind some texture to the washes of paint, but in this case I don’t want anything like that.
So far it seems to be going well. I’ve built up the color so it is darker in the background behind them, leaving a lighter area where the moonlight will be shining through the trees a little.
Next I’m working on the trees in the background, starting with some of the more distant ones since they’ll be lighter.
I know that much of the foreground elements are going to be dark colors or black so I’m not concerned about painting over them now. Except for her skin, which has had masking fluid applied to it to protect it.

I pretty much have the background done now. I added the nearest, darkest trees. I made the branches a little denser than in the sketch. I also shaded the snow and defined the fairy and unicorn so that they’re easier to see when it come time to paint them in. I may think that the background needs more work once I get the foreground figures painted, but for now it looks pretty good.

Now it is time for the fun part… painting the fairy and unicorn! I know I’m going to start her skin next. I’m not sure if I will finish her completely before moving on the the unicorn or work on them both at the same time.



I did quite a bit of work on the fairy! I hope to get this done in the next couple of days. I’m pretty happy with how it’s coming along so far. 🙂

*UPDATE* 7/22/12:

Finally Finished!
I’m happy to say that I finished this painting last night and am really happy with how it turned out. It could be my favorite that I’ve done this year! :)After finishing the painting, I had to remove it from the board. Since this was my first time stretching my watercolor paper and I had to use heavy duty staples, I wasn’t sure how this would go. I just knew that I had to proceed very carefully! The first step was to remove the masking tape. That went well and left a nice clean border around the painting. My main concern was getting the staples out without hurting the painting.

The staples came out easier than I thought they would. I used a pair of needle-nose pliers and gently pried them each out. As long as I could get the pliers under the the staple, they wiggled out pretty easily. A couple of them gave me problems, and I was a little nervous about my hand slipping and accidentally gouging the paper. Luckily it was a success in the end and I got them all out. Next time, I’m definitely going to try a different method of securing the paper down, but the paper turned out so smooth that it is worth the trouble of stretching! The final thing that I did was to trim off the edges that had the staple holes, leaving about a 1/4″ or so border.
So here is the finished “Midnight Travelers” (thanks to fellow artist, Wendy Fowler, for suggesting the title!)
8.5 x 12″ Watercolor and white goauche. Prints available on my website HERE

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Steampunk Assassin WIP

I showed this sketch in my last post and mentioned possibly showing some of the progress, so I’m starting a new post all about this painting. I will be updating this post as the painting progresses so check back if you want to see it’s progress.

So far, I’ve pretty much done background work. I just started the skin earlier today, and plan on doing more tonight. I haven’t gotten far enough with that to show pics yet, so back to the background work.

My first step is to transfer the sketch to the watercolor paper. I do this using graphite paper and tracing over the sketch. Once that is done, I tape it down to a board with masking tape. Next is my ALL time favorite step (being very sarcastic here), applying masking fluid to the foreground parts that I don’t want painted yet. I really hate using masking fluid. I used to completely avoid it but over the last few years I’ve come to realize that it is a necessary evil because my backgrounds turn out so much better when I can just paint carelessly over the foreground. I think in one of my old tutorials, I even mention how I use it as little as possible. But methods do change over time. The yellow tool you see in the picture next to the masking fluid bottle is what I use to apply it. It’s a cheap plastic sculpting tool I got at Michael’s a while ago when I was trying out polymer clay, which I had no talent with so didn’t pursue for very long. lol But it works great for MF and it peels right off it afterwards, so no more ruined brushes!
I next start painting the background. I’ve decided to paint it as a rusty, riveted steel wall. I’ve found that since I got my Kindle Fire around Christmas, that it is really handy for looking up reference pictures while painting! I don’t have to waste time and paper printing them out and this takes up very little room propped up in the corner of my table.  🙂
Now, I have the background basically finished. Once everything else is done, I may think it needs something else done to it, but for now it seems done. Next is my second favorite part (more sarcasm here), removing the masking fluid. I don’t always have to use quite as much masking fluid as I did in this painting, but this is a 8.5 x 11″ painting and she takes up most of the paper! So it took a while just to get all this off. I use and eraser and just lift it off.
Eventually she is masking fluid free! But a lot of the lines lightened with the removal of the MF. Not as bad as the picture looks, but still quite faded.
So I went over the lines with a light blue/gray paint, and also cleaned up around the outside of the figure where the MF bled outside of the lines.
Now that she is cleaned up, I’m ready to continue onto the skin. I’ll add more pics and progress once I get there. 😉
So, moving onto the skin now, I began by filling in all the skin with a flesh-toned mixture of burnt-sienna/burnt umber. In the second two pictures shown above, I’m am adding some shading and shadows with various mixtures of burnt sienna/ultramarine blue. And in some of the darkest areas I used payne’s gray, to bring in a little of the background colors.
I wrote a tutorial/walk-through for my painting “Fairy of the Spring Bloom,” which can be read HERE. This tutorial is from 2008, but I still work in much the same way. Especially for skin tones. I paint almost exclusively on hot press watercolor paper now, which is completely smooth and much easier to get little details on and also use with colored pencils. Sometimes I don’t use colored pencils at all in a painting. But I think that with all the details and the size of this painting, that I probably will in her clothing and hair. Colored pencils add some different textures to a painting too, which will be nice with the different materials in this painting.
The colors for the skin tones do vary depending on the colors being used in the painting, though I usually do start off with the basic burnt sienna/burnt umber flesh tone. Colors for the shadows and highlights are what change. This painting and my 2008 fairy painting just happen to both use bt. sienna/BU, and ultramarine. But the ultramarine can be swapped for greens or purples, depending on the painting. For example, my painting “Lilac” used more purple tones in the shading, and “Woodland Magic” used green tones.
The pictures below show the same basic process shown above only with the face, which I give a lot of attention to since I feel that it is one of the most important parts of a painting, if not THE most important part.
After the shading is done (at least for now), comes a very important part of the skin tones. As of right now, the skin is kind of cold, dull and lifeless. If you look skin tones, they usually have some red/pink tones to it and some yellows. Adding these colors to the skin really breaths some life into it. For my older fairy painting I used alizarin crimson for the red tone because it is a more cooler, pink leaning red. That made sense for that painting since she was surrounded by pink cherry blossoms. It worked to bring some of that pink into her skin.
But the color scheme for this painting is much different. A lot more neutral tones will be used in this paintingPerylene Maroon is a color that I most often use. It is a nice deep reddish-brown. It seems to work great for skin tones!  I used that for this painting and some Yellow Ochre for the yellow tones.
I was concentrating pretty hard while working on the face, so I didn’t take many progress photos. Sorry about that! I saw some little anatomy type issues while painting that I worked to fix as much as I could. Like making sure the eyes are level and sized right. Eyes are so easy for me to have one a little off, so I really try to make sure they are as right as possible. I narrowed her chin out a little and also her mouth by like a millimeter. It’s so small you probably won’t notice.
Despite all that, the face is one of my favorite parts! I love working on the makeup and watch as she comes together on paper.
I’m fairly sure that the face will need some more shadows, particularly near her forehead, but I think that I will move on to her clothes now and then come back to that. It is often easier to tell if the skin needs any more work once the clothes and hair are filled in.

Now, I’ve started on the clothing.  I began first by filling in most of the base colors. This also included filling in behind the lacy part of the fan lightly with the colors that will be seen through it.  I think that I’m still going to have to darken the part of her dress that is behind the fan.

In the second picture, I’ve colored the brown leather of her corset, gloves and choker with colored pencils. Next time I work on this, I have to finish the gold buckles and fasteners and detail the teal insert of her corset… Then onto the fan! 🙂


This time, I started with the gold/brass buckles and details. I shaded and highlighted them making them look more shiny and real. I also filled in the teal panels of her corset with colored pencil so that the coloring is smoother and now I can add the pattern back into the fabric.

Using colored pencils again, I drew the pattern back onto the fabric.

Now I can finally move onto the fan!

I began by filling in the main colors of the fan… the gears and the lacy interior. I was originally going to make the gears silver or steel gray coloring, but I decided that the fan would be much more striking if it was brass/gold too. The lace of the interior section is going to be black so I filled that in with a transparent layer of paint, and painted the gears a golden color.

I used ink to draw in the frame (?) of the fan. I’m not sure that’s what it’s called but that’s what I’ll call it. 😉  I used ink because after filling the area in with paint, I couldn’t see the lines anymore, so I basically had to redraw them. This was a lot easier to do with a ruler and ink pen than with paint and brush. And faster too.  I also found later that this was nice for darken the area further. I didn’t have to worry about the lines disappearing.

After darkening the panel with another layer of paint, I drew in the lace detailing.  I also used an ink pen for this and it was so much easier and faster! I’m glad that I thought to do it that way this time.  I have used paint for things like this in the past and it does take quite a bit more time.

I got a bit carried away while working on the rest of the fan, and I didn’t take any more pictures until I was done. I detailed and defined the gears of the fan, and added the little bit of blood along the edge. I also added a little highlighting to the frame of the fan.

Next I can move onto the hair and hat. Then probably some finishing touches and she should be done! So when I update this next it should be with the final stages of the painting and the finished product. 🙂

*NEW* 4/30/12:

I begin the hair by outlining around the edges with a small paint brush. I also outlined the hat since I intend to work on this at the same time. Before filling in the hair with paint, I added the details to the angel wing charm.

Next, I fill in all the hair and hat with dark brown paint. I let that dry completely.

Then I detail the hair and hat with colored pencil. I used several different shades of brown colored pencils for this and and a light tan color for her blonde streaks. I use Prismacolor pencils, so I used dark brown, dark umber, sienna brown and I did some dark shading with indigo and a little black. The highlights were done in ginger root and light umber and some shine added with white.

I used the same browns to color the hat.
I didn’t take anymore photos, but I used black painting to fill in a transparent wash for the veil of the hat, and I added some detailing with white colored pencil.  Then I painted the larger feather of her hat a teal color to match her eyes and corset.

Having all her hair done, I decided that her face need a little more shading added, so I went back and darkened around her forehead and the right side of her face. With all that done, I then believe that she is finished!

I hope that you enjoyed seeing this painting come together!! Prints of her are now available on my website HERE
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