The Making of “Raining Stars”

I got the idea for this painting while listening to the band, Lord of the Lost. They have a song called “Raining Stars” and this image just sort of came to me. They also inspired my recent painting, “Black Halo.” Music often inspires my art, even if it is just the title of the song or a single lyric.

This painting was one that turned out completely different than my original concept… color scheme-wise anyways. I had it planned that it was going to be a more monochromatic than it turned out and also I wanted her hair to be a bright turquoise color. At some point, once I got the background done, I realized that that just wasn’t going to work anymore. I had made the clouds much more pink toned than I had meant to. I was actually really happy with the results, I just had to rethink the color scheme. More on that later though…

Photoshop Concept Mockup

Sometimes, before I start sketching or painting, I’ll do a Photoshop mockup of my idea, just so I know what direction I’m headed in. I don’t always do this, but when I’m not sure if what I have in mind will work out, or I just want to see it somewhere with a handy undo button if something doesn’t work out… unlike once I start working on the traditional artwork. So I took my reference photo (model: Lisajen-stock) and played with it in Photoshop to match what I was thinking in my head and this is what I came up with.

As you can see, it isn’t a whole lot like what I ended up with. lol The concept is still there, but the color scheme completely changed. For the better, though, I feel. I still want to do a painting with this turquoise hair though! *brainstorming commences*

So then it was time to start sketching. I’m using Strathmore gray toned mixed media paper. This paper is a nice heavy weight and takes paint very well. Watercolor is a little trickier on it, I find. It does work and I do use it on it, but it has to be built up more than on watercolor paper and I feel that I always have to pair it with gouache or acrylic gouache for the darkest values or it doesn’t quite get dark enough. I’ve been using the paper quite a lot lately in both the gray and tan varieties. There is also a blue one that I would like to get at some point!

I wish I had taken more pictures of the sketching process. I tend to get in the zone and forget. lol I’m sure I will have a more detailed post about that in the future, but if you would like to see more about it I do have an older blog post that shows more about sketching and even though it is from 2012, I still work basically the same way. You can see that HERE.

After the sketch is done, I tape the paper down to a drawing board with masking tape and I’m ready to start painting! This painting is 6 x 10″, and if this were on watercolor paper I would probably have stretched the paper before drawing or painting on it. (watercolor paper stretching is also detailed in the above link about my sketching process.) But I’m not honestly sure if that can be done with this paper. In any case, it doesn’t seem to be necessary anyway, as it stayed very flat and didn’t buckled from the paint.

The first step to this painting was blacking out the background. For this I used black acrylic gouache thinned out with acrylic flow medium. Flow medium is meant to thin out acrylics while not breaking the binder the way sometimes too much water can do with acrylics, so they don’t crack or separate. I sometimes use just a little flow medium on a brush to help blend out edges. It has become my most used acrylic medium and once I started using it with my acrylic gouache, it made the process so much easier. The second acrylic medium that I use is a retarder medium. This medium slows down the drying time of acrylics paints, which also makes your life so much easier. Acrylics dry really fast and this can make blending them difficult since they pretty much start drying as soon as you put the paint down. The paint will also last longer on your palette with this added. So for me a retarder is a must!

Jo Sonja Retarder Medium
Palette with retarder medium mixed in.

Once the background is painted black, I put out the rest of the colors that I’m going to need for the clouds. And these are really the only colors I used for the rest of the painting. The paints that I use are a combination of Turner Acryl Gouache and Jo Sonja Matte Flow Acrylics. I also have a blog post that is more in depth about acrylic gouache. You can see that HERE. The colors on my palette are black, white, greyish purple, ultramarine blue, prussian blue, aubergine and a pale yellow mixture. Turner’s aubergine is much more of a fuchsia color than an eggplant purple color. So this is what gave this painting it’s pinkish-mauve tones.

For acrylics, I tend to use cheaper brushes because I feel that they work just fine for them. These are Simply Simmons brand. I like angled or flat brushes for filling in areas of colors. And I like filbert shaped brushes like these for shading and blending. The rounded edges are really great for blending. I also use small round brushes for detailing and smaller areas. For these I usually use my old, worn out watercolor brushes.

For the clouds in the background, I started off darker and gradually built up to the lighter values. The first layer of paint for this is very dark. I mixed the colors with a little black to deepen them. I usually do follow the “rules” and mix my own black instead of using tube black, but considering I’m going to use the gray of the paper for her skin tone, I figured I could break the rules a little more. And sometimes I just do what I want. lol The lower clouds have some very subtle yellow tones and the ones she is sitting on are made up of blues, purples and pinks. The blues are mostly in the shading of the clouds and the mid-tones and highlights are purple and pink — all very muted. I got them to a certain point and then decided to move on to painting the angel with the intention of returning to the background later.

Next, I went on to paint her dress. I approached this much like I did the clouds. I started with darker tones and built up the lighter values. The purple colors are the same as the clouds, only built up to an even lighter rosy-mauve color so that she didn’t blend into the background too much. I did want her to seem almost part of the sky, but I didn’t want her to disappear into it entirely. The third photo above shows the lightest highlights. The colors used here were black, greyish-purple, white and aubergine, adding more white and aubergine and less-to-no black as the lighter tones were built up. The third photo also shows another unplanned part of this painting. I randomly decided to make her dress “raining stars” too, as if she was creating this chaotic event. This came to be one of my favorite parts of this painting!

It was at this point, looking at my color choices, that I knew I was going have to alter my plan of turquoise hair. It just wouldn’t have fit at all. So looking at my palette, the most obvious choice was to use the aubergine that I have been using throughout the painting but fully concentrated. You can see from the first picture below, that I was thinking this while working on her skin and tested out a small section on her hair.

For her skin, I used watercolor and gouache. I was a little unsure as to whether the gray skin I had originally intended was going to work since she was much more colorful overall. Also the gray of this paper is a bit on the warm side, which I don’t think the photos convey that well. I did end up doing a very light wash of blue watercolor over her skin to cool it down a bit. I used my favorite blue for shading skin tones, indanthrone blue. I used to use ultramarine blue, which you definitely can, but I find indanthrone to be smoother since it doesn’t granulate the way ultramarine does. So no unpredictable textures where they aren’t wanted. I believe that that is really all the watercolor that I used in this. The rest of her skin was painted with gouache, but very diluted. Gouache seems to show up better on this gray toned paper. So painting like I would with watercolor, I used gouache in very similar colors to those used in the rest of the painting. The brands of gouache that I use are mostly Maimeri and Windsor and Newton. I used Ultramarine Blue (W&N) and Payne’s Gray (M) for the shading. And then I used Solferino Lake (M) for the rosy coloring to her cheeks and other areas of the skin that would normally show some redness, such as the knuckles, fingertips, knees… etc. Solferino Lake is a pretty similar shade to Turner’s Aubergine, a fuchsia-plum color, so I thought it would tie it together nicely. Her lips are also done in this color and shaded with the Ultramanine/Payne’s Gray mixture. Then her eyelashes (and eventually the black star on her face) are detailed with black gouache.

Before finishing up her skin, I decided to jump to her hair and get that filled in and detailed. And I also chose to give her wings a glow, so used an Ultramarine blue mixed with white to create the glow, applying the most concentrated paint closer to the wings and then as the brush got drier, scrubbing that further out to create a bit of a gradient. When I painted in the highlights on her hair, I also added in some reflects of the blue glow to it where I thought the light would hit. I do this to the skin too in upcoming steps.

Before Highlighting Skin VS After

One of my favorite parts of any painting is highlighting the skin! These little pops of white (or light tint of some color) just really bring the painting to life. I actually often use two different kinds of white gouache. I use Zinc White and Titanium White gouache. (both W&N brand) Why? Well, several years ago I bought Zinc White by mistake and since I didn’t really know what the difference was, I used it anyways. At first I was a little disappointed because it is not as bright as Titanium White upon initial application. It has to be built up. But I came to really appreciate this quality to it because subtly building up tones is sometimes exactly what I like to do and it creates a lot more depth. Zinc white is also great for tinting watercolors with to create opaque colored tints. No, I am not a watercolor traditionalist who insists on only using the white of the paper for highlights (not that there is anything wrong with that). I do whatever I feel will get the results I want. And if I want a really bright pop right off the bat, then titanium white is the one I go with.

The last part of the angel left to do was her wings. I debated what color I wanted them to be, but ultimately stayed with the mauve-toned theme. I started by filling them in with white acrylic gouache tinted slightly with aubergine. Next, for the detailing, I made a gray mixture with black and white, again mixed with a touch of aubergine to give it that pinkish tone. Those were the only colors that I used for this, other than my highlight shade used next. With acrylic gouache, if it hasn’t been too long since you put down a color (say within a half hour) you can usually still blend into them a little bit, especially if you use a retarder medium. After that time, they dry permanently. So I was able to blend the darker shade into my initial wing color for the shading. You can also dilute the paint with more flow medium to paint a bit transparently. Love that stuff! The final step to the wings was to highlight the edges and details of the feathers. For this I tinted white ever so slightly with ultramarine blue. I wanted the glow to the wings to mirror the glow of the stars. Unfortunately, the photo washed out the blue tint. You can see it in the final, scanned image though.

Now that the angel is finished, it is time to finish up the background. Which includes adding some extra light reflects onto the clouds and painting in all the stars both near and in the distance. Above shows the the steps it took to paint the stars. I’m once again using ultramarine blue and white acrylic gouache. I start out with a more blue mixture and making sure there isn’t too much paint on the brush, painted the basic shape of the stars. When the brush has very little paint left on it I dry-brush around the edges to diffuse the color. I did another layer of blue, but kept the color more concentrated in the center of the stars. And finally, I used pure white and painted the very centers, diffusing around the edges when my brush was mostly dry.

I did this for all the “raining” stars in the painting. I also dotted in stars of various shades of blue and white to suggest stars of different distances.

And that is is! I am finished. I hope that this made sense and that you found it interesting to see my process. I enjoyed created this “making of” post. I used to blog quite regularly and I miss it. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions.

“Raining Stars” Complete

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