Painting a Jester in Acrylic

One of the great things about hanging out with other artists is getting to hear about their processes. I’ve already gone into a great deal of detail on my Illuxcon 2009 experiences, and all the advice I received from industry professionals talking with them about their processes and avidly listening to the advice they offered.

The other thing that makes Illuxcon awesome is getting to hang out with other up-and-comers, like myself. Hearing about their processes is often just as enlightening as the professionals. Art is such a personal thing that what works for one person might not work for another.

One little gem that I got from fellow artist, Marc Scheff, was that after he did a sketch for an illustration, he would go over to his computer and write a short story on what was happening in the scene. He said he would only write a few paragraphs, but the few details that came about from the writing often added a lot to his paintings. After he told me that he smiled and told me that I was free to use his process.

For the last several months I’ve been working on a series of illustrations for a new book from Alluria Publishing on Jesters. Many of the pieces were in my portfolio that I showed around at Illuxcon. After Illuxcon I began work on the cover for the Jester book. I wanted this illustration to use many of the techniques I learned at Illuxcon, additionally after finishing the Filipino Vampire in traditional acrylic paint, I wanted to do another acrylic painting.

Based on the info I had on Jesters from Alluria I gleaned a few things that needed to go in the cover illustration: Jesters channeled magic from ancient and wild magical convergences called Henges.; Jesters wear scale armor, but in the bright colors you would expect from a jester; Jesters juggle multiple magic orbs to cast their spells.

Keeping those few things in mind I did a few sketches and finally settled on a composition that I liked. I then went out into the woods with my brother-in-law Gabe to shoot some reference photography. Finally I wrote the following little paragraph:

  • “The Jester rose from the Henge, the ancient site where the magical energy converged. He summoned forth the arcane power of the orb, and as he did so the ancient guardians of this sacred place began to laugh at the insanity of the Jester’s power.”

Using all the above I then did a more refined sketch.

Jester Sketch by Sam Flegal


Then I scanned in the sketch and printed it on Strathmore 500 series Bristol paper at the final size of 11 x 16. Using the sketch as a guide I inked the sketch, first with black acrylic ink, and then next in sepia (brown) ink. Inking the drawing is a technique I picked up from Steve Ellis, which he outlines very clearly in his book Scream.

Jester Ink Drawing by Sam Flegal


I then scanned the inked drawing and printed it out on another piece of Strathmore 500 series Bristol paper at the final size of 11 x 16. Using acrylic medium I glued the print to massonite board. Finally I built up several layers of acrylic medium over the print, sanding in between each coat to build up a smooth firm surface to paint on. The method of attaching prints to massonite in this way was developed by Donato Giancola, and you can read more about it on his website.

Now I was ready to start painting! The first thing I did was do an under painting using Burnt Umber and Titanium White to create a value study. I first went into all the dark areas building up the mid tones and shadows. Whenever I felt lost I pulled the black acrylic ink back out and re-inked the painting (another tip I learned from Steve Ellis). This helped maintain the structure of the painting as I added more and more layers. Finally I went in and built up the lights. It is MUCH easier to work from mid-tones, establish darks, and then lights. Otherwise you can loose the tonality of your piece by making something to bright.

Jester Under Painting by Sam Flegal


After that I toned the entire piece with several coats of Cobalt Blue and Ultramarine Blue. This was by far the most nerve-racking part of the process. Partially because the under painting was not completely dry and some of it came off during the washes. Unlike digital there was no going back. I let the painting fully dry over night. My wife can attest that I was rather shaken by the process.

Jester Blue Tone by Sam Flegal


Just like with the under painting the advantage of toning the piece with blue washes was that I had created mid tones and could then go in and establish the darks and the lights. Starting with the background that’s exactly what I did. Once I finished the background I moved onto the figure making sure that the colors I used were brighter than the ones in the background so that the Jester would really pop of the page.

Jester by Sam Flegal


Detail of Jester Cover by Sam Flegal


All said and done I am very pleased with the final piece and all that I learned applying the tools I gained at Illuxcon.

Thank you to all who reviewed my portfolio and offered me tips on their own processes. This piece is directly linked to all that I have learned at this time.


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