Unicorns have had a long history in mythology; with what started out as attempting to catalogue creatures from far off distant lands, later turning to something with a more magical quality. Notoriously difficult to catch, they could once only be lured in by virgins; now they’re everywhere and everyone’s friend. It’s a great thing to know that unicorns have finally decided to share their magical qualities with the rest of us, even becoming vengeful when called upon.
So yes, unicorns have been around a long ol’ while. And as with any story, like Chinese Whispers, the details get warped from time to time. I like to question and play with what is understood about this creature: why is it still white if its qualities are not so pure anymore? What would happen if rainbows came out of its mouth instead of its butt?
As I form ideas about what I want my unicorn to look like, I start practising drawing horses. Horses are notoriously difficult and after the first few wonky horses, I’d wonder why this was a good idea… Despite this, my way of tackling challenging shapes is to draw them over and over and over again, so that each time, my hand to eye co-ordination comes to understand the shape and weight of a horse; the power, the gesture, the lines I need to communicate ‘horse’ to any viewer.
Once I eventually find the shape I like, I’ll trace it onto my watercolour paper, ink it up and head on in with paint. Before I even touch the main image with paint, I’ll always have a test sheet nearby or use the corner to make sure I’m mixing my colours correctly. You can see some of my tests with the rainbow effect for a rainbow breathing unicorn.
Once I’m ready to go, I usually try to paint it in one sitting. Watercolours can be quite unforgiving and personally, I find it works best if I work quickly, to make sure I’m happy with laying my paint down with different tones and blends before everything gets a chance to dry out. I know other painters have a slower approach but this is the one that I find suits me.
There’s a lot of grey in the final unicorn, as you’ll see below. One of the things I love about paint is that it allows me to only work with three paint colours: red, yellow and blue (in warm or cool palettes). The grey, believe it or not, is made by just the right blend of red, yellow and blue. No black, no grey, no white. Amazing huh?
Maybe in a future blog post, I’ll talk about the magic of grey…
But for now, here is a bad-ass rainbow breathing unicorn:
After the last post, using brush and ink for the handwritten quote, I decided that I quite liked using a brush to write. Most often I use pen, or even sometimes twigs to draw and write. This time though, I just wrote all the lovely words that came to mind and fit them together for a happy Monday post.
Today’s warm up comprised of some quick 2 minute sketches and some detailed blind contour drawings. If you’ve ever experienced blind contour (drawing without looking at your page and only at your subject) you’ll know that it looks like you’ve tried drawing whilst on the bus with your ‘wrong’ hand. It takes a lot of concentration to feel each bump and curve with your eyes but you do sometimes come out with incredible line work. Even if it looks like you’ve been on a jolting bus.
After the tight lines of blind contours, I wanted to loosen up a little. For this, I returned to a method that I hadn’t used in a long time – drawing with sticks. The sticks I used were about 25cm long, and I held it towards the far end, to force my hand away from the page. I love the texture of line that you can create with sticks, and I’m pretty happy with how these figure illustrations came out.
As a drawing exercise and for inspiration whilst the piece was being created, I have several images on the theme of the burlesque act ‘Machete Bears All’. Have a look at some sketchbook scribbles:
The bears are dressed for entertainment – wearing human items is deemed cute but is at odds when worn by a wild animal. Perhaps lulling you into a false sense of security, the human aspects make it more familiar and therefore less of a threat.
For entertaining bear references, I thought of Baloo from the Jungle Book, Yogi Bear and Winnie the Pooh. All loveable characters defined by their either slightly clumsy, preoccupied by food and/or friendly demanors. Certainly a far cry from the wild animals they really are. I couldn’t have loveable bears without a pic-a-nic basket, a tin of salmon and a jar of honey.
Or indeed without an affable walk. Baloo is perfect for this so studied his gait in the disney Jungle Book clips on you tube. I can’t tell if you can see from my sketchbook notes, but I could tell he carried a lot of weight in his hips, twisting as he walked, arms swinging wide, his whole frame quite loose – very relaxed with no tension held in the body. At complete odds with my good posture dance background!
Below you can see the translation of costumes from bare to bear. Turning what you expect into something you don’t. The character performing for your entertainment, becoming the entertaining bear. In the act, the bear cannot get into the food in its picnic basket and is forced to revert to its feral state when it gets angry. For this I watched lots of Eric Bana clips turning into the hulk!
After turning feral, the bear eats a member of the audience and is much happier for having eaten something.