Illustrating Little Monk and the Mantis: pt. 3

illustrating Mantis Kung Fu

Previously, The story now titled Little Monk and the Mantis: a bug, a boy and the birth of a kung fu legend has been broken down into thirteen key images, one of which has been completed.

After nearly a year of development and the deadline for completed artwork fast approaching it was decided that the remaining twelve works of art would be painted somewhat simeltaniously. The vision for producing this artwork would be as follows:

  1. Rough drawings based on the previously refined color layouts would be taped to sheets of one quarter inch thick frosted plexi-glass twelve by twentyfour inches in size.
  2. Over each drawing, a sheet of twelve by eighteen inch water-color paper would be mounted
  3. A camera would also be set up above the drawing table to record the process. This element would be key as a means of reviewing the illustration process for the sake of creating greater effeciency and to identify when and were time is wasted.
  4. With a collection of eleven boards mounted in this fashion (one of the 13 pieces would be painted in a more traditional wet-on-wet manor, with the soaked water-color paper mounted on an illustration board) and a color pallet worked out in advance, judicious use of a lightbox would be key in the success of this project.

After starting off the session with a yellow wash the immedate attraction to detail pulled me into a specific spread within the book. Looking to capture the mystique of Chinese lore I opted for the good luck that starting with a drawing of a Dragon would bring. The book would premiere durring the Chinese lunar year of the Water Dragon, more reason to spend time rendering my own watercolor dragon.

Moving on from Dragon Kung Fu piece a few background washes would follow. Work on the complex “Monkeys’ Forest” and a pair of quiet indoor scenes lead me into the late night hours where several strong brews of Pu-erh tea maintained the energy levels. The tea was used to stain those indoor scenes, particularly the piece “Kung Fu Calligraphy.” By adding In this way I hoped to infuse the page with the Qi of history by painting a monk painting, in the tea such a monk might drink in Shaolin Temple to this day. Interestingly this novelty was mention by the author on public radio.

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The following marathon session took place about a week later, in that time I was able to review the first recording session and formulate some concrete ideas on how I might proceed. Starting the session with another yellow wash was a nod to my video recording, from there I planned to undertake some complex background painting. The first step in that task would be to mask off foreground elements with tape and some liquid frisket, also known as liquid mask. For those unfamiliar with the item, it’s essentially rubber in a jar and very useful for water color and airbrush art. Once applied the frisket will need to set, leaving me with some time to ad detail to previously painted backgrounds.

The  light box sits on the drawing table at a slight angle, the table itself is also not quite horizontal and this will cause water to occasionally drip down towards the table’s bottom, located in the upper left corner of the screen. Gravity can be put to use in creating gradations by rotating the page, sometime drawing upside down, or increasing the depth of the page’s angle. having individually mounted boards allowed backgrounds to dry at different stages, sometimes propped up to maintain those angles.

With a large chunk of complex backgrounds completed, I was able to enter this third session inspired to work on characters and props. Keeping multiple brushes held in hand I could switch from board to board to work on a specific item or color. The lead character Wong Long’s slippers and bird cage were notable for this, as were the folds in his robes. With a portions of the painting at different stages of wetness, I was able to begin illustrating other scenes. I was also able to spend time with the piece titled “THE SONG MOUNTAINS” which was created separately from the majority of the work flow.

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Come the fourth of and last marathon painting session I was just about finished with backgrounds. With the landscape of THE SONG MOUNTAINS piece happening at its own pace I was able to delve into the details of specific characters. Leaving the Praying Mantis itself to be painted last, I finally put to use the board of yellow washes. A couple of more pieces would be requested before the book actually went to press, but the majority of the illustrations were ready to be scanned and, in some cases refined digitally.