Sunday, June 14, 2009

Painting Alex Ross Style

I'm working on a picture book proposal. I decided to borrow Alex Ross's technique. I first painted the scene with black gouache on 12" X 12" cold press watercolor paper.

Next, I started laying in color with Van Gogh watercolor paint. The overall effect isn't too bad, especially considering I haven't picked up my paints in at least a couple of years. Not surprisingly, smoke is difficult to paint and took up most of my painting time.
It helps to have a great model as well (my son).The superhero uniform is thermals, Spider-man gloves, Mama's snow boots and masking taping.

I couldn't decide where to paint, so I bought a 2X2 sheet of 1/4" plywood, sanded it, and used it as a mobile art desk. Worked great, as I could move the board around while painting instead of contorting into uncomfortable positions like I used to. This probably took around 6 hours.


  1. Wow, Ted!
    That's great!!

    Interesting technique!

  2. Ted, that's awesome!!! That ONLY took you six hours? Wowza!!!

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  4. Wow. There is a feeling of gaining altitude here that is just wonderful. In awe over here.

  5. That's some awesome work!
    If you don't mind, I would really like to know how you manage to paint over the gouache without it getting diluted when the watercolor is applied over it.

  6. The black guoache does dilute as I paint over it, but I wanted that to a point. This technique was experimental for me, but here's how I used it: The black guoache did two things: It established contrast, which I can easily lose when working in color, and it was a more durable guide than pencil for the watercolor. I tend to work heavily with watercolor paint.

    The black held up more than I wanted when I painted over it with yellow, so in the future I'll leave any yellow areas much lighter. I like Alex Ross's work, but wanted the colors a little brighter, less of a colored-black-and-white-photo look, so I used more paint.

    So anyway, I guess it depends on how liberal you are with the paint and what effect you want. The black holds up well with just a couple of glazes. With heavier painting, it fades some but still lets you see your original guides to paint by.

  7. can u teach me? and how do u lay the color with out the black smearing? and how do u layer ur color dark to light? or light then add more for darker shades?

  8. I would recommend practicing with the black gouache, just doing grayscale work. Work from b&w photos. Get a feel for it, not making things too muddy and gray; work on strong contrast. Even with using grays, you still want to have strong shadows and strong light areas. Gouache dries quickly, so you have to learn to work fairly quickly.

    Then you can start working in watercolor. When you're doing color, use even less gray: use the watercolor for establishing contrast and shading. Start with a light glaze. The gouache will hold up well if you give it time to dry.

    Add more color once it dries and build up the color. To get a less flat look, use a little complimentary color over colors. For example, a green will look more green if you lay a little bit of red over it.

    Work from photos. I always like taking photos with good backlighting and strong contrast, like the one above. Don't be afraid of white. It's okay to use black, but probably better to build up a dark areas with color.

    If you work gradually building up color with glazes, and learn to lay the paint down quickly, using photos as a guide, you'll get the hang of it. I just learned by trial and error and studying painters whose work I admire.

  9. i keep postin but it wont stay, but I was asking if u would do a full dvd video full length even if its 6 hours from start to finish alex ross style.. gray scale than color how u layer and wash zoom in to and guide us i would be willing to pay for the shoot n dvd if u give me a price, will pay up front because ur so awesome im tj thanks have a excellent adventure ted !

  10. Thanks, TJ! My schedule is busy right now, but I will put some thought into it.

  11. This is really beatifull!
    I'm learning this technique as well for making comics compositions. I usually paint with oils, and Alex Ross's technique reminds me the famous verdaccio underpainting. However, i have a question for you: when you apply the colors, the idea is that the actually blend a little bit whith the b&w gouache?, i mean, they "lift" a bit of the gouache painting, and so they go darker or lighter because of that?, or this underpainting is just for a guide and then one can work it as "transparents color layers"? (by the way, sorry for my english, i'm in argentina),
    i'm loving your blog, Sophia.