Work in Progress: The Good Rum!

A second WIP for this painting, which now has a proper name: “The Good Rum!”

Man, oil painting is so much fun. I forgot how wonderful it is to work on a physical canvas and feel the brush dragging across the surface. Even the fussy little things like intermixing paint and edge control problems have a pleasurable quality to them. I can see why I was strictly an oil painter for so long!

So, when I last shared a digital WIP of this piece with you, it looked  a little different.

I had this scene of the kappa pirates threatening another crew member on the lower part of the deck. I loved the drama that was happening but after sleeping on it, I realized there were some major issues with it.

For starters, there was a big problem with where the lower figures were in physical space. As a 2D artist, there is a constant temptation to put things in the composition where they feel like they flow nicely. The problem is, it can lead to some really weird spatial issues. I had the kappa with the gun much higher than the man he’s threatening. It would mean that we would need to understand why he’s so much higher. I made an excuse for it initially that he was standing on the staircase that leads to the quarterdeck but there’s no way for a viewer to really intuit that. It just starts to break down in logic and it’s visually distracting.

The second problem was that it was starting to feel like two pictures and not one. The entire drama of the interacting characters down there was this whole other scene that grabbed all this attention when it should really focus on the hero character. I made the mistake of being overly ambitious and included too many narrative elements.

I gritted my teeth and went back to the drawing board. It was tough because I had invested so much time and energy in that bottom scene and I had to throw it out. But, that’s just how it is sometimes! I reworked it completely and I fixed the scaling issues so that two kappa are now walking around on the bottom deck, on the same plane that avoids the weird height issue from before. I still wanted some kind of drama down there, so I tinkered with an onlooker and finally came across the solution of a woman in the lower deck area, peeking out in terror from a darkened room. This felt right, because it has just enough dramatic tension to show how scared she is, but it doesn’t scream for attention and detract from the main scene. I also decided to add some bottles of rum falling out of a box on the staircase, the kind of chaos you might see during a pirate raid. The fallen bottles also help explain where the hero character has picked up his bottle of “good rum” from.

I made a total of seven additional failed sketches before I finally landed on this solution. Something I like to do when I’m unsure if something is working is to check it in grayscale. This helps me to see what my values are doing and where the eye will naturally go, regardless of detail. After checking my new version repeatedly and making small changes, I felt good enough to commit it to a canvas.

Here’s some WIP shots of the beginning stages of the painting.  I like to work from “back to front,” meaning that I paint the background first and then move to the foreground. This helps my foreground edges around characters and details to stay sharp because the background is finished by the time I’ve gotten to them.

I still have niggling doubts about certain details, but that’s kind of a given with a painting this complex. Hopefully all my digital studies and pre-painting have helped prepare for the challenge of this beast 🙂 Stay tuned for more WIP’s to come!