Sunday, November 27, 2011

Teenage Mutant Ninja Raccoons: A Study

Recently I was asked to do an illustration for some of my friends who run the Seattle Foot Clan stream. It's a stream showcasing matches in the Seattle fighting game scene. They needed an image to show for breaks and such, and asked if I'd be willing to paint the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as raccoons.


It always tickles me when people ask for illustrations that actually follow my style. So many times people say, "I love your work! Would you paint a portrait of my kids sitting in our living room?" And I'm like, "Nope, that sounds like torture. Would you like me to paint your kids as mermaids under the ocean or something else fun instead?"

So when I heard the words 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' and 'Raccoons' I was immediately on board.

For some time I have wanted to share the steps that go into a typical illustration more in depth. For this painting I took a series of photographs as I worked, and I'll try to do some more of these studies. I began with this project because I really just wanted to write the words, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Raccoons: A Study."

Here we go!

We begin with a sketch. In the future I'll include the sketch as well, but I only thought of the camera after these little bad boys had already been inked. I often line the edges of the page in masking tape before I draw, to create an edge and frame the composition.

Masking tape is my homeboy.

I typically ink my illustrations with a .005 Micron pen. To me, there's nothing better. It's super thin, easily controlled, archival, and most importantly: waterproof.

The little raccoon in the front is saying
"Micron...because I'm worth it."

Now that the inking is done, we're ready to lay down a thin background wash. At this point, I know that I want the background to be blue, light in the center, and darker as we fan to the edges. So I soak a larger brush in water and get it nice and full of prussian blue. I start with the edges, since I want those darker, and as I work to the middle I rinse the brush lightly a few times.

The start of the background wash.

Right now the edge of the darker blue area is sharp. I want to soften that, so I add more water to the brush.

This little raccoon says
"That'll never do!"

I work with the brush carefully, because the paint is still wet and this is the best time for watercolors. You can always go back and mute something dried with water, but the best effects are going to come when the paint is wet and the page is wet, and the pigment is drifting over the paper in splashy swirls.

"That's better...."

Here is the most daunting obstacle for many folks new to watercolors: Let the paint and the water do their stuff. Have an idea of what you want a painting to look like, and then play with the wetness, pigment, and drying time until it looks even better than you had hoped for. Watercolor is best when you don't try to rigidly control the results. Actually, life is kinda like that too.

True story, taking a picture with one hand
and painting with the other is harder than you would think.

Everyone works differently with paints, and my method is to build up light layers. Now that I have the first background wash in place, it's time to work a second wash over it. I want it strong enough to deepen the colors, but light enough not to lose the details I worked to pull through the last wash.

More blue, please.

For the look I want that blue is only going to work if I pull some of it back up, and leave the rest to pool and dry. So I have to quickly blot at it before it dries.

That's better.

Now, you can buy all sorts of fancy art products specifically designed for dabbing away moisture, but I found early that the little pockets and designs on ordinary paper towels create kind of a cool 'underwater' reflection. Plus, hey...79 cents a roll.

The more technical artists are going to hate this.

As I've worked I have been careful not to paint the raccoons blue. However, as I know I will be painting this raccoon's mask a dark shade of purple, I sacrifice the edges so  the background can look even.

Be careful, but don't drive yourself insane Van Gogh.

 Now I begin to paint the places I want the eye to travel to first.


I set down the first "fur" wash. I shade the raccoons as I go during this phase, building up tails and bellies.

Getting fuzzy....

There are typically 2-3 "fur" washes on any fuzzy critter. I just set down the color, now I'm setting the "fluff" of the fur washes. Mainly I want color/shading, fluff, and more detailed bristles. All of these layers together should add some softness and pudge to these guys.

Feelin' fluffy....

Now I do a 'color' wash, to lay out all the other colors. I'm not detailing them entirely yet, but I am leaving some spots lighter or darker as a guide for the next wash (and to save myself some work).

Hello, color!

Some more details....

Adding some shadows to their masks.

Here's a photograph once the tape has been removed....

Feelin' fuzzy, looking fresh.

And an actual scan of the work because our camera is the devil and it hates me.

Feelin' fuzzy, looking scanned!

And there you have it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Raccoons, and how they came to be!


  1. That's just been a fascinating read! Thank you so much - wish I had your artistic skills!

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