Monday, October 15, 2012

A Halloween Tutorial: How to paint blood, mold, and rust with watercolors.

DISCLAIMER: If you don't like scary things then read no further, friends. Some of the images in this post are a little frightening because it teaches how to paint zombie flesh, blood, and rust (Oh my!) However, if you live for a good chill in October, then enjoy!

This weekend I returned to my horror illustrating roots and painted Biggy Man from the video game Splatterhouse

Who can resist those chainsaw hands?

Ryan requested I paint a few characters from horror video games for the charity event he is running at the end of this month, The Nightmarathon. It's a gaming marathon for the American Cancer Society I'll be talking about more in the days to come.

Biggy Man is a blood soaked monstrosity with chainsaws for hands, and so this felt like a great painting to use for the blood, mold, and rust tutorial I promised to do earlier in the year. When it comes to blood, rot, and rust he's got it all!

Pencil Sketch


Background wash, some thick grey clouds, and gross fog.

Flesh wash. I kept it pretty dappled and flabby due to the gent's size.

Sack, pants, and chainsaw wash.

Rot and 1st blood wash.

2nd and 3rd blood washes.

Finishing details, including chainsaw sprays.

All done, masking tape off, clean edges.

Years ago I painted horror and children's illustrations in equal numbers. Eventually children's illustrations won out since I could, you know, earn a living from them. However, I still enjoy the occasional gore filled painting and I was happy to have a reason to paint Biggy Man.

Watercolors are the perfect medium for blood, mold, and rust for one simple reason: they're all water based. Blood is liquid, mold grows from moisture, and rust is a result of wetness over time. And so, it's really pretty easy to replicate these looks with watercolor paints if you think about how each of these liquid-born substances spread/develop/drip.

These are the colors I used for my examples, plus a skin tone made
from a mix of orange, brown, and white.

It's very important to play and experiment with watercolors before you embark on an entire painting. You want to get a feel for the paper you're using and its absorbency. Different papers will hold water and pigment differently (go figure) and you want to feel comfortable with the "wet-to-dry" time frame you'll have to work with. Most of the best effects in watercolor depend entirely on how wet or dry the page is.

I use Strathmore watercolor cold press paper because I like the texture. It takes in a lot of water, but it's still smooth enough for my thinnest pens to ink the page without looking all wobbly. If you're not concerned with pen or pencil lines, you can probably go for thicker watercolor paper. If you're very light on pigment and looking for a light, feathery, ethereal look you may want to try scant washes on drawing paper--you just need to watch the amount of water you use, because the more you soak the page the more dappled and bumpy it will dry.

Whatever paper you decide to use, sacrifice a few sheets and try out some "washes". A wash is just light cover of water with a little bit of pigment. Ideally, you want to build a watercolor painting up with 2-9 (or, seriously, 2-50, 2-100) light washes. The layers you build will give the watercolor painting depth. The first few washes will look very dull, you're just setting down colors. Later washes are for heavier strokes, splashes, and details.

Next, experiment with the washes. Pigment stroked, dotted, or dropped into a wash will react very differently depending on how wet it is. A light stroke of pigment over a mostly dry wash will be very easy to manipulate. Pigment dotted into a very wet wash will spread out in all directions, like a tree root or a lightening bolt. Play on the page long enough to get an idea of what is going to happen when you apply your brush and paint to the washes.

Most importantly: Let the water and pigment do their stuff. They are going to expand, feather, and drift in ways you can direct but never quite control. And no worries, you don't want to control them. If you want absolute control over your paints, acrylic or oils might be more your thing. While you can't entirely predict the results, practice will give you a good idea of what to expect. And you can usually fix any big blunders, as long as you are working light and building soft washes instead of slamming down giant heavy blobs of paint. You can correct a misplaced blotch with a quick blotting of paper towel/cloth/q-tip. If you're careful enough you can even erase a stray spot or stroke with a quickly applied drip of water and slightly damp cloth. (I do this a LOT. I make many, many mistakes--it's how I learn).

Now for the tutorials! Because watercolor is all about working with time and swiftly drying materials, it'd be tough for me to photograph Biggy Man's gross bits without risking them drying during the photo time and ruining the effect. So I recreated the mold, rust, and blood techniques on another page. Maybe one of these days I'll do a speed video of a painting....

Mold: Mold can be found in many places, but since this is a Halloween tutorial, we're going to deal with what I'd like to call "Zombie Rot."
A painting of the fourth horseman of the Apocalypse from 2005 ish

My Zombie Paper Dolls

If you're painting zombies or the undead, you're probably going to want some mold in there. Reading up on how the body decomposes helps tremendously. Believe it or not, I'm pretty squeamish when it comes to real deal actual factual images of decomposition, so I have relied heavily on reading about the scientific process (and loving horror movies, which I'm cool with because I know it's make up).

The torso is going to be your best bet for paining rot on a zombie, because we decay from the squishy bits out. So the mold tutorial I'm about to show you would work best on a bloated tummy or caved in cheek.

Start with a skin colored wash, keep it wet.

Drop a little sickly green in there.

Drop green pigment in until it spots and spreads like so.

If you want less green, give it a dab. 

Keep the wash wet. Take a little bit of black pigment and touch it to the wash.
It should feather and spread outward like black mold on an old apple. YUM!

More mold spores!

Dab as you go. Let the first black mold wash dry, and drop smaller, finer
dots of black pigment in there.

This is a good base. Repeat these steps as many times as needed to make
it really gross. 

Sprinkle some green in too. This is some real gooey rot!

Using different colors, this mold technique can be used to create lichen, (green, grey, brown) moss, (greens, browns) and fatty flesh (orange, peach, pink, brown, light blue).

Rust: Rust takes a beautiful piece of art and renders it ancient, thrown away, and forgotten. It's fantastic for creating a creepy atmosphere in a painting, and whenever I'm painting metal I tend to throw a little rust in there for emotional flavor.
Rust can make something sharp look extra dangerous. Hello, tetanus!
"Skull with the Razor Blade Halo"

Rust can make a setting look old or rundown.
(Don't be afraid to throw some deep greens in there too for extra aging).
"Escape from the Factory"

Rust can communicate that a robot may be neglected or forgotten,
making the friendship it strikes up with a little bird all the more meaningful.
"Gentle Robot"

Rust occurs over time as moisture settles, washes, or drips over metal. While you're painting rust over metal you want to think about the shape of the object and ask yourself, "How did this rust form?" A metal treasure chest submerged under water for centuries will look very different from an old gate swinging in the rain a few times a year.

I usually like to paint the metal object itself very lightly before I begin to rust it, so here's quick metal tutorial too!
I start my metals in blue.

Take a wet brush and pull up some of the pigment to create a shine.


Add greys to your edges. 

Typically I choose one hard edge and one soft edge,
with maybe a heavy streak down a side.


Now we're ready for our rust!

Lay it on thick at first, and then dot in some water
to let the rust pigment eat into the metal.
(An orange-y brown like Burnt Sienna works best for this bit).

Work the water outward, letting some of the 'rust' pool and darken.

Think about the shape, think about where the light is coming
from in your scene. Think of how the rust would have spread over this object.

Dab any mistakes away. If it's too dark, lighten it up and begin again.
(Damn son, that works for life too).

Repeat and repeat and repeat until you like what you're seeing.
Occasionally you'll want to create a rusty drip.
Many old canisters and such have old, yucky rust drips down the side.

You can see my note to self: Let it dry!
Make sure a wash is completely dry before you paint a drip,
or the paint will feather and spread and become a runny mess.

Follow the drip with more strokes to darken it.
(Burnt Umber works best for darker rust details).

Dab to lighten. 

A row of drips....

I dab all the time, because I mess up all the time. It's okay,
let go and let yourself play enough to make mistakes.

A rust drip.

It's very important to think about where the rust will develop on an object. Even if you're painting something completely surreal, like a walking talking tin man from Oz, you need to think out where the moisture would pool and the rust would bite at the metal. What does this metal do? How does it come into contact with wetness? Is this object being cared for in any way, or is the owner a complete slob? Attempting to adhere to reality will make something imaginary look more real. Take Biggy Man's chainsaw hands for example....
Take a moment to think about where the rust should go on this chainsaw.

I tried to keep the rust close to where the blade was jammed into his
sweaty arm stumps, and to the edge and chain which would be
coming into contact with blood and wet guts often.

Like so.

Using different colors, this rust technique can be used to create bruises, (yellow, brown, purple) and the shadows of leaves on the ground, (blues, greys).

Blood: I've saved the best for last, because blood is just so much fun. Blood is great for splashes, sprays, and splatters.
Delicate splashes for a bloody ghost.
"Enchanted Zombie."

Light washes to soak into fabric.
"The Blue Lady"

Blood sprays can burst from undead creatures as they shamble foward.
"Zombie in the Woods."

Hungry monsters rarely wipe their mouths.
"Frost Heaves"

Blood is a liquid, obviously, and so the best way to paint blood is to water down red paint and apply it to a dry page in drops, splatters, and drips, etc. Take full advantage of its liquid form.

For blood sprays, start with a very wet brush.

Water down the red paint until it's a dark liquid.
You know,... like blood.

Keep the brush super wet. Different shaped brushes will
create different sprays. Old toothbrushes work great for a very fine spray!

Take your finger, and drag your nail across the bristles.
Different speeds will give you different results.

Your hands will get dirty.
You're painting; you're not throwing a tea party for the Queen.

Practice directing the spray. Usually it sprays in a line.
You can create real disgusting movement in a painting
by creating a "burst" of blood somewhere.

Blood splatter: (This is really fun). Pull a very wet red brush back....

And "fling" it on the page. SPLAT.

See the difference? Think as you go, "Where is this blood coming from?"
"Is it spraying from a wound? Is it splashing from a victim?"

Now, you're making a real mess on the page and you're not going to like every splash that lands. Sometimes a blotch lands very awkwardly, sometimes a drop is one drop too many. And what about the background? It's fine for Biggy Man to be covered in blood, but I don't want the clouds covered in blood. That wouldn't make any sense.

When you're applying these splashes and sprays to an actual painting, it's important to mask off the parts of the page you don't want covered in blood. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to work.

Paper towels, a girl's best friend.

See how that works?

You've masked off your page, you've splattered all over (gross) and now you peel back the masking materials (paper towels) and OH NO. SOMETHING LOOKS WRONG.

It's cool gurl, relax. Remember what I said before about correcting a bit of paint with a damp paper towel?

Go through your splatter--RIGHT AWAY--and gently pull up the spots you don't want with a blotter. Paper towels, a cloth, or q-tips work best. You should avoid toilet tissue because it's too thin and it will get stuck to the page. You're rolling your eyes at me right now, but there will come a night when you're out of paper towels and q-tips and you're going to end up with a painting covered in thin bits of toilet paper and you'll think back and remember this paragraph and think "OHHHH."

You want to blot fast, so don't be afraid to splat/check/blot/repeat a few times.

Those splatters to the right are great. The one to the left is a stupid mess.
And I hate it.

A bit of paper towel, slightly (VERY SLIGHTLY) dampened
will pull up tough spots.

Work gently, have patience, don't push down or grind in EVER.
Let the paper towel suck the paint up, and then gently brush it away.


You've sprayed and splattered all over the place, (YOU'RE OUT OF CONTROL) but still, something's missing. Don't be afraid to fake a few key splatters. I paint fake blood drops all the time. Here's a trick:

Drip the paint down, the idea is to make it look like a series
of heavy drops. (You're pulling some of it back up later).

Add a stray drop or two.

Gently blot

Viola! Cloudy blood puddle.

What if you're splashing blood onto something? What if you're painting Jason from Friday the 13th or a big fuzzy monster with a thousand teeth and they're just covered in massive blood baths? Well, then chances are some of that blood is going to drip down.

While some of the splatters are still wet, take a thin brush and
pull a bit of the paint downward.

Think about the surface the blood is dripping over. If it's a fat man like Biggy, you'll want to pull the blood over the curves. If it's thick fur, you'll want to pull it this way and that way over the tufts. Think about how the blood would move, how long it's been there (the longer it's been there, the darker you will want to go. Feel free to add some Burnt Umber for drying or dried blood. Splatter Burnt Umber if the blood splashes have occurred over time, such as Biggy Man who has been cutting folks down for a long time).

Add a few drips of varying thickness, if you like. While the drops
should follow a similar path, they need to all be a little different.

Variation makes something look more real. It's very rare
that anything naturally occurring is identical. 

Using different colors, the blood spray technique can be used to create sand, (yellow, brown, grey) and ocean spray, (blue, grey, green). The blood splatter technique can be used to create rain drops (blues and greys) and thicker ocean spray (blue, grey, green).

I hope this has been helpful and that you enjoy trying these tutorials out creating spooky paintings! That sounds like a good way to burn an October afternoon, eh?

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Sometimes it's hard putting some of this stuff into words, because for a long time it's been a series of habits developed from messing around on paper. So, if anything here isn't clear please let me know. If there's something else you would like a tutorial on, let me know that too. This blood, mold, and rust tutorial is by request, and I'm happy to do more if there's anything someone would like to see!

Happy mid-October, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. Perfect. Just what I was looking for. And your descriptive words were very entertaining. I cant wait to make cloudy blood puddles of my own. Best painting tutorial I have ever read.


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