Step By Step #1: Heaven, Hell, and the Impala

Posted on Sep 23, 2014 in art, Journal, painting, process, WIP | 2 Comments
Step By Step #1: Heaven, Hell, and the Impala

Giving a new thing a try– compiling my process photos and giving a little step-by-step walk through of my work. I love seeing process photos because it gives such insight into how an artist approaches a piece and since I tend to take a lot of progress pictures of my work, I thought sharing my personal painting experiences would be worth blogging about. So, without further ado… Step by Step #1!





I’m kicking it off with my Supernatural painting “Heaven, Hell, and the Impala.” I had done a couple of simple Sam and Dean watercolor portraits, but I really wanted to do a full composition that captured main elements of the show and that underlying nostalgia that I think really resonates with fans of the show.

As always, I like to transfer a simple line drawing onto my paper. I’m a very gestural drawer– my sketches tend to be made of loose scribbles that require a lot of erasing to clean up, so it’s much easier and neater for me to work out my compositions on a separate page and then use a graphite transfer paper to apply it onto my work surface.


I like to work small, but I didn’t realize what I was getting myself into with this one. Oh boy.


Initially, my intentions were to keep the moody sky of my screen capture source photo and to do the entire thing in watercolor. That changed once I realized how tight my painting would have to be and I ended up switching over to acrylics.


I worked under a magnifying glass a lot for this painting. It helped me immensely with tiny details and keeping the faces accurate.  Truth be told, I think I had the most fun painting the hands.



I won’t beat around the bush…painting faces in this scale was the biggest pain. When doing pop culture figures, the whole point is to retain the likeness of your subjects…but when you work so small, the slightest brush stroke can throw an entire face off and you can lose it so quickly without even realizing it. You can see how much Sam and Cas evolved…Dean had to be reworked so many times that I nearly scrapped the whole project (no photos, but believe me, it was a frustrating disaster that took days to resolve.)


Once I got the figures in, it was time to attack the background. I do a lot of large scale landscapes when I paint scenery backdrops, so it was interesting to apply my techniques to something much smaller. I like to block in my colors loosely and then layer leaves by using quick flicks of the brush and a natural sea sponge.


I was feeling like the background was incredibly dull and I was doing a lot of gold leafing on the scenery I was painting at work…so I figured the hell with it, I’m going to leaf the entire sky. It was a risk, but I learned long ago that if you’re not happy with something, you have two options: take the chance to improve it – or – live with it the way it is and know that maybe you could have done something to make it better.


I really think the gold leaf took the painting where I wanted it to go and I thought it was a nice contrast to the black and silver of the car. Painting acrylic on top of gold leaf can be tricky– unlike oil paints, you can’t really get a nice glaze on the gold leaf. When you thin them with water and apply on the slick surface, they tend to bead up, get streaky, and make your leaf chalky. It was important that I hardly thinned my paints and was very precise about where I wanted to my tree leaves to go–once they were on, there was no getting them off.


Lastly, I wanted frame the composition in such a way that your eye would be drawn to the figures and not trail off through the sky. I really like using natural patinas, and by carefully brushing on some rust activator product, the (imitation) gold leaf oxidized and I was left with beautiful green tarnish.


The last hurdle was the get a decent photo. Easier said than done. Usually I take my work outside on an overcast day and I’m able to get a pretty good photograph. This one was a beast– a combination of the reflective nature of the gold leaf, the glossy sheen of the sealer (I usually seal my paintings with a matte finish, but the sealer for gold leaf is gloss), and the tiny detail, getting a good image was impossible for me. I tried and tried and tried but just couldn’t get a picture that would do the painting justice. I finally accepted defeat and took it to a professional– totally worth it. I mean, just compare my piss poor attempt above to the following:

Heaven, Hell, and the Impala

And thus ends the step by step journey of Heaven, Hell, and the Impala. It was definitely a challenging piece, but I’m glad I fought through it.  I was also desperately trying to finish it for a gallery show, so finally seeing it framed and up on the wall during the opening reception reminded me why I love making art. The struggle is where you learn the most. If it were easy, it probably wouldn’t be worth doing. In the end, if you can be happy with what you’ve produced, take the experience and use its lessons to push you further the next time round, then your work will always have meaning. Or something….





  1. Brooke
    September 24, 2014

    Oh. Wow. I remember seeing some of the process on Twitter and being very impressed, but now I am just plain in awe! First, I had no idea the faces and hands were so tiny! Amazing detail work!

    I’m glad you took it to be professionally photographed. I still like the final photo you took of it (the shininess of the background looks really cool in your shot) but I think after viewing both yours and the pro shot together, I have a much better idea of how it looks in person.

    Thanks for showing the process! It’s so interesting to see how it changed along the way and the subtle face tweaks side-by-side is fascinating. Way to stick with it through the frustration – the end result was totally worth it!

  2. Heather M
    September 26, 2014

    Many thanks! It was definitely a piece that taught me a lot and even a year after completing it, the lessons I learned are still so vivid in my head. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading about my process– I tend to take a lot of photos as I work because it lets me take a step back and watch paintings evolve, so it’s nice to hear that others find it interesting as well.
    Thanks again for reading!!


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