Why Flamingoes Are Pink (Hint: You Are What You Eat!)
I adore Maira Kalman‘s wonderfully quirky gouache and ink illustrations. When I’ve tried to use ink on my own gouache paintings, the ink always got sucked into the paint and blurred, or the pen clogged immediately (or both). I searched every way I could on the internet and finally found this link to India Amos’s blog. India, as Art Director, was responsible for preparing some of Maira’s artwork for print. In the post she wrote that Maira creates the painting and lettering separately. Then they’re scanned and layered together electronically using Photoshop.
So yesterday I investigated this approach. I painted the flamingoes above from a photo I took at Six Flags last month. Then I tried various pens and tracing papers. I also sent a message to India asking if she’d be willing to provide more information about the process.
She wrote back quickly (like most artists online, she was very generous in sharing her wisdom) but not before I’d tried a number of things that didn’t work, which I’ll list at the end.
Here’s what India wrote to me:
Maira supplied the captions on heavy tracing paper; I clearly recall having to put a sheet of white cardstock on top of them while scanning, to get a clean background.
My process was to scan each caption as a bitmap at 2400 dpi, convert it to grayscale, place it on a Photoshop layer above that of the painting, and set the blending mode of the top layer to “darken” (or “multiply,” or “darker color”–they all have the same effect, in this case, since the text is solid black and the background is solid white). The white background drops out everywhere, including inside the counters.” [the inside of letter forms like "O" and "D"]
I tried this approach, using Canson Extra Heavy Vidalon Tracing Pad which, according to their labeling is “the most transparent surface, strong, clear excellent surface for pencil or ink.” It worked perfectly!
The great thing is that the original artwork is still pristine, despite all the different ways I messed up the printing (spelled camouflage wrong on one take, wrote “too” instead of “to” etc.). When I didn’t like the printing on the bottom I redid it in on another piece of vellum and scanned it to another layer. I think the pen was more inky though, as it looks thicker and darker than the rest.
I also got some great tips about using ink with gouache from these art blogger friends, including these comments:
- Toni Kelly said, “When I need to letter over a painting I use the vellum.” [So that's how she makes those beautiful calligraphed artworks!]
- Karen Winters said, “I’ve done something similar a few times when I wanted to add text to a journal painting, but I didn’t want to write on the journal entry itself.”
- Roz Stendahl added, “I also, however, write on top of my gouache paintings all the time. Staedtler Pigment Liners, Faber Castel Pit Artist Brush Pens, Pentel Pocket Brush Pens, and dip pen with Ziller Acrylic inks (I like their Glossy Black which I think is the best black ink in the world). All those work fab for me.
Here’s what didn’t work:
- Drawing with ink on regular tracing paper and scanning the art and lettering together together (tracing paper created cloudiness over the artwork).
- Scanning the tracing paper separately and layering them in Photoshop. I copied the lettering specifying “transparent background” and pasted onto the scan of the painting, but while the background was transparent, all the spaces INSIDE letters such as O B D, were white, which looks sort of cute, but not what I’m going for.
- Drew with ink on prepared acetate, designed to accept wet media without beading up. Tried numerous pens and most smeared, even when “dry” except for two permanent markers designed for writing on shiny surfaces, but the ink color was too pale. I finally used dip pen with acrylic ink and that worked and didn’t smear and then I could scan them together. But the acetate is expensive, and not as pleasant to work with a dip pen as the vellum/tracing paper was.