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The Making of Modern Medusa

This past week I did a little painting and I thought I’d share my process!

Of course it all starts with an idea. I was browsing Pinterest and saw this lovely photo of a girl with dreadlocks. Let me tell you, I wanted to dread my hair right then, but instead I pinned a bunch of similar photos and went to bed wishing I were brave enough to do that to my hair.

Step 1—Sketch


That photo stuck in my mind, and I started sketching out a few poses of girls with dreads. It struck me that they resembled Medusa’s snake hair from Greek mythology, so I added a snake armband and made a mental note to make her dreads green. I went back on Pinterest and gathered a few photos to use as sources—hair, pose, and coloring.

Step 2—Basic Outline


Using Photoshop and my trusty Wacom Bamboo CTL-460, I created a new A3 size canvas and started sketching out the basic pose on a new layer (not the background layer). This part doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect, as it’s just to give me a rough idea of where I’m headed.

Step 3—Basic Values


On a different layer placed below the sketch layer, I used three different values of black to block in her skin, hair, and shirt. This helps to get an idea of how the composition will work when the color is added. An image is only as strong as its values!

Step 4—Shadow Block-in


On another layer placed over the basic values, I used a value of black roughly 40% darker than the basic values to block in my shadow side. The skin was a 30% black, so I used a 70% black for the shadows, and so on for the values of the hair and shirt. I had a photo of a girl in a similar pose, so I referenced that to determine where my lights and shadows would be.

Looking back, I would’ve used values that were closer, like 20% darker, since I was going for a softer feel. Live and learn.

Step 5—Blend


I combined my two value layers (Cmd+E on a Mac) and started blending the edges of the light and shadow sides. I payed lots of attention to my photo references to see where the shadows were hard or soft. The shadows by her eye and on her chest are a lot harder than the ones on her forehead and cheek. Paying attention to these little things gives a better feeling of realism! I also used a Levels layer to make the overall value scheme a little softer.

Don’t forget to save as you go along! There’s nothing worse than having your computer randomly crash, and realizing you didn’t save for the past two hours of work.

Step 6—Color


My next step was to apply a Gradient Map with the basic orange/green color scheme and set it to Multiply with 50% opacity. You can find the Gradient Map at the bottom right nested in the half-circle icon. It’s super fun to play around with and is very useful for trying out color schemes, colorizing your black and white images, and applying to the entire image at the end to marry your colors better.

Since I knew I wanted the hair to be green, I painted over it on a new layer with green, set it to Color, and played with a Hue/Saturation layer clipped to it until I was happy. I did the same for the orange shirt.

Step 7—Finishing Touches


Now that I had my basic color scheme set, I created a new layer and painted with full opacity to add variations of color in the skin, armband, and eyes. I wanted the hair to be solid shapes, so I didn’t mess with that too much. When I was happy with the colors, I used a Levels layer and a Gradient Map layer set to Overlay with a low opacity to tighten up the image. I used the Marquee tool to create a circle on a layer behind her and filled it with a soft gradient to frame her head.


My last step was to create a new layer filled with a soft orange color, add noise, set it to Overlay and lower the opacity. This is just to give the image a bit of tooth so it doesn’t look too “computer-y”. You can also use any textured image (like paper, concrete, etc.) to give you a nice finish.

This process is by no means The Best Way to do a painting, but it’s always interesting to see how different people work.

If you enjoyed this article, go ahead and share it so your friends can read it too!

February Wallpapers

Just in time for the month of love, here’s a couple new wallpapers for you! Just download and enjoy.

Download Deadpool here.

Download Hearts here.

Happy February!

If there is something specific you think would make an amazing wallpaper or you have a suggestion to make these more enjoyable or functional, let me know in the comments! 

How To Not Be an Art Thief

It’s simple, really. Respect others. Respect your art.

Something I’ve been reading up on lately is the subject of copyright. As artists, we take for granted that our artwork belongs to us and may all the fires of hell rain on those that dare copy our work, and I agree. Ripping off other artists is lazy, unethical, and destructive to all those involved.

However, there’s one aspect of copyright that many artists choose to overlook—the fact that photographs are works of art and are protected by the same laws that cover any other form of visual art. I’ve seen a lot of artists—young, old, inexperienced, expert—use whatever photos they can nab off the web as sources for their artwork and I’m shocked that very few of them realize that what they’re doing is, for the most part, illegal. I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that photography is still a lamentably undervalued art form, and that copyright laws haven’t really caught up to the image-driven Internet yet.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking into copyright laws, and here’s a few pointers I’ve picked up from my research. Remember, I’m not a lawyer. Don’t sue me if I happen to steer you wrong and you end up on the wrong side of the law.

1. Derivative or different?

One of the rights owned by every artist is that they own the original piece and any derivative works made of it. This includes prints, mugs, t-shirts, wallpaper, you name it. Unless they sign their rights away, it’s theirs. This means that if you use a copyrighted photo for a photorealistic painting without permission from the photographer, you’ve just committed copyright infringement, baby.

However, if you’re drawing a desk, and you use one photo to figure out the angle, and another for the leg design, and another for the shape of the desktop, you’re most likely okay. Because you’ve referenced the photos and created a completely different object, you’ve not violated anybody’s rights and they can’t sue you for art theft.

A good rule of thumb is to compare the source and your drawing. If it’s painfully obvious that you used that specific photo as a reference, you should probably use a little imagination and change it up a bit.

Photographs should always be used as the starting off point, not the end goal—even for photorealists! That curve could always be more graceful, or the jawline more strong. You are an artist, so art, by jingo.

2. Citing isn’t enough.

A common misconception among artists is that it’s okay to directly copy photos if you cite your source. Nope, false. Remember that bit about derivative works? If you don’t have express permission to copy the photo, it’s off limits for you. However, if you do obtain permission from the copyright holder, be sure to give credit where it’s due. It’s only fair!

3. Fair Use doesn’t equal free use.

I’ve heard the argument that it’s okay to copy photos, because it’s for education. Well, that’s partly true. You can use photos for “criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching… scholarship, or research” according to the Fair Use section of copyright law. So you can make a slideshow of a photographer’s work for your class presentation on their career, but you can’t make a painting of it in the name of education.

Now what about master copies, I hear you say? Well, I’m not really sure where those sit in the eyes of the law—possibly it falls under research. But I know for a fact you shouldn’t be selling them. If the general public would buy your work in lieu of the original, that’s copyright violation.

Also, don’t assume a photo is free for use because it doesn’t have a copyright symbol on it. Art is covered by copyright laws from the moment of creation, so do your research and make sure it’s okay to use.

So, what is an artist to do amidst all these regulations? Simple.

1. Use free domain/creative commons photos.

There are TONS of sites that provide a wide variety of high resolution photos that the photographers have either released for unlimited use or with very few stipulations. Here’s a few I’ve found:

Wikimedia Commons


Public Domain Pictures

The New York Public Library



Be sure to check the license for each individual photo, as there is some variation regarding attribution and use. Also check out Wikipedia’s Public Domain Image Resources page. It has links to around 100 different websites containing media that can be used to your heart’s content. No need to infringe on anyone’s rights. There’s so much wonderful work that has been willingly given to you to use, so take advantage!

2. Contact the copyright holder.

If you reallyreallyjustgotta use that specific photo or you’ll die, try emailing the photographer. Most of them have email links on their website or social media page. However, be prepared for a request for monetary compensation in exchange for using their photo.

3. Shoot your own!

Shocker, right? Even if you don’t have access to a full-fledged camera, almost everyone has a phone that can take amazing photos. It’s much harder to compose a photograph than to grab one online, but this way you’re totally in control. You’re also developing your skills in composition, lighting, and angles, and you’ll be able to connect more deeply with your piece. Win-win-win.

This is barely the surface of copyright laws; thankfully there is a lot of well-written material on this subject, so it’s easy to find answers to any questions you have. You can read the legal jargon here, if you’re really brave. Most of it doesn’t apply to normal, everyday life, but it’s good to have an idea of what copyrights entail.

It’s simple, really. Respect others. Respect your art.


Think this would help someone you know? Go ahead and share this article.

Header photo courtesy of Miguel A Ramirez via Unsplash.

Especially for you…

Here’s a couple wallpapers I designed that I wanted to share with you! Feel free to download the images to your phone for your personal use.

Click here for the birdies.

Click here for the retro awesomeness.

Thoughts on the New Year

Life is too short to be a lesser version of yourself.

This is my last year in school before graduating with my MFA in December, and I’ve been looking at what I’ve accomplished during my schooling. Frankly, I’m disappointed with myself. I feel that I’ve learned so much but haven’t really developed—that I’ve been haphazardly flopping around, with no real goal or purpose. Sure, I rattle off that I want to illustrate children’s books when I grow up, but I’ve failed to realize that I’ve been grown up for several years and I’ve accomplished very little towards that goal. Part of that is my artistic style. I know what I like, and what I’m producing is not it.

There has been an interesting trend of, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, choosing a word or phrase to aspire to for the year. I’ve mulled over myself, really trying to understand what I want so that I can figure out how to achieve it. I’ve thought about how I’d like to develop my style in a specific direction, how I’d like to blog and network more, how I want to cultivate my personal life. I’ve decided on this:


I want to stop restricting myself through mental constraints I’ve cultivated—to stop deluding myself into believing that I’m not good enough or, alternatively, that I don’t need improvement. I want to stop restricting myself by folding into the little box people build for me (I’m not talking about your words of encouragement at all, so please don’t think that. I appreciate each and every thoughtful comment and kind word). I want to look myself in the eye and know that I lived up to my own standard that day.

So 2016 is my year to be real with myself and truly utilize what I’ve learned and what has been given to me. Life is too short to be a lesser version of yourself.


The new year has come with many significant changes for this girl… I got married to an amazing guy in December, we moved into our very own apartment at the beginning of this month, and, as a result, I’ve become severely addicted to Pinterest in search of clever ideas to cover my hideous 50s-style cream metal cabinets.

Not too much arting is going on as of now, but that will change as classes picks up speed. I have a couple of little helpers this semester who have generously agreed to assist with modelling and all-around entertainment in exchange for a warm nest and a little peanut butter now and then.


Ladies and gentlemen, the newest members of our rapidly increasing family– Bellatrix and Eponine! They’re adventurous little beasties, and I enjoy their mannerisms and how they interact with me and each other. I’m sure they’ll be showing up in some art this semester, so keep an eye out! As of right now, Master Ruffy MacDougall is on the drawing board. I have so many ideas for him (like mixing watercolor with digital), so I’m excited to see how he turns out! I’ll be posting progress shots on Instagram and the finished piece here, so I hope you enjoy!