Friday, November 5, 2010

Clockwork Fairies

Last month, explored the themes of steampunk for the second year with their Steampunk Fortnight, and this piece, Clockwork Fairies, was included as a short story. Irene Gallo asked me to illustrate it.
I started with a couple of thumbnail sketches to try to capture a formal portrait of the main character, a black woman mechanic-tinkerer. She’s built the tiny fairies in the story that flutter around house guests. They are made of intricate clock parts with glassine wings, and carry tiny swords.
Here are the only thumbnails. I drew the portrait first, then drew the fairies on a tissue overlay to test the composition.

And a page of mechanical fairy sketches.

I quickly captured the essence of the piece, but most of the fun would come in the paint.

The trick was figuring out how to paint around a squadron of fairies in front of the character’s face. Irene and I spent some time on the phone talking over the process. I hadn’t tried this before, but I knew that the only way to get a good face without having to paint around each fairy, and still have some freedom with painting the little machines, would be to paint the portrait first, let the paint dry, then paint over the top.
It worked fine, but there were changes. Irene needed to have her look more like a genteel woman, so I painted a grey vest over the top of her leather work vest. This softened the feeling.
After the fairies were dry, I knocked a few of them back in value with some glazing...something I hardly ever do, but it worked for this. Here's the sequence of the work.


  1. This is a beauty Greg, This is my favorite blog.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this!

  3. Greg, awesome as always. I like the little upturn at the edge of her lips that you gave her from beginning to finish which softened her as well.

  4. "Irene needed to have her look more like a genteel woman, so I painted a grey vest over the top of her leather work vest. "

    mission accomplished. As Mark noted the upturn at the edge of her lips contributes a lot to that too, despite the subtlety of the change.

    It's quite striking!

  5. Love all you guys! Please keep posting! Thanks.

  6. Another very helpful post. Thanks guys!

  7. man, the best new blog in a loooooong time!

    Ken Meyer Jr.

  8. Greg, I'm totally drooling over the details on the fairy in the bottom left. Amen to the pagan steampunk painting gods!

  9. A beautiful image!

    However, although the grayish vest is very pretty in its own right, I feel that you have now stepped away from the mechanic-tinkerer to a woman with fairies flying around her, even though they are mechanical fairies. The brown vest, which said "leather" to me, is much more a worker's vest, and makes a nice trinity with the goggles & fairies.

    And yes, the fairy in the lower left-hand corner is awesome!

  10. Fantastic Greg. I love how you framed her eyes with the fairies. And of course, your brush handling as always.

    You need to bring out a book of your work.

  11. Beautiful work, Greg! Thanks for posting the progress shots, it's always nice (and informative) to see.

  12. GREG!

    I Just needed to shout your name from the mountain tops.

  13. Greg, what a beautiful piece! Awesome painting, and the sketches...oh jeez, fantastic.

  14. visitor of your website i will share it with my jewellery for sale

  15. Real painters glaze the crap out of things. Seriously, masterful as usual.

  16. Grrrrrrreat!

    Great blog, great people.
    I have a question to any of you professionals out there reading:

    How do you decide on the measurements of the painting when planning a book cover? I am in that point, previously done things digitally and now exploring the realm of oil colors and I am puzzled now....

    But anyways, SUPER blog!

  17. @Hiipi,

    I find the size of an original to actually be a really important phase of the painting.
    I usually take a sketch and blow it up (on a copier, or projector, or monitor, whatever) until I find a size that just 'feels' right. The head isn't TOO big, the hands aren't too small, etc. When I find a size that jives, I measure it out and mark my board to those dimensions.

  18. I love the way the color ended up. What a significant change. And I can just feel the flutter of those wings.Great paingint and post! I'm so glad I found this blog on facebook.

  19. I have just discovered this blog following a link form Sidebarnation. I am so thrilled to see some of my fav artist gathered here. Keep up the good work, everybody.

  20. This is absolutely fantastic, a perfect accompaniment to Cat's story. Thanks so much for sharing the process with us.


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