Happy Little Accidents

Yesterday sucked. And I mean, epically sucked. One of the lies people tell you is that success feels good. Achieving my own goals, for me, feels good. Other people competing with me does not. I post pictures of my dinner on Facebook; that doesn’t mean you have to, or that you have to hate on me for–if you can believe it–anything I do! I’m disabled, and sometimes kind of low functioning! I’ve fought my way back to cooking from being almost completely bedridden and fuck yeah, I’m proud of that fact.

Knowing more about me, though, or you, or anyone, or acknowledging what they do know, that’s coming dangerously close to empathy. Which gets in the way, for those looking to be bullies. A lot of people liked (“liked”) me just fine, before. Although they never, you know, visited me. My own family, too. I reached out to one family member, yesterday,  got an incredibly cold response and spent the rest of my day crying.  Into baklava, which isn’t helping the cause of my pants fitting! I’m smiling today, though, because I get to write this tutorial. Interacting with all of you is a highlight!

I can also tell you, with complete conviction, that art keeps me sane.

Or maybe a better word is grounded?

I sometimes ask myself, what would Bob Ross do. I admire him so tremendously and for so many reasons, although primarily for the joy he had in connecting with other people. He wasn’t looking to make money from them; he wanted to share something he’d found, that banished those dark clouds. As he, himself said, “painting will bring a lot of good thoughts to your heart.” Maybe this is a tough time of year for you, too. Create with me, then, and we’ll both feel better.

Now, on to glory!

First things first, or maybe second things second, a little context. This fireplace is meant to be sandstone. The exact supplies I used for the painting itself are listed here. Sandstone, though, covers a wide variety of variations–which is awesome! You have quite a bit of leeway in designing your own color palette (or indeed using mine). You can go dark, you can go light. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’re only painting; as far as the building, I’ll cover creating your own architectural components later on. I made this piece from a mixture of illustration board, basswood, and resin components.


Here we are at the beginning. I’ve prepped my piece with a few fine (spray) coats of primer–followed by some light sanding, a final coat of primer, and then a coat of whatever seems vaguely cream-like in my garage. I have a rack of half used spray paints I go through at times like these. I believe here I used something called “almond.” All that really matters is the tone.


The next step is…filters!


What’s a filter? In modeling terms, a filter is a semi-transparent coat of color. Unlike a wash, which is meant to emphasize detail, a filter is meant to subtly change the appearance of the entire piece. I started by mixing my light European earth and dry mud pigments together, right on the piece. I used a mop brush, and made some mess! Dry pigments can often be pretty messy, so prepare yourself. At the very least, cover your work surface. I do. I also clean up after myself constantly, which I highly recommend.

The two lighter pigments provide a cushion, into which I can then work some PanPastel (orange extra dark). Using such a dark pigment straightaway is going to give a much more concentrated effect, which I don’t want yet.  Filters are, by nature, diffuse.

At this point, I set the layer with a spray of Mr. Super Clear (MSC) and put the fireplace aside to dry.


The next step is beginning to work in texture. My advice is: go lightly, and go slowly. It’s a lot easier to add more pigment than it is to subtract a layer that’s suddenly much too dark.  I’m not worrying about picking out specific details yet, here, only about getting a base for them. Pigment is going to start naturally pooling in the crevices; I either blow it out, or use a brush to work it into the piece further. This is a great time for those “happy little accidents.” Real stone is, after all, pretty variable and often contains some interesting inclusions and etc.

And then, when I’m happy with what I’ve achieved…another coat of MSC.

Which, at this point, you may be asking why. Well, for the same reason you’d let any coat of paint dry! Let’s say you’re painting something with wet pigments, like acrylics; you’d finish one layer before moving onto the next, as otherwise everything would just turn into mud. MSC, as a fixative, functions in the same way as some regular old dry time.  I’m both protecting my work so far, as well as creating a fine, even tooth for what’s to come.


Here, I’m starting to add details. I’m using a couple of weathering pencils from AK Interactive, by dipping my brush into some (mostly clean) water and then gathering up a little pigment. Mostly I used a 20/0 brush for the lines themselves, then a slightly larger (and slightly, very slightly) damp brush to feather it out and give a more realistic effect.


I add in the darker pencil only after I’ve darkened everything down with the lighter pencil. The very darkest pigment I use on sandstone, usually, and on this piece is raw umber extra dark. It’s quite cool in tone, which provides a nice contrast to all the yellows and oranges. My other “secret,” apart from going slowly, is to use the right brush–and not a lot of pigment. These pictures represent about two days’ worth of work, all of it fairly meticulous.


For blending dry pigments, of all types, I use makeup brushes. I recommend Sigma, but any fairly high quality brush will do. Sephora’s in house line of brushes is also pretty good. I’ll often apply a little bit of pigment with my 20/0,  then feather it with an eyeliner brush or similar. But again, even with so much detail, there’s about twice as much blending as there is actual pigment application–at least. The goal, here, is to build up a depth of tone over time. Which means that, after roughly five or so layers, we get:



Which means that’s all for now, folks!