Behind the Scenes of Thesis Paintings! (Part 2 of 2)

July 31, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Welcome to Part 2: Elizabeth Bathory

To view part 1 go HERE

I am excited to share with you the second half of a behind the scenes look at how I work.

For this example I am using the 24″x 36″ Elizabeth Bathory painting. I started with a few concepts that were really underwhelming and after painting the other 9 prior, I felt a little burnt out. However I have been so intoxicatingly interested in Bathory’s story for many many years I knew I wanted to do something really special. I always try to watch a few movies (if available) on the person if I can to help inspire me. I really loved the interpretation of her in the film “The Countess”. After many unsuccessful sketches I went into total sensory depravation in an effort to focus my concept. This meant laying on the floor in the dark with ear plugs, blindfolded not moving at all. I have to say it did help me go into my mind and stay there until I could make something that really expressed how I felt about Bathory. The concept I landed on was a dress made of dead bodies and a mysterious woman with a large animal skull headdress. From there I started on reference, finding many good photos from the Holocaust and other mass genocides around the world and took a few of my own photos for the woman’s position.

This was painted on a board that is similar to masonite, though a bit lighter. I used spray gesso and sanded a little and cleaned it before working.

I photoshopped the reference until I found the right fit and composition. In terms of the sketch phase, this time it was mostly opted out because I knew the devil would be more in the details. I had a basic compositional sketch and one for her face and headdress but other than that I pretty much went strait to the painting.


1) This is the combined sketch and reference photos. I tried to make some value changes in the dress section to give it a train effect and a pattern of sorts. the light parts are in lines that helped me define the structure of the dress. I printed it full scale.

2) Using the popular illustration technique, I used transfer paper to outline the basic figure from the background before painting so I spend less time fixing compositional problems I already solved in photoshop.

3) This was my basic set up at my studio. I had a small color print out of the photoshop composite and the figure. When it comes to reference I prefer to use it for the beginning but in order to build a more personal relationship with the painting I try to use it only for lighting and information purposes. I believe that when the emotional content comes from the artist, not just the photo, the work is stronger. So staying loose and open to stylization is something I keep in mind when there is a project that requires solid reference.

4) I painted the background mostly using a palate knife

5) I used the transfer paper technique again to outline the bodies the best I could.

6) Next I started to fill in the figures one by one. I liked having the background already red so that there was a nice depth to the colors and no gaps of the white board. I remember Caitlin Kuhwald saying that using red behind the skin tones helps boost the color.

















7) Slowly I filled in as many of the figures as I could, using basic blocks of color. I began to put some variation of color near the figures such as a yellow ochre and dark purples.

8 ) This is when I was able to start the satisfying process of the brush work. If there is one tool I want to promote its the Pentel refillable Brush Pen. Its a synthetic brush that stays sharp and doesnt fray. The ink is great to work with and you can always buy more refills. I used this brush in all of my paintings for this series but in this particular one, it made the work much easier, enjoyable and I’d like to think successful as well. You can see below what the paint by itself looks like and then below that, with the brush.







9) I began on the main woman’s back using some reference loosly for lighting and contour and proceeded to work on the headdress.

10) Wow that worked out great, exactly 10 steps. Did not plan that. At the end here I had only one more task which was the gold leaf. It just about made me go insane but it was well worth it. I cut up the frail gold leaf into dozens of tiny triangles which then all fit together nicely. I used a matte medium to coat and glue it. It was extremely difficult to photograph because while a polarizing lens is necessary for photos of paintings, it destroys the gold leaf color. After many attempts at capturing the correct color and focus and overcoming some terrible sizing issues, I ended up scanning it and combining it with the photos to get a printable file.

So we end up with this as the final product:

Thank you for visiting my blog, I have a new post every week so stay tuned!

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Watch it here:

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