behind the scenes

2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the musical Tanz der Vampire, created by Jim Steinman and Michael Kunze and based on the cult movie The fearless vampire killers or Pardon me, but your teeth are in my neck by Roman Polanski.

As a huge fan of the musical, I couldn’t let the opportunity go by and decided to pay tribute to this wonderful show the only way I know how: with a piece of art featuring my favourite character Graf von Krolock. I posted it online in time for the premiere in Vienna on September 30th, where the musical had its world premiere 20 years ago on October 4th. The first time I saw the show was in Stuttgart back in 2001 and I fell in love with it instantly. After that, I saw the show 5 more times in Germany, before losing interest in musicals altogether due to my studies and personal issues. But right in time for the anniversary, my love for this show got rekindled with a vengeance :D. I’ve fallen in love with the Viennese Revival production in particular. Especially the set and costume designs by Kentaur are simply stunning with their richness in detail. Watch the trailer for the Vienna Revival production of Tanz der Vampire to see what the show is all about.

Since this piece was too huge for me to film a proper time-lapse video, I’ve decided to write up the steps of painting this piece. Enjoy the read 🙂

From sketch to finished painting

Creating this piece involved quite a lot of challenges for me and things I’ve never done before while creating art. Using watercolours is still new to me. I started using them on a regular basis since the beginning of 2017 and I’m still figuring out how to handle them. And it’s the first time I’ve been painting a large-sized piece of art. My usual canvas sizes are between 14 x 17 cm and 21 x 30 cm (DIN4). This piece is 28 x 36 cm in size. But since I’m normally more of a portrait artist and now wanted to paint a full figure, I figured going bigger was better because I wanted to add lots of detail to it, especially when it comes to Krolock’s costume, which is stunningly rich in detail with its ornaments.

Step 1 – Thumbnails and preliminary sketch

Every piece of art I create starts with a quick thumbnail or at least a preliminary sketch in a small-scale version of the final piece. It’s helpful because you can figure out the composition and play around with different variations of a theme. For this piece, I just did one thumbnail quite a while before thinking about making an anniversary fanart. It was scribbled down when the idea popped into my head so that I wouldn’t forget it.

I like drawing and painting characters more than anything else, so Krolock had to be the main character and focal point of the piece. He’s got an impressive presence on stage and makes an impact when he first appears in front of the audience. I wanted tried to capture this certain vibe of danger but also a fascination with his expression, pose and an inviting gesture. Just like Sarah is lured into his castle to the midnight ball, I want the viewer to think that he might say „Follow me and I will show you what you’ve never dared to dream of“. The preliminary sketch helped me to get the general pose and gesture down.

Step 2 – Research and studies

The next step is research and doing studies. It’s apparent in the preliminary sketch that I need to check if the outstretched hand is correct. And when it comes to fanart – and for this show in particular – I’m always determined to get the details right. In this case, I focused on Krolock’s costume, which is so rich in detail. Why am I going through all this trouble instead of just winging it? Because I want to pay my respects to the artist, who has designed the costume and the people making the costumes of the show. They’ve put their thoughts, love and experience into it and that has to be honoured.

Why am I going through all this trouble instead of just winging it? Because I want to pay my respects to the artist, who has designed the costume and the people making the costumes of the show. They’ve put their thoughts, love and experience into it and that has to be honoured.

My biggest resources for finding pictures of the red coat have been Pinterest, the awesome Tanz fans on Tumblr and the special Tanz der Vampire issues of the German musical magazine Blickpunkt Musical. I also gathered reference for the frame of the painting.

Once I had my references together I did some studies of them in pencil. Most of them loosely (for the frame at least). I spent more time studying the details of the costume, especially on the ornaments like lace trimming, buttons and the likes. In the end, I had to simplify quite a bit, but being accurate with the studies was helpful for adding the little details to the final drawing.

Step 3 – Final drawing

Once I was done with my studies, I did the final drawing in scale on a big piece of sketch paper. I choose not to draw it directly on watercolour paper in case I needed to do some adjustments. And I also tend to press down quite a lot on paper and also erase a lot. Both of it damages the paper and leaves lines that I didn’t want to see in the final painting. I put all the details into the final drawing so that I wouldn’t forget anything.

The final drawing of the piece in full scale

Step 4 – Preparing for painting

After the final drawing is done, it’s time to transfer the drawing onto watercolour paper. I used a simple light table to do it. I left a margin of 1 cm around it and masked it off with masking tape. I did it to have a straight edge around the painting and to protect the area. After tracing the sketch over the light table with a pencil, I taped the paper down on a wooden board so that the paper wouldn’t warp when I applied the paint.

For the first time, I did two very quick and rather crude colour comps, because I wanted to test out the colour combination for the background. I wasn’t sure if a blue or a violet underpainting would be better. It’s really better to decide such things beforehand. Otherwise, you may have to start over again because you don’t like the colour combination. Before doing the colour comps I was leaning towards a blue underpainting, but in the end, I liked the violet one better.

Quick color comps to determine the background color of the piece

Step 5 – Lineart

Now that the sketch has been transferred, I use Micron pens (0.05, 0.1 and 0.3) for the lineart. These fineliners are my favourite pens for doing lineart. You can draw consistent lines and the ink is waterproof, which is a must for painting with watercolours. Some artists do their lineart once they’re done painting, but the pencil lines tend to get washed away while painting, so I prefer doing them upfront.

Step 6 – Painting the background

For this piece, I reversed my usual painting order and started with the background. I started painting the stained glass rectangles with Violet one by one. Once all the rectangles were filled, I repeated the whole procedure with a layer of Indigo. When all of it had dried, I painted the frame with two layers of Payne’s Grey. Again one layer at a time.

Step 7 – Painting the character

After the background is finished, I started painting the character. I always work from light to dark, so the face was the first thing to paint. Only recently I’ve started mixing colours. For the face and hands, I’ve been using Naples Yellow with a bit of Violet and painted a light wash. Once it was dry I added a bit of Carmine to the remaining colour to add shadows and colour for the lips.

Next, I painted the red coat. Again I worked in two layers, first a wash of Madder Lake, followed by a wash of Carmine. I let everything dry before continuing with the vest and lace on his sleeves. I chose a mix of Payne’s Grey with Indigo for it because I didn’t want to use solid black and like a little tint of blue. Nothing too obvious though. I used the leftovers of the colour mix to darken the shadows of the face and add shading to the coat.

For the hair, I started with a layer of Sepia, followed by a layer of Payne’s Grey. Whenever possible I avoid solid black because there is always light hitting the surface. I made an exception for the cape and pants though.

That leaves the pants and cape for painting. I took three layers to achieve a solid mass of black. I imagine the coat swallowing up all the light hitting it. I left out the ornaments on the cape and on the red coat for last.

Step 8 – Final touches

The painting in itself is done. Now it’s time for my favourite part, the finishing touches and embellishing.

First I added a bit more colour variation to the face and hands with Polychromos coloured pencils and deepened the shadows with coloured pencils as well so that the colours come together.

Next, I painted the ornaments on the coat and cape. I used a mix of black watercolour with Finetec Pearlcolors (Black Pearl), which gives it a very subtle shimmer effect. You can barely see it in the light. For the buttons of the vest, I used Finetec Sterling Silver.

Some of the rectangles in the background look a bit dull, so I added another layer of Violet or Indigo to some of them. And because I simply cannot resist, I paint some tiny rectangles with Finetec Sterling Silver to add shimmering highlights.

And that’s it. I’m done!

Obstacles and things I’ve learned while creating this piece

Making art in general and painting, in particular, is always like a rollercoaster for me. There are always stages when I like the piece I’m working on and when I want to throw it in the bin. The ladder is mostly thanks to my inner critic screaming at me, but I’ve come to realize that this is quite normal, at least for me, when it comes to creating art.

There have been quite a few first times for me while creating this piece. For the first time, I worked on a large canvas with watercolours and did colour comps. I did extensive research and studies before finalizing the sketch, which I think benefitted the piece. But of course, there have also been obstacles along the way.

Two obstacles I had to overcome

The two major obstacles that presented themselves in the process of this piece have been the size of the canvas and painting the background.

For the first time, I’ve been working on a canvas more than two times bigger than my usual paintings. It was a bit of a struggle to set up the composition and draw in such a scale. Also, the literal handling of the piece mounted on its board was difficult because my workspace (which was actually my dining table) was just big enough for painting. I had to move carefully so that I wouldn’t spill my paint water over the painting.

Painting the background was another big obstacle. I wanted to paint the background area with layers of solid flat washes. Turns out I have not yet mastered how to do that. My first attempt looked just crappy and I had to start all over again. Meaning preparing the canvas, transferring the sketch and doing the lineart a second time. In hindsight, I should have kept the first attempt to show it to you, but I was so frustrated after already putting so many hours into it, that I threw it away instantly.

What I’ve learned in the process

But there are also some valuable thing I’ve learned despite the frustration and obstacles.

1. Patience

Patience, patience and even more patience is my main takeaway from painting this piece. Watercolour is a medium that requires patience. Every layer has to dry completely before you can apply the next one. And the area you’ve painted has to be dry before you can paint the adjacent area. Otherwise, the paints would bleed together. Since I didn’t have a heat gun or a blow dryer to speed up the process, I spent probably half of the time waiting for the paint to dry.

2. Letting go of control

I’m a perfectionist at the core. I like to have a certain amount of predictability of the outcome when creating art. Watercolour, on the other hand, can be quite unpredictable, which is also part of its appeal. You can be surprised by what the paint is doing. For me, it meant letting go of my desire to control every step of the painting process. And also to ignore the perfectionist inside me trying to tell me that this isn’t good enough. It’s not easy, but I’m getting better at it. I like to remember a quote of artist Jake Parker in times like this, who said: „Finished, not perfect„.

3. Art is a journey

I think every artist is facing the situation of not being satisfied with what you have created. That also applies to me. Quite soon after I have finished a painting, I don’t like it anymore. I start to see the flaws. It’s also true for this particular piece. Most people would give up when being confronted with the feeling of dissatisfaction. For me, it’s a sign that I have the potential to improve my art and my techniques. There’s still a gap between what I imagine in my mind and what I’m able to put down on paper. And with every piece of art, I’m closing that gap a little bit more. So, every piece of art is just a snapshot of my current abilities. Nothing is set in stone. If I will ever be able to close the gap, I don’t know. But the journey is more important. And if I see every painting as just a piece for practice, the fear of failure isn’t so bad.

4. No music needed

I’ve always been working with music, but this time I decided to not have anything to distract me. Turns out I like it much better this way. The sound of a brush on paper is quite satisfying and makes me happy.

And this is it for this article. I hope you enjoyed the rather long read and glimpse behind the scenes of this painting. Thanks for reading to the very end. I’m sorry that I couldn’t provide you with more pictures of the single steps, especially for the embellishing process.

For more Tanz doodles and sketches, check out my Instagram or Tumblr account.

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