Guitarist Step-By-Step

Guitarist Julia Pierce

Guitarist—Julia Pierce by KillTheHero. Acrylics on canvas, 16×20.

I haven’t written a new blog here in a couple of weeks. I will admit that is due to a combination of depression-induced lethargy, and round-the-clock Olympics coverage. Considering what team USA has been up to, it’s amazing that I’ve painted at all this week!

But I did, I’m happy to say…

I’ve had a project going for a few months that was inspired by the work of Ashley Wood. I’ve spoken before about my admiration for Wood’s work (fellow geeks may know him as the creator of Tank Girl). He is a master at using only two colors, three at most, to depict lithe figures and maniacal robots. Taking this inspiration, and combining it with my love of music and musicians, I’ve been depicting guitarists, using as few colors/tones as possible. I begin with a dark canvas, and bring up highlights from darkness. Shadow areas remain the background color. Here are two pieces I’ve posted before:


Above, Guitarist, based on Shannon Curfman; Below, Guitarist With Skull Beads, based on Grace London.

Guitarist with skulls beads

I decided to do another painting in this series, using the image of rock/metal guitarist Julia Pierce as inspiration.

Guitarist–Julia Pierce

Acrylic on canvas, 16×20

Colors used: Payne’s Grey, Titanium White, Metallic White, Unbleached Titanium, Turquoise, Crimson, Violet

Brushes used: Small edger, 10 filbert

I used a photo of Julia Pierce that I found on a Cherri Bomb fan site. (All rights belong to the photographer). I used this shot, and also a wider angle of the same shot that showed her microphone to the viewer’s left:


I like the way this shot captures the energy of a live show. I also like the swirling colors captured by the smoke of the fog machine, though I knew they would be a PIA to capture. But you know me. I rose to the challenge!

I began by painting a canvas Payne’s grey, with slight hints of crimson. Then I outlined the figure, and captured the highest values, using unbleached titanium:


In the previous paintings in this series (posted above), I used titanium white for the highlights. However, in this photo, the stage lights are brighter than the highlights on the figure. To try and capture that, I went with unbleached titanium for the figure. I used my smallest edger brush throughout the process of painting the figure.


The eyes look a bit demonic here… I’ll fix that later. I’ve started placing the lights behind and above the figure. I’ll go back in several times and brighten those.


More lights, and starting to define her hair and her guitar. For the figure I used only three colors: unbleached titanium, titanium white, and crimson, over the Payne’s grey background. If I were going to use the same dictates as my previous paintings in this series, I would have stopped about here. But I really like the swirl of colors from the fog machine…so my challenge was to use those colors while staying true to the minimalist dictates of the series. I know, I’m getting very philosophical here…


A bit more crimson. and placement of the microphone. I also began defining the body of the guitar. In the photo, Pierce plays a green Schecter guitar, which is sort of her go-to instrument. I decided to stay with the green tones of the body of the instrument. I will say, the perspective on the guitar was tricky, and took me several tries (to still not get it perfect)…

My next challenge was the fog:


To capture the swirling fog, I began using washes of turquoise (a wash is a color mixed with a lot of water) and then swiping at the wash with a paper towel after it dried just a bit. I knew it would take many washes to get the effect I wanted…


More washes, all the while waiting a few minutes until the wash was just slightly dry, and swiping with a paper towel. Note that the mic stand has disappeared beneath the fog. I would go back in and re-paint that.

For the finished piece I added more washes of turquoise, T. white, and violet. I also added the set of lights behind the figure, and went over the lights several times with a metallic white paint I had laying around. The metallic white (and I do realize the irony of painting a metal guitarist with metallic white) is a tube of the ‘cheap’ level 1 paints at Michael’s; those cheaper colors come in really handy, and I always stock up on them when they come on sale and become even cheaper. They’re also good for backgrounds, as I don’t feel like I’ve used a lot of ‘expensive’ paints for a large area of canvas. Of course I’ve said this before: don’t become a painter unless you are willing to ‘waste’ gallons of paint perfecting your craft!

The finished piece:

Guitarist Julia Pierce

I feel like I captured the energy of a live show, and that I did OK with the fog. I think the piece still registers as built up from dark, like the other paintings in the series.

Thanks for looking; please ‘like’ and comment if so inclined. I’ll leave you with a video of Julia Pierce’s playing with her former band Cherri Bomb…



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