Pianos Filled With Flames


Watercolor on Illustration Board – Click to Enlarge


This piece was inspired by the song “Holland 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel. The song (along with most of NMH’s material) is filled to the brim with stunning imagery that jump-starts my imagination.  Great music to play in the background when in need of inspiration.  Today I was particularly inspired by the line:
Now she’s a little boy in Spain
Playing pianos filled with flames.
I had been itching to do some wet in wet watercolor painting, and I knew that the flames in this piece would be a perfect place to experiment.  I began by sketching out the figure and piano.  I did a quick google image search of grand  pianos to help.  My sketch wasn’t too detailed, as I knew i was going to let the watercolors do a lot of the work.  Next, I covered the figure and flames with masking fluid.  This made it so the watercolors would not cover those areas.  I splashed a dark brown mixture in the top right corner and a bit down the right edge.  I lifted the piece and tilted it down toward the bottom left corner.  I began squirting the wet paint with a spray bottle, letting the color flow and drip naturally across the page.  This creates some exciting effects that I never could have created with a brush. 
While the background was still damp, I painted the piano.  I wanted the piano to blend in a bit with the background, allowing the little boy and flames to be star of the show.  I then had to walk away for a bit and let the background/piano dry.  The piece had to be completely dry before taking of the making fluid, or the surface of the board would have been damaged.
Next was the exciting part, painting the flames.  Excited about the masking fluid, I dashed in some streaks
that would preserve the white of the page.  Next I globbed in some bold yellows and reds, tilted my page back toward the upper right corner and hit my colors with the spray bottle, again letting the paints flow.  I only have marginal control over the directions they take.

I finished the illustration by painting in the figure.  I dipped back into my background colors so that the figure’s color world would match the rest of the piece, but added bits of blues, yellows and reds to provide interest and attract the eye.  I went back in with my pencil and added some details that got washed out while painting.  I signed my name, and called it done.  A fine Sunday morning.  Special thanks to Neutral Milk Hotel for the inspiration.

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