All art copyright (c) Mike Kloepfer
"The level of achievement that we have at anything is a reflection of how well we were able to focus on it."
-Steve Vai

Monday, December 27, 2010

Color Charts: Mixing it up!!!

Continuing on with the Color Charts...
*(NOTE: The camera is really not picking up the colors very accurately. Trust me on this one...)
First up: Do the same mixtures of the raw colors, only this time using Zinc White.
After the masking tape is pulled, the two mixtures will be side-by-side. The Zinc White is warmer than the Titanium, and more transparent. At this point, I have only mixed the first (raw color) column in both TItanium and Zinc, as the paint needs to dry before I can mask over it.

Next step: mix each base color with each of the other base colors, and down to white - keeping the base color slightly dominant. This means that for each color mixture, there will end up being two versions, one leaning slightly to one color, and one leaning slightly to the other. For instance, in the Red Oxide chart, the Red Oxide/Yellow Ochre mixture is influneced slightly more by the red. On the Yellow Ochre chart, the same mixture will lean slightly to the yellow side.

In this step, I begin with the base color for the chart. For instance, in the upper left is Red Oxide. The first column is the raw color, mixed down to almost-white with Titanium. Next to it is the same thing with Zinc.
The following columns are Red Oxide mixed with Yellow Ochre; with Burnt Umber; with Payne's Gray; and with Manganese Blue Hue. These are then mixed down to white; first Titanium White on the left side of the column, and when that dries, with Zinc White on the right side of the column.

It may seem tedious, but in the end I will have each color mixed with each of the other colors, with two versions, one dominant in each of the colors; and each of these colors will be mixed down to almost-white with both Titanium White and Zinc White. (Besides, I am a pretty tedious person anyway. lol )
I will have a pretty good idea of what each color in my palette is really cabaple of. And, I will have a handy reference of simple color mixtures and simple, rich neutrals, with a certain degree of built-in color harmony.
In addition, I will be able to look at photos, videos, movies, and TV shows, and decipher how their color schemes work, and how I could mix up similar color schemes with my palette.

For instance, looking at this picture of Loreena McKennit I can already begin to see the simple color combinations of two dominant colors: Payne's Gray and Yellow Ochre; and how the dominant colors can be modulated with Red Oxide, Burnt Umber and Manganese Blue.

And here is what started it all (this time, at least)-

When I saw these scenes from the TV series Merlin, I could immediately identify a cool/warm, Blue/Orange dominant color scheme in which Payne's Gray and Yellow Ochre/Red Oxide could easily be used as the primary colors. Very simple, very powerful color schemes. And they work.


And what a coincidence that I had switched my palette over to these exact colors! (Or is it not coincidence, but the guiding hand of fate...?)

There was another scene in Red/Green, and trying to figure out what colors to mix to get those dominant colors was what started me experimenting, and ultimately led to these color charts.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hello, my name is Mike, and I am a paint geek.

I have a problem.
I like to make color charts.

Yes, it's true. I probably get into this stuff way more than I should. I should be making beautiful paintings, not messing around with this stuff.
Blame Tony Ryder. He had us mix every color on our palette with every other color. You know what? It learns ya. Some of the resulting mixtures were surprising. I found out that you can create an exact Yellow Ochre by mixing Chartreuse and Brilliant Pink.
Or blame Richard Schmid. He recommends doing the same thing, and expands on the idea by mixing each color mixture down to almost-white... and I took his advice (see above.)
Or blame my dad. He showed me the value of being a craftsman (as well as an artist.)
Sure it seems crazy. But that's how I get INTO the paint, how I get inside it; it's how I get a feel for what it can do. It's how I get to know my tools. It's like taking a great sports car for a really in-depth test drive. I really enjoy it. It gets me jazzed to see the colors happen right in front of my face.
And it sharpens my ability to mix colors on the palette - simply and cleanly.
And god knows I need that. If left to my own devices, I would throw every color for which I had a tube of paint at any given mixture; and then wonder why it looks mucky. I mean, they're all beautiful colors in their own right, yes? So wouldn't they look GREAT all mixed together?
That is how my brain works. That's also how I wind up lost in the middle of the "Technicolor Melty Jungle."

And this is my thinking process, how I figure things out; because I have a driving need to figure things out. I am not satisfied to just let things happen by chance; I have to know why they work when they do, and what went wrong when they don't.
So forgive me if I walk out of this support group. You can join me if you want. But I am content with knowing myself, and how I work, and going with that.

So here we go... color charts!
...with my newly concocted 'limited palette'
(Red Oxide, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Paynes Gray, and Manganese Blue Hue; from the line of 'Open Acrylics' by Golden.)
First we start with the raw colors of the palette, and mix them with Titanium down to almost-white in five steps...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sick days don't always suck.

Stayed at home today, sick as the proverbial dog.
I was vegging and watching some tv (Merlin), and all of a sudden, I could see the exact colors, and the color palette, that they were using. It was as if they pulled the colors right off my newly acquired "limited" palette (Payne's Gray, Red Oxide, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and a touch of Manganese Blue) that I just hand-picked at the art supply store last week.
So I got my new 'limited palette' selection of paints and played around with them. I find that by doing simple mixtures, blends and washes, I can really get a feel for the colors in my palette, their strengths, and what they are capable of.
Plus, since I had already written the day off as a sick day, there was no hurry or agenda (i.e., I didn't feel the need to 'accomplish' something.) That allowed me to just experiment and have fun.
I found that this palette is quite powerful and versatile, and I can create nearly everything I need for the pieces/color schemes I have in mind, while maintaining color harmony. I also am experimenting with the two whites: Titanium and Zinc, and how they affect the colors.
I love the way the colors play off each other. And in the tv show, I could see the way they composed the scenes with color and lighting. It gave me a lot of really cool ideas.
It was quite the extraordinary experience.

In addition, I prepared a couple of sheets of canvas for the next step - the color charts!
I take each color in the palette, and mix it with each of the other colors in the palette. I then take each of these colors and mix them down to almost-white in five steps.
Here are the old color charts from my full, extended palette:

This really gives me a handle on all of the color mixtures and possibilities in my palette.
It also helps when I sit down to create a painting - I can look at a color I need, and find a mixture on the charts; it usually only needs minor tweaking to get the color I want, and helps me to keep my color mixtures simple. (I have a tendency to get carried away, and throw everything under the sun into a color mixture, only to have it come out looking like muck.)
I find that most of the colors I seek fall into the 'subtle grays'/neutrals - and by obtaining simple, clean neutral color mixtures, it makes the few saturated colors really sing!
It doesn't t always have to turn into a full-spectrum color Luau, like "Technicolor melty jungle"in the Burn the Ships cover/poster art!
Fun fun fun!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I am LOVIN' these new pin striping brushes!
My friend Jim has been urging me to try my hand at custom bike graphics. So, I bought some supplies; a couple 'sword' brushes by Mack, some One-Shot, a bit of acrylic paint and some poster board for practice.

These things kick a**!! By properly loading the brush, I can get seemingly infinite lines, and I love 'rolling' the brush around curves and making swirls!
I can see this having many applications. Not only for custom bikes, but for guitars :D, snowboards, furniture, who knows what else!
You can see how much fun I'm having just goofing around with them:

The exciting part is the process of learning to control the brush, and the flow of paint, to get an even, consistent line. The challenge is to not get dizzy.

And I can definitely see how this could apply to my fine art paintings. I am really gaining more and more interest in textures and patterns in my paintings. In fact, I have my eye on the deep blue sea background in this 'mermaid' painting that's on my easel, and I'm seein' some subtle, lines swirling all around her. Hmm....

Thanks Jim, for encouraging me into this new venture and all the possibilities that it opens up for me!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New figure painting - Mermaid/Surfacing(?)

(Finally, a pic. I had to use my webcam on my laptop.)

What is another term for something/someone coming up for air?

I dove back into the figure piece I started the other night. This one is vertical, and has a female figure emerging from the shadows (I am thinking of making it like she is coming up from the depths of the ocean to the surface...perhaps a mermaid?)

After throwing paint at the problem for a while, I stood back and looked at it. The proportions are crap (I should be ashamed of myself - have I thrown all my training, all sense of discipline out the window?), but the drama is there.

Well okay, 1 out of 2 ain't that bad, and I can always go back in and correct the proportions. (My goal is accuracy AND drama together...)

I am liking the drama of the light on this one. I have been really attracted to figures and portraits that are lit from directly above - the shadows are dramatic, and the highlights/drama get more intense as you go up the figure, getting closer and closer to the light source.
The original reference photo really grabbed my attention - hopefully, I can convey that initial spark. That is the beacon that I use to guide the painting process.

New stuff

So I got a wild burr under my saddle the other night, and got a few canvases primed and covered with a warm wash.
I am finding that what used to be regular size for me (9x12") is now incredibly small. The smallest canvas I prepared is an 11x14", and that is for a portrait study. The larger ones are 16x20 (which is not as large as I want to get) and the vertical ones are 15x30... which has really piqued my interest lately.
I like the vertical format, it fits the pieces I am visualizing at this point. Most of them deal with flight, or with emerging (from the deep subconscious) - or even with acrobatics, and so the vertical picture plane has my muse all wound up.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hit the bricks

Well, finally - after what seems like AGES - tonight I decided to finally pick up the brushes and put some paint onto canvas...
It had actually been so long since I did some serious portrait painting that I was afraid I had forgotten how. And being as how last time I tried painting, I had success one day and utter failure the next. Needless to say, I was a bit discouraged and most definitely daunted at the thought of trying to get something right onto canvas.
However, after a brief but inspiring conversation with my mentor and instructor Juliette, I realized that all I had was excuses; the alternative was to sit down and just do it.
The good news is, I had success, in some ways better than I had expected.
I stumbled across a reference photo that grabbed my attention (whenever I pay attention to that little 'twinge', it always tends to pay off...) Suddenly, I looked at it and I saw the colors, the values made sense, and I knew just what to do...
I pulled out my color mixing/value exercises, and was able to identify some very simple color mixtures that would get me very close to the tones I needed. It all made sense, and was so clear.
Pretty soon, I was laying in areas of color and value simultaneously, and everything was going along well. After a while, things began to look a little muddy, so I referred back to my color scales and evaluated the colors again. I also realized that some areas had been left blank, and that was affecting the appearance of the values as well as the colors. So I made my best estimates, and laid in the remaining colors.
After that, it was a matter of adjusting, pushing and pulling the color and the value. The interesting thing is, I only used about 4 colors, and was able to get everything I needed from them, (plus white.) The shifts in value and in color were very slight.
In the end, I wound up with a color study that is a lot more accurate than I expected, as well as having many qualities that I have been searching for: the warmth of the skin under cool light, and the color shift to reds, a slight 'flush' in certain areas of the face - without overdoing it. (an excellent example of what I am talking about is Malcolm "Skip" Liepke.)
It appears that, even though I haven't been painting, I have been observing and learning.
The lesson I take away from all of this is that, if I remain mindful and aware, I will always be learning, improving and growing as an artist: sometimes the growth is happening below the surface level of awareness.
Now, the next step is to hit the bricks and put all this knowledge to use!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Burn the Ships poster art!

For all of you who have been patiently waiting, here it is!
I'm taking a brief moment at the end of a hectic and event-packed CD release weekend to post the poster art for the new CD Burn the Ships by Ironwood Rain:

Posters are now available! Contact Toni at for more info.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Burn the Ships - front cover!!!!

We received the CDs for the new Ironwood Rain EP, Burn the Ships CDs from the duplicators, and they are ready for the release party next Friday!
Finally, here is the front cover:

More to come...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fly To You - the letter!

Here is the love letter that inspired the song "Fly to You" - as it appears inside the CD cover.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More sneak peeks of "Burn the Ships" cover art!

More sneak peeks, for all my pirate friends out there - ships and parrots!!!

Don't forget - in honor of "Talk Like a Pirate Day", for a limited time you can listen to the title track from the CD, as well as the single "Ages" ... CLICK HERE!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Burn The Ships TEASER Images!!!

Snippets and teasers from the cover art for the new Ironwood Rain CD Burn the Ships!

Click HERE to listen to the band's music, along with two new songs from Burn the Ships!

Friday, September 10, 2010

More progress on Burn the Ships cover art!

The cover illustration nears completion!
Here it is in the intermediate stages, as I add the various jungle animals and flesh out the composition:

Seriously, I thought "What have I gotten myself into?!?" I had a few moments when I wondered whether or not I had 'painted myself into a corner,' and whether I could pull it all off... I did, after all, make this whole thing up from scratch, off the top of my head - which is a very unusual working method for me. I had to bring a lot of my knowledge and skills from all over the place to execute this painting, and to figure things out while I was in the middle of it.
Fortunately, it all worked out, and I am more and more pleased with it as it progresses.

And here it is as I place final elements, tighten up the environment, and begin final touches:

Burn The Ships WIP 09/08/10
Acrylic on Arches 300 lb. watercolor paper, 20x27"
More to come!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Burn The Ships - cover painting progress

The painting progresses

Turn down the lights, turn on the moon, light the fires...
Next we begin to add the various woodland creatures.

Thanks to JJ, who stopped by with his digital camera, and snapped this picture of the cover painting as it looked on Wednesday 08/18/10-
(Unfortunately, my camera bit the dust. *sniff*)

Burn The Ships WIP 8/18/10
Acrylic on watercolor paper, 18x24"
I'm painting with acrylics just like a watercolor, but it allows me to build up more layers. Eventually, I will most likely put some opaque paint on the final layers, and then some final glazes. Fun!
Originally, I had envisioned a much more 'monochrome' nighttime scene, layers of midnight blue vanishing into the distance. But this has become quite colorful! I will add more glazes to unify the colors, and to bring the values down to a nighttime scene. this will also make the moon and the fire stand out more.
This will be a front/back spread for the CD cover/booklet, which will crop quite a bit off the top and the bottom, so the piece is being executed as two pieces in one:
1. A cover illustration for the CD, 12" x 24", which will be about 5x10" final size.
2. An 18 x 24" stand alone painting.
While the cover art l will be strong on its own, I think the extra scenery in the full painting will be interesting.
This is turning into a real labor of love. In addition, I am paying homage to some of my early influences: Roger Dean, Frank Frazetta, and Don Andrews.
I'm having fun with the FF/DA 'melty jungle,' and loving the fire effect on the ship!Now to add more wild creatures in the forest!!!

P.S. I wish I could have gotten pictures of the initial drawing stage. I drew out the rebated squares and laid out the armatures for the image areas, and used this to construct the design of the piece. I had to make sure to allow for the title and cover text. Once I got the major elements placed, the image began to speak, and I began to listen. It has been very interesting, through a very technical beginning process, to reach a very organic and fluid interaction with the painting in the middle stages.

Saturday, July 24, 2010



The ship is born!!!
I did NOT want to just copy a photograph, so I created my own ship from scratch.
In the end, I went with my preferences. I wanted to be a bit further back in history than the East Indiamen from the POTC trilogy and from Master & Commander - they tended to look more like Nelson's ships, and although I love that era (Geoff Hunt is my favorite maritime painter) I wanted something that would harken back to the galleons of the Spanish settlers and Cortez (from whom the title track of the CD was inspired.) I liked the two-masted ships BP and LW, and had a preference for a gaff-rigged spanker. Call me an old softy.

It's an amalgamation from numerous sources, and from my own experiences; The Black Pearl (of course), the Lady Washington (of course), a Dutch East Indiaman called the Gothenberg (also saw it spelled Gottenberg and Gotenborg), The Belona, and a few other sources of inspiration. Also a bit of the Morning Star, Morgan's ship in Cutthroat Island as well, however my DVD drive is on the fritz, so it's probably from memory.

Progress on "Burn The Ships" cover art

Working on the distribution of darks and lights. Mostly darks. It's a nighttime scene, don'tcha know...

The layout sketch continues to develop. Here, I have laid out the armature of the picture space, and I am mapping the critical points of interest, how they overlap, and how they direct the eye around the composition.

Testing the materials/process:
I get a lot of inspiration from the work of my favorite album-cover illustrator, Roger Dean.
After deciding to work in acrylic on watercolor paper, I'm testing out some of the basic ideas/elements and seeing if the techniques I have in mind will work.
I'm keeping the colors very neutral, so the few spots of saturated color will 'sing.' I'm working with a lot of the band's logo color, which is a kind of midnight blue. Ha, it should work great for a nighttime

the test sheet.

Of course, we'll have to have an Ironwood Tree or two in the illustration. I love the lines of these gnarly trees.

Testing background trees and hills. I bought some artist's masking fluid from work, and you can see the tests on the left hand side.
Oh, and there should be lots of fog. Yeah, fog...

Close up of the smoke test.
I've been looking at photos, movies, and YouTube videos, to get the most dramatic, and the most authentic-looking smoke and fire.
Of course, the watercolor technique lends itself well to this application.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Cover art for "Burn The Ships"


More sketches.

The evolution of an idea.
I have had the same basic idea this whole time, as it develops, but there was something lacking. Then a friend of mine made a comment that unlocked the idea that has been skirting around the corners of my mind. Then I was looking through an old sketchbook and found a sketch of a ship in a harbor, and the silhouette of a figure in the foreground. That got the idea really going. So here is a new concept sketch:

Study paintings for the cover of my band's latest CD, Burn The Ships. This is just the setting. In the foreground will be a ship on fire (of course.)

Working out ideas with light, color, and composition. In the final piece, the ship will be more in the foreground and will dominate the composition - so the relative scale will have to change.

I tried both daytime and nighttime scenes. I like each one of them for different reasons.
The nighttime scene is more ominous and moody. definitely would be the choice if we were including the pirate song Pursuit - but that song was put on the back burner for now. :(

The daytime scene is beautiful - definitely the type of place I'd like to burn my ships, and reminiscent of how the New World must have looked to the explorers: lush, untamed paradise. But perhaps it's too pretty for a CD by a rock band.


Saturday, June 12, 2010


Begin laying in the sun and the clouds.

Me, a frosty brew, and my trusty crew:

The mural so far:

The crew, mixing, stirring, and helping paint the 'hard-to-get-to' spots, while I set my brain to figurin' out the next steps:

My friend JJ and I have worked out a trade in services. In exchange for all the work on my car, I am painting him a mural on his living room wall. He wants it to look like there is no wall, and you are looking west to the mountains of the Front Range. We decided that late afternoon/early evening is the most picturesque for a west-facing scheme.

I have spent a lot of time in the past few years observing skies and clouds, making mental notes of colors and the way light behaves in the myriad situations you find in nature. I have also taken many photographs; not only as reference, but as ‘triggers’ for my memory of how the light, the sky, and the cloud forms interact.

Here is the bare wall, prepped, primered and ready to go. Here is a picture of Brandt and Chloe for scale, and to determine where the horizon line/eye level will be placed.

JJ’s line of work allows him the opportunity to salvage many things; fortunately for us, one of those things is house paint. So the first order of business is to take a look at the paint available, decide which type of paint will work best, and see what colors we have at our disposal. I figured acrylic latex would be the easiest for me to work with, would clean up easily and mix together well.

It was a rainy, drizzly day, so we had to work under the shelter of the garage roof. Here is my handy, faithful crew (I feel like Michelangelo! Where's my scaffolding?) we had a good time, and went through dozens of cans of paint. We set aside any that would not work with acrylic latex (I had no idea there was alkyd house paint!) Then we set up an assembly line. Gray opened and stirred the paint, while I painted the sample swatches, and Brandt cleaned and prepped the stir sticks and brushes. JJ directed the tested cans of paint to their proper location: the dumpster, the ‘to be used’ shelf, or the ‘give away’ pile.

At first, I tried to organize the colors into 'families,' but in the end there were so many usable paints that I had to just 'fill in the blank spots.'
Here is the finished swatch board. I was surprised at the palette I have to work with, there are quite a few good colors, and it should allow me to make a nice painting.

Thanks to Brandt, Gray and JJ for their help, the whole thing went so fast! Now I know how come Michelangelo had a crew! (Imagine trying to paint sixteen chapels by yourself! Seriously, I could only paint two or three at the most...)

It’s also funny to see what weird colors people paint their homes…!

Next, to take a look at the colors, and come up with a game plan for laying down the image…