Painting Jarvis – A step by step guide

Here’s my first ‘step by step’ project blog post, hope it’s helpful.

I recently received a request to produce a painting of über geek/chic Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker in my ‘signature’ illustrative style. It’s not an uncommon style, nor a massively complex one to achieve, but it’s one I’ve been honing for a good few years now, and one that I believe can be very bold and effective.

Here I show the process I undertake to complete an art piece of this type.

1. Sourcing the right image.
Jarvis cocker source image
My first step is to search for a suitable image to use as a basis for the illustration. The image should ideally feature plenty of contrast between light and shade, and be large enough in resolution that I can zoom in and find a decent level of detail.

2. Illustration

Having chosen an appropriate picture I import it into Adobe Illustrator, lock the layer and add a new layer above. Sometimes it’s useful to dim the embedded image to 50% opacity to reduce distraction while I work.

Jarvis paths
Using the pen tool (and my mouse, rather than a graphics tablet) I carefully trace the darkest areas and any mid-tone areas I want to stand out as dark on the final piece.

I need to decide how much, and what, detail I want to include. Sometimes it’s very obvious which areas should be included; sometimes it’s much more of a tricky decision as there are mid-tone areas that need to be included to provide areas of detail or negative shapes. It all goes towards making a more individual, bespoke artwork rather than an ‘autotraced’ or posterised effect on a photograph.

Jarvis illustrated
The shapes of each area are often stylised and slightly simplified/embellished to get the image looking at it’s best. When the illustration is complete it is time to move onto the next stage.

3. Painting the background
Painted canvas
I mix up a specific colour of acrylic paint, and using a miniature roller I give the box canvas at least two coats paint and leave to dry.


This stage can be completed in advance of the first two stages if you are a bit more prepared! That said you might prefer, like me, to experiment with colours on Illustrator before turning to the paint.

4. Projection
Jarvis projected
Once the canvas is dry, I hook up a projector to my mac (or print out the design onto acetate and use an old fashioned overhead projector) and set up so that the image appears as I want it on the canvas. I’m fortunate in that I can borrow a digital projector from my church for things like this, but I know that ‘hooking up to a projector’ might not be the simplest thing for everyone to be able to do!

Tracing Jarvis outlines
Using a sharpened light coloured pencil (I use white or a metallic silver/gold which are great for standing out), I draw around the main shapes on your canvas, providing an outline to fill in later. Make sure the canvas doesn’t move while you’re tracing! It’s very difficult to realign later!

5. Painting the artwork
Painting Jarvis 1

Painting Jarvis 3
Jarvis finished 1
I can now get to work with my black acrylic paint and a selection of different sized brushes, inking in the dark areas of the illustrated artwork. I tend to get the bulk of the shapes coloured and go back with a thin brush at the end to tidy up the finer points and lines. It’s worth printing out a black and white copy of the artwork to use as reference while I’m painting this – to make sure I don’t paint black where it shouldn’t be!

6. Finished!
Final Jarvis
Here you can see the final result – a high impact piece of graphic artwork ready to display!

If you’ve found this tutorial helpful please feel free to drop me an email and let me know!

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