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Get Loose, Paint Better


Recently a patron commissioned a portrait of Elvis, but she wanted a little something extra: she wanted me to get loose!

The patron was an artist and hoped my experiment would help her own work. It turned out I was the one who benefitted the most. This project changed the way I painted, possibly forever.

This is a tutorial compiling the things I learned during the experiment.



It sounds paradoxical, but artistic freedom comes from working within frameworks. This is because limitless possibilities are not the same as choices. It is in making choices that art emerges from the infinite chaos. Art itself is an idea imposed upon a given situation, in this case, pigment and paper.

1. Limited Colors. For this piece my color palette was red, orange, and blue green. Why didn’t I use every color? Because when I get too crazy with every color, my paintings turn out gray or brown. This is because all those colors mix and mingle into a uniform neutral. So I picked three colors and stuck to them. Experience has taught me that this is a good idea.

2. Change It Up. Next I decided to paint the piece vertically. The ink I work with is liquid. It runs down the page if you lift it up at an angle. Because of this, I always paint with my canvasses flat on the floor. But this time the patron wanted it loose. I’d been wanting to attempt a ‘drippy painting’ for a while. This was a great time to experiment. I promised myself that no matter what, even if it was difficult, I would continue painting my piece upright until I found Elvis in the chaos.

3. Work Fast. I rarely work fast. I’m a slow, deliberate artist. I usually begin with a Photoshop mock-up practice composite, then I lay down a drawing, and then I fill in the drawing like a crazy coloring book. But not this time. This time, there was no mock-up, only a picture. This time, there was no drawing, only the raw slashes of a brush heavy-laden.

Limited colors painted on a vertical canvass quickly. Let’s see what I learned.

Usually I begin my paintings with a drawing in pen. This time the drawing was done with a brush. Scary!

I began with a blank canvass placed upright and no under-drawing. This is different from my usual method. Most of the time I begin my pieces with a tight pen drawing.

Note: The bulk of these images are screen captures from various streaming applications. I like to paint live on Periscope and Busker so that people can watch. If the graphics in the images seem awesome, download some streaming software today, you’re going to love it.

Pro Tip: Work big to small, always.

The beginning stages seem easy and unimportant, but take your time, this is the foundation for everything else.

After ten minutes or so, a head began to emerge. The strange part was, there were almost no drips. I was already learning something about a medium I thought I had mastered: You can paint with ink on an upright canvass! It felt great, sitting in my chair, not on the floor, like a human being. Ten minutes in and I had already learned something!

The beginning stages seem easy and unimportant, but take your time, this is the foundation for everything else.

Pro Tip: Work big to small, always.

THE KEY TO EVERYTHING: Work big to small, always. This applies to drawing as well as painting. It takes discipline, but it is important to find the biggest shapes and rough them in first. Leave the eyes, nose, lips and other fun details until last. This will enable you to erase or make necessary changes without loosing time spent early on details that need to shift.

I never work big to small. I’m a professional artist, and my whole life I’ve refused to implement the lessons I’ve been studying for 30 years. It’s difficult. I always want to dive in and start drawing the fun stuff right away. For me that means the eyes. The problem? If something goes wrong at the beginning, I often don’t find out until I’ve already invested hours into a piece. Then I’m forced to work around those early mistakes or abandon the piece altogether. Not cool. Better to find the biggest shape and rough it in, then the next biggest and so on. Thirty minutes in and my piece already sort of looks like Elvis. This is record time for me. It usually takes me an hour just to mock up the images I’m going to draw in Photoshop before I even begin!

45 minutes into the piece.

45 minutes into the piece.

Forty-Five minutes into the piece, and I could tell upright-and-loose was my new favorite way to work. The problem with beginning a painting with a drawing is that it takes a long time, and all of your lines get covered up any way. It’s important to have a strong foundation, but even at the early stages of this experiment, I could tell this was going to be a new method for me, I’d never gotten such solid results so fast!

After the foundation is laid, it's ok to start with the fun stuff, but don't over work it... yet.

After the foundation is laid, it’s ok to start with the fun stuff, but don’t over work the details… yet.

With the big shapes blocked in, I began working on the features. Here is where the discipline of working big to small paid off. Initially, I put the nose in the wrong place. Normally, I wouldn’t have noticed this mistake until I’d already drawn the eyes, lips, eyebrows, chin, face, forehead, and hair, but because I started there, I was able to see the error early and correct it without much fuss.


Process Shot: Features.

I continued blocking in the features, using the big shapes I’d already laid down as guides.


Elvis has begun to appear.

This is the finished underpainting. Before this project, it would have been an underdrawing that took me forever to finish, but with the new upright, loose, no-drawing method? It was done in half the time. Why is that important? It gave me more time to focus on the fun details viewers notice.


Phase 2 Liquid Masking Fluid

Next I added Liquid Masking Fluid to the Yupo paper to protect areas I want to keep white. It’s really fun to remove. You’ll see latter!

Adding a new color!

Adding a new color!

Once the liquid masking fluid was dry, I began adding my second color, blocking in the background. I worked fast, loose, and thick, letting the ink drip and run.  It was a blast working with the newer, faster, upright canvass setup. This is because everything was closer to me. When I used to work on the floor, the top of the canvass was further away than the bottom. I never realized how much time that extra reaching cost me until this project. Working upright literally cut my time spent down by a third! Why had I avoided working upright all this time? Fear of drips. Painting with fear is the opposite of painting loose, and should be avoided. I wish I’d figured that out years ago!


A few hours in, I couldn’t believe what was emerging. In the past, I always felt lucky when I got a likeness, but this one emerged effortlessly. The reason? I wasn’t trying. I was being loose. I was working big, fast and sloppy.

Orange + Blue = 'Black'

Orange + Blue = ‘Black’

With the background and big shapes blocked in, I began adding blue-green from the background on top of the orange underpainting of Elvis. When the colors mixed it created a rich dark that fit in perfectly with the color scheme. Color theory and a little planning FTW!

I began adding a little red to compliment the blue-green.

I began adding a little red to compliment the blue-green.

And now it gets fun. With the foundation laid, the rest was a matter of dividing the painting into areas of light, dark, color, value, texture, etc.


The foundation stages are important, but you can’t worry about them. Everything else is easy and fun, but you have to wait to get there. Art is a process. Enjoy each part!

Adding layers of blue-green to the orange underpainting to build darker values.

Adding layers of blue-green to the orange underpainting to build darker values.

I spent the rest of the day adding layer after layer of  blue-green and orange, letting them mix, neutralize, and become darker. At this point, I was essentially refining what was already there. The painting— the important, critical parts, at least— was already done, and in record time! The rest was details, and details are fun!


Pulling liquid masking fluid off the canvass is my favorite part of any piece.

The next day I pulled of the liquid masking fluid I’d painted on earlier. It revealed the white of the paper beneath. Hawaiian flowers, letters, and hair highlights emerged!


The final piece included acrylic paint, metallic inks, glow in the dark pigments, and lots and lots of love, but those were details added after the foundation had been established. The important parts happened within the first few hours. That is why it is critical to stay loose in the beginning and only tighten over time. It’s difficult, but you will save time and have more fun. Or I did. Try it, then let me know how it goes!

To recap:

  1. Pick a color scheme and stick to it
  2. Pick a process that will force you to loosen up and see what you learn
  3. Work fast

These tips are advanced. They are easy to do but require discipline. It took me years to get to a place where I could paint consistently with a system, but you don’t have to take that long, you can start today.

If you like to paint and you’re having trouble, take my advice is to get loose! Try it for one painting. If you don’t like it, you’ll have learned something, even if only that you prefer tighter techniques.


Below are two more paintings made after I discovered this method. It’s probably how I’ll work from now on, the old way was just too… tight.

Thanks for reading. If you’d like to watch me paint, or have questions, download Periscope from the App Store and find me @streetarthustle

Happy inking!

This is a I Batman painted using the new looser technique. It took me half the time and turned out better than I was expecting.

This is a I Batman painted using the new looser technique. It took me half the time and turned out better than I was expecting.

This is a Thor I painted loosely, slowly tightening shadows and highlights until the image appeared.

This is a Thor I painted loosely, slowly tightening shadows and highlights until the image appeared.

Hamburger Hangover


The hotel was warm but winter had come, persistent despite all blankets. Ping looked at his phone, ‘We have to wait for the restaurant to open,’ he repeated again.

My new tattoo was healing quickly. Ping had done a good job. Still, I wasn’t satisfied.

‘Just gonna take a nap,’ Ping closed the blinds. Late-morning light streamed through the veil, filling the room with incessant dimness.

‘Turn off the T.V.’ I pointed towards the glowing rectangle.

‘You don’t watch T.V.?’ Ping hit power on the remote.

‘I’m writing,’

I wrote.

Then, ‘I’m writing,’ to Ping.

My phone dinged. It was Josy, half my age, half a world away. The little darling only used Facebook to talk to me. We were both too old for her. I looked at the yellow face she’d sent. An emoticon. The symbol was already evolving, adapting to new technologies. In a century, it would be part of a new language: emoticon. It was evolving already. 

I set down my phone, tried to nap, but my mind kept racing, kept trying to figure out how to get rid of my new tattoo.

‘Got three clients competing in the show today,’ Ping continued searching for Thai restaurants on his phone, snuggled cozy beneath blankets, his cot beside my bed. ‘One is already at the convention, one is on the way, and one is still in queens.’

‘Sounds about right,’ I laughed. The tattoo industry was as laid back as it was earnest. No one really gave a damn about anything.

‘How you spell Valentine day?’ Ping asked.

‘There’s an ‘s’ at the end,’ I looked up at the ceiling, at the spears of light stabbing through curtains. Someone above me was having sex. I could hear the ancient rhythm beat desperate against the wall. Valentine’s day. Everyone in the hotel was exchanging orgasms- everyone but Ping and myself.

Ping and I had come to win a competition.

I pulled out my pipe and grinder, ‘Want some?’ My stomach grumbled angrily. It was late morning and the little soldier was hungry. Yesterday we managed to land a free breakfast. Today we weren’t so lucky.

‘If we leave now,’ Ping ran the math again, ‘we get there by 11:30…’

I put on my glasses and moved to the window, feeling the cold press in, radiating through the glass, ‘When do they open?’

‘Twelve,’ Ping sighed sadly. ‘I call to make sure.’ He dialed the restaurant a second time, ‘You open now?’

‘We open at 12,’ the voice squawked loud in the silent room.

‘Mother fucker,’ Ping hung up. ‘No time for twelve.’ He googled another place. ‘How far is 5 miles?’

‘Ten Minutes,’ I dug through my backpack, looking for the good lighter.

‘This place looks decent,’ Ping found another restaurant. ‘They have noodle!’ He said excitedly, ‘but they don’t open until 12.’ His face fell, confused and angry, ‘Why everyone open so late?’

‘Why everyone open so late?’

I typed into my phone, ‘It’s Sunday.’

‘It’s sunday,’ I said.

I wrote, ‘and this isn’t New York.’

‘Fuck,’ Ping sulked deeper into his cot.

I took a hit and opened the window. Most of the exhale fled back into the room, pushed by savage motes of desperate cold. It was February, and the first hard freeze. Even the air wanted to be inside.

Drug smoke eased in from the corners, smoothing bumps, softening winter’s ache. I packed another bowl, feeling the medicine spread, trickling into my core. ‘Did the girls make it home?’

There had been girls in the car on the drive out. Ping tattooed one of them. Her piece, like mine, failed to win a trophy.

‘Didn’t ask them,’ Ping was distracted, still searching for open Thai restaurants.

‘They were trouble,’ I looked outside at the desolate suburbia, then took another hit. This time I stuck my head out the window, blowing smoke in the direction of the wind. The billowing column poured down and out, disappearing as the cold claimed another victim.

‘We should leave soon,’ Ping’s eyes were almost closed. He peered up at the ceiling, lost in his cot. ‘It’s almost 12.’

I’d been ready for hours. If Ping wanted to leave he would have to get out of bed on his own.

‘The Internet is fucking slow here.’ hHe went back to looking at pictures of restaurants.

I nodded blankly, no longer worried about the world and its sorrow.

• • •


‘I’ll have the fried coconut ice cream,’ I handed the dessert menu back to the waitress. ‘And put a banana on top of it.’

‘My client is at the convention already,’ Ping tried again to get me to hurry.

‘A fried banana?’ The waitress looked at the menu, confused.

‘No,’ I shook my cotton candy head, ‘put a slice of pre-fried banana on the side.’ I illustrated on the side with my hands.

‘We gonna be late,’ Ping warned again.

‘We were late before we left for the restaurant,’ I took a sip of water, ignoring his sudden urgency. ‘I want fried ice cream.’

Dessert arrived on a heart-shaped valentine’s day plate. Two elegantly curved banana halves surrounded the fried ice cream, repeating the contours of the plate. ‘Happy Valentine’s day,’ I winked at Ping.

Ping watched stoically as I ate a few bites, then even he couldn’t resist.

‘The banana is good,’ he took a bite of fried ice cream, then hit the lump thoughtfully with his spoon. ‘I could eat all day.’ He looked around the the room, at ease for the first time in days, ‘Noodle is my drug,’ he took another bite of banana, ‘I been eating hamburger for two days,’ he shook his head, remembering the horror. ‘Fucking hamburger,’ he closed his eyes, but the wound was fresh. ‘Fucking cheesesteak…’ He took a deep breath and leaned back, letting the pain flow through him, ‘Noodle is my drug.’

Each of us had decimated an army’s worth of pad thai, the empty plates, like carcasses, were scattered across the table.

Ping picked up the menu again, ‘We get food to go. Then eat it later. Instead of stupid burger.’

‘Yeah,’ I scooped another bite of fried ice cream. ‘That’s a good idea.’

‘Can I get some chicken fried rice to go?’ Ping called across the empty restaurant. Our waitress looked up from her conversation.

‘And I’ll take some spring rolls,’ I raised my hand to indicate which of us was talking.

‘You order spring roll and nothing else?’ Ping looked at me suspiciously.

‘Noodle is your drug’ I pointed my spoon at the Thai master, ‘spring rolls are mine.’ I looked out the window, ‘I don’t think you should enter this competition,’ my neck cracked as I sagged into the seat. For days I’d been standing, trying to sell tattoos, trying to sell art. ‘We’re three hours late. It’s going to be a rush job. You might fuck up this dude’s arm.’

‘Nah, man,’ there was steel in Ping’s tone, a certain iron I’d only heard in rich men’s voices. ‘I’m gonna win.’

‘The other artists have already been working for three hours.’

‘Noodle will help,’ Ping said seriously. ‘Noodle is my drug.’

We both began to laugh.

• • •


I parked the car in a vacant lot ten blocks from the convention center. The distance was absurd, but we saved a fortune on parking. Ping was already at the convention center, tracing the stencil for a tattoo that didn’t stand a chance. He was a genius, but even Picasso needed time to work.

Depressed, I pulled out my stash, feeling the ache of my new tattoo, crisp against the press of clothes. This was no longer my war. My soldiers had already fallen.

I stood on stage, shirtless, and cold. Two judges stared at my arm.

‘How long did it take?’ The male asked mechanically.

‘Six and a half hours,’ I fumbled with the painting, holding it up with pale, wiry arms. ‘It’s a portrait of Bukowski,’ I explained, ‘he’s meaningful.’ I looked at the painting, ‘Ping chum is the tattoo artist. ‘ I turned to show them the tattoo again.

‘Thank you,’ the female judge made a note on her piece of paper.

The male gestured me away.

‘That’s it?’ Ping asked as I stepped down from the stage.

‘I guess.’ It happened so fast. We’d both spent weeks designing the piece, and now it was over. We hadn’t won a thing.

I took another hit, exhaling into the car. It was a long, cold walk to the convention center.

• • •


‘Are you painting today?’ Kat was the shop girl three booths down. Like all shop girls, she floated ethereal, as if her essence had been distilled from a reality slightly better than our own. I’d been trying to flirt with her all weekend.

‘Nobody wants what I’m selling,’ my eyes were bleary, marijuana the only thing keeping me awake, ‘People are here to buy tattoos, not paintings.’

‘That sucks,’ Kat smiled sympathetically.

For two days I’d given everything I had, attempting to pay for the trip with hustle. I’d made $20. This, while my tortured arm itched and burned, rife with fresh-scarred ink.

I returned to our booth and found Ping’s client for the day, shirtless as he waited for a tattoo, his body similar in shape to that of a gorilla. ‘What are you getting today?’ I asked.

‘The King of Thailand.’ His chin raised proudly, his neck ropes entwined with shoulders the size of basketballs. ‘He God,’ the man continued seriously. ‘He bring the rain.’

Sure enough, taped to the light stand next to the arm cushion was a piece of paper with an image of the face of the King of Thailand. The disembodied head, confident and beautiful, floated in the clouds. Towards the back of his head, the King of Thailand’ s hair grew faint and wavy, transforming into mashed potato piles of cumulonimbi. These clouds, which were also the head of the king, rained on a group of peasant farmers. The peasant farmers tended their rice paddies, happy and well-fed, cheering, thankful for their God’s sacred gift. To the left, where clouds turned once more into His Holy Face, a single, blessed finger extended, almost, but not quite, touching his thoughtful lips. Beneath the hand, a golden symbol, glowing and indecipherable.

‘That’s quite the composition,’ I said seriously. Ping had sort of modified the design for my tattoo, replacing bukowski’s head with Bhumibol Adulyadej’s, and my gentle hearts with the story of his people.

‘You gonna win?’ I asked the new guy, wondering if he understood the question.

‘We will win,’ the gorilla nodded, his narrow eyes magnified by a fashionably large pair of glasses, ‘Ping the best.’

‘Totally,’ I agreed, afraid he might accidentally kill me when he beat the shit out of Ping for rushing his tattoo.

‘Time to begin,’ Ping squeezed into the booth, holding the stencil he’d made based on the design he’d mimicked for the tattoo I’d envisioned which had already failed to place.

‘Only four hours left,’ I warned, looking around at the massive auditorium. Over 1,000 of america’s best tattoo artists had set up camp for the weekend, inking loyal fans and drinking heavily each night. Ping avoided their parties, seizing any edge on his path to victory.

‘Maybe you should lay in the lines and shade it later,’ I tried to find a middle ground. It was a good design. With enough time, it could be a great tattoo.

‘No way, man,’ Ping sat down and began transferring the stencil onto the gorilla’s arm, ‘we gonna win.’

For months Ping had searched for clients. For months he had designed tattoos. Now the test, now the fire and its forge. He was competing with a handicap, cut off from the food in New York, his only sustenance an occasional hamburger.

‘You’re tired and four hours behind, bro.’ I repeated, too exhausted to mince words.

‘It’s ok,’ Ping continued setting up his machine, ‘I have noodle now.’

I looked at the gorilla in the chair, the one with no neck and basketballs instead of shoulders. If he understood what was happening, his face showed no sign.

‘Fuck it,’ I’d tried. I was weak with exhaustion, nursing a hamburger hangover. Chills radiated from my new tattoo. The entire arm was traumatized, healing, and sick. No one was buying my art. The entire trip was a disaster.

I left the booth and began to wander.

• • •


As I wandered I met Frank Frazetta’s grand daughter. He’s one of my artistic heroes, so I bought one of the iPhone 6 cases she was selling with her grandfather’s artwork on it.

‘Who did this?’ I asked the artists in the booth.

The guy with a rockabilly haircut looked up. ‘Tony,’ he flicked his pompadour in the direction of a small Mexican.

Tony dipped ink into the whisper-smooth needles of his machine, ‘Hey.’

‘I like your work,’ I pointed at his portfolio.

‘He has a light touch.’ The guy with the rockabilly haircut stood up, showed me the side of his shaved head, ‘Tony did the scroll work on my temple.’

The lines were dark, delicate, beautiful. The perfect showpiece for any collector.

‘Think you could fix my tattoo?’ I took off my coat.

‘What you got?’ Tony raised his chin, giving me permission to remove my shirt and approach.

As the portrait of Bukowski came into view, tony set down his machine. He stood, tinier than I’d imagined, a delicate creature with small shoes, khaki pants, and gang signs tattooed across his face.

‘When did you get this?’ His trained eyes swept over the piece.

‘Two days ago.’

‘It’s good work,’ Tony was gentle and quiet. He touched my arm with delicate fingers, ‘It’s healing fast.’

‘Holy shit!’ Two girls stopped to admire my exposed arm.

‘That’s fantastic!’ Said the taller of the two.

‘I hate it,’ regret cut through.

‘Why?’ Asked the spunky one.

‘He outlined the areas of color,’ I pointed to each place where Ping had failed to live up to the expectations in my head. ‘He added shadows where there shouldn’t be shadows. I told him to improvise, to take my design and make it his own, but I didn’t-’

‘-This is your design!?’ Asked the taller girl.

‘Sort of.’

‘You can paint!?’ Asked the spunky one.

I nodded.

‘It’s good work,’ said tony.

‘That’s so cool that you can paint!’ The spunky girl took a drink of her alcoholic beverage.

‘You should be proud,’ the tall one came closer, admiring the details, ‘your artwork is on your body.’

‘No,’ I shook my head, ‘my tattoo artist’s artwork is on my body.’ Anger came bubbling to the surface, each word snapping, cold like the wind.

‘He can’t do your work,’ Tony looked up at me, ‘he can only do his.’

And then it hit me.

I’d been treating Ping like a puppet, telling him what to do, directing him, just like my idiot clients in my previous life as a graphic designer.

I told him what to do, then got mad when he did it. And now? I was assassinating him behind his back- to his colleagues.

I was the monster I’d been sent to destroy

I looked at my hands,

I looked at the world

I looked at my hands

But in a new way.

‘I guess I should shut the fuck up,’ something inside died, some vestige of an older self. Another remnant of fear annihilated.

‘I’d give anything to have that piece,’ said the tall one.

I put my shirt back on, suddenly proud of my tattoo.

• • •


Second Place for Back Piece, Ping Chum, Philadelphia Tattoo Convention February 14, 2016

‘Third place, for best back piece:’ the announcer squawked over the intercom. Five thousand visitors paused to listen, ‘Ping Chum!’

Third place. Ping would be devastated. Still, congratulations were in order. With a grunt, I stood and began the 10 minute obstacle course to pass security.

‘Now,’ the announcer continued over the intercom, ‘I can’t believe I have to say this again, ‘but you are not allowed to wash your new tattoos in the bathroom sinks! That’s fucking disgusting!’

All around the convention center boos, hisses, and cat calls rose from the crowd.

‘Your tattoo is effectively an open wound, you stupid pieces of shit!’ The announcer kept talking. Good-hearted laughter erupted from the crowd. I took off my coat and let inspectors search my bag for weapons.

‘If you wash your open wound in a shitty bathroom sink, you run the risk of contaminating the area. You might infect yourself or someone else!’ He was really riled up this time. It was almost as if someone had engaged in the behavior he was ranting about.

No one had, of course. His speech was informational, a public service announcement to first-timers. I had been in the bathroom a lot that weekend, chronsing the shit out of any number of porcelain thrones. It was the hamburgers that set me off, the stupid fucking hamburgers. After 98 trips to the bathroom, I realized no one was actually rinsing new tattoos in the sinks. The thrice-daily announcements were a warning, not a newscast of recent violations. The announcer’s words were harsh, but his intent was kind. This was love in the curse-laden language of the marginalized.

‘So keep ‘em clean, but don’t clean them here, you filthy fucks,’ the announcer finished his rant. The crowd applauded itself. Everyone was glad. The children had been warned.

‘Second place, for best back piece,’ the announcer returned to his listings. I waited in line at the ticket check.

Ping took second the last time he’d competed at this convention. His failure haunted him. He had returned for revenge, to prove that his honor had been slighted. And now, the back piece he’d been working on for over a year barely placed. I was proud of him, but I knew he would be disappointed.

‘Second place, for best shoulder or half sleeve…’ The announcer continued. I no longer cared. We’d come. We’d tried as hard as we could. It didn’t work. Sometimes you get a trophy, sometimes you eat hamburgers and go home ashamed.

I pushed through the glut of newly admitted tourists. They dispersed into the center of the room, fresh and full of wonder.

‘First place,’  the angry-but-amenable MC continued reading from his list, ‘for a shoulder piece or half sleeve,’ I dodged a giant drunk guy,  ‘Ping Chum!’

I dropped my bag. My mouth fell open. I picked the bag back up. I ran forward, pushing my way through the crowd, smiling big.

‘You did it!’ I shouted as I rounded the corner, breathless.

‘Told you,’ Ping winked, holding a pile of trophies, plaques, and loot. The freshly-tattooed Thai gorilla stood beside him, grinning like a yeti. ‘I just needed my noodle.’

• • •

The ride home was glorious, each of us beaming, satellite moons reflecting the light of our valiant star.

‘Civilization!’ I cried as Manhattan came into view. New york, that jagged line of crumbling teeth, bloody with lights, laughing at the face of god; buildings and bridges piled one on top of the other, each believing itself a king, each searching for the spotlight.

‘Gonna eat so much noodle,’ Ping changed the volume of the music slightly with one practiced hand.

The Thai gorilla said something to Ping in their native tongue. Ping answered. Both of them chuckled.

The laughter spread, filling the car. Triumphant, we crossed the Washington Bridge, each of us a legend in his own mind.



episode 6: pan gender


my first date in new york was with a hot asian woman who happened to have a penis. we kissed, passionately, for hours, before i figured it out. hear me recount the tale with gary, lauren, and some friends from denver.


episode 5: digital marxism


should kids with google brains be allowed to compete at chess club? is marxism viable in the digital age? do poverty-reducing programs increase the number of poor people?

all this, plus helpful insights about art, love, and the next generation (spoiler: they’re a spectacular bunch of human beings!) on episode 5 of my friend’s divorce!


• see HELEN CARGILE’S amazing art! helen was the guest host on this podcast. if you liked her work, you’ll love her paintings!


chris aquinto: his art


Most of my work is done using sharpie markers, pencils…



… a ruler, squares,  and a small engineering stencil.



I mark out in pencil all the line work first. I like using circles in my work.



Using the compass and ruler I can make a circle and I can inscribe within it a regular polygon with 3, 4, 5, 17, or even 51 sides (also double any of these numbers, and double those, etc.)

A line segment of any whole number or fractional length can also be constructed with compass and straight edge, as well as various other tasks.



I tend to play around with the line work until I have something that looks interesting to me, making circles, portions of circles, lines, polygons, and whatever else I feel like.

Color is my weakest aspect. I try to pick interesting colors to use, but I’m almost never happy with my choices…

Once colors are chosen, I shade and redo the line work in sharpies.

episode 4: overpaid rockstar teacher programmatics


am i really going to start tattooing again-for-the-third-time?does math need US in order to exist? are space puppies > spacemonkeys? if we become cyborgs will A.I. continue to need us? all this, plus nathan’s amazing ‘boolean algebra rant on the not-so-special christmas edition of my friends divorce!’


• See Chris Aquinto’s amazing MATHEMATICS-BASED ART


episode 3: youtube


will YouTube© actually make a 45 minute documentary about me? why does hollywood anderson want me to instagram him? will american colleges be responsible for WWIII? all this, plus tips for painting warhammer figurines!


this guy wants to work with me!?

• See the WARHAMMER FIGURINES that started it all.

• See the PAINTING that started it all.

• Read the story about TWO BOTTLES OF WINE!



episode 2: you look sad and tired


what does ‘nike’ mean? is religion still important? can liberals and conservatives be friends? all this, plus helpful tips for clearing out your bucket list!


graphite drawing by kerry simmons

graphite drawing by kerry simmons


painting by michael de brito

painting by michael de brito


• Find out more about my new friend, Helen Cargile, but CLICKING HERE.



episode 1 (reboot) : a new hope


I had to reboot the series. My former cohost is no longer on the show. We’d love to have him back some day, but for now, it is not to be.

So. Here’s to new beginnings!

Also: some of the things we talked about on this podcast:

• Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Read the first issue by clicking HERE.

• Watch an epileptic child heal miraculously using MEDICAL MARIJUANA WARNING: SAD

• My Facebook picture that earned the most LIKES  (hoping for more. fingers crossed.)

• Zach and I reenacting a CALVIN & HOBBES log.

• What is a CALVIN & HOBBES LOG?





using miskit with alcohol inks

One of my readers recently told me I should try using Miskit to protect my white areas when working with alcohol ink.

grumbacher miskit liquid frisket

Fortunately, I already had an old bottle of Miskit laying around. The liquid inside was old and full of dried up chunks because I hate using the stuff. It ruins brushes, dislikes being worked with, and if you do things wrong…


alcohol ink painting by nathan carson made using miskit

… the color bleeds through your perfectly drawn letters.


portrait of jojo made with aclohol inks by nathan carson

But that makes it perfect of alcohol ink! Alcohol ink is messy. Gloriously messy! You’re not supposed to be perfect. In fact. You can’t be perfect! Not yet. Some day some one will figure out a method to control the chaos inherent in this medium. One of the reasons I’m making these tutorials is so that other artists can learn my techniques, then spend the time they would have used experimenting to evolve the art form. Making fine art with alcohol inks is a relatively new idea, and we’re getting in on the ground floor! How awesome is that!?


epic images promotional poster made by nathan carson for david dougherty

Here’s how the final piece turned out. I’m sure you don’t have a friend’s photography show to promote, but you could use these same techniques to make awesome greeting cards, love notes, or Christmas ornaments for the people in your life. The possibilities are endless!


david dougherty photographs

My friend and PODCAST cohost, David has ALL KINDS OF AWESOME IMAGES to choose from. I picked the one on the bottom right because it reminded me of the work of Dave McKean.


dave mckean painting of edgar allen poe

Dave McKean was one of the first artists to explore Photoshop as a tool for making fine art. By combining traditional photography, sculpture, painting, and computer software, Dave McKean produced stunning collages the likes of which the world had never seen! A very young Nathan discovered Dave McKean on the covers of The Sandman comic books which were written by Neil Gaiman.


Epic Images poster

I began with a mock up in Photoshop. David’s photography show is taking place at a coffee shop, so I wanted the poster to reflect that in some way. I decided masking out the letters in Miskit, then painting coffee colored alcohol ink pools over the top would be the perfect way to advertise. As an added bonus, I would get to make a tutorial about my process. I’m a good teacher. Now I’m attempting to monetize that by making killer tutorials in hopes that people will want to know more about me and then subscribe to my podcast on iTunes. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make it as an artist in the new millennium. I’m not saying you should make killer tutorials, I’m saying you should take the things you already enjoy doing, and combine them in order to create your own promotion machine.


… take the things you already enjoy doing, and combine them in order to create your own promotion machine.


I love to teach. I also love talking to David on the phone. So I make the best tutorials I can, then use them to promote the recordings I made of me and David talking. You’ll have to be creative to find your own path to success, but if you’re an artist, that comes naturally. If you’re not, why are you reading this tutorial?



I began by drawing what I mocked up in Photoshop with watercolor pencil on yupo paper. Why watercolor pencils? What is yupo paper? Find out by reading my previous tutorial HERE!

Also, see how the picture of the drawing is terrible and has a pause button and an X on it? That’s because it’s a screen capture from the Periscope session where I filmed it. Want to watch me draw, paint and write? Find me on Twitter, then subscribe to my Periscope! My Twitter name is:


(There’s no ‘e’ because Twitter names can only be 15 characters long.)


old grumbaucher miskit

My bottle of Miskit is about ten years old, and full of lumps and coagulated chunks. I was scared it might not bond and that using it could waste an entire day, but I recently quit my job (or got laid off, or got fired, depending on who you ask) and declared myself an artist. Artists are poor, so they can’t buy fancy new Miskit like you working-job types. Want to listen to me talk about my experience becoming an artist? Subscribe to my podcast on iTunes. It’s called

My Friend’s Divorce

it would mean a lot.


applying grumbacher miskit to yupo paper

Miskit is miserable to work with. Or I think so, at least. It will ruin whatever brush you use to work with it. Not immediately, but quickly, over time. A few days of Miskit use, and that brush will be toast. So use an old brush to apply the stuff. Just dip it into the bottle and begin applying it to the areas you would like to remain the color of the paper.

Once the stuff is completely dry, you’ll be able to paint over the top. The Miskit will protect the paper beneath it by blocking your pigments with its chunky, frustrating, brush-ruining body until you feel like removing it. It’s kind of like watered down rubber cement.

As you work, the Miskit on your brush will begin to dry. This will cause your bristles to clump, giving you even less control over an already difficult medium. When that happens, wash and rub the Miskit out of the bristles under the faucet with warm water.


epic images miskit alcohol ink painting

Once the Miskit was dry, I began applying ink using the Direct Squirt Technique. What is the Direct Squirt Technique? Find out by reading my last blog. To read my last block CLICK HERE!


adirondak and pinata alcohol inks

Alcohol inks are often applied using the DIRECT SQUIRT TECHNIQUE,  because of this, the bottles themselves are a sort of futuristic paint brush. I usually use Adirondack inks, but recently happened upon Piñata colors, and decided to give them a try. I’m glad I did.


Piñata bottles are made out of a thinner plastic, making them easier to squeeze


Piñata bottles are made out of a thinner plastic, making them easier to squeeze, and the tip lays down a better line of ink. I’m a Piñata man, now. But don’t take my word for it. Try various bottles for your own damn self! You might very well like the delicate tip, and more durable body of the Adirondack line better.


alcohol ink and miskit painting

Alcohol inks tend to be extremely vibrant and bright. This is called ‘Saturated’ in art terms. Unfortunately, I needed this puddle to look at least a little bit like coffee. I know that if you mix complimentary colors together they neutralize. The results of that neutralization are uncertain. Sometimes you get a brown, and sometimes you end up with gray. The outcome of mixing colors together is determined by the colors themselves, as well as the chemical composition of the pigments. You’ll never be able to predict the outcome, you just have to experiment. I decided to experiment directly on the paper by mixing purple and yellow directly on the page. As you can see, they didn’t blend.


Pro Tip: If you mix complimentary colors together, they neutralize.


Need some help remembering which colors are complimentary? Here’s a handy guide:

Yellow and Purple (Easter)

Red and Green (Christmas)

Blue and Orange (The Mother Fucking DENVER BRONCOOOOOOOOOS!)

Go Broncos.


ice tray being used as an alcohol ink palette

Because the colors weren’t mixing well on the page, I began mixing them separately in an ice cube tray. Ice cube trays are essential to my alcohol ink work flow.

Do you have any amazing tips of your own?


This tutorial only exists because someone read MY PREVIOUS TUTORIAL and suggested I start using Miskit to protect my whites. Who knows what we’ll discover if we work together!?


alcohol ink puddles on yupo paper

Working slow and building up layers of various browns, I wound up with this.


Painting occupies a spectrum between unity and variety. A blank wall has unity. A wall with a mural on it is more interesting to look at. That’s called variety. Variety is the purpose of art. Adding variety inspires ideas, which leads to break throughs. You can’t even make a sandwich without the idea of one first! We’re important, us artists. Our ideas fuel progress.


Variety is the purpose of art.

—Nathan Carson, December 9, 2015, Brooklyn


Now, imagine that you have a beautiful landscape painting on your wall and then you add another painting to the same wall. The new painting depicts an Undead Lich Lord doing furious battle with an Ogre Mage. You’ve added variety, but the two paintings don’t work together. This dissonance between the two images has broken the unity of your wall. There’s lots to look at, but your gallery will be hard to market. Sometimes visual dissonance is a good thing, but usually we want to avoid it.


alcohol ink puddle on yupo paper

In the alcohol ink painting above, there is a lot of unity, but is there a way to add more variety? There is! See the three red arrows? They’re pointing at three blobs of ink that our minds see as being about the same size. This is a principle that my teacher and mentor, Roger McCoy calls, ‘Equals Cancel.’ Our eyes see all three blobs as being the same size and shape, so our brian stops investigating and moves on. To put it another way, imagine you’re at a Broncos game:

Nathan Carson at Mile High Stadium during Peyton Manning's first game as a Bronco. Image by David Dougherty for Epic Images.

Nathan Carson at Mile High Stadium during Peyton Manning’s first game as a Bronco. Image by David Dougherty for Epic Images.

See that unstoppable sea of blue and orange? <— (which also happen to be complimentary colors, go Broncos!)  are all of those dots humans? How do you know? You don’t. But your brain assumes that they are because it doesn’t have time to investigate every dot. That’s what’s happening in the alcohol ink painting above. Those three dots are reading like all the people in that crowd. It’s not wrong. Sometimes you want to cancel out various areas of a painting to draw attention to the focal point, but in the piece I’m working on, I wanted to add more variety.


alcohol ink puddles on yupo paper

So I made one of the puddles bigger. Looking at the image with fresh eyes, I wish I’d of done more to make the medium puddle consume the one it’s overlapping, but that might have made it read as the same size as the giant puddle above it, and then I might have had to make the giant puddle bigger to compensate, and that could have had other undesirable consequences. It’s easy to make fun of modern art, but the good stuff took lots of knowledge to execute.

rubbing miskit off yupo paper with a finger

I let the piece dry over night. You don’t have to wait that long, but definitely make sure your painting is completely dry, if it’s not, you’ll smear pigment into your white areas, and that defeats the purpose of Miskit.

In the morning I began rubbing the dried Miskit-with-ink-on-top with my finger. Miskit is kind of like rubber cement. Imagine a dried glob of rubber cement. You could remove it from your counter top with a little elbow grease. Miskit is like that. Unfortunately, the oils in my finger began to pick up ink pigment and smear it into the white…

rubbing miskit off of yupo with an eraser

… so I switched to an eraser. The eraser also picks up pigment, but without finger oil (gross!) to serve as a medium, it’s just dry dust. Removing Miskit With Erasers = Good. Removing Miskit with Fingers = Bad. Unless you want to smear the ink. Remember:

“Every strength can be a weakness, and every weakness can be a tool.”

—Nathan Carson, December 9, 2015, Brooklyn

epic images poster

Once I was done removing the Miskit, I took a photograph and brought it into Photoshop. Then I combined it with DAVID’S picture.

If I’m being honest, I like the original Photoshop composition better. Maybe someday I’ll go back and figure out why, but not today. Today I’m up against the clock, trying to finish this tutorial as well as a podcast so that I can make a living as an artist. Want to help? Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, it’s called:

My Friend’s Divorce

just like this website!



I’ll catch you on the flip side.


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