Susanna Plotnick

Painter, Illustrator & Doll-maker


painting a graphic novel in oils

2 April 2013

I am a storyteller and an oil painter. I originally painted narrative paintings (cityscapes and still lifes with unusual subject matter), and showed them in solo and group shows.

When I became an illustrator of mass-market paperback covers some years later, I continued to paint in oils, as did all the artists I knew. I couldn’t imagine using any other color medium. The rich, buttery texture, the forgiving nature of the medium, and the ability to glaze and scumble, creating rich, transparent surfaces, had no match.

So, when I created my first children’s book dummy, I naturally did oil painting for my color pages. Then my interest in sequential art turned to the graphic novel form, a form which generally depends on highly developed drawing, inking and coloring skills, and an ability to work with speed.

I began a series of books about witches, born in Celtic Britain, who flee the witch hunts and must learn to live in the world of mortals. My first two books, Genevieve, My Familiar, A Gothic Fairy Tale, and Ceridwen’s Tale, were drawn in graphite. But I missed color and painting. So, when I started Exile, the sequel to Ceridwen’s Tale, I developed a format of images in rectangles set on a landscape background. I was inspired by the lush landscape paintings of Maria Henle.

When I returned to using oils, I found myself allergic to the traditional mediums I had always used (turpentine, stand oil, and damar varnish). My friend Mimi Weisbord, an oil painter I admired greatly, had turned to water soluble oils, and her paintings looked rich and full-bodied.

My first adventures with Winsor Newton water soluble oils were problem-ridden. The paint didn’t dry. When I used drying mediums, I felt like I was working with molasses, and felt allergic to those. Then I saw an article in an art magazine (can’t remember which!) about a painter who used the combination of Holbein Duo Water Soluble Oils, and, as a medium. Golden Open Acrylic Gloss Medium. This combination proved perfect. My paintings dry within a day or two, the combination of water and medium is completely non-toxic, and the paints handle beautifully.

I depend on Pixel Preserve in Rochester, New York for excellent color printing of my books.

I welcome your thoughts: