SNAP! ___ POP!

Yes, Crackle!

Actually, craquelure. It’s French.

Craquelure is the pattern of cracks that form in paint as it ages:


In my book, Art& Max, I have a character, Art, who gets covered with paint by the other character, Max. That layer of heavy, opaque paint then cracks and bursts off. (There is more about this book’s process on another part of this site)

I had several ways of showing the cracking. One was to paint it in trompe l’oeil (French again) fashion. Another was to add it digitally. The third was to re-create the craquelure, the cracking of the paint.

I wanted to try and create the cracks. Fortunately, I knew someone who had done it before. We’ll call him, Mr. Smith.

I rang up Mr. Smith and asked how he had done it, what his materials were. He told me about the “crackle medium” that he used – which was no longer made – and explained the process. He then told me that he hadn’t used that method in many years. He now scans the crackle textures into his computer and digitally adds them to his images. He could do this for me in five minutes.

I knew the digital process would be simple and easy, but I wanted to give the “real” method a shot. If that didn’t work, back to Mr. Smith.

Now to find crackle medium. Somehow, I took a way too circuitous route to finding it. I turned up several jars of the wrong stuff before simply going into the art store and finding it on the shelf:


It is a thick paste. A palette knife works best to spread it. The thicker you spread it, the larger the cracks – the thinner the layer, the finer the web of cracks. That’s it.

Except that thick means really thick. A quarter to three eights of an inch to get some major cracking. I did some tests and – it worked!

Now, to paint a picture. This was to be page thirteen in Art & Max. Here, in order, are some drawings – from the dummy, a discarded finish, and the actual finished drawing:

p13 drawing 1

p13 drawing 2

p13 drawing 3

I had to paint the sky first – couldn’t paint around the figure later. So, if the crackle doesn’t look good, I’d need to do the painting over.

It worked. Here is the sky with the body/trunk of the figure covered with the dried crackle medium. (Did I make that cloud mass go around the figures on purpose? You bet.)

Process 1a

At the center it is about a quarter inch thick (I can’t move this now – chunks keep falling off).

Now to paint over the medium:

Process 2a

Process 3a

Process 4a

Process 5a

The figure done, I can start painting the rest of the image:

Process 7a

The finished painting:

Process 8 - finshed painting


There is one other element to this page that was added digitally. Art is screaming, “MAX!” – you can see it in the first sketch above. I wanted big letters:

Max type stretched

The obvious trouble here is that the name would be mostly obscured by Art’s head.

I liked that I could emphasize the emotion by dragging out the sound of the name. But, how many “A”s? Would two be enough?

p13 type 1

No. They look like horns on the side of his head. It’s polarizing.

I am in the camp that avoids even numbered groupings of objects. The eye tends to break them into halves – two groups. That doesn’t happen with odd numbers. Hence, the three little characters that appear throughout the book.

The trouble with three “A”s is that only the tip of the middle one shows behind Art – it looked bizarre – like it did with two, but spread out.

Can’t use four (See the rule, above). So, five:

p13 type 3

Your eye fills in the mostly hidden one because of the repetition of the form. This is a pencil sketch. For the finished art, I drew it on acetate, in ink, and then scratched out the cracks with an x-acto knife:

p13 type 2

Yeah, yeah, I could have done it in Photoshop. But the feel and sound of scratching with the blade is sooo much fun.

And here it is in the printed book with the type in a grey – black would have overwhelmed the image:

p13 w-type final


That was a lot of effort to get the type just right. Why did I do it as a separate overlay? Why not as part of the art?

Foreign editions. If “MAAAAAX!” was done directly on the painting, it would have to be digitally erased and then replaced for any country that didn’t use the Latin/Roman alphabet.

I couldn’t wait to see how Asian countries would solve the MAAAAAX! problem.

Japan and Korea:

japan korea

China – simplified and complex character:

chinese eds


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