God damn Alex Ross. Not only is he blessed with an artistic talent the rest of us can only dream about, but the guy is able to churn out his brilliant work FAST. Most of the artwork you see here took me weeks, if not months to finish. So I decided to give myself a challenge: try to paint a superhero image using Ross' technique, and do it in less than two days. I ended up needing three.

I made no hesitation in selecting the subject matter: Christopher Reeve remains the definitive Superman for the ages. I used two different photo images, a face portrait and a screenshot of Reeve flying in SUPERMAN II, and combined them in Photoshop. From this I sketched the figure onto a watercolor board. Simple enough so far.

Now the tricky part. Ross uses gouache, an opaque watercolor paint, to bring his work to life. I've used them before, but never extensively. Watercolors usually present a challenge in that it is often difficult to get "flat" or really solid colors without washing them out. To my surprise, gouache paints largely rectify this problem, and you can, if to a limited degree, paint some lighter colors on top of darker ones.

Still, I was flabberghasted when I learned how Ross actually paints his pictures. He breaks the common law of watercolors by painting the black and dark layers first. Only then, after a rough black and white painting is done, does he begin to add the colors!

Wanting to stay true to Ross' process, I decide to get the exact same type of paintbrush Ross uses -- a Winsor & Newton Series 7 Red Sable, Size 4. Much to my chagrin, the brush is bloody expensive; I spend more on buying it than I do the paints!

Would Ross' technique work for me? I had no idea. Adding the blacks was almost always my last step in using watercolors, not the first. Reversing the process normally would turn the colors all "muddy", and detail would be lost. But I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try.

Day two. I'm beginning to like using this gouache stuff. But I'm having problems getting used to adding the colors without making them look too muddy. Painting on a watercolor canvas board instead of paper is also troublesome -- the board doesn't absorb the paint as well as paper, but at least I don't have to worry about any "crinkling."

I'm impressed by how you can get some pretty solid colors out of the paint. To have a solid black background would be pretty tough to paint in standard watercolor. You can paint a little more thickly with the gouache, too.

I whip out my old airbrush for the first time in two years. I always get nervous using it, but it is able to give an element of magic that I otherwise couldn't paint: glowing light effects, color blends, etc. I try to use it sparingly. In this case, you can see how I added the blue atmospheric effects to the Earth in the background.

I use some masking tape and frisket film to cover the figure while airbrushing some lighting effects. When done, the "rays" of light look too harsh and bland -- in other words, they look too airbrushed. I try to soften the effect by adding some brushstrokes by hand, giving the overall painting a more consistant style. It doesn't have to look perfect; with these kinds of paints, seeing the brushstrokes adds to the charm.

Day three. I finish adding details to the suit, and spend a few minutes adding clouds to the planet below. I guess I could do more, but I decide to quit while I'm ahead. All in all, the painting took me about 12 hours or so over the course of three nights.

Nevermind! I'm not yet done! I decide to make some last-minute adjustments to the painting, including some more shading on the face as well as darker, more bluish tones to the shadows below. I also "tweak" the digital photos in Photoshop so that what you see here more accurrately reflects the colors and "softness" of the original artwork.

The finished painting, now on display within the SMALLVILLE production office at Warner Bros.!