Jul 2009

Beating the Boss

I casually entered the room only to be assaulted by an overpowering stench. Immediately, I recognized its origin, for it was the unmistakeable, signature scent of the nerd, cheese curls blended with Mountain Dew, laid over a heavy base of overripe teen.

This piece was painted with acrylics on a gessoed hardboard surface, my favorite materials of late. It was partially inspired by the children’s book, The Wretched Stone, Chris Van Allsburg’s thinly disguised warning about the evils of video gluttony. The idea though wasn’t to create my own cautionary tale about video addiction. Instead, what I attempted, was to capture the expression of the devoted gamer, that interesting combination of mind numbed detachment and complete focus, and to hold it up to the viewer so that they may draw their own conclusions. The title is a reference to the tried and true video game formula in which you must defeat ever more difficult or numerous enemies until you ultimately reach an endpoint battle with The Boss, typically an uber version of what came before.

In order to see the effect of a single video screen light source, I posed my model in front of a big screen t.v. although the expression on the subject’s face was more my creation than his. The background was also an imaginary creation. I wanted a setting that was simple and would not compete with the main figure. The old green couch came from memories of a small antique sofa we used to own many years ago. The pattern adds some nice movement within the wrinkles on its surface, imparting a feeling of age to counter the youth of the subject.

Gulliver's Travels Cover Art

How is it possible to find meaning in a finite world given my waist and shirt size?
Woody Allen

Lately, I’ve been busy working on a fantastic job, illustrating a new, young reader’s edition, of Gulliver’s Travels. The first part of the project involved painting the cover art, posted here.

The novel by Jonathan Swift was written as a piece of satire and political commentary, but since its publication in 1726, the story has been adapted numerous times and has morphed into a classic of children’s literature. This is mainly due to the most remembered first section of the book, which details Gulliver’s trip to Lilliput, the land where everything is one twelfth normal size. It’s not hard to see why kids would be attracted to the idea of a parallel, miniature world.

The cover assignment was to depict a scene in which Gulliver steps over the protective front gate into the city of Lilliput. I needed to show enough of the town and its people to establish the setting and show the size disparity between Gulliver and the Lilliputian people. I first submitted a series of roughs, using a template that described the cover’s live area along with the proposed title and credit, type placement. In these thumbnail sketches I had a chance to explore various points of view, from high and distant, to the worm’s eye vantage point of one of the townspeople.

Eventually, a scenario was imagined, in which we see Gulliver stepping over the inconsequential city wall, only to be confronted by the brave King of Lilliput. This seemed to me a great way to reveal something of the character’s personalities. Gulliver, a potentially lethal giant, respectfully tips his hat as he bounds into the city, amused by the sight of the tiny King who stands in ramrod straight defiance. The people of Lilliput are gathered around, watching with a mix of tentative curiosity and awe. The composition was designed so that I could wrap the village around and frame the confrontation, while employing a quick perspective from foreground to background. In this way, I could suggest a large space in a very limited amount of workable area.

Although it doesn’t show up in my pencil roughs, from the very beginning, I always imagined the scene taking place under an early day Lilliputian sun. This gave me the chance to further highlight the center of interest by creating a dramatic, raking light with a resulting shadow pattern that would draw the viewer’s eye into the scene.

Final art was blocked in using Painter and finished in Photoshop.

Summer Recharge/Hawkmoths

Every poem can be considered in two ways; as what the poet has to say, and as a thing that he makes.

Summers can be a strange time in the illustration business. I’ve gone through summers that kept me in the studio way too much, so much in fact, that I never had a fair chance to bake off the winter white, other years way too little, leaving me dangerously vulnerable to a staggering list of household chores long avoided. This year has been a combination of both. While the beginning of the season was crazy, the past couple of weeks have left gaps in the schedule as I wait for final manuscript approval on a book project.

It’s great to be able to get away from the day to day, to get out, enjoy the high summer sun and recharge the creative batteries. Then again, downtime has also given me more time to spend in the studio working on some personal projects like the painting posted here. With virtually all of my illustration work being produced digitally, time spent working with traditional art materials, has become very important to me. As much as I love the pluses digital media painting brings to my work, (and I have long argued that the use of digital media alone does not discount a piece’s legitimacy as Art), traditional media has a quality, feel and process that I personally find hard to replace by pushing pixels. By it’s very nature, having to mix the color you want instead of selecting or sampling it, having to “draw the line” and live with the consequences, no Undo keystroke combo, or adjustment layer revisions after all, painting with traditional materials is much more a high stakes, dare-devil ride than a computer driven creation can ever be. That’s part of the reason spending time “at the easel” instead of at the Wacom can be as valuable and re-energizing as those long rides on my bike under the summer sky. It’s not doing a thing for that chore list though.