May 2009

Harvard Magazine Illustrations

History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.
Winston Churchill

I was recently given a terrific assignment illustrating an upcoming article in Harvard Magazine. The article discussed how cross pollination of scientific disciplines was resulting in new historical discoveries. The job involved creating three pieces of art, two smaller explanatory illustrations, along with a larger painting that would run across the lower half of a two page spread. That painting, a snapshot of a Saxon dominated village, in post Roman Britain, is the one I’m posting here.

After doing some basic research and reviewing the materials provided by the client, I did a series of quick thumbnails. With a basic idea of where I wanted to go, I began sketching the village scene in Painter. I knew we would be suggesting a coastal location for the village, with a typically overcast sky. This gave me a great opportunity to highlight the characters with a nice cool rim light. I built up the sketch by first placing the main features that I knew needed to be shown, the thatched roof homes for example, and then added some villagers knowing that a beefy Saxon warrior type would become the main focus. This gave me ideas as to how I could play off light against dark and create a feeling of depth that made the viewer feel as if they could walk into the scene.

I’ve been told that doing a color sketch before working out a pencil is backward, but for the life of me I don’t know why. Exploring broad areas of value with an eye toward the overall color scheme makes perfect sense to me. Once I had a general idea of the feel I was after, I began to work out some details using the color sketch’s value suggestions.

This rough pencil was presented to the art director to clarify the direction I intended to take the art. Once given the green light, I worked up a tight version. That pencil was sent on for review by an expert who suggested changes to better reflect historical fact and a second tight pencil (below) was drawn up.

With the second pencil’s approval, I began to work in Painter, laying in color on the Canvas layer, the pencil floating on a “Multiply” layer above. When I had the basics in place the piece was imported into Photoshop where I dropped the pencil layer down and continued to refine and tighten the painting, occasionally rearranging or correcting as I went until finished. You can see I veered off from the initial color sketch’s dreary darkness. Although I really liked the sketch’s atmospheric feel, I felt it was just too dreary and dark and worked more color into the final painting.

Three Self Portraits and Brushes

I paint self portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.
Frida Kahlo

Long time gone from the blog page, but my schedule has been so busy lately that it’s been tough to grab the time. I’ve been busy working on a new version of Gulliver’s Travels and illustrations for a Harvard Magazine article along with some design work, (I’ll be posting a sample of the Harvard Magazine art soon). But I did have a chance today to try out a new app for the ipod touch called Brushes. It’s one of a number of painting programs designed to be used with Apple’s ipod touch/iphone line up. The Brushes name may ring a bell since the tech news has been showcasing artist Jorge Colombo’s use of the program to create the cover art for The New Yorker. You can read more about it in a blog post on TUAW.

A big part of Brushes appeal to me was its ability to export the paintings you create to your computer in either of two flavors: a higher res version, that can be further manipulated in a program like Painter or Photoshop, or as a Quicktime format file that plays back the entire painting process. Very cool feature that you can see in action by clicking on the painting above. I hope to write up a full review of the program in a future post but in the few minutes I’ve had to play with the program I can see its value as a super mobile color sketchbook.

The color self portrait sketch here was my first attempt at using Brushes, although setting for the sketch was just the same as the first two drawings, sitting at my studio drawing table and staring into a small round shaving mirror that I keep around to reverse check my work. The mirror’s frame can be glimpsed in the first two drawings, (done with a Bic Ultra ballpoint pen- a favorite tool), in a couple of different sketchbooks. There’s a long history of artists painting their own portraits. I always figured it’s because we’re cheap and available and for the most part don’t complain about the time spent posing.