Sep 2009

Edgar Allan Poe-The Raven

Never to suffer would never to have been blessed.
Edgar Allan Poe

An orphaned, court-martialed soldier, widower, heavy drinker and brilliantly inventive writer, Edgar Allan Poe’s biography reads like something taken straight from one of the gothic stories he’s most remembered for writing. His life was rocky to say the least, and although he had success from time to time, failure, disaster and personal loss were always waiting in the wings.

A perfect example is his poem The Raven. It was a big hit and propelled him to household name status. But his poetic genius wound up netting a mere nine dollars in pocket. Nevertheless, the poem endures as a classic piece of gothic literature, the story of a broken hearted lover’s mental torment and breakdown. I wanted to use The Raven to represent Poe’s work as part of a montage portrait painting. With the exception of the line art below, the painting was completed digitally, using both Photoshop and Painter.

The artwork begins with a scanned piece of line art, which was executed using a black ball point pen on Strathmore paper, imported into a new Photoshop document. The line work serves not only as an underlying framework for the paint application to come, but will be a prominent element of the finished piece. This represents a stylistic approach that I have been working with lately that makes use of the line’s graphic strength. Besides the raven, some of the other elements of the montage include a reference to a bust of Pallas, (representing rational thought), in the upper left, a skull and a wreath of roses arranged to form a very loose heart shape. The prominence of all of these pieces can be modified as painting progresses.

The base layer for the artwork, a modified scan of a tablet cardboard back, is imported from my texture library and the line work is duplicated, and then floated above, its layer style changed to Multiply. By duplicating the line layer I always have a copy at the ready. This allows me to have a “working version” of the line art and the freedom to alter things without the worry of permanent loss. A couple of photos are imported from the same texture library and placed on their own separate layers using blend modes of Soft Light and Overlay. Opacity levels are adjusted to get the right textural feel. I now have an interesting underlayment over which I rough in some loose color application.

Underlying photos used to add texture and interest.

Painting continues on layers both under and above the line art layer. In this way I am strengthening some areas and softening others as I add color. I now move the painting into Painter to take advantage of some brushes that that I’ve pre-built to add texture as I paint. From here on the process is one of refining, deepening some shadow areas and “digging out” the lights.

Here I’ve added Poe’s shoulders to the painting, something that was planned but not indicated in the line art. The entire piece has a flow and rhythm that starts with the line style and is reinforced with a subtle circular motif. Some of these extra elements are now added in separate layers using different blend modes and others, like the lunar indication on the upper left, are painted in place.

I add another layer with the hand reaching up into the air, and continue to bring up the light areas. Drips and spatters act to blend the background and foreground together. (After final review, as they say in the NFL, it’s decided that they appear too violent, and look like dripping and spattered blood and are played down in the final version).

The artwork is nearly finished with the addition of the Raven’s signature, “Nevermore” type, done in Photoshop. The lettering is kept very subdued, almost to the point of being unnoticed by the casual observer. The final, print version of the art had the title type added using a Modified version of The Wall typeface.

The Jade Monkey

The object of art is to give life a shape.
William Shakespeare

The Mystery of the Jade Monkey - Digital

The Jade Monkey represents a variation in style that I have been working with lately. The stylistic technique, overall, is much more graphic than some of the “traditional style” painterly images I have posted on my portfolio pages. For example, much of the under drawing of the initial pencil is very visible. The pencil therefore becomes more a design element and less a foundational component. For me, this allows a freedom to render the subjects with a spontaneous approach that feels very fresh. I’ve also been working to incorporate more and more texture into my work and I find that I can naturally push further in that direction as well, using both overlays and painted elements.

The initial pencil. Changes were made after the art was nearly complete, mainly to the pirate’s face and the beak area of the parrot. I also wound up adding the girl’s left hand behind the monkey. This is when I really appreciate the flexibility of working digitally.