Friday, May 24, 2013

Deducing the Composition

My latest project is a cover for The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.

After scribbling down some ideas, I arrived at a composition that reveals the mind of Sherlock in a "down-the-rabbit-hole" fashion. With so many free-floating objects, I thought that the best way to go about it would be to draw the elements separately and then combine them in different ways in Photoshop. Here are three different versions I tried:
 I felt the first had the best balance of negative and positive space. The other two had too much negative space at the top (the black) and more awkwardly clumped positive space (the stuff).

The voice of reason (a.k.a. my sister) suggested I make Sherlock larger and consequently a few other things in the composition changed. Most noticeably I have more objects "flying" out of the border of the image, which helps to distribute the negative space evenly. I also scaled down in size some of the less important objects. The only other thing I can think of changing at this point (other than refining in detail) is the barometer directly behind the text "SHERLOCK HOLMES" and the large billowing folds of the curtain, which should be smaller and multiplied. The large amoeba shape in the upper left will be a hansom (a type of carriage). What I had just wasn't working in that space.

On to the final drawing!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Dead Artist Feature: Julian Russell Story (b.1857- 1919)

Let me tell you about Story. No, not a story, the Story--Artist Julian Russell Story.

I first came across the work of Story at the Telfair Museum of Art in Savannah, Georgia. The museum is very stately with its handsome statues of well-known artists in the front.

I proceeded into a room with several large oil paintings. One held my attention much longer than the others.

Erik S. Lesser for The New York Times

It was a massive 135  ½ x 205  ¾ in. painting of what appeared to be a knight and a fallen king. I imagined there must be story behind this one. I soon found out there is a Story and a story behind this painting. The painting is titled The Black Prince at Crécy (1888) and features the "Black Prince", also know as Edward of Woodstock, Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, and Prince of Aquitaine. The painting depicts the Black Prince paying his respects to King John of Bohemia at the aftermath of the Battle of Crécy. Story does exceedingly well creating a sense of movement in a sombre moment. The appearance of wind blowing the knight's ragged clothing, the black birds arriving to get their share of the spoils, the agitated stance of the prince's steed, and the looseness of brush strokes liven up the scene. One of my favorite parts of the painting as far as rendering goes is the dead horse. You can almost see its last heartbeats as it fades away. I also love how Story reservedly kept the dead king in the same tonal range as the horse, which for me at least kept him hidden until I wondered what the knight was looking at.

This small image does no justice to the painting and makes me more aware of how important it is to view traditional art in person. Just like with music recordings, you are only getting a fraction of the experience as opposed to going to a live concert. 

Back to Story. It is interesting that Story chose to depict Edward of Woodstock in an act of sensitivity when, historically, the Prince was infamous for his brutality, such as burning and pillaging villages. On the other hand, it would be hard for anyone to disrespect the death of a king who fought in battles despite being blind. 

Julian Story studied under American artist Frank Duveneck in Venice after his graduation from Eton and Brasenose college, Oxford University, England. Story became known for his portraiture upon moving to Paris where he studied under Henri Gervex, Ferdinand Humbert, and Jules Lefebvre. His being friends with the likes of John Singer Sergeant and the cumulative influences of his instructors may have played a part in in Story's approach with his brush work. Story continued to travel throughout his life, submitting award-winning work to exhibitions in Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, Chicago. The Black Prince at Crécy was painted for the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1890 where it received a silver and was subsequently purchased by Carl Brandt, the first director of Telfair.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Ballpoint Pen Portraits

When I'm not working on toned paper for sketching, I like to use ballpoint pen:

It really forces you to be choice with the lines you put down. I admit that for these first two sketch portraits, I started over from scratch after making just a few bad lines. Typically, I would continue the sketch, but likenesses are unforgiving of stray lines.

What helped me create a better likeness of my subject was approaching them as caricatures, oddly enough. Try as I might, I found it challenging to create the intense exaggeration of proportions typical of caricatures on the faces of my subjects, so I knew that I could go pretty far in my mind to exaggerate these portraits and end up with a portrait that is very close to the actual facial proportions. This mentality helped me keep looser and bring to the front the unique parts of their features, which might be rendered invisible if I tried to copy the photo from top to bottom.

Another unusual method that I found worked for me for producing better likenesses was proceeding from one section of the face to the other instead of building everything gradually. I was able to space the various parts of the face more accurately this way than in my earlier attempts to put crossing lines to indicate the symmetry of the face. Unfortunately, this method made it harder for me to pick up the natural asymmetries of the face. However, in most cases, one should not start from one end of the paper to the other lest you find yourself with limbless figures. In this instance, a loose outline of the head was all that I needed before detailing.