Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Recent Work: “How Safe?” Illustrations

These illustrations will appear on the cover and interior of the March/April issue of Common Ground Magazine. The title “How Safe?” refers to what extent a community can provide security to its residents, specifically how much security is enough and at what cost? Art director Mary Prestera Butler wanted me to come up with a symbol or metaphor that would express the emotions of fear and vulnerability along with specific content such as alarm stickers and video cameras. I came up with the image of a crow to represent the “criminal threat.” I love bird imagery, and I had been waiting for an opportunity to use these reference photos of crows I had taken some years ago. I am also tentatively trying to introduce a little hand-drawn imagery into the work, which I was able to do in the interior piece. Below are some of the stages of the final Photoshop composite for the cover image.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Texture Studies

One look at my work will tell even the casual observer that I love texture. When I first began making montage illustrations in the early 1990’s, the background textures were all lifted from previously finished or half-finished paintings of mine. One thing I loved about digital montage was that it gave me a use for many unresolved works that maybe had small passages that I really liked. After a couple of years, I was doing more digital illustration than painting, and I ran out of paintings to pillage. So I began a practice of painting just backgrounds, and it remains one of the favorite parts of my job, a welcome antidote to staring at the computer screen ( something I must guiltily admit I also love). I like to use a variety of techniques, I think it fulfills my inner dilettante. Here are some samples from the last couple of weeks:

These were made by applying a fairly thick coat of Golden Crackle Paste to a sheet of heavy cold-press watercolor paper, left to dry completely. An acrylic wash is painted over that for a color foundation. A dark oil wash is the next layer, then, while not yet dry a thicker, more oily layer of white oil paint over that, with portions of the layers underneath left to show through. Sometimes I use a brush, sometimes a palette knife. I may add an oil glaze on top of these, but that’s another thing I like about the digital component; I can record and make use of progressive states.

The three above were made with Lazertran Inkjet transfer sheet waterslide decals. First, an image is printed on the transfer sheet (in this case, one of my previously painted textures). Coat the surface to which you will be applying the decal with turpentine gum spirits (must be real turpentine). Soak the decal in water, then slide the decal off the backing paper onto the surface. Use a rubber squeegee to firmly adhere the decal. My favorite part is that if you continue to gradually apply the turpentine to the decal after you squeegee it, it begins to decompose and crack in all these wonderful ways. You have to be careful, it’s easy to end up with nothing. The texture on the far right has some layers of varnish and oil glazes added later, which made it darker and richer.

No art supply alchemy to these last three, just good old acrylic and collage. Lots of layers, with varying degrees of transparency, some drawing. I am trying to move towards making use of the hand-painted backgrounds more as a compositional foundations, not just textures. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Francis Ford Coppola and Self-Doubt

We all have periods of self-doubt about our work. I felt better about my own small struggles after hearing this excerpt from an interview with Francis Ford Coppola by his wife, Eleanor, during the filming of his future masterpiece, Apocalypse Now. To say things were not going well would be an understatement. Martin Sheen was having a nervous breakdown on camera, Marlon Brando arrived on the set obese, Dennis Hopper could not remember his lines because he was strung out on who knows what, and production costs were forcing Coppola himself into bankruptcy:

“What I have to admit is that I don’t know what I’m doing… I don’t have any performances, the script doesn’t make sense, I have no ending… this is one crisis I’m not going to pull myself out of. I’m making a bad movie, so why should I go ahead? I’m going to be bankrupt anyway…why can’t I just have the courage to say it’s no good?”

—Francis Ford Coppola, on the set of Apocalypse Now,
from the documentary, Hearts of Darkness,
directed by Eleanor Coppola.