Thursday, October 29, 2015

Illustration: The Quest

Over the last few weeks I have taken part in Giuseppe Castellano's Illustration Department 3-Week Illustration Workshop. There aren't as many opportunities for workshops and the like here in Perth, and I was feeling a bit like I was working in a bubble - it was time to get some new feedback on my work and push myself to explore in different directions. Giuseppe's online course was perfect, slotting very nicely into a slow period of work and finishing just as work picked up again. 

In the first video conference Giuseppe went through my portfolio website, identifying pieces that worked the best and areas that needed work. He then gave me an assignment. He had flagged my heavy use of black outline in a lot of my work, and wanted to see me using a looser, non-black line, and also to tone down my colours a bit. 

My assignment was as follows:

Create a traditional piece, 8x10", subject matter open but using line that is not black and not 'outline' and a dead colour palette. 

He also suggested I look at Tony Diterlizzi and Arthur Rackham.  

The first few days after I got the assignment I was too busy to start. I had some artworks to complete, and it was also the weekend of the Kelmscott Annual Show and I spent the entirety of Saturday demonstrating portraiture and needle felting in the exhibition hall. However, I used that time to plan out my illustration in my head, sort of mentally thumbnailing. 

Lots of people, I hear, choose to redo an exiting portfolio piece with their assignments, but instead I decided to do something with a sketch that was sitting in my sketchbook, and that I thought had potential. I knew what I wanted to do with it would be difficult, so I wanted a reason to actually get started, do my best with it, and finish it.

I'd picked up The Islands of Chaldea, Diana Wynne Jones' last book, in the bookshop, and sketched this while I was reading it. It was a bedtime sketch, so not particularly imaginative in terms of layout or anything, just a rough sketch based around a scene in the book.

For my assignment I didn't actually want to illustrate The Islands of Chaldea, but I thought the basic idea of a donkey that didn't want to go was a good starting point, especially as it had been suggested that I look at Tony Diterlizzi's work. To actually be an illustration for The Islands of Chaldea the girl would have to have brown hair, the raven would be a parrot, the donkey would be pulling a cart, there would be several other people and the dog would be a magical cat. 

Here is the rough thumbnail I did before I started sketching, just to check that the basic concept I had planned in my head over the previous few days worked:

I then did a rough digital sketch based around that thumbnail:

I kept each part in a different colour so that I could see what was what. Sketching can get messy and it's so easy to get lost in a mass of linework. 

I then did a refined draft linework, still digital:

As you can see, I flipped the image. Images read best left to right, but being right-handed I draw best in the other direction. Why fight it when I'm working digitally and can easily flip once the difficult bits are drawn? I also altered the donkey's expression quite a lot, to make sure it was very clearly not happy.

I had planned the image with a diagonal cut across the composition, as Arthur Rackham had been mentioned in our first conversation. I did my honours thesis on Golden Age Illustrators, with a fairly heavy focus on Rackham and Dulac, so as a bit of a nod to him I utilised I popular Golden Age compositional trick, where the composition is cut diagonally, with most of the action happening in the bottom half. This was originally inspired by Japanese woodcut compositions, after the trade borders opened up in the 1870s and it's a composition I rather like.

All these images are from my Golden Age Illustration Pinterest board. Head over there if you would like to see them bigger.

Finally I did a colour study. Not only was I going to be using a colour scheme that wasn't my usual one, but a lot of the parameters for my assignment had to do with colour and linework - none of which come across on a digital draft!

I sent this, and the draft linework, off. Giuseppe was generally happy with it, his only concern being that the raven was the only dark part of the image and threw the balance off. He suggested I darken the tones in the foreground to fix this, and gave me the go-ahead to start on the final.

Before I could start on the final, however, I had to get some ink. Easier said than done in Western Australia! I went to my local art shop, wanting waterproof ink in any dark colour that wasn't black - sepia, dark grey, paynes grey, I wasn't choosy, but the shop wasn't very helpful. In the end I managed to snag some FW Acrylic Artists Ink in Burnt Umber. It's only water resistant, not waterproof, so if I was really working the watercolour in some areas it got a bit lost and I had to go back in and touch up, but overall I think it worked well. I also bought a cheap 2/0 sable brush so that I didn't kill my expensive brushes with the ink.

Having completed the inking it was time to paint. These are the materials I used:

The red tones were used the least. I researched dead palettes before I started, and a lot of the info stressed the need for one spot of bright, saturated colour. In my case it was the hair of my girl character. I used Cadmium Scarlet and Winsor Orange for her hair, and some Rose Dorè on her skin. Indian Red added the lowlights in her hair, and was also used on some of the browns elsewhere in the image, so that the red tones were spread just a little. 
It's almost entirely watercolour, but I did get out my coloured pencils at the very end, just to darken some of the shadows and add some extra leafiness to the vegetation in the foreground, and also darkened a couple of lines with a sepia PITT Artist's Pen (not shown). 

I sent the above image off to Giuseppe and we discussed it during my final conference. 

He was happy with it, and especially pleased with my use of leading lines (in the pathway and the river) and my treatment of the fabric and the figures, but flagged a few places where it could be improved:

The sky was a bit too busy
The figures didn't stand out from the background enough
The dog got lost

I agreed with everything he pointed out, so after our meeting I took the painting into Photoshop and made some adjustments:

What do you think? An improvement? 

The sketch, being a complicated one where I was trying new things (especially with the donkey) took about 9 hours, I think, and it took another 14-18 to paint it, although there were some pauses in there while I waited for paint to dry.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this in such detail! I love seeing how other artists work and the painting came out beautifully!



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