It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Friday, January 29, 2010

STC-Later Life- FINAL

Back again. Round 3. After showing the color sketches to the director, he felt that the image was a little too realistic, and as a result had lost some of it's sketchy charm. I had to agree with him. This sometimes happens when you work and rework an image. It gets more detailed and refined, but it also loses some of its energy. The word used was to describe the last round was "clinical". Not what you hope for. So now I have the challenge of pulling back and loosening up the image. The director also felt that he wanted to punch up the humor a bit as the title and the subject matter could lead people to think it could be a bit of a drag. So I also need to "up" the comic eccentricity of the image without losing the romance, or messing up the basic composition. I find that when I get to this point I need to get into a more left-brain kind of mood. Since I have a tendency to gravitate towards careful rendering, I can achieve this by physically warming up, working fast and in a medium that is loose by nature, i.e. paint, as opposed to pen and ink, brush as opposed to pen. It also helps if I have a little bit of wine...

Here is my initial attempt to rework the image in a looser, more cartoony style.

Here is the finished, or I should say, almost finished final artwork. We'll see how the client likes it before I say it is completely finished.

Well, the client ultimately did not like the final artwork, and decided to shoot their own photography to illustrate the play. Although disappointing, it's OK, as I will still be designing the final poster using their image, and I got paid. I still think that the original version (before the addition of the cartoon-ey foreground figures) worked well. Oh well, no one said illustration was easy. For myself, I painted the foreground figures out of the final painting, re-scanned it, and cropped the final image. (This was my favorite part of the image anyway). Here is the final result.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I am currently doing some work for the Salem Theatre Company. One of the projects is the development of a graphic image for A.R. Gurney's play LATER LIFE.
The play deals with upscale, wasp-ish characters who have a second chance at a missed romance.
LATER LIFE is set in the early 1990s, on the terrace of a high-rise apartment building overlooking Boston Harbor and takes place on an early September evening. The two main characters are a middle-aged couple named Austin and Ruth who have an opportunity to get re-acquainted at a cocktail party given by a mutual friend (Sally); They had met long ago, in Capri, but Austin had not risked pursuing a romance with Ruth, as he harbors a secret fear that something terrible is going to happen to him. As they meet again, Austin has led a life perpetually "on hold" avoiding risks, but avoiding opportunities as well, and Ruth is stuck in an unhappy marriage. They attempt to rekindle their aborted romance but are interrupted throughout the evening by Sally and assorted guests who wander out onto the terrace.

The director expressed a desire that the feeling of the graphic should be sophisticated, and charming, reminiscent of a New Yorker cover. The focus on the couple, not on the secondary characters, or the setting, and he wanted to convey both the longing of the characters for a second chance, and the tentative manner of Austin. I did a quick thumbnail of the image he was talking about.

I did some research, and assembled some images of balconies, Boston Harbor, Nineties fashion, and middle-aged couples. I also looked at New Yorker covers both online and in a book called Covering The New Yorker: Cutting-Edge Covers From A Literary Institution.

I worked up some simple black and white line drawings containing the basic elements that needed to be present, the couple, a balcony and some indication of the Boston harbor and skyline.

I didn't need to be too literal with the interpretation. You rarely have the actors cast before the image must be completed, so capturing a general feeling is better than specific details, although I did toy with the idea of including images of historic disasters, to convey Austin's underlying fear of impending doom.

Here are the first sketches:

I was trying to capture a mood, mostly through the body language of the two characters.
I was also trying out some type treatments, and orientations. Although vertical works best for most print, poster/flyer combinations, a horizontal orientation seems to work best for the web. I wanted to see if one image could be adapted to both orientations.
Then there was the question of style. There were so many to choose from in the case of the New Yorker, everything from the loose sketchy style of Edward Sorel, the whimsy of Peter de Séve, the crosshatching line of R. Crumb, to the stylized painterly realism of Owen Smith, and everything in-between. I decided that the loose sketchy style of Edward Sorel, who did many New Yorker covers in the mid-nineties, would be best for this particular subject matter. This leads to the second set of sketches.

As you can see I have infused some feeling and style into the sketches, refining the couple's body language and adding some color. I have also added in the typeface (AT Handle Oldstyle)which is very similar in look to the New Yorker font. This is where I am currently in the process. I will post more as I refine the sketches into the finished graphic/illustration.

Well I'm back for the next step. The initial sketch was approved, so I gathered together my photo reference. My wife loves vintage clothing, and happened to have a lovely 90's-era dress that she was kind enough to model for me, and I still own a sportcoat from the 90's, so we dressed up and shot pictures of each other in the basic poses that I was looking for using a digital camera. These two images were taken in our kitchen.

I then used these images, as well as other reference for furniture, rugs, wine glasses, etc. to do the final black and white line drawing.

The next thing to do, was to work out the final colors in a marker sketch.

This is the last step before I transfer the image to illustration board and create the final, final version of the artwork.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky

I was intending to make posts about movies here on my blog, but realized I have only mentioned them in passing. Although I love movies, I rarely see any that are good enough (or bad enough) to be post-worthy. However, I received a DVD of Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky for Christmas, and I just had to post about it, since it is a movie that I haven't seen in over 30 years. Jabberwocky came out in 1977. I was a junior in high school and working part-time at the Strand Theater in Ipswich, MA, as an usher. Jabberwocky was one of the movies that played at the theater while I was working there, and like many of the films I saw that year, including Star Wars, made a huge impact on me.

This often neglected first solo directing effort of Gilliam's is certainly much better than its maligned reputation would have you believe. It is strange little movie, loosely inspired by Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" . It has 2 other Monty Python alum ( Terry Jones and Michael Palin) appearing in it besides Terry Gilliam, who appears in a cameo, however although it is Python-esque it is not a Python movie.

It concerns the medieval adventures of one Dennis Cooper who, disowned by his father and seeking to make his fortune, travels to the nearby kingdom of Bruno the Questionable and through a series of misfortunes, becomes squire to a knight being sent out to fight the legendary monster (the Jabberwock) that is threatening the entire kingdom. The movie is dark, dirty, satirical and funny. It was the first movie I saw about the middle ages, that actually looked like the middle ages.Visually it seems inspired by Heironymous Bosch. There is garbage, dirt, excrement, blood, nudity, casual mutilation, and lots of bad teeth. You can practically smell the movie. This movie introduced me to the comic sensibilities and visual style of Terry Gilliam.

It was interesting seeing the film again. I hadn't seen it since I worked at the theater,( it took forever to find a copy on DVD). It was pretty much as I remembered it, although I definitely appreciate the humor even more now. The things I remembered and were happy to re-connect with were Dennis's unpleasant girlfriend, a cheeky squire who gets crushed under the bed of his mistress, a cheerful beggar with a severed foot, a beautiful but delusional princess, the Jaws-like attacks of the Jabberwock and the gysers of blood from jousting knights, that cover the king and the princess as they watch. The cast is littered with a veritable whos who of British comedians and character actors, including some who show up in other Gilliam films such as Time Bandits, and Brazil. I realize that this film, which did not get a wide release, and was pretty much panned outside of Europe, is probably not everyone's cup of tea, but I loved it, and recommend it to anyone who likes the Middle Ages, Monty Python and Terry Gilliam.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Children's Book

Welcome back from the holiday break! It's 2010! Here are some rough sketches, thumbnails and a final pencil drawing for the cover of the children's book that my wife Amy and I are working on. We took some time over the holidays to work out the page thumbnails. The next step is to make the book dummy and prepare 2 finished illustrations to send along with the manuscript. This is going to take a while, but I'll post more as the work progresses.