Saturday, October 02, 2010

Ghetto Cowboy

My next project is officially underway. Of course, much like an iceberg, the bulk of the work is beneath the surface, invisible to anyone but my wifey and I, and the art dept at the publisher. Photo shoots, countless rounds of sketches, drawings, revisions, sketches, drawings, revisions, ... Until, I break the paint out.

Once I am finally good to go on the drawings, which are now dozens of layers of redrawn and rescanned bits, all compiled to make the finished and approved final sketch, I have to redraw that sucker yet again. It is dangerous because as I project my sketch on to the larger sized illustration board, I am tempted to hurry and thus destroy all the drawing work I have spent months on. See, the gesso on the illustration board helps the paint not suck immediately into the fibers, but it also virtually prevents any erasing from happening once a pencil line is laid down. It sucks.


Once I get the pencil on the board, I spend hours finessing the line until I am confident I have not turned a cute girl into an ogre, a little boy into an old man, or a horse into a thestral. That is when the paint comes out. First, I lay a wash of ivory black down over the entire piece. I use a big, soft watercolor brush and a tiny spray bottle. That way I am getting this cool, water splotched effect for background texture. much of that will be visible beneath future layers of paint. And, if it is cool enough at this level, I plan ways to keep as much of it as I can. That quick, free brushwork ends up giving the entire painting a sense of carefree playful brushstrokes being the foundation. And then, I do my best not to ruin it with tight, fidgetty work over the top of that layer. But, in the case of faces, that is a very tough task. Because, of course, the face has got to look just so otherwise it is not the same person. You can't have a character who looks different in each piece. So, there is where the fussy brushwork comes in. Some places like eyes, are particularly susceptible to attracting way more layers than anything else on the page. Gotta watch out for that. The highest goal now is to get it right in as few brushstrokes as possible, to preserve the freedom of the underpainting, and to avoid slowing the viewers' eyes down with areas that have been overworked.


When my under-painting is dry, I start chipping away , one foot in front of the other. Sometimes I start in factory style, with just white. I go through each place that needs pure white and lay it down, move to the next painting, lay it down, move on. Repeat the process with the dark gray or black. Repeat with mid tones. And on and on into the night.

It is here that I bring out so many of the details that never showed up in the sketches. For this project, since the fact that it is in a notoriously impoverished ghetto in north Philly, I had to aide in the comprehension of this very tangible element visually. So I add the bullet holes, the cracks in the sidewalk, the boarded up front doors, the graffiti, the cops, the people on the corner, etc. Sometimes I add little hidden bits into signs or graffiti. In this one below, I named the bodega Mariah's, and in honor of my sweet wife who makes it possible for me to work like this. She blocks for me. She aides me with impromptu model shoots, or random odd objects that I suddenly require. I have used her arm or hand or shoe too many times to count. "Honey, can you hold these reigns for me?"

As I dive into this portion of a project, I always have a few ways of keeping sane. One way is audio books. Another is streaming Netflix documentaries. I am listening to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (again) and watching, or rather, listening, to all kind of stuff. I watched this flick on the Donkey Kong champion. It was actually a cool movie. Eighties power.

And last night I watched, Crips and Bloods: Made in America. That was surprisingly good. It was not a quick and cheesy dance through gangland set to an NWA soundtrack, but spent half the film talking about the creation of these gangs by way of LA's strictly enforced color lines, the longstanding legacy of police brutality and injustice against black Americans, the FBI's assassination and imprisonment of every black political organization in LA in the 70's, and the introduction of cocaine en masse into the ghettos. Nice work there, CIA. You the hardest gangsta out there, ever! You isolate a population you have always hated and throw in the gasoline and matches and watch them do your work for you. Kill off the political potential of generation after generation.

Moment to cool down..... ah. Ok. Here is a horse. Nice horsey.


Check back soon. I will post more progress and go off on other rants. Baby steps. One after another.

Cowboy up.