Just a quick update today to show off a piece I just wrapped up. This is a custom pickguard for a Gibson Special 70’s Tribute SG. We had quite a bit of fun taking this design from “maybe something like a skull and crossbones” to what you see here. I also got to play with a few different coloring techniques that I’ve been wanting to try out. Nothing drastic, but the effect was nice. Unfortunately I don’t have the guitar for full pictures, so hopefully we’ll get an updated view of it all mounted up on delivery.
Well, it’s been a while and I’m almost ashamed to say that I really haven’t done any charcoal work so far this year. Between several leather projects, studying for professional certifications, and the day to day grind, I just haven’t had the opportunity to sit down and really focus. That said though, I have been working in my head making plans.
Although I’m pretty detail oriented and live for it in my work, I’m often quite jealous of people who are able to just let go and not worry about obsessing over details. I have a couple of friends in the artist community who really excel at that style of work, one of which (fellow Nitram user Vitya Malirsh) is quite adept at atmosphere and beautiful landscape work without using detail.
Looking at some of these works I was reminded about how interesting I find the shape and value transitions in cloud formations during and after a storm. Even though I wasn’t working on anything in particular, I just knew that I had to try my hand at creating a piece that’s free of detail and really let the beauty of the clouds show through. That’s when I started pulling out my camera every time I saw an interesting cloud formation, just hoping that sometime I’d get the chance to sit down and “let loose”.
After going through a pretty stressful year, I began really feeling the need to work on something just for fun. No commissions, no gallery work, just the kind of thing that would be for me and me alone that wouldn’t matter if I failed (like many artists, I have a problem with “failed” pieces). As luck would have it, I ended up being in a situation where I would be spending most of the day waiting in a car with nothing to do. I could have spent that time reading or scrolling through social media, but instead I decided it would be the perfect time to try my hand at some cloudscapes. People paint outdoors all the time. Why can’t I leave the comfort zone of my studio setup to work on one piece that “doesn’t matter?”
After scrolling through my gathered images, I decided this would be a really good one to start with. It really pulls together a lot of what I wanted to play with but also offered me enough challenge with those trees (another thing I’ve never really worked on before) that I would be sure to feel like I let out some pent up creative energy. This image was taken sometime over the summer outside Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID. It’s a tree line I look at nearly everyday as I take an afternoon walk and there are frequently interesting formations like this on the horizon.
Knowing that I’d be doing the vast majority of the work in my car, I decided to take a few moments to rough out some basic shapes and get some undertone placed with charcoal powder. The most important thing here was to save the pure white center so that I could gradually soften it later without having to add white to the mix.
Once I got started “on location” I honestly had a little bit of trouble figuring out exactly how to approach it. Normally when I’m working on something representational of anatomical I’ll have clear objects to block in and measure. Since I wasn’t actually measuring anything here it was a little difficult to decide where to start. But, since I had the central focus oriented first and some of the basic features of the scene lined out, I decided the first thing to do would be to get some horribly ugly marks on the paper. I knew I would do “something” with the tree line, but hadn’t decided what yet. So I grabbed my cheap willow charcoal that can easily be dusted off and scratched out a value reference for the trees. Nothing spectacular, just something to keep the darker values in site as I built up the cloud formations.
From there I was able to start building up some of the cloud formations. Initially I had actually planned on using mostly brushes and cotton balls. However, once I got started, I found the majority of the work was going best with a blending stump and eraser. It was still a little awkward getting used to “scribbling” tone on in order to blend it around, but it quickly began to feel a lot more relaxed.
By the end of the day working in the car, I was able to get the vast majority of it complete, leaving only some touch up cloud work to do and then figure out how I was going to handle the tree line.
After studying the photo above quite a bit, I decided that the lower half of the left formation didn’t quite flow right. Something didn’t feel right and I really wanted to emphasize the drama quite a bit. Granted, based on my viewing angle of the reference while working on it, I had actually missed the true shape according to what was really there. But, I wanted to create and interpret, not just copy a photo, so I really didn’t mind. It did need address though, so I came back and rounded out some of those lines back in the studio while also mixing up some of the other values to build more interest.
When it came time to tackle the tree line, I had quite the decision to make. I really didn’t want to do a detailed drawing, but I also wanted it to look like there were trees there and on the horizon. Once again, the need to start was somewhat paralyzing and I couldn’t quite figure out what to do. That’s when the marathon of Bob Ross I had watched a few weeks earlier popped into my head!!! Why don’t I just make a line for a trunk and call it a happy tree that needs friends? One thing Bob was a master at was not getting caught up in the little stuff that doesn’t matter. So, that’s what I did. one trunk followed by several more in the general location of what was in the photo, but not quite the same. I also decided to make a few of them curve and point toward the center light to guide the eye back to the clouds. In the end I’m quite happy with how they came out looking like trees, but not being detailed trees.
In the end the entire process accomplished exactly what I had wanted. I came away feeling quite successful in learning the basics of a technique I’d admired for a while and managed to do it without obsessing at all. It’s pretty refreshing to put out something that I would consider a finished piece while just allowing the piece to come together. I’ll definitely be doing more work like this in the future, and may even incorporate some of it into my other work.
I haven’t quite had a chance to seal it up and take print quality photos yet, but once I do they will be available for purchase on my Saatchi Art page at saatchiart.com/allenmewes
I’m very excited to announce that my latest charcoal piece, “Laocoon’s Regret” was accepted into the Limitless exhibition with the Federation of Canadian Artists. This was an open call for all international artists, with all entry fees going toward the establishment of a scholarship to one lucky student in a college visual arts program.
You can view my piece and the others that were selected at http://www.artists.ca between June 1st and August 31st – and you don’t even have to travel to Canada to see it!!! It is posted for sale through the show at $730 USD in an unframed state. But, if you would like to purchase it framed, I have all of the materials on hand to do it. Just let me know if you’re the one who purchases it and we’ll make arrangements. I just wasn’t able to get it framed up before submitting the piece to jury. And don’t forget that prints are always available on my Saatchi Art page at saatchiart.com/allenmewes
I’m extremely grateful to have been selected by a group who promotes other artists to succeed. Hopefully this is the sign of many more opportunities like this to come. If you haven’t seen the work that went into creating this piece, I created several additional blog posts throughout the process.
Well, in my last post I said things were going a little slow…. let’s say things haven’t changed much. But, there has been some good progress made on our Laocoon piece, even if it’s not exactly fast.
When we left off before I was still blocking in the main shapes to make sure all of my proportions were correct. I got most of the figures blocked in, with a little bit of work to do on the serpents, but I ended up reaching a point where I had to start making visible progress in order to get things moving. So, I ended up leaving some of the central action for a later time since I’ll be working top left down to bottom right (I’m right handed). That leaves me a little time to start rendering some forms and get a feel for where we’re going. Sometimes my brain just needs that change in scenery in order to refresh and build momentum. In this shot you’ll also see that I’ve printed out some copies of the previous studies to remind myself of what I did with different portions previously.
Once I finished mapping out some details in Laocoon’s face I decided it would be a good time to start rendering some of his anatomy. That allows me to get most of his arm done, his facial features and hair, and a lot of his upper torso. Really that’s a large portion of the work to be done and should set me pretty far ahead. In this shot I’ve just wrapped up all of his facial features and started rendering the arm with some base values. I’ll come back and darken things up once I have more of the piece going.
His armpit here is actually one of the challenges for me since there was originally another length of the serpent wrapping his arm right there, which is now broken off. If you remember from previous posts, I’m recreating some portions in my own vision while trying to humanize the figure a little more than the original. Since the reference images of the statue don’t include the muscle structure right there, I had to bring out my anatomy mirror. I actually took this photo as a joke to show that I’m too tall, but it shows a method that’s important for determining some muscular forms – the anatomy reference we all carry around every day. This is also one of the few pictures that exist of me at work – “Limited Edition”???
As you can see, I still have quite a bit of work to wrap up before my December 31st deadline, but I think I can make it. If you’re in need of any last minute gifts for the Holidays, you can always order a print for your loved ones from my Saatchi Art profile. You have your choice of sizes and materials at the click of a button. Just head over to saatchiart/allenmewes to see the current listings available.
This is the wrap up of our study pieces of the Laocoon Group. If you haven’t read the previous entries regarding Laocoon’s sons and why I chose this piece, please be sure to head there and take a look. There is a lot of detail in those posts that I’ll try not to repeat too much here. You can view them by going to the blog menu, or by clicking these links: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
OK, let’s get started on Laocoon himself. I want to start with one of those lesser known facts about the sculpture. While I was doing my research on the piece I read an interesting tidbit about an analysis that was done on Laocoon’s eyes. They actually found that his eyes were originally painted to represent an old man with cataracts. It’s interesting, but it also leads me to wonder what exactly led them to such a specific conclusion. But, I decided to go with it, which is why you won’t see any pupils in the finished drawing.
Remember that I’m focusing on specific elements of these pieces to draw the viewer in. In this one, the emphasis is clearly on his face and the pain he’s feeling, both as a result of the battle with the serpents, but also pain that the Gods would do this to their servant. So that’s why you’ll see the most detail for my block in drawing in his face. I’ve still kept the hair and beard quite light as a spacial reference. Also, notice that I’ve still used varying line values for different parts of his body that will end up with different value ranges in the end.
For the second shot, you’ll see that I’ve completed most of the light undertones on his body as a point of reference for value while I’m building out his face. I’m also adding basic value forms to his hair and beard at this time. I do this for 2 reasons. One is to get rid of the light space that throws me off at times, but the other is because a beard like his is full of layers with various values. I like to portray that same effect by applying different layers in the beard and hair throughout the time I’m working on the piece.
At this stage you can see that I’ve added most of the value to his anatomy, with just a few things left to darken up toward the end. You can also see my first run and erasing and blending more of the beard layers. But, the main work on this portion is in his face. There were some aspects of his features that I had to create because of the lack of clarity in a few spots (nothing like yesterday’s problems though), such as his left eye (viewer right) and some of the details on his lips. Also, none of these figures have fully defined teeth, so I’ve also had to create those based on their expressions.
In this one you can see that I’ve finished out most of the rendering on his face, with only a few little details to adjust. I’ve also got most of the beard filled in, though it still has a little bit of a spaghetti feel to it. I’m essentially ready to finish out his hair at this point and go back to the body to finalize some of those values. They basically just need to be darkened up to more closely match the deep shadows on his neck and shoulder.
After finishing up the values on his body to really make the shoulder structure pop out, I made a few finishing touches to the beard and hair, trying to maintain the curls and the layers that were built up. With the completion of this one, I’ll be moving on to the final piece featuring all three figures. This will be the largest charcoal piece I’ve done and it should prove to be quite the fun challenge. Remember that this and other pieces are currently available to purchase as prints on my Saatchi Art profile at saatchiart.com/allenmewes. I actually reworked a few of the photos today to make sure that they’re all crisp and perfect to adorn your wall. If you’d like to wait for the originals, they’ll be available for purchase some time in March of next year.
We’re now on part 3 of our in progress series of the Laocoon group, picking up with Antiphas, the second of Laocoon’s sons. If you missed our previous discussions, be sure to go check out Part 2.
Though it’s not apparent from the selected composition here, there are some versions of the Laocoon story which state that Antiphas was able to escape the serpents. The sculpture does seem to imply that by the fact that he has nearly escaped the serpent’s grasp. A lot of that is shown in the missing pieces from this composition where he’s pulling his foot away from the serpent. Even though it’s not part of this composition, I felt it’s important enough to mention because it does play to what I feel are the critical aspects of the scene. There’s a lot of tension in his abdomen here caused by his struggle to pull his foot free. The other emphasis here is on his face and the feeling of anguish as he looks to his father for help. So, those two elements are actually where I spent the most time on this study, and unfortunately had the most struggles (to the point of almost throwing it away and starting over).
If you read yesterday’s post (if you haven’t, I’ll wait…..), you’ll remember that I mentioned the lack of clarity in the reference photo getting the best of me. The problem is that from a normal viewing position, it actually looks pretty decent. But, once I got started trying to find the details that establish his face I realized that they just weren’t clear enough to decipher what was shadow and what was actually form. In the first few progress shots you’ll see that his facial features really don’t look right at all. Eventually I found some photos of a relatively similar angle that I was able to enlarge in order to cross reference and then complete them better for the pose I’m working on here. Unfortunately I don’t have any images showing this stage because I was quite frustrated with the way it was looking and found myself going back and forth between continuing or starting over.
The last post went into a lot of the detail regarding my processes, so I’ll spare you from a repeat here. I did start out with some rough hatching for where my darker areas would be as a point of reference. In the end they didn’t really matter, and a lot of this anatomy wasn’t quite as accurate as it should have been at this point. Essentially, I had basically set myself up for failure from the start by not taking as much time as I normally would in the block-in stage.
Here I’ve started laying in some of the value working upper left down to keep my hand from smearing any of my beginning layout lines. But, I’ve also started working on his face just a little bit. I knew from the start that it wasn’t quite right and decided to see how far I could take it as soon as possible. That way I wouldn’t get through the entire piece before deciding I had to start over.
Still hopeful that I might save his face, I dug up a little bit of courage to start building out the anatomy in his torso. Since I’m still learning what all those little bumps and mounds are under the skin, I actually spent quite a bit of time studying some different anatomy books, as well as pictures of body builders, in order to determine what portions were bone and what was muscle. It’s not highly evident here, but I had also begun adjusting some lines where his body intersects with the serpent. Some things just didn’t look right no matter how they measured up against the reference. I also began building out some of the darkest values to the right as a point of comparison for the rest of the piece.
Remember that the contractions in his abdomen are among the critical features that I previously decided on. Maintaining my faith that I could salvage his face, I moved on to that first important feature. The other reason for that is to ensure I have a good value range to reference when I work on his face. Otherwise the values may not be quite right for drawing the attention where I want it. Another note on his abdomen that’s worth mentioning. On the sculpture in the Vatican there was actually a chunk of his lower abdomen broken off at some point and then re-attached. If you look closely at the reference photo you may see a darker line to the left of the center. I was pretty certain that was a crack in the sculpture at first, but had to go look to be sure. After studying several different images I was able to find one that clearly showed the damage I was looking at.
By this point I had clearly salvaged his face by finding more reference photos that allowed me to build out his features more clearly. Remember that we’re dealing with an extremely old sculpture. Usually eyes weren’t completely rendered on sculptures such as this and were instead painted on. That leaves us poor folks in the future quite a bit to determine in regards to the emotion they hold. I know from the angles that he’s in a deep stare towards his father, so I attempted to portray quite a bit of pain in the eyes to go along with the grimace in his mouth. I also decided to go with some darker values here to create more contrast and set his face further apart from the rest of his body.
And here’s the final outcome. If you saw yesterday’s post, you’ll see my thoughts on the hair and why I went the way I did here. I also spent a little more time working on the drapery here. It’s another one I’ve been trying to study a lot of. There are entire books written about the physics of why drapery takes the shape it does in different circumstances, and I’ve been reading them all. The other thing I should point out is what’s going on under the drapes. Failing to go back and reference other angles (did I mention setting myself up for failure from the start?), I stared at that spot in the reference for quite some time trying to figure out what the change in values was representing. It took me a while before I decided that it was his arm, which was confirmed once again by viewing other images. I added more contrast to the area here in order to save the viewer from experiencing that same confusion.
All in all this was a fairly common adventure for me being torn between scrapping it and moving forward. I think all too often both fans and the artists themselves forget how many things can go wrong in the process. We had our challenges here, but everything came out in the end. Talking about them again in this post actually reiterates everything I did wrong to cause those problems, so maybe I’ll remember to stop it next time!! Since we’re finished with the sons, that means we only have one more study piece to go. Check back tomorrow to see our main figure, Laocoon, come to life. And remember, this and other pieces are available for to purchase as prints at my Saatchi Art page, saatchiart.com/allenmewes. I’ll actually be taking some higher resolution photos of this one this weekend so that the prints will be even more like you’re holding the real thing.