Recreating Laocoon, Part 2 – Thymbraeus

This one is a little long, so you may want to refill your coffee real quick and get cozy. You can click any of the thumbnails for a larger image if you’re having troubles seeing them. In yesterday’s post I gave a quick summary of the overall project we’re working on here, as well as some brief history behind the scene. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you can view it here in Part 1. For the first study of the group we’ll be working on Thymbraeus, the youngest of Laocoon’s sons and the first of them to die at the hands of the Gods.

At the time of starting this piece, I hadn’t really worked on anything in a while, so I wanted to start with the “easiest” figure of the group (that’s such a relative term) in order to warm up. While studying the entire sculpture and developing my plan I felt that Thymbraeus’ didn’t have quite as much definition in his anatomy and the angle I chose puts less emphasis on his face. That made it the perfect spot to begin my study since I’m still working on learning a lot of the underlying anatomy. But, with so little going on there, we’re still left with deciding what the most important part of his image is. Where is all of the tension? What portion makes the viewer feel the struggle that’s happening as the young man fails in the fight for his life? With his body mostly limp we can see that he’s in the process of using his last bit of life in an attempt to force the serpent away. That puts the critical point of this scene right there at the meeting of his hand and the serpent’s head. Ok, now we have a plan in mind for where this piece is going!!

Now that we know where we’re going, it’s time to get setup for success (or failure at times, it all starts the same). I’ve enlarged our subject to the size that I want to work on and made sure that I’m happy with the composition. Since this is a study piece, my focus is on setting up for accuracy. That means I have to account for anything that might throw off my vision, most specifically alignment. If my reference is higher/lower than the piece I’m working on by even a small amount than my eyes tend to play tricks on me and tell me it’s not accurate. To avoid that, I spend a lot of time on the setup making sure everything is level and lined up. You may also notice the lack of clarity and detail in the reference photo. More on how that came back to bite me tomorrow.

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This is the part that really takes the longest for me. Remember that emphasis on accuracy? There’s always room for slight adjustments, but if the basic structure isn’t right and the proportions are off, then the entire piece will never come together. Since this one has so many curves in it from the snake we also have to spend a lot of time making sure that those come out believable. Luckily a snake is also organic, so any small errors here can be adjusted into a representation of the serpent’s natural movements. The first thing to note here is the overall structure. If you read yesterday’s post you’ll remember that I’m attempting to transform these into a human form rather than a copy of a sculpture. Then why is he without an arm!!!? I don’t have a really good insightful answer for that. The more accurate statement is that I’m going for something between sculpture and “human”. It essentially allows me to stay true to the piece without getting too caught up in creating forms that we really don’t know anything about. For centuries there was debate regarding where the arms were originally intended to be. The day Michelangelo participated in the unearthing of the sculpture (yes, this piece is that important) he formed his own ideas that contradicted common thoughts. Time has since proven him right on the father’s arm, but we still don’t have any clues about the missing pieces of the sons. So we’ll just leave them be with all of their missing parts.

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Just a couple more notes on the above image before we move on to the next stage. Since I’m using this as a way to portray what’s happening in my head, I want to point out the reason for the different values in the lines. The majority of the differences here are based on the final outcome of the values. Most of the regions with dark contour lines are areas that will have darker values during the final rendering. That allows me to keep an eye on the overall forms as I’m building out my shading and focus my attention on the most important spots. As I stated in the beginning, I’m putting less of a priority on his facial features and head, so I’ve kept those lines fairly light here. Some of the other light portions (such as the drapery hanging off of him) are areas that I haven’t quite decided exactly what I’m doing with yet. By keeping the lines light I’m able to use them as temporary reference and go back later to refine them.

For the next stage I’ve spent a lot of time building out the value range and finding the anatomy. I tend to jump around quite a bit to avoid my natural tunnel vision. If I don’t, I’ll quite frequently find myself overworking a certain section because it just doesn’t feel right, when in reality it’s only a comparative issue since the surrounding portions aren’t there yet. So here you see I’ve built up some of the darkest areas we mentioned before and began lightly building out the muscle forms. I also further defined some of the drapery folds and began rendering his fingers. By this point we’re really starting to feel the power of the serpent squeezing on his body to render him lifeless.

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Up until now I’ve focused on overall progress images to really show how it all comes together. But, I want to take a moment to really focus in on the area that’s of the most importance to me, and the image. Throughout most of the image I mostly had to worry about relatively larger forms and value changes. But, in order to draw the eye into the central action, I had to put a lot more finesse and detail into his hand. If the hand weren’t the focal point, I probably would have left out of lot of the details and highlights in the joints and left it to the viewer’s eyes to fill in the blanks. But I really want the eyes to focus here, which is something we naturally do when there’s more detail involved. The hand isn’t quite complete at this point, and I was a little off on some of the anatomy in the bones, but you get a good idea of where it’s heading in terms of definition.

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At this point, most of the base structure is complete and I’ve pretty much determined where I’m going with everything. There are still a few values to darken up again since they’ve naturally lightened in the process of creating smooth blending. We can also see the finished detail in the hand and how it relates to the piece as a whole.  All that’s left now is to finish up the drapery and decide what to do with his hair.

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Remember that we’re shooting for an “almost human” interpretation of the sculpture. When I stop and look at many pieces in stone, I’ve always felt that there’s something a touch unnatural about the hair. Although it’s clearly full of curls, I just don’t feel it’s quite correct to portray it in groupings of curls they way it is. So, I decided to render curly hair in a form similar to what’s shown in the sculpture, yet believable as realistic hair that you’d see in life. In this image you can also see how I’ve extremely limited the details in his face and instead opted for implied features. His face really doesn’t have a whole lot to do with what’s happening in the scene, so I really wanted to avoid any emphasis there. You’ll also notice that I’ve lightened the values under his chin to maintain that separation.

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And here we have it all completed with the final values. I hope this brings to light a lot of what’s happening in my head as I work. We usually don’t get the opportunity to see inside the thought processes that are happening as people create our favorite art. It’s fun to imagine that things just happen on a whim, but in reality there’s a lot of decision making going on that can both make and break a piece. I’ll try not to be quite so long winded on the rest of this series since you’ve really seen into the process on this one.  If you’re interest, this one is currently available to purchase as a print in several sizes via my Saatchi Art page at www.saatchiart.com/allenmewes

Thymbraeus, Study for Laocoon And His Sons

Thymbraeus, Study for Laocoon And His Sons

Recreating Laocoon

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything to the blog. My plan is to start using it more and more to share my process with everybody as I create my various projects. So, with the first post of this new format we’ll be playing a little bit of catch-up while I get everybody up to speed on what’s been going on. For those who haven’t been previously following along (or those who are and have forgotten), I decided to put the leather aside for a few months while I focus on some opportunities coming up to put my charcoal work out there. What you’ll see over the next couple of days is a quick rundown of everything that’s been happening in the process.

I’ve been doing a lot of work as of late studying anatomy and the human form, mostly for the sake of my art since I’ve always enjoyed well executed figure pieces, but also due to the fact that I’ve been working really hard at improving my own health and physique dramatically. As I improve myself, I build a better sense of the human body, which furthers my goals in rendering an ideal human form in my art. I’m sure a lot of that is actually based on my long time love of Renaissance art, and the classical sculpture that inspired it.

That’s where my current project comes in. One piece that’s long been considered possibly the best sculpture ever created is the Laocoon Group, also referred to as “Laocoon And His Sons”. For those who don’t follow Greek writings, the Laocoon story stems from accounts of the Trojan War, with many different versions leading to various outcomes for our subjects. The most widely accepted account is in Virgil’s “aeneid”, which portrays Laocoon as a Priest of Poseidon who tried to warn the people of Troy that the horse was a trick. In return, the Gods sent a pair of sea serpents, killing him and his two sons. If you’re interested in more of this story, you can read a synopsis of this and some other versions at Wikipedia. In the meantime, we’ll get back to the work at hand.

This is actually one of the biggest pieces I’ve taken on to date, and it’s got a lot of various details that I feel are pretty critical. So, in order to ensure that I pull it off, I’m doing individual study pieces of each figure in the group. Usually when I do a study piece I like to work on an enlarged version so that I can really learn the details and find any spots that will trick me when I get into the final piece. It also helps me to determine what needs to be detailed and what can be an implied feature. Looking at the sculpture, I felt that each figure has it’s own critical point of interest, so I’m working on focusing my study pieces on those portions in order to draw the eye there. But, I also didn’t set out to simply copy a photograph of a sculpture. I enjoy photo-realism, but I really do prefer to interpret what I see. So, with that in mind I set out to transform the figures into a more human form. Most of those transformations actually happen in the face and hair. We’ll go a little deeper into that as we look at each piece I’m working on. Let’s just say that that’s been a very healthy challenge for me to create and interpret a realistic face off of the pictures of a sculpture that’s thousands of years old.

With that, I leave you with an image of our subject. Check back tomorrow to see a run through of the first study piece from start to finish, including some more thoughts on my interpretations.

Laocoön_and_His_Sons

 

Big Changes Are Coming

Over the next several months you may begin to ask yourself “What the heck is going on here!!?”
Well, If you’ve followed me for very long you know that leather aside, I’m driven by a passion for creativity. Lately I’ve been facing the realization that the way I’ve been working may not be right for me. By focusing solely on expanding my customer base and creating the work that they want, I’ve been limiting my own creativity. Let’s face it, there are a lot of ideas and passions stuck inside this head and it was only a matter of time before they began screaming to come out. In order for me to grow as an artist and bring the best I can be to the world, I need to start focusing more on personal growth and expanding my body of work.

So, what does this mean to all of my loyal fans out there? This means that I will no longer be frantically publicizing and pushing my work into more markets. I won’t be focusing solely on custom orders, but rather the fulfillment of my own ideas and visions. Don’t worry though, I’ll still stop and do custom leather pieces for people, I just won’t be focusing all of my efforts on gathering those requests.

That brings us to what you’ll be seeing around here and throughout my social media accounts. First thing’s first, I’m currently working on re-focusing the website from a purely marketing layout into more of an online portfolio of my work. This means a completely new layout and rewording of all of the content to fit the new purpose. In doing so, I’ll also be clearing out some of the pictures that I feel may be redundant examples of what I’ve done. So, if your piece happens to fall into this category, please don’t be offended as I’m still happy about every item I’ve ever created for people.

That should give everybody a good idea of what’s going on around here. I do welcome any thoughts you guys may have on anything here. After all, if it weren’t for your appreciation of my work, I wouldn’t continue to push myself forward to becoming a better me.