Tuesday, March 08, 2011

The Keepers - Progress

I thought I'd share the process of a piece that's currently still "In Progress". This is both to give you a glimpse into my process and to show you the pitfalls of overthinking a concept (there is a very good reason why this piece is still In Progress!)

It started with a rough idea, a half story, which was pretty much inspired by a lot of reading about the Muses, the Fates, and other creepy chicks who often come in threes and like to pop up in all the good myths and legends.


I liked the sketch phase, but when I started adding colour it lost something for me. I don't know if it was the poses, the cramped composition or something about the expressions, but I wanted something with a creepy and slightly threatening edge, and I wasn't getting it here. So I started working on a full length version instead.


Right away I liked this much better. I had the image of them being in a cavelike environment filled with these little round glass bottles full of dreams, which would be glowing with prismatic colours. And the three of them together would be bottling another one. I distinctly remember my friend Melissa Findley telling me not to overwork this one or I would lose the atmosphere.

(She was kind enough not to say "I told you so"later!)

I was happy with the poses, so I started refining the characters, trying to find a look that was creepy and dark yet beautiful and alluring. I had a very specific idea about the type of costume and makeup they would wear. They would be tattered and slightly fae-like, with a lot of different colours popping out of the shadows. I knew I wanted lots of intricate elements like jewellery and beading, but for these to look old and cobbled together, like these guys are human magpies. And I absolutely knew I wanted very large, brightly coloured eyes peering out of dark, sooty eye makeup, luminous golden skin, and dewy pink lips and cheeks.


At this point I also started to refine the background, and right away I could feel I had lost a lot of the texture and atmosphere. But instead of doing the sensible thing like, oh, going back to a version that had actually work, I tried to inject more life in by adding the candles as a new light source and to start giving the scene a more lived-in look. I thought by indicating a big hole in the back wall I could make the area look cavelike again (it didn't work!)


I was also struggling the capture the feel of the costumes, so I opened up a fresh canvas and started sketching the concepts. It didn't matter that the poses wouldn't show everything I designed. I just wanted to find the look I was after without being constrained by the characters' body positions. Besides, I'm a concept artist by trade and fashion design is one of my favourite parts of my work.

And this is where it all really starts to go wrong!


I love the look and feel of the characters, but I have no idea what the standing character is doing now and I can hardly remember what I was trying to do with her pose. I think she was supposed to be dangling something from her raised hand. I've brought more candles into the scene and start to add hints of books, paper, artwork. I believe I was thinking that since their faces are smeared with paint and kohl that they can be some kind of fae muses or artists, but some old books and twisty candlesticks do not a goblin cave make! I've lost the ethereal weirdness and atmosphere of the original sketch. I open up the background to try and bring back a sense of space, since no matter how much I enlarge the canvas, the scene feels cramped. It just goes to show that a bigger canvas can never make up for poor composition.

So that's where this piece is still sitting. I've accepted that I'm going to have to do one of the toughest things for an artist - scrap the whole damn background and start again from the beginning. And this time, I'm not going to leave the sketch phase until I have nailed the composition and lighting down, instead of jumping ahead and then trying to bandage up the mistakes as I go. Just a little bit of planning and forethought go a long, long way!

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