Sunday, May 2, 2010

Steampunk Mailman: The Process

Howdy fellow illustration folk! Since everyone wanted to see the final for my Steampunk Mailman painting I figured I would do ya' one better and post my process (with helpful captions as to what on earth I was thinking) from start to finish.

Typically I do all of my thinking on paper. So once I get an idea I sit down with a sketchbook and start working out concepts (composition comes later) and just generally letting things germinate and come to the surface. I usually make lists of props that I may want to be involved or just things that may be associated with the image in general. I'm basically looking for "the hook", or the thing about an image that really gets me interested and drives me crazy. Once I find that I'll move on.

I did things a little out of order this time around. Early on I realized that if I wanted to have my figure dangling from a rope ladder I was going to have one heck of a time getting the reference for it. In the interest of costs I built a maquette so that I would have a good idea of what a rope ladder would do under weight and the like. Years and years ago I bought a bunch of Stikfas figures and they make decent stand ins when I'm just kicking ideas around. I fashioned a rope ladder out of twine and toothpicks; but the twine was too stiff and didn't really have any give in it. So I took another stab at it, this time using sewing thread and toothpicks and things worked out much better. I moved on with the sketches having a much better idea that this was going to work out.

Now that I know what I'd like my concept to be I sit down to try to figure out what I want the composition to be. At this stage I'm looking to see how it may look on the page. Really I'm still working with thumbnail-sized drawings so that I don't get caught up in the little fiddly bits. "You wouldn't build a house by starting with the lace doilies, would you?" Also I tend to draw in tone and value patterns, which helps me tremendously. If something else comes to me at this point I'll jot it down - I wouldn't want to lose something that I may want to use later on, now would I?

For this project I decided that not only did I want to have the figure as the center of attention and the clouds as a dominant element, but that I really wanted to have a cool airship in there somewhere. (Of course! Why not?!) So I was looking to see if I could have the three as dominant elements, but not compete with one another - even now I don't really know what I was thinking. Having my little maquettes was invaluable for this though. As I got stuck in the sketching I was able to move around them and see how things would be more dramatic or more compelling from various angles. I decided to go with the composition on the second page at the top.

Now that I have a direction I knuckle down and refine the sketch a little bit more, just to make sure that everything works out and that the eye will go where I want it to. This is the sketch that I approved and from here it was on to the referencing stage.

The maquettes I made were good for figuring some things out at the planning stage, but they weren't going to be adequate substitutes for drapery, and lighting, and accidents, and small insignificant things that we never think to plan but always make things seem so much more real. So, naturally, I was going to have to build a rope ladder. (See past posts here and here.) So that's exactly what I did. I had to do whatever it took to get the reference I needed.

This is where the fun begins. Illustration is not photography - so I take the reference I've collected and do a final drawing. All the time I'm making decisions about what's important and what isn't and doing a kind of editing as I work. I'm still drawing mostly with tone, looking at value patterns and boiling things down to what's in the light and what's in the shadow. I decided the bottom half was still kind of boring, so I added the canada geese to fill space and create movement and interest.

Now, to be honest this part I kind of just phoned-in this time. I had a deadline to keep and I didn't really have the time to devote to this step - but I feel it's important to point out that I thought they were important enough to do anyway. Once I know what my drawing is going to look like I do a black and white value study (usually in Photoshop). Generally speaking I have a sense of where my lightest lights and darkest darks are going to be, but I want to know about all of that information between those two points. One of the main ways I direct the eye is with value (part of why I don't draw in pen anymore and tend to draw with the side of a pencil). For instance I knew I wanted the space between the flaps on his jacket to be a lot lighter in tone than the jacket itself, and therefore creating contrast, interest, and a focal point. I don't really leave anything to chance; it's all very deliberate. Then the color rough helps me make sure that my palette and color choices are harmonious, interesting, and vibrant. I managed to get away with such a simple color rough because, well, blue and orange work well together. Something about opposites attracting and the like. Really I just wanted to make sure that the over-abundance of orange wouldn't be overwhelming and kill the painting. I like painting when I'm at the easel, not making a lot of decisions. If I know what my colors are going to be before hand I don't have to sit there hemming-and-hawing about what color I should paint his bag, or the ship, or his boots.

And really, from here it's clear sailing. I've done all the preliminary work and I've made all my decisions and choices so all that's left to do is paint. And usually this goes by pretty quick. I'll just post some in progress shots of it as I went through.

And the final!

I left out all of the fussy bits about surface preparation and how I get from the drawing to the canvas, but if anyone wants to know about that process I'd be happy to write something up for it. At any rate, there you have it.


Brian Bowes said...

Vaughn, this is really one of your finest pieces to date. Thank you for sharing your process, it's inspirational. Really wonderful.

Sir Reginald Farhquardanstannad said...

Wow, this is wonderful thankyou for sharing that!

Andrew Finnie said...

Hya Vaughn, I really like this work. Its wonderful to see how you worked it up. Amazingly professional.

Thanks for sharing the process.

I'm sorry I didn't get to comment much as you went along at xero2illo

Goomie said...

Thanks for sharing your process! You are so thorough with your references, etc. Love the final art!