Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Artprize and American Heritage

Here is the final painting/illustration entitled "American Heritage."  As I stated in my previous post, this was my official 2013 entry for Artprize ).

Limited edition prints of this painting are available.  These giclee prints of "American Heritage" are pencil signed by the artist/myself and are offered printed on paper or canvas.  Currently, an 18" x 18" paper or canvas image (edition of 250) is $395.00 (unframed).  A 27" x 27" (original painting's size) paper or canvas size (edition of 250) is $575.00 (unframed).  Please contact me at if you wish to place an order.

This piece took approximately two and a half months to complete.  The first step, after initial thumbnail sketches, was to proceed to finding models, costumes, and getting photo reference.  Per my previous post description, I mostly used friends to pose as models.  They were all happy to oblige and I knew it was going to be be an exciting experience.  Next, I needed just the right costumes.  As I had been using models for illustrating book covers already, a local (and extraordinary) costume shop, Robert Schmidt Costumes ( ) had everything I needed.  Their assortment of choices was staggering as the warehouse is some 15,000 square feet!  It was fun sifting through the all of the possibilities, even finding some clothes dating back to the 1880's.  After a few hours, all theatrical attire had been found and it was time to move onto the stage.
Since this is a multi-figural composition with complex lighting, special attention was needed for the arrangement of characters.  At that time, before digital photography, I did not trust my skills as a photographer, so again I took my cue from Mr. Rockwell and hired a professional.  His studio accommodated all of our needs for space, lighting, and special equipment.  We experimented with groups shots, warm/cool gels, and expressions, finally realizing that we would need to photograph everyone individually.  Now that each character's position had been established within the composition, we focused on photographing as much detail as possible.  It would be my job later to assemble their images into a cohesive picture.  I thanked all of my models for their contribution and it was off to work!
The preliminary drawing (see Figure Drawings, September 12, 2013 post) solved all issues concerning drawing, value, and detail.  It was a lot of work, which paid off in the end.  I was determined to follow Rockwell's procedure and he expressed the importance of this step in his book "Rockwell on Rockwell - How I Make a Picture by Norman Rockwell" (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, in cooperation with Famous Artists School, Westport, Connecticut, ISBN 0-8320-2380-X).  I highly recommend this book as a resource for anyone interested in picture making.  Its principles have not changed, and if dutifully followed, can yield artistically fulfilling results.
The final painting began with a contour/line drawing onto double thick cold-press illustration board.  I gessoed this board, keeping areas with face and hand details smooth, while modeling/texturing others for visual interest.  This next part was my own creation, having experimented with other works and achieving desired effects - I freely applied pure (out of the tube) acrylic paints to the background.  It looked like a circus at this point, but I knew where it was going.  Once dry, the whole surface was sealed with workable fixative.  My favorite oil color of the time was Brown Madder Alizarin and it was going to be the unifying layer of all these presently gaudy acrylic colors.  A thin glaze of BMA was all that was needed to create a jewel-like glow for the shadowy air of the background.  This would serve as a nice contrast to the light emitting from the book.  As this paint dried rather quickly, it was necessary to work in sections (background first, faces next, then figures. etc.).  Building the layers of paint, known as Indirect Painting, allowed for moderate impasto touches (it is a relatively thinly painted work), and many glazes of transparent colors.  Small brushes, attention to light on form (chiaroscuro), and much patience then allowed for a proud finish.
After its completion, it was published as a promotional piece in American Showcase.  Thankfully, it generated much interest and brought in many illustration jobs over the course of my ten year illustration career.
Thank you Mr. Rockwell, Mr. Leyendecker, and so many other wonderful illustrators that inspired this work!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Figure Drawings

"American Heritage" - preliminary drawing (1991)

This drawing was created in order to fully develop a concept I had to inspire children to read.  It also served as an homage to Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker, as it was they (and my father Ken Dowd), who inspired my desire to become an illustrator.  It is a 30" x 30" charcoal on buff paper.

Here is a detail of the drawing.  It was a real treat to follow Rockwell's process, using friends and even strangers to pose for the characters.  The fellow, for example, posing as the WWl dough boy maintained our studio copier.  He walked in one day and had just the right look for an American youth of that period.  He resonated a sense of fragile innocence, adding depth to his role in the picture.  Others seen are Trey Willis (boy), Richard Bernal (pirate), Lee Brubaker (civil war soldier), Clair Bellows (gangster), Tom Casey (pilgrim), and Paul Chilton (mountain man).
Mainly, I worked from reference photos (something Mr. Leyendecker would have scoffed at), but it was the most efficient method in capturing the details of costumes, nuances of light, etc.  Also, the expressions of each individual had to be captured, contributing to the overall sense of wonder.  Many decisions were made in regard to these aspects of storytelling.  Familiar personalities communicating universal ideas is what I have learned most from Norman Rockwell and Joseph Leyendecker.  
In my next post, I will be showing the final, framed painting of "American Heritage" as my official 2013 entry for Artprize.  

My illustration career lasted the decade spanning 1990-2000.  With the advent of the computer, it was time to decide whether to go digital or stay traditional.  Though I have come to embrace the digital age, I, like many artists, was weary of it when it first came on the scene.  The traditional path held my fascination and I turned my sights on fine art.  

Here we see a figure drawing done in charcoal (8" x 10"), demonstrating the process I use to finish an informal work.  First, I lay in the contour (freehand), making sure all of the proportions and shapes create the desired effects.  Stretching the figure a bit can add elegance to the pose.  In this case, the head is slightly smaller and the legs are lengthened, giving a statuesque appearance. 

After sealing the initial layer with workable fixative (two light coats), a thin dry "wash" of charcoal dust is applied with a chamois.  The surface has a Bristol, or smooth finish.  Next, a kneaded eraser is used to pull out the lights and mid-tone values.  This is a widely used, time-honored technique among artists.