Here it is! My finished oil painting from the 2012 Illustration Master Class:
Click to enlarge
...And if you think this painting came easily, it didn't. Here's the full story:
Out of about 7 assignment choices, I chose to illustrate Tarzan. It's the centennial anniversary of Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel Tarzan of the Apes, and having grown up with the Johnny Weismuller Tarzan and Greystoke, I thought I was set to start working on thumbnails, so I did. Then, about two weeks before the Master Class, Noah Bradley mentioned how different the original story was from the movies, and I decided I needed to read the book. It helped me understand the character so much better, and I did some more thumbnails:
I fleshed out 3 of the thumbnails, and the overwhelming response from my critique group each time was... "these are terrible." Sometimes honesty is easier to swallow than others- this was one of those times when it wasn't. I hadn't slept well in two weeks, as I was under a lot of pressure to meet a giant pile of deadlines before the Master Class. At one point I actually broke down and cried. Finally, my good friend Marc Scheff got on Skype with me and gave me a pep talk. For some reason when he said "be yourself," it just made sense...
I couldn't shake the feeling that Jane was a weak character, and that Tarzan was more than just a vine-swinging brute. So I threw all those ideas out and strayed from the assignment a little bit. The language acquisition parts of the story were some of my favorites, and some of the most telling about the capabilities of the Tarzan character- they were the most unbelievable passages, but it's a fantasy story, so there always has to be some suspension of disbelief.
So I made this pencil drawing of an adolescent Tarzan learning to write 12 hours before I left:
THE CRIT WALL.
Anyone who has attended or heard about the IMC knows that on Day 1 everyone breaks into groups and puts their drawings up on a wall for the faculty to critique. I personally love this format, and coming with a more finished drawing this year gave Julie Bell, Donato Giancola, and Brom a better opportunity to give me solid advice. Donato in particular suggested that instead of making Tarzan's gaze on the book the main focus, I redirect the focus to the hands. He mentioned that they were the strongest storytelling element, and I felt he was exactly right.
After the crit, I took some visual and written notes in my sketchbook:
So by Day 2 of the Master Class, I had a solid to-do list. I put tracing paper over my original drawing and transferred the information I wanted to keep, shifted the composition a bit, and penciled in some changes. Next I transferred my revised drawing to my illustration board with a sheet of graphite paper, and sealed it with acrylic matte medium:
I stayed in the studio till closing time on Day 2 to finish an acrylic underpainting. At this point I hadn't 100% figured out my color palette, so I stuck with a monochromatic raw umber underpainting to block in the basic values.
Photo by Irene Gallo
I started painting in oils on Day 3, when I was confident in the strength of my underpainting. Dan Dos Santos and Aaron Miller broke me of a bad habit I've had for a long time- instead of being impatient and starting by painting the figure, I began with the background. "Save the dessert for last," Dan said, and yes, he was right:
Photo by Rebecca Yanovskaya
The experience as a whole wasn't just educational and fun, it was also very validating. Not only did the faculty give me some killer advice along the way, but hearing directly from people like James Gurney and Boris Vallejo that my work was going well- you can't ask for a better feeling than that.
Technique-wise, there are a few things I would do differently next time- I would spend more time gathering reference photos (instead of calling people over to my easel and making them hold still, heh), and I'll try to get my values in oil correct earlier on instead of relying so heavily on glazing after the fact. Still, one of the biggest takeaways from this IMC was the emphasis on storytelling over technique. It was a takeaway from last year's IMC too, but it took a year for it to really sink in for me. I became confident, finally, that as long as my concept was solid, I could get away with a missed brush stroke here and there. Also it became ever clearer that loving a piece makes a huge difference. I'm inspired to do more passionate personal work, more than ever. I'll talk at length about that in my next post...
Enjoy the painting, and thanks again x1000 to Rebecca Guay, the faculty, and the volunteers for putting on another amazing IMC!