Monday, 2 February 2009

Art Monday: young Charles v.1

Darwin Day is fast-approaching, and this year I'd like to focus on a portrait of the younger Charles Darwin. It's one of two ideas I have to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of The Origin of Species.

While waiting for a flight to North Carolina, I used George Raymond's famous watercolour of an early-thirties Charles as a reference. This portrait was done after Charles returned from his 5-year voyage on The Beagle, and is usually taken as being representative of how Charles would have appeared in his Beagle days.

I'd like to capture some of that spirit of robust energy in the younger man on the voyage. The type of man who could ride horses around South America, dig up megatherium fossils, brave the rocky Galapagos and hot sun, and see the world with fresh eyes.I began with this sketch while sitting in the airport.

Hmm. A little too jowly, or wide-faced? Muttonchops not muttony enough? I plan to do longer, wind-ruffled hair and a confident smile. I'd also like to give him a bit more hair than the Raymond piece. A lot can happen to a man in five years. My sketch seems to be a long way off of this fine portrait. What do you think on the right track

Karen James of The Beagle Project suggested I try to live-blog the painting on Darwin Day. I may attempt that. But the two competing ideas I have may end up being one piece and so I need to prep early. That means sketching and working up to a final drawing.

We'll see. And megatherium may make an appearance this year. *wink*

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m said...

wow, I wish my preliminary sketches would look like that!

Sean Craven said...


I didn't recognize young Darwin when you posted that sketch the first time but I knew you were working from some kind of a model. I actually wondered if there was a Dickens fair or something going on that would put someone in that dress into an airport.

Glendon Mellow said...

I'm all about the smudger these days, Mo.

The question is Sean: is it a close likeness? Or should I stick to portraits of people at Dickens' fairs?

traumador said...

i love it!

he totally looks like he just stepped off the boat back home from the whole voyage, head all full of ideas, and knowing he beat kirk to the 5 year thing by a good century ;P

i especially love the hair (the messiness gives him the been out and about look) and the eyes (which have a playful sense of insight about them).

this is one of my favourite pieces of yours, and i think captures a side of darwin visually that has typically gone unseen. all we get is a refined gentlemenly image. this is the explorer darwin. i'd imagine what he thought was the true him...

Anonymous said...

Dang, for me too draw like that, it would take a lot longer!! It's a sketch?! A quick pencil drawing. That is minimal effort. I'm amazed, Glendon. I like it.

I do like his expression somewhat but his shoulders look a little hunched and the face slightly small. How about the confident Russel Crowe look from Master and Commander?

Peter Bond said...

Glendon, remarkably, I have had the same inspiration as you and have also begun work on a "youthful-Darwin" portrait! Oh no!

Besides being hilarious, the last thing I want to do is steel any thunder (which is probably impossible as your oil work is much grander than my dinky acrylics!)

What are we to do? (Might tweak my ideas with the portrait.. add the old version as well.)

Sean Craven said...

Hmmm... Well, you asked me.

I think you shouldn't rely too much on prior artworks. I think that if you look at the initial portrait in order to get a clear idea of what Mr. Darwnin (Lord help us, he was such a baby at this age) looked like and use that as a basis for constructing your portrait -- rather than drawing/painting from a completed artwork -- you'll get more pleasing results.

Draw the skull hooked onto his neck, then look at his contemporary portraits and use those to determine the proportions of his face. Don't try and replicate the work of Darwin's contemporaries -- try and figure out how to bring him to life.

What you've done so far looks good -- but it's pretty derivative. I think you've got better than that in you... What everyone else says is true, the sketch looks damn good -- but just because you're doing well is no reason to avoid trying to do better, said the obsessive/compulsive.

As my subconscious said to me once,

"Never dare to settle,
never dare to rest
for the good is opposed to the better
and the better opposed to the best."

Karen James said...

Oooo! I'm so excited about this. I think it's missing the bulbous Darwin nose and heavy brow ridge. Also, maybe just a teeeeny bit younger?

But in general this is awesome.

How about doing it like Darwin Took Steps but in this case of young Darwin instead of having the steps emerging from his head, have Darwin walking up the steps of his scientific predecessors and correspondents? (Lyell, etc.)

Those steps could be the Beagle's gangway (or not)

Then, paired with Darwin Took Steps it will form a nice progression, sorta Young Darwin = padawan learner to Darwin Took Steps = jedi.

Glendon Mellow said...

Peter Bond: just do it anyway! We need more Darwin portraits! This anniversary isn't coming back around. No thunder to steal.

Go man, go.

Glendon Mellow said...

Traumador - thanks! Glad you like the hair.

Raptor - I was aiming for muscular shoulders, I'll watch the hunch!

Bond - before I forget, ain't nuthin' wrong with acrylics! I'm an oil guy, not a snob.

Sean, good looking out. I've started looking at a couple of photos of him when he's a bit older, with a touch of a smile. I may start there for bone structure. An advantage to the artists' eye is male pattern baldness.

Karen - I'll go younger. And I really like Kevin Zelnio's suggestion of coral atolls which I was looking at yesterday. Your stair idea is fantastic. You should do it.

This could get complicated.

Thanks for the input everybody!

The Key Question said...

Looks great, though his face is a little wide. Can't wait to see how it turns out!

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Lim! I agree about the face.

Karen James said...

For nose shape and brow ridge see


...though obviously both of those are too old, they are good facial studies...

Glendon Mellow said...

Yes! Karen, the photo of Mr. Darwin with his son is one of the ones I'm working from now. I found it on Wikipedia, and it's terrific because he's got that bit of a smile.

Not everyone's facial muscles behave the same way, so this one is pretty important.

Anonymous said...

I'll look forward to the piece!

Anonymous said...

Nice drawing. But he does look a little bit like you. Which is fine. I'm just sayin' ...

Glendon Mellow said...

So you're saying I'd look devilishly handsome with muttonchops, Greg?

Anonymous said...

I like the longer messier hair and expression on his face, but his face does look wider and shoulders broader than the portrait. Gives him a Heathcliffy look. I'd pull back on that a bit. But generally as others said I wish I could sketch like that!

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Lilian! It is Heathcliffy, I agree.

Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to present another move forward.

(Nice to have a comment from another Torontonian blogger!)

gregladen said...

So you're saying I'd look devilishly handsome with muttonchops, Greg?


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