Wednesday 8 September 2010

Making of Trilobite Boy Rocks Out

Last spring, I was contacted by Karen about a commission. Her boyfriend is Mike Haubrich of Quiche Moraine, one of my favourite bloggers and a supporter of my artwork since the beginning of this blog.  I've met a lot of people so far in my blogging, but Mike and Karen are somewhere at the top of the list of people I haven't shaken hands with yet.

Karen wanted to get Mike a painting of mine for his birthday this past August.  I was thrilled, and honoured.  Contract stuff out of the way, we discussed what sort of thing he might like.

I suggested possibly something with a young Darwin and barnacles, and drew a bit in pencil.  I also had this idea for my Trilobite Boy character playing guitar or bass onstage:  I knew Mike has worked in radio and is a rock fan, so it seemed appropriate. (I also had a sketch of Trilobite Boy naked on a fur rug by the fire, but that seemed more appropriate for LouFCD. )

I sent Karen this hastily scrawled image done in ArtRage, a realistic computer painting program:

 Karen loved it, and I got to work.

Next, I did some sketches using my plastic Art S Buck male model.  These generic super-heroically proportioned models (there's a female one too) have about as many points of articulation as the average GI Joe or Star Wars action figure and make a great starting point for life drawing if you don't have a real human handy. Sketches below:

Click to enlarge my scribbles.
I liked the thumbnail sketch near the bottom, and decided not to do another looking-over-the-shoulder pose, like this one.

I selected a beechwood cradleboard to paint on, 12"x18".  I gessoed it black while listening to Debaser and Die Antwoord. Next, I cartooned in the image using white chalk. I find the chalk disperses nicely in the oil paint and it won't slowly rise to the surface of the paint film like graphite can after a number of years.

As oil paintings age, they darken and become more transparent, so it really matters what colour your ground and drawn outlines are. 

Look close and you can see a bandana around his right arm, and bracelet on his right wrist. 

Started painting.  The trilobite fossil and ammonite shell (seen below) were there for colour and texture reference and maybe as superstitiousy talismans, I suspect.  Safety blanket.  Or I just like looking sciencey when I post pictures of my process.

You can see this is what I call the "
Ugly Phase". Lots of splotchy unblended colour laid down. Originally, I planned to have spotlights on the edge of the stage, but I decided to paint over them.  They competed too much with the bright circles of light.

This was getting later one evening, so I was listening to Massive Attack.  Still some fast beats for me to time my brushstrokes to, but mellow enough not to bother my wife while she works on the computer. 

Below, a partially finished head compared with the completed head. 

I worked and re-worked the head and spine of the trilobite body parts over and over.  Still worry the front looks like a big ol' mustache from this angle.  
You can see there's a lot of glare in the photo on the left.   Photos of wet oil paintings are tricky.  What you need to do is have two light sources waaaayy out at the sides, and take the photo.  Or, if you live in a small apartment, take a picture on an angle in diffuse fluorescent light, and use Photoshop to mess with the perspective afterwards. 

For the musicians out there, note how wrong I have the shape of the bass.  I only noticed after everything was almost done.  I wiped it down with tissue dabbed in solvent and re-did the area.  Throughout this painting, I kept returning to the Toronto band Debaser as inspiration.  My good friend Nevin is/was the guitarist, and I love the way he played.  Mind you, he's never done devil horn's on stage that I can recall.

When I paint, I tend to work on one element at a time, bringing it all up in detail before moving on.  This is contrary to how painting is supposed to work:  you really should rough-in everything then refine, going around all the elements.

I like to see the figure emerging from the darkness whole: first an arm, then an eye, then the neck and back, and so on. It feels more like pulling something out of the blackness than painting a picture. 

The finished painting.

I sent images of the final to Karen and waited.  That can be the toughest wait of the job, seeing how the client will react. I try to keep people I'm working for in the loop throughout the process so if there's a major concern we can spot it early, but the suspense when I send that last photo or the final in the mail is still tough.  Karen loved it!  And importantly, thought Mike would to.  She was right.

Rock on Karen, and Happy Birthday Mike!

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Original artwork on
The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow
Creative Commons Licence.

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Kevin Zelnio said...

Neat how the lights match the guitar strap!

Love the painting too! You are so original.

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks Kevin!

Mike Haubrich said...

The making of is fascinating. I had never realized how much goes into laying out and layering a painting (I was able to get my internet going this morning. Yeah!)

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Posts over 14 days old have their comments held in moderation - I've been getting an unusual amount of spam for a guy who paints trilobites. I'll release it lickety-split though.

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