Friday, September 28, 2007

Lust Caution

Ang Lee is the 3rd portrait I've done for The Wall Street Journal's Hit List section. It's reproduced in color for the website and in grayscale for the weekend edition newspaper. I'm finding the unique challenges that come with these portraits are: doing something interesting in the strong vertical format, creating a definable edge for text to wrap, and making an illustration that will not turn into a gray blob when reproduced in grayscale on newsprint. With Ang, I tried a few things that I hoped would attain these solutions.

It all starts with the sketch and working out his pose. I set up my tripod and shot myself in a number of staged poses at various degrees of overhead perspective. Perspective is always interesting to look at and I thought it would allow me to get more into the alloted space as well as add interest. As I set my timer and ran back to take my position, I heard the click of my shutter about mid-stride. After the initial annoyance from wasting a shot had washed away, an idea hit me. I bet I could achieve some good candid-style pictures with immediacy and active energy by moving into or out of the frame and letting the pose happen. I liked the idea and took a host of shots with this mindset. The task then becomes taming the shots so I'm not flailing with arms askew as I race into the photo. I sufficiently tamed myself, and was rewarded with plenty of interesting vertical compositions.

As I'm working up my sketches, I'm also considering clean value patterns that are tilted toward opposite ends of the spectrum. An overall pattern that is somewhat graphic with strong discernible shapes is what I'm after. Only limited midtones and extraneous value that might push a newsprint illustration to mush. 5 sketches later, I had a nice selection of staged and unstaged poses to send for approval.

Lately, I've decided I need to get myself agitated, artistically, in order to loosen up and release any tension that might come from starting an illustration. Tension can be the death knell of one's painting. So, I popped in my most agitating CD and let the self-doubt evaporate as my earphones block out the world and the brushes, with a tension-free hand, agitatingly sculpt the red oxide across the board.

Of the portraits I've done for The Wall Street Journal, I think this one is my favorite. It achieves my goals, and I came away with some additional knowledge that I'll apply to future work—always signs of a successful experience. The Wall Street Journal folks are always great to work with, too.



Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Atomic Punk

I always love working with Joy Olivia Miller and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (keepers of the Doomsday Clock and 2007 National Magazine Award Winner for General Excellence). I've been lucky enough to contribute regularly to their opening Opinions article. These articles pose a bi-monthly argument that a particular aspect of world affairs, as it relates to global security, isn't as it seems or as it should be. For the November/December issue, the author questions the ability of the scientific community to come together and monitor itself when it comes to initiating and participating in bio-security measures. Trust and ethics play a big part in this.

I always immerse myself in the article, reading and re-reading it multiple times. This allows me to identify all possible angles and ways to distill a complex narrative to its essence. After I have the story figured out, I'll scribble all sorts of potential concepts in my sketchbook accompanied by thumbnails. After I've amassed a sufficient amount of material, the next step is to flesh out my favorites to a more refined sketch form.

4–6 sketches later, I'll send the illustration ideas for consideration. Upon approval, I'll clean up my sketch, shoot any necessary reference, and acquire or build any needed props. For this job, I built a nice acetate beaker to replace the test tube.

There was an obvious effort toward achieving symmetry and implied lines that draw the eye to the crossed fingers. I usually try to keep my palette swayed to the warm side with just a bit of cool color to balance things. The choice of color also contributes to the mood and hopefully places the viewer in a certain urgent mindset from the get-go.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Billy Graham

Billy Graham holds a very unique position in American culture as spiritual adviser to the most powerful people, particularly in political office.

With this portrait, I aimed to capture a stately-looking and powerful composition, to speak to his role as spiritual confidant to political powerhouses. I tried to convey the story of his connection with presidents by positioning the strong, vertical White House-like columns behind him. Also a symbol of power. The sunset colors are also representational of his place in life, and perhaps his journey with D.C. residents.

face detail

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Mother Teresa

As the 10-year anniversary of Mother Teresa's death is marked, previously unpublished letters from her have surfaced. The noteworthy aspect of these letters is how they seem to be soaked in despair and reveal more than just questions about her faith.

For this illustration, I wanted to capture the feeling of complete emptiness and hint at an internal conflict. The type of conflict that would throw into disarray everything she stood for. Her pose has a defeated look with shoulders slumped and arms hanging like dead-weight without expression. I exaggerated the posture to accentuate the sense of despair and create some long flowing lines. Her face is sullen and achingly vacant--not even enough energy to tense her jaw. Her desolate eyes look off the page for any sustenance. She musters what reserve she has to hold on to her cherished rosary bound tightly around her hand, beads digging in as reminder to the pain that binds her to this role. The cross on the rosary dangles off the end of the page without reverence.

I hoped to capture total emptiness with a bit of negative tension--not the typical Mother Teresa.

face detail

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse has such descriptive features--great eyes and full lips that distinctively and uniquely curve upward at the corners, punctuated with a Monroe -- not to mention her wild mane of hair. Her back-story is a bit troubled and she's been in the news recently canceling shows while they try to make her go to rehab.

I wanted to capture her edge and accentuate her lines to create something interesting. I exaggerated the posture, giving extra sway in her back, letting her left arm hang straight down. The bold energetic strokes and color are two things I'm experimenting with at the moment, and I think they compliment her.

After doing the monotone "underpainting" with acrylic, I take the art into the computer where I adjust my tones, apply color, and refine detail. This process lets me hang on to the spontaneity of the underpainting and affords me the ability to experiment with anything--color, tone, texture--without fear of losing any of that energy and spontaneity. I think it's a process that's added a dimension to my work, provided me greater flexibility, and allowed me to complete my illustrations quicker. This piece was uncommissioned.

Maybe the best quote I've heard so far about her Back to Black album, from itunes:

"This album is so good it makes me want to punch somebody."

(an AMAZING song)

face detail