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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