Friday, December 18, 2009

Cathedral at the University at Alcalá de Henares

35 km northeast of Madrid, Spain, is the city of Alcalá de Henares.

In the early-1500s, the city became Spain's most important intellectual center with the opening of its University, which hosted many political and cultural dignitaries of the day.

One of the most important and historic landmarks at the Spanish school is the Cathedral at the University at Alcalá. It was built over the graves of Justus and Pastor, two Christian schoolboys martyred at the beginning of the fourth century during the Diocletianic Persecution. It is also one of two cathedrals in the world to bear the title, "Magistral." This means its clergymen must hold a Doctor of Theology in order to serve.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the connection between the Cathedral at the University at Alcalá and the University of San Diego, my client for this illustration. You see, the former's late Gothic style is the inspiration for architecture on the University of San Diego's campus, also known as Alcalá Park.

To pay homage to this connection, and to reflect the school's other Catholic connections, the designers at the USD sought to create their 2009 Presdent's Report as a beautiful historical interactive book replete with calendar and 14 removable and collectable prayer cards depicting people and landmarks with connections to the school's Catholic heritage.

The to-be-illustrated cards would include subjects like Pope John Paul II, St. Francis of Assisi, Fra Angelico, Oscar Romero, and the aforementioned Cathedral.

The University of San Diego is an A-list client with whom I have a long standing relationship. I was thrilled when they contacted me to be part of this assignment.

As I settled-in for illustration #1, I thought, "I should document these illustrations from start to finish." I always enjoy seeing illustrations go from start to finish. I'm hoping you might enjoy seeing this particular one do the same.

In the beginning...

I was provided with some photo reference of the Cathedral. I gathered a few shots from my own research, too. Thinking about the background, I also looked around for a nice complementary sky.

My "sketch" is the basic composite of my photos. My goal here is value composition. Creating interest in the background sky as well as distinction between background and foreground is tops in my mind. The gray border is to simulate the intricate gold bordering which will be part of the final prayer card design. I don't want important items being obscured or uncomfortably cropped by the border treatment.

After approval, it's time to create the final illustration. With this project, I functioned in assembly-line fashion -- doing sketches first and plowing through the finals, in order, as they would appear in the book, second. This illustration was fourth in-line.

My illustration board is gessoed and the art is penciled on top.

The first step is to mess it all up, embrace failure, and leave myself nowhere to go but up.

Maybe not.

Actually, this is my initial wash of color. I do this to kill the white and to initiate the organic, painterly look with drips and blobs of paint from which I can start to create. I take a big brush and slap down some sienna and oxide acrylic color. Then, with my Lowe's special water bottle, I spritz the surface, letting the paint move around and interact with the texture of the gesso as I twist and turn the board. I don't want to lose my linework, so the paint application isn't totally opaque.

Launching into the "unpainting" process, I lay down some red oxide and burnt sienna acrylics, mixed with my special additive, to the building. In this photo, I've roughly silhouetted the building and cleaned up the edges, as part of the "back and forth" process. I think there is a nice complexity that comes from a back and forth with paint, as opposed to just adding and applying within the lines, so to speak -- at least for what I'm trying to do.

With a nice stiff brush, I "unpaint," or lift out areas of light. Below, I've not only done so with the building, but, I've also hit the sky and clouds with paint and brought out their light areas.

This is essentially the finished "underpainting." It's now time for the computer work.

The art is scanned and warmed up a bit. Here is where I'll start phase 2, which consists of shoring up values and final color. I'll start with value, as that's the big definer of one's composition.

Through a very proprietary process of methods, I'll eventually arrive at a value combination that is pleasing to me.

Notice the color is way hot. It's now time to tackle it and bring things under control.

Through another extremely proprietary process of layers and channels and things I don't fully understand, I'll eventually arrive at a color combination that is pleasing to me.

A balanced palette is always foremost in my mind. Here, it's warm with enough cool in the sky to balance things. The blue shifts toward the green, because a) too much red would shift it purple (especially with the reds in the building), and a little purple goes a long way; b) the yellow in the sky balances the red cast that would arise from a reddish-blue sky. We don't want any unbalanced casts, here.

I've knocked back the intensity of the blue to keep it in the background, allowing the Cathedral to take center stage. I also added just enough intensity in the clouds to not create a pasted-together look between background and foreground.

One thing on which I focused largely, with this project, was the use of cool and warm colors to create a sense of depth and light. Here, the cools in the shadows enhance the sun hitting the walls, creating a truer sense of light, depth and balance to the color palette, and overall interest to the piece, I think. Also, the higher color intensity within the foreground compared to the background was important to me, as touched upon, above. Controlling that intensity further defines a believable space for the viewer. Since the art on the cards is reproduced at 3.5 in. x 5 in., defining a space that reduces confusion helps the scene read with greater clarity. Clarity is always good.

It's sometimes a challenge for me to cool down a color (reduce its intensity), since I like to heat up and push color to its limits, whenever I can. But, scaling back, every now and then, brings a new level of complexity to an illustration. It takes a little more discipline, in my view, to figure out how to utilize the less-obvious, less-striking colors as part of a greater whole. Each color has its place. It's our challenge, as illustrators, to crack that code.

The last step is final production. Here is the illustration, as printed.

And, the back of the page, showing a quote on the prayer card and a statement about how the Cathedral's late Gothic style is reflected on-campus.

This was an intense project, with lots of work done in a relatively short time. But, jobs like this are always made easier with wonderful clients like the always-gracious and award-winning editorial and design department at the University of San Diego. My sincere thanks to them for the opportunity to help with this amazing project.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Show Me

We're taking a slight departure from my typical blog format. You see, today, I want to let everyone know about a show I'm having (and, one of the reasons my blog post frequency has taken a nose dive, as of late).

What: Illustrations by Allan Burch
Opening: December 4, 2009 at 6pm
When: all through the month of December 2009
Where: Nonna's Italian Cafe, 306 South Ave., Springfield, Missouri

I hope all of you residing in the Springfield area might show their support and stop by Nonna's in December, check out our show, and have a delightful meal while you're there.

For those of you who can't attend, I've created this composite of the show pieces -- the next best thing to being there, almost.

Actually, the works have all been printed (on canvas), and are looking quite impressive, if I can say so. It's one thing to see the art on one's monitor and another to see the figures (and color and textures) life-sized, at least for me. They are off to the framers, as I write.

Installation will be the last week of November, just in time for the First Friday Art Walk -- when all the galleries in Springfield have their openings. It's a nice little event held the first Friday of every month. The streets of downtown, from 6 to 10pm, bustle with folks browsing gallery-to-gallery, most located within a few blocks of each other. There are street performers, musicians, and festivities at every corner -- a nice diversion from a stressful week and a nice start to a weekend.

Springfield, Missouri is, surprisingly, a very art-hip town. Those who haven't explored the downtown area in a while are in for a nice surprise for the renovations over the past few years. There are lots of coffee shops, specialty shops, antique stores, cafes, and amazing restaurants in the art district. The area has an eclectic (and creative-friendly) feel.

The proprietors of Nonna's are wonderful supporters of art. Their venue, rich with atmosphere, is a beautiful space for artists to display their works. And, the food is delicious.

Thanks to everyone who continues to follow along with my blog. In the spirit of social networking, I'll ask anyone who wishes, to spread the word about this show. If you're in the neighborhood, please stop by and see it for yourself!

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

Black Light

Sometimes, the coolest photos make for the most challenging illustrations, for me, anyway.

My talented model, Jana, and I conducted a photo shoot one fine Saturday. Of the 1,100+ shots she allowed me, is a series in which she is sitting on a gray/green couch, against a muted purple wall, on top of ochre hardwood flooring. Sunlight is streaming through my west windows, bathing the scene with wonderful shapes and patterns of light.

There's lots of color in my house.

My philosophy when shooting is to play the law of averages. If I shoot 1,100 shots, odds are I'll come away with at least 1 nice shot, right? Of course, with an emotive and confident model, the odds increase. And, it's my experience, even with a seemingly timid model, there are lots of amazing shots to be had. Beautiful light, unusual points of view, and even the slightest sense of mood can make for some tremendous photographs.

But, Jana is confident and emotive, so her shots exude the same.

This particular photo of her, twisted away from the viewer and looking at something with a sense of immediacy, brought just the right amount of mystery to a scene. The beautiful lines, shapes, and forms created by her pose were just perfect for illustrating.

My challenges:

1. Harmonizing value

In the photo, the shadows and light help create a successful composition. The value structure should remain in the illustration. But, there should be room for color and interest within the shadows, since they are so dominant. The viewer needs a reason to explore them within an illustration.

2. Harmonizing color

I wanted there to be a purpose to the color and resist making the whole illustration a typical glowing sunlight scene filled with pretty colors.

3. Telling a story

I wanted there to be some narrative to the scene and go beyond just a pretty picture.

My solutions:

1. Harmonizing the value

Value is more important than color, so this challenge was solved early on. Value dictates a composition. All 2-D design needs to work in b/w before it can work in color.

I kept the shadows dark, yet light enough to show brush texture and color. With the strong, delineated areas of light and dark, this illustration quickly became a compositional study, first, and a scene, second.

2. Harmonizing color

I tried brilliant, hot color, everywhere.

No good -- too much of all the same intensity.

I tried mostly blues and purples surrounding the figure with the hair, blouse, and arm in brilliant warmth.

No good -- too obviously pretty and uninteresting.

I tried less-saturated local color with brilliant warmth in the hair, blouse, and arm.


There is a hierarchy of color intensity directing the eye and less-intense areas providing places for the eye to rest. Plus, there is enough subtle, complex color in the shadows and non-figure areas to encourage exploration. And, the color usage helps bring a mood and tell a story.

My palettes are usually quite simple -- predominantly warm with just enough cool to balance, or vice versa. This one is somewhat up for debate, but I'm saying it's predominantly cool (muted, almost gray colors surrounding the figure), with warms in the torso to balance the palette.

3. Telling a story

She should be looking at something over her right shoulder, rather than the blank wall in my photo.

A picture!

That picture frame on the wall gives her a reason to look and adds just enough to pull off a story. And, that blade of light cutting it adds a bit of interest and leads the eye.

What is she looking at and why is she twisting so much to see it? You'll have to email me for the answer.

Still, the scene is very photo-centric and could verge toward becoming too staid at any moment. There needed to be some immediacy and tension.


To accentuate her anxious posture and support an anxious scene, I shifted her leftward, clipping her off the edge of the page.

The incomplete figure brings a bit of tension and some mystery as to what is so important off the left side of the page that we're being forced to shift our focus that direction.

The small dark corner of the couch in the lower right corner is just enough stoppage to keep one's eye from leaving the page.

So, there's my journal entry for today.

My thanks to Jana for her help in creating this illustration.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Jorge Posada

Jorge Posada is a catcher for the New York Yankees.

His is a very appropriate illustration for this stretch of weeks in October/early-November.

"Why?" you might ask.

Well, I answer, it's because the Yankees are playing the Philadelphia Phillies in the 105th World Series.

As I write, the Yankees are down 0 games to 1, in the series.

Got all that? Excellent. Me, too.

In 2008, I was fortunate to illustrate Mr. Posada for the Upper Deck Company's MLB Masterpieces series of baseball cards.

As mentioned, in prior posts in which I blog about other cards from this series, one challenge is its size. The illustration is done on an 8" x 10" canvas. My liner brush received a workout on logos, such as that "NY" on his helmet, pinstripes on his jersey, and detailing in his shoes...not to mention his face, which is painted about the size of a thumbprint.

How does one capture a likeness at that size?

Proportions, angles, and planes, distilled to an almost posterized form. One can't be too detailed at that size. The face would come off as overworked and unrealistic.

I have to place myself into a different frame of mind when I do traditional paintings versus my traditional/digital hybrids. I have to slow down and consider, more closely, individual parts (like the background, skin, grass, wall, jersey, helmet, shoes, etc), and how they relate to each other, value-wise and color-wise.

Painting traditionally forces me to consider the physical time it takes to render a face, how long the paint takes to dry, how layers of paint react to glazes...things I don't deal with when working digitally.

It's a good thing...just a different way of thinking. It's good to work all those parts of the brain. It keeps one's work fresh and keeps that particular artistic "muscle" (the traditional side) in-shape.

Plus, it makes one versatile. And, I would argue, versatility is a very marketable trait.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Sunday, October 18, 2009



I didn't see you come in. How have you been?

Is that so?

Well, I'll be...

Long time, no blog, you might be saying if you happen to follow these posts with any regularity.

If you don't, then, welcome! I invite you to browse around. Hopefully, you'll find something you like. If so, please drop me a line. I'd love to help with your next project.

As you might have guessed, I've been quite busy with commissioned projects, which is a good thing. But, it's come at the expense of my blogging habit. I apologize for the lapse in posts.

Let's talk about some art.

This is Melodie.

I am so very fortunate to say Melodie is one of my amazing models. One Sunday afternoon, Melodie came over and participated in a photo session. Of the many, many remarkable shots she allowed me, this one beckoned me.

During the summer of 2009, the Allan Burch Illustration model reserve was born. Basically, this is a group of very nice and very generous folks who have expressed interest in helping to model for my illustration needs.

Between its conception and birth, a call for models was posted on Craig's List. After vetting the voluminous replies, I've now come away with a healthy group of models on my team who continue to be giving with their time and energies toward enthusiastically participating in my work.

I am extra-energized by the fact my model and I are collaborating in the creative process toward something special. It's beyond just me...and that's a very good thing.

This is a personal piece, part of a series I'm producing. It's intended to have more of a fine-art flair.

I like this shot because of her elegant, iconic, yet full-of-attitude storytelling pose, coupled with unique vantage point and dramatic shadows. It was an un-posed, pose; a position she happened to take in between other shots. These unguarded moments can be some of the best kinds of poses, I think. There is an inherent beauty in the lines, attitude, and energy of the human form in those moments where she or he isn't trying to be picturesque.

In the photo, she was standing against a white backdrop. In the illustration, she should stay against a wall of some sort to keep the dramatic shadows in the picture. I thought this might also be a good opportunity to utilize pattern -- as a storytelling device, a design element, a textural contrast, and a subtle, yet intricate, secondary point of interest.

I'm kind of into patterning, at the moment. It's a nice, controlled, complex textural contrast to my simplified approach to shape and form. It makes for a nice foil to my picture's protagonist.

I've also been tinkering with a more complex color palette -- utilizing cooler temperatures in the shadows to help create a sense of space and to help direct the viewer's eye. I'll talk more about this in future posts.

My thanks to Melodie for helping to bring this illustration to fruition.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Black Flowers and the Anatomy of an Internship

What I find so remarkable about the photograph that serves as this illustration's reference is its combination of strength, beauty, mood, and symbolism.

The lighting strikes the surfaces, just so, illuminating strength in the arm, a blood-coursing fragility-of-life vein in the hand, and symbolism in the soft, cradling-a-baby pose, while also shrouding the scene with darkness -- both literally and in terms of emotion.

The pose and photo were unplanned. In fact, this was probably just a transition from one pose to another that happened to be captured with my Nikon. These types of unplanned moments-in-time are what I live for with my photo shoots, and tend to be best facilitated by a tremendously emotive model (which I was lucky to have).

The Challenges

For this kind of especially rough and expressive charcoal technique to take shape, there needs to be a chip on my shoulder and/or an aggressive concept to the art. Unfortunately (or fortunately), neither were the case on this particular Saturday. I wasn't carrying a beef against anything, nor was the pose conducive to unrest. In fact, it's a very gentle pose.

But, this kind of contradiction can make for an especially interesting illustration, if handled successfully.

I set forth with Becca, my summer intern, at my side, intently watching my every throw-down with the charcoal.

After snapping my extra-soft vine to pieces, due to overzealous mark-making, I wrapped-up the "underdrawing" part of the illustration to what I was hoping would be the psychologically beef-inducing, angst-ridden, Lollapalooza-lite sounds of "Lithium" (channel 54 on your XM radio dial).

No dice on the beef-inducement.

Into Photoshop we go.

Here, I pull the local and global values together, making the piece work together a little better and more clearly defining my areas of focus. The wallpaper also makes its way onto the background -- symbolic as it reflects the flower, bringing to mind family and the loss of a underlying concept.

Honestly, at this point, I'm starting to sweat a little. I'm not feeling it. The strokes are competing with the wallpaper pattern, and the delicate, yet dramatic lighting isn't coming across to my liking. Plus, all the marks are getting in the way of the composition. I can't tell what I'm supposed to be looking at.

With hesitation, I ask Becca, "Do you have any thoughts on what's happening?"

Much to my relief, she sees the challenges, but also really likes what's happening. Looking beyond my insecurities about the less-than-visible composition, she's keen on the imperfections and the drawn-from-life impact shining through.

Not only does this bode well for the salvation of the piece, it also means I may avoid ending our internship on a stinker.

However, I still need to address my concerns. After trial and error, I realize the lighter shapes need to be better defined, and the darker shapes need the same treatment. The whole piece needs to become more graphic, in my eyes. The reason for this is, the marks, while expressive, shouldn't override the composition and story. They should help tell the story and not create visual confusion. Without this further definition, I am confused. If I'm confused, others are going to be confused.

Confusion = bad illustration.

Several hours later, a little adjustment, a little hint of color, and I'm feeling it.

Feeling it = blog-worthy illustration

Now, a hopefully-not-too-self indulgent word about my extraordinary summer.

As mentioned above, and throughout this blog, I've been fortunate enough to be working with Becca Johnson, an illustration student from the Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah, Georgia, as my first ever intern.

This means I've finally given myself permission to admit I have enough of a workload to keep 2 people busy, nearly full-time.

Going into our internship, I knew she should serve the role of my business partner, not just a "lowly" grunt-work-doing intern. This is the only way our internship can work, in my eyes. There is no point in limiting her role, especially since any intern of mine, not from the Forsyth, Missouri area, will need to commit to an extended duration in the middle of nowhere -- picturesque to be sure, but culture-shock nowhere, nonetheless. This kind of investment on Becca's part deserves everything I can possibly share in return. Plus, this should foster the best environment for learning.

So, we set forth with a daunting to-do list, and she became my business partner for 2 short, intense months.

64 days later, our list of accomplishments for Allan Burch Illustration is quite impressive, by anyone's standards, and will continue to resonate for months to come. A partial list includes: conceptualizing and executing a very creative (and very cool) direct mail promotional campaign, creating a thoughtfully crafted on-line limited edition print shop, and confirming two substantial one-person gallery shows.

I consider myself exceedingly fortunate to have crossed Becca's path, and extend to her my sincere thanks for both her outstanding work and for sharing her remarkable talents and resources, at every turn, toward the betterment of Allan Burch Illustration. Thanks, too, for helping me become a better artist, business person, and pseudo-teacher.

See her illustrative work, here.

Hear her vocal work, here.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jersey Girl

This is about love, man, not hate.

Throughout the summer, I've had the opportunity to share my illustration processes and techniques with my outstanding intern, Becca Johnson -- an illustration student at the Savannah College of Art and Design, in Savannah, Georgia.

This week, she also serves as the model for this illustration.

Photo shoots are a major part of my process. I find reference to be key. I also find it infinitely easier to photograph the exact reference I need, rather than try to hunt down something similar.

Becca and I had an opportunity to conduct a minor shoot a few weeks ago, but this week, I wanted to conduct something a little more major.

My goal was to create an illustration befitting the series that includes my existing illustrations: Plenty, Good Enough, and Fistful of Steel. All of which are seen elsewhere on this blog.

Their common denominator being a snapshot of love, hate, or any of the complex emotions that result, therein.

In order to create such an emotive illustration, I outlined a few of my goals for the shoot.

An arresting image
Without a powerful visual, I'm already digging myself out of a hole, with little chance of engaging the viewer.

A real and visceral sense of emotion
This can be a tricky task, especially in a potentially manufactured setting of a photo shoot.

Some of the most beautiful poses come from unplanned, split-second moments in time, revealing nuanced complexity that could never be staged.

A sense of symbolism
I'm looking for a visual cue that will speak volumes to the viewer through an inherent, universal language.

I like to go into my shoots with a general outline, like the one above, but leave plenty of room for the unexpected. That's always when the killer shots happen.

And, killer shots I received.

1.5 hours, hundreds of remarkably emotive poses, and 3 beautiful acoustic songs later (she's an amazing singer/songwriter/performer), I was sitting on 842 juicy photographs, all aching to be turned into illustrations.

Examining each, under the criteria outlined above, I weeded my treasure trove down to the top 12.

The spontaneity of this umbrella pose, coupled with the mood, movement, and composition created by the shapes and values gave it the green light.

My next questions: In what context do I place her, and how do I keep the scene from becoming an obvious "woman in love" shot?

I experimented quite a bit, and found, for both composition and mood trickery, the colors should be subdued and mostly cool, allowing the figure to stand out. A gloomy stage would then set up my emotional twist.

The umbrella and rain against a gray, graffiti-riddled brick wall, hopefully, takes the viewer on a ride that takes a turn when the other contextual clues reveal themselves -- the warm glow of the figure, the alluring posture, and, lastly, the "LOVE" logo on the wall.

The right reference and the right model makes all the difference to me. My enormous thanks to Becca for allowing me this illustration and the many more, sure to come, from what was one of the strongest photo shoots I have had the pleasure of conducting.

Check out Becca's work, here.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Saturday, July 4, 2009

Michael Jackson

Young vs not-so-young.

Performer vs the person.

Decisions, decisions.

Michael Jackson is a very complex figure. How do I do justice to such complexity?

The answer, I believe, is in creating a deceptively simple composition, focusing on the man. Upon dissection, however, I hope one might see a whole host of complexities.

I contemplated illustrating the dancer. There would, indeed, be lots of potential for dynamic illustrations -- movement, lighting, emotion...all right there in any of the kinetic snapshots that were his live performances, videos, and stage appearances.

How about the latter-day MJ? I could exploit the face, no doubt. There are a multitude of stories under his skin. We all know them. If not, they are easily Googleable.

Plus, I'm coming from a place where I remember the spectacle of 1983-ish, when Thriller made him the king.

To me, that era Michael Jackson was Michael Jackson. Slowly, thereafter, he shed that skin, so to speak, and ceased to be that person.

Anyway, I wanted to do a portrait with that person foremost in mind. Yet, I had to include an allusion to his future self and the tribulations that would accompany him.

The guy above is circa late-80s, early-90s. He's starting to transition in appearance, headed toward the downward spiral, but still the young man of whom we took note.

The colors in this illustration are also simple. They are pretty flat, actually. The face has minimal rendering, the shirt is very much a basic red shape, the hair is a basic shape, and the background is a basic gray shape.

They have to be, though. The strokes are very complex. Countering the basics in color are very textured and raw strokes -- evidence of human intervention, and an echoing of the complexities that defined the man.

There is no way a complicated color scheme could have stood a chance. Believe me, I tried. Either the mark or the color had to take dominance.

The mark won.

The gray background speaks to the less-than-vibrant future awaiting him, but the brilliant Thriller red speaks of that which he is about to leave behind.

It's tragic and celebratory, at once.

Lastly, it's in the eyes.

Eye contact is important. We form connections with total strangers by making eye contact. Somehow, I feel like I learn everything about a person in that split second of contact.

As such, I thought it important the viewer be forced to look Michael in the eye while drawing his or her own conclusions about it all.

How much more complex can it get?

My thanks to illustrator, Becca Johnson, whose assistance and artistic input helped bring this illustration to fruition.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Dick Cheney's Melted Mirror Smile

“I think he smells some blood in the water on the national-security issue,” he told me. "It’s almost, a little bit, gallows politics. When you read behind it, it’s almost as if he’s wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point. I think that’s dangerous politics.”

The above quote came from CIA Chief Leon Panetta, in an interview with The New Yorker. In this interview, Panetta responds to Dick Cheney's speech at the American Enterprise Institute, during which Cheney slams the Obama administration for their (in his eyes) less-than-aggressive stance on national security.

Cheney out for blood. I thought this whole story seemed ripe for illustrating.

I also thought the bulk of the story could be told by utilizing his own features.

After doing a search for photos, I landed a few that just said...him. If you've watched him over the years, you know he has some very distinctive features and mannerisms. One of which is his occasionally snarling mouth.

As I continued studying his mug, I began to see the other idiosyncrasies defining his face -- such as how his right eye seems more open than his left, and how his lower teeth seem to form an angular pyramid-like shape.

I enhanced the snarl, and gave him a bit of a canine tooth -- jutting out for all to see, to let you know he means business.

The eyes -- windows to the soul.

The fact that one eye seems larger than the other is somehow perfect. He's looking at you with the left and elsewhere with the right. Both have rocket-shaped highlights.

Lighting became a tool as the spotlight was placed on the tusk-baring mouth.

Saturation also became a tool, to help focus the viewer's attention.

As I settled in to add color, my only direction was the agitating crimsons in the underpainting were must-keeps.

"Painters are dramatists. Every painting needs protagonists and antagonists." ~ landscape artist, Robert Sweeney.

I realized red was the star, here. It was both helping to carry the story and very symbolic -- blood, anger, aggression.

But, there needed to be balance.

A simple spot of blue -- the cool, peaceful antagonist tasked with taming the Dracula-esque former Vice President.


Out for blood?

At least, politically.

Many thanks to my very talented intern, Becca Johnson, whose assistance and artistic input helped bring this piece to fruition.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day

"Say your prayers and light a fire." ~ from 21st Century Breakdown

It would have been easy to illustrate Billie Joe Armstrong, of Green Day, in a very animated pose with mouth a-twistin' to "¡Viva La Gloria!." That's how one expects to see him, right? However, in such a pose, the image starts to become all about the photo. I wanted to bring to life something more contemplative.

Round about 6:56 am, one fine day, I was in my car listening to the song, "Warning," on Lithium (54 on your Sirius-XM dial for XM subscribers). I thought to myself, Billie Joe Armstrong would make an interesting subject for an illustration. This is appropriate timing, too, since his band's latest effort is fresh on our minds.

This summer, I'm fortunate to be working with an amazing young illustrator named Becca Johnson. What better time to jump on Billie Joe, than as a demo?

With bold strokes, I engaged in a process, very cleverly coined by Becca, as "unpainting." It's very proprietary. In fact, I may have already said too much.

After knocking out phase one, we brought the piece into Photoshop, where the process shifted to value and then color.

With repetition, and as I become more comfortable with my process, or style, if you will, I'm always looking to strip away the unnecessary and distill paintings to the essence of what may (or may not) make them work. Glancing through the blog, one thing I notice is Billie's brush strokes are more prominent, and evidence of the human touch is on display with greater note than in some of my prior works.

With color, the obvious would have been to lather this piece in green. It turns out, Billie Joe's eyes are, indeed, green. So, look as you might, the only two spots of the aforementioned color are peering, contemplatively, in your direction.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Fistful of Steel

This was a personal piece, completed for my own entertainment.

I wanted to do something moody, compositionally interesting, and slightly dark, on a number of levels.

I was able to get my hands on a photograph of a young woman, whose pose created some great angles and movement, not to mention some nice play of light and shadows.

Sometimes, I like to accentuate these lines through exaggeration. Here, the exaggerated lines allowed a strong angular composition, complimented with an unusual, vertical shadow on her face.

I liked it.

When working on personal pieces, like Fistful of Steel, I allow myself more freedom to fail. What this means is, I make the mark and I own it -- almost daring it not to work. I place total trust in what abilities I have, let the chips fall where they may, and lay down the stroke -- knowing there is no other place on the page it belongs.

I did indeed lay down some expressive strokes of charcoal to render the gal, and among what resulted was a very textured dappling of marks defining her arm -- bringing to mind a tattoo. So, why not add a tattoo and complete the effect?

This was a fun exercise and a much-needed way to release some creative energy.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Errol Morris

Rummaging through my work, picking out a piece about which to post, I happened upon Errol Morris.

He is perhaps best known as a filmmaker, with works including Gates of Heaven, The Thin Blue Line, and The Fog of War, which won Mr. Morris the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2004.

In 2007, I was lucky enough to illustrate him for the Wall Street Journal.

It was my second piece for the WSJ, and coincidentally enough, was a phone call received on my birthday.

The turnaround time for this piece was 4 days from initial phone call to final art delivery.

The client provided some reference and I did a little research to scour up a few more images with which to use.

The format of this piece was to fit a very narrow space, with roughly 3/4 of the body requested.

With all this in mind, it was time to get started.

"But, who is that handsome devil from the neck down?" I can hear you thinking.

Dusting off my sports coat and semi-dressy attire, I set up my camera and shot myself for the torso.

My photo shoots are all about taking lots of photos from many angles and leaving some to chance. I prefer overkill, weeding the shots down, later, allowing room for those unexpected "accidents," and coming back for a follow-up shoot, if necessary.

I sent off 3 sketches, with the rectangle designating the trim area.




The client chose #3, but with a camera in-hand, rather than the film reel.

New sketch, and with approval, I was now at Tuesday, and off to complete the final art with 2 days left.

Tuesday night and Wednesday are spent completing the art and uploading the final for retrieval first thing Thursday morning.

The WSJ uses a portion of the color work for their website and the work in black and white for the newspaper.

It was a fun project as well as a very nice birthday gift.

Visit Errol Morris' website»

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Timna, in the recently released story from Lucille Travis, published by Herald Press, is the young wife of Noah's son, Shem.

In the story, readers follow Timna as she endures ridicule and struggles with her faith and uncertainty in the journey which she is about to undertake with Noah, Shem, and the rest of his family on the ark. Two stray dogs, Mangy and Thief, defend her from a couple of bad seeds, and find their way both into her life and onto the craft.

I've developed a nice working relationship with Herald Press, and have had the opportunity to illustrate several of their book covers.

This one is aimed at middle-school children, their parents, and teachers.

Timna is freshly on stands, as of April 2009, but in January, my first task was to read through the story, and glean ideas for a cover direction.

The publisher wanted the scene to focus on Timna, the ark, and her two dogs.

I scoured the 'net for inspiration, finding shots of biblical scenes to get a sense of clothing. I also took the opportunity to research Noah's ark, as well as look for any spark of an idea that would make me sleep easy knowing what I was planning to do.

My next immediate pressing concern was setting up a photo shoot. My sincere thanks to Jessica, my enthusiastic co-worker, who graciously posed as young Timna.

A trusty thrift store dress worked marvelously as her robe.

The head scarf she brought along was a must. It would add a bit of mystery to the face and create some nice flowing movement. Plus, it would be very time-period appropriate.

I like to go into my photo shoots with some idea of general direction, but I leave plenty of room for accidents to happen. As a result, I tend to take hundreds of photos, hoping at least a handful will be above and beyond my greatest expectations.

She patiently posed standing, sitting, and kneeling; petting and feeding her imaginary dogs; looking pensively in many directions, with and without props, while I shot from a multitude of angles.

An hour and a half later came the moment of truth.

Opening Adobe Bridge, I scour the 400+ photos, looking for shots that resonate on a cellular level. Late in the series, my model is kneeling and turning to face the camera, looking down, with a beautiful splash of light catching the left side of her face.

I love these.

Hopefully, they will be the chosen ones.

Now, I have Timna, and I can surely scare up some dogs. What about this ark? How will I include it and its horizontal proportions into my vertical and small format without simply looking like a close-up of lumber?

It must be shown small enough so as to recognize.

How about l put Timna on a hill, so we are looking down on the ark in the distance? That will also give me an expansive landscape to include coming storm clouds, with rays of sunshine peeking through -- further telling the story of uncertainty and hope, and an obvious hinting of the impending storm.


Five color-comps later, I await the client's approval.

Will they like them?

They like them. And, they like my favorite. Except...please place her left hand on the lying dog, open her eyes a bit more, ditch the distant water, and alter the dogs' colors.

A few supplemental photos and one revised comp later, I'm on to the final art.

The sketch phase is where the bulk of the work takes place, in my view. Once all the decisions are made, making the final illustration is the easy part.

The final art was crafted with a combination of acrylic paint on illustration board mixed with Photoshop.

The warm palette helps further bring a sense of optimism to the scene.

I personally like the way the illustration turned out, and would say it is my favorite of the covers I have done for this client.

As always, I'm appreciative for the opportunity and for Herald Press' continued confidence in what I bring to their project.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Friday, April 3, 2009

Jose Reyes of the New York Mets

Jose Reyes of the New York Mets is part of the 2008 MLB Masterpieces series of baseball cards from the Upper Deck Company.

Of those I created for the series, this illustration is one of my favorites.

In addition to the rust and green color palette and active composition -- both of which appeal to me -- the three figures bring an interesting story to the viewing experience.

He seems to be safe, up there.

The original is an acrylic on canvas painting, at a size of 8 inches x 10 inches. Working at a smaller size poses a few challenges. The first, and most important one, becomes rendering a likeness at a diminished size. In this painting, the heads are about 1 inch tall.

Proportions, angles, and value patterns are the key. These are, obviously, important keys when working large, but, when those are lost at a tiny size, it becomes especially hard to sell the likeness.

I also focused on keeping the focal point on Mr. Reyes. You'll find the lightest lights and darkest darks reserved for him, as well as the most detail. The umpire and Mr. Randa are ever so slightly less detailed and toned back. The back wall and crowd become more graphic shapes, with the layering and peeking through of paint creating the illusion of more detail.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Friday, March 20, 2009

Joshua Palmer for USD Magazine

Marine 1st Lt., Joshua M. Palmer, 25, of Banning, California, lost his life due to injuries received from hostile fire in Al Anbar Province, Iraq on April 8, 2004. He graduated from the University of San Diego with a Bachelor's degree in international relations.

This illustration was done for an "In Memoriam" section for USD Magazine.

I've been fortunate to develop a great relationship with the University of San Diego Magazine, and have been lucky enough to create many illustrations for them over the years, including several "In Memoriam" pieces.

For obvious reasons, when many days are Memorial Days for families around the world, this illustration of Mr. Palmer was an honor to do, and a tiny way in which I can pay respect to Joshua and those who serve our country.

I didn't know Joshua, but researching him later, I found him to be a remarkable young man.

He loved to read, was multi-lingual (English, Spanish, and Chinese), and was engaged to be married.

What follows below is an excerpt from his memorial service, and a reminder of the real stories of those we sometimes take for granted. The rest of his story may be read, here.

On April 8th, in the afternoon, Josh’s convoy began taking sniper fire as they entered Fallujah. Josh was a first lieutenant, and led a group of men. Some of the men in the convoy, from another lieutenant’s unit, were injured by the sniper fire. It was determined that someone needed to hunt down the snipers and kill them, before they killed any of the men in the convoy. Josh had been trained in sniper hunting, and volunteered. He led a small group of men into the area where the snipers were. They pinpointed the snipers’ location and ran to the building were the snipers were located. Josh didn’t hesitate, he just ran. When they got there, they began clearing rooms with grenades. When they got to the room where the snipers were, Josh insisted on being in front. Usually officers stay in the back, because their lives are considered more valuable. But Josh had always said that he would never send his men somewhere he wouldn’t go himself, and the test of a true leader was whether or not he led from the front. It was known that there was a very high chance that the person in front would be shot, as they were so close to the snipers, and the snipers were waiting for them. Josh still went in front. He probably knew that he was going to be shot, but he wouldn’t allow someone else to die when he could have prevented it. So he leaned forward and threw the grenade. As he did, he fell a little bit forward, and was shot many times all up his left side and into his neck. Immediately his men pulled him back, and killed the sniper who had shot Josh, the other two snipers were taken prisoner. They pulled Josh to a safe location, where he eventually bled to death.

My best to the Palmers, as well as Joshua's extended family and friends, as we near the 5-year anniversary of his passing.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Friday, February 27, 2009

Barack Obama for American Legacy Magazine

My favorite images to blog about are those with an interesting story.

On November 21, 2008, I had an appointment to have my car worked on. It was a Friday.

I always make it a point to try and check my voicemail throughout the day. I feel it's important to be available to my clients at all times -- communication is a priority for me.

I had gone a few hours between checking messages. In fact, it turned out to be much of the afternoon, uncharacteristically. It was now nearing the end of business hours on the east coast, and I was sitting contently in my freshly attended-to (and now paid-off) vehicle.

Speed-dialing home, I find a message from American Legacy Magazine about a President Barack Obama cover illustration assignment for the Spring '09 issue. Immediately, I return the call, but they had closed for the week, leaving me the weekend to stew over the confirmation of this fantastic-sounding job.

Upon contacting them the following week, I learned, due to the unfortunate time lapse, they had to assign the job to another illustrator.


I've had projects with a sensitive timeline be assigned to another artist in the past when I was unable to return the phone call soon enough. I'll admit, it is a deflating sensation. This one was no different. In fact, it rated about an 8 on my disappointment scale. How often do I have the opportunity to do a cover illustration of a sitting U.S. President, let alone a cover commemorating the historic nature of his election?

But, I'm resilient. More great jobs would come, I thought to myself.

Fast-forward to Monday, December 22. I'm preparing to hit the road to see my family for the holidays. I receive a phone call from American Legacy Magazine. For whatever reason, they need to re-assign the Obama cover job. Time was short. Would I be interested?


Since time was so short, they wanted to use my existing Obama illustration as a base, and have 4 other influential African-American figures in the background (clockwise from upper-right):

Frederick Douglass -- former slave and American abolitionist
Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. -- civil rights leader
Malcom X -- Muslim minister and human rights activist
Mary McLeod Bethune -- American educator and civil rights leader

I take care of some confirmation of engagement business, pack a few more illustration-making supplies, and hit the road, very delighted for this opportunity.

Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy working on illustration projects and conducting my business over the holidays. I know deadlines don't stop for the holidays, so I like to be an illustrator that an art director can count on during such times.

Amidst the festivities, I had my laptop open, researching imagery and compositing sketches.

The client sent a rough mock showing Obama in-place, as they'd like him.

My challenge came in posing the figures in ways that worked together in both composition and lighting.

I thought Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X should be the largest figures, respectively, as they are arguably the most well-known.

Starting with this in mind, I posed everyone in ways that led the eye toward Obama. I varied the size relationships and poses, settling on 3 sketches/color comps, which I sent off on Christmas Eve.

sketch #1

sketch #2

sketch #3

On December 27, as I was on the road again to my various additional holiday-visiting destinations, I received notice through my trusty Treo, that sketch #3 was exactly what they had in mind.

My art director was also conducting business during his holiday time.

My next task was to begin the final art. Luckily, my friend, whom I visit every year around New Year's, is familiar with my work-a-holic nature. She also happens to be an artist, so studio space was not a problem.

I was graciously allowed to work -- which I did, painting the 4 background figures and beginning the compositing process. Upon returning home, I finalized the art on the comfort of my primary monitor.

The main challenge with the final came in the aforementioned compositing of the new figures with my existing Obama illustration. It was important to take these separate components and make them work as one new cohesive work, making sure Obama didn't look cutout.

Keeping the background figures monotone -- cool on the left and warm on the right to echo the lighting on Obama's face -- keeps them in the background and not in competition for attention with the new President.

It's always gratifying to receive thanks from a client after a job, although it's certainly not necessary.

Upon receipt of the file, my art director generously emailed me to say thanks and voice his pleasure for the final art. But he also mentioned something that put the icing on this very wonderful project.

Upon completion of the final cover layout, the staff broke out in cheers and clapping when it was shown.

Certainly, much of it had to do with the project's closure after a stringent, holiday-buffered time constraint, but I like to think the art played a tiny part in that response.

The folks at American Legacy were terrific, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have worked with them on this, in my opinion, historic cover.

copyright 2009 Allan M. Burch

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Friday, February 20, 2009


This is all about vulnerability.

When depicting the female form, most of the time there is an automatic sexual component to the symbolism.

What I'm trying to do with this piece is lead the viewer on a ride that looks like we're headed towards that end, but as the composition is dissected, the intended meaning is exposed.

When I happened upon Nathalie Mark's photograph (the reference for this illustration), I saw just that. And, it was very powerful to me.

In my view, one cannot stage the purity and honesty of an unguarded moment, no matter how hard one tries. One can come close, but there is a last bit of integrity that comes through in such true moments.

With foot rested on the window sill, her relaxed, yet partially deflated posture says she is not trying to be anything to anyone. Furthermore, she is staring back at you -- expressionless and non-judgemental -- daring you to draw your own conclusions, invoke your own expressions, and make your own judgements, while forcing you to see her as a person rather than an object.

My challenge was in capturing this dichotomy and making it all about vulnerability, rather than sexuality.

The emotion that I'm banking belied the taking of the photograph, channeled into me as I rendered the illustration with some of the most unguarded strokes I have ever used in an illustration.

I believe that sort of raw emotion seeps in, through the human mark left on the paper -- another bit of the power of illustration.

There is just the slightest distortion in the form to add an undefinable touch of awkwardness to the scene. My color choice further attempts to shift the mood my direction. And, the text brings communication -- the power of words -- into the equation.

What are you saying...what is she thinking? What was said to inflict the hurt and make her remove all guard?

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Good Enough

"The way I used to love you
Baby, that's the way I hate you now."

--B. B. King, from the song, "You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now."

Quite frankly, there are plenty of opportunities out there to see the cozy side of Valentine's Day. What about the other side?

One of my favorite artistic techniques to call attention to something is to bring to mind its opposite.

How do you call to mind the opposite of love? Is love always a good thing?

Assuming for a moment that it is, what is that minute like when one realizes things have gone toxic?

Maybe it looks like this.

This is a charcoal study for a painting I have planned.

What's endlessly fascinating to me about this pose is its honesty, coupled with the tension in the body, which is also reflected in the tussled explosion of hair and gnarled hands keeping it from bursting from its seams.

The attractive woman is not attractive in her polka-dotted spaghetti strap summer dress. The revealing flesh and contours of the back, accentuated by the straps, digging in and winding their way around the scapulae, is nothing but vulnerable, as it sits exposed on her unkempt bed, doubled over in absolute grief.

This image is a collaborative effort with Photographer, Nathalie Mark.

I was thinking about the other side of Valentine's Day and what kind of imagery would speak to utter toxicity.

Turning to the web for some inspiration, I happened upon a photograph that wound-up being the reference for this illustration.

I saw incredible potential in a shot that, intended or not, captured something very pure and very emotional, and something that would be very difficult for me to otherwise stage. Plus, the supplemental components (the dress, bed, lighting, room decor) were perfect, and exceptionally ripe for storytelling, in my eyes.

I decided I had to go to the source and see if the photographer would grant permission for me to use the photo as reference for part of a series of illustrations I am planning.

Ms. Mark was very gracious, and we worked out an arrangement granting me such permission.

This is the study.

Some other elements will be added to the painting, to further enhance the story, but as a drawing, I think the power in the pose comes across.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Snake Charmer

I like this image. I want you not to like a way.

I want you to feel uneasy looking at it. I'd love if you felt the grime and grit oozing off your screen, onto your hand and that new trackball wireless mouse with which you are hopefully using to scroll and read more.

Warm and welcoming are two words I'm hoping are absent from your thoughts as you look over this illustration.

Aside from a slight tone, there is no color, no warmth. The charcoal I used to draw him echos the dirt and ash smeared across his cheek. The vantage point is chilling. The gun points and his unfeeling eyes are meant to knife through you, as they pierce the shadow of his helmet with the look of someone who's done this before.

What an awful last sight to see, as you -- the viewer, the target -- prepare for the anticlimactic pop of the pistol, and try to find something human about him to latch onto.

Theatrics aside, this was done as a sample for a project proposal. The client provided some photographic reference, on which this image is based.

The dirty texture was important. There needed to be a layer obscuring the viewer's eyes from any niceness of the charcoal on paper drawing. There had to be that splash of movement in the background, setting an active mood and defining the mess that exists in his world. The illustration ached to look as if it had been drug through the gray muck of some foreign shore to echo the distant and gritty mood of the wartime encounter and help further tell this man's story.

This is one of the series of samples I created for this proposal. Two of the others can be seen here and here.

Working on them allowed me to experiment with very expressive content and very dramatic and unique points of view -- which are 2 aspects of the magic of illustration.

Technically speaking, after completing the charcoal drawing, the tone and texture was added in Photoshop. I did much experimenting with various texture treatments in order to attain the right combination of splatter, movement, and filth.

His piercing eyes and steely, chilling expression were very important. There is a fine line between an emotionless expression and a chilling expression. I believe his tells, arguably, the bulk of the story.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Willie Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers

On this blog, I've posted a few of the illustrations I was fortunate to complete for the Upper Deck 2008 NFL Heroes series.

I think my favorite of the bunch is Willie Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Apropos, since they happen to be facing-off against the Arizona Cardinals at Super Bowl 43 in Tampa, Florida next Sunday.

The color palette, texture, and pose all contribute to my favoring this painting.

Technically, I was also feeling pretty good about the way I was approaching these paintings by now, and my overall confidence level was high. Confidence tends to show in one's painting, just as it shows in any aspect of one's chosen endeavor.

I had settled into a nice layering technique that allowed a translucence, shown in the yellows in the jersey as well as the skin tones.

One challenge facing me with this painting was size. The completed illustration was done on an 8" x 10" canvas. Therefore, the face only occupied a small fraction of that area. My liner brush served me well, here.

I use acrylic paints for my color work -- atypical from many illustrators who tend to favor oils. I enjoy the quick drying capabilities of acrylic, as well as the challenge of figuring out how to manipulate it.

To my paint, I add a slow dry retarder, which allows me to manipulate it for a longer time than without. This additive also makes the paint very sensitive to being lifted off -- even with the most gentle of washes. A heavy hand can ruin the most beautifully laid spontaneous mark.

That little bit of loss of control brings just enough tension to the process to keep it interesting -- for me, at least.

Allan Burch is an award-winning illustrator and portrait artist, providing solutions for editorial, book, advertising, and institutional projects.
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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Minor Myers, jr.

In 2003, Illinois Wesleyan University commissioned me to illustrate Minor Myers, jr. for the cover of a commemorative issue of Illinois Wesleyan University Magazine. Mr. Meyers was the highly-regarded 17th President of the University, from 1989 until his death from cancer in 2003 at age 60.

In 2008, the University unveiled the Minor Myers, jr. Welcome Center. For this building, and in his honor, IWU commissioned me to paint the official presidential portrait of Mr. Myers.

It was an amazing honor, and I am very appreciative for the opportunity.

I went about this painting a little differently than others. The final product was acrylic on linen canvas at a size of 24" x 30."

The first step was the sketch/color comp.

Details were very important, from the distinctive shape of his reading glasses to the kind and color of shirt he frequently wore.

Other important points were the slight mischievous smile he carried and the sparkle in his eye, as if he had just told a joke. He was a musician, and his fingers were slight in structure. He loved books, so the library was a perfect setting.

The painting needed to glow.

I worked from photographic reference provided by the client.

Several rounds of sketches took place before I proceeded to the final.

One of my first challenges was the color -- warm vs. cool. Typically, I think a painting is most successful if it tends toward one temperature, with less of the opposite to balance things. Most of my works are warm in tone, with just enough cool to balance the thermometer.

Warm colors tend to advance while cools recede. As the shirt and clothing in the foreground was primarily cool, that presented a bit of a challenge, considering the books were to be mostly warm, reflecting a glowing implied light coming from off the right side of the page.

I thought it important, then, to: 1) subdue the background warmth just enough so as not to bring it forward and throw the planes out of balance; and 2) bring some slight reddish tones to the blue in his shirt (in the reflected light and in an overall reddish shift in the shirt's hue), to echo the reds in the background.

Upon approval of the sketch, I did a small painting on an 8" x 10" canvas. My goal was to identify any potential problems that might occur with a larger painting, in color or technique.

Things worked out pretty well, so I proceeded to the final canvas.

Such a pristine canvas. There's always an element of nerves about laying that first stroke, forever turning things into a state of chaos, which I then spend the rest of my painting experience trying to straighten out...or, at least that's how I tend to feel.

I have painted a number of much larger murals (20, 40...80 ft-long), so one would think the anxiousness of digging into a pristine canvas for the first time would subside. Since other artists seem to echo this experience, to some degree, I guess the tendency is ingrained.

The head and hands are always quite critical, if not the most critical things about painting the figure. If they are inaccurate, the integrity of the rest of the piece is ruined -- especially critical when those who will be judging and viewing them, daily, are those who knew every arch of the brow and bend of the finger.

This was a particularly busy time for me, in my business, so there were many late nights and all-nighters involved with this painting. I mention that because the environment of my life at the time of a painting is just as instilled in my memory as is every stroke on that canvas.

One slightly memorable moment for this painting came toward the latter stages. It was about 4am on a Monday morning. I was having a tough time keeping myself conscious. For no good reason, I don't drink coffee, or ingest much in the way of caffeine. However, I keep some tea around. As that was my best bet for a jolt of alertness, I decided to brew myself a cup. Heck, I was feeling pretty tired, so why not double up and use 2 bags?

I'll explain why -- because I felt like I shed a layer or two of stomach lining between 4:30 and 5:00 am.

I survived, though, and kept painting the rest of the day.

Just a few days later, I boxed the final product and shipped it to the school, where it was part of the building's grand opening in October 2008.

Again, I am very appreciative of Illinois Wesleyan University for the honor of participating in this project.

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