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.
View more of his work»
Sign-up for his newsletter»
Purchase prints»