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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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Illustration West 47



January 1, 2009.

I'm doing whatever I do on a New Year's day -- watching football, watching news, watching snow not fall, or perhaps other equally interesting activities -- when my left front Levis pocket begins to vibrate, sometime around noonish. No troubles...just my Palm Treo letting me know of an incoming email.

It's New Year's, for Pete's sake, let the email be, one could argue.

One may be right, but, as we all know, deadlines don't wait for the holidays.

But, this particular email was not job-related. It was a notification that two of my works had been accepted to the Illustration West 47 juried annual and exhibition.

Illustration West is a product of the Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles, and one of the 4 shows to which I submit work every year in hopes of acceptance. American Illustration, Communication Arts, and the New York Society of Illustrators are the other 3 shows. Of course, there are many other annuals out there, but I try to limit the bleeding to these four.

There are varied arguments to the merits of entering such annuals.

Some don't do it because it's not a good investment of their time and energy, and their industry reputation is well-established.

Others do, because, if accepted, it can be a valuable means of advertisement -- being nestled amongst some of the highest quality work of the year, as judged by a panel of industry peers.

Being accepted to the (major) shows can also be viewed as a means of validation -- that one's art is relevant in 2009 and that a body of respected figures in our field deems one's work worthy to pass a certain standard of excellence.

Some of my earliest experiences in discovering illustrators came from perusing the annuals in the cozy little reading room in the Design building on the campus of Iowa State University. Gary Kelly, Brad Holland, Mark English, and Guy Billout lit up the pages and captivated my attention to their problem-solving skills and technical wizardry.

So, for me, the annuals hold particular value, and their entry fees remain part of my yearly budget.

Knock on wood, I've had some nice luck with the IW shows, and I'm very appreciative for having these two pieces selected for this year's annual.

All work will be displayed on-line at, and exhibited at Gallery Nucleus in March.

If you'd like to read about them, you may check out my addiction monkey here, and Voyeurism 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, January 3, 2009

John Elway of the Denver Broncos

John Elway was the quarterback for the Denver Broncos from 1983-1999, winning Superbowls XXXII and XXXIII in '98 and '99, and voted the Superbowl MVP of XXXIII. In 2004, he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

Having attended the Kansas City Art Institute in the early '90s, I was required to not be a fan of the Broncos. As a fan of the Chiefs, I watched in consternation as Elway would lead the Broncos through many a last minute charge for winning scores, sometimes against the Chiefs. It's easy to forget Kansas City had a few decent teams in the '90s -- failing to do much once reaching the playoffs, but that's all stuff for my non-art blog.

This painting was part of the 2008 NFL Heroes series for The Upper Deck Company.

It was actually the first painting I completed for the series. It was, more accurately, the first, and not the first. I did start with John Elway, but as I motored my way through my roster of paintings, and found my groove, I decided I could do better with John.

It doesn't happen very often -- that I re-paint an illustration -- but in this case, I had a bit of extra time. And, I couldn't turn out something substandard, especially if I had an opportunity to make it right.

In particular, I felt I could add a bit more spontaneity (and a change of color) to the background. I also thought I could handle the jersey better -- more life, form, and color in the shadow areas. In addition, I had locked into, through repetition, what I thought was a cool way to handle white jerseys that I hadn't figured out in that first attempt.

White jerseys, red, black, and blue all became a science in color choice and in layering my washes over a textured canvas that accepts paint much differently than the illustration board I typically work with.

So, re-paint, I did.

And, posting, I am.

It was a very fun project, and one for which I am very grateful for the opportunity to have participated.