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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