So, the Horn Helmed Watcher (‘Theo’ to his friends), who casts a baleful eye over my artistic efforts, has recalled his imps and granted permission to draw aside the veil on my latest effort. The original idea from Theo was this same rider – a Stormlander – with a captive dwarf, getting ready to defend himself against a pair, possibly three or maybe even four very angry trolls charging across a river and making a hell of a fuss whilst doing it. As the more observant of you have no doubt picked up on, we have obviously arrived too late or too early and there has not being enough rainfall making its way down from the mountains to create a raging torrent.. Sometimes one has to be a little bit realistic, and though the initial idea promised lots of nail biting action, exciting application of paint and probably throwing too much caution to the winds, a simple soul like me often finds himself attracted to the more quiet moments. Water is hard enough to paint as it is, without three or possibly four angry trolls splashing their way through it, so common sense prevailed and I settled for the marginally less daunting task of mirror like reflections. The captive dwarf made an escape as well. The back up design had a swathe of dead Stormlanders scattered about, enabling a possible revenge scenario to creep in. A kind of Eastwood/Man with No Name moment where everything is suddenly silent, and twitching eyes fill the screen. Very sensibly, the Stormlanders were spared and a single reindeer was sacrificed instead. I love painting animals, even when bereft of life, and he gives a subliminal message as to the kind of eco system we are roaming around in.
I had a very clear, sudden idea of how I wanted my big guy to look, so trying to coax it out of my imagination and into a two dimensional existence was the first job. I always feel that if I can get the character wrestled into someone – or thing that I can believe in, then the rest of the picture and narrative falls into place. So, apart from some tiny, eye damaging, stamp sized thumbnails (that I can’t find now – they were so small!), these were the only scribblings I did before I drew it up, stretched the paper and started painting. Usually there are a lot more, but it,s amazing how you can streamline the creative process and speed things up when you discard captive dwarves, rampaging trolls and piles of dead bodies.
Horses. Buggers to draw. Initially all four legs were on the ground, but it made him look way too nonchalant in the face of potential violence, so I raised that back one just to imply a slight apprehension, skittishness and readiness to move at high speed if required to do so. His backbone seems short of a couple of vertebrae – so you can see in the final painting that it underwent a tiny little lengthening.
This was the final drawing before it all goes under the tap to soak, tape down and so stretch when dry.
I would like to be able to boast that this was my first pass after after one or two frantic – yet fun filled – hours with my trusty hogs hairs, but, as so often has being the case I completely forgot to take any progress shots. My trusty little hand held camera was there, ready and waiting, but once I got to mixing colours and doing my landscape gardener thing, I actually start having fun imagining myself tramping all over the hills, dales, valleys and mountains and tend to concentrate on the journey, rather than trying to document it. Sorry about that. Truth be told, the first daubings and splashing around resulted in a rather more green and pastural landscape that I was quite happy with, but it was not right. It rather gave off the feeling of a landscape that, loaded with sandwiches and a thermos flask of tea, one could quite happily go rambling around in without running the risk of encountering anything more potentially threatening than blank eyed sheep. Not what we want at all. And – it was also at this point I was toying with the idea of replacing the requested scene of carnage with the poor reindeer, so a landscape that he would have been happy in would be necessary. Well – he wouldn’t have been happy in it for long – but these things matter. Because I felt I had nailed the main two characters I was quite happy to start the painting without really knowing what I was going to do with the rest of it. Life on the creative edge – eh?
By the way, for those more inquisitive souls amongst you – the two characters are masked off with some masking film, which peels off when I need it to. Very useful stuff, which enables much carefree and happy splashing of paint – without having to worry about trying to preserve certain areas as splash-free zones.And for those more technical minded souls amongst you – I must apologise for the not brilliant photos. A while ago I did invest in a better camera and some lights. They are both now serving as dust collectors. The camera had a bewildering number of options on it. Far too many for my poor brain to deal with, and the lights – well – I won,t even go there. My much loved studio plants are still showing signs of a cataclysmic shock. So, when I remember to down brushes and do it, it,s with a hand held job that does the best it can.
I need to have the “stage” in place and dressed for my protagonists to romp around in, so here you can see a bit of gardening going on. Always love doing this. It’s a kind of travelling process with the brush and paint finding little paths where I imagine myself going……” I’ll just clamber over this rock here, noticing the beautiful lichens and mosses on it, go around it and trip up in this patch of heather and careful not to stub my toes on the stones here and fall head first into the tarn. Should be able to work my way up the valley if I follow the ridge here up to that scree……..just stop for an egg sandwich and a cup of tea up on the top there…….” and so it goes. ( Technical Note:I had to turn the painting upside down and sideways whilst painting the sky so that it matched the real one.)
So, well into my travels now, I stop and try and add some details to try and establish some distance, both with colour and clarity. Simple stuff that the naked eye does in the real world without any prompting. You know the drill…colours fade a little in the distance as do hard, sharp edges. So a little bit of planting some slightly more intensely coloured tundra foliage in the foreground and fading the colours out into the distant peaks.
So – feeling my stage was reasonably well dressed and ready for action, I deemed it necessary to block in our main protagonist. Part of me could have stayed roaming around the hills brush in hand, but by now the pressure is on to bring him on stage and make him work. I could see him very clearly in my minds eye – albeit from a safe distance – but for me it is always make or break time with this kind of initial painting of characters. I mean, he’s a bit of a focal point isn’t he – so he’d better be good. I don’t work from colour studies. My brain had already enjoyed itself colouring in the sketch that my imagination had supplied it with, so – throwing caution to the winds and trying to invoke a feeling of confidence, I just get stuck in, adjusting colour and tone to make him fit the environment. All those myriad of subliminal decisions that we all make constantly when we just want to end up with a pretty picture.
So, then I knew I had put off our hero and the horse he rode in on for too long, and couldn’t avoid blocking him in anymore. Him and his trusty steed, not really being fantasy as our little community understands it, bought on another “make or break” moment. A realistic human or animal is more difficult to make believable than something that is allowed or expected to have a big nose and well worn, oversize teeth. It’s easier and fun trying to gift outrageous creations with the gift of life and veneer of believability. Whilst this, sometimes rather desperate blocking in is going on, I am constantly distracting myself with little bits of landscape gardening. Some nips and tucks that often don’t make it to the final cut, but provide necessary stepping stone along the way to help me get there. So – in spite of the slightly less than professional photos, those eagle-eyed amongst you might be able to discern the very subtle little changes happening very organically throughout the painting.
Pretty self-explanatory – this one. Another pressure point of trying not to mess up his face or over work it. Just got to get him as he was floating around in my imagination……….and that bloody arm. There was no getting away from having to make his elbow work. Not really anything to hide it behind. Luckily the first pass seemed to establish it without any serious anatomical impossibilities clamouring to be heard – so I didn’t have to fall back on giving him sleeves (which would only have presented a nightmare of trying to paint believable folds. There’s never an easier route whilst trying to avoid difficulties).
A general tightening up going on now and adding fun details before my eyes decided they had had enough.
Same tightening up of our Stormlander and giving him his hard earned and well deserved trinkets, tools of the trade and more importantly – attitude. All the while, mind you, tweeking the landscape to create pleasing, probably invisible relationships between – well – between everything really.
Here was decision time again – and the reindeer won through (thanks Theo). I did one or two very quick splodges on a little piece of cellophane overlay to see which way the unfortunate animal should be pointing, and where his antlers would look best sticking up. Both the real ones and the dreaded reflected ones. No photos, but it was interesting and surprising just how big a difference their placement made to the whole painting. You’ll just have to trust me that I got it right. I think there are still lots of little landscape twiddlings going on here as well.
A close up of the poor reindeer.
And – pretty much finally – a close up of our Stormlander.
So – another little look into my world, and the ones I enjoy trying to bring to life. Promise I will try to remember to take one or two more early – and focused – progress shots for next time. Thanks for looking in, and all the best. Paul.