- This is a spoiler-free post, so if you’ve not seen the show’s finale, don’t fear, but I do assume anything more than a year past is fair game. My philosophy generally speaking is if you’ve not caught up to at least that point by now, and you’re reading articles on the internet about it, that’s on you
Like most I only came to George RR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series after the HBO series adaptation had begun, hungry for more in the summer after the finale of the first season, it caught me like a wildfire and I inhaled every volume since. The scale of world building while balancing the essential value of private characters is never an easy thing… to contain bot enormous and small and move between them both is no mean feat, and the show managed to adopt this talent in its adaptation. It’s been a few months since this series was first posted and concluded and it’s allowed me time to reflect on it, where it succeeded and where it didn’t;t, and has been a major demarcation line in the long running 52 Weeks Project that has also forced me to halt it and self examine it’s purpose and origins.
As a story man myself, I have a particular passion for watching adaptations of stories whether they move from novels to comics or to tv or film or wherever, I find there’s no greater crucible for the value of a favorite story than when it is forced through translation into another medium, and HBO’s Game of Thrones was particularly rewarding for that. SO much has to be cut or characters fused together, added and shrunk… it takes a truly deft hand to be able to achieve this and not combat the source material. It’s a rare gift for sure and one that does not always guarantee success as say in the case of The Expanse novels and their remarkable series not he small screen, and previously in the clumsy attack of Phillip Pullman’s brilliant The Golden Compass by it’s film adaptation. HBO managed what seemed impossible and while wrapping up with no small level of controversy, (though I still suspect whatever legitimate complaints about the final season were hyper-fueled by the grief of its ending at all).
I had intended to do a series like years ago in fact, originally schemed to occur somewhere after the first Twin Peaks series, but life gets in the way, work conspires against play of this scale and given the assuredness of the series’ future there seemed no rush. I would also like to honestly point out that as much as Sam Weber’s brilliant work on his Folio Society DUNE book contributed to my own waiting to do portraits from that book, so too Donato Giancola’s brilliant ongoing paintings from the novels as well as Gary Gianni and more recently, Jonathan Burton’s terrific looking edition also from Folio of the first book, A Game of Thrones. These are intimidating benchmarks to try and meet and in some part what made me choose to feature a celebration of the tv show over the books. These characters were so well cast, they became indelible to how I see them in the novels, and celebrating that pop culture tornado seemed a fun challenge to strike at.
When I started I wasn’t quite sure how long the series would run. There could easily be 52 weeks worth of material given the huge cast of characters, but it seemed unlikely given my prior commitments and work schedule to go that far. I originally began the 52 Weeks Project as a kind of escape from the drudgery of having made daily art making my career, but these last couple of years have yielded a kind of impossible and perfect burden of being filled with work that I so love doing and is so widely varied I never feel the same need for the project as I once did. In fact it’s beginning was sparked at last by a private original drawing commission of Danaerys Targaryan for a collector, and having completed it got so excited by the prospect of doing another from the show I decided to take the window of opportunity in the schedule, and chase the fever of the moment. I never imagined managing to create more than twenty four portraits in a mere month’s time, but that was all the time, but somehow once the dam breached it was a flood.
Part of what made things move so fast was a combination of the playground of techniques used in the Twin Peaks series THE WHITE LODGE, (which was later selected by Lynch, Showtime and ABC to be made into a limited edition print series for Mondo), but also the mere fact of having had time to read through all the available novels as well digest seven seasons worth of the show. It meant being able to, like the Twin Peaks work, dive in fully into the manner of the execution rather than the research and practice of figuring out who’s who. The piece that kicked it all off was this first one here of Daenerys.
I immediately went to do this portrait of Arya, more or less from around her time after Bravos and when she was first on the road with the Hound. Part of the fun and the challenge was to sort out where to pluck these characters from. Whereas the Hound might be seen as running a rather steady line throughout the run of the show, Arya, Sansa and Dany grew and changed massively and sometimes more than once. That meant there was a lot to play with but also choices that would essentially alienate those who had fixed ideas of who a character was, or worse, that this was all to be entirely up to date with the exact moments of the last season. Lucky for me part of the superpowers of a self assigned drawing project like this, I am beholding to no other opinion whatsoever, so I tended to chase the images as I prefer regardless of order and place. To me here, Arya at the culmination of her powers but not quite on the other side of her own legendary self seemed a solid place to go.
For the next few I had decided to chase down Ser Jorah Mormont, and had begun this piece below before deciding to halt it and try another approach that included Dany- seemed wrong somehow not to do this on the outset and the Flowers for Jorah piece had in it’s first try taken a tremendous amount of time in all its detail and seemed unsatisfying at that stage. Again being my own show and rules established entirely by my own hand I decided to make this other and move on with the hope of returning to Jorah later. Which happily I did. I had always intended as well to do a piece featuring his father, Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, but time ran out and he like Hot-Pie, Old Nan and others got left off the train.
On from there carried forth, not really following any particular pattern save for both trying to make one piece speak to another, so for instance, Jon and Ygritte would land together as seen here, or Jaime and Brienne might be found together. Like weird funeral plots for family, but sometimes the desire for a particular character one day just overrode that.
I also wanted to make are as a conscious effort, not to say, do all the big characters at front so the rest was a dwindling set of side efforts. The rules of the game of the series demands that it always remain fun and feeding rather than draining so I left the border of things to follow that desire. I don’t get to always run so free in my day job so any opportunity to indulge myself felt warranted- however much an uptown problem that was or not.
As this series was occurring during the rollout of the final season it caught up with a lot of the hand wringing and trolling that was so ferocious of that time. We all knew and had witnessed the deficit to the show when they had gone past Martin’s books. You can almost note the moment of this in the manner of the dialogue and lightened complexity of the show. There was more than enough momentum to carry through and personally I don’t find the choices they made to be much different from the prior season 7, but the angst and end of the show was at an all time high, and toxically so. It’s always easier to be mad than sad and while there’s clearly some justifiable criticism of the manner by which it ended, I suspect the grief at its end made things rough for many. Silly fan petitions and a constant trolling of the actors and reviews online… made the internet a spike place to be if you were in some form of support of the series, and this project was certainly that. Since email became an inviable resource by which to transmit the 52 Weeks Project as it was back in its first days, this meant swimming in those snarky waters and it wasn’t;t always fun. I generally tried to stay away from the hate, ignore it and likewise ignore some of the mean comments about the work as if it were any old thing I did. The reddit posts, the Instagram trendings and the moment of the show boosted the series to tremendous heights in terms of views and interactions and with that excitement but also with more hate mail and nasty notes and comments I had ever seen before. It kind of surprised me, but whatever small aspect I felt, it was always int he minority. Thank fully. I know some of the cast had to go into hiding from hecklers on the streets and online trolls and that sucks, and whatever pitfalls this brought home to me was infinitesimal to what they went through. But, I rolled on as if none of it occurred because in the end, the rules of the Project provided the exact shelter that was needed.
The most difficult part of it was the instant sellout manner of the original drawings, which I found began to creep inside my head when a piece dropped… and started to pollute my own sense of value in ways I did not want. How could it not? It’s always hard to not to internalize the value of your work with its price it fetches or the speed by which it sells. I found myself at times succumbing to the idea of planning for big sellers against lesser ones. There’s no shame in that consideration but it did and does feel awkward in a series where that is not the intended point or motivator of the effort. So I tried to make sure such considerations were given the respect they’re due- which was hardly much at all. It was the main reason for breaking with the weekly drop rule. A means to get out in front of it and flood the field so those considerations became irrelevant from the flurry of the pieces posting every other day. Luckily while some pieces seemed like obvious successes others were enough of a bafflement that it freed me from thinking there was any way to guess whether a piece of would or not. There’s freedom in that sort of chaos.
As for the process, well it was as my process usually goes. I tend to have a visual image of the piece in my head as a reason to do it and then simply begin to draw it. First with a very hard and light underdrawing using my Staedtler All-X Rite woodless HB pencil, and then coming back in various densities as needed with the Palomino Blackwings or the Tombo 6-8Bs for the super black areas.
I’m always haunted by the cackling Zardoz-like commands of my old Highschool teacher, and head of the art department, Patricia Zetoun who howled like a banshee against what she coined as “mindless shading syndrome”- an illness that afflicts those who when met with large fields of tone simply shut down and scribble brainlessly to fill the space. If you’re doing your job right, there should not ever, be any part pos your drawing that is not given the same attention as another part. When you’re doing pieces like this, while I always begin with the faces- ALWAYS- it doesn’t mean that the fur int he cloak or the solid field of grey at the bottom of Odor’s piece should be given purpose. Even in areas that are pitch black, the original is the point of these pieces and while the scanned and digitized file may not always reflect it, the final will show all the marks, and making those areas rich with attention makes the piece sing in ways it deserves. The originals cannot be fully captured in reproduction and while at first I tried to fix that, I have come to embrace it not as a problem but as an asset. In a world of endless prints and reproductive capability, the ability to make a piece unique unto itself, for me at least, has become and essential value. The 52 Weeks Project is at its base, and original drawing project and being able to fully celebrate that aspect made this kind of consideration a new area to play in rather than a deficit.
I mentioned before starting with the face, and this is a key point if you’re doing a piece like this. The reason is fairly simple: if you don’t get that part right, it doesn’t matter whatever else happens in the page. For the final portrait of Daenerys, I started and restarted her at least four times until I got it right- her visage was such a delicate thing, the light and character so essential. I’ve made the mistake in the past to carry on despite this failure because the rest of the piece was working so well, but have to tried to avoid it, particularly for this series because while in those published instances, I could always cut and paste a redraw in… here I could not. But for a portrait series, the character and our natural desire to immediately be drawn to a face makes getting that right, straight off the bat, essential to the piece’s overall success.
As for the speed and manner, some of these were done in quick order- maybe a day’s work at a time, and others took as many as three days. It depended on a number of factors but one common element was simply the physical requirements of the execution. Robert Baratheon and Robb Stark’s portraits took FOREVER to execute, whereas Tyrion’s and Sansa’s flew like wildfire. You never can tell. And while this is not a production line and I don’t price generally based solely on time spent, it can be a factor for sure.
Some of the cast got in touch throughout the process and some even got their own portrait and that in the end is my favorite and final ruling on the project. It has been a tremendous storm of work and a near incomparable success on a number of levels, and it was a sheer delight to take this on. I hope to complete my missing links… Hot-Pie, Old Nan, Beric Dondarion, Stannis, Littlefinger, etc… (sorry again, there will never be a Rickon. He never had the character enough to make me think of anything that wasn’t him either running in a zigzag, or lying not he ground covered in arrows> So, sorry. Rickon won’t appear), but I may not either. There were some left to tackle for the DUNE series and I still have yet to go to there. It’s a deeply rich set of characters to grab hold of and I could easily go one forever almost with these… It was a lightening in a bottle moment and as personal art projects go and I already miss the fever of it, but I’m blessed to eagerly be able to get on with some of the new projects coming along. More on those later.
It’s also important to note it has in many ways, changed the way I see this drawing series. The 52 Weeks Project was originally just a lark to try and break up the daily task of work related drawing and infuse some fun into the dynamic. At the time, it seemed ridiculous to have to do this because who in their right mind would winge over having to draw everyday for a living? But when your work is your art, your art can become work, and this was always an attempt to return to those childlike touchstones of what got me in to drawing in the first place. It wasn’t ever meant as a financial event, or one ruled by outside desires, but it’s now, years in to doing several iterations of the Project, from Twin Peaks, to Tunes, the Obama portraits, We Dug Coal Together, Dune, and the core original first years to this new Game of Thrones series that despite being an avoidance of work has become my most publicly and financially successful series of works to date. It’s easy then to become confused by it. There’s a terrific line from Alan Moore’s FROM HELL where the con-man mystic fortune teller decries “I made it all up and it came true anyway!” rings here. It invites a pause and self examination whether the core ethic remains intact under the outward pressures of the income and attention. So far in the months since this event, it seems to have held up under scrutiny. To be blunt, at the end of it all it’s a lot like the Mondo and Criterion Collection work I continue to be lucky to indulge in: it’s just fun as hell. I love film and tv stories I love art and drawing and the marrying of them both has been an absolute delight and perfectly times for a nexus of all these separate paths. Nothing was ever done for anything but personal impetus and delight, and sometimes that’s enough. It’s important to check yourself, but not to dwell or self sabotage because you feel an obligation to another person’s idea about what you should be or make as an artist. If you’re lucky enough to have your personal passions collide with a professional opportunity, well that’s the magic rainbow, regardless of what anyone else thinks. This project has and continues to be an affirmation of pushing, whenever possible, to chase what you love, and a reminder that you can still do this while also being publicly and professional cogent and activating to accelerate the effort beyond mere fandom or self indulgence. Any subject can be made a worthy subject in art, all stories are worth telling is told in the right way. Sing your song, fire or ice, and love what you love without fear. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
You can see the series in full HERE.
If there’s a piece remaining tone had you may find those HERE.
And if you’d like to visit some of the previous projects int he 52 Weeks Series, please browse away, HERE.