Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Use of a Good Back Story.

Usually when beginning an illustration I'm provided with a manuscript, a key scene from a manuscript or in the case of trading cards a brief visual description of a scene or character. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes a brief description is not enough to go on. I can usually speak to an editor, art director or in some cases the author and ask questions to help me fill in the blanks. If none of these are available a fabricated back story can be a helpful tool. Actors use the technique of developing a back story to add depth to a character. When I ask someone to model for a painting I am essentially asking them to act a part.
The painting titled "Dolores" shown here was a painting and not an illustration so there was no narrative to follow. I knew that I wanted to do a portrait in the "Steampunk" genre so I spoke with quite a few people that were more familiar with the genre. Ultimately I spoke to one of my co-workers, Giuliana Funkhouser (affectionately known as G-Funk) and asked her to sit for the painting.

 Over lunch one afternoon I told her basically what I was looking for visually and she put together her character's back story. I asked her to talk a little about that process and Dolores' back story:
Fred said he would like to paint a figure sporting steampunk regalia in Zorn/Sargeant style but with a dark (& possibly brooding) feel to it. "Steampunk" can be anything you make it but I lean more towards the "punk" side of the look since my outfits are usually constructed for ease of dancing. With more elaborate projects I'll figure out what sort of fashion elements would best support a specific character idea and build an outfit from there. In this case to start I decided Dolores would be caught in conflict, wearing a fancy little hat, and packing a concealable weapon. My friends and I raided our closets for sassy and elaborate articles that would layer together nicely and provide maximum coverage appropriate to a proper assassin of the bygone days.
Photo by Amy Butts
"Dolores is a mercenary sharpshooter currently operating under the guise of a nanny for the elite Atlantean Nautical Quick Squad. As a girl she grew up in a town by the ocean, but as time passed the unchecked industrialization of the seacoast forced its denizens inland. Her husband - a tugboat sailor - has been estranged for many years, thought to be lost at sea. Dolores wished she could journey forth to find him but the best means to mobility was the join the army, where she scaled the ranks quickly on her wits and keen eyesight. With increased productivity and profits of the new era came the Great Air & Seas War, and Dolores had to be deployed on stealth missions behind enemy borders before her required enlistment time ran up.
Her latest job as a nanny to a high ranking commander's children has afforded her an interesting venue for society gossip, and from this position she's determined that her next target for assassination is her one and only lost husband. Naturally she is devastated at the situation but her training keeps her cool. What will happen next?"


On a couple of side notes,the rectangular framing element comprised of actual sprockets and watch pieces are painted over with gold leaf. Apart from the gold leaf, I used a limited palette of Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light and White. This is more commonly know as the Zorn palette, named for Swedish painter Anders Zorn (1860-1920). Zorn used this pallet of simplified primaries for his studio paintings. For outdoor paintings he was known to expand his choice of tube colors. Below is a self portrait by Zorn showing him actually using the palette.