Once Upon A Time In Egypt?
Desert Siren -- Part 1
The Art of Sidney Sime
Guilt and the Artist
Making Green Art & Staying Healthy
EMG news for June 2008
Desert Siren -- Part 1Behind the Art
by Melissa Acker
Today we'll be starting a new painting, featuring a sphinx. This will be a two-part article, and in this first one we'll design the creature and the composition.
I generally have two ways I'll begin painting. Either I have an idea for a painting and I work from that, or I see something I want to paint and make a composition around it. In this case I have a rough idea of what I want to paint: a lounging sphinx, maybe in front of a ruined temple. I want strong lighting and the composition is going to be warm. So I make a list of what I want in the painting, so I can refer to it as I go: the sphinx is going to be parts lion, bird and human, I want some ruined building pieces, maybe some animal bones or vultures in the background, and I think I want some kind of strong cast shadows in there too, possibly obscuring part of the creature.
The lion reference is the easiest thing to get, and after a quick search I pull up this image from my files:
Now the smart thing to do would be to make a thumbnail composition (at least) and then draw the creature into that. But I felt that I still wanted to explore the creature's design first, so I'm gonna draw her and then work her into a new composition.
First I make a very rough, very quick drawing of the basic pose and proportions I want. This will probably be a watercolor painting, and since I know I'm going to be doing a lot of erasing, I'm working on regular drawing paper 'till I'm sold on the image. I'll transfer it to my painting support when I'm done. I am using the photo as reference for the lion part, but I'm just eyeballing it (that means judging angles and proportions by eye, instead of careful measuring; like all things, you get more accurate at this by practice). Here's what I came up with:
I've drawn her lounging against some steps. Maybe they will be part of the 'ruined temple' idea. They'll also provide some strong horizontal lines, which will emphasize a staple, calm composition. If I use strong lighting, they will also provide some strong cast shadows. I've roughed in the human part of the pose. I'm not quite sold on it, since that turn in the torso is gonna be hard to pull off. And it seems a little small compared to the lion body. But it's something to work from. If I were drawing the final design right onto my painting support, I wouldn't render any shadows like you'll see me do in this drawing. However, since I want to see how the form will look like when it's done, I want the shadows there now so I can see if the form is working or not.
Now it's time to start refining the pose. Sometimes people ask me if I use grids when I draw. I say life is too short for grids. There is a better way to draw, and it's called measuring. You can measure angles, negative space, and use plumb lines. Here I've done the forequarters of the lion:
I've included an insert to try to better illustrate what I'm doing. First off, a plumb line is a vertical line you draw and you can use it to compare the image you're drawing of each side of it. You can also compare negative space. For instance, the rock shape under the front leg, and open space behind the shoulder, are both negative spaces. See them as flat shapes and you can use them to keep your drawing accurate. But by far the thing I measure the most is angles. I've drawn some in red to highlight some of the ones I measured. I do most of my measuring in my head now, but I've purposely drawn them in to show you how I'm doing it. All together these measuring techniques can be used to draw anything, are extremely accurate and will help teach you how to see.
This is the what the drawing looks like after the lion part is done. I had to completely redo the hindquarters, because I'd made the torso a little too short. Also re-drew the upper contour of the torso. And now it's time to move on to the human part of the drawing.
Quite the change isn't it? I realized the human part wasn't going to work the way I'd draw it, so I completely erased it and started over. 'Don't fall in love with your drawing' is advice every artist should take to heart. If it's wrong, fix it; your eraser is your friend. Mostly I enlarged the human part to be more in sync with the lion. I've decided to leave the hair up, since leaving her hair down might make that area too busy and chaotic. I didn't have any reference on hand, so I just drew her freehand: that's where all that life drawing comes in handy. And I also re-drew the steps, because the perspective was wrong.
The wings were also drawn freehand. I folded the right wing in, since if it was out it would cause compositional problems. I think the left wing look a little stiff though; I'll sit on it and see how I feel in a few days. Actually thinking about it I might make it so the the wing is sort of resting on the step... something to work out. I'm also still not sold with the perspective of the steps, but I'll address that when I'm working out the composition. And I added some jewelry around her waist to emphasize its shape.
Once I scan the image into the computer, I use some imaging software to very quickly move the image around the page to see how it will look, as above. At this early stage almost any placement would have worked, but sometimes moving it around will jump-start ideas you might not have otherwise had.
I've picked a placement, and very roughly outlined a background. Lots of horizontal lines will provide stability to the composition, and I think that in the final image the overall sinister nature of the creature will contrast against this.
And this is the image after I've done a quick value study with it. I don't know if I'll stick with this (the skeleton in the bottom corner in particular I'm not sure about), but, again, it's something to work off of. I've decided that there is some kind of roof overhead, but I've only hinted at its existence by the dark shadow on the top of the stairs.
Here is where we end part. Next month we'll cover the fun part... the painting! See ya then!
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