Moby Desert

Sophomore year is in the bag, and I got some art to show for it! My biggest final this semester was for Character Design II taught by Tom Bancroft. Character Design I was primarily focused on the basics of design like shape, size, and variety. Character Design II was more geared toward composition, staging, and storytelling, building on the basic principles of the previous class. So, it was challenging, but really good for my brain to think in terms of making a dynamic and readable pose, as well as conveying an interesting story.

Our assignment for our final was to take an old classic, copyright free story, and basically repackage it. Meaning, revamp the idea, place the story in a different time period or setting, and add our own little twist to it. The final product had to include a colored lineup of 4-6 characters (along with development sketches), 3 black and white or colored illustrations, and a cover illustration. So, with 3 weeks to do all of this, I had to get cranking.

First, I sat.

And fiddled around.

I had to come up with an idea. What story would I want to devote my next couple of weeks to? I struggled to find a story that hadn’t already been handled by far better illustrators than me or sounded interesting to draw. With the amount of work that the final required, I wanted to make sure that it was fun to draw, or else it would get really old really fast. I considered doing Fahrenheit 451, The Book of Three, Le Morte D’Arthur, but none of those really excited me. Then, I thought about Moby Dick. I’ve never read it, but from what I knew about it, there were intriguing characters and I’ve always loved open seas adventures. That definitely sparked some excitement. Then, I had an epiphany that sealed the deal for me. What if I did Moby Dick, except in the DESERT? It seemed like it could translate well, because the ocean is just a water desert. Doing it the desert would let me play with a lot of fun ideas costume-wise and set-wise. I was hooked. Step one was done. I had a path.

The next step was research. No drawing yet, just learning the story, characters, themes, and mulling over the look and style. This is a reference sheet I put together with some of the many pictures I collected during this stage.

MobyDesery_Ref.jpg

I love Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a magical movie. The scope and the epic windswept spirit of it is just wonderful. So I used that as a starting point, which is pretty apparent when you see my final designs. I also watched Tremors, starring Kevin Bacon, on Tom’s recommendation… I guess I got to see Kevin Bacon, but there’s not much positive to say about that movie. After collecting several folders of reference pics, I began sketching.

This stage is a mix of doing studies and just playing around. These are super loose drawings because their only purpose is getting as many ideas as possible out of my head and on the page. I did a lot of these; just figuring out how this world worked. Was it a literal sand whale, or is the whale even necessary? What kind of weapons would they have? How do they travel? All these questions are slowly answered in this stage. Here are some pages from my sketchbook:

The design of Moby fell into place fairly quickly. I remembered a bug called an Ant Lion that my brother and I would catch when we were kids. It creates little funnel shaped traps in the sand which bugs fall into, kind of like the sarlacc pit. It had a crazy shape, so I took that, slightly modified it, and combined it with elements from crawfish to turn it into a gigantic sand whale.

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I also did some color studies to figure out how to execute the finals. I went back and forth between digital and traditional, there are pros and cons to both, but eventually went all traditional. It just felt like watercolors would best serve to capture the feeling I wanted to capture. Below is the digital then the traditional.

Next came the line up. I had all the characters in picked out and mostly designed, it then came to the point where I just needed to pose them and get started on the watercolors. Below are the first passes of the some of the characters.

I ran these by my good friend Daniel, (check out his blog at https://wayfarersroost.blogspot.com ) and his main critique had to do with a lack of strong silhouettes and posing. Design wise, I felt pretty good about the characters, but I agreed that needed to push the posing, so I landed on the following:

I felt a lot better about them after the revisions. They felt more real, more alive.

Once I finalized the poses, I printed each character out on normal printer paper, covered the back of each piece with graphite, then placed that (graphite down) on top of the watercolor paper I was using. I then traced over the character using a lot of pressure, and transferred the character onto the watercolor paper. I then tightened the drawing with black colored pencil, and I was set to paint. It took a loooooonnnnggg time, but I think they turned out okay. Watercolor is a tricky beast, but I hit some breakthroughs regarding my process, so the experience as a whole was less painful than past attempts. Here are the final designs:

I applied several layers of local color before moving on to values, which is almost opposite of what I’ve done in the past. After establishing the color scheme of each character, it was just a matter of doing a million layers of value to get get some rich darks in there. While I was working on these guys, I was simultaneously developing the illustrations. I was a little bit intimidated by doing four full colored illustrations, so I made them just 5x7” which felt manageable. The cover was 8.5x11” which was a little more ambitious, but doable. I start my illustrations by doing thumbnails:

MobyDesert_Scans_Thumbs.jpg

They’re little turds. Terrible, barely discernible drawings, but they serve their purpose in ruling out bad compositions and helping me figure out the best way to tell the story. I decided to illustrate them setting out on their journey, Ahab charging Moby, and the aftermath of the battle. Here are the roughs, followed by the finals:

I transferred these to watercolor paper the same way I did the characters.

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The trick with the cover illustration was to leave room for text, while maintaining a solid composition. I haven’t gotten around to designing the whole cover yet, but I’d like to at some point.

So there you go! It was a super fun project, and I hope I managed to capture at least some of that feeling of adventure and scope that the stories of Moby Dick and Lawrence of Arabia have evoked in me. I feel like I definitely discovered some things during this which will be helpful in the future. Glad to be done though. I’m owning summer. Let me know if you have any questions or comments in regards to my process or art. I’d love to chat!

Peace,

AP

The Ears of the Giraffe

I was talking to a friend a while ago. She was a photographer and we were discussing the creative process, and all the similarities and differences between our mediums. There was a moment that really struck me while talking to her. I told her about my figure drawing class, one of my favorite so far, and she said, “Oh, yes, I bet so much of that class is seeing and observing. Like, actually looking at the ears of a giraffe! I can’t even think of what giraffe ears look like, and I definitely couldn’t just draw them off the top of my head!” I thought about mentioning that I could draw them off the top of my head. That 95% of my art school curriculum was learning to draw giraffe ears. That the accurate depiction of giraffe ears is my primary responsibility as a practicing illustrator. Which, in a way, is true. Creation is overflowing with giraffe ears - small beauties that we can easily miss. Even if you can claim to have a good handle on giraffe ears, there’s a good chance you might have overlooked something else, like the patterns of the leaves on the tree in your backyard, or the way light reflects and bounces across a room. I know there are so many quiet miracles that I miss every day. But that conversation with my friend reminded me of what I believe to be a key part to being an artist. Artists need to see the world, the good and the bad, the big and the small, the sacred and the desecrated, and create something true and beautiful in response.

That idea of seeing reminded me of this past Lenten Season. I gave up social media, which for me is really just Instagram. I had felt that I’d been able to keep some control over the app. I’d treated it as a tool, necessary for my profession, but nothing more than that. So I didn’t think it would be a huge commitment to give it up for 40 days. However, giving it up exposed some things in me that I didn’t foresee. I am extremely afraid of awkwardness. If there is any sign of a conversation dying, or an uncomfortable exchange, or if I fumble over my words while ordering food, I look for the nearest exit and escape the interaction as soon as possible. At parties, I situate myself in a place where I can easily bolt to the food table or the punch bowl if things go south. After giving up social media, I realized how easy it is to escape there during situations like that. As soon as I begin to feel that familiar tinge of discomfort, I find that my thumb is sliding over the home button of my phone, much like Frodo and the ring of power. It’s so easy to vanish into that other world that gives me a false sense of control. Giving up social media made me vulnerable, but pretty soon, I found my attention was shifted from my own insecurities outward, to the world around me.  For example, the elevator, usually a terrifying little room for me, soon became somewhat of a delight. The silent, unescapable, overwhelming nearness to strangers was so awkward still, that didn’t change, but suddenly I was getting to connect with people. I wasn’t necessarily having deep talks or anything, but I witnessed wonderful moments, and actually saw the people standing next to me. During those forty days, I felt awakened to the small, strange, meaningful moments that inhabit so much of our life.

My attention to everyday life was further strengthened because I was taking my figure drawing class during this same lenten period. From day one, my teacher drilled into my class the idea that we needed to basically unlearn how we see. We all have preconceptions for everything. Preconceptions about how a foot should look, where a nose should go, how an arm bends. But when drawing from life, you have to let go of what you think you’re drawing, and draw what is actually there. This is hard to get one’s mind around. This approach forced me to observe, and really consider the nature of whatever it was I was drawing. And after seeing, and knowing the object I was drawing, a kind of love was born for it. Life drawing is putting yourself in the shoes of what you’re drawing, which I think is empathy.  One week we would focus on drawing hands, and outside of class, I would be in wonder at all the beautiful, unique, complex hands that populated campus. We dealt with many of the same principles in my animation class. We were learning the basics of animation, how a person walks, runs, moves, act and I began to pay attention to how someone drank a cup of coffee, and how someone sprinted to a class he or she was late to. I became amazed at the simple act of sitting down and standing up. I was learning to draw better, but I was mainly learning to see better. Getting outside of myself and loving the objects that I was drawing taught me a lot about God, his world, and his nature as a Creator. 

To continue my rambling, these ideas were further developed this past summer in Europe. While I was in Ireland with my family, a painter named Ross Wilson, my dad and I made a little trip to a small town called Bellaghy, where I was offered the chance to visit a museum dedicated to Seamus Heaney, the renowned Irish poet. I cannot say that I was familiar with his work, I’ve only read his translation of Beowulf (which I completely love). Always the party animal, I answered with a hearty yes. Seriously, I love museums. It was a relatively new museum, constructed only a few years after Heaney’s death in 2013. One of the museum’s finest features was a personal audio device, like a telephone, with which one could punch in a couple of numbers and listen to the wonderful voice of the poet himself reading his own words. And he read them right. His voice was soft and gravely at the same time, with a light and dancing Northern Irish accent. It fell pleasantly on my ears. Heaney is known for his deep connection and love of Ireland. He was born in County Derry in 1939, in a small town, surrounded by farms, soil, and worn hands. He went on to win a Nobel prize for literature in 1959, as well as teach at Harvard and Oxford. Despite his obvious academic success, Heaney steered clear of cryptic, heady language, and instead made his work accessible for the average reader, the common man,  which made him popular across the board. It was fascinating me to see how much the Irish revered him. This quiet, kind-faced, poet was a celebrity! Why? As I made my way through the museum, there was poem after poem about nothing especially extraordinary. In fact, the poems focused very intently on the ordinary. This was somewhat of a shock for me, or at least caught me off guard, since I had connected him with the grand scale of Beowulf. As a 20 year old, Gen Z, I’ve grown up in an age of sensationalism at its finest. Everything is huge, cataclysmic, grand, polarized, and there isn’t much room for quiet. So I wasn’t quite used to thinking in terms of the ordinary. But by the end of the exhibit, I realized that the reason he connected so well to so many was his effort to, as Ross Wilson said, exalt the ordinary. I thought, okay, that’s all well and good, but ordinary for him is Ireland for goodness’ sake. He can “exalt the ordinary” and it ends up extraordinary just because everything in Ireland is extraordinary (that’s my American opinion anyway). But interestingly enough, after awhile, reading his poems made me think about Tennessee, not Ireland. I began remembering the little characteristics, good and bad, that made me love my little spot outside Nashville. And I suddenly felt an intense homesickness, standing in that museum. I love the Tennessee autumn, the music that perpetually fills the air, southern hospitality, the storms that rock our house, and the soft hills. Heaney’s love for Ireland actually made me realize how much I loved my own soil. [This is what the best art should do - by showing love, it inspires love] I believe where you come from is significant. Place. Time. Circumstance. They’re all wrapped up into who we are. It seems that’s what Heaney thought. 

I had a very happy childhood in an objectively cool city, so I don’t want to speak out of turn, not everyone loves where they grew up, and it might be best to get away from your birthplace and start fresh… BUT! What if everyone saw their cities, communities, homes, through the eyes of a creator and through the eyes of the Creator? Some might say that there are some places that are unredeemable, places so broken, so ugly, that it would be impossible to see any quality of beauty. But what if we have the imagination to see creation through the lens of redemption? Despite the brokenness of where we come from, could we see it made new? Isn’t that the significance of the Gospel? Jesus came from one of the dirtiest places imaginable for a king, but because of his death and resurrection, that place became the most beautiful. Jesus started the great reversal. I love the detail that Jesus still bears scars after resurrection. He has a redeemed body, he didn’t just restart. He is still the Jesus that was born in a tiny, uninteresting little town. And his scarred hands are just as real as the ears of a giraffe. 

My photographer friend reawakened me to the truth of the life we live. We have only to look at the fantastical, mundane world we are a part of to remember that though we might come from ugly places, God has redeemed the world, and is faithfully making a new creation. And I believe that art is incredibly important to unveiling and pointing to that reality. So I pray that God will open my eyes to see, so that I draw the world according to the truth of the gospel.

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Welcome

Alright! We’re good to go! It’s been far too long to go without a website, and it’s a relief to finally pull one together. This is primarily a portfolio website, but I’m going to make every effort to keep up with the blog as well. I’ve been wanting to write more. Anyway, I hope you enjoy hanging out here! Please, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email or hit me up on the socials!

AP