Friday, March 23, 2007

"Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani?"

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? -Matthew 27:45-53

In honor of the season of Lent, (the 40 days leading up to Easter), I and a small pocket of local artists accepted the commission to choose one of the seven last statements of Christ, spoken while on the cross and each produce a piece of art based on that chosen saying. These pieces of art will then be displayed during a Good Friday service. When offered a choice by my friend Chad, I immediately jumped at the chance to illustrate the saying, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" This literally means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

I'd been looking for an opportunity to do a big painting on real canvas. This was it!

This statement (found twice in the New testament gospels, in Matthew 27, and Mark 15) pulls aside the curtain and allows us to gaze disturbingly at possibly the darkest moment of redemptive history. Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man-the second person of the Holy Trinity, bears our sins. God the Father-the first person of the Holy Trinity, (as judge) forsakes His own beloved Son and pours out His wrath on Him so that we may be forgiven.

I really wanted the piece to have a unique feel. There were two primary wells of inspiration that I drew from on determining a style for this painting. The first is a guy named Scott Radke, who makes some of the most beautiful, ugly marionette puppets ever. I love the feel I get from this guy's stuff.

My second well of inspiration was a dark and grim graphic novel by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean called Mr. Punch. The book is an odd visual medley of puppets, painting, photography, Photoshop work and line art that is very offbeat, very weird, and very cool. Here's a couple of pages from it...

I also wanted it to have a bit of a Tim Burtonish/Rankin Bass feel. So, once I got a clear direction of style, it was time to sit down and determine a basic look for my Christ figure. There's nothing that seems to work better for me in getting down quick ideas then a plain old red ballpoint pen, or a red pencil. For some reason the these tools help me to stay loose during this critical stage. Here are a couple of preliminary character sketches...

So, it's decided in my mind a basic style I want to work from. I sat down a few nights ago and decided to do a little two inch by three inch drawing of what I wanted the painting to look like. I came up with something quick and simple that I kinda dug. Here's the drawing...

I'm horrible at drawing big. In fact, I had to re-gessoe the canvas several times because my drawing looked so bad when I tried to redraw it real big on the canvas. At one point, I totally threw in the towel and in a fit of despondency called my friend Chad and left an insane message on his cell phone. I also emailed him the exact same message verbatim. I wanted this albatross off from around my neck!

After a few laughs and an encouraging conversation with him, I was refueled and I had hope. I concluded that I had to transfer the image, not redraw it. So, the next day, I scanned the drawing, blew it up real big, tiled it in Adobe Illustrator and then printed it out in a bunch of little pieces, then taped them together like so...

The next step, was for me and my children to smear a ton of 6b graphite stick on the back of this tiled together printout so that I could trace over the top with a Bic pen and transfer the image carefully on to the canvas. This worked surprisingly well.

From there, I inked(with acrylic paint) the outlines of the Christ figure and began painting in shades of grey, in order to establish a value scale that would make application of color much easier. Here's the painting with the grey underpainting...

The hard work was now done, and now it's time to have some fun. So, I began with the blue in the background, then added some burnt sienna to establish the skin tone as well as some reds and kept things pretty loose. I built the colors up gradually layer by layer using acrylic paint thinned down with water, a technique I learned from one of my favorite artists, David Birkey.

I forgot to mention that when I gessoed the canvas, (put white paint on the bare canvas) I did it unevenly allowing the brush strokes to leave lines and marks in just about every direction. This is an old trick that allows the paint on top to soak into the ridges of the paint and adds some cool visual turbulence when done well.

So here it is, the final piece. After I thought I was done, I let it set for about 24 hours, (always a good idea if you have the time) and then came back to it to add some highlights and reflected lights. Here it is, the biggest painting I've done in 10 years...

I had a great time doing this and am looking forward to doing more large scale paintings. Definitely gave me a bit more to contemplate during the 40 days leading up to Easter.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Force to be Reckoned With

Behold, the "Commode-o-Dragon."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Mountain Ogre

Here's a piece I just finished a couple of weeks ago called "Mountain Ogre." I originally began the piece as a sasquatch (like the one from the episode of the Six Million Dollar Man) but decided it's much too man-like to be a sasquatch.