Too Bad for Them We’re Out of Here!
acrylic/enamel on canvas
16 x 20 in.
Too Bad for Them We’re Out of Here, loosely based on a panel from X-Men #5, revels in the exaggerated grittiness of 90s comic books. Here’s to Extreme Everything!
Acrylic paint and Derwent Inktense water-based ink combine with line work done in Sharpie Paint Pen. Three coats of gloss acrylic varnish add brightness, protection, sheen, and durability.
Pastel Portrait Ten.
Fear nothing. You might not find that in any drawing tutorial, but it lies at the heart of our approach to these pastel drawings.
We struggled with pen for many years. Ink makes demands for perfection. You can’t massage ink into the right place. You can’t undraw the mistake.
But with pastels – especially these new oil pastels we’re trying – you can reshape reality at will.
When you know a mistake isn’t going to wreck anything, you can draw with absolute confidence. Be bold. Coax the shapes into existence, painting your subject with color and light. If you get it wrong, blend in the right color, then redefine the shapes with light and shadow.
Bob Ross talked about this absolute confidence. On his canvases, he said, he could move mountains and redirect rivers. He could build and destroy. He could make it anything he wanted.
So can you.
Red Portrait measures 20 x 30 inches because that’s the size of the piece of paper that came in the 20 x 30 poster frame. It has many layers. We drew on that paper, then collaged over it with comic books, porn, postcards, an old set of dental x-rays, the most special page of the Slang Dictionary, and tiny photographs. Next, we washed it with Ultramarine Blue, splattered it with Black, and covered it with a layer of Mod Podge mixed with Deep Permanent Green acrylic paint. Once that dried, we hung it up next to our photo reference and started sketching. That’s when the fun really started. Pastel, sharpie marker, acrylic paint, gesso, sharpie paint pens, ink pen – it’s all in there.
Notes: This is mixed media: layers of pen, pastel, charcoal, sharpie, pastel splattered with water, acrylic paint, and Rustoleum spray sealant. All on paper. We just built it up from a sketch layer by layer. And, it has some scraps from the dictionary. One is Hilbert’s dictionary entry, and the other is the entry for “dimension.”
Our friend Dan called in response to some synchronicity-laden package he received from Martian HQ this week. We ended up talking for hours about mathematician David Hilbert and some of his influential theories about dimensions of space and time. Hilbert appears in a wonderful mathematics book we got for pennies at the junior college library. Published by Time Inc as part of the Time Life Books series, Life Sciences Library, Mathematics really puts the subject in perspective. It’s loaded with pictures and fascinating pieces of history. It even explains the basic idea of calculus in plain terms. You don’t need to “know math” to develop an appreciation of it from this book.
Below you will see page 174, with the drawing of David Hilbert we used as a reference. The credits in the back say Don Miller drew it, but we have zero further information on Don. We really dig his line style though, the attention to detail he gives the hair, and shadows. This style of illustration has always appealed to us.
You can find Mathematics used on Amazon. It came out in some later editions, perhaps, but here is a link to the 1963 edition we have.
Our photo reference comes from the 1934 Chicago Daily News we’ve been mining for inspiration this summer.
Meet Barney Oldfield – HELL DRIVER!!!
Our art teacher comments that we made him into a comic book villain or vintage gangster. We did. Barney was probably a decent chap. But, don’t you see something sinister about that cigar and his general expression? The way he’s leaning forward into your space just a little? Like maybe he’s a hell driver because he’s f$#%ing wasted on cheap Scotch all the time? Like maybe he leers at your wife as he loads the kids into the car for a hell ride? Imagine Barney hell driving to the horse races regularly. Maybe he has deep gambling debts to shady underworld figures which have sent him into hiding “on the road” as a transient hell driver.
Who knows? But it goes a long way in explaining why our portrait isn’t very flattering. We imagined all this backstory for Barney as we drew. It made him come out far more sinister than he probably really was. Something stood out, though, that one could use for entirely different inspirational themes: the eye of Horus. If you look at Barney’s left eye in the original photo – the right side of the page, from our POV – the shadows form a shape similar to the classic Egyptian symbol of the eye of Horus. Perhaps Barney wasn’t a hard-drinking gambling man leering at your wife. Maybe he was the incarnation of an Egyptian deity!
UPDATE: Barney isn’t as entirely obscure as we believed. He was in the Tuscaloosa News Feb 28, 1935. An ad shows he appears in two “thrilling educational interesting” motion pictures: “Hell Drivers” and “Four of a Kind.” The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) has preserved a photograph of the racetrack at the Century of Progress International Exposition, along with details about Barney and his fellow drivers. Barney Oldfield also earns a mention as “world famous racecar driver and Chrysler spokesman” in a 2004 article about Ethel Miller. Ethel had the first Plymouth car ever built, and the article tells an interesting story about a publicity event where she would swap that Plymouth for the millionth one.
All of which is fascinating. But, if you really want to get to know Barney Oldfield, enjoy Who the Hell Do You Think You Are – Barney Oldfield? at the JCS Group website, which contains a treasure trove of racing articles. According to that article, he would have been retired from professional racing and setting speed records (including a breath-taking 131.7 mph in 1910), and it was perhaps a less than happy time in his life. The article says he drank too much and lost his job barnstorming at county fairs. His trademark cigar in our reference photo turns out to be something he clenched in his teeth to buffer the vibrations of the car and engine so he wouldn’t chip them.
Sounds like a pretty rowdy guy. Barney, glad to have met you! If we hadn’t ordered the Sinclair dinosaurs newspaper on eBay and the seller hadn’t randomly stuck newspapers in with your picture on them, we would have never known. Rock on, Hell Driver!
You learn something new every day. They forgot to mention that some of the stuff you learn really sucks. Today we learned that white paper causes the scanner light to overpower much of the more delicate shading with our charcoals and pastels. But, it’s nice to know that before you do 100 of them or something. This portrait used a friend’s baby photo as a reference.
Check this out. You may know we’ve been frustrated with spray varnish, the way it makes our pastels and charcoal drawings look different once it’s applied. That was the spray varnish from the craft store, so we took a look around the hardware store instead. Where men go to make art and be men, etc. We thought polyurethane might work, but the guy at the paint counter suggested this Rustoleum product, shown below. At about half the price, it also gives us better results. It requires an optimum spraying technique. Spray too close and it soaks into the paper, leaving a darker area. Spray too far and it seems to dry in the air, covering the paper with a layer of grit. Spraying too fast or too slowly yields similar results.
Maggie in Violet
Acrylic over collage on canvas.
A couple days ago we posted a painting that needed corrective eye surgery.
Our art teacher advised us to burn the photo reference to really tune in to the painting itself. Well, it was digital. After pouring gasoline on our hard drive and throwing lit cigarettes at it… we did our best to reconstruct the eyes. We gave her perhaps a half dozen minor procedures – strictly outpatient.
She seems more confident now, albeit a bit intense. Did you know that people respond to large pupils? Dilated pupils send a visual cue to your viewer that you are very, very interested in them. Certain pharmaceutical chemicals enlarge your pupils, and you may notice people respond to you differently in those times. (Please, do not drive a car on MDMA, kids.) Eye tests can do it, too.
Regardless, all the doubt and hesitation we mentioned before becomes acute when you go to do eye surgery on a painting. It isn’t like touching up a tree or some Kirby krackle. It’s someone looking back at you while you reconstruct the window to their soul.
You know what the awesome thing is, though? White paint. If you screw it up, your worst case scenario is covering all your mistakes with white paint and starting again.
And remember: your cat doesn’t give a damn about the whole enterprise anyway!
We need to tone down the pink on this one, but it’s coming along pretty well.
We’re in uncharted creative waters here, attempting to render the human face in nothing but light and color. We don’t honestly have much of a clue what we’re doing, but we do know exactly what we did.
Here we started from a photo reference. We got the image on our monitor, held a piece of 8×11 office paper up to it, and traced the basic lines of the photo with a fine-point Sharpie. The original photo included the figure from the waist up, and the arms were raised so that her hands touched her hair. That was a bit much for our modest talents. We decided to zoom into the face when we got to the 16×20 canvas.
For our guide, we quickly scrawled the basic shapes and proportions of the face on the canvas in Sharpie. If you ever do this, realize that its going to take a lot to cover up that black ink. It bleeds through paint like crazy. We solved that by painting white over the messy parts, sealing that layer with Mod Podge, and using perhaps two more coats of white to get full coverage. Your basic artist’s paint in a tube may not cut it, but your basic white semi-gloss house paint does a decent job.
After that comes refining the shapes, like the eyes and lips and bone structure, and the clothing. Do you know how hard it is to paint two eyes at a slight angle that appear to be realistically looking at the viewer? Well, let’s say these eyes have been re-painted about 20 times, and leave it at that.
We ran the original photo by a friend to get a consult on the color of the lighting on the face. This is especially challenging for us, and we still don’t have it quite right. The pink remains too starkly pink, not the suffused glow of the original photo. Still, we learn as we go, and not every painting problem can be solved by splashing Kirby Krackle on everything until it explodes. This portrait has been a nice change of pace from the more abstract stuff lately.