Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Starting at the Beginning

I'm going to be doing a winter portrait soon. It is inspired by my friend Maggie Stiefvater's soon to be released book Shiver (description from Amazon below). BTW it is available for preorder on Amazon as we speak!

For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.
Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.
It is also inspired by the fact that I love SNOW and while looking through American Artist a while back, I came across an article on Jeremy Lipking who is a master at depicting women in ethereal winter scenes.
I took my poor model out to the woods and snapped a bunch of photos of her in differing poses. I do remember telling her "Look out in the trees and pretend you are waiting for the wolf you are in love with to come out." I think it worked because I got some great poses. This is the one I picked below.

Like most reference photos there are some great things about the photo and background and there are some not so great things. Most notably, the contrast is too high on the background, it has way too many details, and there seems to be branches tracing around her head. :)

Here's a good deal of all the "stuff" I used to create a compositional study for my Shiver-y portrait. You can see the Jeremy Lipking article ripped out from American artist in the middle and then 3 different print outs of the photo reference - all with varying levels of contrast etc.

& here is my study, please click on it to see it better. It is just a little study - 4" x 6" and is sort of like a thumbnail sketch. I abhor doing thumbnail sketches, I must confess. The little 3 vlaue studies of weird shapes just never compare to the real thing. So what I prefer to do is an at scale color study using the same pencils I will be using for the final. This allows me to work out some of the most important colors/values and have the pencil numbers all ready to go when I start the real thing. Usually I do these studies at about aceo size or 2.5 x 3.5" and try to give them a good finish - that way I can actually sell them too. They look great in little 5 x 7 frames with a generous matt. This one however had to be larger because otherwise the girl would have been teeny tiny!

Here's a list of things I worked out by doing this preliminary drawing:
  • I actually want the face and the background directly behind it the same value (although different colors).
  • I want the darks in her hair and clothes to be the darkest in the piece.
  • I want the bottom of some of the tree trunks, especially the one to the right of her, to also be dark in value.
  • I can use the bright white of the light between the trees to direct the eye to the girl. That will be the brightest brights.
  • I want to really get rid of details (ala Jeremy Lipking) in the background and mostly have big shapes, so I figured out which trees to have some definition and which to fade in.
  • I decided to lift up the bottom of some tree trunks to get a restful spot lower left.
  • I decided to enlarge the tree to her right.
  • The color scheme is lots of greys, army green (in her jacket and trees), a golden green color, and an ice blue. Oh and the rosy colors in her face and hair which will be used just a little bit here and there elsewhere.

I don't always do a study before a piece, and have often regretted it. Its much better to get these things worked out before starting!

from American Artist magazine Jeremy Lipking article:

He prefers to work on one painting at a time, taking about 2 weeks to complete a canvas, and he chooses his content carefully. "When I am doing a painting, I don't think of anything else," he remarks. "If I am going to work this long on a piece, I pretty much like to know where I'm going before I begin."


Carolina A. said...

What a master class! Thank you for sharing this.

Teresa Mallen said...

Great preliminary drawing! Preparation really does helps save time and angst later on. I like how you have worked out your values and not just composition. I also like how you have decided to handle the background. My favourite change is the lifting of the bottom of some tree trunks to get a restful spot on the lower left. Not a huge change but I find it very effective. I look forward to watching this work develop.

Casey Klahn said...

OOOhhhh...very cool stuff. Maggie's monster book, Lipkin's winter women. But, your signature style, that seals the deal.

Lipkin really has a way with black or almost black kind of like an old Dutch master, huh?

With the trees, you are in my beloved territory - tree trunks contrasting with the ground.

I read somewhere (and what do I know?) that snow should be less than 15% of the scene - you did that.

Now, if I could just convince maggie to make her next book about Forks, Washington (my old hometown), I'd be getting somewhere...

Casey Klahn said...

In order to "get" that joke, one needs to know that Forks is the setting for Twilight...

Nicole Caulfield said...

Thanks Carolina!

Thanks Teresa!

OMGosh Casey - I so know the significance of Forks. You must have missed my cofession of reading every last Twilight book including the half finished one on her blog. Are you really from Forks? You went from rain capitol to snow capitol if you did!

Casey Klahn said...

My dad was born and died in Forks, and my grandad immigrated there from Germany. It's my heritage.

The world should know, tho, that it is one of the hardest towns on earth. I love rain, and people wonder why. I used to walk into the dorm room in Seattle on a (rare) rainy day and yell, "great day, men!" Eyes rolled.

I am afraid the vampire would've been river-stomped by a logger..excuse me. Just sayin'...

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks for the mention, Nicole -- and I'm really looking forward to seeing what you do with this!

Alisha said...

This was very helpful! Someone recently reccommended that I spend more time in the planning period for my work and I didn't understand how I would do that. After reading this entry, I see that there are so many more steps that I could be doing. Thanks!!!

I can't wait to see the finished product. I showed my dad your work while I was home for Christmas and he also really enjoyed it and was blown away that it was colored pencil.

Valerie Jones said...

Thanks for showing the process of your primilinary. I look foward to seeing the finished piece. It's a vert striking composition.

Anonymous said...

Nicole, Thanks for keeping us posted as you go along! You are a great teacher.

I believe this is pastel pencils as well...is this correct?

If so what, if anything, will you do differently with this piece than you did with you first pastel pencil piece?

Thanks, Pam

adebanji said...

This whole post is just inspirational-planning a picture is no joke!