Happy 90th Birthday, Sean Connery

Sir Sean Connery celebrates his 90th birthday today, so I thought I’d mark the occasion with another art project using my digital stylus.  I’m sure he’s thrilled.

Note I didn’t say “James Bond Actor Sean Connery,” because by now he’s earned the right to be recognized as an icon in his own right, having long ago climbed out from under the shadow of 007.  In fact, I tend to like him better in non-Bond roles, including his turns in The Man Who Would Be King, The Great Train Robbery, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Outland and The Hunt For Red October. It’s impressive that one performer could be tapped to play such heroic figures as James Bond, Robin Hood, King Arthur and Richard Lionheart over his career.  I still remember seeing Time Bandits on the big screen and when King Agamemnon — after a fierce battle with a Minotaur-like monster — removes his helmet to reveal the face of Sean Connery, a cheer went up.  I didn’t even know he was in the film, but as soon as I saw him, my reaction was, “Well, of course that’s who it’d have to be.” That moment was echoed years later in the last few moments of the truly dire Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, when King Richard climbs down off his horse and it’s Sean again, to more cheers.  In what was pretty much a cameo appearance, he nearly salvaged that wreck of a film just by showing up.  Almost.

Since the COVID shutdown, I’ve gotten to catch up on a number of Connery films I’d last seen either decades ago or not at all, including Murder On The Orient Express and The Anderson Tapes, The Offense and — easily the best of the lot — The Hill.   And now I’ve got an urge to seek out Highlander.  Even though I came in at the middle of Connery’s career — rife with stinkers like Wrong Is Right, The Next Man and Meteor — I have to say that on balance, Big Tam has racked up one of the most impressive filmographies of any actor since the Golden Age of Hollywood.

And yet, when it comes time to draw him, here I’ve gone and put him in the tux from Dr No.  Ah well.  Here’s to ya, Sir Sean.  I hope it’s  great day and there’s many more ahead of you.

The Latest Doodle

Like most folks, I’ve tried to find creative ways to stay busy during this whole pandemic thing.  Since I’ve had so much daylight and so many weekends without commitments, the house and yard are looking pretty good.  In fact, the neighborhood in general is looking a lot better since everyone else is in the same boat.

To keep life interesting I’ve also taken up new hobbies like learning the guitar (I’m making progress, slowly but surely) and growing a beard (the jury’s still out) and resuming old ones like reading vintage pulp novels and drawing.  On the latter front, I took another stab at caricature using a stylus on my 10-inch Kindle.  I go back and forth on whether I like it, but anyway here’s where I ended up.

Hopefully you recognize that as two-time Bond actor Timothy Dalton, or maybe you just guessed it was “some take on James Bond” because of the tux and gun (hopefully I at least made THEM recognizable).

The task I’ve set for myself — besides drawing with a stylus, which can be challenge enough — is to capture a likeness with as few lines as I can, hopefully arriving at some kind of individual style as well as getting across who the person is.  Certainly I’ll never be in the league of the greats like Mort Drucker, Jack Davis or of Tom Richmond, who manage to walk a fine line between “real” and “cartoony,” but maybe with practice I can come up with a style that’s consistent and my own.

Anyway the cool part about digital drawing is the ability to “cheat.” I can create a “pencil” layer and “trace over” it with more controlled lines, then throw away the “pencils” like they were never there.  I can isolate eyes, or a nose or mouth, and drag them around if I got the relationships wrong.  I can even enlarge or reduce elements if I need to, or realign them if they’re off kilter.  Of course I could do all those things on a piece of paper with an eraser, too, but it’s so much cleaner and easier this way, and if I get several steps in and decide I don’t like the way it’s going, I can go back as many steps as I need.  Try erasing ink, or removing color from a drawing on paper.

If nothing else, I look at it as a learning experience; every mistake I make, every adjustment or do-over is a lesson learned for next time.  Hopefully it’ll rub off on my “real” drawings, too.  After all the only way to improve is to practice.  And right now, I’ve got plenty of time for that.

Vampire (Likeness) Hunting

Looking for another project to test out my new set of pen nibs and brushes, I decided to attempt a caricature of an old favorite TV character; Dark Shadows’ resident vampire, Barnabas Collins. Rather appropriately, it ended up being a pain in the neck.

First, I had to find a reference photo of actor Jonathan Frid made up as Barnabas (just as an aside, it’s depressing how a Google image search for “Barnabas Collins” turns up so many pictures of Johnny Depp). Interestingly, Frid manages to look quite remarkably different from various angles and over the course of the series, which didn’t make my job any easier. I ended up deciding I liked the eyes in this headshot, which somehow for me capture Barnabas’ twin qualities of menace and suffering:

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best image as it’s kind of washed out and light on details (which is part of what makes it cool, too, ’cause it looks like it was taken in Barnabas’ original time period). Anyway, since what drew me in were the eyes, I chose to accentuate them in the caricature, and make them larger than life. Which is fine, only somehow over the course of the project, I kept adjusting everything else in relation to the eyes, obsessing over the nose, the mouth, etc, each in isolation, until I ended up with something that didn’t look at all like what I’d intended, because I failed to step back and look at how all the elements connected. Then when it came time to apply the inks, I was so focused on how to hold the nib pen that I didn’t focus my gaze on more than a couple millimeters of the image at a time. It didn’t help that I’d for some reason determined I was going to churn out the whole thing, start to finish, in a couple hours time. And here’s what that gets you:

Not so bad maybe for an image that says “generic vampire” — or “creepy dude” since there’s no fangs on display — but not what I’d hoped for. I was pretty happy with the “fog” effect a #6 “shader” brush got me (especially since it just kind of “happened” in the moment), and the cloak came out pretty well, but I was not pleased, overall. Laura snapped a photo of it almost as soon as I made the last stroke and pasted it to Facebook (ugh) asking friends, “What should go on the tombstone?” She got some interesting responses, but a more pertinent question for me was, “Who is it supposed to be?”

And so I learned my first two lessons: first, don’t rush a project, because that will never end well, and second, always take time to step back and look at the whole picture; don’t get lost in the details.

So almost immediately I started over. Usually I just move on from my artistic failures and shove them in a drawer (or the trash), but for whatever reason, this time I was determined to try a do-over. So I traced over the figure and started from scratch on the head, adding a couple more reference photos to the mix and watching a couple episodes of the show on Amazon Prime (always fun).

This time I was a lot happier with the results.

Or anyway, I was temporarily happy, until I came back the next day and decided I had drawn former CBS News anchor Dan Rather. I snapped the photo above and pulled it on my PC, and somehow just seeing the image in a different scale, on a screen instead of paper, brought all the problems into focus. I’ve often seen it suggested that you should hold your drawings up to a mirror to find the problems; now I know seeing it in a different scale can help, too.

So lesson #3: check your work in a mirror and view it a different scale before you commit to ink.

Anyway, I decided my revised Barnabas looked way too healthy for a 100-something-year-old vampire. His face was too full and well-fed. Also, there was too much forehead showing below those stylish bangs. So I went into Photoshop, lowered his forehead (which also meant widening the top of his head) and pulled the sides of his jaws closer together, accentuating the gaunt cheekbones. I also decided to give more of an angle to the nose. This got me a lot closer to where I wanted to be.

The difference is more obvious if you see the faces next to each other:

One thing I struggle with is drawing faces as they are, as opposed to the “idealized” or stylized generic faces I taught myself to draw as a kid, when I basically just cribbed from comic books. Whenever pencil hits paper, muscle memory takes hold of my wrist and people start looking like superheroes. In real life, people don’t always have perfectly symmetrical faces, straight noses, lantern jaws, eyes that line up, Ken doll hairlines, etc. It’s the little idiosyncrasies that define us and make one person distinct from another, and the art of capturing likenesses is to find those things and put them on the page. Ian Fleming once wrote that ” The difference between a good golf shot and a bad one is the same difference between a beautiful and a plain woman – a matter of millimetres.” The things that make us recognize a specific person out of millions are often tiny details.

So anyway, now I have an image that’s more or less what I was shooting for. The problem is it only exists as a Photoshop file, so if I ever want a paper copy, I’ve got to go through all that inking a third time. It ain’t likely.

The real kicker is that I’m not even sure you could call this a “caricature.” It’s a comic-book like drawing, but is it exaggerated? Whimsical? It’s a more-or-less “realistic” head on a dwarfish body. Neither fish nor foul.

Just to prove I can never leave anything alone, a couple days later I pulled out my Kindle Fire and used my stylus to try a more cartoonish approach, using the “Medibang Paint” app. I have to say I’m probably most satisfied with that version, since it doesn’t even try to be “realistic.” I like that it’s limited to a minimum of linework, though honestly, having spent so much time wrestling with Mr Frid’s features earlier probably made it a lot easier to reduce them to just a few angles and curves. The cool part is that there’s just enough there to suggest “Barnabas,” and the viewer can do the rest of the work.

Of course, your mileage may vary, and in a week’s time, I may dislike this one as much as the others.

Another Art Project Goes “Splat”

I got a set of nib pens for Christmas in hopes of finally figuring out how to do “proper” inking. Historically, I’ve used fine-tipped markers and tried to recreate the effects of nibs and brushstrokes through “fakery.”

Since the object was to concentrate on technique and self-instruction, I didn’t spend a lot of time coming up with an original pencil image to start from. Instead, I “swiped” an image of Jack Kirby’s Captain America and another of Sheldon Moldoff’s Batman. Trying to copy their styles was another sort-of test for me, though I’ve done something similar before with an image where Kirby’s Silver Surfer met Al Plastino’s Superman. I’ve always been struck by the huge gulf between Marvel comics art styles of the early to mid-60s (generally energetic and innovative) as compared to DC’s output from the same period (fairly bland and still stuck in the previous decade). I like the idea of these characters running into each other back when they were most different from each other. Sort of a “changing of the guard” thing.

Steve and Bruce throw down

Anyway the brush work went a lot more smoothly than I expected, but it took a lot of trial and error to figure out the nibs. I used Speedball’s “Cartooning Project Set” and leaned heavily on the “B6” nib for wider lines and the “100” nib for the finer stuff. I couldn’t work up the courage to try the wider ones.

About 3/4ths of the way through, I had a temporary bout of insanity and changed nibs over the board (!) which resulted in some splatter. I considered (a) using white-out to cover it or (b) tossing the whole thing in the wastebin, but then I decided it might be fun to add more splatter, on purpose. So I traced the figures to make an overlay mask, dipped a toothbrush in the ink and ran my finger over the bristles. I couldn’t figure out why the results were so uniform — lots of tiny dots of almost the exact same size, creating a “static” or “fog” effect — so I tried going over areas again to make some parts darker, but that didn’t help much. Eventually I realized what I needed was more variety in the size of the droplets, so I switched to smacking the toothbrush against a pencil. The end result is a lot “busier” than I wanted, but at least now I know better how to control splatter.

I finished it off with watercolors, which was fun as the ink was waterproof and didn’t run. With some practice, I think I could do some interesting projects with these methods.

2020

I was finally coming to grips with the fact that I’m living in the 21st (!) century and now here we are in the previously inconceivable year of 2020.  I mean seriously, doesn’t “2020” sound like a subtitle at the beginning of a sci-fi movie? Arguably, we are several years into a post-apocalyptic dystopia at this point, so it’s not like it totally came out of nowhere, but still, that number is nuts.


2020-750

Or maybe it’s just an age thing.  I wonder how my grandparents felt when the calendar rolled over to 1970, or 1980, considering they’d been around for the Great Depression and World War II?  My Dad’s dad was born two years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kittyhawk, and lived to see men land on the Moon.  Surely towards the end of their lives, they thought the numbers were getting just as far-fetched as I find 2020.

The weird thing is, I remember being in the car on New Year’s Eve, 1969, on the way home from visiting relatives, and the announcer on the radio was wondering what surprises we had in store for us in 1970.  That means that at this point, I’ve lived in parts of SIX decades.  That’s pretty much the textbook definition of “sobering.”

Anyway, I drew a doodle on the fridge to kick the year off:

2020

 

I seem to have a lot of trouble coming up with stuff to post here, while at the same time I’m always doodling something or other, so this year I hope to share my drawings, good and bad, warts and all, just so there’s some content for a change.