Pro secrets: a beautiful portrait within a grotesque construct
1 A juxtaposition of elements
Who doesn’t love a big, gnarly, slobbering creature? I know I do. I’ve drawn and painted many throughout my career. But what is more challenging, and in the end I find more pleasing, is combining the beautiful and the bizarre. And what, I ask you, is more beautiful than the visage of a woman? Rendering a beautiful woman’s face has been at the core of artistic endeavours from their earliest expressions.
2 Finding your muse
To do this kind of work in a realistic manner, you’re going to need good reference material. I would encourage you to find your own sources, and not just use images from the internet. If you’re a decent photographer, you can photograph your friends, or browse sites like Model Mayhem ( www.modelmayhem.com) to find models in your area to set up shoots. If you, like me, aren’t a great photographer, use the internet as a resource for collaboration. If you see a photo that’s perfect for the image you want to create, contact the model or photographer and ask if you can use the image as reference for your artwork. I’ve recently started contacting photographers and offering a small fee for their permission to use their photos as reference. Remember, photographers and models are artists trying to make a living just like you. Treat them with respect. In this example, I worked with model Kyrian Poole, who happens to be the daughter of illustrator Mark Poole.
3 Expand your toolkit
Whatever media you decide to use, give serious consideration to going outside your comfort zone and trying new tools and techniques. When I started I was just using pencil on paper. I soon learned from Allen Williams about the graphite powder pounce – a piece of cloth wrapped around powdered graphite and cotton balls. This simple tool enabled me to embark on a new and exciting path of experimentation. I dab the pounce on the paper, and graphite filters out of the pounce and on to the page. Then I take a kneaded eraser and press it into a variety of rocks and shells that I’ve gathered on trips. I then press the eraser into the graphite on the page. The result when I lift the eraser up is a unique organic pattern, which I use as the basis for finding the monstrous portions of the composition.
4 Have fun with the eyes
When rendering a woman’s face, I try not to alter the features very much. This is the part of the piece that is comforting for the viewer, before branching out into the chaos. It’s a safe place for their eye to return to the familiar. One thing you can play with are the eyes. Don’t change the eye shape, but have fun with the iris and pupil. Maybe there’s no iris at all and the eye is completely white, or black. You can try a pupil that is grey, or even reptilian. Experiment and see what has the greatest impact.
whatever media you use, consider going outside your comfort zone and trying new tools and techniques
5 Shape considerations
As with any design, basic shape is of the utmost importance. If you just draw a face with random protrusions going in every direction, the image can become overwrought and too chaotic. Start with a strong shape, and then work on getting the details right.
6 Make use of hard and soft edges
When trying to create an eerie atmosphere in a drawing, edge work is more important than ever. Edges are used to help convince the viewer of a three-dimensional object rendered in two dimensions. Hard edges are those indicated by a distinct and purposeful line to describe a cast shadow or define the edge of the form against the background, while soft edges are gradations of tone used to define the transition from light to shadow. A successful drawing will create a balance between hard and soft edges that’s pleasing to the viewer. Too many of one or the other can leave a drawing feeling flat.
the basic shape is of the utmost importance. start with a strong shape, and then work on the details
7 Tap into the power of Symbolism
Use of symbolism in the grotesque is immensely important. in the late 1800s an entire artistic movement known as symbolism thrived in europe. it encompassed not only the visual arts, but literature and music. in an article that appeared in the French publication la vogue in 1886, gustave Kahn articulated the symbolist ideology by writing, “as to subject matter, we are tired of the quotidian, the near-at-hand and the compulsory contemporaneous; we wish to be able to place the development of the symbol in any period whatsoever, and even in outright dreams.” read up on subjects that are of interest to you, and incorporate their symbolism into your work. it will give your work layers of meaning above and beyond that of the “pretty picture.” Don’t worry whether people will “get it” or not. it is for your personal growth and expression.