OK, we’ve looked at reference, put on our creative thinking cap, and now we’ve got a direction to go in. The wild west. It has been ages since I’ve attempted a cowboy painting. My son Josh just turned 15. So, I took him and his little brother to see True Grit. I saw the first version when I was about his age at a drive-in theater with my cousins. Its a little more graphic than the John Wayne version, but Jeff Bridges did a great job capturing the character of Rooster Cogburn.
While looking through some old sketches; I found a tracing of a figure done by an illustrator named N. C. Wyeth. I liked the pose so did a quick tracing and stuck it in a file for later use. Now, like I said previously, I can’t copy it verbatum. I can use it as reference. That means I can change the face, the clothing, whatever. I think the original was in 18th century style clothing and was holding a flintlock pistol. As you can see from the image on the left I had begun to change his costuming. By the way, I didn’t trace him verbatum either. Except for the legs, I made a figure study. That means I drew him sans clothing.
I use vellum or tracing paper frequently because, I can redraw figures without doing a bunch of erasing. I can make minor changes in detail, clean up the lines, or change the position of arms, legs, or whatever without a total redraw. This is a big time saver and allows for visual comparisons between versions. If you look at the upper left corner of the left hand sketch you’ll see where I did a study of a cowboy hat that I saw in a magazine. This where having your reference material catalogued really comes in handy. I know right where to find stuff I want. So, putting all this together to get a character study done is a snap. A hat from here, a gunbelt from there, and boots from somewhere else, put them all together and presto change-o instant Marshall, Texas Ranger, Gunslinger, what have you. Is this fun or what? Every illustrator has his or her tricks to get the job done and make their creation as believable as possible. I’ve heard it said that the great Norman Rockwell used slides of various people and places to create those wonderful Americana illustrations that he did. Some may cry, “Foul! He cheated!”. Who cares? His creations have inspired generations of people and they’re beautiful. Is that any worse than scanning your work in to Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator and manipulating it? We’re after grabbing people’s imagination and impacting their emotions in a dynamic way. If you have studied art history as I have, you’ll soon see that everyone was inspired by someone, and some of those guys borrowed liberally from each other. I’ve looked at thousands of pieces of artwork and seen some serious repetitions. I’ve had occasion to say to myself, “I thought that guy said he never copied from anyone.” You might be shocked at the names I could drop. They’re some pretty venerated people too. Someone at a Sci-Fi/Fantasy artshow told me I only had to change 10% of someone else’s work to be legal. Say, what? No, thanks. I’d rather change 80 or 90% and not offend the concerned party. However, I would be flattered if someone copied my work but, that’s just me. Ansel Adams the great photographer once said, “All art is a vision penetrating the illusions of reality…” So, having said all that lets get on with the business of creating a vision.