Saturday, August 30, 2014

Keeping Up with the Friedmans

     Sometime in the late '80s, I had the idea to draw a series of portraits featuring the actors who appeared in the films of Ed D. Wood, Jr., director of the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space. I'd become a huge fan of Wood's demented movies, having been exposed to them via the newfangled VHS tape revolution, during which every piece of junk drive-in cinema had become available for home viewing - a glorious era. I was further inspired to embark on this project by having doodled a few passable Bela Lugosi portraits, one of which eventually evolved into this drawing:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Leftover Lump

     Way back in 2003, I illustrated and published a book written by Troy England Evitt III called "Grampy's Lump and Other False Starts." This was a collection of disjointed and often spit-out-your-Cheez-Doodles funny stories that generally lacked character development, plot structure or anything a competent writer would attempt. I'd been collecting these scraps of paper, scrawled longhand in what I called "Ev-oglyphics," since the sixth grade, where Evitt and I first met, and decided after years of hoarding them to make a project of illustrating the little literary outbursts.

     Mercifully, the book is now long out of print. But I'm still pretty fond of the drawings, and I thought they at least deserved a little blog space. So I'm blowing the dust off these antiques and submitting them for your approval.

Monday, August 25, 2014

It Looks Just Like That Guy I've Never Heard Of.

My whirlwind month of being the poster kid for Turner Classic Movies' "Summer Under the Stars" series is coming to a close. Lots of people have been taking the time to not only find out who the artist is behind the portraits (TCM decided to keep it a secret to protect me from assassins), but to write me to say how much they enjoy the work. It's been the sort of experience that restores one's faith in humanity, like when a cop jump-starts your car instead of tazing you for vagrancy.

One request I've gotten a few times is to show more of the "how I done it" process on my blog. I generally like to keep the recipe under wraps, lest al-Qaeda begin developing superior caricaturing strategies, but who am I to keep my miserable, desperate doodling away from those so eager to ridicule it?

So, let's talk about Lee Tracy. You know him, you love him...okay, you don't know him. And neither did I. He's a Hollywood star who didn't leave the lasting impression that, say, Fatty Arbuckle did. But let's be honest: When capturing the likeness of someone nobody has ever heard of, it can sure take the pressure off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I, Fold

Sure, sometimes the likenesses on my portraits are way off. Try as I might to capture the essence of a particular face, it can happen that an attempted Martin Sheen can look too much like Esther Williams. Caricature is difficult stuff, people. Negotiating the proportions of facial features can seem like trying to defuse a time bomb - the face can seem burned beyond recognition in an instant.

And this is why I ask you to be considerate of this delicate challenge. Don't judge me by the standards of a celebrity likeness. This task is too tenuous, precarious. Instead, judge me by the craftsmanship I apply to my true art: The design of men's sleeve folds.
I often put twice as much time into the design of men's sleeve folds as I do on the same guy's face. And frankly, I think all artists should be judged by their sleeve folds, so I'm willing to put my own efforts up to public scrutiny by the same criteria. The Summer Under the Stars series gave me plenty of opportunity to deal with sleeve folds. Not all of them were successful, of course. Edmond O'Brien's sleeve above is certainly nothing to write home about.

But how about Herbert Marshall here? I'd suggest this elegant gray and white design compliments the quiet dynamics of a Marshall performance, don't you? It's bold without being arrogant - crisp, yet full of tension. This is a sleeve which can haunt your memory.

If I do say so myself, Cary Grant's sleeve is near perfection. It's the right combination of line and shape, balanced and neatly contained. The jaunty interplay of light and shadow mirrors the vibrant, whimsical performance of Grant himself. If this sleeve could talk, it would say, "Judy, Judy, Judy," for the sleeve expresses what Cary himself never actually did.

 The shadowy shapes of Joseph Cotten's sleeve seem to point in different directions at once. Could this be intended to suggest the conflicted nature of Cotten's character in Portrait of Jennie? Or is there some message in this conflict for all of us to recognize - the turmoil of the modern human condition, fracturing our child-like notions of free will and personal destiny? The moral tableau embedded in these gray creases presents a cautionary tale for the ages.
The utilitarian quality of David Niven's sleeve is regal, yet somehow slovenly. "Wait," the sleeve seems to say. "Let us not rush into the rise and fall of an elbow crease as if working a bicycle pump. Ours is an objective of style, even as we flex and bend our way through life's ordeals." Niven's sleeve has a quiet strength - the noble savage of tailored fashions. It would win an arm wrestling match simply by virtue of its game face. It goes without saying that this is dry clean only.

My personal standard for men's sleeve folds was set several years ago by this notable Jack Webb sleeve. It is my personal best - my high score in Space Invaders, my championship wheelbarrow race trophy. This one lasts the test of time as an expression of sleeveness itself - a brutal distillation of a lifetime of fabric tension. To ask if this is linen or gaberdine is to miss the larger point. This sleeve is woven of the human experience, on a loom of brotherhood, in a sweatshop of name-brand universal consciousness. Follow the path set by this sleeve and the dynamic tension of our daily wear will never create undue stress. Jack would have wanted it that way.

Obviously, I pride myself on my design of men's jacket folds. Of course the Philistines of our modern illustration business are not sophisticated enough to accept this as the true focus of my art. So I continue the cheap parlor trick of celebrity likeness, assured that those who care to scrutinize my efforts will see I have something extra up my sleeve.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Every Day, Turner, Turner, Turner

Several months ago, I was sitting around in a state of existential despair, as is my usual pastime, when I was contacted by John Miller at Turner Classic Movies. He had an interesting suggestion: Instead of my usual illustration process of creating one or two caricature portraits and going back to bed until the next illo assignment limped along, how would I like to go without sleep for several weeks while feverishly trying to finish thirty-one portraits by the end of June?

How could I refuse? After all, being a classic movie fan, TCM would likely be the only network I could stomach if I had a television. Dealing with long-dead film stars would mean I had caricature subjects I didn't have to Google first to find out who they are.

And so began my nerve-wracking journey. For those of you wondering why I've been mostly incommunicado in recent months, it's because I've been staying up all night, repeatedly watching Bringing Up Baby to capture the stitching on Cary Grant's pajamas. The result of my labors is this month's TCM presentation of Summer Under the Stars, thirty-one days of movie marathons, featuring my thirty-one portraits of classic film stars.

To give you an idea of what this anxiety-fueled process was like, I present here some of the stages of my Judy Garland portrait - a cautionary tale about working really hard instead of working really smart.

Step one is to produce a lot of really hideous doodles in ballpoint pen, based on the photo reference of Judy I've gotten through Google Images and other sources. Most of this reference is useless - glamour shots of young Garland in which all her distinctive features have been airbrushed into oblivion. But I search for anything in the face I can capitalize upon and shape into designerly whatnot.

Why sketch in ballpoint pen? Why not use a pencil, with which I could safely make corrections and careful sketch development? There are deeply-rooted psychological reasons for this my therapist and I have yet to ferret out. I'm sure it's something to do with breastfeeding.

So of course I'm trying to pin down "cute Judy," since she's being featured in her youthful role in Meet Me in St. Louis. But Judy Garland, as all gay men know, lived a brilliantly tragic life of alcoholism that wrecked her appearance as she aged, providing very tempting facial information for the dastardly caricaturist. It was difficult to know when to pull back on the aging Judy's facial quirks to keep her looking relatively young. 

Plus the portrait needs to be finished within a day or two or I'll fall behind schedule. And since I'm a complete fraud with no real talent and everyone hates me and I'm going to die of humiliation when the true limits of my artistry are exposed, I'm under a little pressure at this point.

Once I have the face in a sort-kinda likeness, I start working on the overall composition of the piece. Meet Me in St. Louis is one of the few films on the portrait list I've never seen, so I'm feeling somewhat desperate here to drain what few film stills I have of all their referential value. I figure if I cram enough costuming and background detail into the artwork, people will recognize what film we're talking about. Also, there is apparently lots of singing in the movie, hence my attempts to draw Judy with her bellowing maw agape in song.

And once I've assembled the sketch elements on the computer, I decide to further over-complicate the piece with this ridiculous "period" wallpaper, which I've stolen from the generous internet. Because I am a brainless lummox with only a minimal understanding of the digital realm, I intend to reproduce this wallpaper texture by hand for the final art, further slowing the process on this tight and very hectic schedule. There's some seething self-hatred at work here that really needs examining.
And so the sketch is inked on a light table, producing this schematic, which will be scanned and manipulated in my graphics software. What sophisticated software do I use? Here's a hint: Toddlers enjoy using it to make colored squiggles with a mouse.
And as they say in Tahiti, viola! A painstakingly over-rendered image of a (mostly) young Judy Garland, belting out a musical number I've never heard from a film classic I've never seen. Geez Louise, what's with that wonky banister? I've been watching too many old UPA cartoons, I suppose.

Once TCM distributes these images as part of their online promotional campaign, the sweet reward of all my blood, sweat and pixels is in comments from fans such as this:

"I find these 'caricature' illustrations to be really annoying, unappealing, and unattractive of (sic) the actors in general. Boo TCM! Will we have to look at these all month?"

She could have at least had some kind words for the wallpaper.

Follow the rest of the annoying, unappealing portraits I drew on Facebook here.