Twenty-fourteen is a big year here in Oil City, Pennsylvania. It was 100 years ago, just a couple of doors up from my studio address, that Charlie Chaplin signed his first movie deal with Mack Sennett. Charlie was performing at the Lyric Theater with Fred Karno’s comedy troupe and met Sennett in between acts to sign the contract. Here’s a detailed account of Charlie’s early career.
I was approached by the Friends of the Library to create a stand-alone cut-out of Charlie. They wanted him big—8 feet tall. I went over to the library to see where Charlie would be installed and discovered that there is not very much floor space but there is ample height—the main floor’s ceiling is about 16 feet high. I scrapped the drawing I’d done of Charlie standing and drew Charlie suspended, using his cane as a hook. I think this pose fits his acrobatic style.
I enlarged my drawing onto pieces of foam board. The project is 3 ply, so that I could paint front & back without it warping. His arm has a center of plywood and his cane itself is 3 pieces of plywood laminated together, since it supports the whole piece.
He is painted with acrylic in black & white, of course!
I like to listen to really old classical music, and have attended the wonderful concerts organized by the Renaissance & Baroque Society of Pittsburgh. I do illustrations for their season brochures.
A couple of years ago they booked the group Hesperus, who had the clever idea to perform a renaissance/medieval soundtrack to Douglas Fairbanks’ silent movie Robin Hood. My buddy Ann Mason, who was executive director at the time, asked me to do a poster illustration for this special concert. How could I resist?
I wanted to show the musicians superimposed on a larger-than-life Douglas Fairbanks, and somehow interacting with him. I remembered a scene from the movie My Favorite Year, in which Peter O’Toole (essentially playing Errol Flynn) drunkenly walks into a screening of one of his old movies and begins sword-fighting his own projected image.
To separate the musicians from Fairbanks, I chose to paint them in color and him black & white—that’s a no-brainer. Also, they will be lighted from below (as they turned out to be during the performance) while Fairbanks would be lighted from the left. They will cast hard shadows onto the b&w image to keep up the illusion of a projected movie. The perspective for Fairbanks is different and far more dramatic than for the musicians—we’re looking at him from a bug’s-eye view; the musicians are level with our own horizon. As usual with my perspective exercises, if you take a ruler to it and try to find a vanishing point you’ll be doomed to disappointment. The vanishing points are there, somewhere, but I don’t strictly adhere to them.
I did a burnt sienna underpainting even for the black and white portion. I think it warms it up a bit.
Posted in illustration process
Tagged art, baroque, color, hesperus, illustration, music, palette, perspective, renaissance, robin hood, silent film, underpainting