For a portrait artist, achieving a likeness to a reference (either through a primary i.e. life model or secondary source i.e. photograph) is a true test of his/her skill.
Add to that the task of creating a poster style image which requires achieving multiple likenesses of various characters within a uniquely designed composition and you have a great challenge on your hands. If it ends up to your liking, there is no better satisfaction!
My fascination for pop-culture is just as strong as my obsession for art, so it makes sense I settle on subject matter where I can combine my two passions. In this case it is Logan (the Wolverine character from the immensely popular X-Men movie universe, played by Hugh Jackman.)
This 3rd movie in the Wolverine solo franchise sees Logan as an old man now in a dystopian future; the sole survivor from the previous X-Men films, when he crosses paths with a mysterious little girl whose abilities are not dissimilar to his own. He takes her in, only to find themselves on the run from a shadowy group of mercenaries.
After reading the synopsis and watching the trailer, I start to get a feel for the story outline and how this could be conveyed in an illustration. I thus begin with Google images for related imagery to reference.
I experiment with different combinations of images that I feel can describe in one still, the essence of what we know so far (note: the film will have just been released at the time of going to print).
Occasionally I will have to crop/rotate/re-scale images to make them integrate to one another better and also to ensure that the light source is consistent.
Given the premise, Logan is of course front and centre, looking distressed. We also know he takes in the little girl known as X23, so I have included an image with him being protective of her.
At this point I am unsure of the rest of the composition and arbitrarily add in some other images which may or may not change as I begin to draw. I am somewhat erratic like that!
Some artists will use grids or a light box to achieve an accurate lay in. However I am a traditionalist and like to simply use my pencil to gauge proportions, comparatively measure and triangulate in order to achieve a true likeness.
I wouldn’t want to lose that purist skill of trusting my eye & prefer knowing I have successfully studied the characteristics of the face/figure by simply looking.
After playing around with some thumbnail sketches on how I would like to see the images fit, I lay in a few critical lines on the Bristol board to establish the envelope (the boundary of the total work) to get an idea of the composition.
From there I will have a hard copy of the composition stuck to the wall in front of me, and begin to sketch.
It is still quite loose at this stage and just I want to put pencil to paper and map out the main features of the centre piece image of Logan, and roughly decided on the placement of Logan carrying X23.
I decided that the image of Logan carrying X23 should be a little further over to the right, to frame the piece a more.
As you can see, I have marked out the total length of the image, then measured the head with my pencil, then count the number of head units that make up the total length. I can then transfer this unit to fit the composition I am working to. Each head unit will also act as landmarks to place the rest of the figure drawing.
Here I carry on using the established unit of the head to map out the horizontal landmarks of the figure. (I could go to the nth degree on these methods, but will have to save that for another blog.)
I also begin to posterise the Logan head. This simply means I block the tonal values.
Once I am happy enough with the lay in of the figure drawing, I begin to block in the main values. The image has strong shadows so I make sure these are dark as possible.
I get to work on the Logan head shot and use graphite powder on a tissue to cover a lot of ground quickly to establish the midtones.
After reaching a point where I am happy enough with the figure image, I cover it with a scrap piece of paper, taped in place so I can focus on the rest of the drawing.
It is at this point I decide on what to add to the drawing.
As they are on the run, I will have the mercenaries fleet of SUVs superimposed in Logan’s belly – symbolising his internal struggle. It is bounded by the image of him carrying X-23 away. To balance out the composition from left to right I have chosen an image X23 looking concerned over Logan’s shoulder.
This is what it’s looking like so far with the SUVs driving through the desert. This is relatively straight forward as they are firstly only primitive shapes (basic shapes such as rectangles, circles etc) and secondly are cloaked in silhouette for the most part, so it is just a case of getting the shapes correct relative to one another, blocking in the various shades of grey and ensuring everything fits.
Again measuring with your pencil is key to this.
Occasionally I will get up away from my desk, stretch my legs and look at my drawing from a different angle in my room. This can break the monotony but also give a fresh perspective on your work to ensure it is still in keeping with your vision.
It is looking good, but a little lopsided so I know I need to add X23 before I can fully appraise the piece.
Here I have mapped out the space the head of X23 will take up.
I started measuring the features using my pencil and marked them out on the page. The top and bottom of the head is arbitrary, it simply needs to fit your composition. I then triangulate the left and right furthest features and where the markings intersect; that’ll be the outside of the head structure. I carry on using this method until I have a roughed out head shape.
I then use a similar technique to find the basic horizontal features (placement of hairline, brow ridge and bottom of the nose.)
And again to locate the vertical boundaries on those horizontal lines where the eyes, nose and lips should sit.
Once in place, I am confident enough to find the features & work in further details.
I key the drawing and add the darkest darks and from there work backwards to establish the tonal value range of the drawing until it is complete.
Again I step away to evaluate.
Lastly I add a rainy background, some tumbleweed and blades of grass to tie the entire piece together and I think we are done!
Overall I very happy with the illustration as it was a fun test of all types of drawing (portrait, figure & landscape!)
This piece measures A3 (42cm x 29.7cm) and was drawn with Derwent soft graphic pencils on Winsor & Newton smooth Bristol board. The original is available and prints will follow.
Well I hope you also enjoyed me taking you through my process and hopefully it will encourage some of you try the techniques mentioned as I whole heartedly believe in them.
If you have any questions or feedback feel free to reach out on any of my social media links below.
Amas is an independent artist specialising in traditional drawing and applying it to today’s pop-culture fantasy.
He’ll next be appearing at http://londonfilmandcomiccon.com/ in the summer where he’ll have a range of original pieces & prints available for purchase, in addition to a limited number of commission slots available for collection on the day.
To stay up to date with his latest work, or to commission a bespoke piece feel free to reach out on any of the links below: