Hanna

DavidBrasgalla_Hanna

“Hanna” – Acrylic on Panel, 65×81 cm

Last month, I finished a full-term mentorship with Rebecca Léveillé-Guay as part of her SmArtSchool online program. It was an amazing time, and I’m still processing what I learned, both from my own explorations under Rebecca’s guidance, and from watching as she worked with the other students (who are all amazing).

I did three paintings during the course, two of which are complete. This is the best result, one that I am quite pleased with (it’s also the largest painting yet for me!). Hanna is a re-enactor and craftsperson/merchant that I met two years ago at Medieval Week in Visby on the island of Gotland. I knew as soon as I met her that I wanted to paint her portrait, but early attempts didn’t work out so well. Last summer, she graciously took a few moments from her work with the festival to sit for a some reference photos.

Earlier attempts notwithstanding, this is the portrait I saw in my head when Hanna and I  first met, and I’m so grateful that both Rebecca and my excellent classmates could lend so much help and support in getting me here.

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Post-Spectrum Updates: “Éowyn and the Witch King” Redux

Éowyn and the Witch King

Éowyn and the Witch King
Graphite with Digital Colour, 21cm x 30cm

 

Back in 2011, I entered The Art Order’s “Éowyn and the Nazgúl” challenge, and was deeply honoured to place fourth in the judging. Since that time, it’s been easily the most popular image I’ve ever published on the web – I often see it popping up on different Pinterest boards and Flickr streams. I’m pleased by that, obviously, but it also means I get reminded of the shortcomings of the image.

For instance, even with an after-the-fact model reference check, there were still some issues with Éowyn that I had essentially handled by hiding them in shadow. I also felt that I didn’t really articulate the Fell Beast as much as I could have. I didn’t want it to attract much attention, so I probably overcompensated by not doing much with it at all. I was very happy with the Witch King, but he was a bit too large in proportion to Éowyn (since he was once a man, after all).

I decided I was interested to see what I would do with this picture four years on, so once again I dressed up a very patient artist friend in chainmail and equipped her with a sword and shield. My friend is tall and slim, with long, slender limbs, and she wore the costume with a lot of grace. She provided so many great variations on the original pose that I had trouble picking which one I liked best!

I worked on understanding Éowyn’s relationship to the rise of ground she’s on, and I made sure that the Fell Beast’s carcass was given due attention as well. I also worked to balance the composition better in the overall space, and did my best to preserve the colour scheme of the original. I kept the Witch King very much as he was. Finally, because I really enjoy doing this, I incorporated some of Tolkien’s text in the image.

The final painting has its own new identity, I think, and I’m interested to see if a new panel of judges for this year’s Spectrum annual were willing to vote for it again. I hope you enjoy the new version of this scene, and hopefully it gets as popular as the original painting!

Watercolour in Progress

Work in Progress, watercolour 30x42 cm Canson Montval, Cold Pressed/Fine Grain

Work in Progress, watercolour & graphite 30×42 cm
on Canson Montval, cold pressed/fine grain

Here’s a quick (read: low quality) snap of a piece I am currently working on for The Art Order’s latest challenge. Lots of swedish summertime themes coming through this one, and the tree and rocks from around where I live. I’m really happy with how it’s going – much better than my last large-scale watercolour attempt – but I’m now getting to the point where I’m increasingly wary of messing it up. I can feel that I’ve slowed down and become less adventurous. I still have about three weeks to finish it up, though, so there’s time to get wild and find out how far is “too far”!

May 7th, 1429

May 7th, Dawn - 21x27cm, Digital, 2011

May 7th, Dawn – 21×27 cm, Digital

Five hundred and eighty-five years ago today, Jehanne d’Arc led the French army under John of Dunois in the taking of the Tourelles, the heavily fortified and turreted gatehouse at the southern end of the bridge that led over the Loire river and into the besieged city of Orléans. She was seventeen years old. It’s an amazing episode both in Jehanne’s own story and the Hundred Years War itself – her first major military victory and a turning point in the war. The six-month siege itself was lifted on the 8th, and to this day, Jehanne bears the name La Pucelle d’Orléans – “The Maid of Orléans”.

Remembering this date reminded me of a painting I started in 2011 on my iPad, but never finished. I was inspired by N. C. Wyeth at the time, and had wanted to do something with a reduced palette. I’d also wanted to catch that feeling of very early morning in the springtime, that fresh but chilly feel to the morning air. Pulling the picture back up out of my files, I decided to finish up the last remaining details I’d intended and post it here to honor Jehanne and the day.

It was interesting to revisit a painting from nearly three years ago – I was mystified by some of the things I’d done, and sometimes had no remembrance of actually doing them! I’d almost certainly create this picture differently today, but I still like it and still feel good about it. I think there’s some nice passages, even if there are also some slight inaccuracies. I’m toying with the idea of doing a version of this on a big canvas with acrylics or oils…

At any rate, spare a thought today for Jehanne la Pucelle.

Valkyrjan IV

18x30 cm, Sepia Ink on Watercolour Paper with digital colour.

18×30 cm, sepia ink on watercolour paper with digital colour.

This piece is my submission to ArtOrder’s November 2013 Inspiration Challenge. It hasn’t actually been easy to be inspired right now, as this is perhaps the least inspiring time of year here in Sweden. There also hasn’t been much spare time lately for a project like this, so I had to take a lot of short periods of time where I could find them.

I’d been working on this idea on and off since the second Northern Light Workshop, where I’d been trying an acrylic painting of this theme with varied results. Unsatisfied, I invited the gracious Elin Hökby to come back to the studio to help me with poses, and she was interested in the direction of the picture. With her help and support, I came up with enough material that I felt I could get the feeling I was after for the piece – a darker take on the valkyrie inspired by the rune stones I’d seen in Visby on Gotland.

Painting a valkyrie at Northern Light Workshop 2 in 2012.

I wanted to try the so-called “Rackham technique” I’d read about on William Stout’s blog (watercolour over warm-toned ink lines), and so I traced out my sketches on Canson Montval watercolour paper. I used a waterproof Faber-Castell sepia brush pen to ink the linework. I was sort of a nervous wreck doing this, but everything worked out. I was admiring the finished line art when I suddenly realised I’d left out a letter in the old norse translation. I sat there in shock for a while, trying to decide how to handle it. I was going to scan the linework before colouring it anyway, just in case, so I scanned it and fixed the mistake in Photoshop.

I printed out the artwork onto new sheets of the same watercolour paper, but somehow it just wasn’t the same anymore, and I was quite depressed about the whole situation. I finally decided to take the pressure off myself and just colour it digitally. I have a set of digital watercolour brushes created by Justin Gerard that I just love, so I felt better directly about this decision. I still want to try a proper test of the Rackham method, but it’ll have to wait until the next piece!

The finished sepia inking on "Valkyrjan IV".

The finished sepia inking on “Valkyrjan IV”.

From that point, things went well. Even though I set out on this piece with Arthur Rackham and John Bauer firmly in mind, when I look at the finished work, I see how much I’ve been influenced by Hasui Kawase in the colouring. I can even see Mucha and Moebius in there in places. All of our various  inspirations are whispering to us as we work, I suppose.

The text in the framing is a fragment of stanza 54 of Helgakviða Hundingsbana I in old norse, which I hope I’ve managed to translate (and spell!) correctly. It says approximately, “Down from the sky came maidens with shining helms…”. I wanted the overall tone to be a bit ominous, and to include the ravens, who are sometimes associated with valkyrie. Her garb is closer to actual viking styles, and she carries a saga-sized drinking horn!

I wonder what the judges of the challenge will think of it – it’s a powerhouse lineup of famous artists and art directors, so no pressure there. At any rate, I learned so much creating this, and I’m motivated to take things further next time – to have the courage to colour the entire piece with watercolours…

Dark Ranger

"Sylvanas" 17x25 cm, Graphite with Digital Colour

“Sylvanas”
17×25 cm, Graphite with Digital Colour

I’ve always rather liked the character of ranger Sylvanas Windrunner from the Warcraft universe. She’s a bit like the Borg Queen: definitely someone you should stay far away from if at all possible, yet somehow compelling and magnetic at the same time. What I don’t care for is the “hot” treatments that most artists seem to give her in illustrations – she’s a revenant, after all, so that’s certainly uncomfortable territory to tread. I’ve always wanted to do a more low-key portrait of her, and give her a more “realistic” look (which is a bit silly given the character and milieu, I know).

I also did a lot of reading this summer about the Japanese Shin hanga ( “new print”) printmaking movement, and I became interesting in incorporating some of what I learned into my work. This picture is definitely informed by the palettes of artists like Hasui Kawase, and I was also intrigued by the depiction of hands in many works. My figures usually end up having my hands because I shot them for reference, so I wanted to get past this somehow. I’m happy with the hands here – and at the very least, they’re not mine! The excellent character and costume work of Carolina Dahlberg was also inspirational.

One last note: in my studying of archery, I came across the technique of so-called “instinctive shooting”, which was quite interesting and seemed very different from modern technical shooting – although that was equally impressive. I’m always pleased at how much I learn just from doing research for a painting, and the unexpected roads it can lead me down!

Hasui Kawase at Wikipedia

More Watercolour Experimentation…

"Jehanne with Apple Blossoms" Watercolour, work in progress.

“Jehanne with Apple Blossoms”
Watercolour, work in progress.

Here’s my second watercolour attempt, also very much in-progress. This image has been in the works since last summer, when I had a friend pose for the sketches for it. Here I’m building up many washes of very light tones, trying not to destroy the surface of the Canson paper too much as I go. I’m deliberately using a very narrow colour range so far, and it tends to vary between looking pretty good and going muddy, depending on the wash. I wanted to see how this technique feels to work in, and what kind of results I can get with it – it’s really different from how I tend to use acrylics. It’s been a real exercise in patience, waiting for each wash to fully dry!