Though it seems a lot longer ago now, in March 2014 I was Artist Guest of Honor at LunaCon in NY. At the time it was the largest single display of my work and was a bear to put together. In retrospect, it was good training for this year, which has included a small restaurant exhibit and a much larger solo exhibit.
I was asked to speak on a couple of panels--typical convention stuff--and was also asked to do a live painting demo for a couple of hours. Since my time heading into the show was consumed with preparation for the show, I was not really sure what I was going to paint. I heard the Star Wars costuming organization the 501st Legion was going to be around the show doing various things, so was put in touch with them and managed to procure the services of a Stormtrooper to pose for me, which is so like a Stormtrooper: poor guys and gals, always sent indiscriminately to do the grunt work all over the galaxy. I guess when you grow 'em to follow orders, they follow orders.
Operating number TK-60918 was therefore dispatched to stand for me while I painted for a very small number of people who wandered by the art show area. The nature of a live demo means you necessarily have to work differently, mostly you have to work fast enough so that the audience doesn't fall asleep or wander off. It also meant that working on an in-progress personal work or illustration would be no good, since that usually involves me paintings small things with small brushes, slowly. It's like watching paint dry.
The nice thing about painting a Stormtrooper is that your palette is automatically limited (unless you use weird colored lighting). That helped. Also, Star Wars.
So I brought a 16x20 panel, some paints and set about a block-in of the figure. Possibly it might've made more sense to leave the figure even rougher and spend a bit more time on the head or something. I haven't done many live demos in the past, so I'll learn this lesson.
Nevertheless, TK-60918 was extremely patient, having just arrived at the venue that morning from Staten Island traveling to Rye Brook, NY.
At the end, I had a roughly blocked in Stormtrooper on a 16x20" panel. Useless as-is. I shot some photos of TK' figuring that if I wanted to take it any further, I should have some reference. Then I put it away and got busy for a long time.
Not long ago, while still in NYC, I pulled it out one day and thought about what I might do with it. It's basically a portrait anyway. What kind of background might go with this portrait? I considered a window view with the Death Star outside, or a planet they were about to land on. But my mind returned to the hallways within the Death Star with that great wall lighting--a detail that concept artist Ralph McQuarrie was always great at incorporating. I had painted the background blackish, so I would need to raise sections back up to pure white. So I drew out the pattern and used a palette knife and some white alkyd to apply a thick coat of white, sufficient to obliterate the black again. I also left that area textural--I had just wrapped up a hardware piece where I use more texture generally, so this influence seemed to play in. Then I got busy for a bit more, and moved.
I proposed to include the painting in my upcoming solo exhibition. That meant I needed to finish it this summer. The show--in a broad stroke--is about my various youthful influences, and how I continue--consciously or unconsciously--to return to them in fueling my creative directions. And Star Wars figures heavily into my story as an artist. There are a couple of other Star Wars related paintings in the show, and I'll also be showing a sheet of art done as a small kid, featuring a Stormtrooper. They will hang together.
Now that I was moving along seriously with this, there were some things to resolve. First, when I did the background block-in based on my photo, I noticed that there were some big shape mistakes primarily in the helmet, so corrected those. But as I moved forward and started tightening up this loose block-in, I found lots of other smaller errors and corrected those as well.
Second, the paint I used live included some tube gray--Gamblin Portland Grays, specifically. These have a slightly taupe cast to them, but my interior now was all cool dark grays. So that meant I'd have to really obliterate, finally, everything I'd laid down originally. That's ok, since I was going for a final illustration look. I've done other pieces where I approach the painting with no pre-drawing and just draw straight on the board, so this was no different.
From there I finished off the piece. The hardest part was reserving the top end of the value (light-to-dark) scale on the figure until the end. Based on memory and the photos, one thing I loved was the shine of lights bouncing off the glossy paint. To achieve that, it meant that I could only go so light for everything else on the figure, so that when I placed those reflections they really popped. However until that final pass, the figure looked a bit dull, like a car painted before the gloss coat is put on.
In the end, I got a nice Star Wars portrait out of it all. It will be available this month as part of my "Level Up" exhibit in Seattle. Thanks so much to Greg for roleplaying the thankless job of being a Stormtrooper, in real life, and to the 501st Legion in general for their enthusiasm, dedication and participation in so many great events, including adding spice to good causes.