Friday, December 25, 2009

Victorian Santa Claus - Christmas card

Hello out there!
It's been a while since my last post. I'm sorry, I have an Abolishers post I need to make. But I figured since it's Christmas, I will treat you to a pretty in depth progress post of one of the Christmas cards I sent out this year. This is the final product, it's for the most part watercolors and colored pencils. With a few Photoshop tweaks (or "fixes") thrown into the mix.

Let's go back to the beginning. It's starts with a little thumbnail sketch about two inches high and only I can make out what the heck it is.

(Nevermind the image on the right for now, that will be a future card... for the future.)

Once I get a general idea as to what I want the layout to be, I start looking at inspiration, mostly the masters such as Leyendecker, Rockwell and Mucha. But also santa suits and different styles of suits. Now I was certain I wanted my santa to have the feel that he was from a time period of the past. With that being said, you may already know I am really into the Victorian era so I researched Santas from that time period.

That's where Thomas Nast comes into the picture. Nast was an illustrator from the 1800's and it just so happens he was the first to draw Santa as a jolly fellow with a sack full of toys for good boys and girls. The Nast Santa had red and white striped pants and a blue coat with stars shapes on the front. I loved the striped pants idea, the blue star vest... not so much.

The first appearance of the Knast Santa. Harpers Weekly 1863.

At this point, I have my thumbnail, I have my inspiration. Since I want my Santa to look somewhat realistic, I wanted some actual reference pictures to work from. That's where my good friend and fellow artist comes in... this is about how the conversation went:

Me: - "Hey man! I'm drawing a Santa Claus for a Christmas card... will you dress up like Santa for me so I can get some good reference shots?"
G: - " Yeah! That will be awesome!"
Me:- "Great! I already have the Santa suit at home."
G: - "Cool... wait... are you saying I'm fat?"
Me: - "uhh..."
*awkward pause*

As you can see, G is not fat... ( I love you man!) but he is a very tall, large build man. Perfect for my Claus. I wanted mine to be almost like an elder superhero of sorts. Like Superman's great grandfather.

So! after about 20 or so shots in my garage with Gerald in my Santa suit and wearing my Nacho cape. I get some really good shots to work off of. This one is actually a frankenstein of a few photos I meshed together for my reference piece. With this image I am now able to have a picture to reference lighting, the pose and just the overall image. At this point I could try and draw freehanded just by looking my reference. But my drawings always tend to lean towards the more cartoonish side if I go about it that way, which is not always a bad thing. But since I want this guy to look a bit more realistic and I started this three days before I had to send it out and only about 2-4 hours each of those days to work on it, time was of an essence so I opened my reference in photoshop and began TRACING (*gasp! the dreaded word!) Yeah tracing, Struzan so does it, Rockwell did it so can I, besides, unless your Alex Ross or Frank Frazetta it's the quickest way to get proportions right the first time round.

Once I get the main outlines of the figure and the more important key landmarks like the eyes, nose and hands. I remove the reference photo and start to add the finer details I want to see in the art. the bag of toys (note Unklbee there) the long list, the striped pants, large pipe. and I turned the Nacho mask into my Santa Trench coat. These are easier for me to incorporate on the computer just incase there is something I don't like, or I want to try a new idea it's a quick change without destroying what I already had if I need to go back. It's basically the most important step in this whole thing because it's the step where I figure out all my key points and work through any problems I might have. Once I get all the details figured out and I'm happy I print this out at 11x17 and off to the *light box I go!

*sorry! I had a shot of the finished pencils right after transferring from the lightbox, but I can't seem to find it. I might have deleted it from existence! boo!

I transfer my sketch to my watercolor paper then I soak it in water and stretch it to a piece of plywood. I let it dry overnight so it'll be good and dry and ready for paint the next day!

Now the few shots are just progress of the watercolors:

So.. I got a bit carried away and got into the zone painting after that last image. I forgot to take anymore photos of the colored pencils stage.

But here is the finished art after fixing a few color tweaks and adjusting the saturation and levels. You can see here I'm no Alphonse Mucha by a long shot so my shoddy attempt at intricate floush-y borders work was just that.. shoddy. So to "fix" that I would have loved to just power through here and start over painting a new border with watercolors and pencils but remember I was kind of pressed for time. Thank the Heavens for Photoshop! I'm a firm believer of Bevel and Emboss'd art is for rookies and a "REAL" artist would have hand painted all those highlights and textures on the borders... but at this point it was being printed to mail out literally within the hour so I had no choice but to do something I hate.

With said and done, that was the entire process of my Victorian- inspired Santa Claus. I sent quite a few out (about 150) to friends and family and a small few to some of my artistic heroes you know who you are. But after ALL that hard work and precise attention to detail..
the card that everybody responded to the most was just a last minute gag. A sweet xmas sweater from Goodwill, some gold jewelry and a groovy mustache is all it took!

Merry Christmas everyone!