I recently got a call from Justin Page at Playboy to create a portrait for a fiction piece titled The Vampire Horses of the Great Cummerbund Steeplechase by Ron Carlson, a gothic story centered around a small town in England and the mysterious "exsanguination" of various officials connected to its annual horserace. For those of you who don't know—and I was one of you until I read this story—to "exsanguinate" is to drain something of all its blood. You learn something new every day.
As you've probably gathered, this isn't your average English countryside tale, and this wasn't the average portrait assignment, either; Justin was looking for a image not of a person but of a horse—and not just any horse, but a vampire horse. A perfect project!
Horses have an intimidating quality to them, particularly in the eyes, and a nervous and unpredictable energy that lent itself to this piece. I quickly did a sketch for Justin and indicated color—something I don't normally do, but felt was important in conveying how it could add to the sense of foreboding. By limiting the color palatte to red and a sort of bone color of burnt umber, my goal was to give a menacing, otherworldly feel to this piece. I also liked the idea of this portrait emerging from darkness, something I pushed a bit farther in the finished piece.
Justin suggested that they photograph an antique frame and insert my piece in to it—a combination of media that nicely compliments my use of texture and aging to emphasize the history of an image. The final piece, above, has just the right level of creepiness to fit in above the mantel of Barnabus Collins' home. And just in time for Halloween.
The spread; love the drips Justin added to the type.