I teach at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. The illustration department is really pretty special. I've been teaching there since about 1990 and at every level. After a few years of just teaching workshops, I took on a class that has turned out to be a great fit for me. Figurative Illustration is the title and it starts with drawing from the model, painting from the model in monochrome, then onto full color portraits. I teach them my strength.
As the class enters it's second semester we concentrate on application of these skills into illustrations. The class really challenges these new illustrators to figure out what they do that is unique, what their aesthetic is, and how to filter assignments through that aesthetic.
I have had some pretty fantastic kids these past few years, some of who I will profile soon.
For now, I want to write about the final assignment.
All I said was dragon. As some people smiled broadly, others groaned and it was their job to think of ideas they would do in their style. I decided to do one myself in class.
Taking cues from George Stubbs and thinking of this princess painting I did a few years back, I wanted to do an elegant dragon that was all about pose, not aggression.
This is a George Stubbs I referred to and my Chinese Princess for Scholastic's Royal Diaries series.
And this one. The cool surprise for me was how great he was at landscape. I never quite considered that when looking at his work.
The head in the first sketch was not so great and not the look I was going for. I wanted to paint a white dragon. A gentle elegant beast. This first sketch was in my head from a Business Week cover I did not long ago. It just flowed from my pen. So I did these revised heads. Cassius, my son, said the one on the left was the best and the other looked like a dog. He was right.
This is the sketch with the new head. It's now more elegant.
Before going to finish I have to do a value study. In that study I figure out the setting and how this dragon would be lit. The fact that I made everything up and am drawing from my head means that the preparation for the final art is vital.
In class, on gessoed illustration board I begin the drawing. The drawing is in white charcoal, sepia charcoal, white and brown Gouache and some color pencil. My laptop shows me my final sketch.
Here is a close up
After getting down the dragon, I need it to fit in an environment. This was the most difficult part of the process, but fun.
I love my class, and they have watched me do paintings in class as demonstrations before. The cool thing about me working on this was they were as into their own illustration as I was mine. Here is proof.
At this point I have my drawing complete and have added some blue charcoal pencil to the sky and have designed some clouds to frame this dragon in the scene.
In preparation to airbrush some contrast into this drawing and do the cloud drawing, I photocopy the drawing and cut out the dragon as a template.
In order to do this in class I had to go to school on a Sunday night and haul so much stuff. I brought my full set of oils, all my drawing material, books, computer, electric pencil sharpener and a drawing panel and maul stick.
Here is the artwork before oils and after some airbrush. My class did watch this part. I taught myself airbrush in college. These kids leaned airbrush in photoshop first and have never seen a real one in action. They were riveted. I paint with it mostly in white and brown and in the end felt that it was going exactly as I had hoped. There are great things that happen to a drawing while your doing it. This one proved to be full of surprises. I hope the final art is just as satisfying.
I have NOT finished this painting yet. Work and life have jumped into my freedom yet again. I will do so soon and add it to this article. For now, I have a pre-oil painting piece ready for some finesse.