Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Great Train Robbery by N.C. Wyeth

N.C. Wyeth painted like a writer, he honed in on what is important to tell the story he wanted to tell at a glance so anyone could understand it. He focused in on the most exciting moment of the story and drew the viewer in to use his imagination on what happens next. Once he decided on that moment it allowed him to edit out any extraneous details to keep the drawing as simple as possible. For instance he doesn't use anything more than a simple shape of a hand and face in contrast with the strong silhouettes of the robbers and doesn't bother rendering the train or details on the clothes of the robbers anymore than he needs to.

If he had rendered more of the train the illustration would have lost focus, so instead he crops the irrelevant parts out of the picture to suggest the size of the train. The hand is more effective in showing what is going on rather than spending the time to render another person. Can you imagine what this illustration may have looked like if we saw the man with his hands up at the carriage entrance? The story then would have had to change to be about the person being robbed rather than the robbers.

The focus here is entirely on the robber with a gun. His strong silhouette shape has the most tonal variation and its clear that he is the center of our story since this detail contrasts with the complete lack of detail on the victims and the lack of detail on the man in the back.

Whether this is the first encounter with anyone since they got on the train or they have been moving from carriage to carriage the story is clear these two men have the surprise attack on these individuals and this is communicated with the contrast of the body language of the two characters with their strong silhouettes and sense of moving forward with the simple shapes of the hand and face on the right.

They aren't carrying bags of stolen goods so they must be there for whatever it is that is in the carriage they are entering into.


N.C. Wyeth's compositions sometimes feel like landscape like shapes to me. The shape of the carriage on the left is cropped but is still left in the picture enough for it to move all the way down the image to connect with the silhouette of the man crouching in the back. A similar shape is holding your attention from going off the page on the other side and the combination of this asymmetrical composition draws all your attention to the right of the image.

The right of the image feels heavier and has the most variation in color and tone. Your eye moves along the face of the robber then down along the white of his shirt to his torso, then to the gun pointing at the victims who are simplified with a hand held in surrender and a featureless face. Your eye then finds itself resting on the shapes of the second robber's face.

The negative space shape around the figures are bold and a little bit of visual interest is added to it such as the piece of rope or fabric that hangs from both tops of the carriages.

N.C. Wyeth doesn't spend time rendering anything but what he wants you to pay attention to.
The most variation in tone is on the figure on the right with several value tones used to keep your eye moving from the man in the front to the victims and back and around to the figure in the back.

The second most tonal variation is the man in the back crouching with the knife in his mouth. This is the only detail he allows for this figure outside of the details of the hand because nothing else is needed to tell the story. Less is more.

In order to make the figure fit within the bold negative space of the sky in the background we can see that he uses the white of the back drop along with the white of the shirt on the robbers right arm to blend the shapes together to where the boundaries between the two almost disappear entirely. This is called lost edges and it's used to stimulate interest by suggesting the edge your brain wants to complete the edge and has to become involved in the image to do so which keeps your readers attention.

This lost edges here are in direct contrast with the sharp edges of the rest of the piece and in only a few other instances such as the 2nd hand of the victim and the featureless face do we see soft edges.

He does variations of light to dark edges all around the robber where his back is turned to his light source and as you move down the edges are lost to the broad strokes that suggest motion.

The bounce light from our source of light hitting the carriage wall and reflecting back onto the robber again keeps our attention on him and gives it another level of visual interest. The color palette looks like its mostly confined to browns oranges and yellows with the exception of a dirtier green in the pants of the robber with the gun.

The shapes of the figures and the train feel like one connected shape that extends all the way from the left of the carriage through the first silhouette, along the ground to the second silhouette and into the shadow that connects to the 2nd carriage as the enter into it.

Texture is suggested with the ragged edges along the bottom of the painting.




Monday, August 1, 2016

Hold My Vigil by Nicolas Delort

Nicolas explains the origin of this drawing in his blog inkling that this illustration is inspired by Neil Gaiman's American Gods:

"Also, here's an illo I never got around to posting, because I consider it somewhat of a failure. I set it aside and reworked it into "Vigil" (I don't know which one worked better in the end, I think the former had drama that the latter doesn't have and the latter has atmosphere that the former doesn't have).
I just finished trying to clean it up a little in photoshop (on the original the sky is a complete mess). I still like the angle and the two characters in the foreground (Ibis and Jacquel) but I feel like the World Tree and Shadow are a little wonky.
Oh well.
(just for fun, the guy in the front is Mr. Jacquel, holding the cig with his pointy nose is Mr. Ibis, the three cloaked figures are the Nornes and in the background with the hat is Mr. Nancy and the tiny one all the way back would be Czernobog) "

I myself have never read the book so delving into the details of the narrative will not be my purpose here, instead I would like to focus on analyzing the composition elements. Thumbnail composition study

Above is my thumbnail recreation of the composition. The goal here is to take a composition from a piece you like and zoom out on photoshop until only the broad shapes are apparent and to try to copy these broad shapes down as close as possible in values. We break these illustrations down into thumbnails so we can then take the information we gather from them and apply it to our own work. I love this illustration because the angle feels so dramatic and cinematic. Delort's pen and ink style with bold giant black shapes that contrast with the the negative spaces they create make the illustration feel very diagonal with the individual in the foreground wrapping around the top side of the drawing.

Defining a focus when looking at something is best done when you look away from the illustration, then back at it again and see exactly where your eyes fall. My eye falls directly onto the man in the middle. The shadow in his glasses create a interesting bold black and white shape that sits and contrasts with the textured grey tone of his face and hair.

My attention then goes to the 3 hands in the foreground, to the face at the top as it points directly down to the tree. We then see the figure crucified on the tree, then back down to the figure resting on the ground and the 6 figures blocking this area of the drawing in.

NarrativeI'm currently listening to the audio book of American Gods, the book this illustration is inspired from but I am unfamiliar with this scene.

1. a period of keeping awake during the time usually spent asleep, especially to keep watch or pray.

"my birdwatching vigils lasted for hours"

2. (in the Christian Church) the eve of a festival or holy day as an occasion of religious observance."

From the little bit that I have gathered from the synoposis of the book and what I have heard so far I would assume that this illustration is about a ceremony or ritual of sacrifice to appease the Gods.

His composition is bold black and white shapes that make the illustration feel very heavy on the right which is contrast to the abstract shape of the tree. It creates a negative space that feels like it "cuts" down to the feet.

Acouple of things stand out for me in the values I see here. For one the catch light on the foot helps differentiate the foot in the foreground from the midtoned individual to the right of the tree.

Dark shapes on both sides of the tree block the tree into frame. He leaves the white of the paper to create the awesome looking negative spaces but also the catch light on the foot, to add detail to the glasses and the foreground figures' hands.

The catch shadow on the left of the body hanging makes it pop out from the dark shadow he casts on the tree. The shadows the tree casts on itself creates an awesome since of depth.

The whole piece feels like one large shape that moves around in a oblong or elliptical route.


I really dig the foreground texture of the grass. It feels like it continues the push back up to the very bold shape on the top right.

The texture present in the grass helps your mind also define and create the texture along the tree which he pushes further back with the tree limb all the way in the back. There is a catch shadow here in this long black shape that is only 4 simple shapes, but it adds so much depth thanks to the texture in the foreground.

Link: http://www.nicolasdelort.com/