Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A is for Almost Arthur: Abortive Attempts

Isaac expressed some interest in my process drawings for yesterday's Alphabooks image of Arthur, so I'll post them here with some comments. (NB: If you are not interested in the minutiae of my drawing decisions, you may want to skim or skip this post—there are eight pictures all told.)

I started sketching loosely while thinking generally about the scene I wanted to portray, to see what sort of Arthurian face suggested itself without my trying too deliberately to draw something before my hand started moving. I don't have a scan of the pencils that resulted, but I have two different inked versions of those pencils. The picture below was my first attempt, drawn by tracing over the pencils on a separate sheet of paper—not tracing paper, however, so my view of the pencils was somewhat spotty. Nevertheless, this first drawing probably had the tightest inking of them all, with lots of bitty lines (maybe because I was trying to reassert my control of the brush after long desuetude):

The eyes were a problem, as you can see, and I can't really vouch for the mechanics of that brooch-thing. (I surprised myself by including the cloak and brooch, characteristic more of a Celtic-clad Arthur than the Frenchified/Anglo Arthur better known from mainstream medieval texts.) Arthur also didn't look mad enough, or tired and dirty enough. So I tried again freehand, and made this:

This one has its okay qualities, but Arthur seems too upset and not riled up enough. And again the eyes don't line up quite right, and they were a main concern of my effort to depict the conflicting emotions I wanted Arthur to express in a single face (rage/grief, exhaustion/resolution, the like). I also think this Arthur looks too old, and a bit too hairy. So I tried another one freehand, and made this:

A head-on view for a change—not altogether satisfying in its static quality, but I was trying to figure out how to arrange the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth, which I found to be the main expressive elements (duh, because they are a lot more mobile than, say, the forehead or the cheekbones or the chin and beard!). My sense was that, in order to capture Arthur's welter of emotions, I'd have to use a bit of asymmetry, with one eye more clearly angry (with a lowered brow, say) and the other more wounded or stricken (wider, perhaps), while the two corners of the mouth might bend differently, expose different amounts of teeth, etc. I also found I kept wanting to give Arthur a busted lower lip, though I didn't always draw it that way. This Arthur probably looks too young, to boot. But note that these freehand drawings have started to get freer with broad strokes of the brush—that was going to be the way forward, ultimately. But I wasn't there yet, so I had another go at inking the original pencils—inking them directly, this time, while still trying to use them as a loose guide rather than a firm directive. Here's what I came up with this time:

So this one (#4, if you're keeping score at home) is clearly close kin to the first, though I think this one is more successful. Arthur looks a bit more bedraggled, more angrily wary and less innocently startled. The big problem with these sibling pictures was the spacing of the eyes relative to each other. I tried to make corrections in ink (more evident in #1 than here)—an effort doomed to failure! But here again there are some nice fat swatches of black brushstrokes, in defining the hair especially. (And since I was using real waterproof India ink on a bristly brush, as opposed to the water soluble ink in the cartridges that I load into my brush pen, the black looked really nice on the page.) I was almost satisfied enough with this to send it to Alphabooks, but it still has an amateurish quality that bugged me. So I tried another one freehand, and made this:

Truthfully, this was more a facial study than a full-out effort. (I think its placement on the page relative to prior drawings meant I couldn't have finished the head even if I'd wanted to.) Here I was still trying to figure out how the essential expressive parts of the face needed to work. I kind of like this piece of Arthur, though it's too fragmentary to be really recognizable as Arthur without a label. (I am aware that the same could be said of the final drawing I posted to Alphabooks, however.) I thought I was getting closer to where I wanted to be, but I was still willing to try something a little different. So I tried another one freehand, and made this:

This one didn't work either. Like #2, it looks too old and too mournful—nowhere near angry enough. (This one might work for the earlier scene of Arthur on the field of battle against Lancelot in Benwick, when his heart is no longer in the fight and when he realizes just how far he has compromised his principles in going along with Gawain to wage war against his former best friend and lieutenant; the key scene for Arthur's realization is when Lancelot himself rehorses Arthur in the midst of the battle, an act of transcendent chivalry that baffles and frustrates Lancelot's allies even as it breaks Arthur's heart. But I digress!) The other reason why this one doesn't work is that it looks too much like Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard. That would never do!  So I tried a much different tack, and made this:

I don't really care for this one, but it helped to draw a more youthful Arthur again, and I made at least a sketch of what he might look like in a crown, though you will note that the crown was an afterthought, added after the hair was sketched in, and I wasn't prepared to commit fully to a complete design. Also, it sits weird on the head. Also, the head itself is kind of weird.

One of the problems I faced throughout, besides the problem of how to convey Arthur's mixed emotions, was getting the age of Arthur where I wanted it. I think he looks too young in numbers 3 & 7, and too old in numbers 2 and 6. I actually like a lot of the fundamentals of 1 & 4, the images based on my original pencils, but the eyes were really bugging me, and I think I prefer a more broken nose in Arthur, and a head that's not quite as square as those are (though I'm not convinced that the one I went with for the blog/tumblr/Alphabooks isn't too long in the face).

And heck, for the sake of comparison here's another look at the one I finally settled on, sketch #8:

There's a Knight of a Dolorous Countenance for you!

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