Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Behind the Scenes of a Greek Tragedy

Sneak peek: 
This past weekend I worked on a preliminary sketch for an assignment for The New York Times. It's for an upcoming book review to appear in the Sunday NY Times Book Review section on 4/29/12 (art director: Nicholas Blechman) on a new novel, The Song of Achilles (by Madeline Miller, published by Ecco/Haper Collins) which is a retelling of the Greek myth of Achilles and additionally about his relationship with Patroclus. After a bit of back and forth with Nicholas to resolve the sketch concept and get it approved, I had one day to complete the final art image. Having a few days to complete a sketch and the final art was actually a luxury. Because there have been many times in the past when I have only one day and sometimes only a matter of hours to complete the sketch & final art stages for an art director at a daily newspaper publication. It is just the nature of the beast. And having to work very quickly is sometimes an asset, because it does not allow any time for second-guessing or overworking an image. 

Note: I first began my working relationship with the NY Times way back in 1980 when my illustrations appeared numerous times over the next handful of years on the OpEd Pages and Letters to the Editor Pages. Over the ensuing years I have also created illustrations for other sections of the newspaper too: The Sunday Magazine, The Real Estate section, The Business Section, The Living Section, etc... as well as for the Book Review.  Click here to read more about my work with The NY Times. But it has been many years since I worked for the Book Review section... and I was more than thrilled to get the opportunity to do so again now.

If you visit the new stuff portfolio section my web site, you will see that I have been forging ahead with a new direction with my illustration style... one that is more realistic and far moodier than the lightweight "whimsical" style I am best known for with most art directors, especially with all my picture books for children. But actually this "new" style of mine is actually revisiting my own style from very early in my career which was realistic and moody looking (click on "old is new" on my web site to read more). Recently I had sent some sample images from my new stuff portfolio section to Nicholas at the Times which he apparently liked, because very soon afterwards he offered this current Book Review assignment. 

The first stage of the sketch (show above) was done with brush and blue gouache on paper... and the next stage (below) shows the additional tones I added with Photoshop. This is the completed sketch version which was submitted to the art director Nicholas Blechman and to the editor(s).

The comment came back that my sketch concept was actually too editorial... and that I had based my visual concept on the reviewer's critical comments about the book (which was that instead of being a feast, was more like "fast food") rather than creating my image to representation of the book itself. But the portion of my sketch which commented on the relationship between the two characters Achilles and Patroclus was well received, so it was then just a matter of altering the "fast food" concept aspect of the Trojan Horse in the background... which I did. See final revised sketch below.


The final art image was created using pen and ink on paper... drawing the two characters together, and the horse separately, then merging them in layers in Photoshop. The background is comprised of painted brushwork using gouache on a rough textured paper, then layering it in behind the drawing of the characters and the horse. Additional colors were added digitally, then all the elements were manipulated in Photoshop...such as the opacity, the saturation, light & dark, etc...  Really it was quite a simple production in terms of arriving at the final image, because it is fairly monochromatic and has relatively few character elements. You can see that the only compositional difference between the final approved sketch and the final art image is that I shifted the position of the Trojan Horse to the right so that is is cropped off. I did this because I felt the composition in the sketch was just too static. Initially I was going to use the same muted colors as seen in the sketch for the final art image, but I wanted to highlight the dying Patroclus even more so decided to use the brighter yellow to accentuate and highlight his form, which in turn then caused me to brighten the blues in Achilles to be in better balance with the yellow. In the end though, I still prefer the colors in the sketch. 

(above) This is the final art image as it will appear in The Sunday NY Times Book Review section on 4/29/12. Note the perimeter of the image has slightly rough edges, which was the last subtle touch I decided upon. Below are additional detailed views of the final art.



Visit stevensalerno to view all my portfolio sections.


ISO 9001 Consultants Bangalore said...

Lovely Sketches and Excellent!!!

Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing.