(A military portrait for the forgotten veterans.)
This portrait started as a study for a character that will feature in a comic project I am working on. What I mean by study is the practice of finding some inspiration for a concept; then doing a handful of sketches of those things before working on a new, original piece. For example, I am also working on an alien concept inspired by old dock workers crossed with certain animals. So I sat down one day and sketched some of those animals and people. This not only gives me practice, it also gives me time to study and break down design elements that are the most valuable.
(A few landmark save outs during the course of the painting. I meant to include initial rough sketches but lost the older layers when merging without thinking.)
It provided a lot of opportunities to paint different surfaces and finer detail. So I kept picking at it before starting my work day. An hour here and there. A specific character brought me to this place, so ideas started flowing into the piece making it a little more than just a study or practice piece.
Eventually, some of the character and narrative ideas made their way into the portrait. Now this isn't meant to be a character concept. I like to start from scratch with those, in regards to pose and form, then bring in the reference later. So the reason for working in some of the character elements was more of a mental exercise. That lead to different layers of meaning and social commentary getting worked into the portrait. All these flowing ideas will eventually be reworked for the character.
(A collection of the reference I keep up on my second screen while painting. Some images are for direct reference where others are more for general inspiration. The man with the goggles as you can clearly see, was the base of the painting.)
The idea behind the portrait was eventually solidified while walking down the street in the South Loop and witness the homeless men scattered about. A good amount of them holding signs or injuries, indicating they are veterans (One guy was shirtless and grabbing his genitals with both hands, but he didn't make the inspiration lineup). One often sees polish portraits of successful captains, generals and soldiers and their finest. I began to contemplate the idea of a portrait that represents the unfortunate path of some veterans. Looking at old soldier portraits helped construct this piece as a homeless veteran's military portrait. I thought it was an interesting take on how war is represented through images. It is a representation of an aspect of war that often and ironically goes overlooked considering the very pro-military culture we have in this country.
Unfortunately, a lot of of homeless people deal with mental illness. I tried to work in characteristics of a homeless man who may have slipped mentally. This was done through collection of scraps and thrown out materials re-purposes for decorative reasons. The banana stickers replace what would be stars (ie. Patton). The ears are swelling at the insertion point of misplaced earrings and at the other hole where a paperclip serves as a replacement. Even the helmet with what appears to be a bullet hole, raised questions of whether it was originally his or if it carries a hint at his mental damage.
This provides a great deal of inspiration and confidence when moving onto the actual concept. The extra thought will help create an authentic character that accurately represents an aspect of our own world. As usual when painting directly from reference, I feel I should have pushed it a little more and made it my own. The nature of the exercise was about capturing a likeness and photographic detail, so I feel pretty good about what I learned along the way. It would be a better image if I worked in more interesting shapes and forms in the design. I kept the helmet shape and the forms of the additions pretty safe. After this piece I will make a point to start working more dynamic shapes into my designs. I was able to create some rhythm with the spherical forms and circle, but there could have been a better developing of the visual language.
Thanks for reading this entry, here are some extra words to give to the silent voice in your head.