Escape by Candlelight.
Of Candles and Charcoal
Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon.
Don’t hurt yourself looking for similiarities.
I sat down to watch the three hour long Stanley Kubrick film, Barry Lyndon, a devilish comedy taking place in the 1700s. While I don’t much care for the stories or the pacing Kubrick uses, I adore the man’s sense of vision. And, like the Shining, the magnificent architecture provide a visual playground for the master to work. At any rate, in one sequence Barry tucks his son in to bed, a candlelabra featured prominently in the frame. Then, boom, I wanted to draw something with candles. Ooh, I know! Since I just got done drawing Wolfe Nighshade, a male character, I’ll draw a woman holding the candles. Ooh! Ooh! I know! I’ll put her in a black dress, and that’ll give me an excuse to do another homage to Frank Miller!
And so, I broke out the charcoal, blending stump, and artgum, and I started drawing. I believe I started with either the head or the shoulders (typical starting point for me), then the arm holding the candles, and I did not know what to do with her other arm. I thought about putting it on her hip; however, I wanted to strive for something new and fresh, and I’d done the hand-on-the-hip pose before. Solution: have her arm crossing her abdomen, and with her hand I’ll ... hmmm. What to do with her hand? I thought about giving her a weapon to hold—a gun, or a knife—giving the render an innocent surface with sinister undertones. But, again, I’ve drawn a bunch of characters with weapons lately, so, no go. I know! I’ll just have her reaching. Simple, ambiguituous, and suggestive. What is she reaching for? Why is she reaching? Sexy. I like it.
Strangely enough, before laying down the first lines for the girl, I knew I would give this one a background. No idea what, but I knew I’d give it a background (and that I’d make the background dark.) I have enough figures floating in a sea of negative space, thank you. Unfortuately, if one is going to draw a background, one should put some thought into it before hand so the foreground can work harmoniously with it (and this foreground really doesn’t work with very many backgrounds.) But, as I alluded to above, this image came to me one bit at a time.
So, I have a human figure dominating the foreground, reaching for something ... but what can I have her reaching for? Once again, impulse screamed, “a gun! a knife! a weapon sitting on a table or a shelf! make it creepy!” (I’m a sick man, I know.) Desperate to find something different, I looked around and spotted a door. Again, simple. Suggestive. Where does the door go? Why is she backing up towards it? Ambiguous. Sexy. I like it.
For the shading, I started with the background and worked my way to the foreground (putting off the black dress as long as possible.) I tend to do shading in layers, starting out light and gradually getting darker and darker. This lets me guage the value and contrast levels and make fine tune adjustments to the focal points because shading is relative. For example, a dark grey spot may be prominent on a white canvas, but that same grey dot all but disappears in a sea of black. The shading in her eyelid might be the right tone, but if I darken the rest of her face, then suddenly it’s too light.
And, of course, I speak in general terms. After the first wave of shading, I tend to flip flop back and forth betweeen background and foreground as needed. And with almost every render I do, there’ll be one small area where I know it needs to be black, and I know I can make it black from the get go (likewise, I’ll know a highlight will go in one spot, and avoid marking it.)
The dress? I knew it’d be black, but I waited as long as I could before doing it since I’d reach over it constantly to tweak her face, and charcoal is so fragile that if a hair gets on my sleeve and touches the charcoal, it smears (although, interestingly, all the shadows around her dress, I darkened early on. But the dress itself recieved its dark shadows later. Having said that, i saved the dark regions along the four corners for absolute last.
I wanted this render to have a somewhat smoother look than Wolfe Nighshade, so I brought out the blending stump (most evident in the candles and the girl’s face.) I wanted the smoothness of her skin and the candles to contrast with the harsher shading of everything else; although, I wound up putting much less emphasis on blending her shoulders, arms, and her hands. So, as a result, there’s a contrast between her face and the rest of her. And, it’s almost as if the shading of her body (and the doorknob) is a hybrid between the harshness of the dress and background, and the smooth shading of the candles and her face. I’m not entirely sure why I did this either, but I did.
Anyway, I like this render a lot. I know it’s riddled with flaws due to the overreaching ambition and the sheer spontaneity of its creation, but, I dunno. There’s something about its simplicity. It’s ambiguity. It’s suggestiveness. It’s sexy, and I like it.