The tools and their fruits.
But Wolfe didn’t believe in rumors. What he did believe in, was evidence.
—The Restless Quill
So, sometime ago, I got a request (well, a few requests ... Rocky, I haven’t forgotten about you) to illustrate scenes from their stories. Side note: Why are all my friends writers? Nevermind.
Anyway, I wind up asking lots of specific questions, developing ideas on my own, fleshing them out with rough sketches, then sending those rough sketches off for discussion. That way, we wind up developing the images together. This particular render was unique in that I never got around to scanning my rough sketches. I’d developed some ideas for the kukris (which were described to me just as “short swords, or maybe overly long knives”), some ideas for the pistol (which, the e-mail info contradicted the excerpt), the look of the character, and the general idea for the pose—more or less, I’d figured out the general direction I wanted to take it, and ... then I got caught up in my own projects. Then one evening, I sat down with my charcoal and strathmore drawing pad, and pulled this render out of nowhere.
The day before, I wanted to do a number of renders in charcoal; however, after the first one I ran out of fixative, and I’d have to drive aways to get more. If you know anything about unfixed charcoal, you know if you blink the wind generated from your eyelids will send tiny black particles all over the place and ruin your work. So, yeah, had to wait. The next day, I picked up a new can of fixative, a new 18"X24" drawing pad, and some new sticks of charcoal. Itching to work in the medium again, I flipped through my drawing pad to a clean page, and it occurred to me I hadn’t done any illustrating on that pad in awhile—all of the renders were for my various figure study series. So, I thought about some things I can draw from the imagination, and a number of candidates came up—including updated charcoal versions of stuff I’d done for this site—but I decided on Wolfe Nightshade (I’d also gotten into Frank Miller’s Sin City work, and was looking for an excuse to flirt with that graphic novel/film noir vibe).
In the unpublished sketches, I’d fiddled with a number of poses and didn’t like any of them. Nightshade uses twin pistols, and twin blades so most of the original sketches featured him holding both guns and the blades tucked away on his person ... problem: cloaks tend to conceal everything. Days later it hit me—pistol in one hand, kukri in the other. I’ll cross his arms at an angle, with the primary weapon (pistol) point up, secondary weapon (the kukri) pointing down. The weapon’s position on the page would imply their status (even going back to Egyptian art, items higher up are always understood to be of more importance.) Sounded good in my head, but would it translate to the page? I didn’t know.
I went over to the mirror—the idea seemed sound there—so, I made some mental notes about the pose. Then I sat down at the table, and put the charcoal to the page. Truth be told, I was very nervous starting it. I hadn’t done any sketches for Nightshade in over two months, I hadn’t gotten with Mark to work out the details (or, clarify what kind of guns he’s supposed to have), the pose was still a big question mark, and 99% of the time when I draw with charcoal I’m drawing from real life. “By rights,” I thought, “this’ll end badly.”
I started by laying down the linework for the arms. Since the barrel of the pistol and the tip of the kukri represent the widest points of the image, I used them to position everything on the page. I also knew I could guage the height by the position of the pistol (which, would roughly correspond with the shoulder/head—one of the things noted from the mirror.) From there, I did the lines for the shoulder, the head, and then down for the body respectively. From there, shading. I knew I wanted the shadows to be inky-black and dark mixed with the dark material of his duster—vast regions of pure black with strategically place highlights to give the image its shape (again, Frank Miller homage, and one of the reasons I wanted to do this in charcoal.)
While charcoal can create a smoother look (kinda, sorta, not really seen in the gray regions), I really wanted to exploit the look and spontaneity—the sheer speed—of charcoal. You can lay down nice thick black streaks with relative ease. And while the character has a wider spectrum to his personality, I got the feeling he’s most dangerous when he has to act spontaneously. When he has to improvise. He can plan, and he’d rather do that, but he’s most valuable and most potent when the shit hits the fan and he has to act spontaneously. (or, in other words, a "refined" render of this character would be more appropriate sans weapons, in a pose where he sits at the back of the room in shadows ... thinking.)
On that note, I went with the kukri for a weapon since it too reflects the full spectfum of his personality. It’s a slick looking forward-swept weapon, very suave, dare I say "dignified" design; however, in use, it swings like an axe and feels like a butcher’s implement.
All in all, I’m flattered Mark asked me to do this, I’m very happy with the result, and I’m thrilled that he likes it as much as I do. Sometimes you can plan and plan and plan, but the results never seem to make the cut. Other times, you can sit down and let inspiration and momentum take you where they will for 30min to an hour, and the experience (and the result) is something magical.