Friday, December 25, 2009

The Anatomy of a Dinosaur Drawing

A little over a year ago, I had an idea to draw a giant picture of dinosaurs for my nephews, either for their birthday (they're twins) or for x-mas. With time being a factor and the doubt that I could pull off such a huge work, I never got around to doing it. Picturing something in your head and making it real are two entirely different things. The large size I had in mind intimidated me, and the thought of diving right into it without a definite plan kept me from ever starting it.

So, just under a month ago, as I was drawing in my sketchbook late one night, I decided to do a rough version of what I had in mind. Once I did that, I realized that I now had a "map" that I could use to finally start on the bigger, final work. (A real artist would have immediately thought of this when they originally had the idea the year before, but I'm not a real artist, so please leave me alone with my retardation.) This is the small, rough sketch of the idea:



So, with x-mas just around the corner, I thought a great present would be to make it, frame it, and give it to the boys to hang on their bedroom wall. Time would still be a factor, but with about three weeks until x-mas morning, I thought I had a pretty good shot at finishing it. The day after I drew that sketch, I went to an art supply store in Brooklyn called Artist & Craftsmen (which I love because I can easily drive and park there and they usually have what I want) and picked up a giant sheet of black illustration board and brought it home. There it sat in the slim, clear plastic bag that I carried it home in for, I guess, a whole week without me taking it out or doing anything with it. Aside from the self-doubt that cripples me with most of the things I do, I was still undecided on the medium that I wanted to use for the project. I had a bunch of conte crayons and charcoal pencils laying around that I originally intended to use (and hadn't used in years), but I was having second thoughts about it and was thinking it would be better to make the picture less realistic (if you can call a picture of dinosaurs "realistic") and more colorful and childlike. I was also second-guessing my choice of illustration board: Was a black background with white charcoal pencil for the figure outlines really how I wanted to do this? So, there it sat for the rest of the week without a mark being made on it.

The following Saturday, I stopped at another art supply store, this one being around the corner from my parent's house in Maple Shade, NJ while I visited family for my birthday. I walked out with another large sheet of illustration board measuring 30" x 40", which was only slightly smaller than the black one I had just bought the week before. The biggest difference being that the new one was white. I had done some tests the night before on small, charcoal paper with various mediums I had on hand - the aforementioned conte crayons and charcoal pencils, as well as oil crayons and pastel crayons - and decided that the pastel crayons with black charcoal outlines for the figures on the white board would be the best way to go. (The black illustration board still sits in my Brooklyn apartment waiting for me to do something with it.)

Soon after I returned to Brooklyn, I got started on the project. (I can't remember exactly when I finally put pencil to paper, but it was probably around the 16th or 17th and was most definitely preceded by much uncertainty and procrastination.) After a lot of sketching then erasing, sketching then erasing, I eventually settled on a layout:


The figures were penciled in very lightly, so it didn't photograph that well, but if you look closely you'll notice the addition of two giant spiders to the left of the center dinosaur and that the pterodactyl has changed locations from the original sketch, now appearing at the top right instead of the top left corner. I dunno, it just seemed to work better to me, and the spiders seemed to add some excitement to a scene that would have otherwise amounted two dinosaurs and one measly, flying bird.

With the layout complete, I needed to start working in the color. Now, as you've probably surmised, I wasn't about to begin adding color to the picture unless I had an idea how the colors were going to work together. Fortunately, this time it didn't take me a year to decide what to do. Using the preliminary sketch idea from earlier, I simply made a quick color test on a small piece of bristol board:


While not perfect by any means, this test showed me what might work and, most importantly, what wouldn't work on the final version and gave me the confidence to apply those first strokes of color:


If memory serves me correctly, I colored in the yellow-brown of that sloping hill first, then the light green of the dinosaur's hide, then the bright yellow on his chest and eyes, and then the blacks and grays of the giant spiders. (I also added that third spider peaking around the hill at the top right corner). On a roll now, I brought red to the small dinosaur, orange to the pterodactyl, and blue to the sky above:

Here it is beside the smaller color test:



The next stage all the way to the finished version was done entirely in one day (Tuesday, 12/22/09), from 10:30am to about 5 or 6pm without breaking for lunch, although I think I grabbed a quick bowl of cereal around 2:30pm.

At an earlier point of decision-making - possibly as early as the layout pencils stage - I decided to make the hill slope under and around the large dinosaur's head, thus acting as a frame and drawing the viewer's attention, however subliminally, toward it. I already knew that the background was going to be a lush, black silhouette of mountains and that it would bring focus to that dinosaur's face even more:

When compared to the previous stage, you can see how the black ties everything together and adds dimension to the composition. Also, at this stage, additional colors have been added to the slope and darker greens to the main dinosaur's body. Next, the teeth and black of the dinosaur's mouth are defined:


And the red dinosaur is given black to his mouth and definition to his body with the addition of the black stripes:


The next step brought texture to the dinosaur's face and black outlines to all the figures:


Some shading under the main dinosaur as well as browns to the spiders, definition to their faces, and black to there large eyes:


More color and shading around the red dinosaur, more blues and whites in the sky, additional texture to the green dinosaur's body, and it's all done:


Well, all done except for being framed, which, due to it's apparently unconventional size, needed to be custom framed by yours truly and consisted of buying separate frame borders from Michael's and a specially cut sheet of plexiglass from Loew's on x-mas eve. Here it is, one day later, framed and unwrapped on x-mas morning:


And here it is hanging on the bedroom wall of my nephews, it's final destination:





So, after three weeks of bringing this thing to life, I'm surprisingly pleased with how it turned out. (Normally, my response would be, "Wow...I hate this", which is part of the reason why I've only rarely drawn anything over the last x amount of years.) In a way, though, I miss spending the time working on it and thinking about what I could do next while I was away from it. But maybe that's a good thing. It's got me somewhat inspired and it makes me want to get started on something else.

However, one thing I know for sure is that I'm not doing anything this laborious until I get a proper drawing table that tilts. Sitting hunched over a drawing board on my lap for too many hours in a row has left my back none too happy this week. But I've got some ideas in mind, and I'd like to make use of that black illustration board before it collects too much dust sitting there in my Brooklyn apartment. No dinosaurs this time, though. However, my roommate quite liked the giant spiders and asked me to do something with them for our wall, so we'll see what happens...

Merry X-mas!!
=R