So, here it is finally. It took me a while -10 years before I got the courage to pick up my pencil again, and then some more after that (another 5 months) to complete the piece. Uninterrupted drawing for 2 hours a day doesn’t really get you far in terms of building momentum but I had my day job to think about, so that was the best I could do.
For those of you just ‘tuning in’, I chose this for my first piece for one simple reason –it’s a great film, period.
The story about a unit of black soldiers during the American Civil War and the young colonel from a patrician, abolitionist family who was given the job of training and leading them into battle. It’s one of the best war films ever made, and one whose perfect ensemble cast is matched only by its resounding film score.
Matthew Broderick – Col. Robert Gould Shaw
Denzel Washington – Private Silas Trip
Morgan Freeman – Sergeant Major John Rawlins
Andre Braugher – Corporal Thomas Searles
Jihmi Kennedy – Private Jupiter Sharts
Cary Elwes – Maj. Cabot Forbes
John Finn – Sergeant Major Mulcahy
The director, Edward Zwick, went on to make a slew of other good movies (Legends of the Fall, The Last Samurai, and Blood Diamond) but I think this was his best work. Also, 2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the film’s theatrical release so I thought that a commemorative poster was just appropriate.
In terms of the PROCESS: I deviated a bit from my original comp after I realized that too much background detail would only distract attention from the piece’s central characters. Once I had the comp down, I transferred the layout to the board (Bainbridge 2200) using traditional 6H then 3B graphite. Given that I haven’t practiced in a while, I was forced to experiment with colored pencil over poster color, and vice versa. Needless to say, this created some problems and even made me think of abandoning the whole project altogether at one point. Of course, airbrush acrylic would have solved all this but that’s another story. Also, I chose not to cover the initial board with gesso which, in hindsight, I probably should have done.
I chose to use a limited palate for this piece primarily because I wanted the overall tone to come across as muted and dark –evocative of the time. I started on Denzel’s profile first, followed by Morgan Freeman, then Andre Braugher, the two tent-pole drawings (John Finn & Cary Elwes), Jimhi Kennedy, and Matthew Broderick last.
At this point, I have to say that the hardest part of the whole piece was coloring Broderick’s face. The light is behind him to the left and, for some reason, I never quite got the right mix of gold/yellow/orange to define the lighted vs shaded areas that my 6-yr. old son came to call this part of the piece –coloring the ‘difficult skin’.
I chose the background scenes randomly from a wide selection of screen-shots from the film because, again, I didn’t want it to detract from the central characters. I also decided to anchor the whole piece with a symbol and for this I chose the Civil War Infantry officer’s hat insignia of the horn around the number 54 –you can see this emblem on the hat of Col. Shaw in full gear (apologies for any historic inaccuracies in relation to this).
To bring the whole piece together I used the outline of a soldier’s face –one I borrowed from Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
I then transferred the whole piece to Photoshop CS2 where I spent over a month (!) cleaning and tightening it up.
Hope you like it.