Influence, Inspiration, and Homage

When I began to study pin-ups in earnest, it was no different than studying all the other great illustrators that line my library shelves. The best were astonishing craftsmen and there was much to learn. But pin-ups needn’t exist in a vacuum, especially where there are specific characters to portray, and other worlds to depict, however fleetingly.

Below is a selection showing the inspirations for the new calendar and my finished paintings:

Patricia Briggs and George Petty

I grew up never knowing about Petty, but I admired the work of his less-expensive replacement Alberto Vargas. For all his skill, Vargas never surpassed the man he’d been hired to emulate. Petty was so famous in his day that Hollywood made a film called “The Petty Girl”. His style often involved the use of contours painted as vermillion watercolor outlines – even when they overlaid or interacted with a fully-painted figure. The discovery of Petty’s work was one of the reasons I wanted to reconsider the Pin Up, and the satisfaction of those red lines cannot be understated.

I also altered my signature in homage to the great man.

Calendars and Auto Repair

Calendars and Auto Repair have gone together since the very early days.
Because Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson is a mechanic, I wanted to create an old-school garage calendar that would (as nearly as possible) match the format of those classics where a single pin-up would be printed on a tall piece of thick cardstock and a block of 12 thin pages would be affixed below the painting for the months.

In this case, I used a permutation of Dan Dos Santos‘ logo design for Mercy’s shop (as seen on the cover of her book Iron Kissed) instead of the simpler type designs that most garages had back in the day. I made up the motto below her feet, and was delighted to find that the quote Briggs chose above was also about trust.

N. K. Jemisin and Noah Jemisin

Oree is a blind painter, an artist who sees magic and makes her own.

In this case, the artist whose work Oree’s most resembles in style and substance is that of author N. K. Jemisin’s own father, Noah.

But rather than the wonderful scenes and subjects Noah has painted, I wanted to do something that would resonate with the setting, and what better than an impressionist gloss on the cover to the very book Oree hails from – The Broken Kingdoms?

I would never have have thought to include anything like great American Impressionism in a pin-up calendar, but for N.K.’s descriptions and suggestions.

I love watching people’s expressions when Jemisin’s pin-up opens in front of them.

Terry Pratchett and Gil Elvgren

Because Terry Pratchett didn’t ask for a specific character to be portrayed, I had my fun at the expense of the Unseen University of Ankh-Morpork. I didn’t attempt a direct homage with a particular pose, but the legacy of Gil Evgren clearly informs the piece.

And while I didn’t ask model Clare Grant if she was familiar with Elvgren’s work, she embodied its spirit brilliantly:

Ray Bradbury and Robert A. Maguire

Ray Bradbury was my hero – my favorite author. Forever.

It was my amazing pleasure to speak with him many years ago in Atlanta, and an incredible honor to have him among this year’s authors.

Both Bradbury and Maguire came up in the wonderful world of pulp, and when I learned that Bradbury had chosen Fahrenheit 451 for his pin-up, I just instinctively felt that Maguire was somehow the right artist to guide my approach. The painting is informed not by a specific piece, but by a mood, a period and a focus. Like so very many of the artists I admire, the culture they worked in didn’t allow much room for cultural or ethnic variation, but I hope this piece would please both men.

Robin Hobb and Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema

Malta, the amazing woman portrayed in the calendar, is part dragon. She’s tall and thin, and partly scaled. And she has a comb like a chicken. She’s so unique there isn’t even fan art of her!

But in painting her I dredged up my memories of Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema. I didn’t break out my books, but there was really only ever one painter whose work was all about marble, silk and that certain sort of fantasy high life that got Alma Tadema derided in his time as a painter of “Victorians in Togas”.

One painting in particular ‘The Roses of Heliogabalus‘ proved an important inspiration, though my petals are intended more as festive confetti than the lovely implements of torture and death Alma Tadema intended.

Jacqueline Carey and Gustav Klimt

Phèdre nó Delaunay is not Austrian. And Klimt never knew Naamah’s service. But the sort of luxe and deeply romantic European milieu that Jacqueline Carey so beautifully describes could really only summon that lover of ladies and gold leaf – Gustav Klimt. Again, I didn’t break out any books or reference, but the goal was clear as finest crystal. And Klimt’s incorporation of geometric forms gave me a similarly clear view of how to incorporate the calendar page.

Peter S. Beagle and Alphonse Mucha

Art Nouveau was known as the “Cult of Nature”, so what better style for ‘The Last Unicorn’ herself?

And what better practitioner of the art than Alphonse Mucha?

I started this piece more outlined than it finished up, but I had Mucha in mind throughout. The iron work of the frame around the pin-up and of the Portcullis of the calendar page below it are entirely inspired by his work.

Charlaine Harris and J.C. Leyendecker

This is an homage, plain and simple.

And the piece in question is one that others have famously homaged before (Alex Ross‘s painting of the Joker and Harley Quinn is probably the most famous).

Where Harris’s True Blood characters are well known, Leyendecker’s aren’t. He was in many ways the best and most important illustrator of the last century, and his Arrow Collar Man was to his sex what the Gibson Girl (and later, the Petty Girl) were to hers. But for all that Leyendecker invented or popularized our conception of Santa Claus, the Baby New Year, the trademark look of the Saturday Evening Post – for all that he basically invented Psychedelia in 1934 – for all that he was neighbor, beacon and teacher to Norman Rockwell (who would take his place at the Post) – for all that, he was nearly forgotten. And why? Because he was gay, because the Arrow Collar Man was his lover and muse, and because Rockwell made sure that the public kept its attention firmly on Rockwell. Happily Leyendecker is being rediscovered, and his name and work restored. I hope I am doing my little part for that reclamation….

But whether or not I think Leyendecker a genius (I do), this scene of Sookie and Quinn in their specific raiment at this particular point of a party rapidly turning into a battlefield from Definitely Dead just cried out for this specific homage.

I hope this brief look behind the scenes has been as fun for you to read as for me to compile. If you’d like to order the calendar (benefiting Worldbuilders and Heifer International), please do so at The Tinker’s Packs web site.

 

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The Elements of Illustration*

I critique hundreds of pieces every year. Not because I’m a Creative Director (although I have been), but because I (like you) am a consumer of art – of illustration, painting, comics, games, et alia. And the act of critique is one of the most helpful for enlarging one’s own understanding and formalizing concepts that might otherwise float away….

While the following list is by no means scientific (many of the elements listed below overlay others, and many great paintings use only a few) I made it for my own reference and I hope that you may find it useful food for thought. Please print it out and put it by your drafting table or computer if it’ll help.

Focus
Where do you want your viewer’s eye to go? What’s the heart of the piece, the crux of the biscuit?

Narrative
Is there a story here? A big idea? A paradigm, a parody, a pastiche? Has the sword been nicked in battle, has the dog been fed, has the sweater been patched? Norman Rockwell began his pictures thinking of a soldier under a light post and ran scenarios in his mind (often switching “lead” characters) until he found a painting.

A stunning piece from Swedish artist Anders Zorn

Composition and Design
Create a visual hierarchy – A path for the viewer to follow? Something fractal? Separate elements intended for book cover, spine and back cover? Consider the surface you’re working on, its aspect ratio and how that effects the harmonies and tensions of your piece. When working in a tall oval, or a wide ceiling, or a strange milled form, that’s pretty obvious. But it is just as important within a normal rectangle.

Palette
There are many good ones that great painters have applied over the years. Use one of theirs or make your own!

Value
Can your piece be reduced to black and white and still read correctly?
Sometimes good pieces work their value in terms of warm and cool colors, but most need strong tonal variety to read well.

A little-known satyric illustration by Kewpie Doll creator Rose O’Neill


Mass
Think Rodin, JC Leyendecker or Rose O’Neill.

Texture
It makes things and people seem real.

Symbolism
Personal, classical, mystical or cultural – words, numbers, objects, beings. There’s no shortage of sources or end to interpretation. While there was an entire movement of Symbolists (only some of whom were painters),  Michael Kaluta and Brian Despain are excellent modern examplars.

Synecdoche  (Micro defining Macro)
A small area of tight or implied detail will help define vast shapes – like the windows in a colossal building or the wrinkles on an elephant. One needs only a few wee bits to represent a larger whole.

Ornament
Whether it’s Mary Engelbreit‘s checkerboards, or Stephen Hickman‘s ornate orientalism, Ornament matters. Sometimes it’s a sort of texture, other times the whole raison d’etre.

Juxtaposition
Comparisons and contrasts of size, scope, meaning, characters… in our world of Zoroastrian black and white contrasts, this is often too-easy. Use discretion and variety

3 of Glen Orbik’s spectacular pulp covers

Stylization
Sometimes it’s fetishism for a type of brush-stroke or color scheme, sometimes caricature or anatomy. For example, the best pin-ups (by Gil Elvgren, Aly Fell, Glen Orbik, et alia) have similarly stylized elements, some of which might surprise you.
If you’re working on a pin-up, just crack their code and you’re off to the races.

Character
Have the characters lived real lives? Are they real beings with hopes and fears? Body language, gesture and costume are crucial here.

Tension
Gesture is important, but so is the feeling of tension. Sometimes it’s the most important part of a piece. Drama, high stakes, suspense. If you can enlist the viewer’s sympathy support or curiosity, you win.

Line
It’s quite obvious in the works of Franklin Booth, Aubrey Beardsley, and Mike Mignola – but don’t underestimate its importance for Drew Struzan, Arthur Rackham or John Jude Palencar.

Research/Reference
I know precious few people who draw brilliantly out of their heads, but those heads have absorbed the lessons their eyes have shown them for many years. Most of us have been nowhere near as observant, and while we may remember and be able to imagine many things, there are usually areas where we fall down. Bolster yourself and your work with reference. Don’t stick slavishly to it, but make it do your bidding.

Vignette
The play of shape (whether silhouette or fully rendered form) against a white, colour, or fully realized background is so important for keeping a viewer interested. It can be akin what designers call negative space.

Perspective
Each point in perspective applies to a single dimension (in 2 point perspective the points are nearly always width and depth). Get perspective right and you’ll be halfway home. Also, the more you keep you POV away from a normal grid as seen from a height of 6 feet, the more dynamic your piece is likely to be.

FUN!
A certain joie de vivre is key. It doesn’t matter if you paint supplely or with technical perfection – If you don’t bring some fun and adventure to your work, viewers can tell. They won’t always know what’s wrong, but they’ll get that something is…

To which list the delightful Kurt Huggins suggested:

Process: This is your way of managing and editing all of these different elements. Each step of your process should be about solidifying one more element of the image, building up to a final piece. There are many processes, and many ways to finish, but I think most processes start with idea or composition.

*And while I find that this list applies to my own artwork, I also find that much of it applies to my writing, sculpture, et al. Your mileage may vary.

© 2008 Lee Moyer.