“Sneelock’s Lament” – for a Dr Suess exhibition

Did this become my most ambitious work so far? Yes it did.

Did it take me another year to get around to posting the process behind it? yes again.
And it’s actually only the first half….

Growing up, we loads of Dr Suess books around, and have happily bought up new copies to read to my own kids.  I’ve always found the language and pictures wonderful, and still do!  When White Lady Art caled for submission for a Dr Suess themed show,  I jumped at the opportunity to do a piece celebrating one of my earliest influences.

“Sneelock’s Lament” is based around the book “If I Ran The Circus” – one of my favourites – a book about a small boy who imagines putting on a circus of fantastical creatures and dazzling danger in the empty lot behind old man Sneelock’s shop.

Initially, in the boys imagination, Sneelock is happy to help out with small odds and ends, such as selling the lemonade. As his imagination goes wild, and things get bigger and bigger, Sneelock ends up performing all manner of death defying feats. The boy is convinced the whole time that Sneelock wouldn’t mind. I have often wondered if Sneelock ever got tired of what he was being asked to do….

I started doodling while flicking through the book started working an image of the head of the Drum Tummied Snum, a massive creature, with a beaming smile who can drum any tune on his drum tummy.

I decided that he would feature in the image somehow, but that the mood would be far removed from the manic nature of the book, and in another sort of departure for me, set out to capture a feeling of melancholy – a kind of “after the show” feeling, when the audience has gone, the lights are down and the performers are done for the night.

I wanted to also push my self in terms of composition, so i knew that I’d need to take it much further than just the Snum, and needed to think about getting Sneelock in there.

One rare sunny afternoon, i sat with a friend in a beer garden, and we talked through ideas and ways to get the vibe across. It was suggested that I light it in a style similar to Caravaggio, and a thumbnail sketch was drawn.

In the story there are many different creatures performing all manner of acts, and there are also many different fantastic apparatus used in these acts. At one point the kid is in the opening parade and is sitting at a massive pipe organ being carried along enthusiastically belching out tunes. The organ looked bright, colourful and full of life being played, but i considered this instrument as a background to the scene, looming above them, unused and quiet now, a dull and lifeless behemoth.

I realised the characters that i’d chosen to depict, namely Sneelock and the Snumm, we’re very different in size. I felt it was important to show this aspect of their relationship, but then taking it all one step further and having the organ behind them as well meant i would need to make the finished image pretty big in order for Sneelock, the smallest but one of the most important elements, to be seen properly.

Other support charters i wanted to incorporate were the Tournament Knights with their Boxing Glove Spears, the Abrasion-Contusions, The Blindfolded Bowman, The Hoodwink, and The Remarkable Foon. There were others too, so many to choose from, but these are what i ended up with. To create the behind the scenes look i was going for, I also needed to incorporate other bits of equipment used in the show, and added the Welcoming Horn to the first digital sketch.

It was important that the support characters were kept subdued and as far removed form the typical Suess circus mania, so the Tournament Knight is gently talking with his mount as he grooms it, the Blindfolded Bowman checks the string of the bow, and others sit quietly smoking.

Having blocked out the positions and some of the values, i moving into blocking in some more colour, as well as adding some more equipment, to better balance the scene, and make it look more like back stage at the circus.

Next was to fine tune the texture of the pipes, get some reflection on the horn, and start working in some detail and depth into the objects. I also decided that Sneelock and the Snum needed to be making eye contact, so began working on Sneelock looking up into his eyes.

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I wasn’t really happy with the roughly sketched head of the Snum, as it wasn’t close enough to the original look, so worked on it a little more to get a truer representation. Sneelock also needed more realism, so i also had a go a bringing that on. As i tend toward caricature normally, i found this a bit of a challenge…

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Working on the tummy was important – as it is worn by repeated drumming, it needed to look as though the hair that might have grown there once had been beaten away exposing the hard and leathery skin beneath.

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The details continue to get filled in, and i quietly began to panic that it was actually far to much work for me to complete, in time, but more importantly, to my own satisfaction…. wasn’t sure that it wouldn’t just look completely awful.

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But as the lighting, of the Snum particularly,  began to work itself out, i was filled with a new round of enthusiasm.

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So i knuckled down to sort out Sneelock a little better too.

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And began really pushing the highlights to bring out the form of the objects, and let them claim their own space in the image, knowing full well i’d be knocking them back down again later on…

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The hair on the Snum was took a long time, but became a meditation in lighting.

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Right. I’m getting a cuppa.

(to be continued…)



6 Nations Rugby

I was approached a few months before the competition began by The Irish Times newspaper for a 6 Nations Promotion, and after talking through it, realised it would be a fairly large undertaking, with a certain level of flexibility required. It was to be a caricature of each of the players selected in the squad, released as 5 players per card, one card each day of the first week of the competition – effectively 25 players. As well as a cover of the 6 Nations supplemental published the week before.

Time restraints became the issue, as Declan Kidney would not be announcing the squad until the last minute, the job involved sketching up pretty much any of the players that might be selected in the squad, and making a start with the “best bet” players – the ones most likely to be selected.

As it stands, there were a few surprises; even in the week prior to the competition kick off, some players that we’re pretty close to being completed would be injured and out of the comp, and so their replacements would need painting instead; Ronan O’Gara, one of my personal favourites of the finished works, not selected; and Jerry Flannery, whose painting I had documented by recording theprocess.

Some of the feedback was:

Not happy” – Johnathan Sexton
I’m not Chinese” – Rob Kearney
What’s the story with my ears?” Fergus McFadden

And a response from Jerry Flannery upon viewing the youtube video above:
I’m very impressed with the art, the music made it seem like you would eventually find me and murder me though #unsettling

A satisfying job all up!

Still Life With Frock

I once heard a man lovingly refer to his annoying wife as pear shaped woman. It was at my wedding i think, and no, it wasn’t me….

Alternate titles for this might have been:
“A pear, even in satin, is still a pear”
“Yes, but it looks good on
“Satin 1. Pear 0.”
There’s something about this shape, and it’s need to be draped in satin, that has a similar allure as a flame might for a moth.
Why? I have no idea.
A study of reflective cloth, and fruit skin. That being said, i didn’t actually dress up a pear in a delightful lavender number, rather the scars on my brain, from witnessing outfits such as this, on nights out in Limerick, provided all the reference i needed.
Submitted for Illustration Friday topic Artificial –
“Sick of the artificial women in the media? Behold: the real shape of things to come.”

Used in local rag’s New Year’s Resolution article.

The Bear

Another in the Animal Series i’m working on.
Started this a while back and abandoned it as it wasn’t clicking for me, but have it done now…..

The Octopus

Finally! Back to the animal series, and the octopus is complete.

This too a lot longer than the others because of the suckers and tentacles.
Damn near killed me….

Ripple (Death By Oil Slick)

New one for Illustration Friday topic: Ripple.

The word was chosen to coincide with a fund raiser to help with the Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe (Oil Spill), other entries can be found here.

My first response to the word Ripple was, as usual, puerile and mildly perverse, but then I figured it could give me a chance to do something that I hadn’t done before, which was using the Water Colour brushes.

It was also nice, as they requested a particular size, which gave an added limitation to the piece.

What began as doodling away with the pencils, ended with some subtle colour washes and fiddling around, and I’m kinda happy with the way it turned out. Makes me feel all arty….

Willie O’Dea In The Heat Of Battle

Willie O’Dea is a Limerick man and former Minister of Defence for the Irish gov, but resigned recently over a recording ‘scandal‘.
He also pulled a strange photo shoot for the press a while back, and one dark evening, during elections, he and some of his ‘representatives’ knocked on my door and assured me he ‘represents the area’ and ‘knows where i live’ should i ‘need anything’…. i’ve kinda been endeared to him ever since that.

Update: This illustration has now been published! Info here.

The Gorilla

Don’t afraid. He only eats graps…

One in a series of animals I’m working on.

This took a while, primarily because of the hair. First real attempt at doing any kind of hair, and it was tricky getting both the colour right and the underlying form of the muscle looking right.