For the second year running I have had the pleasure to contribute in a very small way to Bla Kondixin. Here is this year's humble offerings. I provided the storyboards and the script while the talented people at Lighthouse provided the animation.
The latest piece I'm working on takes its cue from Antoine de Favray's fabulous but incredibly pompous portrait of Grand Master Pinto which hangs at St. John's in Valletta.
Favray probably set out to adhere to the unwritten rules of the standard commissioned work - that is to portray the Grand Master in all his worldly glory and surrounded by a plethora of symbols of grandeur: crown, shield, sword, drapery..you name it and it's all crammed in Favray's portrait.
But I tend to see this portrait more with the eyes of Goya when he set out to paint the Spanish royal family. Goya probably did not intend to caricature the family of Charles IV when he executed that particular painting but the unflattering depictions surely approach caricature...
Pinto died in 1773 and twenty five years later the Knights of St.John were unceremoniously bundled out of Malta by the cunning Napoleon Bonaparte.
On the right is Favray's portrait for comparison - and yes I am fully aware that comparisons are odious....
I am in no way attempting a lookalike or trying to add all the paraphernalia in the original work. I tend to cut down on the fireworks and keep to the straight and narrow road. My aim is pure and innocent mockery....
The frivolity of Man has no limits and I reckon this great painting (unintentionally?) brings that out completely.
Starting out with some rather tedious coloring in ...I love taking pictures of my left hand
Cautious start on the Grand Master's face
The face completed...
Finally the image is completed two months after starting out.
Altogether I used about nine colors out of the possible range of eleven colored inks I have, combining three or four colors for the curtains and carmine and black for the cape.
For the face I also combined colors: sepia, burnt sienna, yellow and a hint of vermilion.
I am now ready to start on something else...whatever and whenever that will be.
I hope it will be soon!
I am not sure if an eight hour visit to Naples is enough to do it justice. I have always been curious about this city but even the neighborhood names of Forcella and Spaccanapoli are to a certain extent off-putting... But we took the plunge via the very fast Frecciarossa train from Rome (1 hour ten minutes travel time) and did not regret it. True - Naples is quite dirty and rundown in places and one or two streets must be downright frightening after dark, but take the normal precautions, keep your fingers crossed and you should be quite ok.
Via San Gregorio Armeno has the feel of an Arab souk
There is a wealth of churches, palaces and museums but pride of place must certainly go to the most atmospheric street in town - Via San Gregorio Armeno. Here they make crib figurines all year round it seems, and not to get too bored the artisans introduce famous figures as well...at the height of his popularity, Barrack Obama was frequently depicted as one of the Three Wise Men.
I have no idea where the figures below could appropriately feature in nativity cribs but here they are anyway....
Queen Elizabeth II
Prince William and Kate Middleton
Comic turned politician Beppe Grillo
The late and lamented Amy Winehouse
Silvio Berlusconi and friend - enough said!
Pope Benedict takes up early retirement...
Starting out on a new drawing. Trying my best to keep things simple. Do not feel like tackling complicated stuff. Have no idea how this will end up and have not yet thought what the background will be. Playing it by ear...
And this is what it's looking like some two weeks later....two weeks in which I was busy doing other work but also dedicating a couple of hours two to three days a week working up the cross-hatching. Up to now using only one pen - the Faber Castell TGIS 0.13. Will have to start thinking of colors soon....
A digital camera and Photoshop come in handy to try out a couple of color schemes and I rather like this one - so freeze here and let's start the drawing proper...which might turn out somewhat different as I go along...
A couple of days later and the color scheme is slowly being put into place...stroke by stroke.
A detail of the man's face as the drawing progresses...
A more marked yellow to the background and now it's about done... I used just colored inks this time with a variety of nib sizes and I did not feel the need to enhance and enrich tones by colored pencils. Started sketching this early in March and managed to complete it in about 20 days in between other deadline-dependent work.
I humbly present.. Cecilia and Herbert
I hate the time when I am not working on a "proper" drawing - something that takes up a couple or more weeks from start to finish...a drawing I can mull upon while building bit by bit. It's that time right now so I doodle and think until something crops up and I have a work-in-progress to look forward to a couple of evenings a week at least.
To beat this boring waiting period I scanned a few more early drawings - yeah and I haven't posted anything here recently either so...
An old sketch this one - must be the time I first read A Clockwork Orange...
Shipyard worker - sketch from 1987 or thereabouts.
Woman out shopping - I don't think I ever developed this idea further...
The Wizard of Marrakech - a drawing from 1987 - the only time I visted Morocco. I was struck by the colors and smells of this amazing country and the city of Marrakech in particular. I did some sketches while there
and later developed a market scene from the various drawings, This remains a favourite drawing.
Untitled drawing also from 1987. Nothing came of this.
Away from the mostly digital work I do there is nothing I enjoy more than picking up pen and paper and working on something I will do purely for myself, something that is driven by the simple need to draw - drawing as a relaxing and (yes) therapeutic activity.
A few weeks back I started mulling over the theme of the mother and child - a theme repeated oh so often in religious as well as secular art. So I played around with a couple of sketches until I had a working drawing I could use to take off with. When it came to putting in a background it just had to be a Maltese themed landscape - and it was then I hit upon the Gozo Citadel (ic-Cittadella in Maltese) as possibly the ideal backdrop.
I have always loved the view of this ancient redoubt sitting atop its rounded hilltop as you are coming down the road from Zebbug so I chose that particular angle . The rest of the landscape I left as simplified as possible.
By my normally very slow working rate this one was completed pretty fast... I started the pencil sketch on 3rd November and a day later started working with ink. I completed this on the 25th November - less than a month. Good job I never got the Sistine Chapel commission.
I used Faber Castell TGI-S technical pens with nibs ranging from 0.13 to 0.35 and Pelikan permanent inks in various colors: black (naturally), vermillion, cobalt blue, yellow, green, sepia and burnt sienna. I rounded off with a light dusting of Faber Castell Polychromos colored pencils.
I took shots of the drawing as it developed and here they are...
The Citadel Madonna - a blow-by-blow account!
Working drawing. Baby Jesus needs to be altered...
...and off we go. Work in progress.
Introducing cobalt, vermilion and burnt sienna inks...
Sketching in a background with a couple of pics for reference
Giving the background wall, fields and citadel some color: using green, cobalt, yellow, burnt sienna and sepia
Almost done with the ink...now a few touches with colored pencils...
...and I reckon "The Citadel Madonna" is ready!
Madonna face detail
Finally completed The Big Hug! I spent way too long on this one - considering that the note on the back of the drawing says I started doing the preliminary pencil sketch at the end of....May!
But then again... in the intervening period I have slaved at the day job for forty hours a week, and completed about 25 cartoons for publication. I have added a few blog posts here as well and have tried my hand at freelance writing for the first time. More on that later hopefully...
Add to that it has been one of the hottest summers I ever remember too - that has sapped my energy big time and not made working any easier.
The worst bit was giving the final coloring push last Monday after a long weekend abroad (see previous post) and very nearly ruining everything. Thankfully that did not quite happen.
Oh well, I am pleased with the finished item so that is good enough for me. I hope I will start on something new soon. What that might be remains to be seen.
Small irrelevant detail - in The Big Hug I did not draw the clouds of course and only drew the sky around them. This provided an idea for my cartoon strip (pictured below).
Waste not, want not!
Ironic really. I have written about several subjects but I have never featured any of my early cartoon work here. As I said in one of my first blog posts, I made a conscious decision to try my hand at cartooning after visiting Ralph Steadman's Between the Eyes exhibition in London's South Bank Centre in 1984.
Most of the sketches here date from that fateful year to 1989. Most of them started as pencil doodles until eventually a few lines indicate the features a face might take. A few of these early drawings served as preparatory sketches when I eventually started to do more "finished" works, some others were never utilised. The medium is ink and sometimes a few strokes of colored pencils were added.
...you haven't been here recently kindly note I have added a whole new batch of published cartoons covering the years 1992 to 2001- certainly a very interesting period in Malta's recent history; a period dominated by the debate (I am being generous here...) over Malta's entry into the European Union. You can jump straight to these cartoons by clicking on the Editorial tab above.
I have always supported the concept of joining the Union - even if perhaps a couple of the reasons I wanted Malta to join were not the right ones. Primary among these was the hope that no future local government could ride roughshod over people, or hide crucial facts from the common man.
My faith in the European Union is heavily dented these days by the fiscal chaos in Greece. I mean if Greece could cook the books for so long and the supposed watchdog couldn't (or wouldn't) smell the brewing concoction then the whole concept of accountability on a European level is all but dead.
Well back to those heady pre-accession days. I was approached to do some work for the Malta-Eu Information Center (MIC). This included (among other things) the challenge of producing humorous designs for roadside billboards. Two of these billboard designs appear here.
The first billboard to appear carried the caption "Just a few more chapters.." Malta was at the time concluding entry negotiations chapter by chapter - and presumably getting the nod with each closed chapter...
This billboard was meant to illustrate the overkill of pro and anti EU press articles appearing at the time.
It has been more than a month now that I have worked on this new drawing and I still think I am far from completing this particular picture. It has proved a lot more challenging than I thought it would be. I am deciding on additions – and general composition - bit by bit as I go along. I have now come to the stage where I have the basic saintly figure and the accompanying cat and dog (is there a place for a bird somewhere?) and I have framed the trio between two pairs of columns and added an arch. The whole thing still looks like it is less than half completed.
I thought it best to take a photo of the work done so far and decide on the way forward by manipulating in a couple of scenarios. I do not believe this is cheating…it is just a more efficient way to test and visualize how the end work could eventually look.
The inspirations behind this picture are many. First Saint Francis himself, a wealthy, worldly man who turned his back on all things material and decided to embrace poverty. A shining example through the ages, perhaps more so in the modern, consumerist, must-have-now world we live in today.
Then there is something of the miniature holy pictures from my childhood (santi in Maltese) which I think always had some effect on most children of the sixties growing up in what was then (on the face of it at least) a devoutly Catholic country. These were probably among the foremost visual images then – along with collectible cards featuring animals, soldiers’ historical uniforms, and of course dinosaurs.
There is also the medieval angle to the composition. I simply love Proto Renaissance paintings…the stiff figures and poses…the gold everywhere…the unlikely landscapes…the architectural motifs… the heavy Byzantine influences… Think Duccio di Bouninsegna, think Giotto, think Fra Angelico - you get the picture (Comparisons are odious I know, in this case they border on the outrageous). To this day these paintings are among the foremost I look for in any major art museum I visit.
I will not necessarily adhere slavishly to the landscape, columns and motifs I have added digitally to help me map the way forward but they will certainly help.
I reckon this picture will take a few more weeks to complete.
This is actually only the second time I am attempting a drawing on a quasi-religious theme and using Christian iconography.
I had previously completed "Visitation" in 1995. (image on left) showing an anonymous saintly nun being visited by an unabashedly unclothed angel delivering a rose. I remember that the rendering of the massive archway was murder but the nun was a joy to draw - a wobbly curvy shape with an equally oval face.
This remains a favorite work of mine (even if I say so) and I like the subtle humour of the work.
There are obviously parallels between the drawing I am doing now and this one.