Robert Rodriguez fineartprintsca

The art and interests of Robert Rodriguez

STEVE COMES THROUGH

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Steven Chorney is the wonderful movie poster artist and illustrator who did the concept sketches for The Two Jakes in the very beginning.  I remember there were five of us who took these and developed them as comps, and even came up with other designs too.  I was assigned the first one he laid out.

I asked him if he still had the comps, and this morning he sent them along so I could post them.  I think Thomas Blackshear did a comp using a variation of the second design, which Steven said was his favorite concept because of the tension in Nicholson’s face.

Steven said he was thinking about the Scarface movie poster in his design.  Based on his days doing illustrations for TV Guide, he felt there was something missing from his sketch.  We needed the girl!  “…we need 2 guys, a girl, and a gun!”  He must have mentioned that to the art director, because by the time I got the job, they were asking for me to add the girl in there.

This was done back before color xeroxes were very accurate.  Steven had done the grey background version, but they had made a color copy for me, and it had turned a sort of acid yellow.  I loved it, so I  tried to match the color.  It reminded me of that Van Gogh painting of the pool hall interior with the  yellow lights and the green felt.  Van Gogh wrote “In my picture of the Night Café I have tried to express the idea that the café is a place where one can ruin oneself, go mad or commit a crime.” 

But even though they liked my Two Jakes art, they wanted to go with the grey of Steven’s original version (which I had never seen).  They had me hide Meg Tilly’s face with her hat, make Nicholson larger, and make his coat and lapels oversized.

The only bad experience with the whole project was the reference they gave me for Jack Nicholson’s face.   It was a blurry, two inch tall, b&w photo from The Witches of Eastwick.  I kept asking, “Seriously?  Jack Nicholson, and this is the best reference you have?”  I think I painted his head about 9″ tall on my poster.  And as it turned out, his face was the only problem anyone had with my image. (see my blog post, July 2013, for that story)

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ROUGHS, COMPS, AND FINISHES

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On illustration projects, the normal process is for the art director to either send me a very rough sketch or at least a description of what they want their painting to contain.  I thought it might be interesting to show the way it all comes about.  My roughs are usually so rough that I don’t even intend to show them to any client.  They are just for my own use to work out concepts and designs.  People often wonder how I can tell anything from the scribbles I do, but they really contain enough that I know if that direction is something I can develop or not.  I might fill pages with roughs like this, before I hit on one that works.  Nowadays, I do them digitally, but the idea is still to develop a sketch that shows promise.  I really don’t want to spend time making a good drawing.  I want to crank out as many ideas as possible, so I work very quickly.

It is interesting to me that when I hit on one decent direction, the pressure is off.  I know that I can always use the first good one if I can’t think of anything else.  But once that one is in the bag, I am free to really try other ways to approach the job, without worrying about results.  And it is usually one of the later sketches that I wind up going with, because they are a lot freer, and more adventurous.

Then I have to tighten things up a little so the art director and the client can understand what I have in mind.  This would be the comp stage.  I often do my comps in color, which sometimes isn’t a good idea, but it really helps me to think about what the finished art will look like.  But it also gets me in trouble because a client might perseverate on some color choice I’ve made, when I have always intended to adjust that in the final painting.  Also, sometimes a client falls in love with something that I may want to change in the finish, but they love it, so I can’t.  Even after all these years, I haven’t come up with a completely satisfactory way to present my sketches or comps.

I remember one project where the client said, “Don’t use any green.”  No explanation, just don’t do it.  Of course that is like telling someone, “Whatever you do, don’t dream about monkeys.”  That night, it is almost guaranteed that monkeys will be in every dream you have.  I remember struggling to do my painting with no green at all, and then breaking down because I just had to use green in one spot.  The art director loved the painting, and when I apologized for the little touch of green he said, “Oh, that wasn’t really important.  I just don’t particularly like green so that was a suggestion only.”  I spent hours trying to avoid that color, and it made no difference at all.

I hope  you can see how a rough sketch develops into the finish.  Each step takes me closer, and the design is finessed, and the colors are brought together.  Doing the finished art is a lot more involved than just getting the drawing tighter.  I’ve heard of artists that can see the finish in their heads before the start.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?  That’s not me.  It is a step-by-step process, and every mark, requires another mark to tie in with it, until there is nothing else needed.  Then it is finished.

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The drum majorette was for the 60th anniversary of 3M electrical tape.  The first sketch was the art director’s rough, showing me what he wanted, then my rough to develop a direction, then my comp for him to approve, then my finish.

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LAWYER SKETCH

The two panels above show my rough for myself, then the comp for the art director and client approval, and then my finish.

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Movie posters were an entirely different thing.  Basically the comps were almost finished art.  This was my comp for The Two Jakes, and my finish.  I am going to post these two again sometime soon, because I want to include the sketch that Steve Chorney did that inspired this approach.  But I don’t have it right now.

ANDY GOLDSWORTHY: RIVERS AND TIDES

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Do you know his work?  There are very few abstract artists I like, and even fewer conceptual artists.  Conceptual art is a form of art where the idea is more important than the finished art itself.  I would have originally categorized Goldsworthy in that group, but that isn’t a valid description.  It is the process as well as the finished art that counts with his work.  He works with natural materials, and usually natural tools.  He works with ice, leaves, flowers, dirt, rocks, grasses, and his work is photographed as it is being created, when it is finished, and as it deteriorates.  All of this is an essential part of the artwork.  Amazingly beautiful work.

In the documentary film, Rivers and Tides, there is a scene where he is creating a screen of reeds held together with thorns, and hanging from a tree branch.  He is on the home stretch when a slight breeze comes up the hillside.  Goldsworthy holds up his hands to steady the screen, and just when it seems that everything might be okay, the whole thing collapses.  He sits there for a few seconds with his eyes closed,  he sighs, and then he picks up the reeds and begins again.  I think the narrator says it is the third time that has happened on the project.

His work is very organic and rooted in the natural world, as is his approach to it.  I want to try to develop the meditative quality he has to his art.  Maybe you won’t hear me scream anymore when things go wrong.

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CIRCUS BOY

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When I was a little kid, there was a TV show called Circus Boy starring Mickey Dolenz, later of the Monkees.  He played an orphan who was adopted by the circus after his parents died in a fall during their trapeze performance.  I always dreamed of living that life, and running off to join the circus, but never expected them to actually come looking for me.  When they asked me to do the program cover and poster for 1981, it was a childhood fantasy come true.  I wound up doing 5 posters for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus over the years.  Four were the actual posters, one was used as an insert in the program to promote one of their starring acts.

They would give me loads of photos and slides to use as reference, and a list of the acts they wanted to see on the poster.  Other than that, I pretty much had complete freedom.  Now I hear that the circus will be closing in May, after 146 years of operation.  Falling attendance, high operating costs, and the loss of the elephants due to protests from animal rights groups, were the main causes.  Kids just don’t dream of running away to join the circus nowadays.  So the circus is leaving town, but what a history they leave behind.

I wish I had better images to post, but these were all I could find online, and my programs are all in storage.

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CARAN D’ACHE CRAYONS

kd-lang-grammy-copyI also used Caran d’Ache Crayons on my work.  They were a waxy crayon that went on very smoothly and opaquely if you wanted them to.  You could blend them with your fingers and they would dry to the touch and not smear after they dried.  The same company made an oil pastel, but it never seemed to really dry.  I would use them quite a bit for background textures .  One day I had finished a job, and it was  leaning up against my flat files, ready for me to flap it and ship it that night.

My 5-year-old son poked his head in my door and laughed as he squirted me with his water pistol.  I laughed too until I noticed that the overspray had hit the painting, and when I tried to dab it up, it only removed the colors where the water drops were.  At first I was furious, and wondered why these things always seem to happen within hours of deadline?  But as I dabbed at it, I realized that I could never really fix it.  So instead, I splattered more water on it and dabbed off more color.  It was a major improvement to the work, and I began to use it on many pieces from then on.

I just looked them up and they are still manufactured.  Called Caran D’ache Neocolor II Artists’ Crayons, they are water soluble.  Their strong pigmentation allows light colors to cover dark colors and vise-versa.  They are soft enough to blend with your fingertip, yet much firmer than oil pastels.  Yep, that’s the way I remember them!

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PRISMACOLOR PENCILS

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When I worked traditionally, Prismacolors were my best friends.  I would lay in the underpainting and then basically do the whole picture in Prismas.  Then I would drybrush over it using a Windsor Newton Series 7 size 3 brush with acrylic paint.  Millions and millions of tiny x’s.  And even if I was doing a painting 30″ x 40″, the x’s remained the same size.  Basically the Prismacolor would create the fine blending between the acrylic and the underpainting, without worrying about making the paint being that refined.  But the Prismas didn’t have the intensity or the punch of the acrylics, so the acrylic layer was always a necessity.

I did come up with a way to do more with the Prismas, and give them more opacity.   One night my Prismas fell into a cup of water.  They sat in there for several minutes before I noticed.  When I rescued them and tried to use them, the colors had become soft and mushy.  They went on almost like paint.  When they dried out, they were back to normal, but I had liked the softer, paint feel, so I got a cup of water and would dip my Prismas into that while I worked in order to keep them soft.  They remained very opaque, even when the color dried on my painting.

Things were great until one night, with the painting due in the morning.  I had spent a week doing the job, and I was really happy with how it was looking, so I wanted to make it extra special.  I decided it would look so much cooler if I took it out in the hallway and sprayed it with Krylon Crystal Clear.  That always made paintings look like they had a resin coating on them, like little jewels.  I was finished early, so I went out there and sprayed away.  Of course the lighting wasn’t very good in the hallway, but the painting looked beautiful all sparkly like that.  I left it out there to dry and went in to clean up so I could go home and get some sleep.

When I brought the painting into my studio to admire it, I thought my eyes were over-tired.  It seemed as if everything was blurry.  That’s when I realized that Krylon Crystal Clear dissolves Prismacolor.  If you worked in Los Angeles around that time, you might have heard me scream.  What had taken a good part of four days to accomplish, now was gone and had to be reproduced in about 5 hours, and me with no sleep.  Have you ever noticed that you can paint something the second time around so much faster than you did the first time?  Like when my computer crashes and I have forgotten to back up my work for five hours.  I can redo it in one hour.  Amazing.

So, that is what happened with my illustration for the book Radio Eyes that I was doing for Roger Carpenter and Stewart Weiner.  Still one of my favorite paintings.

DEADLINES AND ADRENALINE

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How many ex-illustrators would spend the last few hours on the last day of a job, finishing every little bit that had been overlooked, flapping the art, packaging it up for FedEx, and then the mad dash at 60 mph on surface streets to get inside the door of FedEx before 6:00?  Once in the door, your package was safe, it was assured of going out, but otherwise you would have some explaining to do the next morning.  And how many actually enjoyed the adrenaline rush?  Oh, I remember being supremely upset that I ran out of packing tape and had to change rolls while I only had fifteen minutes before I absolutely, positively, had to be in my car dealing with all the crazy drivers on the road.  Traffic lights that usually only took 2 minutes, were now on their dinner break and would be back shortly.  The panic was palpable, but when I made it and the pressure was off….oh, that was such an amazing feeling.

I don’t have that with digital work.  Since I can send the finished art in by 6:00am if necessary, the deadline panic is gone nowadays.  My life is much more easy going, but sometimes I have to admit there are things missing.  No originals, of course, and that’s too bad.  But that rush…I am not so sure if I miss it or not.

PETER PALOMBI 1975-1985

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After Peter left the studio to free-lance, his career really took off, as did his work.  I think at the studio he probably got work because of the studio, but when he left, he got work for himself.  Work where they really wanted his style.  He got into airbrush with a vengeance and brought his own sensibility to it.  Closeups of objects, where the details were so luscious that you didn’t realize it was a closeup of something as mundane as an electric plug or a telephone.  They were as sexy as the high-heeled shoes that he loved to paint.  Reflections, highlights, textures, he made them all sing.

And he was a wizard with type and borders too.  I think I probably love doing type and borders with my own work because of being around Peter and seeing that illustration was about the composition of the entire piece, not just the drawing and painting.  It was all about design as a whole.

Here are some of his most recognized illustrations that he did after leaving RWP&D, Inc.

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MY WORLD IS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

Or edgewise at least.  I was just skimming an article for artists, explaining common mistakes fine artists make.  Things like not transporting art properly, reducing the price of their paintings to make a sale…but one thing really jumped out at me.  They were saying that you should always quote measurements as height by width.  I thought this was a really stupid article, but decided to look it up.  I found almost as many things online explaining how this was, in fact, the proper way to quote measurements for paintings.  I even found one explanation that said sheetrock is sold in 4′ x 8′ sheets because it is always hung horizontally…..?  It is 8′ tall because it is not hung that way!  Ceilings are standard at 8′, and sheetrock is that height as well.

Usually photographs are 8″ x 10″, or typing paper is 8.5″ x 11″ because they are vertical.

Okay, what is correct?  I don’t think I have ever done an illustration as a horizontal by mistake, but wouldn’t that be a nightmare?  Kind of like the Stonehenge mockup in This is Spinal Tap.

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PETER PALOMBI 1970-1975

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Rosenfeld, Wilson, Palombi and Dilts, Inc.?  Sounds like a law firm from a John Grisham novel.  But it was the name of the studio that Peter Palombi organized with two art directors and a rep, while he was still in art school.  They quickly got so busy that he dropped out of school, and I don’t know if he ever got his degree.  Who cares?  He got famous instead, and did some really amazing work.  He only stayed at the studio for about five years and left around 1974 I think.  He was well known in Los Angeles, but when he left the studio to go out on his own, he became one of the best known California illustrators of the period.  He did national advertising, Playboy Magazine illustrations, Rolling Stone Magazine covers…he was the first one I know who was able to make it work, even before FedEX, Fax machines, and computers.

I was friends with Peter in Chouinard Art Institute and we were in the same class.  In the first class we ever took, the teacher invited students to paint murals on the walls.  Peter and his roommate Pat Nagel did a mural about the Watt’s Riots that were going on at the time.  It must have been about 25 feet long by 14 feet tall in black and white and sepia.  This was the first time I realized that being the best artist in grammar school, junior high school and high school, didn’t count for much.  Everybody in the school had been the best in their previous schools, and they were just better.

When I graduated, I went to visit Peter, to see what work he was doing, and he asked me to help do a storyboard that night.  I stayed and I wound up staying for five years.  Peter was just starting, but I got to move up with him.  He had always had a way of working with Rapido-graph pens and magic markers on vellum, where you would wipe it and smear it with toilet paper.  It was mostly for comps and storyboards, but Peter was so good with it that he used it for finished art as well.

Here are some examples of finished work and comps he did with the markers.  Only the bears at lunch was a comp.  The 1920’s football player was done in dyes on vellum, and the Leyendecker style football player was oils.

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