Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Bird in the Hand

A few days ago I happened to see a tweet from Lady Gaga saying that drawings of her "flipping the bird" at a Mets game could end up in V Magazine. I was a bit of confused about the deadline since the magazine's site just said something about it being "tonight", but whatever. I had just finished a sweet T-shirt design for Yahoo! and this sounded like a fun excuse to practice some more celebrity caricatures (that aren't from the 70's or 80's). I took on the challenge!

The first thing I like to do is scribble a few thumbnails of what I want to do. Then I try to find lots of pictures as reference. So I scoured the web and found photos of people flipping the bird, women in the right position (or close enough, I'm not going to find the pose with an extended arm and middle finger, of course), pictures of Gaga and her famous egg-pod. But I really wasn't wanting to see the actual pic of her "flipping the bird" at the game. I think that would just influence my concept too much. Instead I took inspiration from the famous shot of Johnny Cash flipping off the camera. That's the attitude and facial expression I wanted.

Ben Walker Secret: I do the same thing for many of my "bears with guns" paintings. Recognize this pic of Eazy-E?

Once I had collected some inspiring photos, I got to sketching on copy paper. I use pieces of tracing paper to add elements and edit/refine my drawing. This definitely helps me experiment and layer the overlapping elements in the composition. Plus you can do stuff like tracing one slave, flipping it and repeating it on the other side. They're supposed to all look alike anyway, right?

Next, I transferred the sketch to illustration board using blue transfer paper. I end up with a basic blue drawing that easily erases (since I have to freshen up much of the drawing anyway). Plus, the blue won't show up when I scan the inked drawing. To folks who aren't familiar with the illustration process this may begin sounding like a lot of work. I guess it sort of is but this process really is easier than trying to start out right on your good illustration paper. There's just too many overlapping and interacting elements involved for me to work out first.

So once the blue sketch was on my illustration board, I went to inking it in. I used my #1 Princeton Art liner brush for most of the drawing. I just used an office-style, ball point pen for the fishnet stockings.

OK, at this point it became a Tim Gunn "make it work" moment. Since this was time sensitive, I scanned the line drawing and quickly colored the image digitally. I think it ended up looking cleaner and "tamer" than I had initially envisioned. But I went ahead and put it out there as the finished piece.

I had a couple hours to spare last night so I pulled out the original line drawing and colored it in with Dr. PH Martin's watercolor dyes. I like this version a lot better and it didn't take much more time than it had to color in Photoshop.

Well, there you have it. I can call this one done and move on to the next project. I'm painting an armed "wild woman" riding a grizzly bear. Why mess with success?

Thanks for reading!

-Ben Walker

... Leonoardo?


  1. i love this! your illustrations are great! I did one of gaga with pearls on my blog for the contest as well. Following!