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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Winding River

Life is a winding river flowing through the events of our life and the river's course, its bends, and forks are like the decisions we make and also the ones we are compelled to make by external forces outside our control.

You see, metaphor is a very powerful method of depiction, indeed.

The presentation of symbols in illustration is a natural method, and it is used in more drawings than I can count. It has been used in paintings since the medium was invented. I suppose initial paintings were quite literal: pictures of animals that were hunted and the tribe and their weapons. But one iconic form appears: the outline of a human hand. This is the artist's signature and simple metaphor for "I painted this", usually done in berry juice. The hand is a symbol, a relic, of the artist himself or herself.

In a recent blog entry, Back to Drawing, I introduced a concept sketch of a banner which, laden with symbology, was a metaphor for a singular event. In this post, I present two more banners that also further the concept of metaphor in illustration.

Here is the first banner, the winding river. In the sky are the Pleiades, also known as the seven sisters (although eight are shown: what do you make of that?).

I have used a digital woodcut technique for this banner, as it is my style of late, and I also employed a technique of colored chiaroscuro for suggesting distance.

The river cuts deep channels through the rock, suggesting that, downstream, greater and greater effects are made as the river gains volume from the tributaries and momentum from its rush from the mountains. In this way our works gain momentum and have greater and greater effects through the course of our lives.

My symbolic suggestion is that the stars have some influence on the path of the river, and thus of life. The seven sisters are known for their ability to impart divine knowledge and wisdom. The wisdom that governs our works.

A river's flow is known and set, and rarely changes over the course of a hundred years. The lay of the land it flows through will determine its course, like the situation our lives occur in and also the examples set for us which can influence our own acts in life.

But sometimes a river meets a point where the terrain shifts suddenly, and the course is altered in an abrupt free fall. This is the subject of the second banner.

Ah, the waterfall. When something comes down as a result of the force of gravity, it always reminds me of an avalanche. Because I have survived one.

This notion of a river rushing and going over the edge is a powerful one. I have shown the waterfall with the steps leading up to it: a dangerous and tenuous set of stairs leading to the top. At the top, are railings so you can see the rushing river as it plunges.

It reminds me of Vernal falls in Yosemite. I have been to the top and I have seen the rushing river. The rock slopes to the river are a channel cut deep, with slopes that make them quite dangerous. Since the rock is wet, they can be slippery and people have been known to circumvent the railing so they could be photographed in a dangerous position, and then subsequently fall into the rushing river where they were simply and hopelessly carried over the edge to fall over 300 feet to their inevitable death.

The waterfall is the symbol of life out of control. Events which you cannot control force your life into a specific direction. The path seems implacable, cut deeply into rock. The forces that drag you along are unstoppable.

I have placed the moon in the dark sky to light the scene.

Using the digital woodcut technique, I employ lines of black against white or white against black. Then I sculpt them into channels that taper, by working from one end in white and the other end in black.

Here is a close-up of the first banner, done at a high resolution.

I find it interesting to create three-dimensional forms using this kind of shading. I then employ a gel layer to add the color. Usually its just a color-by-numbers kind of approach, using Digital Airbrush. But this time, I used Just Add Water to create a continuum of color in the river, and also in the hills in the foreground. It does resemble scratchboard-watercolor, a favorite look.

The gel layer allows me to rework the color without affecting the black-and-white shading layer, of course.

Actually one layer you don't see is the sketch layer that lays underneath. It contains the original sketch, which I shade over to create the image.

Here is the sketch for the Pleiades banner. My sketch is a rough indication of what I want, but I worked on a layer directly on top of the sketch to flesh out the banner.

As you can see, the river might have been drawn as a winding road, but I thought a river to be better because of the inevitable draw of gravity as the metaphorical force of destiny on our lives.

I added the small tributary (shown in the close-up above) as another allusion to the metaphor of decisions and their effect on the course of causality.

Someday, I might put a tassel onto the banner.

Oh, and I forgot my chop marks! ;-)