By Greg Ruth
|20x36" lead pencil drawing in frame c. 1881|
In the late 19th Century as the advent of photography ushered in an entirely new visual language that we still can see echoing through our times in the 21st Century. In those nascent days of the medium, one couldn't take a favorite tintype and enlarge it, you had to hire a draftsman to make a pencil or charcoal likeness of the photograph. (At the time they could only make contact prints or directly expose chemically treated plates of tin or glass).
SO. In an act of current procrastination, and an honest attempt to jumpstart my work ethic after some time off at the end of August, I decided to finally take the plunge and apply my admiration for the hyper-realistic pencil drawing towards another (long overdue) series in my ongoing act of playing hooky, THE 52 WEEKS PROJECT. We had been up on the north coast of Maine, running around Schoodic Peninsula, my favorite place in the world and the combined rocky vastness and infinite fog of the place made its mark in this series to be sure.
|Cover for the hardcover book collecting the first two years of the project.|
I had a commission that afforded me my first go at this, one of Bela Lugosi the most famous of Draculas on the big screen. Rather than doing a standard likeness I wanted to see about picking an area of his head to focus in on and let the rest drift back into the fog. I knew his iconic face had to be obscured, and wanted to see how much it could be done without losing his identity. The end result succeeded so thoroughly I couldn't wait to get started on the rest.
|FUZZY BELA (commission piece 10"x12")|
Moving on into the new series, the first step was picking a subject to experiment on. It had to be a limited series of portraits, all of recognizable characters (this I will explain later), and they had to have distinctive faces. Choosing to depict Doctor WHo in all his thirteen faces was an obvious solution, especially since this initial solution to replace a faltering actor has over time become an integral aspect of the character's personality- almost more so than any other aspect. He his as a result, a sci-fo Kali, a God with many faces. So clearly perfect fort his. So I set three rules for the project: the materials had to always be the same-
1). Blackwing Palomino pencils, and eraser on paper, 8 1/2 x 11", no photoshop trickery allowed.
2). They had to be the same pose and not a direct reiteration of any previously existing portrait.
3). They had to begin with the now, and go back in time as we counted down to William Hartnell, the very first Doctor.
|#13 PETER CAPALDI|
I had for a while no this idea of doing a series of portraits with an extremely limited depth of field, The distance from the tip of the nose to the beginning of the ear would feel like miles like a mountain range falling back into a foggy horizon. Nut whether or not it would work would be the real test.
Getting started with Capaldi was the best bit- he is the newest and least known and has more than any other in recent memory, had the task of shaking things up in a deeply profound way. It also afforded me a bit of time to figure out how to make the blurry doctors... blurry. In absolute contrast to my usual method of sumi ink and paper, a medium of utter gesture, slashing strokes and contrasts, the graphite was going to be soft, detailed and photographic in its feel. I had done a few piece for Tor.com recently in the medium as beginning to get a grasp of it, but this was going to be a real test. It made me nervous but my absolute belief is that if making art doesn't make the artist nervous, the artist isn't doing it right.
In this first portrait I discovered that the best tool on this earth for achieving the blur was right there at the end of my hands. I had ten of them even. It allowed to delineate light and tone in a way I found surprising and gave a stronger grip on the reigns in forcing the viewer's eye where I wanted it to go. It also did something funny to the eyes when approached with a fully blurry picture: the eyes couldn't stop trying to force focus on it. That was of particular interest to me as all perception experiments are. It immediately had me creating a new and fourth rule/challenge:
4). As we counted down from the 13th to the 1st Doctor, each portrait would become more and more uniformly blurry.
|#12 MATT SMITH|
How fuzzy could things get before identity was lost? How much would the eye compensate for the lack of clarity, and would it make the viewer more or less comfortable in seeing it? How fine to get or should I retain some sense of the mark and the artist's hand? All of these will be answered over the course of the next few weeks. More questions I am sure, will rise. But in any case the die was cast and I remembered the feeling I got from the initial run of the 52 Weeks Project: fun regardless of time and assignment. So, for the next several weeks, each and every monday look for a new and increasingly blurrier portrait of our madman Doctor. And as a special treat to our Muddy Colors community, I give you the final portrait twelve weeks early:
|#1 WILLIAM HARTNELL|
The series will post on my website first and be archived there. Originals for sale in the storefront, each purchase will enter the buyer into a raffle to win the WHO TOTEM a 20" x 8" original sumi ink drawing created in the pre-Capaldi lands of 2013.
To purchase a signed copy of The 52 WEEKS PROJECT vol. 1 hardcover: