Flesh Carver

By Jesper Ejsing

This image started out as an acrylic painting, but I messed it up so seriously that I had to finish it digitally.

The illustration is for a magic card. I was asked to do a wizard-like butcher standing at the butchers block, carving up meat. We should be undefined if it was human meat or something more ordinary.

I had all kinds of visions all at once for this image. When I read the art description the one thing I instantly knew was that I would picture him as looking up from the work smiling invitingly looking kind of happy and inviting. It would be hard contrast to the bloody scene of the rest of the image. And it should reveal him as a crazy person.

In the sketching process I changed him to wiping the blood from his hands. The gesture shows that he is done with the grizzly part and is looking up ready to engage with the spectator. I was going for the image of; "Ohh, there you are. Let me get this of my hands and clean up before I give you a taste". The thumb came back from Dawn Murrin, My art director at Wotc, with one really good remark. He looked too undead. In my pursue of evil I had turned him into a monster more than a person. In hindsight I am super glad to have been pointed in a different direction. I realized how often I go with the stereotype of evil, as if "Just Evil" is good enough.

I only realized this when trying  to change the face of him to be more human. But I abandoned the sketch since he looked plain and ordinary and not at all crazy like I had envisioned. So I did, what I usually do, when things get difficult: start over. I printed out the thumb, placed it next to me and started a new sketch of just the figure. When you start all over you often get the best from the previous searching sketches but without the limitation of the lines all ready there. So I do this  to liberate my mind rather than confining it by drawing on top of the old sketch.

In this case I thought of Marilyn Manson and the Joker when sketching. I gave him big meaty lips with large teeth to enhance the cannibalistic theme. I also fitted him with thin wispy hair giving the impression of an undernourished person, like the sea traveller from old  days that didn't get enough vitamins. I turned the angle of the head slightly to make him look up more, and suddenly it struck me to slit his mouth. My idea was that if he had slits that allowed him to part the lips wider, that would be nasty as hell. I giggled at the pure joy of my own evil-ness, in utter rush of cruelness I also had his ears top cut as a scarification. I outfitted him with a padded gloves and arm protection so that his victims would not scratch him too much while he cut them up, Women's nails can be very pointy, you know.
I am perfectly aware that all of these thoughts are probably lost somewhere between my mind and my drawing skills, not to mention, that you, as an audience might not see anything but a dude and a cleaver. It really doesn't matter. The point is that for me it is important to think of all these details and reasons to be able to invent interesting ideas. The more story I put into it, the easier flows the fountains of ideas.

With the sketch approved I transferred it to paper, using a light box. I inked the whole thing and added grey tone value in acrylics. This is a well known process to me and something I do with every painting. I had a clear palette in my mind and started on colours right away...

This is where it all went downhill, and ended in tears.

the dark abandoned painting
I started out way too dark. In order to save my mistake I tried lightening everything up by adding thick opaque paint, thus covering the last visible lines of my under painting, destroying the layer of values completely. It dawned on me that i would never be able to use the areas of dark under paint and use my usually way of washes to create interesting texture and still retain a drawing visible underneath, visible as a tightness all over. If I was going to take this image to final I would have to paint every single area lighter with opaque paint trying to paint forth all the effects that I usually obtain effortlessly by just following my work process. I felt awful. Mostly because I had worked myself up with this drawing happy at how every stage up until now had turned out, and in my minds eye the image was already final. Looking down at the painting i saw no way I could fight my way to this perfect final image I had in my head.

So I decided to start all over. this time with a clear and solid colour rough. I opened up the file in Photoshop and started on a digital colour comp on top of my grey value version. i always scan my preliminaries and this time it really came in handy. I added colours for the rough by setting the brush to multiply and started with a large texture brush. After 10 minutes I was done and thought; "Why don't I try to take it a bit further"? and after 10 more minutes the background was almost done. "I could just finish this digitally", and so I did. Learning from my mistake in the acrylic version i brushed with gentle easy strokes. I zoomed in on the face and used a Photo of Steve Bushemi as ref for an ugly mouth ( sorry Steve ).

The final version looks very much like my acrylic paintings do. I never told anyone that it was digital and no one ever raised the question. Well, it is half and half anyway.

In the end this image came out exactly as I had in mind. That is a really rare experience for me.