Since January I have been taking an online course with Sterling Hundley through the Society Of Visual Storytelling. It's been illuminating and fun, and has been a welcome opportunity to experiment.
With this poster design, combining the opposed properties of different materials was the name of the game. The assignment was a mock commission, and I chose a local opera house whose posters combine traditional and digital materials to reflect their branding as a modern spin on classic material. I was drawn to Wagner's Parsifal, not only for its Arthurian content (my main squeeze these days) but for the way its story lends itself to this notion of opposition and contrast.
Parsifal, heralded in the play by a white swan, must redeem the ailing Grail King Amfortas and all the Grail Knights and return them to a state of grace by recapturing the Holy Lance, lost by Amfortas when he succumbed to carnal sin. Amfortas is lost, and Parsifal must be his bridge from sin to redemption.
At first, the idea was to juxtapose the pure Parsifal and the ailing Amfortas directly. So I was dealing with two profiles, trying to merge them into a unified form. It had something to it, especially with the way Parsifal looks up to the light. But Amfortas looks more like a nefarious character than a pathetic one.
Additionally the design is a bit too literal for me, in that it leaves the symbolism largely implicit, rather than being as loudly symbolic as the opera is.
Portraying Parsifal instead as the swan proved more effective. It symbolises redemption and purity better than Parsifal himself could. The symbolism is reinforced by the water's surface; a World Above and a World Below. It also presented interesting graphic opportunities of light-on-dark, and the distinctive shape of the bird is powerful.
Once I combined the two forms into one I knew I had my solution. I don't normally do this sort of optical merging, it's a trick I never really got the hang of. But here it works, placing Amfortas in the World Below and creating a visual sympathy between his fallen state and the purity of the swan.
A good friend posed for some reference shots. I knew I would be altering the features somewhat but wanted the photography for a sense of naturalistic light and shadow.
After laying out the tonal drawing in grey, I applied a thin peachy base coat in acrylic ink, then built up shadows and highlights in colored pencil.
After masking off the face and swan with thick masking fluid (2 coats) I washed in a dark background of Payne's Gray and black.
I layed in further light and shade, as well as some variations in hue, with colored pencil and washes of acrylic ink. The letters were drawn with the Pen in Photoshop, as were the halo and rays. I made some large monoprints with acrylic paint and a brayer for background texture.