Saturday, February 14, 2009

Creating Darwin's Portrait

To continue the celebration on Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of the Species, I've posted the process of the creation of my portrait of Darwin.

I thought that this would be a challenging piece to do, as I haven't done many portraits of actual people. But the question was which "form" or age should I portray Darwin in? I have always loved the idea of a young and adventurous Darwin sailing uncharted waters on the HMS Beagle, exploring the harsh and beautiful land in search of new animals, plants and fossils...

So I chose the water-colour portrait painted by George Richmond in the late 1830s as a starting point. I really didn't have a plan for this painting. I made a few thumbnail sketches, but no base drawing or anything.

(Yes, I am painting on newspaper on the ground. Acylics on white poster paper) At this point, I had ideas of adding a bunch of fossils behind him, but it didn't seem quite right. After a few days of ponder, I thought about showing Darwin in multiple stages of his life: childhood, youth, and old age. Kinda an evolution of Darwin the man.

So I added the old-age form of Darwin from a photo I took of his statue in his birthplace, Shrewsbury. I tried to keep all the colour out of it, as the older form represents a "ghostly future" for the youthful Darwin.

To complete the "Dawin life-cycle" triad, I added the man as a child - based on this public domain painting of him as a seven-year-old. Does anyone know who painted it? Actually, I feel the child in my painting looks too old and kinda scary! Yikes...

With the three Ages of Darwin represented, I wanted to fill the rest of the space with the HMS Beagle crashing in. I used a few references of ships similar to the Beagle to get the form. Still lots of work to do. (As Glendon would put it, this is the "ugly phase" of the painting...)

Practically finished, lots more detail on the Beagle, but the central Darwin face is still missing. And it looks like the ship is crashing into the head of child-Darwin! Oh no!

With the added white face to the central Darwin and small details throughout, it seemed finished enough to present it on Darwin Day. But I am far from completely happy with it - middle-Darwin's face seems very flat, the child-Darwin is just too creepy (Children of the Corn...) and the painting does not convey Darwin's work (evolution, fossils, South American critters). But I love the way the old-Darwin and the Beagle turned out.

The 'Evolution' of Darwin

So there it is - the making of my Darwin Portrait for Darwin Day 2009. If you have any insight to help me improve it, please comment below!

Happy Darwin Day (and Valentine's Day as well!)


Raptor Lewis said...

Hmm....Looks good to me. Although, I have to agree that his seven-year old self has a look that wants to kill me. As you said, "Yikes" or as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo would say, "Zoinks!" It's a little creepy, to be honest with you. I do, however, ove the layout. It looks a movie poster. Come to think of it. His life WOULD make an interesting movie. I'd go see it, at least. Overall, I like it.

Glendon Mellow said...

I find the 7 year old looks serious. I see that look of determination on my nephew from time to time.

Lookin' good, Bond. Effective piece, and you can see the progressive facial features.

You seem bothered by the ship 'crashin' into the child's head. Sometimes, a rule that works for me when painting is take the problem and highlight it.

If the canvas is ripped, incorporate the rip, make it interesting.

What I'm saying, is more spray! More foam! Charge through those waves!