Alas, here are my contributions to this year's Crazy 4 Cult art show. I'll be blabbing about them
UPDATE: Hey, these were chosen to be made into a set of prints! I'll announce it here when they're ready to order, or you can keep your eye on www.stuff88.com or crazy4cult.com for details.
UPDATE #2: Rather than tastefully allowing this art to speak for itself I've opted to prattle on about the creative process behind these, starting....now.
My wife was my muse for the concept. As I pondered aloud potential Crazy 4 Cult ideas she reminded me of an awesome old family portrait we'd recently seen for sale and I immediately connected the dots between cult films and the family portrait format. I'd already been thinking in terms of Fargo since I love the flick and it seemed underrepresented in last year's show, so I first envisioned William H. Macey's dopey grin in front of a Sears-style backdrop, and the thought delighted me. Moments later when the mental image of The Shining's Torrance family hit my brain, I grew extremely excited and knew I had to try to bring it to life.
The family portrait format felt perfect since this type of photography is basically a study in pure affectation. And what's great about them is that the veneer of smiles is always too transparent to disguise the strain, the physical discomfort, the uneasiness, and often the volatile emotions bubbling beneath. Amazing how we don our most painful clothes and stand under all-illuminating heat lamps in a vain attempt to appear natural, happy, and "at our best." Then we send this piece of fiction to everyone we know. I vividly recall the agony of being forced to rest my hand on my sister's shoulder for literally minutes at a time!
So when you drop these familiar movie families into the equation you've got a double layer of irony. Anyone who's seen these films gets flashes of the horrors each tribe is destined for. I also liked the idea of creating would-be movie props that could be at home in the families' respective fictional dwellings.
Visual reference was the first order of business. I grabbed The Shining off my DVD shelf and headed for my computer. This part was more tricky than I expected. I needed to grab images of each of the three stars that met the following criteria...
1. They need to be smiling (or something close)
2. They need to be smiling while facing the general direction of the camera
3. They need to be in decent light (finding images with matching light sources would have been impossible)
4. They need to be wearing something they might wear to a family photo shoot
I took dozens of different screen grabs from scenes throughout the film. I soon realized that I'd need to create head/body composites in some cases since the right head and the right body didn't usually share the screen.
In the case of the Freelings (Poltergeist) the process was extremely difficult. The family only appears normal during a small sliver of time at the beginning before the ghosts kidnap Carol Anne and the reign of terror ensues. I also noticed that in both Fargo and The Shining, the boys practically never smile (which stands to reason considering the heads of those households.)
So I took my best screen captures and digitally cut them up and pasted them into family portrait-ish compositions (following examples of vintage Olan Mills photos via flickr.) I printed these out and using an old grade school grid technique (you draw a grid on the source material and another on the blank paper and use it as a general placement guide) I transferred and scaled my printout onto the larger 10 x 14 page.
My first thought was to try to create these with acrylic paint, but at some point I remembered a colored pencil piece I did in college of Jeffrey Katzenberg, and I liked the effect.
I used a regular pencil to draw a base layer of details before coming in with the Prismacolor pencils. The process was a long one since I did a lot of layering so as not to let any of the paper show through. The biggest challenges were...
1. Trying to recreate recognizable faces based on low resolution screen grabs
2. Trying to somewhat match the lighting even though the subjects were lit by a wide variety of sources, from sunlight to office fluorescents
3. Surviving the sleep deprivation (I have a career and a family life too.)
I could have made it easier on myself by tracing, but I chose not to; I wanted to allow more of myself to show through, for better or for worse, and I actually like the semi-primitive look and cartoonishness that naturally emerged. The final outcome is a nice mixture of artistic choices and pure inexperience.
I tried to vary the styles somewhat from piece to piece based on each film and family. For instance, I figured the Torrances' photo would come from a K-Mart type store so it's slightly misframed and the lighting is severe in an attempt to match Kubrick's. In contrast, National Lampoon's Vacation was shot using very direct and saturated lighting, so when it translated into my colored pencils it made the piece feel flat and really cartoony from the very beginning. Since this look seemed to match the characters I decided not to fight it and I let the kitsch flow.
I also carefully considered the frames for each, trying to match the eras and families' income. For example, the Freelings from Poltergeist seemed like they might have a more glamorous silver frame in their large suburban Californian home of the '80s, while the Lundegaards seemed a good fit with the dark wood.
So why these families? Well, they all have the following in common...
1. The films they come from are all among my favorites.
2. They're all-American and "traditional" in that both parents are together (Well, at the time of the photo).
3. They all go though purely hellish experiences.
The Griswolds seemed out of place to me until I realized that I'd rather survive a vicious haunting with Steve Freeling (Craig T. Nelson) than travel cross country to Wally World under Clark W. Griswold's supervision.
All in all, it's been great to take a break from the mouse pad to illustrate traditionally again. And being a part of Crazy 4 Cult was a purely wonderful experience. (I'll post my recap of the show soon.) Anyway, I hope you got a kick, a laugh, or a nightmare out of my art.