There were a few interesting things in the setup for this piece, which were complicating factors. It was story illustration, however, the story was given to me in the barest outline form. Though it ended up being just under 100 pages, all the text could have fit on two pages or so in what I got. This was good because it left me lots of space to play in. It was bad because I like interpreting text.
Secondly there are some characters--fictional or otherwise--that are intimidating to illustrate, simply because of their fame, or how often they've been portrayed. Gandalf. Romeo and Juliet. George Washington. Alfred E. Newman. But the Eternal Son of God Almighty, Himself? Yeah, that alone almost put me off the project, to be honest.
(L:) Head of Christ, ©Warner Sallman
Well meaning, but no.
I like historical illustration. I like research and learning as part of working. Which is why I'm no great fan of most portrayals of the Anointed One. Because in the end, they just end up being these overly-groomed, Caucasian or vaguely Mediterranean men who either have never seen a day of labor under the sun, or who are nearly body-builders. These Jesus characters wax their chests, and get manicures and pedicures.
These are not meant to be "historical" depictions. They are meant to comfort, so need to be comfortable. I get it, I'm just not a fan. If I ever did one, it would probably offend more than anything. Hair somewhat oily and dusty, the scarred and calloused hands of a carpenter. Swarthy, sun-lined skin, giving the appearance of one far older than his thirty-odd years. Dusty feet and legs. Bad teeth. Middle-Eastern visage.
(L:) Charcoal Study
I needed to find a way out if I were to take the job. As it turns out, the story was intended to be an adventure loosely based off a somewhat literal reading of the book of Revelation. So I gave that a read through, and decided that it held some answers. I wouldn't be showing the doe-eyed peace guru with laundered robe. Taking a tip from Rev. 19, I decided my portrayal would be the triumphant warrior. That was my starting point.
This was meant to be an iconic character image, a revealing. The clouds split and the hero appears. There's a bit of Gandalf's appearance at dawn during the battle for Helm's Deep in the scene; as Tolkien was a devout Catholic, this should come as little surprise.
(L:) Costume/armor concept, pencil
Also included as part of the job was a series of character designs, which while colored, were published in black and white for the eBook. One of these meant I would need to design the whole armor and character, and I used this as the basis for the final illustration.
Once you come down to it, at first blush the piece doesn't seem out of step with other things I do. That's great, I didn't want to have this odd piece of "religious" art. I was asked as a fantasy illustrator to lend my vision to this project, and so it was gratifying to have it slide in alongside other items in my portfolio.
Yet the clues are there. He continues wearing his crown of thorns, now memorialized in gold and the first of his multiple crowns. the armor on his hands retain the stigmata, and from there and his helmet brilliant light emanates from beneath. A scale of his armor is missing, reflecting the spear wound. Had this been a full-figure portrayal, his feet would have had similar. And so on.
From first contact to final painting was over a year. As I mentioned, it was slow going. But it was done. I slapped a coat of retouch varnish, scanned and delivered it. Here then is the final image, as used on the cover of "Redemption: The Quest to Recover the Book of Life". The sky was digitally blown out to accommodate text better.
It was done, as I said. But it wasn't....
This is part 1 of a 2-part post. Part 2 can be found here.