Merry Christmas, six months from now. I thought I'd show you a page from my current project; I'm illustrating some of my favorite Christmas Carols and putting them in a book.
I'm going to show you "Angels we Have Heard on High" because
one, it's a beautiful song and I love it and
two, Sam told me when he was little he thought
"In Excelsis Deo" meant "Jesus lives in Chelsea."
Well, Emannuel means "Lord with Us' and I kind of like the thought of Jesus living just a few blocks away.
Here's is how this drawing has evolved.
The first pencil marks. I have a vague sense of what I want and I feel pretty tentative. I think about the composition for a long time before even making a pencil mark. I look at my collection of pictures of angels and try some really vague sketches on cheap paper that I throw away. Then I move onto my Arches watercolor block, 140 pound, cold press paper. It has a pebbly surface that give my line a nice lively feeling. Time to make a committment. I use a pale sepia for the first inkings–Iit’s more forgiving than black, but now there’s no going back. No erasing.
A few more angels and the beginning of the night sky.
Now I'm getting started. There's a rhythm to the work; dip the pen, make a few marks, the pen runs dry, look out the window, maybe get up and walk around, come back, sit down, then dip the pen and make some more marks.
Time to decide on the colors. Each new addition changes the balance of the composition. I used as a reference the Neapolitan angels from the tree at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
More color and I'm seeing how I want it to go. I like that green. I'm still not sure of the angel in the upper left but I know I don't want an even number of angels.
More color, more sky. Should all the wings be the same color? Before I proofread thisit read, "should all the wigs be the same color--" These angels have all their own hair.
Closer and closer. I really have to work on the seventh angel. I"m always eager to erase the pencil marks but It's very important to wait for the ink to dry completely.
At last, angel number seven arrives. I was drawing her around the time of Ascension Day, when our pastor, Bob Dunham, cited in his sermon this stained glass window in the chapel of Queen's College in Oxford.
At the ascension, forty days after the resurrection, Jesus is lifted up into Heaven. But look at his feet. They're so silly looking for such a holy moment. What was the artist thinking? Was it the end of the day, and he was working on a deadline? I know that feeling.
The whole time I was drawing these angels I had those feet on my mind.
The finished picture.It still needs some work to define the faces and I'll clean up some blots with photoshop but here they are. How do you like their feet?
Stay awake for more pages for the final book.
What's your favorite Carol?