Jody Hewgill
January 2012
The Tree of Life
On the heels of this week's Oscar nominations, I thought this would be a fitting time to post my illustration for the review of this film in Entertainment Weekly's "Best and Worst of 2011" issue.
 "The Tree of Life " by Terrence Malick  was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director and best Cinematography, and was winner of the Palme D'or at the Cannes Film festival.

The Tree of Life is a visual and ethereal poem about loss, despair, God and the search for faith and reconciliation.
(quote from a review:

I tried to narrow my focus on the central aspect of the film, the O'Brien family dynamic: the eldest child, Jack caught between the polarizing personalities of his parents and his (metaphorical) struggle with choosing between the way of nature and the way of grace.
 The primary important element for me was creating a composition that reflected  the mood and tension of the family dynamic, and to focus on the portraits later. My composition focuses on the tension between Jack and his overbearing father, played by Brad Pitt, juxtaposed by the ethereal mother played by Jessica Chastain.
The actor Hunter McCraken (Jack) gives a magically performance as the protagonist. He also emotes great facial expressions, so it was a joy to create his portrait. Portraying his vulnerability was important aspect and a central aspect to the evoke the mood of this film.
It's interesting how much a hairstyle can alter the way we perceive a person. I was amazed how that haircut helped visually transformed Brad Pitt into the strict, abusive, authoritarian father.
The nebula in the sky represents the cosmic beginning section of the film, where Malick wants us to be awestruck by the wonder of the world as though seen through the eyes of a child.

When I watched the film I was spellbound by the cinematography ( Emmanuel Lubezki) and the art direction. Almost the entire film is painted with a green/ turquoise palette.
 When I begin painting, I'll most often have a set colour palette in mind, but sometimes I can't decide on a direction, in which case I'll do a few colour studies with colour pencil. I began this one with the gold background (because of the frequent setting sun in the film). Midway through I decided this wasn't working so I repainted the entire background ( underpainting and all) in the green tones.
I'm glad I made the colour change because I think the greens reflect a more 1950's feel.
Art director Jennie Chang also let me know in advance the selected colours for design for the spread (the cayenne square on the right in my studies) , so I kept this in mind when working on my palette.

Another inspiration was Lubezki's use of natural light that frequently picked up the rays cast by the setting sun.
My technique seems to have become unconsciously tighter over the last few years. I try to find a balance between the rougher textured areas, juxtaposed with detail done with tighter brush work. Sometimes I really loose myself in a piece and it's a struggle to pull myself back,  not to overwork it and let the paint and colour breath some life into the piece.
My initial preliminary sketch, trying to figure out how to incorporate my idea with the 3 figures. In this version, I have the suggestion of the other brothers, but decided to simplify, and keep it to the main 3 characters.

Another possible direction, inspired by a dinning room scene from the movie.

Study of Brad Pitt and Hunter McCracken.

Final sketch.

Thanks to art director Jennie Chang and creative director Amid Capeci for the great assignment.
Mourning Cloak

I am honoured to have two of my paintings selected for the uncommissioned category, the gala opening January 6 (tonight) at The Society of Illustrators (along with sequential and moving image categories). The exhibit is up until Jan 21st.

One of the two pieces included, "Mourning Cloak" was created this summer while working up at the cottage. The painting is based on the ephemeral nature of life.

The piece turned out differently than what I had initially intended. As opposed to illustration work , where I labour over  carefully crafted compositions in the sketch phase,  I started this piece with a very brief sketch and let the painting lead me.

My inspirations were from some of the flowers I had planted and the moths on the back porch.

The back door at our cottage is a moth magnet.

The largest was approx 6" in wing span ( the size of a small bird ), it was dark and sort of looked like a bat, and it held dominance over those back steps. It totally freaked me out.
All the photos here are courtesy of Balvis Rubess ( hey, I wasn't going to be closer than 5 feet from that huge one )
The moth in this painting is called "Mourning Cloak".
Eeek, you can see the eyes! (photo: Balvis Rubess)

Photo: Balvis Rubess

this one's on the front door screen. (photo: Balvis Rubess)

I also believe in the "reuse, revisit, revise"  rule. I have noticed a thorny theme in my recent work, unfortunately, I can't offer a good explanation, and thorns aren't an issue at the cottage.
For the book cover "Tender Morsels" by Margo Lanagan, Knopf publishers

"Floria" commissioned for the Kokeshi show at the Japanese American National Museum in LA, curated by Christina Conway.

Poster for "The Rainmaker" for Arena Stage.

A big thanks to the Society of Illustrators, the chair Yuko Shimizu, and the 54th annual exhibition jury !
Recent Articles

Commissioned Work (17)

Gallery work (9)

Portraits (11)
My website
Facebook page