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The Unnecessary Fall

AUGUST 17, 2010

I was asked last week by Christine Car and Joe Heroun to do the cover for this week's New Republic- "The Unnecessary Fall of Barack Obama"..."In an atmosphere primed for a populist backlash, he allowed the right wing to define the terms..."
There was already a consensus that the image should evoke the mythological Icarus. My initial mental image of this was not positive...sometimes you have to think about things a bit- the first thing that I thought of was the President in a toga falling out of the sky with wings strapped to his arms- an image that I felt would have an overly negative "tea party" vibe to it. I needed to spend the first of my six days just thinking about this picture how could I do this and keep Obama's dignity- which I see as an essential part of his charachter. I finally realized that his dignity IS his charachter- that he couldn't be wearing a toga or be naked- it had to have an essentially dignified look to the piece. After a phone call, Joe agreed with my premise and I started doing thumbnails.
I do rough thumbnails with a brushpen. It is a wonderful tool...I work out a lot of the picture at this stage.
I then develop the thumbnails into sketches that I show the client. In this case I did two.

This sketch was the one that was approved. It was now friday- the deadline was Tuesday. I now had to take a day or two off this project because my landscape show opened and I had to prepare for that...

I now arranged for a model to come over and I shot about 160 reference  pictures...trying various ways to get things right...notice the approved sketch in the foreground-reference for the reference.
tried this many ways...
Wings referenced from stuffed bird borrowed from local wildlife rescue.
Shooting the art- a very critical and important step in the process.Note the color bars and polarizing filters.

The finished painting. The hands are the most important thing here, really-they are the actors and the rest of the picture is really a stage for them- it's where people look to understand what's happening in a picture when you can't see the face.
The finished cover with type. Nice and smooth-this is how it's supposed to work!