Tim OBrien
November 2011
The Reluctant Krampus
The Reluctant Krampus, oil on panel, 2011

Early in 2011 I was offered the opportunity to do a painting for Monte Beauchamp of BLAB! for a series of exhibitions he was putting on around the now familiar theme of "Krampus."
For those unfamiliar, Krampus is a mythical creature recognized in Alpine countries.  According to legend, Krampus accompanies Saint Nicholas during the Christmas season, warning and punishing bad children, in contrast to St. Nicholas, who gives gifts to good children.  I must have met one along the way for sure.

I sometimes can do a painting overnight and often do for work, but this was a personal piece and I had no hard deadline bearing down on me.  One day an idea occurred to me and I did a quick little sketch and then a oil study of it.  It would be a female Krampus and as I saw it, a slightly sad and reluctant one.  Because I was going to paint it at my leisure I decided that this might be a good opportunity to record the painting of it.  Thankfully I had tried to record something first and totally blew it.  The camera focused only on my hand the the painting was mostly blurred out the entire time.  With this effort I would set the focus and angle to help keep things in focus while staying out of my view.
The idea was from a theme I've often used in my demos in class.  I do a few demos a year and often put the subject's hair on fire.  It allows me to show how drawing something one way can make you think of another thing.  The first time I did it, a few years ago, I was drawing wispy hair blowing in the wind.  The drawing of it made me think of fire so I just painted it that way.  Now the kids laugh when I start doing it so they are not surprised any longer.    I should say that when I saw a lovely painting recently by Martin Withfooth of a horse on fire, I hoped that he would not think I had ever seen any of that before I did my Krampus.  However, Martin's paintings are amazing and everyone should see them.  Maybe stuff on fire is the antlers of 2011?

My Krampus would be a woman who is long, nude and sad.  To make the woman otherworldly, I chose not use reference and paint from my imagination.
I am going to fast forward to the end of this story to say that the final unedited video is about six and a half hours long.  I knew I was going to edit it down but the painting only took six and a half hours.  Marc Burckhardt can have a laugh about this.  For months he's asked me how the Krampus is going and I would say, "it's coming along."

The Months on the Easel.  
This painting sat dormant first with only a drawing, then some months with a block in, then some time painted, then finally glazed and detailed.  I could say it took 6 months but the truth is I painted it in little segments.  Part of this was due to the video that I had to set up each time, and part of it is running in my free time and I suppose part of it is my age old problem of enjoying having great projects going on.

The Video
Once finished I quickly framed it and sent it to Chicago for an opening I'll be attending on December 3rd (at Curly Tale Fine Art, 16 West Erie Street).  With all the clips in my computer, the time had come for me to edit this thing together.
In iMovie, it's quite easy to make a little movie, but I wanted something better.  I worked for days trying to find a way to manually adjust the speed of the clips while I watched and recorded the final version.   What I wanted to do was the slow down at certain points so that one can see what I'm actually doing.  These effects are apparently not possible in iMovie but are possible in Final Cut.
Forget that.  I wanted to get this video up and viewable for this week.  I kept editing the 6 hour raw film down and down to 4, then 2 then finally 1:30.  I still wanted it shorter but it started to get comically fast.  So I kept clipping out pauses and paint mixing time so that all you see is painting.  The final video is 49 minutes and that's as short as I can make it.  For music I added some Himalayan sounds that I purchased royalty free for iMovie purposes and uploaded it all to Vimeo, who allows for longer movies.
Here is the movie.  I have some final thoughts below the frame…

The final result is interesting to me, I hope it is for someone else as well.  My interest in the video is in the way I start the piece.  I don't remember how I started it so watching back made me nervous.  I was making marks and lines that are no longer in my head.  The artist on the video is in the zone and knows what he's going for and how to get there.  It's been so long that I forgot that part.  In the video you see a process from drawing with sepia charcoal on sepia toned panel, then adding white charcoal, then colored pencil, then gouache, fix the drawing and finally paint.  You can see me blending the charcoal with a blending stomp which turns charcoal into paint.  You see me tone the drawing and work wet into wet and then come it and create the features, the translucent skin and finally the final varnish and details.  Once the video loads you can watch some, move it along and watch other parts so you don't have to put in the 50 minutes.
Thank you Monte Beauchamp for adding spice to our profession.  This year like many years previously, the paintings that arise from his curated shows win awards, and get into exhibitions and competitions.  I'm proud to say that this piece will be in the Society of Illustrators Annual Exhibition.  Congrats to all the Krampus artists for their stellar works.  I'm proud to be a part of it.
Here are a few from Drawger...
Cathie Bleck
Marc Burckhardt
Chris Buzelli
Gerard DuBois
Edel Rodriguez
Cathie Bleck
Cathie Bleck

Marc Burckhardt

Chris Buzelli

Gerard DuBois

Edel Rodriguez

Broken Britain for Harper's

In the middle of a particularly busy period of this early fall I was working on many jobs at once, in full training for the NYC Marathon and starting to teach at Pratt in Brooklyn and Uarts in Philly.  I was feeling overwhelmed.  In an odd way, I perform better under such circumstances.  I gain a clarity and a focus that must come from trying to be efficient.
In a period like that I have to be careful NOT to overbook or to take the wrong fitting assignments.  This is an anxiety filled experience I'm sure many of you are aware of.
I have a bucket list of art directors that I've never worked with and even though I've been illustrating for such a long time, since 1987, and it has some big names on it.  I had a long list  of names here but the thought of leaving someone out and ruining my chances in the future that they might call made me think the better of that.  I will say that one of the names was Roger Black.   The list keeps growing as such fantastic newer art directors make their mark, but I always wanted to work for Roger.
I was asked if I would do a cover for Harper's Magazine, something I've always wanted to do, since that long horizontal space and elegant look is quite unique and shows the illustration unfettered and alone without type.
In my super focus mode, I listened to his request to do an illustration about the class riots in London.  He wanted a sort of horizontal tableau of an old master-like painting of a churning battle, figures intertwined and made to look involved.  My well tuned focus meter returned a blinking red light.  
This is that I think he might have been looking for.  Now that I see it here, it's a great image.  I think there was some mention of bobbies and young hooligans...I was starting to think of another way.
Not only would this illustration be difficult to pull off quickly, I feared it would not be a good fit for my style.  Rather than start working on variations of that idea I quickly offered an idea that I thought would be a better fit and aligns itself better with the kind of work I do.
I talk about this calculation with my students all the time.  Taking an assignment and filtering it through what you like to paint AND what you do best.  In some cases the idea offered by the AD is a perfect fit, sometimes it's only slightly off and you can work with that idea.  In this case I felt that I would offer my concept and if it were not quite right, I would pass and wait for another time to do a cover.  
I wanted this assignment, I hated saying no again (I had just begged of a previous cover with Roger because the fit was not quite right) and will at least show him what I can do in turning it down.

Summing it all up.  What symbolizes London?  To the west, Big Ben is so iconic and connected with it's regal past that ripping it down and letting that silhouette rise in front of monumental clouds of smoke just works and is what I came up with.  It was literally thought of in 3 minutes.

Thankfully Roger liked the idea and quickly got approval and I was given a quick green light.
First value idea: A dark Big Ben with the illustration being mostly about the fire, noise and commotion below.
The value setting I went with; light on the face of Big Ben, I still get the silhouette in the back against the cloud and a starry night.

I have been thinking of green lately. I rarely use it but it's so prevalent in so many paintings and photographs I love that I'm trying it out. Not this time.

I usually sent a few color takes on the image. I feel that in preparing the final files I often see the illustration differently once I adjust the color. I want the AD to see the variations just in case it works better for them. This one was not chosen.

The painting itself was at first a very detailed drawing.  Once that was done the painting did not take very long.  The image needed to be scumbled over and painted in oil, wet into wet.  I timed it right by painting the background in alkyds so that I could paint the ropes or cables over it without smudging the blue and red.  Painting in alkyds is almost like working with slow drying acrylics.  Work fast but you can blend just before it starts to set.

Finally, I sent the job in and I can't tell you how thrilled and satisfied I was with the results but more importantly, with the process.  It was a confirmation about how one must consider carefully whether or not a job is a good fit, and a confirmation that working with great art directors means that they know a good idea when they see it and have the credibility to get that approved.

Now, back to that growing bucket list...
People have asked my why I paint so small. Lazy? Not really. The reason is that I don't like seeing my images reduced to the point of removing brushwork that makes the illustration look like a painting. However, the inverse is true. IF I paint something smaller than it reproduces the enlargement is often shocking to me. I painted it not expecting a zoom in. Sometimes this makes everyone see the actually sloppiness in the brushwork. Roger was initially concerned that the flap that Harpers uses would cover my cover hit completely. The solutions was to run it as a vertical slice on the flap. It works but my brushwork is a bit sloppy.
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