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Ralph Stanley

MAY 19, 2008
Here is the cover as it ran
A few weeks ago I was contacted by Tyler Darden of Virginia Living magazine. He's the very talented art director who has won a pile of medals and awards most notably with our very own Sterling Hundley. I jumped at the chance to work with him. He wanted a portrait of legendary Blue Grass musician, Ralph Stanley. In 2006 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Stanley's work was also featured in the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, in which he sings the Appalachian dirge "O Death". With that song, Stanley won a 2002 Grammy Award in the category of Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
Here is a piece of the reference. Ralph is an older man now so the work in this was idealizing him just slightly and also Ralph does not smile.
The interesting thing about this assignment was what I thought it was going to be and how it turned out. I was thrilled to be called by Tyler and after getting some reference shots produced a sketch. His reply was to draw his own sketch that was slightly different but not all that different. I was initially confused and maybe even a bit tweaked. I thought about it a bit and contacted him about the awkward nature of being given an assignment then being told how to draw it out. He was so nice about it. He is actually a very talented artist and his sketch was quite nice. Once I got over the fact that his sketch was better, I had a blast. I think I assumed that the art director who worked with Sterling and allowed such free-formed images would let me just go with it. Expectations are sometimes the wrong thing to hold onto. I ended up loving the image and really enjoying working with Tyler. He's a prince.
Here is the sketch I did. It's a digital sketch with a feeling for how the final would look.
Here is the sketch by Tyler Darden. I know what the design does; how it moves his hands up and creates a better vertical rectangle.
Here is my final artwork.
The tiny brushstrokes describe the surface, hint at his age, but the lighting on his face is soft. This way, he looks elegantly aged but not haggard.
Here is the reference I shot of me holding my axe. One day, when I'm gone, there will be quite a pile of reference of me in all kinds or positions and situations. Also I have a huge collection of annoyed photos of my wife Elizabeth. I usually hit her up for modeling for me about 11 PM on short notice. She is beautiful but when asked to suddenly pose, she is not amused.