Painting Oz

A few blogposts ago (see here) I mentioned a painting that I did in 2015 of characters from The Wizard of Oz. So today I thought I'd share the painting with you - and the process I went through. 
Painting doesn't come naturally to me. I was never very good at it in school and I tended to concentrate on pen and ink illustration or sculpture. However, a few years ago, I decided to have a go and now - almost a decade down the line - I'm starting to produce canvases that I'm satisfied with. 

The first decision I had to make was which characters to paint and what they should look like. It's really hard to exorcise the 1939 MGM film from your mind and to do something original; the costumes have become such iconic representations. Therefore, the obvious thing was to go back to the source material and L Frank Baum's books. However, none of them contain a detailed description given of Dorothy. All we get is that she is 'a little girl' and 'a well-grown child for her age' around the same height as a Munchkin. Toto is described as 'a little black dog, with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose.' It seemed that I had a pretty blank canvas to play with. I decided to make my Dorothy quite young to get away from the Judy Garland 'I'm clearly in my 20s but dressed as a schoolgirl' image. My granddaughter became the model. 

I had a very clear idea in my head for the Scarecrow. When I was growing up in Cornwall, farmers and allotment owners would often use pumpkins - sometimes fresh, sometimes leftover from Halloween - as the heads for scarecrows. However, in the books, the Scarecrow is described thus: 'Its head was a small sack stuffed with straw, with eyes,nose, and mouth painted on it to represent a face. An old, pointed blue hat, that had belonged to some Munchkin, was perched on his head,and the rest of the figure was a blue suit of clothes, worn and faded,which had also been stuffed with straw.' That effectively scuppered my plans ... unless I swapped him out for another Oz character called Jack Pumpkinhead who first appears in The Marvelous Land of Oz. I knew he'd be a more striking looking character than a chap with a sack for a head. It then occurred to me that my painting didn't have to be set within the confines of the first Oz book or the film. There are 14 canonical books in the series written by Baum himself (and a handful of plays and short stories) plus a further 50+ books by other authors. It seems quite possible, therefore, that Dorothy and Toto could have walked along the Yellow Brick Road at some point with the Tin Woodman, Jack Pumpkinhead and the Cowardly Lion. Plus, of course, I could now change the characters' clothes if I wanted to. Suddenly, I could exercise a lot more creative licence.
The Tin Woodman was nicely short on description: 'One of the big trees had been partly chopped through, and standing beside it, with an uplifted axe in his hands, was a man made entirely of tin. His head and arms and legs were jointed upon his body, but he stood perfectly motionless, as if he could not stir at all.' So my Tin Woodman went through a number of development stages before I arrived at a shape I liked (and which pleasingly echoed the body shape of Tik-Tok, a character from the Oz book Ozma of Oz and the feature film Return to Oz.)
I didn't bother to sketch the lion as I thought, 'Ah, it's just a lion - I'll wing it on the day'. In retrospect it was a very stupid decision as you'll see. Anyhow, here's one of my composition sketches and the final design as an underpainting. 
I chose a 20" by 16" by 3/4" double-primed canvas. First stage, as always, is .... get rid of the white. For this painting I used a combination of Daler Rowney System 3 acrylics and Liquitex Professional heavy body acrylics. I've always been a bit ropey on perspective so I spent an indecent amount of time mucking about with the 'bricks' which, to be honest, are probably better referred to as 'yellow slabs'.


It was around this time that I made several important decisions: (1) to include some nasty anthropomorphic trees as they were some of my favourite characters in the 1939 film, (2) to give the Tin Woodman a coal scuttle for a helmet as everyone does the funnel, and (3) to sort the lion out as he looked more like a bear with a mane. It was then that I realised my mistake in not sketching lions beforehand; I had no idea how to draw one. Very quickly things went from bad to worse. No wonder the poor sod looks so worried. He went from this (above) to this (below) ... 


So I took a break, checked out some lions reference and redrew the face. The final result was much more leonine.


I then painted Dorothy and Toto and moved on to the Tin Woodman. I moved one of his legs to give him a jerkier gait, turned his axe around and given him a good patina of rust. I then added in some more faces among the trees. Among them was my homage to the 1974 sci fi film Zardoz, which references The Wizard of Oz (the clue is in the name). In the film, a huge stone head flies about the place subjugating the population, much like the giant scary head of Oz does in Baum's original tale. It seemed like a fun thing to include - a little visual joke that maybe only a few film nerds would get. Plus, the face is very reminiscent of many pagan 'Green Man' carvings and masks you find around the UK.)

And here, again, is the finished painting. 


I rather enjoyed this one.

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