It's getting to be summer, and everyone from morning commuters to local law enforcement is noticing an uptick in out-of-area license plates. The summer traffic our chain of lakes has come to expect each year is bringing with it some unease thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. While everyone in the Lakes Area is aware local businesses rely heavily on the summer season to keep themselves in the black, there's also the potential for returning snowbirds and tourists alike to rekindle some positive cases of the virus in Dickinson County when they come in from all over the country. Health officials recently declared all six of the county's confirmed cases of COVID-19 to be recovered – just in time for tourist season.
This is just one of those difficult moments in history. Going full bore and allowing business as usual under the current circumstances would certainly spike the area's positive case, and possibly deaths (which are at zero for Dickinson County right now). We all agree a booming economy is of no use to those we lose, and I'd wager none of us would feel comfortable putting a dollar value on a local life. But, at the same time, if we fully swing the other direction, I'm not sure our our community has the economic balance to shoulder the repercussions. So much of our local economy depends on the tourist season, and if that revenue isn't there, it's going to have to come from somewhere else, like property taxes or cuts to public services – and that could lead to a similar but entirely different set of problems.
I don't like the options either. In fact, I hate them. It truly is a proverbial rock and a hard place.
Not bad for one sitting.
I didn't record my process this time, because I wasn't sure how it was going to go. Some of our staff has been logging time away from the office during this pandemic. So, for most of the week, I was the only person in the building. I took the phone calls. I logged the legal publications. I forwarded the new subscriptions. So, there was a good chance a recording was going to end up being both obnoxiously long and littered with stretches of nothing happening while I had to cover the front desk.
I decided to take on the rocks as the first thing, not worrying about how or where the figure was going to fit. Rocks aren't the hardest thing in the world to draw, but convincing rocks take some finesse. The two rocks actually took about two-thirds of the total time on this frame. I chose to run with the reddish hue of the more eye-catching rocks found in the area, and it was one of those cases when small brush strokes imply a large object. To further the sense of scale, I used another textured brush to render the rock. The result is what Bob Ross would call "happy accidents," where the random smattering of points mimics natural forms and textures.
I still had to leave some room for the text on the rocks, but that was less of an issue than one might think. The on-screen sketch of the figure was actually done in white to stand out against the rocks, and it was then refined in the black outline. From there it was a more typical process – color blocking, cross hatching and some added shadows and highlights – but it was important not to let the figure become too similar a texture to the stone.
In fact, I think the distinct features between the figure and the rocks was successful in the same way Herge (Georges Remi) was successful with the Adventures of Tin Tin. Comics authority Scott McCloud explained that the less specific a character is, the more we as viewers/readers see ourselves in them, and therefore we engage more. However, the less specific a setting is the more difficulty we have in engaging. Yet, what Herge's work demonstrated, according to McCloud, was that a more abstract focal character in a realistic setting actually increases engagement of both factors. I would even argue the same approach was attempted with Pixar's film "The Good Dinosaur." But personally, this frame feels a lot like it's channeling some similarities to Jeff Smith's "Bone." I think it's largely the facial expression coupled with the stress mark that reminds me of the comic, but Smith's work in many ways also shares in Herge's approach.
The final factor was the background (or lack thereof). Typically, I try to have a ground plain of some kind. I had fully intended to hatch out a shadow for the rocks and put in some kind of background, be it a wash or a spotlight or possibly somewhere in between. But before I did, I found I needed to cast a shadow for the figure if the space were going to read the way it should (though, should is a funny word in art). I copied the figure onto a new layer and colored it entirely black before warping it to the surface of the rock. Hatching or crosshatching for the figure's shadow would probably have sunk back into the rock as part of it's texture, so I went with solid black. I considered making it transparent, but that didn't jive with the piece as well as I wanted. So, with the solid shadow on the rock, I went for the same under the rock, and I was struck by it. I didn't want a ground plain anymore. It drew me in. Its angles gave just enough indication of a ground plain, and it had great contrast with a white background.
In the end, this took around four-and-a-half hours, but I was able to do it all in one sitting.
Thanks for reading.