Tuesday, June 15, 2010

PEN Canada: Dawit Isaak

PEN Canada recently asked me to draw a portrait of imprisoned writer Dawit Isaak, and I was happy to accept. For those unfamiliar with PEN, it's an organization which assists and publicizes the case of writers in many countries who are "persecuted for the peaceful expression of their ideas". I urge you to read more about Dawit Isaak online.

If you'd like to read a little bit more about the process, then you can continue below for a short process post.

I was grateful to art director Gary Beelik for giving me free reign with what I drew, pending approval of course. So to start with, I just researched everything I could about Dawit Issak and his case. There was a lot to read, and some of it was mis-information, which made this part very interesting.

Near the start, I asked my friend Tim Davin, one of the favourite art directors, for his help in throwing ideas back and forth. I always appreciate Tim's input, especially on the more challenging assignments. He was gracious with his time and we had a great couple of meetings at local cafes while we drew quick thumbnails on a coaster and discussed issues surrounding Dawit Issak's case.

Among the things we weened out during those meetings were initial ideas like this one:

Sometimes, you just gotta put your big first idea on paper to see that it's not gonna work. It's something I've had to do often in my career.

After some discussion, we agreed that I should just do a straight-up portrait, with little overt editorial. I also thought it should be something with a graphic approach, but still contemplative.

Next I drew up a portrait of Dawit Isaak in pencil (below left), and followed that up with a gouache painting at about 50% final size (below right). It was painted with two colours, mostly in drybrush:

From that painting, I cropped and tweaked an image in photoshop which made the final cut as the rough I submitted. It had something of the quality I was looking for:

After that rough was approved, I set about panting the final. Again, it was painted in gouache and ink on paper, using mostly dry brush. The main differences were a tighter under-drawing and a much larger size - 120% of final size:

Neither painting required much photoshop colour cleanup because they were painted in gouache. Both the rough and the final were painted in a graphic palette suited for posters. The final is a closer likeness, but the strokes are more subdued.