Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Using Color and Light to Tell A Story

Since the art I'm currently working on is still under NDA, I thought I'd show you some art that I did last year for the publisher William Sadlier. They commissioned me to do several Biblical scenes for their religious curriculum. (You can see another one I did in this older blog post.) I'm going to talk a bit about the process behind this illustration and about how I use color to tell a story.
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there...as she stood at (Jesus') feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”...Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:36-50
This was the scene that I was tasked with illustrating. The client said that they wanted the woman to be crying, Jesus to be offering forgiveness, and the Pharisees looking offended and scandalized.

Here are some of the photo refs I took. These are so extremely lazy I'm kind of embarrassed to post them here. If you're an aspiring artist, don't follow my example here. Put, like, a tiny bit more effort into your lighting and costumes.

Oh hey, do you guys know what time it is?

That's right!

It's time for a Pharisee Reaction GIF™!

Here is the first rough that I sent.

Feedback from the client: they needed me to shift things around a little, wanted fewer Pharisees, wanted the woman to be looking up at Jesus with an expression of hope and surprise, and wanted to change Jesus's hand gesture to one of "absolution."

Time for another super lazy photoshoot! My specialty!

(Along with Pharisee Reaction GIFs™, obvs)

Look at the enthusiasm on my husband's face. He's like "ugh not this again."

Here is the revised rough.

From there I was approved to go to final.

So anyway, I promised I would talk about using color to tell as story. I love using color symbolism in my artwork, and in this piece I used it a lot. A common visual shorthand is to use warm, golden light for positive emotions, and cold light for negative emotions. This is something I learned from movies - warm, happy, nostalgic scenes often have a golden tint to them. Keep an eye out for it next time you watch a movie or show; they do this all the time.

So in this scene, I have the warm light hitting Jesus, while the Pharisees are lurking in a cool light coming from the left, and they're also wearing cool colors.

Secondly, I chose clothing colors that would work with both the storytelling and the composition. I dressed the "sinful woman" in scarlet, a color associated with (in Western cultures) emotion, seduction and guilt - think "the scarlet letter" or "caught red-handed." She's also wearing purple, which is associated with luxury, indulgence, etc. Although the Bible doesn't specify why she was known as "sinful," I thought that purple and scarlet would be more evocative than, say, ordinary browns or greens.

I dressed Jesus all in white. Not only is this one of the colors Jesus is traditionally depicted as wearing, but white is also associated with purity and innocence, which helps visually juxtapose Jesus and the woman. The aforementioned golden light works like a spotlight on Jesus' white clothing, making Him the brightest character in the room. This double whammy of light and color makes Jesus the focal point of the scene and also gives Him a divine "glow" that's more natural and subtle than a halo.

Overall this is a super colorful scene. If I was going for a more realistic, somber look, I would have toned the colors down and used more historically accurate earth tones. But since this is meant for a children's publication, it's good to amp up the color to make it more appealing for kids.

Looking back at this piece, there's a few things I would do differently. I guess that's a good sign, a sign that my artistic eye has improved over the past year. But overall I'm really proud of how this turned out.

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