Sometimes I get personalized commissions that are still personal, but don’t involve having any likenesses. This will be a two part series, highlighting two different commissions that are personal, but are approached differently. Next up are the Bishops.
Colleen Bishop contacted me to do a commission for her husband, Carl, who was turning 40. I’ve known the Bishops since living in Japan, almost a decade ago, but haven’t been in a lot of contact with them since. So it was a bit of a surprise to hear from her. What was even more surprising was the request. Colleen wanted me to draw a dream that Carl had had, and make it a personalized illustration for his 40th birthday.
I’ve never had a request like this. Usually it involves the client being a superhero or famous character from the movies. This was a dream that Carl had remembered and thought would be great illustrated. Except this dream played out more like a nightmare. The description I was given were mer-clowns, attacking sailors in a submersible. When Colleen asked if I’d be into that, it was such a clear visual and a cool one, I couldn’t say no. And there was no request of me drawing anyone’s likeness, so I could go crazy with the visuals. They’ve got two little ones, so I can’t imagine they’d want to see their mommy and daddy as crazy killer sea clowns attacking a ship!
Since this was for an 8×10 illustration, I wanted to give as much room for the mer-clowns as possible, with little room for anything else, which meant I had to figure out a clever way to get across that they were attacking a submarine. The idea that the viewer was looking from the perspective of the sailors, became the obvious choice for me, and the best way to get that across was to use a symbol that most people would recognize- a porthole. This would also give it an old-fashioned image as portholes don’t exist in modern submarines, but would in a scenario from a Jules Verne book. His books and the movies that have been adapted from them, always had a bit of a creepy dark vibe to me.
With the framing device of the porthole giving a time and place for the story, as well as the shape of the composition, the next step was figuring out how the mer-clowns would be moving and what they would be doing. Since the 8×10 illustrations work really well with 2 characters front and center, I knew that adding something to the background would be minimal. I always let the client know up front what there options are. And depending on their budget and the idea they have going into the personalize illustration, usually determines the composition. So these two mer-clowns had to be full figures and had to fit into the space well so that you knew the story that was happening. Playing around with the idea that they were clowns doing clown-like activities, and that mer-people often swim complimentary to each other, (or so I have heard) I had the visual of them in a yin yang like pose.
I had the composition pretty much set, with some of the details in place, and that enabled me to start thinking about style. I was given the go ahead to go nightmarish with this illustration. But even still, knowing they had two little ones, I wanted to make sure how dark I could go. With the approval to go very dark, I made the clowns very creepy looking, while still giving it humour. One of the things I remember about Carl, was that he did standup and had a great sense of fun to him so I made the clowns doing clown like things-juggling and pulling a scarf out of a sleeve- while staring ominously at the sailors. In my mind this dichotomy is kind of what makes clowns so fun to play with. They are supposed to bring laughter, yet there is also a creepy factor to them in the way they look. And this, I guessed is what drew Carl to the visuals of his dream.
The colour scheme also was to be somewhat dark, but since clowns are garish and bright, I went with a compromise. I gave them the bright colours but added a lot of bloody rouge to their faces. This gave the impression of dried blood. I also gave them no irises or pupils with their sclera a sickly yellow. And since they were also mermen, they had fish tails with lots of yellows and red to mimic the bloody colour on their faces, all with the intention of tying it together a bit better. With the framing of the porthole being rusty and old, it felt both menacing yet the colours gave bold movement to the illustration.
I knew that they were happy with the illustration, when I got an amazing note back on Facebook, commenting on how much Carl loved the illustration. He even posted a review on our website. I’m glad that I was able to make his nightmare like dream come true!