Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One day in your life

On Sunday, I woke up with the idea that I should draw something to submit for possible inclusion in the Kraken Opus book on Michael Jackson. The deadline was the next day, so that meant I had to act quickly.

Most of the submissions, as you can see from the Flickr group devoted to the contest, are portraits of Michael. I get the impression that Kraken likes this sort of straightforward image — still, I wanted to do something slightly different. I've always loved drawing cityscapes, so I decided to draw something based on the fantasy scenery of the "Billie Jean" video.

You may remember from the video that there is a scene where Michael dances on an isolated sidewalk while two haughty models look down on him from a billboard. At first they are unaware of him; then they look at him; then they smile. None of their movements are presented in live action — they move in a series of stills, which makes their appearance more surreal.

Later in the video, Michael disappears down this same walkway — at this point, he is invisible, the only sign of him the stones that light up as his feet touch them. During this scene, the billboard is gone, replaced by Billie Jean's bed.

As I was thinking of a proper tribute to Michael, it occurred to me that the scene of him leaving this city was quite affecting. I decided to sketch this closing scene, but in doing so, remove the image of the bed and replace it with the billboard. Only now the models would have lost their haughty compusure and would instead be weeping at the thought of him leaving.

I'm not very good at drawing faces, so I started by drawing several sketches of the models. Then I looked for images of women crying and tried my hand at those. At first I had trouble finding the sort of facial expressions that I wanted, so I re-watched the memorial video of the MJ song "One Day In Your Life," which I first saw on one of my favorite blogs, MJ365: A year-long Michael Jackson online scrapbook project. Then I started trying to morph the two, giving the models the expressions of grief. Since I had only one day to do the whole thing, I did only a bare minimum of this exercise, then sat down to do the primary drawing of the walkway, distant cityscape, and billboard, onto which I imposed the models' faces.

The result was only passable, though as someone who has never been good at drawing faces, I was pleased that it came out at all recognizable.

My initial idea was that I would color the sketch in, but as soon as I started doing that, I regretted it, feeling that the pen-and-ink-only piece looked better. As soon as I realized this, I scanned the piece in and then painstakingly used SnagIt to erase the small amount of color I had added, with slightly degraded but acceptable results. Then, working on the original piece of paper, I colored in only those parts that I thought were critical to emphasize — the stones that Michael's feet were touching, the tears running down the models' faces, and the puddle formed by the models' tears.

In a slightly later version, I decided it would be a good idea to color in the puddle more.

I then did several additional versions that used more color. I have never been very good with color, and I generally liked these versions less. I'm not happy at all with how the models look colored in. However, the one thing I do like about some of these later versions is that, compositionally, the purple sky and distant buildings extend the path of the sidewalk up into the upper portion of the drawing, which I think makes for a nice line. Still, I prefer the spare look of the earlier versions.

I would be shocked if any of these drawings were chosen for the Opus, but I'm glad that the contest spurred me to work on it. If I had it to do over, I would spend more time working on the models' faces. I think that's the weakest part of the sketch, especially the one on the right. She came out better in some of my practice sketches. I also am not thrilled with the water circles in the puddle.

If I were to attempt using color again, I think it would be interesting to give the piece a darker feeling, perhaps with the use of more and bolder background color. The dark colors of the video suggest paint or an oil-based pastel (I used Prismacolors — all I had on hand).


  1. Wow, I really love the idea of having the billboard models mourn. I think it would make an addition to the book that fans would really "get" and appreciate. I hope it gets chosen!


Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.