Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Blackest Cat: Process

This piece started as a study in a 5" x 7" brown paper sketchbook using a Prismacolor® sienna brown pencil. The sketchbook at the time was new and dedicated mostly to explorations of possible concepts for the Lovecraft Society Show. The Rats in the Walls during summer following my first year of studying mechanical engineering at San Jose State University. The Richmond Public Library had a volume of his short stories that introduced me to the H.P. Lovecraft's work since "From Beyond" and "Reanimator" on late-night cable television. In fact, my dad came home to find me and my sister watching a reanimated corpse holding its own head between the legs of a one of the female leads while several other ghouls under his control held her down. "What'chall watchin'?"

I vaguely remember reading "The Rats in the Walls" but I never forgot Lovecraft's casual reference to the black cat as "Nigger-man". It was the kind of anachronistic and bigoted language that I could easily file away but it was enough to reveal some discomfiting bits about the author supremacist beliefs. Surprisingly, the cat's name triggered in me a sort of empathy for the animal. While it was subordinate to humans by nature or the circumstances of domestication it was oddly empowered by its ability to hear the dangerous, wicked things from beyond. This inspired me to re-imagine it as something with a voice and a higher level of sentience.

The other night, I carried the calico we call "Centurion" to the back yard before leaving to work in a cafe in Downtown Berkeley. I had put food out for her and wasn't sure if she had eaten. Her routine is to greet me when I return home after hours, follow me inside to the kitchen, and then out back to be fed. I had alread put food out for, so I decided to take her to the back of the house myself. As I carried her to the back she began to growl at something in the dark that I could neither see, smell or hear. Visits from neighborhood cats and families of raccoons after dark are common throughout the year, but they usually run away when I am near. Whatever was in the dark, it stayed away as she nervously picked at dry food in the bowl next to the sliding glass back door.

One morning, over 20 years ago, when Mr. Domino (deceased) was a kitten, he spied two boys watching me leave the house for school. They were across the street carrying a large white plastic bucket and quickly turned away when they saw me notice them. I left on my usual route but decided to double back. I found them around the corner huddled over something. One of them was cutting a plastic 2-liter bottle with a kitchen knife. It was only a few days after the Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995 and the boys were probably on spring break and inspired by he event to build a pipe bomb. One of the boys was from a nearby house where the father abused their many cats. Their cats often came to our house to be fed and nurtured. Mr. Domino was friendly a tuxedo cat who may have saved my parents' home from being bombed.

I started with a printed enlargement of the original sketch. Any obvious distortions in the creature's anatomy were corrected in Photoshop, and further improved with pencil work work directly on the printout. I then transferred the outline of the creature to the panel. The panel was treated with a layer of acrylic clear gesso weeks before. The medium has a gritty pumice that I prefer for creating an underdrawing. Using a conte pencil, I can roughly establish areas of light, shadow and midtone. This approach also allows me to further evaluate and edit the design of the creature.
Acrylic medium dissolves the pencil work and allows me to start defining the lit planes on the creature, midtone values, the teeth and the highlights in the eyes with titanium white.
 The warmth of the earthy red conte pencil mixes with the warmth of the wood. I like to think of the natural pigments in the wood as a bonus glaze of yellow that will glow through the thin paint layers of the background as well as the thin, less densely pigmented skin of the creature around the lips, nose, eyes and forehead. This approach derives from observations of my own skin which varies in pigmentation depending on my exposure to sun, and location on my body. The fleshy, pinkish orange layer serves as a natural substrate to subsequent layers of browns and blacks.

The pupils were next darkened along with some of the shadow areas.  Next, I applied the first heavy glazes of ultramarine blue mixed with various reds and titanium white. Using washes for the background and medium-boosted glazes on the creature let me work with one range of hues throughout the piece.

 After returning to the eyes, forehead, teeth and lower lip, I reluctantly pushed more washes of violets into the background. The leaving it with the simple background at this stage might have been the way to go. I wanted a classical portrait/yearbook photo flavor for a mix of realism, empathy and humor. Lovecraft's short story Pickman's Model (1927) introduced me to the idea of an artist using actual creatures as models and I even considered basing the piece on a description from that story.
I eventually gave in to a compromise between my original vision for the piece with a dark, inky background and a simpler one reminiscent of a studio photographer's backdrop. As the paint dried, I scratched in symbols and marks and used drops of water and medium to further weather the background. One of my reference photos was of a dark gray hairless cat with a wrinkled forehead. Keeping the skin hairless was another idea that I almost abandoned for something closer to a velvety black fur. I was careful not to let any highlights on the skin to compete with the major focal points in the eyes, ears and the grin.
Hopefully, the result is a creature that conveys the chilling sense of intelligence and self-awareness that I always found fascinating about H.P. Lovecraft's creations.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

First Annual Lovecraft Society Show in Oakland, CA!

The Blackest Cat
by Eugene Randolph Young
9"W x 12"H
Acrylic on cradled wood panel

Join us for the opening reception of The First Annual Lovecraft Society Show at Bergeron's Books in Oakland, California on Saturday, October 3, 2015 at 7pm. Artist and curator Steven Russell Black has once again gathered an inspiring group of professionals to contribute their own visualizations based upon H.P. Lovecraft's science fiction and horror literature.

Bergeron's Books
375 15th Street
Oakland, CA

(808) 635-2624

Friday, September 25, 2015

#karju Show Update

Quick update: With October rapidly approaching,  I'm working hard to make the series the best it can possibly be. Please not that the show reception will be moved to a date later in October. Stay tuned for more info!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

#Karju Solo Art Show Coming to Oakland!

Save the date! My #Karju mini motors n' monsters mash-up solo art show opens Saturday, October 3, 2015 at Lounge 3411 in Oakland, California.