Conjuring Inspiration from the FatMan OR Summoning a Spark from "The First American"

Subtitle: An Ode and Homage to 
the Great Benjamin Franklin, A Patriotic Legend.

"Dost thou love life?  
Then do not squander time; 
for that's the stuff life is made of." 
-Benjamin Franklin

     When I started this piece, I did not intend for the end of it's journey to fall upon our annual celebration of American Independence...  It just sort of worked out in a really nice way that this happened.  As the 4th of July nears, all Americans, across this vast expanse of land, unify together in gratitude to celebrate what it means to truly be an American.

Benjamin Franklin
Portrait by Michael J. Deas

     "Benjamin Franklin earned the title of 'The First American' for his early and indefatigable campaigning for colonial unity, initially as an author and spokesman in London for several colonies. As the first United States Ambassador to France, he exemplified the emerging American nation. Franklin was a foundation in defining the American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions, and opposition to authoritarianism both political and religious, with the scientific and tolerant values of the Enlightenment. In the words of historian Henry Steele Commager, 'In a Franklin could be merged the virtues of Puritanism without its defects, the illumination of the Enlightenment without its heat.' To Walter Isaacson, this makes Franklin 'the most accomplished American of his age and the most influential in inventing the type of society America would become.'"     -Wikipedia

I'm now going to make a very odd statement (for those who don't know me, personally):
     As I'm always conflicted about my views and beliefs of the human afterlife (a sign of a true Agnostic),  I can never really know for certain about the existence or credibility of the concept of reincarnation.  To be honest, sometimes I believe it and sometimes I don't.  Faith is always a struggle for Agnostics who feel that, deep down, there is certainly something greater than ourselves and our humble brief existence on Earth.  However, our minds and hearts feel that the Greater Power is something that Man can neither define or understand, by organized religion or otherwise.  My personal thoughts about belief in deities, whether modern or ancient, is that they are constructs by Man to understand what, in my opinion, will never be understood.  So, naturally, reincarnation falls under this category, in my mind, for struggle of faith and belief systems.  I do often make religious jokes, though, not to mock those who have faith, because in all honesty, to have faith is to be blessed and I admire and am slightly envious of those who don't struggle with it as I do.  I make religious humor as a device of levity for a very heavy subject of conversation.  I admit that sometimes it is self serving, but at other times it helps lighten an otherwise brooding atmosphere in a gathering.  In any case, I make this particular joke often (I actually said it again today).

     I sometimes say to others that,"In a Past Life, I must have died in a barren desert or wasteland, because I am ALWAYS Thirsty and HATE Hot Weather."  lol.

     So why bring this up? What relevance does this have to this particular illustration?

     A few months ago, I was having trouble "Jump-Starting" my creative flow.  I didn't really know what I was going to work on, artistically, as I had decided not to move to NYC this year and stay here, in Southwest Georgia.  This meant that I needed to modify my artistic goals this year and I was uncertain about what I wanted to truly accomplish within 2016.  I made the decision that I would work towards creating and producing work to go in an online shop, like Etsy, and begin to sell work as an artist and illustrator.  It was a change of gears to my previous pursuit of trying to get my foot in the door in Children's media.  I decided that while I was putting together the necessary things that I would need to create an online store, like creating inventory and other products, etc., I was going to stop work on Portfolio Specified Art and JUST CREATE ART THAT I WANT TO MAKE.  This decision is all well and good, however, it created a new block in my mind that I wasn't certain how to overcome.  Sure,  I had Many Many Ideas in my Idea Journal that I could work on, but I just wasn't feeling any resonance from them at that time...

     I was in a Creative Desert; Dying of Artistic Thirst 
and the Over-Bearing Beating Heat of the Lack of Creativity...

     So, I did what I always do in times of Creative Need... I "Pray" (so to speak) to my personal Creative Muse: The FatMan.  For some reason I am able to Conjure Creativity through the process of creating another visage or "incarnation" of this Mysterious Character that appeared into my life many many moons ago.  I looked at my list of FatMan illustration Ideas in my Idea Journal and chose one that seemed fitting for this particular task. I chose to illustrate my personal favorite of all of the American Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin
by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis 

     A few or several words about Mr. Franklin:

     Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A renowned polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, Freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other inventions.  He facilitated many civic organizations, including Philadelphia's fire department and a university.
If you click on his portrait above, you will be linked to his Wikipedia Article where you can read more about his life and fascinating accolade of accomplishments.

A quick aside about Wikipedia (which I and many others around the world use):
     I just was informed today about the trouble Wikipedia is currently facing.  They are endanger of being taken over by the advertising and marketing world due to need for continued independent funding.  As we all know, if they are unable to continue operating independently, they will have to succumb to the perils of knowledge and censorship control that is associate and unfortunately tethered to the funding of Marketing and Advertising Agencies, Corporations and other financial institutions. In short, knowledge will no longer be free and open source to the World, it will be edited, controlled and eventually monetized.  With the horrors that are taking place in our current American Education Systems, here in the States, it is important that we keep our open sources for information like public libraries, the Internet and certainly Wikipedia out of the hands of those that would corrupt it for personal agenda or monetary profitability. You can help keep Wikipedia Independent and Open Source by donating as little as just $3.  I mention this, as Benjamin Franklin was an outspoken advocate for the power and open accessibility of knowledge and information to the public.  His altruistic efforts have been the foundation for several public universities, public libraries and Newspapers that advocated the Freedom of Speech in the Colonial Time Period.  I can't help but feel that this can't be just a mere coincidence that I illustrate the visage of a man who worked so fervently for the accessibility of information and Wikipedia's need for funding to keep their organization Open Source.  It's almost providence... or maybe actual providence. If you wish to help to donate to Wikipedia's worthy cause, you may do so by clicking on their logo above and you will be directed to their donation page.  I strongly implore you all to consider supporting their cause.  I'd like to think that Ben Franklin would have done so, if he were around today. ;0)

"As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously."
-Benjamin Franklin

...and now, back to our regularly scheduled program...

     Of all of Ben Franklin's accomplishments and endeavors that I could have included in my illustration, I chose the famous Kite Experiment.  Though Benjamin Franklin is not the inventor of Electricity, nor is he the inventor of the battery, the instrument that was invented to harness the power of electrical current (called Electrical Fluid back then), his kite experiment was set forth to prove that not only was lightening a form of electrical current, but that the 2 proposed types of electrical current at that time were one and the same.  Ben Franklin discovered and defined the differences between Positive and Negative electrical currents.  He also devised a way to ground buildings form the dangers of fires that were cause by lightening storms with the lightening rod and also it's alternative use for eventually harvesting that electrical current for use.  In my own mind, I paralleled the experiment in hopes of harvesting a creative jolt of lightening of my own by illustrating this famous moment in history.  My hopes were that through the process of creating the illustration, I would "Jump-Start" my creative mind again.  I'm happy to say that this has thus far been a successful experiment and adventure.

     The other main reason for choosing Ben Franklin as the FatMan's new incarnation was to pay homage to a great Scientist and Inventor by using this illustration as a means to practise with a new creative tool that I had in possession for several years but was ultimately afraid of using, for some reason that is even unknown to myself:  The Wacom Tablet.  I received the tablet as a Christmas gift 3 years previous, but have yet to use it as I was very "green" in the hand eye coordination of it's use and knew that there would be a very long learning curve to eventually integrate it as a common tool in my illustration work.

     I am very well aware of this contradiction: a digital artist afraid of using and integrating modern technology into his technologically based artistic medium.  However, techno-fear hits home to us all in different ways.  In my selection of Benjamin Franklin and his kite experiment as my subject, I was hoping to conjure the courage along side creativity with this project.  I decided that I would use this project as a means to learn and integrate the Wacom Tablet technology to illustrate the visage of one of most brilliant and well known Inventors in American History.  I can't think of a better fitting project to learn tablet technology on.  Again, it seemed like providence that this was THE PROJECT I needed to be working on next, so I began.  After my adventure and challenge was set before me, I must admit, I enjoyed a private smile and inward giggle with myself.  I had the thought that Ben Franklin would have approved. ;0)

     I began my project by delving into research, not only about Ben Franklin, but also about the time period that this famous experiment took place.  I needed to know things like the clothing that he would have worn at the time,  what the homes and countryside looked like during Colonial Times, what sort of key did he actually use as the conduit for the experiment, what did kites look like during that time, etc.;  all the details you have to think about when illustrating a specific time period and historical figure.

     First, I needed to kind-of-caricature and meld the image of Ben Franklin into the iconographic and almost Egyptian-like profile of the FatMan.  Since these illustrations are always somewhat-symmetrical, I worked out the details of where things like the kite and key and house were going to be.  I already knew I wanted the kite directly above his head, but it was challenging trying to figure out the wave of the kite ribbon and how the kite string was going to "thread" it's way through the composition.  I distinctly remember I wanted the illustration to seem more open, to give the illusion that the FatFranklin was in the middle of an open field near his home.  I also wanted the open space so that I could focus on the Real Star of the illustration, The Lightening Storm.  I needed room for dark clouds and the lightening to fall, so I purposely set my horizon pretty low, as low as I possibly could.  This illustration is in a sense contrary to actual Historical record of the event.  If you click on the painting below you can read more about this particular moment in American History.

Lithograph of Franklin’s kite experiment
by Currier and Ives

     The actual experiment did not take place near the home that Ben Franklin resided in at that time.  He lived in the city and not in the country side.  Also he was standing under a shelter so as not to get wet, since water would conduct electric current and Mr. Franklin did not fancy being electrocuted.  Another safety precaution that he took is that he stood on a grounded surface (something that was similar to s rubber mat.)  He also placed the key inside a glass jar, creating his own makeshift Leyden Jar, which is a device that stores static electricity between two electrodes that are placed on both the inside and outside of a glass jar.   The home depicted in the illustration is not real.
It is a Hybrid construction that was imagined from Ben Franklin's childhood home (which is in Massachusetts not in Pennsylvania, where he lived when he conducted this experiment), and 2 other Colonial Period Buildings.  I "fudged" on the house because I thought my imagined home of Ben Franklin was more appropriate for this illustration and I "fudged" a bit on how he conducted the experiment, primarily all for visual interest and dramatic effect.  To be honest, this event is rarely ever accurately depicted for the same exact reasons that I chose not to accurately depict it.  Also, my purpose was to inspire and challenge myself, so I took my Creative License out and used it. lol.

     After I got my finalized sketch down the way I wanted it, I inked the illustration then began to create Color Compositional Sketches (often called Color Comps).  Color Comps are just a form of sketch that allow an artist or illustrator to play with different color combinations and color schemes until they find something that works to their satisfaction.  I always thought of this stage in the illustration process as Coloring in Homemade Coloring Books, but for illustrators.
As an aside, I find it intriguing that Coloring Books for Adults had become a huge trend for the book industry.  I think it's really cool. It's good therapy ad I know many close friends that do this to relax.  I did have one moment of indecision when I was creating a color composition for the illustration.  I was being rather indecisive on the color for FatFranklin's clothing.  I had researched and gathered a few different painted portraits of Ben Franklin and there were really two that inspired what I drew for him.  In one portrait, he wears predominately Red and in the other, predominately Blue.
I really couldn't decide because I liked them both.  So, I turned to Social media to see what other people would choose.  Most everyone voted for Red and I was originally going to be swayed that way, but at the 11th Hour, I decided to go with Blue because I kept on coming back to that particular portrait of him...  Just something about it pulled me in with it's gravity and appeal.

     Now that Drawing, Design, Composition and Color were all in place, it was time to try something very new to me, using a Wacom Tablet.

Montgomery Hall
Savannah College of Art and Design
Savannah, Georgia

     A real quick aside:  Last year I went back to Savannah for the Sidewalk Arts Festival and toured some of my old stomping grounds and school buildings for fun.  I was in the Media Building (Film and Animation Building) and I discovered that the animation students were learning how to traditionally animate, but not on specially punched animation paper with animation pencils. They were drawing directly on their screens with stylus pencils and creating their Traditional 2-D Animations that way.
 I was SO IMPRESSED and at the same time felt very archaic and our of date.  This Old Dinosaur learned it the old fashioned way and I was having a difficult time imagining how I could animate the same way these current students were.  It was so much more tech savvy and tech advanced that I really was simultaneously excited and happy to see and experience something so new, but also so sad and embarrassed that I didn't know how to do what they were doing.  I felt light years behind them.  This is also one of the reasons I am making myself learn the new tools of the industries I studied.

     Looking back, now, after the illustration's completion, I am getting more used to using the tablet and have thought of some ways to integrate it's use into every digital art project I work on.  However, my techno-fear of it in the beginning was quite daunting.  I actually did a little bit of research on some tutorials for getting used to the had-eye coordination required for this specific tool.  You have to understand, when I was learning how to create digital art, this tool was not yet around or at least not open to the consumer market, yet.  So I learned how to do everything with just a mouse, a little gusto and a prayer.  The use of a mouse is SO embedded in my mind and in my muscle memory.  Things in the digital art world are just the opposite. EVERYONE learns on the tablets and the familiarize themselves with just drawing directly on their ipads or droid tablets.  It's so foreign to me because I still crave the pencil and physical paper for sketching.  It's even in modern pop culture.

     I have been binge-watching my way through SCREAM the TV Series (which is So Awesome, if you're a SCREAM Fan.) I'm on Season 2 and there is a "sketchy" character on the show that draws graphic novels on his tablet.  I know it's not the actor's work, but I plan on researching the artist who creates that character's drawings because the work is phenomenal.  I hope that the drawings are actually created on a pad with a stylus, because the integrity and quality of them look just like pen and ink work that you would see in comics or graphic novels.  It's really great stuff.  I would invite you all to check out the show, if anything, just to see that artist's work.

     Anyway the progress of getting used to using the stylus and the tablet were quite slow in the beginning and I still am learning.  I am able to do something things kind-a-sort-of quickly with it now but other things still take me time to get used to.  I also haven't fully embraced the entire functionality and potential of some of the buttons on the pad and on the stylus pen itself.  There are also other tips that come inside the pen's holder that can be used to create other effects.  So this really is a new adventurous frontier that I am pioneer-ing my way through.  I've gotten as far as programming 2 of the pad buttons and one of the pen's buttons that I have gotten used to regularly using.  They were created to be shortcuts but I haven't realized their full potential as of yet. lol.  This Old Man is still earning that New Trick. ;0)  I did use the table to create my most recent work that I completed right after the FatFranklin illustration.

     In my Vintage Postcard Homage, I utilized both the tablet and mouse together, since some of the work on the digital collages require more mouse work than tablet work.  I hopefully will eventually get the "hang" of it and use the tablet more than I do the mouse or just by itself completely.  Then I would feel completely like that Dinosaur that toured the Old Alma Matter. lol

     Another interesting challenge that I took on with this illustration was something that I previously had never really attempted to draw or illustrate, not in this way, at least.  I was going to need to illustrate a lightening storm.  One of the most difficult things for artists to draw, besides Horses and Hands, are the elements of and the forces of Nature.  It's difficult to capture the look and color of Rain or Lightening or Tornadoes or Hurricanes or even an Earthquake.  These forces of nature always present a unique challenge every time you sit down to draw or paint them, even if you have done so many times before. Each and every time is completely different.  It's like they say, no snow fake is the same in any painting, drawing or illustration... or something like that. lol.  I will say this is where I found the use of the tablet quite handy.  I was able to create a variety and thickness of line with the varying pressure capabilities that the Tablet provides.  This and also through a combination of opaque and transparent painted layers, I was able to create and effect that satisfied me and fit the aesthetic of the illustration.

     Night time scenes also always present a challenge to the artist because other normally programmed
sense of local colors and embedded training on how to light and shade objects.  Night time illustrations sort of turn that upside down as your normal sense of coloring tends to gravitate towards lighting and
coloring objects with daylight values and color.  You really have to be careful and pay attention when
working on scenes that take place at night.  I had to purposefully go over some of the image to
"dull-down" or "push back" my color values because they would be too bright or too intense.  They were disrupting the illusion of night time that I was trying to create.

      All and all, it was a fun and challenging project and I am very please with the end result.  I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed working on it and sharing the experience with you.  I also hope that it "Conjures" something in you all as it has conjured some inspiration in this old artist.

     I am glad that it's completion happened near the 4th of July Celebrations as Benjamin Franklin is one of the vital Patriots that helped give this country it's Independence and I can't think of a more fitting time to share this illustration and it's experience with you all.  I actually just returned home form a Fourth of July Celebration and Fireworks display that happened locally in Plains, Georgia.  It was a lot of fun and the fireworks are always beautiful to watch, even if my camera can never really get a good snapshot of them.  There was just something about the energy of all those people gathered together in one space to celebrate something that we all treasure as Americans: Our Freedom.  It always makes me sentimental and somewhat emotional during this time of year.  There really are no words to express the feeling of standing in a vast space full of so many people, so very different from each other, yet for one moment in time, we all stand together, turn our heads upwards to watch the exploding reds, white and blues in the sky and we all are silent.  The only thing you hear is the explosion in the air.  In that very singular moment, we are in fact all unified as one, because we are all thinking about the same thing: How proud we are of our country, how wonderful it is to share this moment with our family and our friends and even strangers, how we are all sincerely proud to be Americans.

     So as you all enjoy whatever festivity or vacation or event or backyard BBQ or pool party.... Whatever it is, I hope that you all take a moment to remember where it all came from, how it all started, all of the people that came before us to make this nation possible and what it is today... To remember what it really means to be a True American, as Mr. Franklin would have called it.  Because remembering this is what this Holiday is truly about and it's what sets our nation apart. It's what makes us American.  Be safe out there this Holiday and (for all my American friends) Happy Fourth of July to you all.  To all my Non-American Friends, Happy Regular Day in July. ;0)

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.


Popular Posts