Thursday, May 01, 2008

Ken Riley: "Building a Picture"

In the June 1958 issue of American Artist, author Frederic Whitaker informs us that "over a period of eight years [Ken Riley] has made about 100 paintings [for] the important Captain Hornblower series [in the Saturday Evening Post] - a commission which later may be recognized as an auspicious turning point in his career."

"The range of his commissions today covers the entire field of illustration, and he plans to keep it that way. However, there is no question that outstanding costume illustration assignments will continue to flow into his studio. Already the thoughts of many fellow artists turn instinctively to Riley when "period" illustration is discussed."

Not surprising then, that it was a Captain Hornblower illustration that Riley provided to the author as an example of how he builds a picture.

"I start with the most dramatic figure and pencil it in simply as a shape rather than as a character," says the artist. "It is easy to suggest a standing, reclining, active, or other figure by a shape. From that original flat mass I work outwards, building up a composition that satisfies my sense of rhythm, movement, and direction. To me these qualities are very important. I usually make many thumbnails before I am satisfied."

"Next I make a color sketch, painted simply, but accurate as to layout, values, and the like. This measures probably six by eight inches or less - kept small purposely so that the problems of large surface coverage will curb neither my enthusiasm nor the rapid register of the conception."

"The color sketch approved, I proceed with the final painting, about double printed size, on either illustrators' board or a gesso panel. After roughing out the composition, I then draw the various details accurately. For each figure and other important picture part, I develop one or more careful, finished studies from photos of the model on separate sheets, and then transfer the accepted versions to the main composition by tracing, one by one."

"I make a number of photos for each pose, so my finished studies of the individual figures are actual composites of the best features of the several shots. Accuracy and clarity are extremely important, especially in the costume or period pictures."

"My careful, sharp drawing is made either in pencil or ink. Very often I paint upon a warm-toned ground, working up and down in light and shadow from the basic value. In such a case my drawing is done in ink on the original white surface so it will show through the later-applied tone. Then, with the color sketch before me, I paint in the various parts of the composition, the brushwork always guided by the line. This method may sound mechanical and unimaginative, but I like the feel that the finished results show no trace of the calculation behind every working step."

"I work in various mediums: pencil, ink, egg tempera, casein, oil, casein and oil combined, watercolor, the opaque designers' colors, and even the new plastic paints."

"However, watercolor by itself is employed only in my non-commissioned productions, made for pleasure - never in my commercial work."

My Ken Riley Flickr set.

1 comment:

  1. Phil Hilliker7:03 PM

    Thanks for this! It's always entertaining and massively educational to see the process of such a talented artist.
    I find his reference to "the new plastic paints" rather funny. He's obviously referring to acrylics.