There’s a scene in my head; how do I get it on paper?

I wish I were better at drawing. Perhaps if I spent all my days doing drawings, I’d be better at it, but alas, I don’t have time for that. Let me offer as an excuse my misfortune to major in art at a state university in the 1970s. The 1970s (unknown to me at the time) was probably the lowest state of art instruction in the history of art instruction. The order of the day was “express yourself!” Don’t get bogged down in craft, or realism, and certainly no “barn paintings.” And god forbid that you should even look at the crass illustrations of someone so pedestrian as Norman Rockwell (if you haven't heard of Rockwell, please go look him up).

I grew up in a small town in Middle Tennessee, where there aren’t a lot of art museums, and none of this made any sense to me, at all. And to be honest, it still doesn’t.

I remember in my first Art History class, as a freshman, at 7:50 in the morning, in a big lecture hall, in the dark, I saw the paintings of Michelangelo, and Botticelli, and Raphael for the first time in the context of “art,” and I distinctly remember thinking, “Wait. What? Is she saying he painted that?” I have no idea how I thought those images actually happened, but it had never, ever, occurred to me that they were paintings (I grew up in rural Tennessee, remember). I was blown away. But then I also never made the connection that my painting teachers should be teaching me how to do that too. I guess I just assumed it was some skill that was lost in time, or maybe reserved for geniuses or something. I was woefully ignorant at that time, and frankly my teachers weren't much help. If it wasn’t abstract expressionism or something of that ilk, it just wasn’t really worth discussing. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then (kudos to Syracuse University and the University of Hartford mostly. More on that later).

But back to the point: I don’t sit down and draw all this stuff out. It would take forever, and/or it would be a very poor rendition of my otherwise stunning idea. So at this point in the process I rely on “maquettes” and photography. Maquettes are 3D mockups of that which you are about to paint (or sculpt). Typically if my painting requires a tank, I build a tank model. And for the people I use plastic figures in the same scale as the tank (typically 1/35th scale).

For these maquettes, the tank model has to be pretty accurate to the final art because the variation in tank sizes affects how the soldiers in the scene will relate to this large piece of hardware. All tanks are not created equal, and it’s always a challenge to get the human-to-tank scale correct when you don’t have a real tank to model for you.

Here’s an example of tank size scale in WW2. Note the size of the soldier in relation to the tanks. Without the soldier it would be very difficult to guess just how big these things are, because they just look like tanks, no matter how big they are.

 from Encyclopedia Britannica

from Encyclopedia Britannica

And here are a couple of photos of the same tanks. Interesting, yes?

 Panzer IV

Panzer IV

 Panzer I

Panzer I

And, so here’s what the maquette looks like.

 Maquette, Victory in Europe

Maquette, Victory in Europe

I got German guys and Afrika Korps guys and GIs in winter gear. But it’s okay, they all get along fine in plastic.

This little mockup allows me to begin to see and feel the flow of the composition, and to determine how many people I might actually need in the scene, and maybe even what they might be doing. I can set the camera on a tripod and quickly try out many different approaches to the idea, before I arrive at the final plan, and the need to actually get real models, that is, real people, wearing real WW2 clothes, carrying real WW2 weapons (Also known as “the fun part”).

Next time: Let’s do this thang.