Sketches, that’s what. Called thumbnails sketches, I guess because they’re about the size of your thumbnail. Drawing that small allows you to get a visual representation of your idea, without getting off in the weeds of details. And ideas that aren’t fixed in a tangible form, whether it be a written description or a thumbnail sketch, have a tendency to just float away from your memory. Here are a few of my thumbnail sketches for Victory in Europe. Some of these, I admit, I don’t even remember what they were. These were all done while I was probably supposed to be doing something else. The better ones I think were done while I was watching a demo on plein air painting (there’s a lot of dead time in a painting demo).
What I’m exploring here is the story. Remember from the last post, the story is: “receive orders, take a town, load up, receive orders, take the next town, and so on”. What does that look like? Well, there are infinite ways to depict what that looks like. Infinite. So of course I just start with the stuff that interests me.
I usually like to place a larger figure in the foreground of the painting, and I like for the point of view to be as if you were standing there next to him — a participant in the scene, not just a viewer. But what’s that guy doing? Ducking his head to keep from getting shot? Firing from cover? A little gung ho charging? Is he an NCO or officer leading his troops, or just a GI going about his business? I usually like to focus on the common soldier, the everyman in a war zone, because I think that’s the most compelling part of war in general, and with Americans in WW2 in particular: common men in uncommon situations.
So, is he shooting? Shooting while standing or shooting while kneeling? What’s he shooting with? M1 Garand? Thompson? BAR? Pistol? Or is he in an MG team? Or maybe he’s not shooting; maybe he’s looking for targets? Or maybe he’s looking for his buddy coming up behind him?
Some famous illustrator, maybe Howard Pyle or NC Wyeth, said that the point of greatest drama is just before the main action happens, when the scene is still pregnant with possibilities.
One of my favorite paintings is Blind Pew by N.C. Wyeth from his Treasure Island series. Blind Pew is a painting of a blind beggar/pirate staggering down the road at night. There is precious little happening in the scene, but it begs so many questions: why is a blind man out on the road at night? he doesn’t look very nice does he, in fact he’s quite menacing. The painting shows Blind Pew just before he’s trampled and killed by a horseman. A depiction of the trampling itself would never have the kind of drama that Wyeth gives the scene — just before the action takes place.
So, with that all in mind, I’m not looking for a battle scene, but more of a personal soldier scene — before the first shot is fired.
And then, whatever that main guy is doing, what is everyone else doing? From the Company Commander book, and from a few WW2 photos, I was intrigued with the idea of infantry hitching a ride on a tank, maybe making for a quicker entry onto the field of battle. And what does that look like? Everyone jumping off, grabbing their stuff? Some with just rifles, but some in MG teams with ammo belts and a disassembled machine gun, all moving to the front? Hmmm, maybe so.
For whatever reason, that’s the part of the story that holds the most drama for me. Load up and take the next town. You hitch a ride with your tank friends, until you get close, and then "everybody off" in a perimeter around the front of the vehicle, watching for surprises while your comrades get set up to advance.
And what weapon should the main guy have? Well, I think a BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle, would be nice – mostly because I haven’t painted one of those before!
And PS, here a little note I found in my sketchbook while I was looking for those thumbnails. It's from artist and art blogger, Lori McNee (http://www.finearttips.com/). Thought for the day.
Next time: So, there’s a scene in my head; how do I get it on paper?