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Flashback - Refugees "The Builders"

You've seen this piece in the Portals section of my site, and I did already post up the images for this before, but I hadn't really broken down the process like I've been doing in the other flashback posts. Here's the description from the original post back in 2015.

This is my first entry for Artwork of Fantasy and Imagination, the next exhibition that I'll be doing with the group I did the Sydney Comic Art & Drawing Exhibition with. The show will run from 17th - 24th December, at The Shop Gallery, Glebe, here in Sydney. A lot of my stuff has been comic and sci-fi based, so fantasy is a chance to try something different. Most of the fantasy stuff I've enjoyed has been in a contemporary setting (China Mieville, Geoffrey Thorne, Neil Gaimen, and Garth Ennis' Preacher are the ones that come to mind), so I wanted to do some pieces that put fantasy figures into everyday settings. This is why my research sketches from the last few weeks have bounced from builders on a tea break to flaming skulls and people with fish heads. So what's the backstory?

It's been just 18 months since the first of the refugees arrived through the portals. In cities all over the world, people have started to grow accustomed to having neighbours and, increasingly, workmates who would have been the stuff of myths 2 years ago.

While most refugees are reluctant to talk about their experiences, there are rumours circling of harsh and brutal feudal societies, with appalling living conditions. No wonder, many say, that they have been so quick to train and enter the modern workforce, and, where possible, assimilate into 21st century culture.

It all started off with this sketch of a group of builders, which I sourced from wikimedia. I had trouble working out what approach I'd wanted to take with my fantasy pieces, as fantasy is not a genre I have a huge emotional connection to. What made it work was to link it to everyday images, like these guys, and inject an element of the bizarre into the mundane.

The combination of those elements happened at the pencilling stage. The figure in the foreground was given a head based on the Faun from the Guillermo Del Toro film Pan's Labyrinth. In the back row, the figure on the left becomes a 4-fingered cyclops, while the next becomes a frog person (not a fantasy trope, but frogs are cool). I decided to keep the final figure recognisably human, as I wanted to maintain a bit more of the "normal" world.

I did keep the pencils loose, so the inking stage did a lot to pull the image together. This was when I was still working on Bristol board with Indian Ink and a dip pen, and again, if I were doing this picture now, I might be tempted to finish the inking at this point, and use the colouring and shading to reinforce the forms of the figures.

As a finished linework image, I am happy with this. I used different directions for the crosshatching lines to make sure that the figures stood out from each other. Hopefully that works subtly, and you didn't notice it until I pointed it out. If you did, then damn, you are observant.

I tried to have a bit more control with how I used colour here. I found most of the colours worked best with a faded greys, which then let me use one or two bright spots of colour for the helmets and hi-vis vests, as I thought it emphasised the job of the figures, rather than the weirdness, which is what I was going for.

Anyway, this was a bit of a departure, but fun. What do you think?

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