STEP by STEP: Painting Beauty Queen

A few weeks ago I wrote about how I begin to create images for the plays at Chicago Street Theatre and mentioned that I thought it might be fun, as I was working on the illustrations, to give our readers an idea of how the process goes. Each image is a little different and a lot of the time when I begin, I usually have a couple of paintings going at the same time. As I said in the previous blog, the ideas and concepts for each painting start out with a sketch or loose thumbnail drawing in my sketchbook. From there I begin gathering inspirations like papers, textures, reference pictures and found items. One thing that I'm noticing with the work I've been doing already is that I'm using more collaged elements and playing with different textured surfaces in the paintings. The canvas format of 12" x 24" vertical images used in the previous two seasons is staying the same.

The illustration that I felt inspired to work on first was for next season's production of Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane. This black comedy by the Irish author of our past productions of The Cripple of Inishmaan (2004) and The Pillow Man (2010), centers on the rather ugly and harsh relationship between a mother and daughter. The haunting and viciously funny play deals with longing for a life that got away. 



STEP 1: I found two reference photos. the first was of actress Emma Thompson which had a profound sadness in her eyes and really moody lighting to play the role of the daughter, Maureen, in the foreground of the piece.  The second photo was of an older woman from the newspaper who reminded me of my paternal grandmother, Ellen ( who once hit my father in the back of the head with an iron) to play the role of the mother, Mag. I enlarged the newspaper photo on a copier to cut out and collage directly into the painting.


STEP 2: Next I thought about the mood of the piece in preparing the canvas. I used a texture medium to give the canvas a craggy rough surface to mirror the relationship between these characters living in a small village in Ireland. After texturing the surface, I used washes and drips of greens (Ireland, right) and browns to create a murky, mossy look to the surface. I use acrylics because they dry quickly and can be thinned down with water to create the washes or with different mediums thickened to add texture. Colored pencils, chalk, pastels, and crayons can also be used over them after they've dried.

  STEP 3: After the surface had dried I collaged my image of the old woman into the background. For most of the show she sits in a rocking chair barking out insults at her daughter who like a prisoner waits on her hand and foot. I attach her using Matte Medium Mod Podge which dries clear and add some of the same hues of greens and browns so that she works with the color scheme of the illustration.

  STEP 4: Once Mag is in place, I begin painting Maureen's face in the extreme foreground using the Emma Thompson photo for reference. The colors used to prep the canvas will be used instead of traditional flesh tones to convey the darker mood of the piece. I sketch the daughter in the painting using dark graphite and charcoal pencils.

  STEP 5: Using more washes of light colors and darks I paint things rather broadly and then begin refining details. I do some over painting on the collaged figure so that no one would realize that the woman in the original picture was holding a baby, whiten her hair more, and add arms to make it look more like she is sitting in a rocking chair complaining. Since the Emma Thompson reference picture had very little hair, I use dark browns, grays, and greens to create hair for Maureen.

  STEP 6: The final step is continuing to add shadows and highlights until I make the two figures pop. Because the characters were starting to take on too much of the background, I add a brighter green to get them to stand out more. All that's left to do is refine some more details and hide our trademark exclamation point... and as they say, "This one is done."

-Posted by Eric Brant, Illustrator