The Making Of A Thing

Earlier in May I posted the scratchboard piece I contributed to the Ayden gallery’s “Pretty Things To Look At” show Given the time involved on this one, I thought a second look and some self-congratulatory documentation of the process was warranted.

Bottom line detail1
So now, under the cut, the whole sad story of creating the Bottom Line.

It always starts with a sketch in the sketchbook. The show was to be sci-fi-horror genre based, so I went with horror.
This is one of the first ideas I had, largely due to the visual hook of the stair case (which would have been much longer in the final). The childhood terror of the cellar in my Aunt’s home inspired this one. Being sent on an errand into the black pit was always one of the most unnerving challenges I ever faced as a little Jamesling (the light switch was located at the TOP of the stairs, much to my older brother’s delight). This concept didn’t quite have the zang I wanted , though.
stair sketch

2nd concept: I figured since Gabriel, the show’s curator, wanted monster pieces I would go with the 800 hundred pound, seven tongued beast on my back I contend with every day. Best evidence that the beast tells the truth is the fact that in this drawing the figure at the desk can barely be seen (that’s supposed to be me). I couldn’t really figure out how to make this composition read better, so I let it drop.
doubt monster sketch

Something finally sparked when I caught wind of the Waldorf closure (a landmark local music venue and artists’ residency). I had been wanting to do to a water piece with scratchboard anyways, and getting that “sinking feeling” about the city’s future, I nailed down this concept. When I saw the plans to convert my beloved Ridge Movie Theater– another Vancouver institution– into condos that would retain the iconic sign as part of the facade (ish) I included it front and center. This became my “Vanishing Vancouver” piece.
The mermaid was appropriate not just for their rep of dragging lesser men (in this case a property owner) to the bottom of the sea, but as a nod to local dynamo Tristan Risk, who wrote a fantastic piece on preserving the Vancouver of her youth the outset of the Waldorf announcement. It can be read here: I had included her and roommate Lola Frost in a previous piece, in which Lola the mermaid is seen rescuing pirate captain Tristan from an ignominious watery fate. This was meant to be a follow up of sorts, revealing her transformation into seductive, snakey siren.
bottom line sketch final

I then whipped up some colour tests with pencil crayon as the printed version would include a one colour hold. I’m partial to purple, but at the suggestion of my paramour I went with the more obvious choice of green– which ultimately worked better for the mossy decay of our murky graveyard. I may still do one print run with the blue as well.
bottom line colour tests

Next step was to grid off a copy of the initial sketch to scale it up for the final drawing. You’ll notice me trying to work out calculations for the final size in the lower corner. The red marks are proportional correction notes.
bottom line corrections

At this point I made a call to drop the mermaid as the salvational figure in the work. Essentially, I felt it was becoming another cheesecake piece (of which I’ve done many since getting to know some of the brighter lights in Vancouver’s burlesque community)– and frankly, I’d given the ladeez their due in spades throughout my time at the desk.
Seeing Stephen Hamm, of Canned Hamm fame and many others, spearheading efforts to preserve the Waldorf convinced me it was time to give a bro some props. The mermaid became an avenging creature from the depths instead. Lost some aesthetic elegance, but I’m glad I went with it (I’m also a huge Black Lagoon fan, so any chance to work in a Gill Man…).
Keeping with the theme of the thing, I figured he had to be an East Van hipster creature. This is my attempt that particular incarnation.

Here lies the full scale drawing in progress on my desk in the studio. The size was roughly 30″ by 10″…
Scratch sketch

… resulting in the final version here. Notable additions to the sketchbook version include the sealife now swimming around the submerged buildings, which gave a sense that this is still where the party was happening. The mermaid makes a return in the bg, too, on the right.
At this point the piece became as much about my nostalgia for a specific time in Vancouver also lost to the depths: the early to late nineties, and the revolution happening in music and comics during my introduction to the city. I included a reference to the late, lamented Starfish Room and a poster for Coal– one of my favourite, now defunct, bands– in the fg bottom as tribute to this.
bottom line drawing

Some of the new inclusions were inspired by a trip to the Vancouver Aquarium the same week; both the star and jelly fish were taken directly from photos snapped on the day– as was the little guy on the poster at the bottom.
bottom line drawing c/u

He was a version of these boys below, because I thought their spiny fins made them look punk (can’t recall the names of the things, tho).
punky fish

A closer look at the my mutant-weirdo-creature for the piece. I gave him a little girth and some “nerdy” affectations: Glasses, a ‘fro, and fanny pack (for Robin Bougie, who only recently stopped wearing one).
Bottom line drawing detail

Still mucking with the form.
bottom line drawing revisons

Once the drawing is wrapped, a copy is “rubbed down” on the back and transferred to the actual scratchboard. You’ll notice the gap where I found a little room to extend the length of the chasm.
Scratch transfer

Pictures taken while scratching was under way. Shot of the final face, here. Dropped the affectations, but left him long feelers for his charmingly anachronistic ‘stache.
Cu 3

Detail of the Starfish room.
Starfish Detail

Angler fish taking shape. It’s better to light one illicium…
I decided to excise the mermaid for good, though. A little too fantastical when I took a look again once the art was on the board.
scratch detail

The Coal poster became a tricky proposition given some very limited space to keep it legible. The cigarette on the spiny fish was a definite cheat.
Cu 2

And here my troubles began. Originally the suggestion of bubbles pouring off the businessman worked real neat to give a sense of movement, but when the lightburst was added behind him in the final stage (a whole battle unto itself), the shaft of bubbles just became a column of ball bearings emanating from his ass. This was super crummy paper too, which made the prospect of re-working areas REALLY dicey. Someone in England please send me some of that Esdee stuff.
Bubble CU

This is what I was doing at zero hour. Unsure how to solve the “bubble issue”, I scaled up a picture on my computer and mucked with printouts. There were PAGES of these.
For those who think I plan too meticulously before starting a project, this as the only area that hadn’t been properly thought out beforehand. Incidentally, the top left is Susan’s handiwork: her suggestion was just to turn everything to foam. Not a bad idea, but not the look I was going for.
bubble revison

Ultimately I ended up with an awkward compromise, but I’m not dumb enough to point these things out (until now). It was time to move on with the colour composite, which was drawn separately as a piece of line art. Big thanks to Johnnie Christmas for taking time out from working on his amazing new book, Sheltered, to scan the separate elements and Ron Turner, who, around deadline crunches on top secret movie design work, did the digital composite. It was a bitch to get this one aligned.
color comp1

Now the piece was completed, all that remained was the scanning. Because of the length of this one I decided to drop some good money and go with pros in town who specialized in handling oversized work, aaaand….
Every artist’s worse nightmare: The piece had been extensively damaged when it was returned to me just days before the gallery debut.

I was told it was sent through whatever process they were using, protective sheet removed, muliple times to produce a better scan. This seemed like a senseless risk to me, given that I’d rather have a well preserved original than a passable scan. This is one of the great dangers of such a delicate medium like scratchboard, and the greater danger of signing a waiver before leaving weeks of your life in the hands of strangers.
damage 1

Though you see the damage around the edges of the piece here, there were striations throughout… which meant spending an extra day going through the piece and meticulously making repairs with a tiny no.1 sable brush and some strong ink (the lesser scratch paper I was using did not take thin ink or felt at tall), then doing the same throughout the scan.
damage 3

It should be noted that the company that did the scan, TR Trades, is a reputable business and does not have a track record of harming work. Apart from some delays after the fact, they addressed the problem amicably and ultimately refunded the charges fully. They also sent a cheque that ALMOST covered the loss to my time and value of the piece.

Detail of the digital version once it was all together and ready for the print run.
Bottom line detail 2

The final destination of this little monster at the Ayden Gallery. The framing did help cover some of the damage round the border. Great opening. It was all worth it, right?
ayden 3

hamm creature
And I did, too.


About James Lloyd

Cartoonist in Vancouver. Mildly non-threatening.
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5 Responses to The Making Of A Thing

  1. Julie says:

    Totally fascinating documentation of the creation of this artwork. It;’s cool that you included the sinking of the Waldorf & the Ridge…and terrible that it got damaged. We are lucky it survived – and to think that perspective all started with a scary stairway down to the basement…

    • James Lloyd says:

      Thanks, Julie! I never know who’s reading these at the end of the day, so it’s nice to get some feedback. I’m picking up the original tomorrow; maybe I’ll hang it at the studio.

  2. Robin Bougie says:

    wow. Great post!

  3. Paul Lloyd says:

    Amazing to see the whole process. It’s a great piece.
    I do remember turning the lights of on you, and you were not happy with me.

  4. James Lloyd says:

    Thanks, mein brother. It was a long, black scramble up those stairs.

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