Over Thanksgiving, while sitting with my nephews at breakfast, I shared pictures of my recent paintings with them. I told them I had a show coming up, and they started asking questions about painting and selling paintings.
A few minutes later, Lucas, who is about to turn 8, said, “Will you paint me a picture of Batman?” His eyes lit up at the idea, and the excitement on his face was irresistible. “Sure! I could paint a picture of Batman for your birthday present,” I replied.
Of course, I had to get a rundown on the most recent Batman vs. Superman movie from his older brother (which I haven’t seen). He says, “Wonder Woman is in too.” (Oh boy. I think I caught a gleam in is eye.)
From there we began to discuss ideas. Did he want a portrait? Just batman? Up close? Just the symbol? We volleyed ideas around, and then there was a pause, “Wait,” he said, his mind going back to our earlier conversation. “Do I need to pay for it?” A look of worry and concern crossed his face. How considerate, I thought. He gets it. And, he’s only 7. How cool. “No. It will be my gift to you.”
I returned home, hung the December show, got over a cold, enjoyed the holidays and pretty soon, January was upon us. With an end of January deadline, I had to get started. Painting from imagination is quite different than painting from what nature offers and there was prep work to do.
I had a solid idea in my mind… Batman overlooking Gotham City with the bat signal shining in the sky. (I’ll save Superman and Wonder Woman for another time.)
There were a few pieces of criteria. First, I didn’t want it too scary. Second, I didn’t want a cartoon version. And, I needed to paint it fairly quickly.
Next step – Research and Gathering Images
I started with a google search (gotta love painting in the modern age of technology). And, of course I watched the trailer for the current Batman vs. Superman movie. It sure looks intense! The trailer was enough for me. Though I have to say, the appearance of Wonder Woman at the end of the trailer was great. (“Is she with you?” “No, I thought she was with you.” So silly, but funny and well, wow. I can see why she made an impression on my nephew – ha!)
A google search for batman, Gotham City, New York, London, St. Paul city cathedral, NYSE, and various skylines. I didn’t want to copy a picture, but combine elements from many places. Here are a few of the images that provided inspiration.
The Painting in Stages
From there, it was a matter of building the painting. I played around in Photoshop a bit first, then created this sketch.
I knew I would need to change the buildings and shapes, so this stage was very light and just to give me a rough idea of placement. I wanted to get to the color right away, so I did a thin wash of pthalo blue and ultramarine blue in the background. While it was wet, I wiped out areas for buildings and further developed the composition.
Now for the fun part. Using various photos (above), I started to block in the buildings. The Twin Towers, which my nephew will never know in person, the cathedral from St. Paul (the capital of his home state), the empire state building, some buildings that resemble Minneapolis, New York and London. As well as some generic looking buildings.
Using a mirror, I was able to get Batman to stand upright. He looked right on the painting, but not in the mirror, he kept leaning and hunching over. The glow of the light is much stronger here than the real version, because the paint is wet.
Although I didn’t get a picture of the painting in the frame, the varnished version saturated nicely. I could have spent weeks developing the buildings and the colors, creating more detail on batman and the sky. Thankfully, I had to stop so it could dry and get in the mail. Happy birthday Lucas!
Here’s a painting he did for me. I love how the palm tree floats in the sky.