st. patrick’s day

Van Morrison: One Irish Rover


This year as always, Chicago’s St.Patrick’s Day celebration will involve downing large quantities of green beer and and dumping green dye into the Chicago River, should the ice floes allow.

I’ve chosen to mark the occasion by featuring one of Ireland’s most brilliant and crankiest musicians in his native environment. Van Morrison has been steadily making music nearly five decades and has written and performed some of the most soulful songs ever recorded.

The title “One Irish Rover” is a title from his 1986 release “No Guru, No Method, No Teacher”. The song is one of several from the disc that express his love for Ireland and its traditions.

Another inspiration for the image is “You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push the River” from the vastly underrated “Veedon Fleece”, which sold poorly upon its release in 1974, and is now generally regarded as one of his masterpieces. (Jon Oye wrote an excellent essay discussing the album on his blog Contemplations on Classic Movies and Music) The brilliantly surreal lyrics defy explanation (Typically, when asked, Van said that Veedon Fleece means nothing and “I just made it up”.), and together with the flowing instrumentation, form a rich tapestry of Celtic mysticism, nature, and spirituality.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! And for for an extra bit of Irish luck, find the four-leafer in the illustration.

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Making of a Shamrock Shake Leprechaun

As they say in showbiz, “There are no small parts, only small actors” and this guy is a small actor indeed.
The assignment was to digitally illustrate a leprechaun painting a billboard sign, Trompe L’Oeil style, to advertise last year’s announced return of McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. It was termed “urban signage”. Translation: a sign that would go above the entryways to Chicago’s downtown L-train and other locations.
I was provided the Art Director’s thumbnail sketch and told to make the figure turn and look at the viewer as if “caught in the act”.

When working on storyboards or in my usual finished illustration style, I generally don’t use photo reference, but in this case, the client wanted a semi-realistic style, so I had my son shoot a few humiliating reference shots of me in character.
I gave the AD a proposed pencil sketch along with an edgier cartoony version as an alternative. I preferred that version myself, but the client definitely wanted more realism. Even if they’d gone with the alternate version, I’m sure I would’ve had to delete the pipe, which was my favorite part anyway. 🙂
After the sketch was approved, I scanned it in and used it as an underlay in Photoshop. I digitally painted over the sketch on a new layer, reducing the opacity to about 50%. Once the simple shapes were blocked in, I made the layer fully opaque and continued refining the figure, starting with the face. I had to keep reducing the size of the image on the screen to get an idea of how it would look at a much smaller size. By doing that, about halfway through the job, I decided that the body should be smaller in proportion to the head. Fortunately, I was working in layers,so it was a pretty easy fix to reduce the body size. Near the finish, I adjusted the levels in Photoshop to increase the overall contrast and deepen the shadows.
All in all the job went very smoothly and though the finished figure was a miniscule part of the composition, it was fun seeing it posted in a couple of locations within a block of the office.

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