Saturday, 12 December 2009

Caesar of the Wilderness Work In Progress

I am a big fan of pencil portrait artist Armin Mersmann, if you're not familiar with his work his website is well worth a visit. So inspired by his work I wanted to attempt a highly detailed portrait in a similar style. Now I know I'm not of his calibre, he can take up to a year to complete one of his pieces. This portrait took me just under a week.

Measuring 11.5 x 16 inches and created using graphite pencil on Bristol board. It is a portrait of 17th century explorer and adventurer Pierre-Esprit Radisson, my impression of how he may have looked. There is a larger image of the finished work on the Mighty Fine Art website. On there I have also written a short passage about his life which some may find interesting.

This first picture represents my first day's work, a total of about 6 hours. Being right handed I like to work left to right, top to bottom as much as possible to avoid smudging although I constantly re-visit the area I've done to make fine adjustments to tonal values and corrections where necessary.

This is the point I reached after the second day. I can see the eyes are not quite right, the left one being a little smaller than the right, but now they are in I can see the portrait is going to work OK. I notice I also need to adjust the tones of his cheek.

Now I have adjusted the eyes and cheek a bit I'm much happier. Having completed quite a large proportion of the portrait to the 'almost finished' stage I've got more of an idea in my head of how I want the final composition to look, so at this point I've also started to lightly plan what I'm going to do with the remaining space. This is the end of the third day.

End of day four and I feel I'm getting there now. It doesn't appear that I've done all that much but a lot of time went into the beard and tidying up other areas.

At this point it looks nearly finished. However I need to go over the entire picture now, paying particular attention to how the edges of the fur meet the dark background which has been darkened and burnished within an inch of it's life to achieve the flat blackness that I want.
And here it is finished. I'm really pleased with this one. I set out to achieve more than just an ordinary portrait. I wanted show this mans character and story from the look in his eyes to the lines on his face. I've dug deep into my imagination for this and I hope this portrait in some way will stimulate the imagination of the viewers too. Please note, this is not intended to be an accurate illustration of Radisson, rather an imaginative and perhaps romanticised artistic impression.

 Explorer, adventurer, soldier of fortune and one of the originators of the Hudson's Bay Company. Pierre-Esprit Radisson is one of the most romantic and awe inspiring explorers of the Canadian North and West.
Born in France in 1636 virtually no information survives concerning his early life. His story begins when, as a young man in 1651 he somehow made his way to New France, to Trois- Rivieres to join his half sister Marguerite. Her husband had died at the hands of the Iroquois but she had re-married to a man named Medard Chouart Des Groseilliers who was to share many of the adventures of Radisson.
Around 1652 Radisson was captured by the Iroquois, was adopted by an Indian family, and spent some 2 years traveling and hunting with his captors. He escaped in 1654 and arrived back in Three Rivers later that year. He remained in New France for the next 4 years, except for one more trip made to the Iroquois territory near Albany.
Radisson's first trip west was undertaken with his brother-in-law in 1659, an unlicensed fur trading expedition. They wintered southwest of Lake Superior in Sioux country. During this trip the two men first heard of 'The Bay Of The North Sea (Hudson Bay) and the treasure of beaver to be found in that area. In the spring Radisson and Des Groseilliers returned to Montreal laden with furs, most of which were promptly confiscated by the corrupt Governor's officials. From this point on Radisson became a soldier of fortune, patriotism played no more part in his adventures.
From 1662 to 1664 the two men operated from New England and tried, unsuccessfully, to reach Hudson Bay by sea. In 1665 they set sail for London to find backing for their plan of reaching the interior and the fur producing regions by by-passing the St Lawrence River. Unfortunately their ship was captured by the Dutch, with whom England was then at war. Put ashore in Spain, the two eventually made it to London in time to witness the great fire and the ravages of the Black Death.
They were able to interest some English merchants in their plan and a voyage aboard the ship Nonsuch proved that it was not only possible but profitable. On May 2nd 1670 the Hudson's Bay Company began its long and highly prosperous career. During the next few years, Radisson established the Nelson River post and served as guide, translator and advisor with them.
However, mistrusted by the company, in 1675 the brothers-in-law deserted and resumed their French allegiance. It was not a rewarding transfer, Radisson served as a French navy mid-shipman and went campaigning in the Caribbean. He was back at Hudson Bay again in 1681 and was rejoined there by Des Groseilliers. The following year the Compagne Du Nord contracted him to challenge the English traders in Hudson Bay. Radisson destroyed the rival posts and established Fort Bourbon on the Nelson River.
Once again, they felt that they were being unsatisfactorily rewarded by the French so, when his brother-in-law returned to Canada, Radisson turned up in the service of the Hudson's Bay Company once more in 1684.
He was sent back to the bay, where he persuaded the French at Fort Nelson, which he had previously founded, to abandon their allegiance and all their furs! Radisson made his last trip to Hudson Bay in late 1685 remaining there for 2 years, but again became disillusioned with the company. He returned to England finally settling near London. Radisson was married three times during his incredible life, dying aged 74 in 1710 survived by several children.


Pat said...

Fascinating to watch the portrait develop stage by stage.. and what a realistic outcome! I'm in awe of your expertise with graphite.

denny karchner said...

Just outstanding Peter! Nothing like the purity of a well-done graphite.--Denny

Peter Williams said...

Thank you Pat and Denny, a much appreciated comment coming from 'the master'

Armin Mersmann said...

good find

you did a great job on this, love it!

Have a great new year

Armin Mersmann

Peter Williams said...

Thank you for your kind comment Armin. As I mentioned in this blog I am in awe of your fine portraiture (as well as the paintings) so for you to take the time to comment means a lot to me. Happy new year to you too!