Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Held Down, 72"x96", oil on linen

Painting Process
(You can click on the image for an enlarged view)

Study for Captain

I have a book on the great American illustrator, J.C. Lyendecker, in which I saw many preliminary studies he did on grid in preparation for the final painting. He would make small but very meticulous studies, often repeatedly, of hand, gesture, expression, clothing etc.

I thought that if Lyendecker felt he needed to do it, I certainly can make good use of it.

The captain being such a central figure, I wanted to make sure I tackle any potential problems and solve them before I paint him on the final piece.

Study for Captain, 68.5”x 96”, oil on linen

Head Study

Expressions on the faces of the crew and their gestures were vital in conveying the main theme of this painting; fear, panic, suspense, extreme anxiety, and the sense of impending doom. I wanted to suggest the characters of the crew through their facial expression and gesture.

Also, because of the unusual light setting and multiple light sources, I decided to do the head studies in both monochrome and color for all the crew members. My main objectives were to study the expressions on the faces of the crew, and to ensure that I make two opposing lights work to show convincing sense of light and form.

They were all painted in oil on canvas and mounted on Masonite board, 16"x12", which would have been close to actual size as on the final painting had the painting be done in initial dimension of 96"x120".


I wanted to show clear and intense colors from both red and blue light focused on the face of the captain to clearly define him as a central figure. I also wanted to show an expression of defiance in his face as a leader of the boat responsible for the lives of the crew. Though this painting is not about one person, there is no denying his position as the main figure of the painting.

Executive Officer (IWO, First Watch Officer)

In the character of XO, I wanted to include an 'old hand' among the crew. He would be an experienced father figure among the crew.

I liked the expression of the first study; a look of being supprised by the terrifying sounds of the ASDIC (sonar) and the depth charges raining down around their boat, some of them maybe actually hitting the outter hull, seconds away from their explosion. But he looked too young for my intended character. So I experimented with a different look in the second painting. This time, though I liked his aged appearance, he looked more like the Captain than the Captain himself. So I replaced his black-topped cap with a forage cap (side cap) and trimmed his beard.
As for the expression in his face, I certainly wanted to show a sense of anxiety but, as a seasoned veteran, not an overly panicked appearance.

In creating this character, I was inspired by an actual figure that I read about in a book. He was already a veteran of World War I at the age of 15, when he served in U-564 during World War II in his 40s as an oldest crew of the boat. His captain, it was said, discretely allowed him a personal stash of rum to soothe the pain from many years of working in the confinement of a U-boat at his age.

Crew #1 & 2

I wanted to show a sense of suspense and anticipation as if they were expecting the boat will explode by depth charge at any moment. Initially, I was going to place Crew #2 on the left side of the ladder but I decided Crew #1's gesture fit better in that position with the ladder in front of him. So I painted the Crew #2 horizontally rotated. As the Crew#1 looks directly up to the conning tower, I wanted the Crew #2 to have a slightly backed-up posture giving a slightly different angle to his gaze.

Crew #3

Just as in any war, as the war of attrition dragged on and the tide of the war was turning against them, U-bootwaffe had to replace the diminishing veterans with younger and less experienced recruits. Crew#3 represents one of the new crew members on board fresh off the training. I wanted to show a fear stricken young sailor who was facing a terrorfying long depth charge attacks for the first time, and the last time.

Navigator (IIIWO, Third Watch Officer)

Besides adding the sense of panic among the crew through his facial expression, I wanted Navigator's body and hand gesture to express the sense of anticipation for the worst. Also, I positioned his right arm to create the directional pull toward the center of the picture.

Crew #4

By placing Crew #4 in the very foreground, I intended to create an additional layer of depth and distance. He also functions as an important compositional element that creates a movement; his gaze toward the Captain serves as an entrance point to lead the view's eye to the center of the painting, similar to the way navigator's arm does.

Layout and Perspective

Ground layout

This is the layout of the control room according to the dimension I gathered when I visited the inside of U-505 (with a permission by the Museum of Science and Industry) armed with a tape measure and a camera. It was approximately 11 feet wide, 8 feet high, and 20 feet deep. Because there were so many equipments and structures packed into the small space, it was impossible to get the exact size beyond above dimension. I decided to use even number of 12 feet for the width.

Ground layout with the figure position

I indicated where I wanted to place the crew within the control room. I also indicated the position of the numerous light bulbs that I observed during my visit to U-505. Though I knew that eventually I would have to make an artistic decision as to the position of the light bulbs, I wanted to start off with a factual information. Such was the case with the perspective and certain structures in the control room. In the final painting, planesman's station was brought forward as if it were closer to the picture plane next to the helmsman's station.

Perspective 1

Perspective 2

Perspective 3-1

Perspective 3-2

Perspective 4

This perspective layout is something that I did not necessarily have to do in order to make a pictorially convincing painting. And these days, with the help of a computer programs like CAD, one can quickly construct it on a computer screen. But it's something I learned how to do it with my hand during my first year undergraduate study. So I wanted to practice what I learned. It's been a while since last time I made this kind of perspective diagram.

Basically, I wanted to create a room with a dimension of 12 feet wide, 8 feet high, and 20 feet deep that is seen by a viewer with an eye level of 3 feet high while standing 4 feet in front of the picture plane and 4 feet away from port side.

Initially, as seen in Perspective 1 and 2, I tried to create the room as a complete dimension (12'Wx8'Hx20'D), but I wasn't entirely convinced with its accuracy. So I decided to start over with a cube (10'Wx10'Hx10'D), and then expand the width by 2 feet and drop down the ceiling by 2 feet. Perspective 3 and 3-1 are the results.

Perspective 4 is a layout on tracing paper with the salient objects of navigator's map table and the hatch through which the view is looking at the scene.


I decided the canvas size ratio of 4"H:5"W. I considered expanding the width by 1/2 feet to show the plane change at the front end of the map table. But I decided to stay with 4:5 and just cut the length of the table before the picture plane to show the ending of the table, which in actuality, can not be seen by the viewer.

Thumbnail 1

Thumbnail 2

Thumbnail 3

Thumbnail 4

Thumbnail 5


I made a number of thumbnails and narrowed them down to final 6. I also experimented with different options (higher eye level, additional crew, dutch angle etc.) before I chose the final thumbnail.

The Figure in Perspective Layout

Within this room I placed 7 figures in perspective. I gave the Captain 6 feet height and used his position and height to construct the position and height of the crew members around the internal structures of the control room.

Line Drawing

Line Drawing ("Dutch Angle")

Line Drawing-final

I made a 16"x20" line drawing based on the dimension of the room I gathered from actual measurement, photo references I gathered from U-505, perspective study, thumbnail studies, and gesture studies.

I considered tilting the whole picture slightly (someone called it "dutch angle") to imply the shaking of the submarine from the impact of the depth charge, but decided not to do it. (by lowering the feet of the figures in the background when the picture plane is tilted, it appeared to give a conflicting effect to the perspective and the sense of depth) Also, later I made a few other adjustments. (arm gesture of the navigator etc.)

Gesture Study

I wanted to get a good feel of the gesture of the individual crew that will best express my intended concept within the whole picture. No details.

Hand study

Because of its powerful expressive impact, I made hand studies for all the crew. Later I also did this in oil on canvas. Both were much fun to to. In the final painting, much of the small details (fingernails, popping veins and knuckles etc.) shown in these studies were intentionally simplified or obscured for the sake of larger effect.

Color Study

I made a color study on cut canvas size of 20"x16".
After it was done, because of the unusual light situation (dark, 2 conflicting lights, multiple light source), I couldn't quite visualize from this small study how it would all work out in the final piece. So I decided to do a larger, more detailed study in a quarter size of the final painting.

Final Study

Final study was done on a 4'x5' stretched canvas, which is a quarter size of 8'x10' final painting. Post-it notes on the surface of the painting indicate the parts of the painting that needed to be re-done or corrected. Actually there were about dozen more of them on the painting, but they kept falling off the surface.

More serious problem was the dimension of the final painting. Because of the height of the classroom door and the hallway leading to the upstairs gallery, intended size of 8' height (8'Hx10'W) would not make it out of the classroom where I was painting. So I had to reduce the size of the final painting to 6'x8'.

Now the length (both height and width) ratio between the study and the final painting has changed from 1:2 to 1:1.6. Also this meant that all the studies that I did life size (head and hand) would have to be reduced in the final painting. I was quite disappointed by it.

6' : 8' = x' : 5'
8'x = 30'
x = 3.75' (= 45")

So, I had to decrease the size of the study painting to 45"x60" from 48"x60" which will proportionately match 72"x96" dimension of the final painting..
Now, I had two choices; one was to proportionately scale down the study and paint the final painting accordingly. The other option was to crop the study either at the top or bottom.
I chose to do the latter. Also I chose to crop the bottom of the picture plane rather than the top.
The reasons; I wanted to show the complicated pipes and the hulk of steel that are above the heads of the crew, which would crash down on the doomed crew. Pipes and equipments of the top space would also enhace clustered feel of the confined control room, especially seen from the low eye-level.
I don't have much problem with loosing the floor space because it will be treated with much darker tone. Also, the narrow floor space will, again, strengthen the crowded feel.

One thing about this approach (cropping only one end); mathematically correct initial perspective is disrupted. Now there is more view above than it is supposed to be that would match the perspective of the floor.
It is as if one is looking through the picture plane with his head hyperextended backward to see beyond his station point. Technically wrong, but actually it should add more dramatic sense, which is one of my main intentions of having the lower eye-level to begin with.

I ran a 3 inch paper strip at the bottom of the study painting to block out the "excess" part of the study, to help me visualize the proportionate dimension of the final painting.

Size relationship between the study and the final painting

More to come……

Artist’s Statement

I do not know exactly when and how I became interested in U-boat. I did have some interesting encounters with a modern submarine and people who worked in it. But my interest is not in the submarine as a mighty war machine. I have no glorified feelings about U-boat warfare –or any war for that matter. Rather, I am interested in the U-boat events as a part of history. When I look at the photographs of the the U-boat crew, so many of whom perished in the abyss of the ocean entombed in their iron coffin, I can not help feeling the senseless tragedy of war.

What I am interested in illustrating in this painting is to express the sense of fear, suspense and impending doom experienced by the crew of a U-boat as they were about to face the fate they so often forced upon their enemy. I wanted to express in this painting the futility and tragedy of war reflected on the faces of the U-boat crew as they were chased and held down by their enemy on the surface.

When I started my training in art, I wanted to become an illustrator.
I wanted to be an illustrator who paints a story just as a novelist composes a creative story. During my undergraduate training at the Academy, I was further introduced to the great illustrators of the Golden Age of American Illustration and later other illustrators who followed their footsteps— Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, Harvey Dunn, Harry Anderson to name a few. They became a strong inspiration for me with their knowledge, skill, and disciplined approach to their painting which produced expressive power their paintings are known for. They were to me Charles Dickens, John Steinbecks and Leo Tolstoys of painting. As I admired their work, it wasn't long before I realized that I needed much study in learning the trade of painting in fine art so that I can use it as a tools of illustration.

Today I am a so called 'fine artist', painting mostly human figure, portrait, landscape and still life, which I enjoy very much and will be doing as long as I can hold a brush in my hand. But I still look up to such greats as Leyendecker, Gruger, and Rockwell who inspired me to become a painter. In some ways, this painting, and the process that led to it, is my tribute to them as I wanted to experience their way of illustrating the story with brush and paint.