A Stairway to Heaven and Hawkgirl

There’s a myth of creativity that it is some independent thought, radically a departure from any other idea that comes before it. This myth actually restricts us from both finding an audience for our creative work and constrains us too much from doing our work.

In reality, all creative work has a genre. The genre defines some accepted practices, behaviors, and mindsets associated with this creative work. For example, there is a genre of music that includes bands like Led Zeppelin and Van Halen. That’s a different genre in music than Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson.

Audiences expect one experience from anyone within a genre, but there are personal quirks between groups or artists that make one work stand out more than another. Some of those quirks become part of the genre if accepted and repeated by other artists. How does one explore the genre and the quirks of specific artists?

Rick Beato, a YouTuber I follow, had an interesting thought experiment/question: For Led Zepplin’s classic song Stairway to Heaven, how would other guitarists play the long and complicated solo? In particular, how would Eddie VanHalen, Peter Frampton, or Eric Johnson play the Solo?

This experiment gets to the heart of the matter: How Would one master add their voice to another master’s work, and how would you see the genre and idiosyncrasies of creating apiece by both? Could you combine both into a work of yours?

So I tried this out. The results were fascinating.

To summarize, I wanted to take one artist’s work and see how another artist would have executed the same work if I did it.

In his case, I took two artists, Bruce Timm and Patrick Nagel.

Bruce Timm is best known for Batman: the animated series and the later Justice League animated shows. I picked a portrait of a Justice League character, Shayera Hol, Also known as Hawkgirl.

My challenge was to see If I could create this Hawkgirl portrait in the style of 80’s painter and cultural icon Patrick Nagel, whose most famous piece is the album cover to Duran Duran’s Rio

I also used this image which gave me a lot of cues as to Nagel’s style.

As I studied the Hawkgirl still from Timm and the Nagel paintings, I noticed I made a good choice: much of their styles are similar.

But their differences stand out: Nagel’s use of color and his lack of shading. Some shading is drop shadows behind lines, not shadows of the features—some exit only when an area needs some contrast. Eye shapes are very similar, though Timm is much more detailed in the structures within the eye while Nagel hints at it.

Nagel crops his images in geometric shapes with straight lines.

So with all that in place, I came up with this:

It is not a bad imitation of both artists’ works. Some of my quirks show up here too. I made a few decisions in places. Nagel always draws brunettes, but Shayera is recognizable by her hair color, so I left that in an orange-red range instead of black. I also made mistakes in the color. Nagel’s alabaster skin tone shines more than mine. I used plain white while a warm white with tinges of something between yellow and orange would have contrasted better with all the blues here. My lines are a bit wobbly compared to both. I did not have the time or inclination to get into vector-based art that would have given me smooth lines.

This was to explore two masters and see what they both kept in the genre and what they deviated from it. In figurative art, both artists go for a minimal form and shadow, often using line to convey what the shaded area should convey.

Timm uses sharper lines than Nagel. Notice the sharpness of the chin, which is more Timm than Nagel.

The color scheme is all Nagel – from the overly white skin tones to the saturated colors. Nagel hides even more lines than Timm, as the base of the nose is the only visible part. Nagel’s lines often have drop shadows in a less saturated but higher brightness color.

I like the final result, and learning about these artists as I made this piece gave me a lot to think about. I didn’t learn about one artist, but three — one of them was me.

As a challenge, what artists would you pick to imitate doing a variation of another artist?

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