A noble mind is here o’erthrown

Hello friends. Meet Hamlet, prince of Denmark.


It’s a bad time for him. His dad has been murdered by his uncle, who has promptly hopped in bed with him mum. He’s not the happiest young lad. So he starts to go crazy. . . or does he? In this illustration I wanted to focus on the conceptual themes of Hamlet rather than showing a very classic scene.

hamSeriously, google Hamlet for a hot ten seconds.

Like most illustrators, I started of with a bunch of thumbnails. Central themes I’m thinking about: madness/obsession, the ghost, Hamlet’s inability to act, reoccurring motifs like botany and hearing. The image I kept coming back to was a simple portrait of Hamlet, with plenty of dark space at the top, surrounded by smoke.


Let’s talk about what this means. The smoke represents the ghost of King Hamlet. Hamlet is, in a way, haunted by the memory of his father. His fixation on revenge clouds his judgement and makes him disregard everything else, hence his ears are obscured by smoke. The dark space above his head represents the oppressiveness of Hamlet’s thoughts, as they border on madness. It’s debatable whether he actually goes crazy or not over the course of the play. He wears a crown of rosemary, plucked from Ophelia’s crazy plants monologue. Crowns are of course an allusion to royalty, and the rosemary is for remembrance.


You can see this start to come together in my final sketch. Next to it is a portrait by renaissance babe Tintoretto that I was really inspired by, and want to try to emulate once we get to the painting part. There’s one more step before I go start the actual painting. Shooting reference. Photographic reference is what enables illustrators to create believable images.


Here are my handsome head models. They had the task of holding a lamp and glaring at my camera. I also shot pictures of smoke, and taped some herbs to my roommate’s head for the crown.


The first step to creating an oil painting is the underpainting. I laid down a thin layer of a neutral brown and lifted out the highlights, adding the darks in once that had dried.


Looks like Hamlet got a weird Zorro Z stuck on his face somewhere in the process.

paintingaProgressThis is a fast forwarded version of me breathing in oil fumes and crying until it started to look like a real life painting.


Last stop: finished painting. I’m way happy with how this painting came out, and I hope you like it as well as a journey down the dark road that is the artistic process. I have no idea as to where our next destination will be, so enjoy the ride.


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