Deconstructing Simon Stalenhag

I really enjoyed doing the painting analysis of Jaime Jones last week, so I thought I'd do another one today....this time, the Sci-Fi Future-Retroism of Simon Stalenhag.  

The Original Image

The Original Image

I am completely in love with both his subject matter and his treatment of digital "paint."  To me, his work looks like a great gouache painting, and it is often mistaken for traditional instead of digital work.

Composition check time:

2-value version.

2-value version.

Definitely there is an interplay between the police car and the weird crashed "robot", but I think the two value version makes a pretty compelling argument that the first read is for the car.  Look how all the lines "zig-zag" there way towards that point.

3-values

3-values

The robot gets a lot more love in the 3-value version, but it still points towards the car.  Look how few true "bright" spots there are in this image, which is one of Stalenhag's trademarks.  You definitely feel the gloom in this painting.

4-values

4-values

The 4-value version is actually the least compositionally striking for me, and I'd guess that he uses a 3-value system when he's laying out his paintings.  His value ranges are so small that by the time you get to 4, you have almost just a grey-scale version of the image.

Let's take a closer look at the police car now:

The subject.

The subject.

The interesting thing about Simon's work for me is that he keeps his tight detail very minor, even in the focus area.  Interest in generated with shape, value and colour.  What looks near-photo real turns out to be just a couple of strokes.  The edges are pretty universally hard, but he's using rough brushes to add that falloff, almost like how a comic book inker uses cross-hatching to simulate greys.  The car silhouette is very clear, but doesn't look like the lasso tool was used.  Check out how hard that shadow is underneath too!

Now let's check out the crashed robot.

The "payoff" of the image.

The "payoff" of the image.

Look at how impressionist all the "details" are!  We completely buy the mechanical parts, but they are literally just a couple of dabs of grey paint.  Much less contrast here than on the police car, and the lighting is softer as well.  Still using hard brushes and textures to simulate gradients.  As with Jaime, he's making highlights that follow the form, and shadows that cut across it.  Look at the bottom of the hand, the legs and the bottom of the overpass for a great example of a warm bounce light up from that grass.  The light coming from the sky is cool and soft, but if you look at the side of the bot closest to the highway, there seems to be a warm and harder light coming from that direction.  I'm not sure it's motivated from any actual light source, but it does an excellent job of separating the form from the grey sky behind it.

The cut-lines on the form help sell the sense of scale in an effective and quiet way, as do the cables wrapped around it's legs.  

There are a couple of "hits" of yellow in the mechanical bits that also work to sell scale, form and to give a bit more visual interest.

The other players.

The other players.

I love this part of the painting.  It's so gestural, but it completely works.  Still just hard brushes, but with MUCH less contrast, except for the tiny hits of the headlights and taillights.  Look at how he has eliminated the detail from the license plates, and not put any details in that would draw your eye.    Lighting on these guys is strictly ambient soft light from the sky, and the headlights aren't casting anything onto the ground.    The texture on the highway goes across the painting and decreases as it goes away from the viewer, to increase the sense of depth.

Under the bridge.

Under the bridge.

I love how he treats concrete.  Just look at how wobbly those cut-lines are.  The one "U" turn of the highlight texture is awesome.  Again, bounce light on the bottom, and soft light from the top on the railings.

'dat Greenery

'dat Greenery

If this were a traditional painting, he'd be using a fan brush for 99% of the vegetation.  Doesn't look like any "leaf" brushes at all, just scumbling shapes that get less textured as they recede into the distance.  Check out the grass treatment!  No details in the shadow areas.  Genius.

 

Ok, what have we learned that we can apply:

  • No soft brushes here.  Texture is used to simulate gradients and smoother transitions.
  • All opaque paint.  He's not using any transfer setting on his brush strokes.
  • Texture is used to turn forms and add depth, not for it's own sake.  Very little used in the shadow areas.
  • Don't be afraid to create a "made up" light if it helps your forms turn.
  • Background lights are used for hits, but do not really affect the environment - keep it simple!
  • Control your level of detail and decrease it as things recede into the distance.

Did I miss anything key that you can see?  Thanks for staying with me on this, please share if you found it interesting!