April 10, 2010

Frank Frazetta (Part 2)

Frazetta has a finely tuned sense of contrast, better than most painters, and it's easy to see why. It came from years of working in black and white doing comics. But going from pen and ink to oil paint has differences. With ink you're starting with white paper and adding the darks, and usually working from the foreground to the background. With oil and acrylic paint, you usually do the opposite, starting with the background and working to the foreground. For something like a black horse, ex. The Moonmaid above, you might start with a dark base and then add the lighter shades and highlights to define the muscles.

The Outlaw of Torn at right is an awesome display of how Frazetta can create a design where everything seems in motion and all elements are at odd angles, but balance out with each other wonderfully. Notice how the horse leans to your left and the angles and lines of its legs and neck and the knight's shield are all tilted one way. And then tilted the other way are the horse's foreleg, the sword and the clouds to counterbalance. He also has made great use of a fiery red cape in more than a few paintings to help with the composition and contrast and it directs your attention to the character.

When it comes to needing valiant warriors on beefy horses, or sexy sorceresses accompanied by ferocious animals, Frazetta's your man. There are gorgeous snarling tigers and lions, black panthers, wolves, bears, gorillas, snakes, dinosaurs and monsters of all kinds. Anything with big teeth is a candidate for a Frazetta pet... or nightmare.

One of his most beautiful designs is The Silver Warrior. This big dude is coming over the crest of a snow peak riding in a crazy, stylized ski-chariot which is being pulled by a team of polar bears. How cool is that? This may be another example of Frazetta creating an image for a story which turns out to be more intriguing than the story it was created for. Such paintings have actually inspired rewrites and new stories centered around the characters Frank imagined.

The warrior is central to Frazetta's world and the swords they carry have two edges. A warrior may be a hero who protects maidens from harm, or he may be a viscious villain who will slice you to bits for breathing his air.

That leads us to one of Frazetta's most evil, badass warriors of all time, The Death Dealer, who became famous after appearing on Molly Hatchet album covers in the 70's and in countless magazines and posters afterward. The Death Dealer is a seriously nasty-looking character who has ridden out of the burning, smoke-filled landscape, or what's left of it, and has stopped momentarily to gaze at you with glowing red eyes. He has noticed that you are still breathing... and he can't have that. His panting horse is actually snorting smoke. The horned helmet and that hooked axe, which would surely make a clean cut through your neck, are enough to make you unknowingly relieve yourself before bolting in the opposite direction. The way in which Frazetta painted the detailed metalwork on this medieval grim reaper is absolutely exquisite. A dent in the shield is perfectly placed.

But then when you look at the paint strokes on the hind side and legs of the horse, they are terrifically loose and seem as though they were hurled onto the horse with the skill of a marksman. It's amazing how much intensity he can put into a faceless figure just sitting on a horse. Another stroke of brilliance is the edges of the Dealer himself. Hair and cape blend into the background paint and help to give him the sinister spookiness he deserves. The rocky foreground looks practically unfinished. This is a choice... knowing when NOT to add detail... knowing when enough is enough. Vultures are following him for a meal. Like the Outlaw of Torn and The Silver Warrior, this is another pure masterpiece and could be his most famous image... or should I say infamous? Later paintings of The Death Dealer have him actually swinging that bloody battle axe.

For more on Frazetta and posts featuring Conan the Barbarian, click on these links:
Frazetta Part 1
Frazetta Part 3
Frazetta Part 4
Frazetta Part 5
Frazetta Part 6

Click on the header at the top of the page (A Burning Designer) to see the most recent posts by Mark Astrella

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