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Pillars of Affliction (Color)

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Color work is all wrapped up for Pillars of Affliction. First I'll go over the inspiration and specific symbolism for this one, then talk a little about the actual art process for it. (You can also read more about the original black-and-white ink drawing here.)

The Concept for Pillars of Affliction

Pain – including physical and mental/emotional pain – can be a profound catalyst for personal growth. In fact, the worst experiences we suffer through in life provide the greatest opportunities to find purpose and fulfillment. The irony of it to me is that in order to discover meaning in these experiences, we must actually embrace and live with our pain without deflecting or trying to escape from it.

This is the inspiration behind Pillars of Affliction.

I've mentioned in past posts that I'm going through a lot with my mouth – multiple jaw surgeries, gum and bone grafts, orthodontics, and eventually implants – all with the goal of trying to save most of my teeth and prevent serious and irreparable damage to my jaw joints, which have begun to deteriorate. My physical appearance has also been affected by the process in ways that have been difficult for me.

The situation hit me like a ton of bricks last summer when I realized how bad the physical circumstances had become and how many tens of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket it was going to cost to embark on the path toward an uncertain outcome. Acknowledging that other people experience much worse in the first half of their lives, it has nonetheless been the most challenging circumstance I've been through.

Many things helped me navigate out of that initial struggle, particularly mindfulness meditation and connecting with a great therapist (who has since become a trusted friend and confidant). But on a deeper philosophical level, the key for me was learning to fully embrace pain. Owning our mistakes, our illnesses, our losses, and being present with them can actually illuminate the things that are most important to us in life and provide the fuel needed to create rapid positive change in ourselves and our circumstances.

A famous Ernest Hemingway quote summarizes it in dramatic fashion: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills."

So it's a good thing to be broken from time to time.

More helpful to me in my own tribulations was a Nietzsche quote I learned by way of Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning: "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how."

Mercifully, I was able to find purpose for my life in the places where I was broken, and in doing so, emerge stronger than before.

I made the pencil drawing for this one in the weeks before my first jaw surgery, about nine months after the initial impact of the situation. Those nine months were filled with reading, learning, and pushing myself to evolve while a deep, existential restlessness provoked dramatic shifts in everything from my diet and daily habits to my spiritual beliefs.

During the creation of this image, I had multiple dentist appointments each week and was spending hours at a time with my mouth propped open while various hands with metal instruments cut, pulled, jabbed, stitched, and otherwise carved up my mouth.

There was a fair deal of of acute physical pain in those appointments flanked by daily discomfort with speaking, eating, and breathing, and the faces in the lower portion of the art reflect the physical pain of that period of my life.

The main figure is physically bound to the tortured faces but rises above them with a powerful stance, reflecting my commitment to push myself to do difficult things each day and tackle hardship as close to head-on as possible. Rather than feebly hope for a positive outcome with that first surgery, as a younger me surely would have, I trusted myself to live with and adapt to any ill outcome and even find new meaning from it.

Other details: in the figure's left hand, atop the pillar of tortured faces, is a staff with a skull on it – a symbol of how clearly my own mortality has come into focus for me through this process, and how necessary and instructive it has been to grasp and hold onto it. In the other hand, a jar with an alien creature. This represents a fear of the unknown for me, bottled and held firmly in hand where its unable to inflict harm. Lastly, the main figure's mouth is obscured, a reflection of the uncertain outcome of the years-long process I'm moving through.

All this, of course, is expressed through my usual visual mash-up of influences from comic books, HR Giger, metal music, industrial music, and general sci-fi, fantasy, and horror worlds.

The Process for Pillars of Affliction

The process for the color work on Pillars of Affliction was very much in line with the approach I used on the two preceding pieces, Unleashing the Cataclysm and Gaia.

All work was done in Photoshop. I first went through and did color separations using an aliased lasso tool. Once I had the flats laid out ("flats" meaning the colors before any highlights or shadows are added, just the "flat" colors), I then worked out the desired color palette.

Here's a look at the full flats.

The general tone of this drawing felt darker to me than Unleashing the Cataclysm or Gaia, and I knew I wanted to approach the color palette in a different way. For inspiration, I turned to the work of death metal cover artist Dan Seagrave.

I've always felt compelled to create my own original imagery and approach things in a way that makes sense to me without borrowing too heavily from any specific source. That said, in this case, I admit to overtly stealing the color palette from one of Seagrave's paintings.

I make no apologies for it, as color has been a major obstacle for me over the past couple years on my journey to dial in my own specific, recognizable art style. Borrowing heavily from an existing piece of art in this case felt necessary to get me past a major sticking point.

Once I had tweaked the flats to find a balance in the color palette that felt right to me, I then tackled the process of adding highlights and shadows one section at a time. Many of the objects and figures were first given a gradient, after which I lassoed out areas for shadows and edge highlights and used the Adjustments > Hue/Saturation tool in Photoshop to darken or lighten them.

Final touches included changing the line art from solid black to a deep purple color and highlighting it in places to show lighting sources or, in the case of the background, atmospheric perspective. I also used an airbrush tool to add glows around the moons and the various yellow spots on the figures and objects, such as their eyes.

That's about it it for this one. I'll have a fresh post soon about the line art for a new drawing I'm currently calling Invocation of the Seraph. (Update: I ended up only sharing the finished art, you can see and read about that one here.)

Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this, share it with a like-minded friend or family member. Cheers!


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