Contemplating Nighthawks - A Tribute to Studio Ghibli and Edward Hopper

Working on a Ghibli-Tribute is never easy for me as I use it as a way to raise the bar on what I have learned - combined with higher expectations from myself. The last painting from Totoro is a while ago and with that I stuck with the concept of "One Painting per Movie", which is great because it lets me focus on all the best things from that source of inspiration.

However, I also wanted to do a Parade piece for a long time and never knew exactly how to do it by staying true to my voice, and last year I got this request from a customer who was asking if I'd have a Nighthawks piece based on Ghibli. That's what I love about my job - I don't do commissions anymore but I get a lot of feedback on conventions - and also many ideas for possible new paintings!

Since we live in times where everything is already done before, I tried my luck and found that there is just a low-effort piece with Totoro in the Nighthawks painting by Hopper, that motivated me to dive deeper and see if I can come up with something better in terms of Ghibli-Tribute and transformative to the original composition as a double-homage.

Below is the original source:

One important thing to note; My work starts with observing the original painting obsessively from a compositional point-of-view, not in terms of meaning, thats not my job. However, just cornering the meaning in this piece, as the "desolation" aspect was Hoppers main intention that I can't use in my version and I wanted to go into the opposite direction and bring life into this piece. This is what I call a "stage 1" transformation. More to follow.

There are many opportunities in this painting that screams for changes. In the following steps I want to show how my placement of the newly painted figures is grounded.

One of the first things I did was taking the opportunity to change many corners to rounded ones. There are only two in the original - and they are only there because of the building, otherwise Hopper wouldn't have painted them. For me this was helpful to push this more into the Japanese realm, especially in Ghibli background scenes there are rounded signs and simple patterns.

Another option was grouping of the figures. It was vital to me, that there is a natural looking line when looking at the general silhouette of characters from a distance.

While working against boringness, a great composition can be achieved by anchoring similarities or by repeating certain shapes by intention. In the case of this painting, I tried to use the rounded shapes of the coffee machines to play with the shapes and to help find fitting characters.

Another element of repetition and grouping is the pairing. I used the same shape from the coffee machine top to place additional visual pairs.

Another important composition technique is the Arabesque, however I use a different variation of the Arabesque since I combine it with the possible entrance and exit points of a painting. That is the reason I added the rounded walkway curve that was not there in the original, I used the arm of the Robot from Laputa to adjust the curve (Arabesque) towards the left along with its gazing direction. It is rather a hypothetical technique since no one starts to scan a piece this way, however it is grounded in patterns on how we read maps and read architectural plans. So it is rather a psychological component that our subconsciousness understands and targets parts in our brain that also are responsible for  OCD. 

And last but not least; the most important technique used for this composition are triangular enclosures. When painting more than a few figures it is important to have invisible enclosures that you can follow to lead the eyes and to enhance the viewing experience. Usually I use circular or elliptical enclosures so in that regards this painting was something new for me and I guess it worked.

This is of course only my personal interpretation of composition and how it helped to guide me through the process that took over 6 months from start (idea) to the finished painting. 

If you want to learn more about composition, I have two books up about that important matter on my Gumroad here, the first book is free btw ;)

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Oliver aka Fantasio is a creative blogger who likes to share his insights about art, marketing and social media. Follow Fantasio on twitter or facebook


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