Reflections on being a father, a son, and a brother. And some stuff about my favorite ninja turtles growing up.
Doing something a little different for Father’s Day this year (and yes, I know it’s super early). Maggie bought me an art supply kit last year and I’ve been dabbling in sketching, colored pencils, markers, and some painting. My favorite subjects of late? Ninja Turtles.
Yeah, I know.
A little background
Though I am a Father, am married, and have a job where I (sometimes) have to put on an air of professionalism, let’s be honest, I’m still a ’90s kid at heart (with a healthy dose of the ’80s mixed in).
With my recent dive back into comic book collecting (something I never really had the means to pursue in my youth) I have rediscovered a lost passion (and discovered more new books, stories, and characters than you can shake a stick at). One of my convention outings last year was to the Belton County Comic Con where Kevin Eastman would be making an appearance. For those not in the know, Eastman is co-creator (along with Peter Laird) of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was amazed at how down-to-earth and laid-back he was (despite being responsible for a media empire of comics, books, toys, tv shows, and movies that is unparalleled).
Anyway, fast forward a few months and I’m busy tracking down all of the first issues from the original Mirage Studios run of TMNT that Eastman and Laird created, looking for collected sets of the whole run, and even venturing into new territory by reading the current TMNT series published by IDW (highly recommend, by the way).
So naturally, when I sit down to draw now, turtles come to mind…
I kept thinking more and more about my favorite turtles and those that I connected with personality wise. With Father’s Day (and my dad’s birthday) approaching within a few months, I decided that I would make a multimedia project focused on the relationship between fathers and sons. I primarily wanted to feature Raphael and Leonardo (more on them later) with their father-figure (and–spoilers!–literal father in the current re-imagining), Splinter.
I’ll go into how it was made below, but want to talk about the turtles themselves, their unique personalities, the ones I identified with as a kid, and why I was completely wrong (and also completely right?) in the one I idolized the most.
The leader and the rebel
As I was sketching out my idea, thinking about how the personality of each turtle would be conveyed by their actions within a single image, I came to the realization that I am not my hero. Growing up, Raphael was always my favorite character. He was the wise-cracking, temperamental, rebellious brother who (in my child’s mind) always stole the spotlight (and rightfully so). In many ways, he was the Wolverine to the Turtle’s X-Men. Fearless, sometimes ruthless, capable, and independent.
So, in many ways, everything I was (and probably still am) not.
And then there was Leonardo. Not to rely entirely on comic book metaphors, but he’s the Cyclops to the Turtle’s X-Men. The leader, the loyal follower of his teacher, the one who has to make the tough decisions, and the one who has to protect his brothers (sometimes from outside forces, and sometimes from themselves).
I never much cared for him, despite realizing the importance of the role he played within their family. But, in many ways, he embodies a lot of the qualities I possess (made all the more clear now that I am a father).
So what’s my point? I think I identified with Raphael more growing up precisely because he was everything I wanted to be. He would rush into danger without a second thought. He would fight with everything he had for what he thought was right, and for the ones he was too proud to admit he loved and needed. He was never afraid of being wrong.
Because he was my brother.
And my personality was a perfect fit for Leonardo. Mind. Blown. Of course, you could also make arguments that I’m a lot like Donatello and my brother is a lot like Mikey (and that’s fair), but I think Raph and Leo really boil us down to our base elements (for better or worse).
So yeah, it’s been an interesting project. I started off thinking it would be more enlightening from a father/son perspective than a brother-to-brother relationship, but here we are.
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there, fathers-to-be, and fathers-that-were. Much love to you all.
How it was made
I think I’ve had this sketch kicking around since January or February (I kept telling myself, “Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of time.” Fast forward to the end of April when I finally got around to painting the background. I literally couldn’t work on anything else until I had that done, but it took me quite awhile to get over the fear of never having painted anything by myself and just do it.
With the background done I could move on to the turtles themselves. Not trusting my artistic abilities enough to freehand them in the proper scale and perspective, I posed up some of my figures and took some reference photos (with no Splinter figure, I had to make do with some help from the Xenomorph from Alien3 and the goat monster from Where the Wild Things Are).
The sketches came about fairly quickly after that point. Donatello was my first, and I had spent much too long on his details before realizing that I could take care of detail work in the inking step.
I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do the inking when I first started this project. In the past, I’ve just inked over my lighter blue pencils, but with these I opted to actual ink on a separate sheet to get a cleaner look. Not having a lightbox at first made that a bit of a task, as I had to resort to sun shining through the window. After the second inking session, though, I realized my forearms would benefit from a different approach. Luckily, Amazon has everything and I picked up a cool LED lightbox that worked great (and was only about $18!).
Now that I had my painted background and inked characters, I could really have some fun. Setting up some lights, I threw my camera on a tripod and shot some high-quality photos (assuming I’d get better resolution and sharper images than simply scanning them).
Once I had my digital files, it was on to Photoshop to stitch them all together and make any last-minute scaling/perspective tweaks. Using my small Wacom tablet, I went to work digitally painting my turtles.
In the end, I brightened up areas of the canvas and upped the saturation to match the characters rather than vice versa (though I did mute the colors of the turtles considerably from my first pass) in order to get a more cohesive piece. Then it was off to the printer, taking hues from Splinter’s clothing for the edges of the finished canvas prints (since I didn’t leave myself enough room for a fully edge-wrapped version).
Once they came in, the last step was to sign and date them! For an experiment in mixing traditional painting, hand drawing, photography, and digital painting, the project turned out to be a lot of fun and the piece came together quite well.