As those fortunate enough to cross his path know, Zach Hillegas (a.k.a. Zachariah Hill) has been drawing shade portraits from his corner desk in Mr. Greenhow’s store for several months now. As of this week, he is officially an Apprentice Artist. But it turns out he has a darker side…
In advance of the much-anticipated Haunting on DoG Street later this month, Zach has been preparing some special pieces inspired by his explorations into historic subjects and techniques. You’ll be able to purchase the originals at our public auction that weekend.
Zach’s pen-and-ink drawings are intricate portrayals of several subjects from the dark recesses of a disturbed mind. No, no, not Zach. He borrowed from earlier artists. You’ll have to ask him about the state of his own mind, but he seems friendly enough.
So where exactly did he look?
“My first thought was medical journals, because those are always terrifying,” he said. But he quickly decided that the graphic images, showing procedures such as how to remove the infected part of a person’s tongue, were a bit too gruesome.
But he found some fun subjects to tackle, including skeletons, the headless horseman, and Blackbeard.
Two of Zach’s pieces are an homage to memento mori, a form of Christian mourning art with ancient roots that grew more common in the Medieval period through the colonial period. It typically involved skulls and skeletons, such as those found on tombstones, as well as painting and other art forms.
Memento mori, Latin for “remember that you will die,” provided a useful reminder of our own mortality, and the need to lead a virtuous life. As morbid as that might sound, representations of memento mori could be rather mundane, with the skull representing death right alongside hourglasses, flowers, or fruit.
“Death was never depicted as a creepy individual,” says Zach. “He was just a plain skeleton that had a scythe, sometimes a shovel. And he always seems to have perfect deportment, tall and regal, which I thought was very cool.”
Zach labored for some 19 hours on his most detailed creation (above), a moonlit scene featuring a sea witch enticing (pulling?) a sailor overboard. He was inspired by artistic representations of sirens, particularly one 18th century oil painting he found.
For his pen-and-ink version, Zach used a cross-hatching technique. After sketching the scene in pencil, he went over it in pen, then erased all the pencil marks. That was just the beginning, because this technique requires the artist to go over the drawing repeatedly, each time making straight lines in a single direction.
Zach shared pictures of each layer, which give you an idea of the artistry involved in this deceptively complex picture. “I usually end up going diagonally first, like a forward slash.”
On the second pass, Zach added lines perpendicular to the first set. “As you can tell,” says Zach, “it already gives the picture so much more depth.”
The third set of lines was vertical—darkening the darks, making the light areas stand out more—adding contrast to the image. “You have to have a gentle touch,” he explained, “because if you have any variation, you end up with varying thicknesses.”
He inked the fourth layer using only horizontal lines. “With each layer,” said Zach, “I’m adding a little less, allowing for more of a rounding effect.” See the way the boat has assumed a curved shape despite all the straight lines.
In the fifth and final layer, made in various directions, the spacing of additional ink created lighter and darker areas. Each layer of ink added detail, and depth, and contrast, bringing the image to life.
At least five pieces are scheduled to be included in the public auction at Market Square on Saturday, Oct. 29 at 1 p.m.
You can see our new Apprentice Artist hard at work if you visit Greenhow Store Thursday through Monday. And don’t forget to make an appointment to have your own 5-by-7-inch shade portrait drawn.
It’ll make you lose your head.
Stop rolling your eyes, Blackbeard! I couldn’t help it!