I’ve been a huge fan of Breaking Bad since I first laid eyes on it. One of the most intense and compelling pieces of fiction I have ever experienced. The final eight episodes are about to burn before us and I decided to mark the occasion with a graphic tribute to the series.I’ve made several doodles associated with the show over the past year or so. Skim to the bottom of the page to see a gallery. Most were done very stream of conscious with my left index finger on an iPhone and posted to Instagram before I gave myself a chance to tweak them to death. This year I upgraded to the latest iPad and started using a stylus and the results, to my eye at least, have been much more polished.
Although I don’t constrict myself to any subject matter in particular, I do find myself drawn to the characters and emotions found within Breaking Bad, especially the awesomely weathered face of Bryan Cranston, the show’s star. Cranston’s portrayal of Walter White and his tragic and epic transformation into crystal meth kingpin Heisenberg has been mesmerizing.
Breaking down my process
The remainder of this post will detail my artistic approach to the Breaking Bad artwork I’ve made. While I will focus on that there might be some spoilers about the show so if you haven’t watched it yet, STOP READING!!! I can happily boast that my pictures have inspired more than a few folks to give Breaking Bad a watch and I wouldn’t want anyone to get on that cinematic roller coaster knowing any of the plot points.
Back to my approach. As I mentioned earlier, I make all my digital paintings on an iPad. It has been the most liberating tool I’ve ever used. The power and portability are astounding.
My Breaking Bad fan art and almost every piece I make starts with a drawing in the app “Sketch Club”. I have several other drawing apps, but Sketch Club is my go to. The difference maker for me is the ability to rotate the canvas with a pinch. This makes the drawing process incredibly fluid and feels even more natural to me at this point than doodling on a piece of paper. Sketch Club also features multiple layers, a wide variety of brushes and the option to export drawings as a transparent PNG file. That’s key to making a montage like the feature image in this post.
I focus on the individual characters one at a time. This one started to come together when I made the shot of Walter White, looking off into the distance. I used a promo shot from the show as reference and tried to make his expression sad, but with a hint of optimism. Even though the show’s creator Vince Gilligan has stated many times that the whole premise for the show is the transformation of Mr. Chips to Scarface I still hold out hope that Heisenberg can redeem himself.
The key to the drawing style I’m using on this piece is a Seurat themed brush in Sketch Club. While it’s designed to make Pointillism, I found when enlarged it gave the effect of shards of Crystal Meth, a key element from Breaking Bad, and it instantly made my mind go oooooh! It also gave the effect of shattering and fragmenting which I thought really worked with some of the character’s archs. The process I employed to make the effect come alive started with making a black and white comic book sketch. I like to use the Sketchy brush in Sketch Club because it has a fluid feel, but also shades in and expands curves by design, requiring me to be much looser in my drawing approach. Next I paint in skin tone and some other shading in key areas to add a bit of realism to the mix. I then add a layer below the initial drawing and start painting with the Seurat brush. I mostly dab quickly, changing the brush size and color frequently.
The composition for the final piece is brought together with Photoforge 2. This is one of the first photo editing apps I got for my iPhone and has a lot of editing control. It’s interface is fairly clunky to use, but I persevere with it because of two reasons; it supports high resolution canvases (more than twice the size of Sketch Club) and has layers. The transparent PNG files from Sketch Club are imported, positioned, scaled and stacked until I’m happy. The first sketch I made for this piece, and the first where I got the Seurat brush, crystal shattering effect to work, is the one of DEA agent Hank Schrader, played by Dean Norris, one of my favorite characters on Breaking Bad. It was from the season 5 episode where he talks about how his life is about chasing monsters. I loved the rigid body positioning and sombre expression and thought about how he was barely keeping it together. That led me to making the fragmented style that informed the rest of the composition.The important elements for me where getting the three central characters of Walter White, Jesse Pinkman and Hank Schrader to work. Originally I had them all in seated poses in a pyramid theme, but decided that didn’t work. I did like the idea of keeping Aaron Paul’s Jesse at the top of the pyramid though so continued to explore that theme until I found the poses and orientations that work best. After that I set to populating the image with other elements from Breaking Bad.
I didn’t intend to tell the whole story or show every character, but I did want to make a composition that reflected the feel of the show and depicted the situations and emotions in a way that fans of Breaking Bad would appreciate. I do hope that you will enjoy the work by itself, but I did put a lot of thought into who goes where and why so I will now offer a brief snapshot of my thought process.
Walter is looking a different direction from everyone else to show how alone he has become and how his agenda differs from everyone else in the Breaking Bad world. In front of him are his wife Skyler and son Walter Jr. They are the whole reason this mild mannered chemistry teacher resorted to cooking crystal meth; to support his family. RJ Mitte’s “Flinn” looks forward and he holds himself tall, reflecting the unwavering support for his father. Anna Gunn’s Skylar has a hand on her hip. A subtle reference to her not so subtle defiance and disapproval of Walter’s actions. She also looks forward because at the end of the day I do believe she still loves Walt and wants to keep the family together.
Hank, as previously mentioned, is in his chasing monsters pose. Dean Norris’s Agent Schrader is the good guy in this show, by any moral thinker’s compass. He carries the weight of that burden. Behind him, his wife Marie, played by Betsy Brandt. Marie is literally behind Hank in every way. She is also place below the mouth of Heisenberg seen floating ominously, constructed entirely of crystal, in the background. This references how Walter used Marie as a mouthpiece to cover up for one of his many lies.
Next up is Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman. His arch has been the opposite of Walter. Breaking Bad has seen Jesse go from low level drug dealer and thug to a man torn apart by the repercussions of his actions and loss, but desperately wants things to be better. I struggled quite a bit to get this one right. Fortunately a new promo shot of the actor was released that helped me out. Pinkman is standing tall and looking intense, but also haggard and crumpled, layered and weathered beyond his years.
The remainder of the piece is populated with other characters from the Breaking Bad world. Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman. A shyster lawyer also looking to make a deal and go for a ride, but possessing the foresight to know when it’s time to put on the brakes and get out if only Heisenberg would listen. Season 5 characters Lydia and Todd, whose stories aren’t quite yet clear, but their actions have stirred the plot. Finally, if you look real close, you’ll see many of the ghosts of Breaking Bad floating throughout the scene. Gone but not forgotten and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of their memories pop back up in the final 8 episodes as this show rarely leaves a stone unturned.
Wrapping it Up
I know this has gotten long winded, but for those of you still reading I’ll offer a couple more technical notes on my artistic process. After the sketches are placed in Photoforge I export a high resolution JPEG and add some embellishment and texture with the apps PaintFX and Repix. Both are very powerful tools that add just the right amount of awesome sauce into the recipe to make everything visually yummy.
Many of my Breaking Bad designs can be purchased as prints, t-shirts, stickers and other apparel on redbubble.com
I hope you enjoy this image half as much as I enjoy Breaking Bad.