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Behind the Scenes: William D. Higginson’s Methodical Artistic Process

It takes a healthy level of determination to accomplish a great many things in life, such as cultivating a positive relationship with yourself, achieving optimal physical fitness, continually expanding your knowledge base, and – indeed – limiting yourself to just one cookie (even though your commitment to carpe diem suggests you should do otherwise). Upon interviewing William D. Higginson earlier this year, we gained a firm understanding of the “ridiculous determination” that helps him to manifest deeply meaningful works of art, however, N O T H I N G could have prepared us for the brilliant madness that we are sharing with our readers today. He has essentially laid bare the inner workings of his creative mind, which will surely astound and amaze anyone who takes the time to follow along.

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“Metamorphosis”, 2016 (Left) and “The Overflow”, 2019 (Right)

Yes. Reading the blueprint that William D. Higginson has fastidiously detailed below will take a few minutes – and we understand how busy everyone is – but any artist or lover of all things creative will be richly rewarded. The Australian painter’s process is truly that remarkable….but why? Perhaps you’re interested in taking your art practice to the next level. Or you want to figure out how to revamp your entire approach so that each step in the manifestation of your idea will always lead to greatness. There are surely many creatives out there who are longing to get so much more out of their practice but don’t quite know how to make that happen. The secret sauce that William has cooked up in his studio consistently yields highly polished and thought-provoking works of art, so perhaps once you reach the end of this article, a few new-to-you ah-ha sparks will clearly illuminate your own personal creative journey.

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Some of the “In Progress” Oil Paintings In William’s Studio

A Few Words From William D. Higginson

On a daily basis, all of my decisions, passions, dreams, and inspirations are connected to art. “Check” is a perfect example of the deep level of commitment that I have to my craft since it’s the largest (60 x 100 inches) work of art I’ve ever created and among my most complex undertakings.

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Oh Jeepers That’s a H U G E Canvas! “Check” Was Painted On This 60 x 100 Inch Surface.

Initially, my clients reviewed my portfolio and identified some of the thematic content that they were most interested in, which provided me with a solid creative springboard. Based on that insight, I was able to brainstorm several interesting new ideas for them, which I developed into the three separate painting concepts. My creative process ultimately yielded my completed work of art, entitled “Check”, which includes key compositional elements that resonated the most with my clients. I am so pleased to share my behind-the-scenes insight below – thanks for reading!

An echoing theme in my work is a clock inching closer to doomsday, with an additional optimistic minute to temper the impending doom. 

Painting Concept #1

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Recurring Characters: “The Wanderer” and “Peregrine Man”.

Artists rely heavily on the subconscious mind. The many things that we’ve been exposed to in our lives inevitably shape our work in some way, shape, or form. There are a few recurring ideas from my previous paintings that really resonated with my client, including my wanderers, which are a hat-tip to my childhood hero, Salvador Dali.

My wanderers reflect various aspects of my artistic history but they’re also emblematic of the human race constantly learning, growing, and seeking answers. I typically render them in single file through each artwork like obedient little creatures. Peregrine man is another aspect of my ouvre that surfaces time and time again. He has solutions but must first face many obstacles along his journey.

The feet of my wanderers are always composed of tree roots, which is an acknowledgement of the roots within our lives. Occasionally, however, that’s not beneficial – particularly if we latch onto specific thought patterns or lifestyles – since it can often be very difficult to move on from that position. That’s why I depict my wanderers moving, and therefore evolving.

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While visiting Hawaii, I photographed these remarkable tree roots, which I decided would be the perfect element to integrate into my painting. This sketching exercise was my attempt at determining if I could revamp the appearance of my wanderers’ feet by incorporating a more complex tree root structure.

I grew up playing chess with my older brother who was a chess champion. I could never win but I loved the challenge, and that pretty much sums up my perspective of everyday life.

William-D-Higginson-Sketch-Brainstorming-Process
Artwork Ambiance Partially Inspired By Jim Henson’s Junk Lady From The 1986 Fantasy Film “Labyrinth”.

While developing my image on paper, the 1986 fantasy film “Labyrinth” popped into my mind. I realized that I wanted my painting to emulate the feeling of Jim Henson’s movie – dark, dreamy, contemplative and fun. In particular, I envisioned the Junk Lady who was used as a pawn by Jareth to throw Sarah off track while she was pursuing her quest. It is emblematic of the junk in our minds, lives, and world that throws us off track. I think that trying to staying focused so we don’t deviate from our path is a universally relatable theme.

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I decided to hammer home the idea of my wanderers being like an infinite parade walking the desert, while peregrine man is overwhelmed by the endlessness of it all. This sketch shows how I’m playing around with different scales and perspectives. While I’m waiting for the right feeling to hit me over the head, I am constantly thinking and dreaming of other possible ideas that may come into play. 

As I was working on my tree root sketch, the idea of integrating marbles came out of nowhere. I thought about my childhood experience trading marbles in the school yard with my classmates. Playing the game actually taught me how to let go of things that I was attached to without having a tantrum. I decided that adding marbles to my artistic concept would represent one of the most admirable aspects of human nature – good will. If only the world was more like that.

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At this stage in the drawing, I am still modifying my composition and the idea of marble sharing. I am interested in conveying peregrine man’s contemplative mood – as well as the fact that he’s noticeably tired – while the endless parade of wanderers notice his marble. I like the fact that the second wanderer takes note of what he’s clutching. How will it be possible for peregrine man to share what he has with everyone when he only has so much to give?

When you’ve put in as many hours as I have into the design of the piece, having one item slightly out of place can significantly compromise the composition. That’s why I prefer working methodically.

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I rendered some of the wanderers’ pear bodies with bite marks, which represents the war wounds we experience in our lives. Introducing seagulls picking away at the exposed bites in the pears gave me a bit of a chuckle since it’s reminiscent of how people tend to attack our vulnerabilities. I like to deal with problems and solutions, so the idea of covering the pear bites with glass casing enters my mind. That’s my artistic spin on turning our weaknesses into strengths.

Painting Concept #2

I grew up playing chess with my older brother who was a chess champion. I could never win but I loved the challenge, and that pretty much sums up my perspective of everyday life. That’s why so many of my paintings include a chessboard. However, after so many years of trying to win a game, what happens when you finally do? What’s next? Do you just play another game or move on? Do you wonder if you actually even won? My second painting concept focuses on what happens when we reach a goal without knowing what our next step will be.

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Alaskan Landscape Photo (Left) and Reversed Image With Sketched Elements Added On Top (Right).

I inverted this photo, printed it out, and then created a rough sketch of painting concept #1 directly onto the image to see if it could be a good fit. I ultimately decided against using it since my wanderers need to originate from the turn in the distant valley. If I used this image, they’d end up walking on the side of the mountain ridge. That would add too much weight to one side of the painting, which would throw off the balance.

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As I delved deeper into this concept, I stopped creating small sketches in favor of working on more developed drawings. Here, you can see how my previous Alaska-themed concept really didn’t pan out. Much like a squirrel being chased by a dog, I took a sharp right turn.

It’s hard to explain how an idea feels right…but it just does.

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I have often thought about how the more we develop our gaming skills, the more fun we can have. This concept clicks with me since I really do love the game of life. Here, you can see the long valley in front of peregrine man while he sits on the fallen king, a marble in his hands.

An echoing theme in my work is a clock inching closer to doomsday, with an additional optimistic minute to temper the impending doom. As a cancer survivor, I watch time very closely and appreciate absolutely every extra second that I can make the most out of life. Cancer makes the things that truly matter the most in this life seem so simple and so crystal clear. I wish more people could understand. We’d certainly have far fewer angry horn honkers on the road.

One of my major goals is to inspire the viewer to walk the valley of life and see what is around the next corner. I thought that bringing humour into this concept by including a swarm of rubber duckies floating down the river would be great. It looked cool and made me laugh, but in the end, I really couldn’t justify it. I feel that each and every surrealistic element needs to be purpose-driven

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On a daily basis, all of my decisions, passions, dreams, and inspirations are connected to art.

Painting Concept #3

I took a hard look at the questions I was asking myself in my previous sketches. One way or another, we still have to walk the maze whether the answers to our answers are right or wrong. Here, peregrine man is sitting on the edge of the maze, right on the edge of the V pointing to victory. Still, he ponders the clear cut path straight through the middle and wonders why no one else is walking the path. Should he enter the maze like everyone else or just walk straight through?

I’ve added the wanderers to remind us that no matter how easy the answer may seem or how clever we may be, we are all still a part of one big wheel. My lotus flower-headed wanderer references the ultimate gift of knowledge from experience. Without mud, there is no lotus. This character ultimately makes it out of the maze but is still wandering the desert. He has the knowledge, but not the courage to make the right decision. Consequently, he walks amid the world, unaware of his strength.

william-d-higginson-drawing-final-painting-concept

I decided that adding marbles to my artistic concept would represent one of the most admirable aspects of human nature – good will. If only the world was more like that.

FINAL CONCEPT

After looking at all three of my painting ideas, my clients wanted me to meld elements of concept one and two together. As you can see in this sketch, the marble, valley, chessboard, clock, peregrine man and the depth of the valley end up making the final cut. 

It’s hard to explain how an idea feels right…but it just does. Following basic principles of design is one thing, but it can be tricky to find the right balance once the pieces of the puzzle start filling the space. 

Model Making/Visual Inspiration

Now the concept and sketching stage is done, it’s time to move onto the real fun. Admittedly, I have struggled with conceptual drawing for years so. To mitigate my weaknesses, I use props and a lot of photography to get the shapes, perspective and lighting just right. This often takes days but this is just one of the many reasons why being an artist is so much fun.

This is a 12 foot diameter clock that I created with foamcore. By photographing my model, I’m able to establish the correct perspective and lighting.

As a cancer survivor, I watch time very closely and appreciate absolutely every extra second that I can make the most out of life. Cancer makes the things that truly matter the most in this life seem so simple and so crystal clear.

I build my pear skull creatures using wooden dowels, flexible wire, Styrofoam pears and plastic model skulls.

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Are You Beginning To Grasp The Extent To Which This Artist Will Realize His Creative Goals?

I have gone to great lengths to find the right shape, lighting, shortcuts and perspective to make my wanderers seem epic. At one point, I even created a life-sized pear creature to get a better photo reference, which was fun, but its enormous scale really didn’t work out in the end. I still haven’t achieved my true vision but it is something that I will keep working toward over the years.

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I used these two photographs to form the foundation of the sky in my painting. Clouds always play a large role in my work, partially because I love painting them and partially because some of the artists who I admire paint them so well. I photograph them every opportunity that I get because they morph into so many beautiful shapes in such short periods of time.

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Movie set prop stores – which make me feel like a kid at a candy store – are one of my favorite places to find unique subject matter for my paintings.

I have often thought about how the more we develop our gaming skills, the more fun we can have. This concept clicks with me since I really do love the game of life.

The Final Stretch

I’ve completed my modeling, so now it’s time to properly illuminate everything before photographing it. Each three-dimensional aspect of my composition has to be correctly lit based on the sketches I have already pieced together. That’s why I end up taking hundreds of photos at multiple angles. When I view them on a large screen laptop, I’m more easily able to tell which shots are the best. 

Once I identify the specific images that I want to use, I create a basic Photoshop collage to determine if the composition works. Once I land on the right one, I end up using that final Photoshop collage as my stencil, sketching it directly onto canvas with a pencil.

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When you’ve put in as many hours as I have into the design of the piece, having one item slightly out of place can significantly compromise the composition. Not many artists will admit to transferring their work, but I prefer working methodically.

Seeing the understructure of my idea allows me to once again make sure that the image is accurate and I am not missing any critical elements that will throw off the end result. 

William-D-Higginson-Under-Painting

Now, I start laying in some colors that will begin to ground the work, plus I add more refined details. I changed my original moose skull to a more playful deer skull. I like the fact that the moose is no longer the dominating element in the piece. Additionally, this change in my design enables the beholder to pay more attention to what is going on with peregrine man.  

William-D-Higginson-Oil-Painting-In-Progress

As I near the end of this piece, I feel good. It is indicative of my progression as an artist and my desire to really level up my career. I probably went weeks over budget, but I felt a duty to make my clients really happy, which is reflective of the treatment I give everyone who commissions me.

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Completed Painting: “Check”, Oil on Linen, 60″ x 100″, 2018.

And there you have it – my oil painting, “Check”, in 6,947 easy steps! I am pleased that this piece was purchased, but feel equally happy to share insight into how I manifested it with the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine community. Thank you for following along – it was a pleasure and an honor!

William D. Higginson Social Media Accounts

Website | Instagram | Facebook

About Author

Longtime eco-journalist, art wordsmith and creativity connoisseur. Anything that hovers in the right-brained spectrum or is born out of unbridled imagination elevates my spirit. I probably revere mother nature's ever-changing shazaamy brush strokes more than the average humanoid. Technicolor art supplies make me weak in the knees, as do wet-nosed luvvies.

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