Bullet in the Brain - Tobias Wolff

I was feeling a little stuck in a rut so I enlisted the talents of a good friend and former instructor Jeffrey Smith. He acted as Art Director on this and sent me on a little tour of short stories about the extraordinary within the mundane. This story, written by Tobias Wolff, is called Bullet in the Brain. You can read the story here. Synoptically speaking, its about an older cantankerous book critic standing in a line at the bank. Bank robbers come in, the book critic mouths off to them and he receives a bullet in the brain. The real bulk of story actually occurs in the microsecond that the bullet hits the brain and travels through his head. It delivers a shock of memory as his life passes before his eyes. I’ve found myself wondering from time to time if a person’s life does indeed, “flash before their eyes” if they are killed with no warning.

For the image, I set the scene in a bank. I cropped Anders’ head so it was more of a framing device. Because I chose to use the moment of action as the image, I felt like if the viewer’s eye was panned out too far to see the gun’s muzzle flash , Anders’ bodily reaction to the gunshot, and the masked robber it would be a little heavy handed. (At least the way I kept drawing it.) For color, I kept the "present" in monochrome, as I feel that Anders had lost his zest for the life he was living. It is telling of his nature that he doesn’t think of classic, pivotal moments that one might remember in their last moments. Anders keeps this interaction with his childhood peers deep in his psyche. He feels the heat, smells the air, and sees the yellow summer grass on the baseball field. So, instead of having this meaty, bloody spray shooting out of this gentleman’s head,(as I initially drew) I kept working until I saw something a bit more visually interesting and ethereal. I like the play between the figures in color and the cropped out figure in B&W. For myself, memories are often triggered by something I see right in front of me, so I wanted a little play between the “then” and the “now.”

 I started with a simple line drawing with a wash. I used a #6 sable round just to get my major shapes in order without having to fuss later on.



 From here, I just started dropping in tone and color. Its kind of an intuitive process when it comes to color choice. There are certain colors that don’t make natural sense to go a certain place but I’ll put them there just because I like how it reacts with the color next to it. I like this stage. Its like a patchwork at this point and I can decide what to leave out and what to push a little further. Now is when I reassess my initial thoughts on where I want to lead the eye, value and which colors to bring out more.



I add a little more focus on the “memory” part of the image and call it done.  Last image is the final image.