Description/review: Glenn Umstead is the man on the right, an African-American player who the book The Chess Artist centers around and the title refers to. J.C. Hallman, on the left, is the author and the man who commissioned me to do this piece. It’s based on a photograph taken after a blindfold match held in a museum in the beginning of the book, which is about 10 years ago today.
Chris contacted me around the time I was beginning to want to learn new techniques for work, and so for this drawing (and also for the nature of the commission: giftart for Glenn) I wanted to do something special and different from past work, but I didn’t know what and didn’t find the solution until September, when Max was introduced at school, at which point I immediately knew I wanted to render the environment in 3d and draw the men in Photoshop like usual.
During the summer, I picked up the book and began reading to know something about who I was drawing. The Chess Artist is the kind of book that contains a lot of descriptions, facts, different scenes and places and observations, and so needs digestion time. I read it one chapter at a time throughout the past 5 months, finishing it a few weeks ago. Until then I had only been playing with rendering the scene in 3dMax – thanks to the guys at 3dMax forum for helping me out . I love drawing people when I understand then mind of the person I’m drawing and so wanted to wait for this point. I also had the pleasure of playing games with both guys on ICC, which contributed nicely to this understanding since chess says so many things about a player, reflecting the traits of a person.
The scene is inspired by the perspective on chess the book has: a closed, dark, slightly mad world. Themes such as obsession and sacrifice run as undercurrents and discussions of whether the game is ultimately good or bad for people leave open ended. What I especially enjoyed about the book is Chris’ twisted sense of humour influencing all the narrative (the quote “I was not having chess dreams; I was having chess nightmares” springs to mind).
What I liked best were the tournament descriptions later in the book, with people like Nakamura, John Fedorowicz, Joel Benjamin, Nick DeFirmian, Bu Xiangzhi, Emory Tate, who are still on the chess scene today. Chess psychology is examined, and for me, having grown up with chess, hearing an outsider to chess describe this world is fascinating. Chess culture is instantly recognizable for what it is and apparently universal since what happens in New York ten years ago might as well have happened at the tournament I went to here in Denmark one year ago. Still, I wasn’t consciously aware of things like these and other stuff, like how bizarre chess language has to sound to a nonchessplayer (just to pick an obvious one).
A final thing I loved were the historical facts on chess. A pretty comprehensive background story for the game is provided, about the development of it, the pieces, origin etc. Overall: a committal read but one that is very rewarding (for chess lovers) and had me putting down the book countless times from laughing so hard.
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