The Process
Ever wonder what goes into the making of one of my pieces of art?
Or what my super-secret techniques are?
No? Well, I'm showing you anyway.

Naked Girls ROCK: Destroyer

Once a year, the original Naked Girls Reading group in Chicago have a rock-n-roll-themed NGR event, called Naked Girls ROCK, in which the girls read rockstar autobiographies, song lyrics, and other literature based on or about rock music. The 2011 Naked Girls Rock event took place in March. In January of that year, I received a text message from the producer of NGR:

Franky Vivid: Heads up for March, girls in KISS makeup
Turns out we're both KISS fans. Who knew?
A couple days later, the lightbulb went on, and although Franky hadn't actually asked me to do a poster image for this event, I sent him a text:

Me: Idea for the NG Rock poster, unless you already have something else in the works: cover of Destroyer, with naked girls.
Franky Vivid: Do it
Me: F*ck yeah.
So, here's some backstory: I've been a KISS fan ever since I stole my older sister's Destroyer and Rock 'n' Roll Over LPs when I was four years old (which would be around 1978). I would play them on my little toy record player in my room while I drew pictures of Gene Simmons breathing fire and Ace Frehley shooting laser beams. Throughout all the changes in my musical tastes, Destroyer remains my favorite album of all time. I've bought it at least five times, I know it backwards and forwards, and by god, that cover art by Ken Kelly is burned into my brain forever. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into this project!

My plan was to actually paint, and re-create as closely as possible, the Destroyer cover, but replacing the boys with likenesses of Greta Layne (as Paul), Mimi First (as Peter), Dominique Trixx (as Ace), and Michelle L'amour (as Gene). Naked. I also had the idea that instead of a rocky mountain, the girls would be standing atop a pile of books. Genius, right?!

Even though I know the cover art so well, I wanted to find out as much about it as I could. After doing a little Googling, I found a couple videos about Kelly's creation process and the interesting history of the Destroyer art. As it turns out, there was an first, unused version, now known as the "brown" cover, before the "blue" cover we all know:

I had seen the rough sketch of "brown" in the KISSTORY book years ago, but never realized there was a finished version. It's actually a better painting I think! I also found this longer video, with an audio interview with Kelly, discussing the process more in-depth:

Armed with a little inside knowledge, I dove head-first into it, and instantly had to confront a few obstacles. Unfortunately, it wasn't feasible to paint the cover at the original size that Kelly did it, which was probably around 36"x36" (I've seen Kelly's actual, original Love Gun cover painting in person, and it was about that size). I had to paint it at a 1:1 scale, equal to the printed LP cover, so that I could scan and reproduce it. This would come back to bite me in the butt later, as you'll see. Also, the NGR posters are typically printed at 11"x17", so I'd be adding space to the top and bottom of the image. Finally, the original was done in oil, and I would be using gouache, so I knew it'd be an extra challenge to mimic the look of the original.

The first step was sketching it all out. I actually traced the figures over a printout of the Destroyer art to get the poses accurate.

Since the girls are obviously not as big and beefy as those superhero versions of KISS (face it, none of those guys were ever that ripped), the spacing between them came out wrong. For the next pass, I had to adjust their positions so that their arms overlapped similar to the figures in the original, making the silhouette of the four figures instantly recognizeable.

I then transferred the line drawing onto heavy Arches illustration board.

The background came first. I paid very close attention to details. I'd considered doing the mountain of books in all different colors, but decided to copy the drab, dark magenta-ish and black of the original to retain the overall vibe.

Starting with Michelle/Gene, I worked figure-by-figure, from right to left. Those iconic demon boots were a process in themselves to figure out how to paint in water-based gouache.

Ace's boots were no picnic either. I was looking forward to Peter's and Paul's, because I knew they'd be a piece of cake in comparison! Notice that I did change the boots (except for Mimi/Peter's) to thigh-highs (especially on Greta/Paul) to make them a little more feminine and sexy. I also made Greta's and Mimi's heels a little more "stiletto", and pointed Greta's raised foot down instead of up, for the same reason. I sent the above image to Franky as a teaser.

Once everything was finished, I sent a proof similar to the image above to Franky. Although he liked it, he did have a few changes and suggestions for me. First, he wasn't entirely happy with the girls' faces. I agreed, because I really wasn't either; the size limitations had been a real problem for me, with each face being painted the size of a quarter. Also, Franky asked for me to actually add clothes to the naked girls (!) I also agreed with this decision because I thought all that flesh really altered the atmosphere of the piece too far from the original, which had such strong blacks and grays.

Enter Photoshop. Yes, at this point, I knew that I couldn't change the faces any more by hand, or they'd become a mess. So, I took my hi-res scan of the painting, and went to work, making tiny adjustments to the faces and adding the costume elements. I made Paul's unitard-thing into sleeves for Greta, added Peter's choker to Mimi and turned the sleeves into opera gloves, made a shortened chestpiece and shoulders out of Ace's costume on Dominique, and gave Michelle Gene's shoulder armor and knuckle spikes (I had included the bat wings the first time around). I also made some tweaks to their hairstyles, corrected some color, and made a few other adjustments all over the piece.

The finished product. I intentionally signed the piece in the same spot as Ken Kelly signed the original.

Finally approved, Franky created the posters (adding some very accurate logo and type), which were used as prizes for the Guitar Hero contest at the Naked Girls Rock event.

Is it the equivalent of the Ken Kelly original? Hell no. But, just like when I did my master study of Giorgio de Chirico's Mystery and Melancholy of a Street in college, I felt like I got to delve into a real examination and dissection of a classic piece of art, and I also got to know my favorite album a little better.

And yes, I did listen to a lot of Destroyer while I did it, just as I am listening to it right now as I write this.

ENDNOTE: KISS recently announced that in 2012, they will be releasing a deluxe reissue of Destroyer, which will feature Ken Kelly's original "brown" cover. I will be buying Destroyer again.

ENDNOTE II: Prints of this art, signed by both Michelle L'amour and me, are available for sale in the SHOP!

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