I recently completed a new Musical Anatomy piece entitled “Ira Arca.” This drawing was commissioned by the amazing Bay Area composer Gabriela Lena Frank. I first met Gabi back in 2005 when I was working for her publisher, G. Schirmer. We met in Kansas City, where I had the honor of sitting with her in an empty concert hall as the Kronos Quartet rehearsed her new string quartet.

Gabi is half Peruvian, and this ancestry informs her own music. She asked me to create a piece inspired by the musical heritage of the Andes. I didn’t know much about this area or its music, but luckily Gabi provided a wealth of information through CDs, books, stories, photos, and her own collection of instruments. After lots of listening, reading, and researching, I drew some initial concept sketches. Each concept incorporates a musician with a particular Andean instrument: pitu flute, bombo drum, animal horns, armadillo charango, panpipes (aka antara/siku/zampoña), quena, jaguar trumpet.

Ira Arca sketches

Gabi chose the panpipe concepts. Face to face, each player has one row of pipes that interconnects with the other to form a single instrument. This references the hocketing technique employed by this music: a single melody emerges from interconnected notes of different players. One row of pipes is called “ira” and the other is “arca”. Here’s an example of the hocket technique:


To better show the shape and interconnectedness of the pipes, I angled the faces slightly off-center. I created a rough mockup of the heads and pipes in 3D modeling software to more accurately understand the placement and proportions of the image elements.

Ira Arca 3D heads

In Photoshop, I sketched over the 3D render to connect the pipes to the mouths, and to indicate the headdresses and garments.

Ira Arca rough 1

After getting Gabi’s feedback, we decided to differentiate the characters a bit more. They would both be old men, but in different outfits and with slightly different skin tones. The one on the left would be playing a note, the panpipes slightly cracked like old bamboo instruments, as the one on the right inhales. Here’s a video of Gabi and I discussing the sketch:


I developed the rough sketch a bit further, and incorporated a photo of my hand holding the pipes.

Ira Arca rough 2

Throughout this process, I studied photos of Andean people to inspire the faces, expressions, garments, and patterns.

Ira Arca reference

I transferred the sketch to 18 x 24” bristol vellum and began drawing with graphite, leaving a half inch border. The drawing process took about a week to complete.

Ira Arca in progress

Rather than smoothly blending the tones, I build them up with line work to give the piece a sense of vibration.

Ira Arca detail

The finished piece will be on display during my residency at the de Young this June.

Ira Arca

This post originally appeared on Periscope Project, the online component of my de Young residency.