Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bad Painting

When trying to help someone learn something I've found it's helpful to have good examples of bad examples. That's why I did this painting. There was one issue I wanted to tackle in particular, but got a second one as a bonus. Oh frabjous day!

I think I'll start with the bonus issue that sprang up. When I was in school a professor or two warned against drawing with lead pencil for underdrawings for paintings. Generally speaking they felt it was best to either block in your drawing with paint (diluted, of course) and a brush or use something like a colored pencil or pastel. The logic being you could bias the underdrawing towards warm or cool depending on your intention with the final painting. Also, whatever you put down as a drawing had that pesky tendency to mix with the paint you put on top. So, if you use a lead pencil for a drawing, well, then you're going to grey down all of the colors you put over it. And that's exactly what happened here. The painting just feels dead, for want of a better word. At least as far as the colors are concerned. Thankfully, there are ways around this.

Primarily I do my underdrawing in pencil (or graphite transfer, which amounts to the same thing) then I spray fix the drawing - and I spray fix to keep the drawing from running away when I apply a color wash later. When the drawing stops smudging I apply a coat of acrylic paint to tone the canvas and bias it towards warm or cool. I use workable fixatif for the spraying stage in the interest of speed. I've found that the acrylic wash tends to bead up and not stick to the surface if I use crystal clear for the sealing stage. I could use an oil wash on top of crystal clear, but I don't want to wait for it to dry. The acrylic wash also serves as a final sealant on the surface. If I have a false start in the painting stage I can scrub everything back down to the drawing and acrylic wash without much in the way of trouble and start over.

Now, to take a step backwards, before you seal a drawing and start painting, you've gotta do the drawing. The important thing here is to make sure you get the drawing right. I cannot stress this enough. If you aren't happy with the preliminary lay-in, don't start painting. No matter how well you render your subject over a bad drawing, it will still look wrong. I remember listening to people say they'll "just fix it when [they] go to paint", but it seemed to be more effort than it was worth. Why create extra hurdles for yourself to jump over when you're painting? As one of my professors would say, "if the frame of your house isn't stable, why would you start furnishing your bedroom?" Or something like that.

So I did a bad drawing. The anatomy is so very wrong and the composition is crap. I feel the rendering is fair (could be better, of course) but it just looks wrong. Nothing short of shifting the entire painting to one side or starting over entirely would have been able to save this. And that's the point. If it isn't right, start over. Another one of my professors used to tell us all the time, "You've got to slow down in order to go fast." I find as long as everything is in place before I sit down at the easel I can get through a painting much more quickly. Which is preferable over trying to fix everything that's wrong from the start as I go along.

That's a very long-winded way to state two simple guidlines:
1. Make sure the drawing is solid.
2. Seal the drawing so you don't contaminate your paints.

Happy painting!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Digital Desires

What else would I do at 4 am other than fire up Photoshop and make an image? Yeah, I don't know either. I mean, who sleeps at 4 am?

So, I'm continuing down my path of creating work that's completely digital. I still have some misgivings about it, and I still really enjoy the tactile quality of painting at the easel, but this digital thing is starting to make a lot of sense. It does help that the benefits are a many and they whisper in my ear while I sleep. Thus far I've limited myself to only black and white, and I've been pleased with the results so far. This image is still a little jumpy in certain areas, but on the whole I think it's coming together. At least a huge step in the right direction.

There will probably be a lot more of these on the way. I'm doing them just to be doing them. I don't know what direction I want to take them, but it's all helping. It's all building towards something. (Other than french fries.)

So here it is.

Approx. 3 hours. Photoshop CS3.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Smooth Criminal

When I was a kid I idolized Michael Jackson. But let's face it, who didn't? I remember watching the Moonwalker video EVERYDAY and dancing along with the choreography. (As well as a five year-old can, at any rate.) There was only one bit I couldn't pull off to my satisfaction - the Smooth Criminal lean. I figured it must be possible. I mean, Michael Jackson was doing it! And, while he was admittedly better at dancing than I was, I figured if he could do it then I should be able to do it too. Only logical, I feel.

It wasn't until later in life I discovered they were using wire harnesses (and specially designed shoes for the live performances)
to pull off his gravity defying feat.

So, Michael, this one's for you.

oil on canvas. 21" x 35"

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Deeper into the Digital Rabbit Hole I Go!

Sometimes when I can't sleep I like to play dress up and play with some of the myriad of props I've collected. Trouble is, I often never have a project in mind for them, so they end up collecting whatever the digital equivalent of dust would be.

Unable to let things go, I've been tinkering with brushes in Photoshop. (Who? Me? Stubborn? No!) I forgot that you could customize them and make them do your bidding as you bend them to your will. Silly me. So tonight I thought I'd pull one of the aforementioned silly pictures out of mothballs and try to make something happen.

I think this is a lot closer to what I'd want to be doing if I were to create illustrations with a Wacom tablet. It doesn't feel as sterile and flat as other things I've done in the past, and I didn't even have to impose a texture on this one! Originally I planned on coloring this image (and I may very well still do that) but I got really into just playing with black and white - then I realized what time it was. So, I'm off to bed before my lady wakes up and kills me. Or looks at me with severe disappointment. I can't tell which would be worse. You'll have to wait until next time for any kind of update on this cowpoke.

What's he looking at, I wonder?

About an hour and a half. Photoshop Cs3. Intuos 3 tablet.

P.S. I have some ACTUAL paintings coming down the pipe. I miss oils.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Day Job

Sometimes the day job spills over into my art. Once upon a time I was sitting down with my boss and playing with her iPhone. I went to play with the camera (I don't know why, it just kind of happened, okay?) and she pulled a silly face. As she's been known to do. Like the sneaky little sneak that I am I emailed it to myself. I swore one day that I'd do something with it. So, viola!

Continuing my exploration of the digital realm. I think part of my trouble is I think square. When I'm painting in the real world (as if I enter some alternate dimension to paint with pixels...) I use flats and brights for about 92% of what I do. I really only pull out a round for a few details and to sign my paintings. To that end, while there are some nice flat brushes in the software I use, it has the disadvantage of not being able to be turned in space. If the brush has a natural 45° slant to it, it will always have that slant. I can't rotate it and get a wider stroke or turn it on it's edge and get a fine line.

This time around I kept the image in Photoshop (as opposed to getting frustrated and moving it over to Painter, as I've been known to do) and simply used the default brush. I'm pleased with the results, but it doesn't really feel like me. Yesterday's painting has more the feel I want to be getting from my tablet, but wasn't as tight as I'd like it. I don't know, something like 10% tighter would be better I think. Next time mayhap I'll try the square brushes in Photoshop, but so far Painter still has my heart.

However, thanks to my buddy Brian the color-choosing process went a little easier this time. He sent me this link that really simplifies it to an almost "no-brainer' level. I've know (and have been rather intimate with) the HSB sliders for the last few years, but I overlooked the swatches entirely. I'm sorry, swatches. Can you ever forgive me?

P.S. My boss doesn't always look like this. Only half the time (maybe a little more). I swear.

2 hours. Photoshop CS3.

A Digital Caip-er!

A long overdue character study, for a long overdue piece for a friend of mine. She's got a whole bunch of story written up that I want to get my hands on and maybe start drawin' some of it up. If any of that starts to happen, I'll be sure to let you know. In the mean time, however you can enjoy this preview of Caip.

Ok, I'm beginning to concede. I think I'm getting a better handle on this digital thing. I'm still kind of frustrated because I can't seem to find the colors I see in my head in the sliders and color wheel. There's something kind of sweet in just having a few tubes of paint to limit your palette to simplify things. When I've got every veritable color at my finger tips it's hard to reel myself back in and take it easy. I'll see if I can work through it, though. I may just have to do more stuff like this.

About 2 1/2 hours. Painter IX.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sketchbook Dump

I've been... well, let's face it, I've been in a weird mood as of late. As a result, I've kind of taken it hiding in my sketchbook in the wee hours of the night scribbling my tiny little heart out. Here are a few choice pages that I quite enjoy.

Anywho, I feel I'm on to something. As such I've started experimenting in this general direction and will have posts to that end shortly.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What a difference...

304 days makes. What a difference indeed.

This is another redo of something I had in the wings. I first created this image back in November of last year. I was just beginning to figure out what I needed in order to make the images that I wanted, but I wasn't quite there yet. I've picked up a trick or two here or there, and I thought I'd take another crack at it. I figure if Phil Hale can redo the illustrations he did for a book, then I could redo illustrations I did for myself.

The first time around I was poking fun at both of these Republican "mavericks", but this time I centered more on Palin. All of her props are "toys", whereas McCain's are more authentic. Her vest has the little frilly bits like you'd see in some cheesy backwater Arizona mall. And it's hard to see in this image, but she has a logo on her hat that's vaguely reminiscent of everyone's favorite Southern California rodent. (But no! it's Maxfield!)

All in all I'm pleased with this one. I think these things are starting to make sense. Again, attached below is the original painting.

Oil on canvas. 27" x 37"

Monday, July 27, 2009

Quick Practice

I'm toying with the idea of starting a digital sketchbook. To that end, I may be doing more quick portraits

30 minutes. Painter IX.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Vikings. In space.

There was recently a "challenge" posted on a art forum I've been known to haunt and the prompt was simply to draw a viking. Unfortunately due to various circumstances beyond my control I missed the deadline, but I knew I was going to want to finish it at my earliest convenience. My plans all fell through on Friday, so I spent a few hours in my studio banging this number out. I didn't have any prep work on hand past a small thumbnail, which made painting feel a little like flying blind, but I think that made the experience a bit more reactionary and... fun.

I don't know what's been with me and my space kick lately, but I just had to have a viking in space. As the vikings of myth did, this viking would have a helmet (though to fend off asphyxiation more so than hostile projectiles) complete with horns. And naturally, as an explorer of outer space, they'd be fighting tentacled creatures instead of the Britons or other more "civilized" men.

Vikings were Nordic and by no means German, but I figured our hero here would be sporting dachshunds on his shield. I think they might have approved of these Germanic little badger hounds. I can think of one or two dachschunds that would have been helpful in an all out monster fight.

Oil on canvas. 12" x 24".

Sunday, June 14, 2009

When experiments fail

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that my lady has given me a bunch of panels that she found left over from a past life. So, in continuing my head studies, here's another one of Katharine.

Originally I had set out to paint something else on the board but quickly realized that the 8x10 surface was no where near suitable for what I had set out to accomplish. So I turned the board one quarter turn clockwise and just started painting. I had to abandon it after about an hour because the darn thing was WAY to absorbent.

I learned that it's important not to trust panels given to someone that are then given to you. As near as I can tell the woman they came from used absorbent ground instead of gesso to prime this batch, so everything I put down immediately seeped into the board. It was kind of like painting with the stuff glue sticks are made out of. I have since re-gessoed all of the remaining panels.

That being said, I'm pleased with the likeness and the overall handling of the paint (before I got too frustrated with the hair and summarily trashed it). I'd mark it as a stalemate. I've been told she looks intimidating, like she's going to try to eat your arm.

Oil on canvas board. 8x10

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Zombie Nazis from Space!

Or is it Nazi Zombies? Either way, this is what I get for talking to my friend. I don't remember what we were talking about or how the words "Nazi zombie from space" could possibly have fallen out of my mouth, but they did.

And I just couldn't let it go.

So I came home and did a little drawing, which turned into a little painting.

Oil on board. 5 x 7

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Once upon a time, back in the days of art school, a teacher tasked us with drawing 50 self portraits over the weekend. I suspect he wanted to force us to loosen up and not be so... academic in our approach to drawing. So, I sat down in front of a mirror and set about my task. Needless to say a lot of the drawings wound up as kindling (or would have if I had a fireplace) but there were a few I liked or was talked into keeping. This would have to be my favorite from that exercise, and as such I've had it pinned to my studio wall.

Recently I decided to pull it down and use it as a base for a painting. Sitting down in front of my trusty mirror again I set to the task of painting it out. Paying attention to the relationships between shapes was more important than getting the shapes accurate. I miss the fact that it looks like I'm on an oxygen tank in the initial pencil drawing. And I don't know why, but I like the look of the receding hairline in the drawing as well. Oh well, maybe next time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

There's a first time for everything...

I was digging through some of my old stuff the other day and I came across yet another assignment I wanted to rehash. Once upon a time a teacher gave the assignment to illustrate the poem "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelly with current events in mind. Well, at the time, Katrina was very current, so that's the tilt most of the assignments took. In earnest, my piece made no sense. Well, it made sense to ME at the time, but now... even I can't remember what it's supposed to be about. That's a bad thing. I aimed to refocus my attention to see if I came up with something that was more readily accessible to the public at large.

This painting is a first for me as I somehow managed to make it through four years of art school (through the bulk of the Bush administration) without painting Dubya once. At the time I very much tried to avoid political commentary, and I just think I got lucky that none of my teachers assigned something that was strictly "politician-geared". The research for this guy was a lot of fun. That's a Brown Pelican sitting on his head - the state bird of Louisiana. The view of the city is looking east, so aside from the river (which is on the other side of the buildings) the nearest body of water is Lake Pontchatrain - 4 miles to the north. And the last thing that I'll mention is the shadows on the buildings are accurate for about 10:00 am on a Louisiana morning.

Attatched below is a version of the painting sans the type, and for grins and chuckles the original painting I turned in.

Oil on canvas. 21 1/2" x 17 1/2"

Saturday, April 18, 2009


This is something I've known has been going on but hadn't known it was given a name until very recently. In a nut shell sexting is the act of sending nude (or semi-nude) pictures via text message, and - big shocker - it's particularly popular amongst high school students. The big-ticket item surrounding this issue is - how close to child pornography is it?

There are kids in schools all across the country who are formally being charged with child pornography. Generally speaking the photos are intended solely for the boyfriend or girlfriend, but the problem arises when the photos are shared between classmates and children from other schools. In some cases there have been reports of the pictures winding up on the internet. Once it hits the internet and Myspace or Facebook (or really whatever your social networking site of choice may be) it spreads like wildfire - and that's the kind of thing you just can't get back.

Then again, kids are notorious for not thinking that far ahead. It all seems well and good when they're together and feel like it'll be that way forever, but if there's a messy break-up there's no telling what someone may do out of anger. (And honestly I'm willing to bet a good percentage of the time a messy break-up isn't required for someone to share and brag with their buddies.) Anywho... I'm not here to try to argue one point over the other, and there are plenty of more eloquently written articles on the matter out there, so yeah...

I wanted my image to be kind of flirty without being to sexy or over the top, and I felt I had to get the idea across that it was a text (picture) message but that the whole thing is kind of ridiculous. Hence the emoticon winking face ;) My friend likes it, but says it's kind of creepy, (I suppose it's too soon after she saw Coraline) but I think that speaks to the issue at large. That kids as young as 8th graders (14 years old on average) and willingly exposing themselves in such a way. Oh well, I guess I'm just an old fuddy-duddy at heart.

Oil on canvas. 10 x 14

Friday, April 10, 2009

Swimmin' with the Sharks

About two months ago I posted a Laker's Girl pin-up I had done as a gift for a friend. As stated towards the end of that post, a coworker said he wanted one for his favorite team - which happens to be the San Jose Sharks. So I set about to do my thing.

The drawing stage gave me the most grief of the entire process. Though once I was happy with it and had it transferred to the canvas, the whole thing went by extremely quickly. All in all I spent four hours at the easel painting. This was the first time I had a 1:1 scale final drawing taped to my easel as I painted, and that helped inform a lot of my decisions more than my reference did. Pretty soon I was checking the reference mostly for color matching and letting the drawing I've already done guide my hand.

When all was said and done I was able to present the painting to my coworker and it was warmly received. So much so that another coworker remarked that he wants one for his favorite hockey team. I think he may have to wait a while, however. I compiled a list of the projects I want to undertake and it was a lot longer than I thought it was going to be. There's nothing like seeing something in black and white to get the blood moving and the creative energy flowing.

Oil on canvas. 12" x 16"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Snap. Crackle. Paint.

A while back I drew this image and I've even tried to paint it a couple of times, but it never quite came out the way I was hoping it would. Though recently as I've been fine-tuning an approach, I thought I'd give it another shot. The greatest challenge of this piece was working on the crackle-pasted substrate. It behaves nothing like canvas and in fact is a little more absorbent than my beloved canvas.

All of that aside, I think it did well. The goal was to learn how to paint on crackle paste, and I'm well on my way to figuring that out. Initially I painted too thin, and while I didn't run into many adhesion problems, I did run into blending issues. Then I thickened up the mix a bit and instead started covering over the crackle. All in all I like to consider it a victory.

Oil on board. 10 x 12

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I was down to my last 4x6 panel a few months ago and I wanted to make it special somehow. I have the tendency to get overly precious about the last of anything I have, even if getting more is a simple matter of picking them up the next time I'm at work. The point is, I wanted it to be good and from the heart. I can be such a sap like that sometimes.

Naturally I spent a great deal of time agonizing over who I was going to paint for the last portrait in this round of 4x6 paintings. Then some friends of mine lost someone to a drunk driver in an accident. They were all devastated, and while I didn't truly know the fellow, it reopened a lot of wounds from when I lost my friend Hanh. I spent the next little bit of time looking for a picture I could have sworn I had. All I could come up with was her volleyball picture and though the face in that picture is less than half an inch high, I couldn't abandon my pursuit.

I've always wanted to do a portrait of Hanh, but never felt capable of the challenge. And though I fought this painting every step of the way and it didn't turn out anywhere near where I hoped it would, I still love it. In many respects it was just like my relationship with Hanh, and it brings a smile to my face.

So this is for you, Hanh. You're never too far from my thoughts and somehow still manage to be a source of constant inspiration. I miss you.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Where it all began... kind of.

I upgraded my light kit today. After spending some time trying to engineer a way to hold my polarizing filters in place I was all set up and ready to shoot artwork. And shoot I did.

In my digging around for things I wanted to shoot or re-shoot I pulled this bad boy off the wall. This is the very first oil painting I've ever done (circa 2000). I had NO idea what I was doing and if I remember correctly I only had two cheap brushes and a plastic palette knife. I had put a sheet of cardboard or something down so I wouldn't get paint on my bed, but it didn't really matter because I was using the paint straight from the tube in all it's thick and creamy glory. The thought of diluting it with medium was a thought that wouldn't occur to me for another six years or so. But then again, I had NO idea what I was doing. You should have seen me gingerly carry this around for the six months it took just to dry to the touch. The rest of my ineptitude aside, I'm still really pleased with how the lightning bolt on the right came out.

The assignment was a response to music and I decided to paint waves that look suspiciously like mountains, now that I think about it. Either way, I keep it hanging in my studio so that I'll have a sense of where it is that I came from, for whatever that might be worth.

Oil on canvas. 11" x 8"

Before too long I'll be posting other things that I shot in my delirium this evening.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm all pixelated.

In about an hour I'll be taking my friend to the airport, so I whittled away my time (not sleeping) watching the Terminator trilogy and scribbling in Photoshop. I'm becoming more and more comfortable making images in Photoshop, and one of these days I'm going to actually finish a piece with it.

I'm still having a fair amount of trouble when it comes to choosing colors. On this one I cheated a little by creating a bunch of swatches from the original reference. (But, I suppose it isn't really cheating since "no one cares how you got there".) With about a half-dozen colors plucked from the reference I laid in blocks of color and then tweaked the opacity to come up with "new" colors to fill out my range. It's the closest I can come to mixing so far.

Sigh. It's getting there, but I miss painting. Painting started making sense - or at least it became less mysterious. My friend pointed something out to me the other day that hadn't fully occurred to me about working digitally. The arm is missing. Since I usually draw/paint at about 16x20 or larger, I tend to work more with my arm than my wrist. I find it's more comfortable and that's why I don't keep a sketchbook as much these days. But, I can't work that way with digital. There's no holding the tool to work with it's side, and that's taking some getting reacquainted with.

Photoshop has sort of become my working sketchbook in an attempt to get used to it again. Since I started painting I started thinking more in terms of blocks of value and color. Pencils became inadequate for getting at what I was thinking, but now I can knock out full value roughs with the same kind of marks I'd make on canvas. (Kind of like working with a sketch canvas like Leyendecker used to, so he'd know where all of his brushstrokes were on the final painting.) So that's neat. I'm thinking more and more I'll just use it for preparatory work for illustration, but who knows...

Monday, March 23, 2009

J.C. Leyendecker

Today is Joseph Christian (J.C.) Leyendecker's birthday. Or, well, it would be if he were still alive. He was born this day in 1874 and is American's unsung illustrator. Though, I'm happy to say, in recent years he's been experiencing a much needed resurgence.

He was one of the greatest influences on Norman Rockwell, though he is rarely credited as such due to a falling out, of sorts. in fact, Norman used to hang around the train station when he was a lad to catch a glimpse of Joe coming home from the big city.

J.C. lived a very secretive life, so there isn't much in the way of readily available information, but there are two books on him now, one by Michael Shau (1970) and the new one by Cutler and Cutler (2008). It was the secretive lifestyle that served as the wedge driving him and Rockwell apart. Joe's "handler", Charles Beech (model, manager, and lover) always managed to keep the two apart, or to limit their interactions. I suppose Beech didn't appreciate the adoration Rockwell showed Leyendecker. Rockwell took it personally and went on record to say that Leyendecker "couldn't paint a woman with any sense of compassion." It was an attack that suggested Leyendecker was homosexual, without affirmitavely outting him. Despite how he may have been hurt by Joe however, Rockwell purposely stopped one short of Leyendecker's impressive 321 Saturday Evening Post covers in silent reverence.

I've had the great fortune to see many of his originals in person, and he continues to be one of greatest inspirations. I'm slowly collecting his post covers when I can find them, and one of my loftiest ambitions is to own an original painting before I die. I was planning on writing something up on his art, but I think I'll let it speak for itself:

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I forgot to sleep.

I often joke about forgetting to eat, but it's actually the sad truth. When I sit down and start to throw myself at something everything else around me just gets blocked out. It isn't a good thing when you stop to think about it. In fact it's dangerously close to self-destruction on more than one level, but it is what it is. Like tonight. I was looking for something to serve as a distraction temporarily before going to bed and I had finished the book I was reading, so I thought I'd play with my new tablet some more. I couldn't think of anything immediately so I went to my tried and true stand by - I redid something I've already done. (Well technically I'm in the process of redoing it, but you know what I mean.)

Some people do master studies, others do... ok, so I don't know what others do. But I typically will take another stab at something I've done that I thought had some merit to see if I've actually been learning. The original of this piece was a cover for an environmental magazine two years ago, and amusingly - at least to me anyway - enough it was the last digital piece I did for an assignment. I've wanted to recreate it as a painting as I gained confidence in that arena and that's still the plan. When the redraw is done I think I may just render it as a grisaille, print it, enlarge it, and then transfer it to canvas and paint it. (I can't shake this desire to have a tangible original in my grubby little hands.)

Whatever I do, I want to do it fairly quick. I've got another project quite literally on the board that I've put on the back burner to play on the computer.

Photoshop CS3 and Intuos 3 tablet.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dreaming in Digital

I have digital fleas. I can't see them, but they keep biting me and I just have to sit with my tablet and draw draw draw. After the other night all I want to do is sit in front of my computer and push pixels around.

So I present a quick portrait study of my friend Graciela.

576 x 864 pixels. Photoshop CS3. 9 x 12 Intuos 2 tablet.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back to digital?

I keep hearing that digital is the wave of the future. Actually, if you recall my meeting with Donato he went as far as to say that painting for illustration was dead. Well, I still don't agree with that but something compelled me to see where my digital chops were these days.

I aimed to kill two birds with one stone with this piece. I've noticed I have a tendency to want really dramatic light patterns on the model when I'm working with the figure. I think it's something I've picked up watching a lot of beautifully lit movies and television shows (Lost, in particular). After all, "light is the great designer". But I'm slowly working towards having more well-lit models and not just "TA-DA!". So the first challenge was to use a picture that wasn't so dynamic with the light composition. Something natural. (Though I should have used a photo that wasn't lit in the luminous nightmare that was my school, where the light was anything but natural.)

Second I wanted to create the entire image digitally. I'm still undecided when it comes to digital illustration, which is funny because it wasn't that long ago that I considered myself a digital illustrator. I think there's definitely a place for it, and there are people who are doing fantastic work with pixels, but there's too much out there that looks the same. To paraphrase a teacher of mine, you can walk into any high school in America and find dozens, if not hundreds, of kids who can do it. I personally would like to create something that my client's niece or nephew couldn't cobble together.

That being said, this digital painting was created on two (count 'em, two) layers. I have been infected with the traditional approach to a painting! The next time I give it a crack I'll be sure to use multiple layers, and masks, and blending options and, and, and... The most difficult part for me was I could think of my palette and know what colors to mix in what amount for the color I wanted, but with Photoshop I wasn't afforded that luxury. (Another reason I love painter...) Sure, I could have imported the photo I was working from and just use the eyedropper to get the exact color I wanted, but I didn't want to do that. Somehow it felt like cheating. All in all I'm pleased with the results. I may go back in to darken some bits up here and there, but I like it. I think my bias for square brushes shines through. I was frustrated I couldn't just twist the tool in my hand to get the shape I wanted. I know I could fork out a few hundred bucks to get the newer tablets, but I think I'll play with it some more and then decide...

It just all still feels too clean to me.

4 x 6 inches (288 x 743 pixels). Photoshop CS3. 9 x 12 Intuos 2 tablet. 1 1/2 hour.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Black Mirror

In a recent post I mentioned that I made use of a black mirror. I hadn't heard of a black mirror up until a few years ago when I was at the studio of one of my professors. He was milling about his studio picking things up and telling us what we ought to invest in if we were to make it in the field. Good ol' Vince was a bit of a dreamer, but he never stopped producing good ideas. He pulled out a black mirror and said it was definitely something we should get. Promptly I made a note of it in my sketchbook and tucked the knowledge away. Basically what it is is a reflective surface with a black backing, instead of the normal silver mirror backing. What it does though, is knock all of the values in the reflections down a couple of notches. It's particularly handy for deepening shadows.

The result of looking into a black mirror isn't too far off from this set of images. On the left we have what might be considered a normal reflection, where the one on the right has been doctored to resemble the decrease in value you can expect. Of course one could squint to condense the value patterns even further, which is what I tend to do out of habit.

I haven't really been able to find any information on the internet about where to purchase such a device, and the few glass/mirror shops I've called were equally helpful, but the premise is simple enough I figured I could approximate it effectively. I picked up the deepest black piece of matboard I could find and stuck it into an 11 x 14 frame with the really cheap and reflective glass. And that's it.

The bugger was nefariously difficult to photograph well, but you get the idea. The matboard I used is actually a "suede" board, chosen because it's a deep deep black, but the draw back is it has a bit of a mottled texture. As soon as it bothers me I'll end up just painting something black to replace it with, but it works extremely well. You can see how the darker values of my face sort of become one shape with few reflected highlights.

At any rate, this little guy cost me about $15 at my local frame shop and took all of two minutes to assemble. Yet again listening to Papa Vince has paid off.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


A few years back a buddy of mine told me, "the difference between you and Rembrandt is that Rembrandt would do it again." Now, to this day I'm still not sure if he was aiming this comment at me directly or kind of lobbing it into the open as a something-to-think-about grenade, as he's been prone to do. Either way, it's something that struck a chord in me and I just can't forget it.

Well, Rembrandt, I've done it again. Truth be told, this is the third time I've done this painting. (And it probably won't be the last.) I mentioned the other day that I was working on something to enter into the Communication Arts annual, and this is one of the pieces I brought to the game. Not wanting what I thought was a solid image to go to waste, I tackled it one more time, only with a different arsenal of knowledge, namely a black mirror (more on that tomorrow).

So here you have it. The "real work" I was setting out to do the other night. For truth I like the portrait I did a little better, so I'll have to explore that some more, but this is a step up for me from the last time I tried this painting six months ago.

~20 x 20. Oil on canvas.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Vacation's Over.

I'm back to finishing off my 4x6 portrait series. I know it's been a month since I've posted something, but I plan on returning with a vengeance. I was sitting down last night to work on a submission for the Communication Arts annual and I decided to knock out a portrait as a warm-up before I sat down to what I thought of as my real work.

If nothing else I'm pleased with how natural this one came out. I worked on it for about twenty minutes and decided I liked it just the way it was and just stopped painting out of fear of ruining it - as I've been known to do.

Aside from that I've spent two weeks delving into the work of Ashley Wood ( here and here ) and I think it shows. I've been wanting to loosen up and be more... expressive (Mark Eanes would be proud, I think) in my paintings, and I think Mr. Wood helped me do that whether he knows it or not.

I've got one more 4x6 canvas in my arsenal at the moment, so I may be calling it quits on that in the near future. But fear not! My lady gave me a stack of painting surfaces she happened across, so I'm sure I'll be experimenting on those as well.

Oh! Also, before I forget; my buddy Rusty showed me some love on his blog, so I'm going to point you over to his blog in hopes that you'll give him some love too. Here.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Laker's Girl

This piece requires a small amount of back story.

A good friend of mine has a painting I did back in high school, and much to my surprise he loves the bloody thing. He loves it so much he's kept it up in his house and apparently it's the topic of conversation when people come over, all of which I discovered when I showed up to visit him one New Year's Eve. He was so proud of a painting I had done what seemed to me to be a lifetime before hand. Needless to say I could not stand idly by and have people believe that to be an accurate representation of my work. I just couldn't do it. So, as a result I vowed to do a new painting for him. He could keep the older one up, just as long as people didn't think I was still as bad as I thought I was in high school.

This is not that painting, but a different friend of mine saw it and wanted something similar. As with most personal pieces I dragged my feet putting it together. First I had to find a willing model. Then I had to find the appropriate accessories. Of course the project as a whole gets pushed around as I take on other assignments. And lastly I have to find the motivation when the model has the free time; assuming she's still willing. (Thank goodness she was!) So I shoot the reference and I'm excited to work on it, but then something else entirely comes up. To cut to the chase, this painting has been seven months in the making.

Of course, this is the problem with having friends that are sports fans. No sooner had I finished this piece that a coworker of mine says he wants one for his favorite team - and the cycle begins again.

Personally, I'm really happy with this piece, (even it is partially responsible for ruining my sleep patterns) to the point where I threatened to not deliver it to it's intended owner. I think my recent experimentation and exploration has paid off as I can see a certain amount of confidence that I haven't seen in my recent work. I put down a brush stroke and I left the sodding thing where it was without much fussing over it. The only area that I slowed down on was the face, but really that was the most important passage to get right. Speaking of which, I tweaked her features a little so that it was more an approximation of my model rather than an accurate portrait - I don't know, I figured she'd appreciate it.

Oil on canvas. 20x30

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Back to the 4x6

My freshman year in high school I had an English teacher. (Most of us did...) This just happens to be my freshman year English teacher.

Kind of. I started rooting through old photographs the other night during a particularly vicious bout of insomnia and decided to give this one a shot.

Up until now I've been limiting myself to about an hour on each of these 4x6 portraits. Firstly, I cut that time in half. Then I tried to work with a bad piece of reference (there was no real shadow structure to speak of) and I cut the time in half. While I was in school the mantra "you're only as good as your reference" was drilled into my head. This compelled me to learn to take good reference photography. However, sometimes the client provides you with the reference - and when that happens there's often something to be desired.

All in all I think it turned out decently. My wife could tell who it was from twelve feet away, so that's something. Next time I'll keep one of my limitations; good reference and half an hour -or- poor reference and an hour time limit. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Carbon pencils.

Years ago a buddy of mine told me about Wolff's carbon pencils. I'm pretty sure I gave him a I'm-very-satisfied-with-my-drawing-implement-thank-you-very-much raise of my eyebrow at the time, but I logged the information away. And, as it tends to, the information got buried. Oh, over the years as I was shuffling around in my head it would come back to the surface, but all too often I would just promptly drop something else right on top of it.

Until the other day.

I was in the vicinity of one of the art stores I frequent the other day and Wolff's carbon pencils just happened to be on my mind. I popped in and quickly found what I was looking for - though the decision on whether or not to get the four pack or a few individual pencils took me longer than I care to admit. New supply decisions always do. When the internal quarrelling quietted down I left with the four pack (it's like getting four toys in one!) and headed home eager to test them out. Instead I fell asleep on the couch, but it didn't take me long to crack those babies open and get to doodling.

I've only braved using the B pencil so far, but as of yet they totally live up to the expectations I had built up in my head. There's a blurb on the back of the package that claims these pencils have the best qualities of graphite and charcoal with none of the flaws and so far I'm inclined to agree. The application is smooth and velvety and the lines are nice and rich black - not the shiny silvery quality graphite pencils tend to have. I'm in love.

I'm really happy I've decided to pick these up. Lately I've been more satisfied with the opaque application that you get with paint, and when I do draw I've been drawing on the larger scale so that I use more of my arm and less of my wrist/fingers, but I've been carrying my small sketchbook with me to work more frequently . In the drawing above you'll find a quick portrait of my old friend Graciela and drawings I've done at work - a coworker slacking off on the computer and a cheese shaker. Man... I'm in love with drawing those shakers. They've quickly become my guilty pleasure. Maybe I'll post more drawings of them in the future.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lord Kelvin's Machine

Written by James P. Blaylock Lord Kelvin's Machine is a delightful piece of fiction steeped in steampunk goodness. At it's core it's a decisive commentary on how man's dependency on technology can have irrevocable affects on the earth and that sometimes, using your brain (and a gun) is the best way to save the world.

No. Really. That's what happens.

Tomorrow is the deadline for the Spectrum annual and this is what I came up with for Lord Kelvin's Machine. You've seen some of the sketches up to this point, now you get to see how they all fit together.

I'd like to thank my wife for her patience with me while I was driving myself crazy during this project and her well-placed critiques.

Oil on canvas. 31 x 19

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

More sketches

Two more character sketches for the painting I'm working on. On the left is the unkempt hunchback Hargreaves which would make the gentleman on the right Sir Langdon St. Ives. Naturally.

I always enjoy the referencing portion of a project. It gives me the perfect excuse to do things like go out to buy a bowler hat and shove clothes down the back of my shirt and bound around the living room like a man possessed.

I had a teacher in school who impressed upon us the importance of finding people capable of acting to use as models. Because of that I use myself as a model a lot, as I think I've mentioned before. I have a hard time directing people to get the performance I want out of them, so I find it's simpler to just play dress up myself and snap a lot of pictures. Insisting to someone that they should look like they're having fun, or that they don't look angry enough, or crazy enough, or coy enough gets tedious after a while.

Thank goodness my wife can see into my head and can extract what it is I'm after through my awkwardly given direction. Since I don't know many people comfortable enough in front of a camera to not look stiff, I usually use myself as a male model and my wife for the ladies. It's worked pretty well so far, but I think people are starting to catch on...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Character Sketch

As I'm working through sketches for the next illustration that's on my board a friend of mine commented that I needed to update my blog. I've decided to share at least this sketch because I like the way it came out. Our dear Dr. Narbondo seems to be perturbed by something off in the distance - or maybe he's just deep in diabolic contemplation.

I modeled for myself in my living room and as I have the tendency to do, I tore the living room apart. Now is the time I put it back together before my wife wakes up and kills me. I plan on having this painting done midweek, as it needs to be off by about the week's end.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Christmas is finally over!

With the completion of this painting I think I can finally say goodbye the holiday season.

A few years back I had done a painting for Madam Butterfly for a class assignment. That painting is hanging in my mother's house and I surmise it had been admired by a friend of hers. That friend wanted me to do something similar for her. Actually, that's all the art direction I got. Something with a geisha theme.

After a flurry of sketches and a few false starts I was primed to finish it by Christmas; but another project popped up and this got shuffled to the sideboard. But, it's done now. Though since it'll be near a month or so since it's delivered, I may take another stab at it.

I just can't leave well enough alone.
Oil on canvas. 18x24

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Octopuses! Now, before I get an avalanche of angry letters, octopuses is the correct pluralization for octopus. I know too many people who have taken too many marine biology classes to make the common octopii mistake. I've witnessed said bio-nerds lecturing people on their pluralization faux pas and I don't want to be on the receiving end of that wrath.

With that being said, I got a random request from someone to post more octopuses - and as random as that request may have been, I randomly had a painting of an octopus laying around. This was done as a birthday present for an acquaintance not too long ago. I'm surprised I still have it, honestly. I suppose the temptation for art isn't as strong for everyone as it is for me.

Oil on board. 8x10