Tuesday, October 17, 2017

DIY Artwork Bags

Recently read about a company that made carrying bags for artwork, and they sounded great.

Especially because this photo illustrates my usual method for carting artwork to galleries and conventions.
I struggle philosophically with using petroleum-based plastics, and bubble-wrap and foam cost a lot too. After one or two wraps, it's torn and fit only for the trash. And that's a tough one for me to justify. Plus it takes copious amounts of time to wrap, unwrap, and re-wrap artworks.
Unfortunately, when I checked out the pre-made art-bags, I found them very expensive--upwards from $20 per bag. I figured making them myself would be easy and cheaper. And it was both.
Luckily, awhile back I took a sewing-machine class in order to make cloth goblins.

So I bought $30 worth of thick felt (made from recycled plastic bottles) and made 30 carry bags of different sizes. It took 6 yards of fabric.

I'm not fast at sewing, and it still only took me 5 hours to make all the bags. They work great! I'm sure a crafty-er person could add string-ties or other fasteners and make these even better. But for now, all I have to do is slip the artworks in, fold the top, put them in boxes, and take them away.

Still have to depend on bubble wrap and foam for shipping artworks, but these bags are great for a more ecological, quick, and safe way to deliver paintings to their destinations.

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Death gets a lot of Idea-Help

Death might run out of ideas from time to time, but people always manage to assist him with new and effective ways of killing their brothers and sisters. Poison gas? Sure! Automatic weapons aimed at concert-goers? Why not?

Couldn't keep reading the repetitious news full of lame politician's "thoughts and prayers", so I drew instead.

This one, like most of my sketches, began with a red Verithin pencil on toned paper. (I like Kona Classic best because I can use wet media on it if I choose.) Beginning a drawing with red pencil rather than graphite seems to keep my initial gestures looser, and I like the original red lines still visible in the finished art.

The red gestural sketch is then tightened up with either a Pentel brushpen or a brush and India ink. Then, most often, I add the white highlights, before the shading begins--in this case, a fine-point white Signo pen was used for the white. The cross-hatching follows; I like Maica brand Hi-Tek-C pens if a crow quill and ink bottle isn't handy.

This drawing is small--4" x 6". It's the third work of October--or "Inktober". The previous two were sort of humorous. Who knows what the news will bring in the coming days.

Thanks for the visit--I wish you peace.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Perfectly Mistaken

[This is a re-post of a blog previously published in the winter of 2014--more relevant to me and my work now than ever.]

Blog-reading accompanies the coffee most winter mornings. David Apatoff's blog posts enrich that experience. His cerebral writings provoke musings about art in general, and specifically reflections on my own beliefs about what I do. The comment threads are unusually edifying as well.

Apatoff's latest, That Knob on Mort Drucker's Lamp 
has been like getting one of those super-fine splinters in a finger--except this one's in my brain. His interesting post and ensuing comments provoked many philosophical/artistic digressions, but I want to discuss the principal (and maybe mistaken) question it provoked in me:
Should I--should any artist--be striving for Perfection?

Suddenly that topic is jumping out at me at every turn; in books, in documentaries, in conversation.
As in most things--art-related and otherwise--there is no exclusive truth for everyone. And there is no true perfection. There is sublimity, but that doesn't always occur with compulsive re-polishing.

On the album Diamonds and Rust, the amazing voice of Joan Baez cracks at one point (during Medley: I Dream of Jeannie/Oh Danny Boy). It's the part of the song I wait for, and it is an essential imperfection--I am very glad she didn't do another take. (I'd never dismiss the hard and continuous work Baez must have done to be such a force in the music world--not talking about work here, I'm talking about the quest for perfection.)

Perfectionism has never been a compulsion for me, and usually a concentrated attempt at it ruins the product because it ruins the process. In my art-life, if the experience isn't interesting and satisfying, the end result is usually a stinker. So why is that?

Ray Harryhausen's Skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts

Steve Johnson, in the documentary Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan, discusses Harryhausen's ability to do 98% of his filming with the first take. To paraphrase Johnson, that is part of what makes Harryhausen's art great. Johnson says,"If he had finessed it too much, the result wouldn't come from the heart. The more quickly you get your ideas out of your head and up on the screen, the more real."  Another commentator states, "Often, [this creates] artworks that resonate--because they are pure."

Medusa sketch. Ray Harryhausen

Can't help it--I completely agree with Johnson. When I create; over-thinking, fixing,
and re-drawing often disrupts the line from my heart and gut to the paper. If I think "make it perfect", it's nearly always because I've begun imagining a critic's response to the work, or my head is doing the comparison-thing http://tomsarmo.blogspot.com/2014/01/comparisons.html
Why does the process of picking away, tracing and re-tracing, result in a forced and lifeless work? Because all of a sudden I'm out to please people who, fundamentally, can never be pleased. That's a disservice to the vision heaving and rolling inside me.

Does this mean I don't work at being a better artist? Not at all--I am after that every minute of my life.  Does it mean I can't enjoy the works of more compulsive, perfection-driven artists? Not at all. I just don't see that particular quest as the only thing that separates great from mediocre.

David Hajdu, in Positively 4th Street, writes that Joan Baez once said "I have a primitive way of going about everything. I can't force myself to do something in which I'm not interested. Fundamentally, I'm lazy."
The words "primitive" and "lazy" are not usually in the vocabulary of a perfectionist, yet who would label Baez a mediocrity?

The great artist Ludek Tikovsky* wrote, "Sometimes I like more sketches than finished piece because of the spontaneity and--how to write it correctly--'airiness' of the lines..."
Me too, Ludek! I love to see spontaneous, real sketches--those done as thinking exercises and/or prelims. These are the things artists do when they are not consciously performing for an audience, or over-thinking some consummate product. (And by "real" I don't mean the newest trend in the art world--those suddenly ubiquitous "polished sketchbooks". Often wonderful, they are not true sketch books, as they are created as art pieces meant to be viewed as finished works.

It just might be that they who strive for perfection are the ones who'll make the big bucks or the history books. I won't research it for proof, but that's got to be fine with me. Nonetheless, I know that when a work is transcendent--makes my heart pound--it is seldom spot-free and flawless.

 "I like to make mistakes when I'm painting."
-Clive Barker

*Check out Ludek Tikovsky's thoughtful, unusual blog at http://art-is-jokken.blogspot.com/

(and thanks for reading--your comments are always welcome.)

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Animal Parameters at Valkarie Gallery!

For the third year in a row, I'm excited to be part of a fall show at Valkarie Gallery!

Animal Parameters is coming soon, and my works will join the amazing art of


Please click on their names for links to their sites and more of their art!

Here's a little preview of a few of my works which will be in the show:

For folks who like fantastic creatures, here's a Lava Monster! A few illustrators and I were discussing how to create a stone creature who oozed lava from cracks in its hide, so I tried my hand at this fellow.

I love owning sketches by artists, so I make many of mine available to collectors. And I gotta have a few Cranky Birds in every show.

My animal works are most often images that spring from real animals but end up imaginary creatures.

And dragons are animals, right?

So I hope you will join us for Animal Parameters!
Here are the particulars:

 And be sure to check out Valkarie Gallery's current show Elements and Curiosities, featuring the works of Valerie Savarie and Sharon Eisley!

Also, Innate Tapestries: The Endless Stage--a 96 page book full of my paintings and sketches--will be available for purchase at Animal Parameters. I hope you will grab a copy!

 Thanks for reading, and for supporting us artists!

Monday, September 4, 2017

Origins and Processes

 A Meeting, detail crop. 
Toned paper, plus (in order of use) Verithin colored pencil, Pentel Brushpen, Uni-Ball Signo white pen, Maica Pilot Hi-TEC-C pen, transparent acrylic inks).

Visitors to my studio often ask from where my ideas come. They come from many sources; books I have read or am reading, past and current experiences, conversations with fellow illustrators, and dreams. This one definitely came from a faceless voice--in a otherwise forgotten dream--that exclaimed "We meet ourselves!" Kept hearing that in my head all the next day
 so I started sketching the alligator-like creature, and the rest of the drawing emerged. And yes, I know that the image is weird as all get-out.
Didn't take the time to take many in-process shots, but you can see
 the red Verithin pencil under-drawing here. At that point I put the drawing away.

Had a bunch of acrylic paint that I'd used for a previous painting. Not wanting to waste it, I sketched out a similar image onto a cradled hardboard using charcoal. Refined that using a brush and black acrylic, then painted this version (detail crop).
But the previous drawing kept calling to me, so I returned to it and finished it after a lot of cross-hatching :)
Here are both artworks for comparison. Other than creating pieces based upon a dream-exclamation, I'd wanted to explore the effect of light shining from within. In this case it was coming from within the creature-tail. 
They're each 8" x 10", and will be among many works for of a three-person show at Valkarie Gallery this October! More about that soon.
Thanks for reading!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Alice on Stage

Detail crop from the painting, Alice on Stage.
Alice Liddell was Lewis Carroll's muse for the two "Alice" books that he wrote. I've done many works based upon Carroll's other characters, but finally chose Alice as the subject. 
A photograph of Alice Liddell.
 While I used the dark hair and hairstyle of Alice Liddell as a jumping off point (I am no portrait artist) there was probably a bit of Ramona Quimby and Lucy Van Pelt in my mind as well.
Interestingly, Carroll wanted Alice Liddell's personality in his heroine, but chose Mary Hilton Badcock as the model for her looks. 
 He sent this photo of her to Sir John Tenniel, who firmly rejected using any model for his drawings.

Before I began to paint Alice on Stage, I sketched many Alices. This is the one I finally chose for reference, and then decided to break with traditional Victorian-children's fashion and make Alice's coat very fancy for the painting.

Been resting up from a hard push and many paintings over the past six months. After some sculpting and other "relaxing" forms of art, I'm back at it--and enjoying the evolution of the new work. I will post some soon.

Thanks for checking out my blog!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Memento Mori

Detail from The Hermit

I tend to place a lot of tiny skulls within the borders of my art. Skulls fascinated me as a little kid, and continue to do so--even more as modern culture preposterously tries to refute aging and death.


Detail crops from Sir Baffle and the Dragon

But in the past, images of death in art--memento mori--served to calm the frenzied life. They were reminders that existence on earth is finite, and motivations to spend lives honorably and in meaningful pursuits that had little to do with the acquisition of money or power.


"Memento mori is Latin for “Remember death.” The phrase is believed to originate from an ancient Roman tradition in which a servant would be tasked with standing behind a victorious general as he paraded though town. As the general basked in the glory of the cheering crowds, the servant would whisper in the general’s ear:Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento! Memento mori!”--“Look behind you! Remember that you are but a man! Remember that you will die!”

Now more than ever, it seems that political "leaders" and the super-wealthy could use this kind of reminder.  Maybe a lack of any spiritual belief--or inheritance laws allowing their swollen bank accounts to live on for their families--somehow allows them to forget The End?

Hard to know. But nonetheless, many of them live as though their earthly life is infinite. Rather than seeking liberty and justice for all; revenge, money-grubbing, and ego-stoking are their top considerations. That's pretty bizarre for anyone, but especially for people nearing the end of their lives.

It's not my business to teach anyone anything about the mysteries of death, or an afterlife. But the philosophy and art tradition of the memento mori is much appreciated. And as stated above, I like drawing skulls.

Plus, there's something exhilarating about facing the fact of the death we all will share. It frees one up to work at leaving the world a better place for others.

While many images of Death are warnings, I'll leave you with something different...

Saint Francis of Assisi reflected often on the mystery of death, and referred to its personification as "Sister Death". She is the one who comes to deliver us from life's suffering. In this sculpture (artist unknown to me) the placard she holds reads:
"To die with the sacred joy of not having done harm to oneself nor to a single soul.”

Thanks for the visit!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Voyage of the Aeolus: A Process

The Voyage of the Aeolus, detail

I really like pen and ink, crosshatching, costumed characters, and theater sets (the look of toy theaters in particular). And I like looking at other artist's processes. This post shows all of that, and my own methods for this type of colored ink artwork.

For this piece, my interest centered around a voyage. The first thumbnail sketch was a rudimentary one featuring a top-hatted figure who quickly evolved into a pirate with his bird-buddy. I like to start these types of works with a red Verithin pencil, and then use a Pentel Brushpen for the varying width outline. My favorite paper is Kona Classic because its tough surface takes many layers of hatching without shredding, and is a great surface for water-media too.

In this case, a Pilot High-Tec C pen was used for the crosshatching, and I'm never without a Uni-Ball Signo white pen for highlights.

Sorry, this is the only photo I have of the initial pencil drawing (had to yank it off of a Facebook post).

Obviously I changed the look of the pirate--a younger face better-suited the fantasy-like atmosphere, and for this final piece I used Acryla white gouache for the highlights.
Once the highlights and values are finished, I give the piece a coating of UV blocking acrylic gloss spray. Then the color is added with watered-down, transparent acrylic inks. And that's about it!

It's a fun process--feel free to comment or email me with any questions you might have.

Thanks for checking this out!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


 A little fellow--a tiny detail from The Wizard.
Helikon Gallery's director and fellow illustrator Cayce Goldberg suggested we produce a book to go along with my exhibition, and I was blown away by his creative approach to book design. Filled with full color paintings, the book features many close-ups and details!

 Bringing the reader's attention to the details within the artworks was only one of his ideas--and it was a lot of fun! As we worked on the book, Cayce searched the paintings for small, interesting components, which he then added to individual pages.

Here's a shot of one of the interior pages. The skull is a detail from the painting, The Hermit.

This is the back cover of Innate Tapestries: The Endless Stage, with cut-out details from The Hermit, and other complete paintings within the book.

 Detail crop of The Owl and the Pussycat.

For me, a great deal of the enjoyment came from revisiting my own paintings in a new way. Studying the details close-up is not what I'm used to--often, painting is a process that's sort of unconscious working, so I'm not always totally aware of what's going into the artwork. That sounds strange, but it's true.
Detail from The Voyage of the Aeolus.
Combing the works for details led to some pleasant surprises about how my hand works with the media, too.
Here is a blown-up detail of the cricket from the painting, Pinocchio...
 ...and the complete painting in the book.
I hope you found checking out the details enjoyable--thank you for visiting and supporting my art!
 The signed, 96 page, limited edition book is available here:

Thanks again!

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