Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thoughts on Artistic Style

 Two Goblins and a Door (detail). Watercolor, 1998. Private collection.
Style. What a weird concept; it tends to get artists all in a stir—that is, artists who don’t seem to have a single, trademark look to their work. Sorta like me.
For a fellow whose work is all over the board, a single style in my work seems impossible.  Some reasons for that:

1. Age  
When I was a little guy I drew and drew without worry. It was like breathing or walking--no second thoughts. And I thought I was as good as my heroes; all the Disney artists and Dr. Suess of course. The cut-outs on the right were made when I was a kid--quick drawings for a stop-action cartoon. I was obsessed with eggmen and birds then.

While in high school I sent a portfolio off to a book publisher. It contained the smeary, top-hatted masterpiece on the right, among others. My delusions were limitless. Thankfully, the kind but firm rejection letter I received let that air out of my ego.

Years later, I studied anatomy, form, and shading in art school and sweated at illustrating with a certain style for quite a few years. Now that I'm old, I don't necessarily want that certain style anymore.  I just want to draw and draw--like breathing and walking.
                                                          2. Media
I change media so often that it’d take a few lifetimes to see any sort of consistent style emerge.  Put simply, I want to see how my internal visions will look using a variety of techniques. 

To the left is a big clay bird of mine, sculpted a few years ago. Guess it somewhat looks like my illustration-type drawings.

Cloth sculpture and lino prints are filling my days lately.

When I discovered Arthur Rackham and Heath Robinson's work in college, I fell in love with watercolor and pen and ink. I studied their work, copied it, and found my way with it.  The rat thief below was done long ago in art school.  Still work with those media, but I need change, too. Why? Because I have:

3. Attention Deficit
I get antsy when using one medium for awhile. Sometimes I envy artists who never get tired of a medium, or a subject matter, or a style—but not very often. Maybe it stunts my artistic growth to switch so much.  I mull that over once in a while, but it doesn't make me change.

4. Exploration
Like a kid in a candy shop, I pretty much like all the art I see out there.  And when I really love a piece, I want to try it out.  So I do. Not plagiaristically, of course--just idea and technique-wise. A couple of years ago I saw a great exhibition of 60's posters, and shortly thereafter discovered the masterful screen prints of David Weidman  
While I haven't tried screen printing yet, I did go after the color combinations I saw in the posters and prints. And matte acrylics give me those colors. 

I am still obsessed with eggmen and birds. That's about as consistent as it gets!

“God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style, He just goes on trying other things.”
                                                                     -Pablo Picasso
(Only Picasso would be cocky enough to say that, but it does hit the mark.)

(Left) Colby is Happy (detail). Acrylic on wood. 2011. Private collection.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Another Dustball/Wrapped Creature

This wound up mummy-goblin, hanging from a fish-hook, is drooling a bit. The sketch (approx. 8" x 3") is pen and ink on a scrap of ivory paper.  There is nothing quite like the sound of a crow quill nib scratching away on good thick drawing paper in a quiet studio--peaceful, rhythmic, and comforting. The variation of line instantly achieved with slight pressure changes is wonderful as well.  Just can't get that with a marker.

Learned my pen technique by studying and copying the works of great illustrators--the pen drawings of W. Heath Robinson (and his brothers) especially.  Nobody in history used pen and ink like Heath Robinson (Born 1872--Died 1944).

If you are interested in seeing more of Robinson's art, there is a book by Geoffrey Beare that gives a decent overview, although I've had to research exhibition catalogs and old bookshops to find the drawings that I like best.  Check out Robinson's book, The Adventures of Uncle Lubin, for excellent examples of his technique as well.  A good overview on the web is at

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A stuffed goblin and an Arthur Rackham influence

 Awhile back I posted about my foray into 3-d cloth versions of my drawings.  Finally finished one!  These are the initial sketches. The finished goblin is a bit of a blend of the two.

 Had the idea that I should paint the fellows first and then stuff 'em (wrong!) but a great soft sculpture artist, Joyce Stahl, led me through the process. She was incredibly helpful, patient, and kind. (Thank you, Joyce.) Check out her work and blog at
You will be amazed at the artistry and images.

 After stuffing it, the goblin was gessoed and sanded with fine grit sandpaper.  I applied the initial drawing with black acrylic paint (watered down a bit) and a fine tip brush.

 Oh yeah, I popped a grommet into his head for ease of hanging.

 This is the finished fellow.  He's muslin, has plastic pellets in his legs and feet for weight, and the rest of him is crammed with polyester fill.  The color is all acrylic paint, some applied thick, some mixed with matte medium, and some thinned with water only.  

At the end of the process, the whole goblin got sanded, and now he feels leathery-soft. Had many problems to solve, and cussed copiously throughout the process, but actually, I had a lot of fun with this one. So where'd he come from?

 When I was young, I was much taken with an old book of illustrations by Arthur Rackham that I found in the library.  His works remain a huge inspiration for me.  While pondering from where my stuffed goblin came, I remembered this illustration by Rackham.

This is a detail of the above illustration--the little guys again--this time they are "threadballs"! They have stuck in my subconscious for certain, and I love them.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Blog excerpt from "Inside the Arvada Center"

Celebrating 25 years of Supporting The Arts in Our Community!

The 25th Annual Fine Art Market Show and Sales features distinctive and original fine art in a wide range of media, size and price by more than 100 prominent Colorado artists.
The Art Market is designed to be an exhibition and sale of fine contemporary art created by Colorado artists. This sale and exhibition credits its popularity and success to the more than 100 Colorado artists who participate in the event each year. Our patrons look forward to this exciting sale and exhibition because of the excellent quality and unique selection of original artwork.
  • Zoa Ace
  • Phil Bender
  • Sean Brown
  • Lynda Ladwig
  • Anthony Ortega
  • Louis Recchia
  • Rita Vali
  • Suzanne Williams
  • Teresa Brooks
  • Sophia Dixon Dillo
  • Carlene Frances
  • Casey Hankin
  • Pat Isaacs
  • Tom Sarmo
  • Jason Theel
  • and many, many more!
Come and browse at your leisure! Proceeds go towards supporting the Arvada Center. Silent auctions also available on selected pieces.
Opening Reception: Thursday, December 8, 2011, 5:00-9:00 p.m., Free
Monday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Sunday: Noon – 5:00 p.m.

(I cut and pasted this blog entry from Inside the Arvada Center, and Blogspot's forcing me to write into it.)
At any rate, this sale and exhibition allowed the opportunity to show my work alongside works by amazing artists. The show enables me (and everyone who attends) the experience of enjoying a quantity of high quality works; a huge variety in one large-but-inviting gallery.
A few of my new favorites: Works by Max Kauffman, Andrew Hoffman, Neil Celani, and Jennifer Parisi  

Thanks for checking this out :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Brush Holders and William Morris

My current collection of brush holders.  I made the one with the bird, found the Humpty Dumpty planter and the Tikis in various junk stores, and the sailor cup was a gift from a friend way back in art school.  
I've consciously, gradually removed what I consider ugly or common from my studio. If it's functional, it also has to be visually interesting. Seems to help my creativity if that one small space at least, isn't tainted by plastic, mass-produced crap.

William Morris is famous for his art, design, and writings.  One of his most famous quotes: "If you want a golden rule that will fit everything, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful."

It is a very weird quote.  It seems to say that if an object is useful, then it's ok if it's ugly.  That applies to most everything made of plastic that's available in a box store.  Plastic trashcans, technological devices, etc--yeah, they are useful, but their ugliness sort of sucks the creative life out of me at times.

But maybe I'm misunderstanding Morris.  All I have to do is look at his designs and artworks and I'm re-charged creatively.  This design for wallpaper is an example; I love it.  I'm intrigued by the Acanthus motif, the subtle coloration, the movement, and the raw artistry.  Time and again I check out his works and writings and get inspired.

More on William Morris in a future post.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Holiday Card Design for a private business

I love to illustrate when the client is open to a final product truly based on my work and style--as opposed to the client complimenting me on my work/portfolio and then asking me to do a piece that resembles my work not at all  :)  
In this case, a Holiday card was the desired outcome, and I sketched a few ideas, got the go-ahead on one, and did the illustration.  Straightforward, fun, and everyone is happy!

This is the complete card; the final artwork. (The present is the detail which I'd previously posted.)  It contains a bunch of my favorite things:  A bird, anthropomorphism, Victoriana, checkerboard pattern, watercolor, pen and ink, and the color green.  Also have lately been peculiarly fascinated with snow in artworks.

As far as influence, I know Tenniel's version of the Mad Hatter permanently scrambles around in my unconscious mind, jabbing away at my creative nerve.  He's Victorian, wears a hat, has checkerboard clothing, and is a Perfect Image.
Here is Tenniel's Perfect Image. Seems to me this should be in the Art History surveys, right there with the Mona Lisa. Great illustration is great art--there's no difference.  Do you agree?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Marley's Ghost

 As promised in the last post--more Marley's Ghost.

Tired from painting a bunch of new pics, I was unwinding and wandering around Denver. Saw this mask lying on top of a recyclables container.  A youngster had painted it and stuck on a few big sequins and some stars--either the kid didn't like it or it had gotten lost. I'd been looking at another artist's postings of some Christmas Carol prints, so the ghost was on my mind.  At any rate, Marley's face floated up and I decided to paint this for Sk3tchbook's Holiday show.

 Marley's Ghost. Mixed media on paper mache mask, 6" x 8". Private collection.

Completely excited and tired no longer, I raced home and worked on it the rest of the day.  First came a coat of cadmium red acrylic paint.  Then the details were drawn on with a brush and black acrylic. Using some skeleton pictures (which you can't see) cut from a decrepit drawing book, I pasted them behind the jaw holes in the mask.

Some old script went into the left eye, and the right eye got a bit of blank paper, on which the eyeball was painted.  Building up lots of layers of blue grey paint took the rest of the afternoon, along with the addition of Marley's jaw bandage and a cheery sprig of holly. 
I aged it a bit with some ochre and brown glazes and topped the good eye with a glossy coating of varnish.

It was a total, no-pressure, play experience. The key is to have that kind of experience with every blank canvas, but I haven't gotten quite there.

Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea, but to me Christmas just isn't Christmas without ghosts. Happy Holidays--whichever is celebrated--to everyone!

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'm pleased and happy to be part of this year's Fine Art Market Show at the Arvada Center.  It's the 25th Annual, and more than 100 remarkable, Colorado Artists will show work.  If you are in Colorado during December, please come and check it out, and if you are in Colorado on December 8th, the Opening Reception is free and open to the public! 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A nervous bird takes a trip

The Journey. Acrylic on oak wood, approx. 4 1/2" x 3 1/4". Private collection.
This little painting is about the journey we are all on. We get anxious sometimes, and I don't know about you, but when I'm nervous I act pretty crabby.  But someone is always there to light the way and help us on the adventure.

When I was a kid, the idea of climbing into a boat and sailing away all alone was very appealing.  Maybe it came from reading about Max, in Where the Wild Things Are, or from other stories like W. Heath Robinson's The Adventures of Uncle Lubin. Maybe it is simply a universal fantasy of all children, which is why those great stories have had such strong appeal. For me it sets in motion longings for
independence, freedom, and adventure.
This painting was a fun experiment in color and texture.  I had previously done the painting of BoaterBird, and was not finished with the journey theme.  I used the paint thickly here, and the majority of brushwork was done with a pointy brush rather than my usual flat brush.  

I played with it a long time, stirring up the black and blue paint like icing. At one point I questioned whether or not to continue working at it.  I ended up enamored with it, and now it's one of my favorites. I identify with the personality of this nervous/crabby little 
potato-beaked bird, and I will always appreciate a light along the way.

Sorry, the glossy finish didn't photograph well (I often forget to snap pics before the varnish).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tile designs from my sketchbook, and a FishDiver Tile

 I must have been feeling cheap when I drew these tile designs over an old, previous sketchbook page.  I was studying drawings of children for a class I took long ago, hence the pencil drawings of the girls.  

 More tile designs--the one in the upper left became a tile I like very much.  It became the finished tile posted below. All of them reflect my obsession with "little guys".  The one on the upper right features a BeanMan that seems to creep into most of the ideas I have.  I think he's a Humpty Dumpty variation. There's really nothing like ol' Humpty Dumpty for me--he's always been a poke to my muse.

Above is an enlargement of the design for a Fish tile.  I like the way Strathmore sketchbook paper takes watercolor.

Next, a final FishDiver tile, this one glazed in warm amber.  It's a thick tile, almost 3/4 of an inch. I posted it to Facebook--so far they haven't censored it, haha!

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Surprising Work of Theo Ellsworth

Since this blog is about the things I love, and things that interest and inspire me, I'm doing an entry about Theo Ellsworth's art.  I love it, and it interests and inspires me.  That's pretty much an understatement.  The second I saw all those black lines--sometimes swirling, sometimes staccato, always insanely mesmerizing--I was seriously intrigued.

Studying the actual images (one bizarre creature/face/circumstance after another) is more entertaining than any afternoon in an art museum.  I'm no art critic (and I mostly lump their vocab in with that weird wordiness of wine connoisseurs) so I'm not going to attempt to describe what I see in Theo Ellsworth's works.  You can look for yourself.  But look deep and long, because there's a huge reward waiting for your eyes and mind. And yeah, it'll be a treat for your spirit, too.

He makes comics, album covers, and illustrations for nursery rhymes; he publishes zines, makes remarkable wood cut-out art, and does shows. And I'm probably leaving a bunch out. All with works that are fresh water for thirsty eyes.

 What inspires this work?  Here's a quote from Ellsworth: 

"My ideas feel like they come from all over.  Things going on in my life tend to merge with ideas I've been thinking about, or a dream I had, and come out as a new idea.  A lot of my ideas come together right on the page, which is why I enjoy the automatic quality of drawing so much. Making detailed work puts me in a state of mind where I can be relaxed and alert at the same time, and just let the work flow.  I like being surprised by the outcome."

"I find nature really inspiring.  Ancient art always strikes a chord with me, as well as a lot of outsider art.  Adolf Wolfli, Henry Darger, Ernest Haekel, James Castle, Winsor McCay, Jack Kirby, Yuichi Yokoyama, and Jim Woodring are a few artists, off the top of my head, that get me inspired to sit down and make art.  My favorite magazine is Raw Vision.  I love comics and journals, and sketchbook art. I saw a nature documentary series called Life in the Undergrowth that inspired me more than most movies have, though I love film and all forms of storytelling."

So there you have it.  

For more of his works, check out his site:
his Flickr stream:
and his Etsy store:

Thanks everyone, for checking this out--hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  And thanks Theo, for your time and permission to do this.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Holidays are Coming

Not being a person who likes thinking about the holidays in July (which is the norm for Christmas products), I was glad this card design was commissioned only last week. It's much easier to get in the spirit this time of year. The pic above is just a detail of the design. I will post the whole card--but not until December. 

It felt good to do a simple watercolor after focusing so hard on acrylics this fall.  I forget how much I like the smell of the wet paper and the way the watercolor paint slips out of the brush and onto the surface.

This design features a Victorian owl and the present you see hanging from the branch.  My inspiration was the brass owl I posted a few weeks back.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A St. Cecilia painting and sequence

I've been fiddling around with the idea of a St. Cecilia painting since last spring.  She is considered the patron saint of music and musicians, because at her wedding she is said to have sung in her heart to God.
I love music, and the image of musicians in art, so this is a pretty good fit for one of my retablo-ish works.

  Painted the image onto a ground of yellow ochre and then, in a less-than-organized way, began to add the complementary colors--making a sort of color negative. The pink went onto the wall and rug, and I added the green on top.

I picked the Neo-classical costume mostly because I'd recently finished Jane Austin's Persuasion, and the time period seemed a good fit for a lady playing a lute-like instrument.

  Same with the next two pics in the sequence. Purple on top of the wainscot, yellow-ochre onto that. I wanted this to have a bit of a storybook feel, so the next step was to add black marks--a modified hatching--with a fine brush, on top of each section.

 Lots of layers of transparent glazes followed. This is the finished painting. St. Cecilia. Acrylic on cradled hardboard, 6" x 12", private collection. The hatch marks hark back to my ink-and-watercolor works.  I like the technique applied to an acrylic painting very much, and plan on more exploration of this.

 This detail shows St. Cecilia's instrument fretless.

Adding the frets finished it off.  Sorry about the glare, but forgot to photograph the finished work before I added some glossy glazes.  Thanks for checking this out--hope you like it!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Dog to Mouse

 Our dog Gus.  This makes him look sort of stately and noble.

 This is more like him.  Always in motion, and mad at me for moving him away from the warm radiator. 

 I draw him once in awhile in my sketchbook.

This is Gus as a mouse in a painting I posted previously, called Reveille. I really like this little guy.

 This is a green mouse in a new small acrylic.  He is based on Gus, even though he's a mouse. And green.

The Green Mouse (detail), private collection. Acrylic on oak floorboard, approx. 4 1/2" x 5 1/2".
Kind of like a stuffed animal this one is.  So is Gus I guess.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A life drawing from a museum mount

A bit more practice working from life--well, the poor animal is dead and stuffed.  Took a bit of a break before hitting the painting table in earnest and wandered around the Museum of Nature and Science before settling on this fellow.  I had drawn this specimen many times before as an art student.  Glad it is still in the museum.

I like to use watercolor in this inexpensive sketchbook.  The paper wrinkles up but the washy color goes onto this particular paper with a soothing flow.  In fact, the whole experience was soothing and without pressure.

I was inspired to do some more sketching from life after I came across Matteo Grilli's amazing watercolors in his blog.  Check it out--you won't be sorry.
What do you think--remarkable works, no?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Amulets, talismans, and stuff to hang around your neck

 Was throwing away a box of old papers and came across this sketch, probably done 20 years ago.  All the hanging sorcerer/witch/troll things really appealed then, and still do now I suppose.

I'm pretty sure I know why.  I remember coming across this illustration by John Bauer when I was in tenth grade.  It still blows me away.  And I remember most the amulet and stuff hanging from the troll. And then Brian Froud brought amulet-wearing creatures to a further genius-level in his books and images drawn for the movie The Dark Crystal. My hunt for things like that has gone on for years.

 Amulets, talismans, and hangy-pendant-things are real sources of creative fire-ups for me.  Not being a person who wears them or indulges in any sorcery or that sort of thing, I don't know much about their meaning.  But I've always liked to draw them and occasionally I make them.  I collect them too, since I am kind of a compulsive collector.  But I only collect the ones that seem to have a life or soul that twitches that of my own. The bunch above hangs from a nail in the wall of my studio. Well, the cross in the upper left hangs around my neck most of the time.

 This one I found in a drawer in a dingy junk shop.  The Steyning Athletic Club was founded in 1951 and still exists today in Surry, England.

 The old Auberge Du Coucou medal has the address embossed on the back: 9 Rue Danielle Casanova, Paris. The amazing ceramic bird pendant I bought from SpiritedEarth on Etsy.

This is a two-sided cross. Another discovery in a very cool antique store years ago.  One side depicts St. Francis of Assisi, the other St. Anthony of Padua.  Two of my favorite saints.

As a little kid I had read about the "holey stones" and their power.  The thing that really intrigued me was the belief that if one looked through the hole in a stone (only a natural hole will work) the other-world of supernatural and non-corporeal beings will be visible. That has not worked for me yet.  
As a kid, (when my family would go fishing) I spent more time searching the stream beds for a stone with a hole in it. This is the one I finally found.  It's the only one I ever found.  Sometimes I do wear this one around my neck.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Yet another toothy bird

Leaving Home. Acrylic on wood, approx. 3 1/4" x 5 1/4". Private collection.
I just finished re-reading Great Expectations. It was my favorite Dickens novel back in 9th grade, but that was pretty much all I remembered of it, outside of creepy Miss Havisham waving about like a ghost in her rotting wedding dress.  This painting has little to do with the novel, but I like the idea of leaving home and taking along nothing but great expectations. Like Pip, this bird is leaving home.  Unlike Pip, this guy's only expectations are in his dreams, as nobody's given him a pile of money. He's the lucky one.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Little Fish for Dinner

Acrylic on canvas (detail). Original painting is 12" x 30".  Don't really know, but may be re-working this one for awhile. Oh well, here's what it looks like so far.

I do like this--especially the color layering.  I'm not really crazy--I know it's a far cry from its mountainside inspiration.
 If there's room at the gallery, this one'll be up for the Favorite Things show in November at Sk3tchbook!

Thanks for looking!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Painting sequence for a new work

 A couple pages from my sketchbook.  I chose the birds in the upper left side for the subject of the painting.

 The preliminary composition sketch
(with an extra bird). I used Prismacolor pencils in the colors (sort of) from the mountainside (in the previous post).

 This is the largest (serious) painting I've done since high school (it's 12" x 30"). I very much like small pics, and always resented the idea that paintings have to be big to be legit.  On the other hand, some walls are big, and I don't always need to stay comfortable.
Obviously, the first step was coating the canvas with Cadmium Red, then painting the birds in with black.

 I roughed in "shadows" with light blue, and added a sea green sky as an underpainting.

 The warm oranges and yellows were next, and I warmed the sky with some glaze layers of yellow, to bring it up to the chartreuse of the just-turning leaves.

Kind of hard to tell in this photo (sorry!) but I added the red-violets I saw in the mountain rocks.  Softened the sky and mountain with some glazes of white, then some ochre glaze over that. Last, a pure turquoise eye for the big momma bird.  The painting needs more layers of glazes, and my signature. 

I will post some details of the finished painting next.
Thanks for visiting!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Color source for a new painting

 Last week went to the Western Slope.  The Aspen trees were pretty dramatic. I liked the light green and yellow with the turquoise sky.

Driving by an old burn site, I noticed that the Gambel Oaks were creating the color scheme I wanted (along with the  rocks and sky). Gambel Oak is my favorite mountain plant--even more so now that they'd given me a new idea for the color in a painting.  Yellow-gold, chartreuse, and orange, mainly, with red and turquoise as accents.

Just finished the new painting, so will post it next, along with the prelim sketches.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


 A Moonlit Journey, acrylic on canvas, 4" x 12", private collection. Journeys symbolized by boats in art have become such a cliche, although some of them do hit you seriously in the gut.  But we're all on journeys--so what?  This guy is enjoying his ride.

I was asleep at the wheel and varnished this one before I took the photo--so I apologize about the glare.
We were in Arizona awhile back and I saw a painting of a cactus (what else?) that had some subtle layers going on in the background which I loved.  My attempt to use layers gave this pic a feeling of mountains or a bushy landscape in the background. 
And I watched Ken Burns' Prohibition last week--I loved it! That's where the hat came from.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pages from my sketchbook

 Lately have simply been able to dismiss my inner critic.  Good riddance to him!  My whole life has been a struggle with that imaginary and sinister figure [Some art director, the nebulous public, another phantom artist?] who clasped his bony hands, peeped over my shoulder, and sneered at every drawing I worked on.

It's been a nice change, not to care even whether or not I myself like what I'm drawing.  Right now, at this time, I'm done with all that fretting and perfectionism.  Most of the pictures in my sketchbook please me not at all.  But the process of drawing them does, and it's all that matters.

Like a vacation, it probably won't last.  But while it does, I'm simply flooding pages and other surfaces with my scrawl. It's a pleasure, and it's a remarkable thing for my creativity and mental health. That creepy critic?  Probably not dead, just banished to the basement or the crawl space--for now at least. 

Just finished a new painting of a bird in a boat.  I'll post it next.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Owls, continued, and a new owl painting

 Most people like owls. I am no exception. These are from my sketchbook--a few pictorial thoughts drawn with a micron pen this past summer.  Anthropomorphic is pretty much usual for me.
 Found this little brass owl on Etsy last week. He's hollow, about 3" tall, and worn.  A great inspiration for more drawings. Anybody have any ideas on its age?

Lonely Little GhostOwl.  Acrylic on oak wood, approx. 4 1/4" x 6". Private collection.
For some reason, a bunch of paintings done recently have little hills in them, with the figures featured almost as portraits. The reason? No idea.  I could make something up, but often the creative impulse happens in the unconscious mind and I just let that be.  That's pretty boring to those who are curious about the background stories of artwork, and I know lots of artists who make inspiration stuff up. I don't.

Next blog: More birds!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A new St. Francis painting

Used another scrap of oak floorboard and painted it Cadmium Red. Painted in a rough sketch of Francis with black acrylic.  The finished painting was done for the Capuchin Province of Mid-America, as a small part their annual fundraiser.

They are a group of friars who work hard all over the world, in the places no one else wants to go, for the smallest, most forgotten of us. To check out more of what they do, please visit:

The painting was then completed, but the warm colors felt a bit hot to me, and the cold colors seemed too pure for my eye.

So I softened and greyed the colors with glazes using matte medium. This pic is closest to the real thing, but in actuality, the accurate colors fall somewhere between these two photos.

St. Francis at Sunset (detail). Acrylic on wood, approx.6" x 9". Private collection.
I like this one quite a lot, and his message of peace, non-violence, and friendship is (and always has been, I guess) badly needed these days.

My next post is another work on a piece of floor board, but it's a goofy one.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A crabby striped bird on a wire

StripeyBird on a Wire.  Acrylic and watercolor washes on watercolor paper mounted on deep canvas.
4" x 4". Private collection.

Posted this a few months back in an unfinished state.  Finished him last week and just put it up on Etsy.
I love the way watercolor takes to the paper--that velvety look and all.  Experimented with acrylic washes on the paper and liked the result, so mounted it onto a canvas.

Friday, September 23, 2011

LampHat Finds the Very Best Tree and prelims

Some sketches that spontaneously appeared during a meeting at the gallery.  I've convinced myself that I pay better attention when I draw, but the truth of that has never been tested--by me at least. Like a lot of artists, my school notebooks and meeting notes have always been filled with more drawing than writing.

LampHat Finds the Very Best Tree. Acrylic on upcycled oak floorboard. Approx. 5" x 6 1/2". Private collection. The old house behind mine got scraped, and during the construction of the new one, a bunch of oak floor scraps ended up in the alley. They've provided great painting surfaces.

For a change, I like the finished LampHat figure better than the sketch.  That doesn't often happen.  Yes, was thinking about Christmas early when this was painted. That doesn't often happen either. 

LampHat is patting the tree in an affectionate way, so I think he's found a friend rather than a holiday decoration.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Some Sketches and a Finished Painting

 In a strange, but pretty interesting place right now.  My style--or whatever--is all over the board, but I guess that's really not new. Still, with the coming of Autumn, lots of cool ideas arrived too, and they all seem kind of disconnected from the concepts I was working with during the summer.  These little fellows--and some others--interrupted my sleep last week and I sketched them out quickly so I could go back to bed.

Another Round.  Acrylic on upcycled oak floorboard, approx. 5" x 5".  Painted this without a preliminary drawing onto the raw board, along with five other, sort of similar pics on boards of different sizes.  I was charging ahead with the loose goal of completing six small paintings in two days. For some reason did not tone the surface first with a color.  I never seem to prepare my surface the same or use any technique with any consistency anymore.  Probably because working on cloth, watercolors, and acrylics all at the same time has scrambled my brain. What a great time!

This detail shows the layers. I will post some of the other sketches and paintings in a few days.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

CaffeineBird and Offspring

CaffeineBird. Acrylic on hardboard, 4" x 4". Private collection. This painting was done a few years ago, and was very much fun to paint.  The board was initially covered with the Cadmium Red of the border, and then the other paints were applied on top.

CaffeineBird II. Acrylic on deep wrapped canvas, 5" x 5", private collection.  Since then, I've had a few requests for similar pics.  That's usually not something I can do readily, as my mind is often racing on to something else. But I liked this image and the process and it seemed to flow as before--a pretty nice surprise.

Reveille. Acrylic on deep wrapped canvas, 7" x 5", private collection.  This one is another child of the original Caf. Bird.  Obviously, many differences, including the use of Cerulean Blue as a shadow underpaint.  The little guys came from some sketches I had done--the blue reveille player is a variant eggman, and the rodent fellow came from a sketch of my dog.  And I don't think I'm done with this subject/technique at all.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Slagtryk Magazine Cover, September 2011

Cooking Dinner, 6" x 12". Acrylic on canvas.
Painted after I completed the initial, very small pic below:

Cooking Lunch, 3" x 4". Acrylic on wood block

Anything that has to do with homey cooking, small kitchens, and food appeals to me.  The most memorable parts of books for me are often the parts about food--especially coming to mind are the dinner scenes in The Wind in the Willows and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and the great discussions of food in Iris Murdoch's The Sea, the Sea (one of my most favorite, full-of-crazy-people books).

Last spring I was asked to provide some prints for the International Exhibit at Galore, an art expo in Denmark. Cooking Dinner was one of the prints.  It was seen by the editor of Slagtryk magazine, who requested the image for the September 2011 cover.  Please check out the link, and translate! It's well worth the visit, and I'm very pleased to be part of the September issue.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trick or Treat revisited

Trick or Treat, acrylic on panel, 2009.  One of my first serious and (to me) successful forays into acrylic paint, which I'd previously used for cloth sculpture or clock faces only.  (By serious I only mean that this was made for exhibition.)

Somehow I had the idea that I was a watercolorist only.  While never really followed the "rules" of traditional watercolor, I nonetheless seemed stuck a bit in trying to fit some kind of pre-conceived "artist/illustrator" mold, instead of simply being a maker.
I've had quite a good time of late, just exploring and often abandoning all the do's and don'ts that were slowing my imaginative progress and, most importantly, limiting my contentment. Very glad I have learned abundant techniques for illustration/art--anatomy, form, shading, etc. I don't regret that and wouldn't trade it and still study it. But I am loving the ability to choose to suspend those rules, and this newly found freedom.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ghosts and AB Frost

These little sketches continue my exploration of little ghost guys.
Ghosts and such are pretty interesting to me--not the TV show kind with quaking cameras and little exclamations in dark hallways where nothing happens for an hour except commercial breaks--but the good stories (especially Victorian ghost tales) and spirit lore out there.  

AB Frost illustrated some goofy poems about ghosts by Lewis Carroll in the 1880s. A great discovery for me-- I really get a charge out of studying his drawings. I had pretty much ignored Frost's work before, because I'm not a "sporting picture" fan.  Seeing his illustrations for the Carroll poems made me realize how a good artist's work often reaches genius when working with great text, or is stimulated by a great mind.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Owl pellet and bones

Always wanted to find and dissect an owl pellet. Honestly though, the idea of rooting through the poop at the foot of the cottonwoods and then sterilizing the pellet in my oven didn't sound like what I was after.  So I bought one pre-sterilized.  This is what was inside.  Still have a bit to go.  I wouldn't make it as a paleontologist or an archaeologist.  Way too impatient for the bit-by-bit unearthing.
After a peroxide soak, the two mouse skulls, one rat skull, and a bottle of bones are nicely whitened. I'm ready to draw them, which was pretty much the main object all along.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A soft sculpture Goblin Face sequence

I blocked in a face on muslin using a brush and black acrylic.  This is the unfinished eye of the goblin.
Pretty much finished eye.
The whole face in an early stage. I stuck the cloth in a wood hoop and gessoed it.  Maybe too light a coating, I don't know.  But it seemed an okay surface and I had a good time painting it.  Sort of a nothing-to-lose, relaxing experience.
The (almost) finished face. I want to sand and stain it a bit before calling it done.

I was very used to using matte sign painter's acrylics. Recently switched to a different brand of semi-matte acrylics. Am getting used to them while exploring this cloth sculpture genre.  It is very engaging.  The How-To-Use-a-Sewing-Machine class turned out to be a great experience.  A very patient, expert-teacher helped. With this goblin guy, the next step is to find a good backing cloth and then put it together to make a finished pillow-thing.

I just saw a soft sculpture on Etsy that had an extraordinary face done in colored pencil--amazing stuff out there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Hot birds at Heat!

GrenadeBird (detail, acrylic on board, private collection), and Atomic Bird were selected by juror Dana Cain to be part of Heat! at Denver's Next Gallery.  The show opened August 19th and ran through September 4th, 2011. I was excited to have my work included.  Next Gallery is in the Highlands neighborhood of North Denver

Atomic Bird (detail). Acrylic on board. Private collection.

My drawing box

A little sketch from life--still determined to do this frequently (okay, yearly maybe?).  Actually, since summer is not my favorite (or most creative) season, it's a good time for me to relax, draw objects that I see, and attempt to be a legit artist.  This is not the kind of thing I would normally find interesting, but I do love this little metal box found in a pile of stuff at a second-hand store. And although my proportion is not accurate, the Micron pens and other drawing supplies do fit in the box.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Tenniel's Little Guys and Soft Sculpture

Sir John Tenniel's little guys have continued to inspire.  I've copied many of them over the years to try to learn how he thought and drew.  I read once that he didn't learn to draw the figure from life--he learned anatomy from casts and by copying from master works.

I made this soft sculpture years ago, when I was into making toys for my kids. This one's modeled after Father William's son in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland--I love that figure. Hand stitched by my clumsy fingers, this little guy took some time, and I knew not what I was doing.

I am needing to sculpt, and clay's just not colorful enough, so I'm going to foray back into some 3-D work with cloth.  This week I take a class on how to use a sewing machine, and then I'll be set to explore. There are artists out there (Joyce Stahl and Scott Smith are in the forefront) who do amazing works in this genre.

 Not knowing what I was doing, I used brush and ink on thin muslin, and filled it in with thin acrylics. But didn't give this one to my kids as the paint was probably not kid safe.

I've been sketching a crop of these angular, toothy goblins for a couple of months, and some of them will probably be my first models for some three dimensional fellows.

Yesterday I spent time just practicing the painting of eyeballs, since the eyes will be prominent.

Color and pattern are going to take precedence. Hard to tell that's what is in my mind from these sketches.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Mountains, a Deer, and some Street Musicians

Haven't painted in a week or so--took a bit of a break in the mountains. I was certain I would find some inspiration there. Instead I found some noisy and fun company, but also some solitude.  Climbed above town one afternoon, sat in the shade under a Gambel Oak, and observed the birds and the flies.

On the way down I startled this young deer with velvet on his horns.  He froze and so did I. Not being a nature photographer, I stared at him while he watched me. When I finally remembered I had a camera, he had trotted up the hill, so this was the pic I snapped.

In the mountain town, I listened to a few street musicians.  They fascinate me--pretty much anyone who can play an instrument does. It is magical that a human, through some tube or a box with strings, can fill up the street with such beautiful, ever changing sounds  So that evening I passed the time sketching these little street musicians and other random guys. And that's it for this post--some random photos that may inspire a landscape painting down the road, and some unrelated sketches that will definitely find their way into some artwork. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Letter

The Letter, watercolor, 5" x 8". Private collection. The finished Hornbill painting. Well maybe. Will revisit it a few more times before framing. Seems there is always room for a little tweaking.

It doesn't look much different from the last post, except for the curtains and a few details.

I very much value feedback from other artists when I get stuck.  Showed it to Ruth Fiege ( last week and she suggested upping the highlights. She was right of course. A bit of white gouache perked him up.

Am going to begin putting watercolor on the Alice in Wonderland drawings I posted awhile back. Had been doing so many acrylics that I thought the ability to watercolor left me. Got some confidence back with this Hornbill, and am pretty excited to add some color to the Mad Hatter!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hornbill painting progression cont'd

This is the next step in the progression of the Hornbill watercolor. As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s being painted on Crescent watercolor board, so it looks a bit different from my other recent watercolors.

My idea for this painting came from seeing a Hornbill at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo this past spring. The pic I took of it with my phone was terrible so these resources are from a book. But I really love Hornbills--they seem very intelligent, and have a crabby affect.

I most often use watercolor and acrylic, and in combination once in awhile. Sometimes ink, and sometimes collage, too.

I look at my work and see quite a bit of diversity, and tend to worry about that.  And the other day it dawned on me that the variations are all about the surface I happen to choose.

That is probably obvious to most artists, but I am a pretty slow study, especially about analyzing my art. Guess it’s because talking about my work or thinking about it after it is complete isn’t something I do often (or with much comfort).

Usually I grab whatever paper or board or panel that happens to catch my eye. Then I draw on it or brush in an outline. And then the pic falls into place. Or not. And then it’s finished and on to the next.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter Owls for There With Care

Was fortunate and happy to receive a request to do a couple of paintings of Hogwarts owls.  They were commissioned for two of the actors in the Harry Potter movies, as thank you gifts for their continued support of  There With Care ( ) It's an amazing organization that provides practical support for children and families facing critical illness.

As preparation, I drew the six owls above, practiced a bit of watercolor on one, and then picked the two I liked best for the final artworks.

The inspiration for the owls came from this series of sketches I drew on a plane to Seattle a few summers ago. Quite a few paintings have come from those sketches and the one below:

Watercolor works a bit differently on Moleskine paper, but I kind of like it.

This is the finished Slytherin Owl, for Tom Felton, the actor who plays Draco Malfoy.

The finished Gryffindor Owl, for Devon Murray, the actor who plays Seamus Finnegan.

Both owls were done in brush & ink, with watercolor, on Arches 300 lb cold press paper. It was enjoyable work, and I was pleased to be able to do these paintings for a very fine organization.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Friar Owl

The hardest part was figuring out how to put an owl in the habit of a monk. I posted a few sketches I did awhile back—here are a few more.  Most of them were less than successful, but it was in my mind to do this, and so I figured it out.

Friar Owl, acrylic in panel, 5" x 5", private collection.  Saint Francis of Assisi liked birds very much.  So do I.  This is not a picture of St. Francis as an owl.  It is a small painting of an owl who is a Franciscan friar.
This was painted with matte acrylics on a hardboard panel.  I painted the panel black, then drew the outline with brush and white acrylic. Many of the numerous layers of paint are peeking through.

I like this sketch better than the finished painting though.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Big Rains

Had a couple weeks of big rains every day. One early morning, after what I thought was the biggest, I went around my neighborhood looking for ideas.  Somehow the flat light at 6 am suited my mood.  The little gulch was washed out and the birds were silent--unusual for that hour.

The Observatory reflected in a lake that was the baseball field.

After so many days of heavy rain, the fungi are rampant. 
This little house on my block is abandoned.  All the water has made the yard around it emerald. It's a beautiful Arts & Crafts cottage.  Like many of the great little houses around here, its days are probably numbered, and it'll get torn down to make way for yet another look-alike, ugly, pretentious trophy-house. I've been photographing it quite a bit lately--my dream would be to make it into a studio. The reality will be just using it in a future painting.   

Next post: the finished painting of Friar Owl.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A watercolor painting in progress

Working on a painting of a strange bird character reading a letter.  Drawn on crescent watercolor board, the surface takes watercolor very smoothly and layers are easy to build on it. The head needs some lights pulled out and will add some color to the beak, and then I will continue to paint the rest.  I began this as a demo during an art guild presentation.  I like it so far and am enjoying the process.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Owl Friars and a Green Glass Owl

Was trying to paint outdoors last week, during some very hot weather, and the paint was drying too fast. To avoid being frustrated, I drew in my sketchbook instead.  These little Owl Friars are continuing a streak of owl art that I've been exploring for the past few years.

Owls in art and design have been pretty ubiquitous over the past few years, maybe due to a renewed interest in the1960's. Then as now, owls were everywhere. (My mom had them all over the house--from owl trivets to owl shaped candle lanterns.) Or maybe the owls in the Harry Potter series re-started the fascination.

My own interest was piqued when I found this fat, green, owl-bookend in a junk store. It was designed in the 60's by Joel Myers--a thick glass slab of an owl that I like very much. Since then, those peculiar and very fun-to-draw birds have been pretty regular in my finished work and sketches.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Snails in our garden and a watercolor study of them

Some snails have made our garden their home. I never see them sludging along, but find the empty shells underneath my plants in the spring.  They are just common garden snails--Helix Aspersa--but I like the way the shells look and feel, and have been collecting them for years to add to my cabinet.

Some call them pests, but they haven't harmed my plants as yet.  The underside of this yellow green Hosta seems a favorite place of theirs.

My collection of shells (plus robin and dove eggshells) was the choice for this drawing/painting-from-life study, although the hue of the stripes ended up pretty intense.  I had placed them on a copper dish, so everything was substantially warmed up. The true colors of the shells are much more beautiful.

I love the poetry and other writings of Gerard Hopkins.  His concept of "inscape" (the observable identity of an object) and especially "instress"--where the object one is observing literally thrusts its energy/identity into one's being--always comes full force when I'm drawing from life.  These snail shells give out a very powerful, yet peaceful energy.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Angel in the Snow

Angel in the Snow, acrylic on deep wrapped canvas, 4" x 12", private collection.
This puts me in mind of my illustration days--has a children's book feel to it.

A detail

Another detail

The finished piece surprised me--guess they all do in a way.  But this one definitely developed with a life of its own all along, and emerged very different from the initial picture in my mind.  Maybe because I was painting it in front of an intermittent audience, and wasn't thinking about each step.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Angel in the Snow (in progress)

Was lucky to be asked to demo paint during the Cherry Creek Arts Festival this year, outside Creator Mundi Gallery. Had in mind a color scheme that I saw in a David Wiedman poster—pretty much magentas, blues, and limey greens. Here I had painted a rough in black over a magenta ground.

Wasn’t able to stick to it, mostly because the limey green made the angel’s halo look like a hat.  With a few gentle suggestions from others, I used ochre for the halo and checkerboard pattern on the clothing—good choice.

I like the pic so far. Today I will finish it—was so hot outside yesterday that, even with Slow Dry Retarder, the paint was drying as I mixed it. 

A particularly great festival this year.  I looked good and hard at other artist’s works.  Continually blown away by the ability so many have with color—novel approaches that seem effortless and are incredibly appealing. Check out, for example, the work of Emma Ginsberg , Cori Dantini , and Chris Vance  Their output is incredible—obviously all that work pays off in their art.

Will post the finished painting tomorrow.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Silas (The finished version from a previous posting)

Mixed media on deep canvas, 4" x 4", private collection.
 I found a very old (1890) edition of Silas Marner that was disintegrating and used some of the pages for the collaged parts.  It wraps all around the sides of the canvas.  This owl was done for the Creator Mundi Gallery.  

I will be doing painting demos there on Monday July 4th during the Cherry Creek Arts Festival.  If you are down there, stop by and say hello.  Their address is 2910 East Third Avenue in Denver.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

St. Ignatius of Loyola and mid-century influences

St. Ignatius of Loyola, acrylic on deep wrapped canvas, 4" x 12", private collection.

I have been looking through a stack of my old Golden Book Encyclopedias.  My parents bought them for my brother and me in the 60's, and I passed a lot of time as a kid reading them, but mostly copying the illustrations. This painting of St. Ignatius is my version of the style of those illustrators.

The illustrators for these encyclopedias and other school textbooks were given little credit, but I'm grateful to all of them.  The pictures they made--probably very quickly and for little money--burned themselves into my brain, and kept school boredom at bay.

This great encyclopedia cover montage was one of my favorites as a little kid.  Puts me in mind of the great Sandman covers by Dave McKean (albeit not quite as dark). I love the color combinations.

Some of the illustrations were simple, with a black outline and odd colors.  This was my favorite pic in all the encyclopedias, even though the descriptions of "real ghosts" kept me awake at night.

Some were painterly and amazing--nice to see the resurgence of interest in mid-century pics and design. Among the artists who contributed work for the Golden Encyclopedias were notable children's illustrators Garth Williams, Feodor Rojankowsky, Gustav Tenggren (who also worked on Disney's Pinocchio), and Alice and Martin Provenson.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Little Guys

Little guys have been with me at least since my first memory of them at age three.  I was certain then that a group of them was standing on the front porch, just outside the screen door, chattering away. I've always liked to draw versions of them and have sketchbooks full. One of the main reasons I went to art school was to learn how to draw them more accurately. They're still around--I'm at work now on a painting of the little guy with the accordion.

I collect them whenever I find one that strikes that particular inner chord, and sometimes my family members pick one or two up for me.  The little guy with the red hat was found in a very tiny, bleak, thrift-store in Grand Junction 20 years ago.  The little guy lady was found for me by my brother, and my son bought me the moon-faced little guy. These types are old, from the 40's, and were made of sawdust mixed with glue and pressed into molds.

The moon faced guy was the subject of a sight drawing exercise a few years ago. (The bird was drawn in response to an overly angry fellow I observed at a party--nothing to do with this entry.)
 Every culture seems to have versions of them and a fascination with them—elves, leprechauns, little goblins, Hobbits, etc. Carl Jung, in his autobiography, wrote of carving a little guy from his school ruler, placing it in a box along with a special stone, and hiding it in the attic when he was ten. I completely relate to Jung's fascination with little guys. Not sure I care to research the unconscious reasons behind them, but I'm drawn to draw them.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A week of letters

Took the week off (sort of) from doing art.  At least serious art (if anything I do is considered serious). Got a bit cranky and so definitely needed a rest.  Instead of working on a couple of painting requests, I painted wood letters for the awning at Sk3tchbook! and goofed around with illustrated (postal) letters.  I like receiving letters in the mail, but send too few myself.  This little illustration is on the back of one of the envelopes I sent Thursday.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Old Brass Lighter

I have always found sight drawing tedious. I know it is necessary. But drawing the things inside my head entertains me unfailingly. Drawing objects, not always.

The memory of a high school art teacher setting out dainty teacups and china vases full of flowers for us to draw still irritates. My head (then as now) was full of toothy, bulge-eyed creatures and anthropomorphic birds. (Crabby kid--not exactly a desirable member of the art class.)
But I admire artists who have the patience and skill to interpret what their eyes see.
It is a valuable way to understand the world and add to technical skills, but I find myself so antsy while trying to transcribe something in front of me.

Luckily, once in a great while, I almost enjoy the process, as with these sketches I did of this little brass lighter. Taking the time to record what I see adds to the image library inside my head. This does make it easier to give life to an imaginative work later on. I've been trying to spend a bit of time each day drawing the objects I love. A little more self-discipline might be in order.

I like searching out peculiar old things. Like hand-made artworks, they have a spirit, and breathe life into me. New, mass-produced items do exactly the opposite.

Don't know anything about this lighter--Linda pointed it out for me in a junky antique shop in Seattle--she knew I'd love it. The proportion is very pleasing to me, as is the warm brass. It's an amazing little steampunky object. One of those items that I love way too much.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Two "owls" in process

A couple of owls in process.  Both are watercolor, both are about half finished, and both will be mounted on canvas blocks.  The pics are experiments in color--def. not sophisticated, but am always trying to gain the color control I see in so many works I admire.  Will get these finished soon and post.
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