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!

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