Monday, December 23, 2013

One of the Best Ghost Stories
Scrooge's Door Knocker. Mixed media on wood, private collection.

"One of the most enduring Christmas traditions is the telling of ghost stories and the most famous of all frightening festive tales is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol originally published on the 19th December 1843. It tells the story of miserly business man Ebeneezer Scrooge and his life-changing encounter with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future one creepy Christmas Eve night and has been filmed many times over the years. Perhaps the most creepy of all the adaptations is the 1971 animated ABC-TV special starring Michael Redgrave as the narrator and Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Indeed, this version was held in such high regard that it was eventually released to cinemas and won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short in 1972. With its emphasis on death, gloom, ghosts and horror this short film is a real treat for classic horror fans particularly during the festive season." *

Quoted the above because I couldn't have said it better.

I loved it then, I love it now. Here's the film in its entirety:

I'm sure the movie's version of Marley's Ghost influenced me as a youngster, and I attempted this version a few years later, in art school.

But the film's artwork--in fact the whole film--is amazing!

Thank you for following my blog. I hope you enjoy this Holiday Season, and my best wishes for a contented New Year!



Saturday, December 14, 2013

Objects, and the Thingness of Them, etc.
Special Rum. Mixed media.

Two, related subjects: The importance of being bushwhacked, and the importance of a "thing".

First subject: I'm constantly sucker-punched by new art discoveries. I admit to then getting easily sidetracked. But it's a wonderful thing! This past year I was blindsided by some amazing still-life works by French artist Guillaume Mongenet*.

But as I wrote in my previous post, I've not been one to happily draw objects myself until recently. Mongenet's approach to objects is an example of what a creative person can do with them--taking them far beyond mundane studies.

An example: Lantern (used in Mongenet's catalogue above) now hangs in my studio. I was thankful it was still available. It is beyond visual; it is tactile, filled with spirit, and it inspires me to try harder.

Look at this detail of Mongenet's Lantern--gorgeously haunting. What use of mixed media, and what a cool treatment of Object!

Now I've also been recently blindsided by object art digitally created for video games. Many of those artworks are wonderfully rich, with the same appeal as the objects drawn for classic Disney animated films many years ago. Between Guillaume Mongenet's objects, and game-artist's objects, I'm hooked on making a bunch of my own.

Here is Special Rum, prior to the addition of color. I am enjoying drawing objects immensely.

Second subject: I thrive on actual objects. One-of-a-kind things; vintage objects with wear and tear and age have always attracted me, and art objects have the same attraction. Both types are things, but special things that enrich my living space and my life. For me, neither objects nor art need to be expensive or large--they simply have to have a soul.

Now I am not one to dismiss digital art, and never will. Art is art, period. I admire and am intrigued by so many great people who create amazing artworks via digital media.  But I will always want the "thing"--the one and only, made-by-hand, piece of art. So while I'm incredibly inspired and in awe of digital art, it could only sit there on my computer screen, or come to me as a print. And a print hasn't got that "thingness" that will breathe its spirit into me.
This view of Mongenet's Lantern gives you an idea; the achingly-marvelous, tactile surface of the original. No print can affect me like this--the real, handcrafted thing.
 You can accuse me of being elitist or a materialist. I don't think I am. Art is art--it doesn't need labels or corrals in order to be legitimate. But for me, the unique piece with the hand of the artist or craftsman stamped on it is essential.

*And check out more works of Guillaume Mongenet!

Thanks for the visit!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Snow Scenes--A Couple Favorites

Bird Trapper. Jean-Francois Millet
A few subjects really stick me hard in the gut. Some snow scenes seem to do it, and this is one of them.
 Sometimes I'm not sure if it's because of a memory or a dream, but whichever, the feeling stirred is deep and profound. Is it really only the light--the verisimilitude?
Snow, Real Snow. Honore Daumier
Here is another work that hits my sweet spot. In this case, the light again is perfect and stirring, and that goofy fellow in the nightcap? He's Everyman.
I know it's not officially winter, but it is snowing hard right now in Denver. It's quiet and still, but the view out my window just doesn't measure up to those masterpieces.
Nonetheless, a peaceful day to you--and thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Quick and Easy: DIY Artist's Light Box

Manufactured light boxes for tracing? Either not bright enough or harshly expensive.
But I've wanted one for years.

 So, taking cues from a number of DIY sites on the subject--some too simplistic and some hyper-technical, I made my own. 

My methods may be foolish. I have no idea if there is an easier way to do any of this. All I know is that it was easy for me, and that's saying a lot.

I rejected box-building as too time-consuming. Figured I could find a ready made, sturdy case. (Almost bought an old silverware box at the junk store. Its great built-in drawer almost had me sold, but the thing had thick, pink felt guts inside--maybe too difficult to remove. And at $14, not cheap enough either.)
Then it occurred to me to look around the basement...

and I found two painter's cases like this--gifts to me way back in high school (thanks Mom!). I used the cleanest one.
Before I did anything else, I called the local plexiglass supplier to see if I could try out some plexi samples before purchase. Their answer was affirmative so I dove into the project.

It was not difficult to remove the dividers with a chisel. (Luckily, the old paint tubes did not require this.)

 Had to cut the opening for the plexiglass, so was pretty happy that I have a Dremel (thanks Dad!). Even happier to find it had a tiny buzz-saw attachment that easily removed the inside of the lid of the case. I left a rim all the way around because, thinking ahead for a change, I knew I'd need a thicker edge upon which to attach the plexiglass. Oh, the blue tape is for masking it off before spray painting the inside. (Sorry, got ahead of the camera.)

 So here is a group of materials, clockwise from bottom:
Blue masking tape 
Westek 36" Ultra Thin LED Strip Light; in three 12" sections. (I bought this only with the assurance of return if it wasn't bright enough. It is bright, but I can still attach one more strip if need be--nice to have options.)
High Gloss White Spray Paint; for reflectivity inside the box
Paint Case; cut up and masked off

 Here are the connected Strip lights and the recently white-sprayed interior of the case. 

I drilled a hole for the cord, then gathered all this up (along with test materials; a pencil drawing, sketch paper, a sheet of 300 lb watercolor paper) and headed to the plexi supply.
I plugged it in, and after testing many types from white to frosted, and several thicknesses, I found that 1/8" thick frosted plexiglass allowed me to clearly view my drawing--even seeing through the thick watercolor paper was not a problem. The 1/8" thick sheet was plenty sturdy for the size of my light box, so I gave the guy the measurements and the piece was cut to perfection.

 Once home, I attached the light strips to the inside of the box with Scotch brand Indoor Mounting Tape (the foam backed stuff with the green plaid paper)...

and turned it on! The lights are much more intense than this photo shows and unlike fluorescent bulbs,
they stay very cool--no vent necessary.

I pre-drilled holes in the plexiglass the same size size as the small screws (see that one in the corner), then screwed it to the top of the box. The plexi edges and corners weren't sharp, but I did sand them, rounding them a bit with very fine sandpaper.

A backtrack: This shows a makeshift grommet on the inside of the box. It's just a Scotch brand peel-and-stick rubber floor-care pad I dug out of the drawer. I cut an X in it with an X-acto knife and threaded the LED cord through. It's a simple and effective way to keep the cord in place without having to buy a grommet or tie a knot in the cord. And the final tests:
A sketch on tracing paper seen through heavy white drawing paper.
and same sketch showing through 300 lb. cold press watercolor paper. (I know this photo doesn't make it look all that clear, but it is--especially in a darkened studio.)

And there she is--finished, cheap, and beautiful! Well, functional at least.
And she's the perfect size for me at
13" x 16 3/4" x 3"

Given that most of the materials were found around the house, my total cost was minimal.
The only things I had to buy were:
 LED light strip pack: $30
Mounting Tape: $6
Frosted Plexi: $8
Gloss White Spray Paint: $7

So for only fifty-one bucks and a bit of problem-solving, I got a solid tracing box that exactly serves my needs.

If you like this but my directions aren't clear, just comment or email me--
and thanks for checking it out!

Monday, July 15, 2013

A Cannonball from Zim

Pirate sketch via
 This little fellow was inspired by a new issue of an old book by Eugene Zimmerman--the great comic artist.
If you've followed my blog, you know that the "little guys" feature prominently here and in my art. This book is not only full of those fellows, it is packed with fascinating writing and helpful advice for artists.

From Picture This Press, the Lost Art Books series "collects and preserves the works of illustrators and cartoonists from the first half of the 20th century". Definitely a publisher worth supporting.
Spent the weekend reading and learning from Zimmerman's humor, philosophy, and art tips. Like Loomis' Fun with a Pencil, this book is full of powerful stuff cloaked in humor. It might seem quaint in delivery, but Zimmerman's wisdom-waters run deep and refreshing.

  And the little guys he drew are some of the best!

Thanks for the visit--hope you found it interesting

Friday, July 12, 2013

Lantern Fascination

Lantern sketch via
Lantern sketch. Brush and ink, watercolor.
I notice recurring motifs in artist's works--Heath Robinson drew lots of patches and pitchers; Rackham had his pollard oaks.
Not putting myself on their level, but I noticed lanterns show up frequently--not really consciously--in my pictures.
So I dragged all my sketchbooks to the couch--even ones from my youth--and proved that beyond a doubt. There are a lot of them.

 Maybe the fascination comes from this one:
Great Grandpa's signal lantern from when he worked on the railroad. He gave it to me before he died--I loved him and treasure it. Not sure that's enough of a reason to include them so often though.
At any rate, I've posted some lantern sketches before, as prelims for a project, but here are a few more, past and present:

 One from art school years.

One from my younger days.

In thinking about the symbolism of lanterns in literature and art, I figure they most likely represent truth, or the light of God, or wisdom. But I'm guessing. Most of mine were drawn without really thinking, and without resource.

From a older watercolor illustration (unpublished).

From a random sketchbook page.

Gave in and googled "Tarot symbology of lanterns". This from the Tarot Reading Psychic:
"Power of intuition, truth and courage; hope, healing and the quest for new found enlightenment through spiritual wisdom; new found awareness; a reminder that every dark path has a light" (Really?)
Another simple oldie

Can't remember the title of this one. From the 90's--this pic came from the 
catalog I think. I remember working hard to come up with the face on the lamp.

 Always liked this pen and ink sketch.

Detail from a watercolor done about three years ago.

A sketch fragment

Detail from One-Eyed Wizard via
From a sketch done this week. Lanterns lend themselves to the anthropomorphic pretty well--this one's from a Welsh miner's lamp in my collection.

I've never been much for analyzing my works and the motifs that recur, but I think it's a pretty safe bet that the lantern fascination goes hand in hand with my admiration of the past, and the feeling of being born into the wrong century (or nostalgia for a past life?).

Leaving you with a quote by W.B Yeats:

 “People think  I am merely trying to bring back a little of the old dead beautiful world of romance into this century of great engines and spinning Jinnies. Surely the hum of wheels and clatter of presses, let alone the lecturers with their black coats and tumblers of water, have driven away the goblin kingdom and made silent the feet of the little dancers.”

I can relate. Nothing wrong with shutting off the glare of a computer screen and letting a bit of soft lantern light and a couple of goblins into the room, is there?

As always, thanks for the visit.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cruikshank Characters: Real and Refreshing

By George Cruikshank via
From A Comic Alphabet by George Cruikshank

I love character illustrations and character design, especially those that seem, like Cruikshank's, as unaffected and unpretentious as a sketch. I don't know much about his work process, but the figures seem drawn more from imagination than a reliance on resources.

Now I am all for using resources and do it all the time. It's an essential part of illustration. But there is something about work that springs direct from the artist's brain. Somehow, it reads Genuine.

I've always been intrigued by that, and also ambivalent--I mean, research and resources help make an illustration more convincing, right?  Still, this quote by the great illustrator Larry MacDougall resonates:
"What I like best is when the artist is making it all up straight out of his head, without the aid of reference or photographs. Drawings done in this way are the real thing, clear windows into the spirit and character of the illustrator."
(From the book Witching Hour:  The Art of Larry MacDougall  

I think that's why I love to sketch, and why other artist's sketchbooks fascinate way beyond their finished paintings. For me, it is during the sketching process that the internal critic is silenced--when it's not about what an imaginary (or real) someone might like or dislike or criticize.

But I digress. This post is mostly about a fellow who managed to make characters that seem to be "clear windows" into authenticity. I know these aren't Cruikshank's sketches--they are engravings made from his drawings--and that his original drawings were given over to the engraver for printing. But somehow they still retain the freshness of sketches direct from the head.

A figure from The Streets
It is oft written  that Cruikshank did not have much knowledge of anatomy, or even how bodies were put together. Maybe that's the reason his works seem so unpretentious.

Detail of an illustration from Oliver Twist
Look at the stance of Oliver!  It's got no trace of formula--doesn't need it.

Fagin in His Cell, from Oliver Twist
Probably my favorite Cruikshank. Perfect in every way.

Check out more of Cruikshank's work here 
and check out the work of Larry MacDougall, too.  Here's a link to his blog:

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Illustration Construction: Part Three

Don't yet have a title for this in-process watercolor of the artist in his studio.
It's a section of one of three slightly different interiors based on the sketches of the previous two posts.

Took it into my head to work the same painting using three different media: Watercolor, oil, and gouache (or maybe acrylic?).  I reasoned that it would be good for me to focus for once, and believed I must finally choose a single medium in which to work. (Occasionally, self-delusion and irrationality visit my studio. They tend to hang around awhile, too.)

Some details of each prep-drawing follow.
Ended up tweaking every drawing, so they are slightly different. Sort of like that "Doublecheck" activity in Highlights magazine--sorry 'bout that.

This is a detail of the artist done on gessoed hardboard prepped for oil. It's brush and india ink.

 This one is a detail of the artist done on Crescent watercolor board, in sepia ink. Already begun to work the color  into it (see first pic above).

 This one is a detail of the artist in preparation for either gouache or acrylic (can't decide), again using india ink. (Btw, the ink has to be sealed prior to acrylic being applied.)

This is the artist's assistant (he holds the lantern-stick) in the oil painting. Good thing oils allow mistake-fixes.

This is the assistant in the watercolor version.

The assistant turned into three birds for the gouache/acrylic version. There's boredom in action for you.

It does seem a bit absurd to do a similar pic three times, but it's what I've set my mind to do.
 With many other irons in the fire, it may be awhile before these are completed. Oh well, wish me luck.

And thanks for checking in!

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