Monday, December 29, 2014

Three Resolutions
 Prelim sketch-in-progress: Listening for Elves; 1895


 2014 was a different year for me art-wise. Rather than try goal-setting, which just makes me cranky, I just tried being a bit more organized, something I've stubbornly resisted in the past. It worked pretty well, because it bought me time. As a result, I learned more.
 Detail of a head-study sheet.

The addition of some structure carved out time to take workshops, get out and meet artists, and dig into social media for active study instead of aimless scrolling. And while my sketchbooks have always been used hard, I was able to expand that use, and man did I learn.
Preliminary sketch-in-progress for Lunatic.

I'm not much for resolutions either, but am caving in to three:  
Gonna keep a lid on my stubborn, keep to that bit of structure, and hope to keep learning in 2015.

Thanks for reading this, and for checking in now and then.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Wilde Victorian Ghost
 Canterville Ghost sketch (detail)

This first sketch was meant to be pencil-only, thinking prelim, but I kind of got carried away with it. Been working on the next poster design which will be in the same manner as the previous three, complete with a detailed border. (You can see another at ) The Canterville Ghost--from the story by Oscar Wilde--will be the subject.
This is the ghost of Sir Simon (he's the somewhat humorous Canterville Ghost) in his rendition of "Jonas the Graveless, or the Corpse-Snatcher of Chertsey Barn". This is the whole sketch (already posted on Instagram). His awkward stance is not at all pleasing, and I'm still not settled on which of Sir Simon's disguises to feature, since all of them are gruesomely inspiring.

The back-story: I'd needed a new poster subject, and unfortunately had few ideas. But I had been mulling over the setting within a proscenium arch--or some such theater-like design for a border. Luckily, it being Christmastime and all, I had ghosts on the brain, and I recalled Wilde's wonderfully peculiar story. Sir Simon's spectre seemed a perfect fit for a stage-setting, as I love his melodramatic personality, penchant for disguises, and his creativity.
Another detail of the experimental sketch, which helped me with: 
The transparency of the ghost, the 15th century costume, a Victorian-style headstone (the ghost is 15th century, but he's trying to scare a Victorian family), and some other props, including the sexton's spade and a lantern.  

Next up, lots more sketches and thumbnails, crammed into the spaces between all the Christmas preparations. I'll post them after the 25th.

In the meantime, thanks for the visit. Hope your Holidays are merry, bright, and a bit haunted!

Monday, December 15, 2014

In the Bleak Midwinter

Winterabend in Fischerhude. Otto Modersohn.

Winter stirs me up, especially winter as a subject in art. And the bleaker the better!
When I saw this painting for the first time, I became an instant fan of Modersohn. It didn't hurt that he included a lonely house with orange light in the window either--also a subject of which I am enamored.

Modersohn was a co-founder of the Worpswede School
along with Heinrich Vogeler--another artist whose work has influenced me!

 Here's Modersohn ca. 1884, coming weirdly out of a dust cloud.

And another, contemporary painter of bleak winter scenes...

...Andy Fletcher. 
He knows how to paint bleak. He knows how to paint period.
Check out his works here:

and thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Value Study and A Goblin-in-Process
Value Goblin.

The photo above shows my latest project-in-process; The Cupboard Goblin. With every artwork I hope to learn more of course--and definitely appreciate that learning. 

Value control, among many art concepts, has been one of those goblins that have historically vexed me. I've always had to work hard at achieving the right amount of contrast in my illustrations, but lately have come to realize that, in part, it's the incredibly bright light I work under that has thrown me. Can't change the fact of that light-need, so some help was required.
I've gleaned many tips to help me (with this and a crowd of other art-goblins). Some have come from books, but most have been gifts from other artists.  One that helps me with value is to Photoshop-change the color work to black and white in order to check if the value range is working.
But by far the best, and fastest, value-check-tip was given to me by my friend, the artist Ruth Fiege--this red filter. A quick peek through it is usually all I need to keep me on the right value-track. Thanks Ruth!
And then there is the absolute bargain of learning from the internet, and blogs by artists remain a staple. While waking up with coffee, I check out blogs. The artist Katherine Thomas recently posted about the value of "The Extra Hour" spent when you think your work might be finished. Before reading that, I might have contemplated my work for a bit, or futzed with it until I was satisfied, but now I'm giving it a set time period. 
Somehow, committing
to a specific time period gives me the discipline I needed to truly study whether or not the work is complete. While I may spend more than a hour in the finish, I'm working hard not to spend any less than that hour studying the piece. And it's truly helping. Thanks Katherine!

Be sure to visit Ruth Fiege's site and Katherine Thomas' blog

Until next time, thanks for reading my post--hope you found it valuable!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Old Witch, Part Two
Hello again!
In the previous post I showed the prelims for the border (above is a detail of the stonework at the top)...

 ...but I hadn't shown my source for the border design. So here it is, snagged from a Dover clip art book. It's a lot of fun to let something like this generate fresh imagery!

When the design was all planned and sketched onto multiple layers of bum wad, I placed them onto my light table ( ) for tracing onto a sheet of 140 lb watercolor paper. Cold press is my choice most often. I chose a human femur for her cane, just for the subtle malevolence...
...and went over the pencil lines with pen, brush, and india ink.
I limited my palette to five colors--raw umber, burnt sienna, cadmium red, cerulean, and
ultramarine-- basically the primaries (a yellow, two reds, and two blues). Here's a preliminary wash of raw umber and cerulean over the pen work.
Building up the layers, bit by bit.
The obligatory and over-used hand-and-brush shot...
...and a detail of the peeping scribe at the bottom of the border. I love hand lettering! Finding a font, nudging, changing, and embellishing it, and then adding the paint results in a particularly pleasurable feeling.
Here's the staged shot of the final art with materials and reference props.
The poster--one of a series--will be available in 2015.

Thanks for following up on this--hope you enjoyed the process!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Old Witch, Part One
The Old Witch (detail).
This is the second image for a recent project. I'm in the middle of the third, and The Creature  was the first. I love drawing Frankenstein--same with witches--so heading to the studio has been a true pleasure lately.

Witches and apples in fairy and folk tales seem inextricably paired. And what's a magical person without a familiar? In this lady's case, it's a slightly tilting, crabby owl!
Disorganized (I am getting better), my prelims usually end up scattered in random sketchbooks and drawers. I know there were more, but these are some preliminary witch-head studies. The thumbnails for the composition elude me at the moment. 

The idea of The Old Witch has been with me for years, probably beginning with an old Aurora model I built as a kid, and...
...the amazing Graham Ingels' Old Witch
Growing up, a tremendous amount of images got seared into my brain thanks to the barber shop's comic book collection. This is only one of those pictures that scared the pants off me, thus never forgotten. 
Dug up some more prelims--early versions of the venerable sorceress, and an idea for the text banner.

Once the witch's pose was settled on, a hand-selfie with apple was necessary.
But I'm getting ahead of the post.
I also worked on the border. Here it took on a Celtic spin...
...but changed my mind in favor of a cauldron. That doesn't last either. The bird skull finally takes shape here though.

Well that's it for Part One--more next post--and

Thanks, as always, for checking out my blog!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Greg Spalenka's Artist as Brand Workshop

I sometimes get questions about my career in the arts, and I answer that I've fallen into most of my opportunities ass-backward. It's true--very little has been my doing; certainly not due to any real goal-setting, and no self-help-manual-formula has ever pierced my stubborn brain. The plain truth is that I've been fortunate to meet folks--gallery owners, art directors, patrons--along my journey that have kept me out of the water.
That being said, when a couple of my mainstay gallery-owners closed up shop, my ship sprung a leak, and I started looking for a pail to start bailing.

Fortunately, Helikon Gallery hosted Greg Spalenka's Artist as Brand workshop this past spring. I signed up--something way out of character for me, and definitely way out of my comfort zone. And I have absolutely no regrets.

In short, the workshop was incredibly rich; a perfect blend of the realities of making a living, and the sweetness of living one's art. Best of all, Spalenka doesn't cave to crass capitalism; Artist as Brand combines the soul of an artist with creative indy-business sense. It was exactly what I needed...
...and it changed my life. No kidding. 
Not only did I meet some of the greatest fellow-artists (whom I am happy to count as friends), I met my artist-self. 

Greg Spalenka presents these workshops regularly--one is upcoming in Seattle February 18th and 19th, 2015 with the always fantastic TLC Workshops

You don't have to be on the verge of foundering like me, but if you are an artist, a writer, a musician--any kind of creative--sign up for Artist as Brand
If Seattle doesn't work, check Greg's schedule for another. Then go.
Whatever you do, go. 

It's a lifeboat.


Greg Spalenka

Thanks for clicking on the links, and thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Art: Saturday Morning and Saturday Night
Mini Still-Life Sketch. Mixed media on brown paper

Saturday Morning:
Drew the sketch above as an example for an upcoming workshop I'll be teaching at Art Makers Denver  next year. Never found drawing/painting anything from life easy--especially as a young illustrator. I did recognize the value even then, but had trouble concentrating on drawing inanimate objects, figures, and landscape. Don't much care for photo-realist art, but I'm in awe of artists who can capture atmosphere in a scene drawn or painted from life.
Lately I've become keen on examining the incidental objects in paintings and illustrations, and sketching fine old objects. "Fine" doesn't mean the expensive, fussy stuff in an Art and Antiques magazine, but rather the solid, straightforward, well-crafted objects that people used (not just gazed at in a china cupboard). Saturday morning I set up this group in the snowy light of my studio window. My sketch (above) failed to capture that gorgeous winter light, and came out a bit too stilted for my taste, but that happens sometimes when I draw from life.
I like it when the objects end up having a bit more character--like these,
and like this lantern, posted some time back. I love this one. Not drawn from life, I mostly made up the form and then cobbled together details gleaned from some lanterns I have stashed around the house.

And yes, I am struck dumb with admiration for illustrators who can blow you away with their ability to draw and paint both from life as well as work imaginatively.

 Saturday night:
At the Drink 'n' Draw I had a good time goofing about with this sketch from my imagination...
but I had a great time watching illustrator Clay Brooks capture this snowy, East Colfax night scene. And yes, I was in awe! He was facing me, in conversation, all the while turning around looking over his shoulder through the window at the cityscape, capturing it in gouache.
The guy is a master, but don't just take it from me--check out all his work at

Now it's Sunday morning, and I'm headed back to the studio.
Thanks for the visit!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Victorian Ghost Sketch
Ghost in the Bath sketch

My studio work-life is occupied with preparing art for a show coming early December. Thus, practice-sketch time has to be grabbed on the fly. I have my travel sketchbook and drawing box with me most times, or a book at least--just in case I get stuck waiting somewhere. This time I had both. The book is a collection of Victorian ghost stories by the great M.R. James. The story, Lost Hearts concerns a boy who's treated to a vision of a spectre, seen through a glazed bathroom door in the middle of the night.

The scene, in which the corpse-like ghost is laying in the tub (and surely must have influenced Stephen King for The Shining) raised the hairs on the back of my neck! This quick sketch, with the spirit out of the tub, was drawn with pencil and Rapidograph. Later in the studio I washed it with white ink.
Ghost in the Bath sketch (detail)

For me, ghosts aren't relegated to Halloween. In fact, they are a year-round preoccupation that reaches peak intensity during the winter holidays. Continuous experimentation with transparency techniques using ink is also a preoccupation. If you are a regular visitor here (thanks, by the way!) you've seen a bunch of posts concerning ghosts. If you haven't though, here's one of them:

And if you love ghost stories, don't skip the chance to read M.R. James.

Thanks for the visit!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Wait, Someone Out There Hates Cross-Hatching?

Harry Clarke, illustration from Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe.

I LOVE pen and ink and cross-hatching. 
There are hundreds of masters of that medium, so there are many I've yet to discover. Can't wrap my mind around it, but there are people (including one "famous" critic and author-of-art-books) who are outspoken in their dislike. That to me is more mysterious--and shows less imagination--than Poe's tales. So I offer works by three of my many favorite pen-work artists. 
Harry Clarke's illustrations, like the one above, remain favorites, and I study his work continuously.

Maurice Sendak, illustration from his Higglety Pigglety Pop! or, There Must be More to Life.
This book is a masterpiece, as are all of Sendak's works, and I find his straightforward pen-work 
fresh,unpretentious, and absolutely paragon.

Bernie Wrightson, from Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.
Every piece from Wrightson's Frankenstein portfolio is mind-blowing!

A few other obvious ink-masters: Franklin Booth, W. Heath Robinson, A.B. Frost, Joseph Clement Coll, and yes, Arthur Guptill.

A few modern virtuosos: Ian Miller , Mark A. Nelson , Douglas Carrel , Kevin Keele , and Boban Savic .

Of course critics, just like the power-hungry who would ban books, draw our attention to the very things they hate. So they have my thanks, sort of.  

But you don't have to scorn cross-hatching to get me to explore the masters of that medium. If you have recommendations and favorites, please let me know.

Peace and all good to you, and thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

More #inktober: Shadows and Hatters
Inktober's been good to me--been working with pen and ink and throwing in some cast shadows, too.
Inktober has put on some pressure too, so I sketched this fellow while I was waiting to get an oil-change for my car--a time-waster that kept me from other pressing projects.
And then there are the (so far) unfinished ones. But the incentive has provided this drawing and others that I will use down the road.
 I've always been enamored with pen and ink, a love born from looking at nineteenth century illustration engravings as a kid. I still study them, as well as the elegant pen-lines of those great Irishmen, Joseph Clement Coll and Harry Clarke. Just because I study them, doesn't mean I come close to their refinement, but my temperament leans toward rough and quick crosshatching--can't really help that.
I'm leaving you with a mummy-scribe and a wish for a Happy Halloween--Thanks for the visit!
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