Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Plein Air Night in the City
 Last night we hit an alley behind Denver's Oxford Hotel for some plein air studies. If I've done night sketching before, my brain can't dredge up that memory. But it's doubtful I'll forget this outing; the atmosphere was haunting, the cold severe, and the light richly evocative. In this case, a fluorescent blue light was shining on the roof, contrasting with warm light from the panes.
 Even though my New Year's resolution is to concentrate on watercolor, the fear of losing my paints to freezing temperatures had me scrounging the studio for an alternate medium. I chose an old pad of brown pastel paper and some Prismacolor sticks and pencils--even though I'm not fond of any of that. Sketching with gloves on created some unwanted smudging, but better that than frostbite.

This old, nineteenth-century window caught my eye immediately. I love the look of yellow-lit windows, and last night this warm one particularly beckoned. Not having night-sketching experience, we'd talked about the different colors of night lights over a beer beforehand, so I was really trying to sear the variety into my eyes, as well as get the values correct. I only had black, white and blue Prismacolors with me, so I added the yellow once back in the studio.

The other guys used water media, with vodka to keep things from freezing, but after an hour, frost was developing on their paintings and their water-cups were slushy.
Even my media choice was affected; when I got on the train for home, I watched my drawing become damp from the thawing wax of the Prismacolor pencils.
 And while I was leaning on a dumpster instead of Hardy's "coppice gate", I'm not going to forget the evening, or the beckoning light from that warm window.

I leant upon a coppice gate

      When Frost was spectre-grey,

And Winter's dregs made desolate

      The weakening eye of day.

The tangled bine-stems scored the sky

      Like strings of broken lyres,

And all mankind that haunted nigh

      Had sought their household fires.
                                                             Thomas Hardy, from The Darkling Thrush 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

How to be an Expert?
I read somewhere that one has to put 100,000 hours practicing a skill in order to become an "expert" at that skill. First, that seems sort of a random number. Second, I'm not certain if that means in general--for example, one would be an "expert artist" if one completed 100,000 hours drawing, painting, and sculpting; or if it means in specifics--100,000 hours painting from the model, 100,000 hours painting still lifes, 100,000 hours drawing goofy characters, etc.
I don't know what the author meant, and it seriously is kind of a dumb thing to try to quantify.
Most of the illustrators/artists I know are many years my junior, and they are more skilled than I.
I've put years worth of hours into practicing art, in many different forms. Even conservatively, my figures still get me to 160,000. I'm not sure what that author's definition of expert might be, but I'd be hard pressed to label myself as one.

Don't get me wrong; I know a lot about art--both art history and art techniques, and am confident in many of my abilities. But I'm maybe most confident in my ability to learn. By practicing. And that's all I really care about.
So I continue to hit the Life Painting sessions at Helikon Gallery (where I mostly life draw), and get outside to paint, and draw and paint in my studio--and anywhere else it's appropriate. My aim's not to become someone's definition of an expert, but to keep getting better at it all; including the ability to share what I've learned--of the abilities I have at any given time--with others.
If I'd have liked numbers, I wouldn't have become an artist in the first place.
Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


Egon Schiele, Decaying Mill

 There's a thing that bugs me. 
Not that that this thing makes me angry; I mean it's a thing that I can't resolve in my life or in my head or in my gut. That bugs me. And this is it:

Music and literature move me in hugely emotional ways. Body engulfing ways; heart exploding ways. All the time.  And artworks don't do that very often. Actually, I can't recall being moved by an artwork in that extreme reactive way ever.

I'm not much of a writer, and I'm definitely not a musician, but I am an artist. So what the heck is up with me?

Don't get me wrong--I love art, and I love looking at artwork. But what artworks do is seep into me over a long period of time, following the viewing. And I often can't let go of the need to see them again, or own them. I think about them, and feel a longing, but it is a much milder, and maybe more intellectual reaction than the emotional engulfment engendered by a piece of music I'm hearing, or a book passage I am reading. The search for an artwork experience that matches the intensity of a music or literature experience dogs me.

I'm curious--bugged is more accurate--if this is even a possibility. Am I searching for that which cannot be? Probably need to somehow quit thinking about it, but I can't.

Thanks for checking out this post--Your thoughts and ideas on this will be welcome.

I can change my mind, not my blood
                                                     --Teddy Thompson

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Chase
After a packed couple of months, my m.o. has always been to go fallow. Not on purpose; it just happens. I shut down creatively and productively for awhile. That time period varies, but it drives me crazy. Because of that, I'm always looking for quick ways to re-ignite the art-fire and get back to The Chase.

One time it didn't come back for a few years, and I'm not gonna lie--that scared me. It happened after a large show for which I had to create many works in a few short months. After way too much fallow time went by, I took a student's advice and changed media--I started working with clay, engaging in a different sort of chase. Eventually (nearly 5 long years later) I began to produce illustrations again. In the meantime, I learned a lot about ceramic clay, and I made some cool stuff.
This year it's happened again, and I decided to not only change media, but to suspend my inner-critic and experiment with media. Thanks to a bunch of un-critical fellow illustrators, I'm able to do it and also have a good time. The painting above is one recent experiment with life painting using acrylic. The life painting sessions at Helikon Gallery are a blast--mostly because the gallery director and fellow participants are chill and unpretentious. Some artists might need a competitive atmosphere, but not me--I want to enjoy camaraderie and the freedom to do the art I need without feeling like anyone's sneering at my efforts.
Above are some recent experiments with water-soluble oils at relaxing plein-air excursions--again, with friends who are lots of fun to be with... of whom had an interesting encounter with an avian critic as we were leaving the field.
 (And yes, that experience seemed to get a bit of creativity going again.)
Being able to hang out at weekly drink and draw sessions with a great bunch of artists also helps. Again, these sketches don't feel like my best, but they were experiments with unfamiliar media in an informal setting.
Just the kind of thing I need right now--the chance to explore, experiment, talk art--and get the field planted and producing again.
And because of all this, it's not taking me 5 years to re-plant the field. And I have to keep reminding myself that it's not about chasing success or contentment, it's about feeling success and contentment within the chase.

Thanks for reading!


Monday, November 9, 2015

Infected by Art: Volume III
No question that I am stoked to have my top-hatted bird illustration in
Infected by Art: Volume Three; it is a gorgeous, large, and high quality book filled with contemporary fantasy and science fiction art directly from the worldwide competition of the same name!
"From fantastic scenes of science fiction to the worlds of fantasy and horror, this book has it all, and will appeal to anyone who appreciates the fantastic arts. Artwork included in Infected by Art Volume Three ranges from traditionally drawn and painted artwork to work done digitally, as well as sculpture. Each piece of art was hand picked by a select group of judges, including Donato Giancola, Rebecca Guay, Greg Hildebrandt, and John Schindehette."

Check out all the artists (and buy the book!) to see the amazing pieces in their full glory.
Here's the link to the art:

And the link to the book:

And here are detail shots of some of my favorites, with links to the artist's sites (please click on each name):

A big thank you to the judges, and
thank you for reading and exploring these and all the great artists in the book!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Blob Inspiration
Last spring I got obsessed with blob-creatures. Pretty sure these were dredged up from a childhood spent pushing money into gumball machines. Once I got a plastic eyeball that opened and closed when tipped.
And once I got a green rubber blob with six, rubber-hairy legs.  I treasured both of them, having spent a lot of quarters for a year or so before getting those two. They've been packed away in a box in the basement for decades, but obviously still cast their spell.

Thanks for reading this inane post. 
(To make it a bit more edifying, here's the process: First I sketched these in H pencil on toned paper. They were then outlined using a Pentel Brush Pen. I shaded them with cross-hatching using a crow quill nib and india ink. Highlights were added using a fine brush and white acrylic gouache. The color on the green blobs is translucent acrylic ink flowed right over the gouache, and the white cross-hatched background was done with a Gelli Roll pen.)

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Top-Hatted Bird with a Mouse
This is a detail from a piece just completed--no title yet.

Wanted to do a painting in the style I used for my spiritual works a few years back, but was curious both about how the goofy subject would look with looser paint and also curious about how acrylic gouache would handle as opposed to acrylic paint. The fluidity, matte finish, and opacity of the gouache was a good change from acrylic paint.
Here's a shot of the bird's head at about the halfway completed stage. I drew the piece freehand on the board after priming it with a burnt sienna acrylic primer. After outlining it with a brush and india ink, I sealed it with matte spray and then started whacking in the color.
Here's the bottom half of the pic at near completion.
The old bird completed.  Hard to tell maybe, but I lightened pretty much everything on the bird. It's on a pine plaque, about 6" wide by 23" tall, and was painted for an upcoming show at Valkarie Gallery.  I'm pleased to be showing Fresh Works along with two super-accomplished artists; Karrie York and Kayla Edgar!
Karrie's site: Karrie York  Kayla's site: Kayla Edgar

Valkarie Gallery is a fantastic place with unusual and fascinating shows. If you are in the Denver area, please stop by and check out the show and gallery! Here's the link:

And thank you, as always, for reading!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Screenplay Process: Part Four

The last post about the process for three Screenplay paintings, this shows the final inked piece--pre-watercolor.
I ran across this tintype early on, and used it and others for resource.
Most often, after the thumbnail sketches for any artwork, I collect a lot of resources. I use Pinterest in order to keep them organized. If you are interested, the link to my Screenplay resource folder is here:
Here's a sheet of thumbnail sketches for Projectionist. The sketches always seem to begin sort of motionless.
Originally envisioned as a young man reading a newspaper, the projectionist morphed into a kid. I thought the idea of a person smoking in a projection room with flammable celluloid would be humorous, but on second thought, not really.
So the human character became a kid reading a monster movie magazine. Frankenstein's monster plays a part in all the pieces.

After inking the outlines with a small brush, I use a very light 2H pencil as a shading guide, and begin layering the ink lines.
There are many layers of cross-hatched ink lines in a piece like this.
This section threw me a bit because of the glowing light from the magazine. I wanted the effect but hadn't a clue how to achieve it until I got to this point.

The pieces, like many of my works, are pretty much drawings with watercolor washes laid in afterwards. The hardest part of this stage was getting the washes to blend around the glow. I used Quinacridone Gold and Burnt Sienna for the washes.

This was also a section in which I knew I wanted the monster's face in the light beam but hadn't an idea how to accomplish it. Somehow it all worked out.

The rat was a compositional device. The projector, the projectionist, and the monster created three subjects at the top. The pic needed balance, so the rat came to the rescue.

Well that's about it. If you are in Denver for the Screenplay reception on October 30th or the month of November, head over to Helikon Gallery and Studios to see all three finished pieces. They will be there, along with Screenplay interpretations by 30 other fantastic and inspirational artists. Each of us got to create three, 12" x 12" artworks for the theme, and it is going to be a great show!

Thanks for following my progress here--I appreciate it!




Monday, September 28, 2015

500 Hands Challenge: Done!
I finished the 500 Hands Challenge a bit early, and it feels very good to be done. In this post, I'm going to talk about what I learned.

If you're curious about the origin of this hand challenge, click on this link for my first post about it:
I don't like to start on page one of a new sketchbook. This shows the first 4 hands I drew on a random page for the challenge, then I continued them on page one of the sketchbook. I also realized that I used number 44 twice, so I guess I drew 501 hands.
Probably one of the most important things I learned was that it's crucial to draw the gesture of the hand first, then refine it. It makes the whole process easier, and results in a higher quality, more lively hand every time. The best hands always start with a gesture.
I've never loved sight drawing (otherwise known as Drawing from Life). Thus it's not been my strong suit. But this challenge resulted in me getting better at sight drawing, proportion, and just plain looking.
At a about 250 hands, I was sick to death of them. I was complaining one evening, and a fellow illustrator said "To get better at drawing something (like hands) develop a fetish for them; fall in love with them. Fall in love with the curves, the structure, the nuances. Every time you draw a hand, be in love with it." So I took his advice. It made all the difference, and I wasn't bored afterwards.
What else did I learn? That all the great artists did not draw great hands all the time. While I fell in love with Michaelangelo's fat, blocky hands, and continued my infatuation with the skinny, sinewy hands of Arthur Rackham, I found weirdly lumpy, potato-hands that Michaelangelo and Rockwell fudged on, and a few pretty rough ones by Rackham too. I admit it, those discoveries made me feel better about my drawings.
I admit too, that in the beginning I skipped drawing the more difficult hand positions, but at some point, I quit avoiding them without even knowing when.
I also learned:
-Expressive hands are not always in proportion; proportionate hands are not always the most expressive
-If my copied hand looked too much like the resource, I found I hadn't learned as much. Somehow the act of being too responsible to the resource got in the way of my progress.
-All the great artists relied on  "stock" hand positions they found useful and thus drew over and over.
Since the worst hands were the first hands, were the last few the best? Nope. By the end, I knew I had to get them done to make time for other things, so I rushed them a bit. But I did get faster and better at drawing hands overall, and that was really the point of the challenge.
And maybe the best thing?  By the 300th hand I found I did not hate drawing hands anymore. Hatred's root after all, is fear. Drawing 500 (and one) hands has pretty much erased my fear of them. I will always find drawing them difficult, but I know I'll continue to enjoy the challenge.

Thanks for reading!

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