Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Leaning Forward

Winterbreeze. Mixed media, private collection.
When a cold blast hits, leaning forward feels better than running away. Maybe because the forward bend means resistance rather than compliance; conjures courage rather than cowardice; maintains hope rather than fostering despair.

Here's Winterbreeze in progress...
 ...and another sketch along the same theme. He's gotten a blast of bad news, but he's not gonna run.

I wish peaceful Holidays to all.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Change is Good

Hansel and Gretel, acrylic and collage, private collection.
I think that changing media leads to better artworks because it frees a person to experiment.

This is a work done several years ago. While organizing photo files, I ran across the image and realized that it was one of my first works using acrylic paint. Prior to this, watercolor had been my focus for my career. I'd seldom worked seriously with acrylics, finding them too transparent, gooey, and plastic-shiny. Then an artist friend introduced me to Maimeri Polycolor paint. What a difference--it's opaque, thick and buttery, and dries matte!


And I realize now that there are great advantages to switching up media every so often. I like the feeling of freedom that comes from experimentation, and switching to a different medium allows time to just goof around. This piece has much more freshness than my previous watercolor works, mostly because the focus was on a new-medium adventure rather than precision.


I also drew first with a paintbrush instead of penciling-in. The kids may not be perfectly drawn, but I like their rather offhand character.

Recently I've begun to work more with oils, and am being a bit too serious with it--probably because oils have that reputation for "seriousness". I hope to break out of that soon, and prove my theory that changing to a new medium is a freeing experience. We'll see...

Thanks for the visit!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My Objective in Object Drawing

Scampering Lantern sketch, drawn from my great grandfather's lantern.

Drawing from life--objects, figures, etc.--never thrilled me as a young student; most likely because I struggled with it. It did not come naturally, and teacher's instructions to "just draw what you see" helped not at all. Bored by replicating something in front of me, no one ever explained to my young-self why it was useful. 

While I figured out its value (as a means to a creative end) in art school, copying objects remains difficult for my short attention span. I sometimes admire the technical ability of photo-realism, but I'll never understand the point of spending that much time with being a human camera as an objective.

 So, figuring out how to tweak an object to suit me helps, as does messing about trying to add a bit of personality. It's a great way to build a mental image library, hone skills, and have some fun.

This clock was drawn from the one that hangs in the living room. If the real clock was this goofy looking, it would please me immensely, but then I wouldn't draw it :)

Being a fan of the anthropomorphic tradition helps too--the illustrations of Sir John Tenniel and many other artists continue to inspire.

This lantern sketch was gestured out pretty quickly using a crimson Colerase pencil on toned gray sketchbook paper, and outlined with a brushpen. Crosshatching was added with Micron pens. A bit of blue Prismacolor and white highlighting--using a Uniball Signo pen--finished the sketch. Hope you like it, and

thanks for reading!


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

From Mice to Poultry

Working with roosters and chickens, as well as mice. The roosters are prep work for a piece that'll be in an upcoming show at Valkarie Gallery called Cock of the Walk. It's a show celebrating the Year of the Rooster.

I don't know quite what the end artwork will be, but preliminaries are never a waste of time;
I'm learning with each sketch, and the ideas will be useful down the road. Even if I don't use any of these ideas for the show, they will probably turn up in a finished work at some point.

Been working on tan and gray toned papers, with pencil, blue and crimson Colerase pencils, and white Signo pens for the highlights.

In the Chinese zodiac, the Year of the Rooster is the unluckiest year in the 12 year cycle, but the Rooster is confident, courageous, and best of all, honest--all three are badly needed in these times of ignorance, cowardice, and propaganda.

Hope this coming Year of the Rooster is filled with love, courage, and compassion for you and all people of the world. I will not give up hope, even in this darkness.

Thank you for reading

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


Been goofing around with mouse sketches. Mice have been a constant inspiration for artists for years. There's Mickey, and all the other Disney mice of course, plus those of Beatrix Potter. And the  Merrie Melody cartoon rodents, and David Petersen's Mouse Guard. So it's not exactly easy to come up with unique-looking mice characters.

Nonetheless, I'm tryin'...

...and it is fun!

This fellow pleased me--I feel like he is pretty unique. The sketch at the top of the post turned into this detail of a larger acrylic work.

When I was a skinny little kid I had out-sized ears and got called "Mickey" for a time. So here's a less skinny self-portrait prelim in my own honor. I hope it doesn't look much like the famous fellow who inspired my nickname.
Thanks for checking out my blog!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The DYAO Painted Violin, er...Mandolin!

Copyright Tom Sarmo 2016

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Vanishing Violin

This year I was again asked to paint a violin for the Denver Young Artists Orchestra. I enthusiastically accepted; the Denver Young Artists Orchestra is a favorite. It's a group of young musicians auditioned from all over the Colorado Front Range, and the music they make is astounding! I'd painted a violin for their 10th Annual fundraiser, and it was a blast! See it here:
My first Painted Violin

A week or so later, I was given this gorgeous mandolin, instead of a violin, to paint.  It had once belonged to the mother of a musician in the Colorado Symphony, and he generously donated it to the DYAO's Painted Violin.

Dating from about 1918, the mandolin was damaged, but still gorgeous!

I'm a sucker for the character of beautiful old wood--and for craftsmanship. And it about killed me trying to save both the patina of the wood and the decal on the front of the mandolin. I traced it, designed and re-designed it, pestered other artists for advice, and finally realized that sadly, the front had to be covered up.
A coating of Kilz, and then a coating of red acrylic followed. The design was drawn with a fine brush and black acrylic. I was able to save the decorative circle and edge.

A progress shot...

...and a detail of the illustration. I chose a Sherlock Holmes theme because it had somehow become the Year of Sherlock for me; I was in the midst of reading some, and was painting a large Holmes piece for another show.
Click on the link for more info about this mandolin:
And check out all the cool Painted Violins here:
Don't forget to visit the site of DYAO for information about all their sweet concerts and their worthy mission:

Thanks for your visit, and for your support of all of the arts!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Tiny Bit of Peace

Shacks. Lawren Stewart Harris

I needed to see something new, raw, and beautiful this week. And I found it. 
There's a lot of good left in this world, and much more to come. 

Art gives me hope. Artists give me hope.

Thanks for the visit.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Painting Outside in Gouache and Oils

Plein Air Study: Carson Nature Center, South Platte River Trail
Gouache on Crescent Board
Painting on location regularly again has been good for me both emotionally and artistically. There's nothing like getting out into the natural world to center oneself, and translating what one sees into line, value, and color can't help but result in better art production.

I like painting in gouache and watercolor for its convenience and simplicity, but decided to get back to oils for a change. Headed out to the Highline Canal the other day and saw this scene.

Here's my translation of it.
Decided to use a limited palette since it'd been awhile since I'd painted plein air with oils. Been using Winsor & Newton's Ultramarine, Alizarin, Cad Yellow Light, and Rembrandt's Burnt Umber, and White.

My alley neighbor is an amazing gardener, and has gorgeous hops vines growing over his fence and gate. This study was done on a piece of cardboard (hence the horizontal line texture).

My yard has a big Blue Spruce in the corner. I got locked out of the house the other day. I had my paintbox, but no canvas or cardboard. 
Luckily there was a two-by-four behind the garage, which was a decent enough surface for this study.

I like all media, but there's really something special about oil paints. I hope I can do them justice someday soon.

Thanks for checking out my blog!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Crimson and Cobalt at Sally Centigrade!

This pretty much sums it up; there's a cool group show happening at Sally Centigrade in Denver, and this Thursday, October 20th is the opening and artist's reception!

The Boy Who Took the Moon for Himself (detail crop). 
Acrylic on wood panel.

I'm happy to be a part of this great crew of artists for Crimson and Cobalt:

Andre Lippard, Axe Haka, Christopher Stewart, Erin Andrews, Grace Lang, Jess Brick, Johnny Acurso, John Van Horn, Justin Ankenbaeur, Ryan Morse, Tom Bond, Rabies Babies, Tom Sarmo, Victor Escobedo, Vinni Alfonso, Wizard Bong

If you are in Denver, or here for a visit, I hope you can come by and check out this unique show at a gallery I love!

Click on the links below for more info:

and their site:

Thanks for reading!


Monday, September 26, 2016

Challenges and Surprises

Character design sketch

Kept seeing the "Make the art you want to see" quote on Facebook. Guess it was originally by a fellow named Austin Kleon, and it was actually "Draw the art you want to see".

Just as repetitious ads and billboards make me want to scream with boredom, I get weary of clever quotes quickly. People complain about cat and food photos on Fb, but my top thumbs-down vote is with quote-cliches.

Still, Kleon's phrase sticks with me, because it is a challenge. Doing just that is not easy. 
In actuality, I try to draw the art I see in my head. It's never exact. But enjoyable nonetheless, because the drawings are different enough from the visions to keep surprising me.

And that's about it.

Thanks for stopping by :)

Saturday, September 17, 2016

An Acrylic Gouache Painting Sequence

Goofing around in a watercolor sketchbook produced this toothy-but-friendly fish. It was done with a scarlet Colerase pencil, then outlined with a Pentel brush pen (with a permanent ink cartridge).

Been wanting to try a reverse-color acrylic painting, and also a set of Acryla Gouache paints given to me by a friend. I painted each section with the compliment of the colors I wanted each section to end with. I used a flat brush for most of it and kept the paint-strokes rough, leaving a lot of the preliminary layers showing through. A round brush was used for the highlights on sand and the trusting worm.

It was a fast and fun process, and I definitely want to do more experimentation. This little bagatelle is one of my pieces for Aesthetical Zoological at Valkarie Gallery this coming October!

Thanks for checking in :)

Monday, September 12, 2016

A (New-to-Me) Rackham

Arthur Rackham. From Poor Cecco, by Margery Williams

I've studied Rackham's work since I was 16, and I'm not alone in the fascination--
his work is everywhere on the internet, and rightly so.

Many of his images are reproduced over and over, and I sometimes have to force myself to study those with fresh eyes in order to re-appreciate them. That's always worth the effort, because those pieces have become classics for a reason. 

When I find one I hadn't previously seen though--what a pleasure! This one, from 1925, is more colorful than many of his works. There's a lot to check out here--the use of the black silhouette, the wooden dog and crate which keep the eye from wandering out the corners of the page, and the sweet watercolor work on the up-turned bottle. But I most love his use of the faded characters in the background. The delicate greys and those spider-webby ink-lines are pure genius.

Thanks for the visit!

Sunday, September 4, 2016

DIY: Frameless, Ready-to-Hang Art and Print Mounting (In Ten Steps)!

Want a good, solid method for mounting works on paper or prints?
This do-it-yourself method results in ready-to-hang artworks without the hassle or expense of matting, framing, and glass!

I use the ten-step sequence that follows for all my works on paper, and it can be used for prints as well.  I'll guide you step-by-step to get great results that don't break the bank!

But first, a Materials List (the brands I prefer are in parentheses):
-A Large Work Space, covered with paper if needed
-1" Flat, Soft Brush (Winsor & Newton Sceptre 606) used for  both glue and Acrylic Gloss Medium)
-Silicone Pastry Roller, 2" wide (optional but effective)
-X-acto knife
-Spray Bottle filled with water
-Three Small wide-mouth Jars; one each for water, glue, and acrylic medium
-Paper Towel 
-Parchment Paper for baking, pre-cut into squares slightly larger than artwork
-Books or similar weights
-Cradled Hardboard Panel (Blick Studio Birch Wood Panel, Cradled)
-UV Protectant Spray Varnish (Krylon UV Archival Spray Varnish 1375 Gloss)
-Rubber or Nitrile Gloves
-Liquid Adhesive, clear-drying (Lineco Archival Quality Neutral pH Adhesive)
-Sanding Block 
-Acrylic Gloss Medium (Liquitex Gloss Medium)

Optional (for a hard, glossy, non-"tacky" finish):
-Clear Varnish (Liquitex Soluvar Gloss Varnish)
-Small Jar for the varnish
-1" Flat, Soft Brush (Don't use the same brush you used for the glue and Gloss Medium)
-Paint Thinner

Once you have all the materials and are used to the process, you'll be able to mount a great many artworks (I often do a bunch at the same time) quickly and inexpensively!

Tip: Practice on a small, non-valuable print first--it's a good way to become familiar with the process, if you are unsure.
Step One: Seal the art or print
 Seal the piece with spray varnish, outside or in a spray booth (to keep the stuff out of your lungs) and wear gloves (to keep it off of your skin). Let the artwork dry for at least a couple of hours. I wait until the smell of the spray varnish is gone. 
(Whenever you are mounting an artwork done on paper (watercolor, gouache, pen and ink, mixed media, or a print) it's important that you seal the art with a couple coats of spray varnish to ensure that nothing will bleed during the process.)

Step Two: Set up the work area
While you're waiting for the spray varnish to dry, arrange your work space, because you don't want to be scrambling for tools or materials once you get started. Above is the arrangement I set up every time before beginning. 
Clockwise from lower left: cradled hardboard, silicone roller and artwork/print, two or three pieces of pre-cut parchment paper (they tend to roll up), liquid adhesive in a small, wide-mouth jar, a jar of water in which to clean the brush at intervals, and spray bottle filled with water, 2" flat brush, roll of paper towel and a couple wads of damp paper towel (seen on top of the jar), and a length of paper towel on which to work.

Tip: If it's a very dry or hot day, and you are mounting a larger artwork or print, it's a good idea to run a humidifier in the work room for an hour or so before you get started. This allows more time to glue, adjust, and mount the piece.

Now you're ready to mount the art!

  Step Three: Pre-wet the cradled wood
Spray the cradled wood surface (away from the work space) and then even out the water on the surface with your fingertips. Set aside.

Step Four: Pre-wet the art or print
Spray the back of the art/print, and even out the water on the surface with your fingertips. It's crucial that you make sure the edges and the corners are evenly damp.

Tip: If the art/print curls up, I gently uncurl it face-down onto a piece of paper towel on the work space.

 Step Five: Apply the glue
Working quickly, spread glue onto the cradled wood surface, then do the same on the back of your artwork or print.
On both surfaces be sure there is glue all the way onto the edges and corners of both the block and the paper.  Try to apply a thin, even coating--too much glue will squirt out the sides when weighted, too little and the artwork won't adhere properly. Still, it's better to have too much as excess can be cleaned off.

 Tip: If the glue seems sticky as you apply it to the wood, lightly re-spray it with water and then add a bit more glue. This will make positioning the paper easier once it is on the block.

Another Tip: If your artwork is on a heavier, absorbent paper like watercolor paper, you will have to use more glue. This will allow more time to move the print into alignment on the block, but may also cause more glue to squirt out the edges when weighted.

Step Six: Position the art
Carefully position the paper onto the wood surface. If the wood surface is damp enough, you will often be able to slide the paper into position. This step can be tricky, but if you work quickly and there's humidity in the air, you should be able to lift and re-position a few times.

Step Seven: Adhere the art
 When you are sure of its position, place a piece of the pre-cut parchment paper over the artwork and smooth down with your fingers, making sure to press firmly outward from the center, all the way to the edges and corners.

Optional (but helpful): Use the silicone roller; again working from the center outward. This effectively presses every inch of the paper to the wood.
A bit of excess glue will probably squish out along one or all of the edges at this point, so now is a good time to gently clean the edges using a wad of the damp paper towel.

Tip: If your artwork has stretched to slightly larger than your wood block, no worries. The extended edges can be trimmed or sanded off easily once the piece is dry.

Step Eight: Weight the art and leave it to dry
Set your mounted artwork face down on one of the already pre-cut-to-size pieces of parchment paper. Carefully stack books and/or weights on top. Check the edges once more for excess glue and wipe with more damp paper towel if necessary. Let dry. I give it a good eight hours, depending on the weather/humidity. Now's when you turn off the humidifier :)
Tip: If your artwork is on heavyweight paper (like 300 lb watercolor paper), it won't want to lay flat onto the block when you try to position it--but no worries! In that case, the extra glue will usually allow you to move the block until the art is aligned after you lay it upside down.

 Step Nine: Trim and sand
 When the piece is dry, trim or sand the extended edges (if any) with an X-acto blade or sandpaper block. After this I like to gently sand (chamfer) the edges and corners of the whole mounted block--a purely personal choice.

Step Ten: Apply acrylic medium
 Brush on an even coat, taking care not to over-brush. Just put it on quickly and even it out. (If your artwork is on absorbent paper, a second coat may be desired, but make sure the first coat is completely dry.) A layer of Gloss or Matte Medium gives the art a protective coating. (It's also absolutely necessary if the optional, final varnish of Soluvar is desired.)

 It's crucial that you carefully apply the acrylic medium over the sides, edges, and corners to seal them if you are going to use a final coating of  varnish, or the varnish will leak into the artwork paper and leave stains.

 Optional: A final coat of Soluvar
 Acrylic Gloss (and Matte) mediums tend to stay slightly tacky, even when completely dry. I don't like that at all, so I use a final coating of Liquitex Soluvar on all my mounted artworks (and on all my finished acrylic paintings). Soluvar dries quickly and gives the artworks a very hard, non-sticky finish that resists dust and is easy to clean.

You will need a soft brush, a wide-mouth jar for the Soluvar, paint thinner for cleaning the brush, and gloves to keep the varnish off of your fingers. I like to set the varnished art on a piece of parchment, or on top of a jar. That way if the Soluvar (which is runnier than acrylic mediums) drips, it won't stick to a table top or surface.

Here are a couple of finished pieces, and one in back waiting to be mounted. Add a couple D-rings and hang wire for easy wall hanging.

Hope this gets you on your way to some great, frame-free, ready-to-hang art.
 Feel free to email me with any questions you might have at tom@tomsarmo.com

Thanks for checking this out--hope you found it helpful!

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