Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Memories

"On the River" - Mixed Media - 9 1/4" x 10 1/4"

This post is purely selfish. It's been four years now since I lost my Dad and I think about him every day. He taught me how to work hard, what it means to be honest and loyal, how to have faith, never said I shouldn't be an artist and he taught me how to fish. On our numerous trips to Montana or wherever, he would put me in the "best hole on the river" while he headed up stream or down, invariably returning with a creel full of trout. He would be dismayed if I hadn't caught a fish or two of my own and would casually throw in a line and hook one right under my nose. Of course this never failed to upset me. Once, as we arrived at a fresh hole together, he had a worm in the water before I could cross the fence. Exasperated, I complained that he "always did that to me" and "why can't you ever let me catch one first". He laughed, reeled in, and coached me where to toss my worm in. Sure enough, I felt a nibble, then a tug and the fight was on. After quite a battle Dad deftly scooped my trophy brown trout into the net. I was all smiles and Dad got a tickle out of seeing me with that nearly a five pounder, so fat with a big hook jaw. It was the biggest brown I had ever caught- before or since.
I am grateful Dad that you let me catch that fish. I am sure you would have caught it if I hadn't said something, so someday, when I get to that big fishing hole in the sky, please have a pole waiting for me. 'Till then, keep your hook wet- I love you Dad.

Friday, May 28, 2010


I about cried laughing when I saw this Real Life comic.
SO close to home.

Me with Ron Spears at N.C. Wyeth's studio

Last July, I went on a cross country road trip to Hartford to finish up my MFA. My sidekick (or maybe I was his sidekick since he drove every mile) was good friend and fellow artist Ron Spears. Despite having an Apple iphone maps app, a GPS unit and a dog-eared Rand McNally road atlas, we still managed to get ourselves lost in a corn field in Michigan. In our defense, road construction and a driving rain storm combined to make us miss a turn off and then it was going to be a roundabout way back to get back on the right freeway. The "recaculating..." coming from our talking friend the GPS unit got so annoying that we started giving her nicknames like "Helga". Finally we turned her off, resorting to the iphone to get us back on track. We actually did manage to make it to all of our destinations including a visit to Brandywine, PA and the N.C. Wyeth studio. More about that in a future post, but here we are outside N.C's famed palladian window. I salivate over north light like that. In the meantime, you might want to check out this post by James Gurney about Wyeth's studio.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


First thumbnail- approx. 2" wide - roller pen

Final drawing - approx. 4.5" wide - black prismacolor

"Satisfied" - acrylic 19" x 13"

This painting is the cover as well as the final spread for "Scuffy, a scarecrow's tale", my MFA thesis and picture book project that I mentioned last post. I typically progress from really rough thumbnail drawings through a more finished value study drawing to the final painting. For years I admit I got lazy and didn't always create an effective value study before my final paintings. That was can be a dicey proposition as it can be hit or miss in the final execution of the art. Going back to grad school and rubbing elbows with so many talented professional artists encouraged me to reevaluate how I work and recommit to the basics of solid picture creation. Through this process I have come to realize that the value study is actually more important than the color study. It makes a big difference to have that value study in front of me before I start tackling color. Nearly any arrangement of colors (given a basic color relationship is present) can combine to make a successful picture if the value masses are arranged effectively.

See how the painting still works without color because of effective value patterns.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Here's the Deal

"Here's the Deal" - acrylic - 19" x 13"

First thumbnail sketch - approx. 2" wide - roller pen

Final Drawing - approx. 4.5" wide - black Prismacolor

During my first session at the University of Hartford Limited Residency MFA-Illustration my assignments included writing and illustrating my own children's book. I spent many a midsummer night the first week creating a thumbnail dummy book version of "Scuffy, A Scarecrow's Tale", a project my wife and I had been writing. The story follows the adventures of our hero Scuffy as he overcomes his fear of just about everything in order to defeat his nemesis the crow. The full dummy book included a refined manuscript and black and white drawings for each spread. I also completed four finished paintings based on these drawings. I am extremely satisfied with the project so far and am in the process of hunting down the right publisher (anyone willing to have a look?). Here is a bit of the process.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Snow? Really?

"Pip's Letter to Santa" - 6" x 6"-acrylic on wooden snowflake

OK, so it was May 24th yesterday and I woke up to snowflakes- giant snowflakes which didn't stop until we had three inches of the fluffy stuff on the ground. What cruel trick to play on all of us who have had tomato plants  in the ground for over a week now. It was the record latest measurable snowfall ever at the airport (they seem to like to measure snow at the airport- go figure) Anyway, seeing all those flakes made me remember another snowflake that I  did for a charity fundraiser called Robert's Snow. A bunch of artists were all given 6" blank wooden snowflakes to paint or decorate and the flakes were all auctioned off to raise money for cancer research. My flake was in memory of my father who had just passed after his own battle with cancer and I based it on one of the characters from my Christmas book The Barnyard Night Before Christmas. By the way, the snow was all gone by afternoon and I hope I don't see any more in my yard before November.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Fishing = Catching

Me with one of the "beasts"

Beasts = Feasts
"Fat 'bow" - acrylic on illustration board, 9" x 9"

Friday and Saturday I got to go camping with my youngest son Will to a private ranch about 45 minutes up the canyon from home. Our hosts have a private lake there that was drained down for repairs. As a result, all the fish were congregated in what was left of the water. On his first cast Will caught a 22 inch long 3 1/2 pound rainbow trout . Despite waking up to 2 inches of snow on the tent, we ended up catching 7 "beasts" ( as he called them),  six of which were 3 1/2 pounds or larger. The "small" one was merely 2 pounds. None were quite as fat as my "Fat 'Bow" though. I told Will that he might never have another fishing trip quite like this one, but he's willing to try again sometime.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Bridgeman's Hands

Drawings From The Book of a Hundred Hands
by George Bridgeman

Details of hands from a few of my paintings

Hands are the second most expressive part of the human anatomy next to the face. I love doing a good hand and work hard to make them look right. I have heard it said that you can tell how good an artist is by how well he draws hands. I learned how to draw hands from George Bridgeman. Sometime around 1988 as a student, I bought a copy of The Book of a Hundred Hands. It became my bible on how to draw a good hand. Bridgeman was an exceptional teacher and artist and had a knack for breaking down the human form and anatomy to it's essence. Whenever I am battling a hand or some other aspect of the human anatomy, I turn to my old friend George and he calms me and sets me on the right track. it's no wonder his books are still around. If you don't have a copy of  The Book of a Hundred Hands or better yet his Complete Guide to Drawing From Life, I would highly recommend picking them up. Here are also a couple of details of hands I have done.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Angler Fish Goes Green

Angler Fish Goes Green
7" x 6" - Prismacolor with Photoshop highlights

I Just delivered my first European project yesterday to a London based design firm for Toyota UK. I uploaded a high res file of my painting directly to their server, something I never could have done a few years back. the digital age has certainly opened up whole new markets to illustrators and I am doing my best to stay only slightly behind the curve as far as reaching them goes. I had a little time between projects so I worked up a new fish to paint. Deep sea fish are just so weird, I love them. Someday I'll have enough of these critters to do a calendar or maybe a book.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

For the Birds

I have a bird feeder right outside the window of my studio and enjoy seeing the mix of birds that come to feed. This spring has been a particularly cool and wet one for us and the birds seem to be feeding more than usual As a result, the feeder has emptied out with surprising regularity. The black capped chickadees, finches and even the sparrows are fine but I could do without a few of the bigger birds hogging all the seed (can you say starling?). Every once in a while nature brings you a gift. Yesterday this juvenile Western Tanager showed up and was kind enough to pose for a few pictures. I had a nice chat with him as we strolled the yard and then he said goodbye. That's why I keep filling the bird feeder.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Cat-Fish: Acrylic and metal leaf - 9"x9"

Since I was small, I have liked fish. I think it stems partly from Dr. Seuss books like One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and McElligot's Pool. I always enjoyed the drawings in those books and remember carefully copying them when I was eight or nine years old. I also love to go fishing. My dad was a big fisherman and we fished a lot when I was growing up. My Dad, my brothers and I would take three day trips to fish the trout rivers in southern Montana, fishing hard from sunup to sundown. I still love it, but don't get out as much I would like. This picture was done for fun and to experiment with texture and different mediums like the metal leaf.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Using the Right Model-Part 3

Thumbnail compositions for Professor Plum

David VanWagoner as Professor Plum

Head Detail

Plant reference

The photo "Frankenstein"

"It wasn't the Rope in the Conservatory that Killed Him"
Acrylic on Illustration Board- 12"x13"

As I mentioned in my  last post, before I ever take photographs, I do many small studies to work out my composition and get a good idea of things like angle, cropping, overlap, scale, positive and negative shapes, value masses, etc. In short, I use these small sketches to give me a road map of sorts so I know where I am going. I can then engineer my photo shoot and pose my models to match my sketches. By working this way, I prevent my work from being held hostage to "whatever was in the photo" syndrome. Students and sadly  even some professionals fall victim to this and end up settling for what was "in the photo" instead of taking the photos to match the vision they established in their sketch. It can take more time to work this way since one needs to gather props, costuming, scout locations and coordinate models beforehand, but it is always worth the effort when working realistically.
The third painting in the Truth Against Tobacco campaign was to depict Professor Plum with the smoke from his pipe forming a noose around his neck. I had the perfect model in mind- my Uncle Dave. He is a total character and his energy sometimes wears me out. He agreed to pose as a smoker only because it was for an anti-smoking campaign. I ended up flopping the composition and took several poses though I ultimately went with the one shown in the lower right corner. I shot several dozen frames and picked my favorites for what I call a "Frankenstein". I often take my photographs into Photoshop and fit them over my thumbnail sketch. I then cut and paste parts from several photos to get a photo composition that matches my original drawing. I don't worry about the quality of the seams too much since this version is only for my reference as I create the final drawing and painting. The "Frankenstein" for this painting consists of about five different pictures pasted together, many of which are also manipulated before compositing to change things like angles of joints, etc. It's not always pretty but I end up getting what I need for the painting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Using the Right Model-Part 2

Michelle Christensen as "Miss Scarlet"
Selected Head Pose
Hand Detail
It's important to get the gesture right.

"It Wasn't the Revolver in the Lounge that Killed Her"
Acrylic on Illustration Board- 12"x13"

Here is the second painting I did for the Truth Against Tobacco public service campaign. This one called for the right female model to play the part of "Miss Scarlet". I asked one of my former students Michelle Christensen, an up and coming illustrator in her own right,  to model for me. She was fantastic, having done some professional modeling before, she jumped right into the role, bringing her own red dress and strand of pearls to the shoot. I always do concept and composition sketches before I ever shoot models (more on that next post), so I thought I knew the direction I wanted to go, but I figured since I had the model available I would shoot multiple angles. Michelle gave me more options than I asked for. I think it's very important to recognize when you are getting good information in a photo shoot and run with it. I have about 70 shots on disc and only about a half dozen made their way into the final piece. Some of the unused ones may make it into another painting some day- they were just too good.
When I shoot for a project like this, I always do full shots as well as detail shots. The full shots help establish the overall pose and angle and the detail give me the minute information that I need to polish the finish painting. Even with digital technology, you can only zoom in so close to the subject. Many students frequently make the mistake of not compensating for camera distortion (hence the long angle) or they completely forget to take any detail shots. This makes it very difficult to decipher the fine details and translate them to the final piece. I take care to shoot the long shots and the details at the same eye level and also I pay attention to the gesture if things like the hands and the angles of the limbs. I want the best possible silhouette- one that reads well as the actual object. Notice how much better the hand holding the cigarette (paintbrush) is than the one in the full shot.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Using the Right Model-Part 1

B.J Becker as Colonel Mustard
Reference used for body and chair
Head shot with softer light
"It Wasn't the Wrench in the Library that Killed Him"
Acrylic on Illustration Board- 12"x13"

I teach my students the importance of creating or finding the right reference material for their subject. I am constantly dismayed by the poor quality or lack of reference material that students try to work from. My advice is to always do what it takes to get it right even if that means reshooting your reference material or looking for a different model. Last year I had the chance to do a series of public service advertisements for Truth Against Tobacco. The premise was to spoof the popular board game "Clue" and have the tobacco be the real killer. The first of these ads was to depict Colonel Mustard and I immediately thought to use friend and fellow MFA student B.J.Becker as my model. The biggest problem was that of proximity- B.J. lives out of state. Fortunately, we were to meet up in New York City for a week of contact with our University of Hartford MFA Illustration group. B.J. is a very entertaining and interesting character in his own right and I did not even have to put him in costume (he even had the monocle). The photo shoot took place at the Society of Illustrators in the members club room where we were guests for the week. The finished painting (and series) won a couple of ADDY awards and Juror's choice award.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Boys' Life July Cover

Home of the Brave- 24"x32", Oil

I just finished illustrating a fiction story for Boys' Life Magazine. I have enjoyed working with Scott Feaster, art director at Boys' Life and Scouting magazines for several years and he saves all the great fiction features for me (at least a lot of them). The story is a fictional account about the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner" and will run on the cover of the July issue. I did two interior paintings as well. This project also coincides with the 100 year anniversary of Scouting and the 2010 National  Boy Scout Jamboree. If all works out, the painting will also be made into a poster and we are in discussions for me to fly to Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia to sign copies during the festivities. My two scout age boys will be attending Jamboree, so I would get to hang with them a little as well.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recent Oil paintings

In March I had my first gallery show. About a year and a half ago, I picked up my oil paints again for the first time since my undergrad college days. It has been a challenging and fun journey so far. The paintings are all based on places I have been and were painted in studio. The subject matter stems directly from my semi rural upbringing where we cared for animals, hauled hay, and grew our own vegetables despite living in what might be considered the suburbs. Many of these paintings are still available for sale-contact me.

Zootopia in Communication Arts

Life Needs Art is one year old!

Once again I am honored to have had one of my pieces selected for inclusion in the latest edition of the Communication Arts Illustration annual. It's nice to have the recognition and exposure this competition provides. The painting was done for Utah's Hogle Zoo which is only about fifteen minutes from my door here in Salt Lake City. I don't often do high profile work locally, so it was fun to have this and the other two paintings in the series plastered all over town. I also enjoyed gathering my reference material from the actual zoo residents.