Tuesday, November 30, 2010

40 Illustrators and How They Work

War Bonds painting by Dean Cornwell

A recent post on James Gurney's excellent blog mentioned the good news that a new book called "Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked" By Fred Taraba is forthcoming. This prompted me to pull out my copy of the original classic from the 1940's "40 Illustrators and How They Work". The book features such legendary illustrators as N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and Dean Cornwell, but also other artists whose work is now nearly forgotten but nonetheless worthy of examination.

Cornwell's sketches for the above painting

Once again I came away impressed at the level of commitment that these artists dedicated to getting the image right. This is a skill that is sadly missing from much of contemporary illustration. Trends toward "primitive" and naive illustration aesthetics have led many artists to believe that visual research is not necessary or worse yet that it is actually preferable to skip research altogether.This mentality is obviously misguided as such investigation can only help in the depiction of a chosen subject, even allowing you to consciously depart from it more easily, should you choose. Below are a couple of examples from the book of the extensive research that went into these artist's finished work.

Sketches by Donald Teague

As they say, the finished painting never lies and the hard work is evident in the convincing nature of these paintings.This is a book I would recommend to any illustrator or classic illustration enthusiast. I purchased my copy many years ago but am pleased to find that good copies can still be had for a reasonable price.

Find 40 Illustrators and How They Work here

Addendum: Dan Zimmer of The Illustrated Press,  publisher of the upcoming "Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked" has told me that the publication date will be announced hopefully by the end of December. It will be full color, 432 pages, hardcover with dust jacket. It will collect all the classic illustrator profiles from Fred Taraba's articles written for Step-By-Step magazine. This sounds like a must have book. I can hardly wait!

Monday, November 29, 2010

So You Want To Be An Author

Once again last week I was approached by someone who has written "the best picture book ever". Seems to happen with shocking frequency. This person was sure that they have a Caldecott winner on their hands if not at least an Amazon bestseller. If only they could get me to do some really cool illustrations, we'd be riding the cash wagon all the way to the bank. Even though it's the first book that they have ever attempted to write and that admittedly, the story isn't really finished yet and that they still need to work out the ending and... you get the picture.

The problem with this scenario is that most folks have no idea how the publishing industry works. They have no clue that 99 times out of 100, the publisher buys the manuscript from the author and then contracts with an illustrator. They have no idea that once sold, the author has very little input into what the illustrations end up looking like. They don't understand that a large portion of publishers will not accept non-agented submissions. That even agents accept only a tiny portion of all the manuscripts they see. At this point I usually dash their dreams of stardom and unbelievable wealth by suggesting that they do some homework and maybe join a writers group or go to a writing workshop. In short, Publishing is a tough game to play and the better you know the game, the better your odds of scoring. I am part of a writing group that is populated with many authors who are having great success currently in the YA fiction market and it's a treat to eavesdrop on the conversation threads. Enjoy this little instructive cartoon about the misconceptions of what it takes to be a writer. I laughed so hard I about fell out of my chair!

Thanks to Rock Canyon Writer's own Jennifer Nielsen for the video link

Friday, November 26, 2010

I.F. - Savour

Over the years I have had a chance to create many illustrations for packing clients. I did a whole series of pictures for Pilgrim's Pride chicken to be used on their Rotisserie Chicken line.The cardboard sleeves encased the plastic domes that hold each fresh deli roasted chicken.

Each package depicted a scene from a different locale to imply the flavor from that region. I ended up doing eight different flavor location scenes including Asian, Backyard Barbecue, Tuscan, Indian and this one, Mediterranean. It's always interesting to do packaging work because you have so many different elements to accommodate. This one included leaving room for type as well as the die cut shape.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude- Acrylic, 11" x 14"

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
-William Arthur Ward

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
-Aldous Huxley

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  
-Thornton Wilder

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.  

O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.
-William Shakespeare 

We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.
-Thomas S. Monson

Take time this weekend to be grateful for all of your blessings and the people in your life and remember those who helped shape who you are! You'll see what what you have far outweighs what you have not.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quick Draw Result

Steampunk Anglerfish Spaceship- Acrylic and metal leaf, 11" x 10"

As I mentioned last week, I participated in a fund raiser auction at the Reagan Academy in Springville, Utah last Friday night. About a dozen artists gathered to create a piece of art in a roughly two hour time frame (many thanks to artist Julie Olson for these photos). The art was then auctioned off at the end of the event. I cheated a bit and did my under painting of this Steampunk spaceship beforehand as well as creating a distressed faux leaf textured border. This one fits in with previous pieces I have done using this technique.  It's always a bit stressful to "perform" on such a time line, but I enjoy these demo sorts of events.

Me "faux" painting- I was already done by the time this was shot.

Usually I don't have to worry about it being finished at the end of the time, so I found myself working quickly to make sure that all areas of the picture maintained an equal level of "finish. I think this is good advice and a worthy challenge. I have heard it said by many artists that you should approach your work in such a way that you could stop at any moment and the picture would look "finished". In other words, don't overwork any part of the piece at the expense of another. I found myself analyzing what strokes would best describe the effect I was trying to achieve. I would have preferred another few hours, but time ran out quickly. Given more time, I would go back in and strengthen the transitions between light and shadow and make the lighting more dramatic, but hey, I had two hours. I took an extra ten minutes or so as the auction got underway to put on a few highlights and a signature and then it was sold to the highest bidder. Last year the auction raised about $8000 for the school.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pig Detective

P.I. Pig - Acrylic, 9" x 11"

Pigs aren't very smart, but I still think they are about the most lovable of barnyard creatures (Katie insists they are quite smart-see comments). I enjoy drawing and painting them when I get a chance. In my book The Barnyard Night before Christmas, the pig character actually saves the day after a few intense moments of free fall. Here' he is trying to sleuth out a solution to Santa's predicament- how to pull his sleigh when all the reindeer get sick on too much Christmas pudding. The other animal's aren't much help as they sneak up on him and pelt him with snowballs. Poor Piggy.

Christmas Shop Early!
Buy The Barnyard Night Before Christmas here
Dozens of my favorite art books available here

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Steampunk Spaceship 2

As I mentioned last post, I am working up a little piece that I can paint at a charity quick draw auction tomorrow night. I have never been particularly fast as a painter, so in order to ensure that I can finish, I know I need to get a good start beforehand. I pulled one ship from the sketch in the previous post and redrew it. I changed some of the proportions and details, like adding a smokestack. Smokestacks are totally incongruous with space travel, I know, but fun nonetheless. I then took the sketch into Photoshop and did some basic coloring. The second image is what I call my "digital under painting".

I intentionally keep the contrasts low and the values darker than normal so that I can bring up the highlights with paint. I then print this out on my 13" x 19" Epson printer, mount it on a board and paint over the top.  I do this often to save painting time as I can get certain effects like the smooth gradient in the background much faster and easier than I can physically paint it.. Some ask why I bother, why not just finish it digitally? Well, first off, I love paint. I love the tactile interaction I get while painting. I love the organic quality, I love the incidentals and "accidents",  I love the fact that there is a physical artifact left over after the process. Don't mistake my comments as a knock against digital work. I am still diligently trying to learn to paint with pixels as I believe it is a valuable skill, but there is something in keeping up with actual painting that I know will make me a better digital painter- eventually. I'll post more as this project moves along.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Steampunk Space Race

I am doing a quick draw fundraiser this Friday at the Reagan Academy Art and Basket Auction in Springville, Utah. I will have approximately two and a half hours to paint something that will then be auctioned off.Last year I did a version of a catfish, but this year I thought I'd do something with a Steampunk aesthetic. If you aren't familiar with Steampunk, it is an alternative reality interpretation of science fiction where technology never advances beyond steam power. Of course there are still all the versions of things we have now, such as vehicles and devices but just steam powered. It is a really fun look to play around with because of all the brass fittings, leather, rivets and other textures. I pulled out this drawing I had tucked away from an earlier project that was never used and figured it was time to dust it off and finish it. I'll probably do just one of the ships on Friday and complete the full paining later. I will be selling other cards and signed children's books as well, if you are in the area, drop by The event runs from 6-9 pm on Friday November 19th. The address is 1143 West Center Street in Springville.

Don Weller Part 2

Gerald Young's Gather, Rest Area- Watercolor, 20" x 16"
By Don Weller

Don Weller always wanted to paint cowboys and horses, and be a cowboy. He spent plenty of time growing up roping cows in the rodeo, but by college, he had figured out that you either inherited your Dad's ranch or you did something else. Don's father was an architect, so the whole cowboy-by-inheritance scenario was pretty much shot. Don sold his horses and trailer, gave away his saddle and moved to Los Angeles with the aforementioned portfolio full of Abstract Expressionist paintings.

Three Cows- Watercolor, 20" x 16" by Don Weller

Don worked the dual careers of graphic design and illustration for years before helping launch The Design Conference That Just Happens To Be In Park City. TDCTJHTBIPC was always known for it's mix of quality guests and skiing fun. I was privileged to attend in 1994, when C.F. Payne, Braldt Bralds, Rafal Oblinski and Jack Unruh were all guest illustrators.

Deseret Crew- Watercolor 20" x 14" by Don Weller

This annual pilgrimage to the mountains, the skiing and the wide open spaces lured Don and Cha Cha to contemplate a move. The concrete jungle of Los Angeles soon gave way to alpine views as Don and Cha Cha relocated to Park City and the prospect of returning to the saddle.

Basically Alone- Watercolor, 26" x 15.5" by Don Weller

Since summertime offered no skiing Don soon sniffed out the local horse culture and was introduced to the art of cutting horses. It would not be long before Don was riding these horses himself and competing alongside the best cutting horse riders in the West and winning a few cuts himself.

Parking Lot Near Onion Creek - Watercolor,  20" x 22" by Don Weller

Summers now find a small herd of cattle grazing in the pastures that surround the three building estate that he and Cha Cha built on his Oakley ranch. Don designed the house, the garage with studio attic, and the horse barn. The five stall barn is where Don keeps his teammates.

Dancing Cheek to Cheek- Watercolor, 17" x 20" by Don Weller

Don trains with them in their very own cutting ring where he frequently invites friends to join in the action. Cutting horse riders depend on complete cooperation from their equine partner as the subtlest of hints direct their actions. Then there is the moment when the horse takes over and separates the cow on it's own. This symbiotic relationship between horse and rider mirrors the relationship Weller feels between his riding and his art. One feeds the other and each provides a necessary component to the whole, and if all goes right, at some point the art takes on a life of it's own.

Rope Tricks Too- Watercolor, 18" x 16" by Don Weller

"A good painting does not aspire to be a photograph. A painting is a composition with things included and eliminated to enhance an idea. The elements are staged to set the scene and move the eye. And for me a good painting allows the viewer into the process. Brush strokes show" says Weller.

Careful! - Watercolor 14" x 17" by Don Weller

"I have found some tricks that help me improve the odds of success, but the most important thing for me is to spend more time planning and less time painting"  Don says. "First there is the idea. Then I try to have a pretty solid image in mind before I start, and a solid drawing before I paint. Washes are thought out carefully. Spontaneous looking strokes are practiced on another sheet before being put down on the painting."

Trio- Watercolor, 8.5" x 9" by Don Weller

Looking at Don's current work it is obvious that the years of training in design and the countless illustrations created are the foundation for his success. I am blown away by his immaculate sense of composition, the balance, the color and above all the compelling nature of the way he draws his subjects. It is not an ability to be developed overnight, or even over a decade. The reverence he lends to his craft is obvious. "The painters I respect treat painting like it was the most important job on earth. For us it is."

Down to the Colorado- Watercolor, 19" x 14" by Don Weller

In the forward to his book "Watercolor Cowboys" Don says "I have been searching my earliest memories and although I can't find a time I ever believed in Santa Claus, I'm sure I've always believed in cowboys."

I believe in cowboys too.

Like this post? Please comment, it helps me plan future posts

Don Weller Website
Part one of this interview with Don Weller

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don Weller

Cover for Communication Arts Illustration 30- by Don Weller

A few weeks ago, I saw a posting on Today's Inspiration that included the work of friend and fellow Utah based artist Don Weller. The initial posting identified the work as "unknown", but I immediately deciphered the signature as well as the style.

Don with dog Buster in the barn tack room

This prompted me to approach Don about an interview, though my request was as much an excuse to travel to rural Oakley, Utah for lunch and a visit. Don and wife Cha Cha live on a ten acre ranch property that they share with two dogs, a cat some horses and several cows. Don always liked to draw as a kid, inspired by the work of Charlie Russell and Will James. A cowboy at heart, Weller arguably stumbled into illustration as a career. Growing up in rural Washington, Don studied art Washington State and left there with a portfolio filled with Abstract  Expressionist paintings and a handful of figure drawings. This apparently was the extent of what was taught there and Don insists it was "a terrible background for someone who wants to illustrate".

Cover art for Angel Records

From Washington, Weller ended up in Los Angeles in a position doing fashion paste up for the May Co. By 1961, Don had managed to find a position at UCLA doing brochure design for the campus colleges. He says he got the job mainly because the hiring agent was being fired and wanted to saddle the college with the worst possible employee ever (remember that Expressionist portfolio?).

Westways magazine cover

Well, fellow employees Mits Kataoka and Bill Brown eventually took him under their wing and Don spent all his energy and extra hours learning the craft of graphic design while honing his own illustration skills. The brochures he was designing needed illustration and he had the luxury of complete autonomy in how to fill the visual space. At the time, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast and the rest of the Pushpin Group in New York were doing groundbreaking design that incorporated their own illustration as imagery.

Illustration for Simpson Paper Company

The logical solution for Don was to follow suit and illustrate these projects himself, which he did. The UCLA job led to more and bigger opportunities in both graphic design and illustration including work for Rexall Drug, Schick Razors, T.V. Guide, Boys' Life, Warner Brothers, Continental Airlines, Sports Illustrated, and even Time Magazine covers.

For Weller, illustration has always been about the idea and how to communicate that idea. He remembers a couple of Time Magazine projects he worked on in the early 1970's One was a cover featuring Elton John in which he was competing against fellow illustrator Wilson McLean.

Time's typical practice was to commission two illustrated and one photographic solution for each cover subject, all of which were paid for. One cover would be chosen to run unless some current event pushed the cover story aside. Wilson's version neglected to include the piano, which the editors felt was key to conveying the idea. Don's version of course had a piano, so he won the cover battle.

Later, Don was asked to do a cover featuring Bruce Springsteen, whose "Born To Run" album had just exploded on the charts. This time, Don was the one who forgot the key element, the guitar. Much to Weller's chagrin the magazine ran a version painted by Kim Whitesides which included the guitar. Time and the other news magazines would routinely leave commissioned artwork unused. One time, Don created a cover for a story on Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie". The release coincided with the 1976 Summer Olympics and was bumped in favor of teenage gymnastic darling Nadia Comenici.

By the time Don and wife Cha Cha left the congestion of Los Angeles for the mountain vistas of Park City, Utah in 1984, Don was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the Los Angeles Society of Illustrators. Don felt that this was a bit strange if not premature since he was still going strong in both illustration and graphic design.

Logos designed by Don and Cha Cha Weller

Upon arriving in Park City, Don rediscovered his passion for horses, particularly cutting horses. I'll post an overview of the beautiful western themed work Don is currently creating tomorrow.

Like this post? Please comment, it helps me plan future posts.

Don Weller's website

Friday, November 12, 2010


Campfire- by Greg Newbold- 5" x 10", acrylic

The pleasant glow and it's welcoming warmth belie the true peril facing the builder of this fire. In the story that this piece was a part of, the traveler had to remain vigilant all night long, stoking the flames in order to keep the ravenous wolves at bay. Sometimes I feel the same way, only my wolves are other predators such as discouragement, self doubt, fear and failure. The current economy has many in the same precarious position as our traveler, but we can make it through the night. As an artist, one way I find to do this is by finding a personal project that keeps the juices flowing. Whether it's a painting I have been meaning to do, working on writing a picture book, or even a home improvement project. Having something to look forward to keeps me focused on getting through the not so exciting times.  Keep the fire burning!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Good Frame Makes A Big Difference

Rabbit Brush- by Greg Newbold, 8" x 8"- Oil

It never ceases to amaze me how a good frame or the right frame can really make a painting look finished. I really believe that a good frame should enhance a picture without drawing attention to itself. I have been having some custom frames made lately for my landscape and livestock paintings. I searched around and found Gold River Frames in Cedar City, Utah. Travis Humphries custom makes frames for artists, galleries and museums across the country. I love the seamless corners and the custom finishes. He'll make anything you want and finish it however you want, anything from black to finely polished 24k gold leaf. I do a lot of odd sized paintings anyway, so I was always needing custom sized frames, so I am delighted to have found Gold River. He'll ship your frames anywhere in the country, so if you like what you see, consider having him make your next frame.

Gold River Gallery
This painting in progress on location

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Just a fun little doodle. Messing around with colorizing ink drawings in Photoshop, adding textures and trying to get more comfortable with the brush tools. Nothing fancy, I mainly focused on color and pattern rather than modeling. This critter came out of my sketchbook.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Seeing it Printed

Seeing your work printed is part of the fun of doing illustration. Although I don't always get to see what something prints like, it's fun when the client sends a copy of the final product. I have had the pleasure of doing several covers for the works of Diana Wynne Jones. She writes wonderfully entertaining young adult fantasy stories in the vein of Harry Potter (though a great many of her books preceded the J.K. Rowling phenomenon). These books have been released in many incarnations and under several imprints both in Jones' native England as well as here in America.I created a whole series of covers for the Chrestomanci series as well as a few of her other books. I always ask for copies of the covers I create, though not all publishers oblige. I was glad to receive this one.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Creating a Sense of Place

Wire Sitter- by Greg Newbold, Acrylic- 9" x 18"

Illustration is about telling stories. It's about creating something that makes the  viewer ask what happened just before this, or what will happen next? What is the story behind this place? Illustration, and art in general is about crafting an image that the viewer can immerse himself in, that he can relate to. Sometimes a picture takes you back to a place in your childhood memory that you have not visited in a long time.  Howard Pyle, one of my favorite illustrators, very eloquently touched on this topic in the following quote:

The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived. -Howard Pyle

The emotional response  we get from viewing a painting is often less about the painting than it is about the emotional connection that we as observers bring to the viewing of the work. I try to create in my work an environment in which one can visit for a while, perhaps rest or even contemplate.   I think great art of necessity is a participatory experience. If the viewer doesn't bring their own experience into the equation, if it elicits no response,  is it really art? I am not talking about art whose sole purpose is to shock or offend- that type of response is a subject for another day. I am speaking of a real connection, where you feel the soul of the work. Many times people will comment to me that something I have done "reminds them" of a certain place or time, that it speaks to them. This is when I know I have done my job well and that satisfaction doesn't come until afterward.

This painting is from the book Spring Song written by Barbara Seuling.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Autumn Rhapsody

Autumn Rhapsody - by Greg Newbold - 20" x 14" - Acrylic

Fall is in full swing around here. Crisp morning air slaps me a little wake up call each morning as I run the kids to school. Most of the fall color has already turned in the foothills and the garden, save a few potatoes and carrots yet to be dug, is spent. Man, I love fall.We already had the first snows of the season and more than a few leaves await raking, but hopefully the brutal cold will hold off for a few more weeks and we can enjoy the sweatshirt weather a little longer. This picture is one of my favorites from my book The Touch of the Master's Hand. It seemed appropriate to welcome in the best of autumn weather. The art from this book won awards from Communication Arts, The Society of Illustrators and was also included in The Original Art Show. 

Read more about The Touch of the Master's Hand here.
Order your copies here

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Patriot- Ink on Bristol, 6" x 3"

Get out and vote today. Remember that freedom isn't free. This piece was originally done for an article about Texas, so please no grief about the Texas flag, the sentiment is the same. I voted earlier today- I hope everyone will be responsible citizens and vote for those people you feel will best lead our great nation in the right direction.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Worms For Halloween Dinner


So yesterday for Halloween dinner we made mini mummy pizzas (little mummy heads with pepperoni, olives for the eyes, and all swathed in mozzarella string cheese bandages on English muffin halves, but the best part was making and eating the Jell-O "blood worms". After seeing this on TV last week, we had to make it. They were just too gross to resist. Take a 6 ounce box of raspberry Jell-O and a box of bendy straws and presto! You have a pile of slimy, surprisingly realistic looking, completely edible nightcrawlers. Even though they taste just like raspberry Jell-O, our youngest had a hard time stomaching the idea.  I, as you can see, had no problem with them.


Maybe because I like Halloween but also because of all the years as a kid when we would catch nightcrawlers and sell to fishermen. My grandmother's lawn was watered by flood irrigation and on those nights we would grab the flashlights and go down after dark to match withs with the earthworms. Stealth was the word of the day or you ended up with a handful of grass and mud. I got pretty adept at snagging those things before they could slink back into the ground. Some nights we would catch as many as 100 dozen of the mucous covered Oligochaetae. Our buckets of slippery critters then went in a below ground screen bottomed box full of peat moss where they would live happily munching on cornmeal until they were sold to fishermen.It was a tough way to make a few bucks, but we always knew where the worms were when we wanted to go fishing.

Recipe for Jell-O Blood Worms