Monday, January 30, 2012

Winter Squares, 3/4 Done

Preliminary photo of the third of four salvaged-wood pieces (you may recall the little tree and the narcissus bulb from last week?). The fourth one is drawn, too, but ... I can't find it. Stop laughing; these things are small! 4.5 x 4.75".

Micron pen, wax medium, oil paint, Prismacolor pencil. I'm really having fun with them and I think it shows. The title of the set of four may or may not be As the Crow Flies.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Derek Davis sketched me

This was back in July, when I was working on a set of three oil paintings, on commission. Derek joined me, since I was working outdoors at Battle Creek Park, and he broke out the sketch book and watercolor kit and caught me in action. I love the result so much. It looks so fresh and cool, in stark contrast to the brutal heat of that late afternoon. I'd have just about killed for an ice cold beer.

It seems pretty common for artists to sketch each other at work. I do it, and so do many other artists I know.

Derek's main focus is landscape painting in oil, and he's really, really good, and he teaches. Look him up here, or sign up for one of his classes at Old Town Artists where we are both members.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In progress today: Winter Squares

Well, more like winter-hinting-at-spring, as it turns out; this happened mostly because I like color and wasn't content to leave these little things without any. They've developed in a stream-of-consciousness fashion, starting with the whim of drawing the little tree on wood with a Micron pen, knowing I couldn't erase and having to be okay with that. It went well, so then I added the coat of wax medium and a bit of oil paint; when that worked out, I took a couple Prismacolor pencils and drew into the wax. Liking that, I repeated the process with the narcissus bulb (which I probably ought to plant, now that it has served its intended art-modeling purpose).

These are not fully finished, though I'd say they're almost there.

Oh, and they are little. 4.5 x 4.75" -- almost square, salvaged from a pile of discarded scraps at the ACVR Warehouse a few months back. I have two more of the same size, so I will have a set of four of them in the next few days.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lovely Hannah

Here's the finished piece that you saw in progress last night. What's new: additional carbon pencil (black) shading and details, and layers of cream-colored chalk, terra-cotta colored pastel pencil, white pastel pencil, and touches of white pastel.

Hannah has such a soft, sweet face. She required a lot of time and care, and was worth every moment.

At 14 x 11" unmatted, this is larger than the 8 x 10" size that I'm most commonly asked for.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making a Dog Portrait Drawing

Here's what's on the easel right now. Hannah, a lovely German Shepherd Dog. She is IN PROGRESS, here -- not finished, and in fact no longer looks quite like the photo below:

Hannah in progress. 14 x 11" mixed media on paper.

This photo was done after I added watercolor washes to much of Hannah's fur. I've already gone back in with my pencils and given a lot more depth and detail to the right side of her ear-base and face (the left side of the picture). But the sun has gone down and I don't like to take photos at night, for reasons you'll see in a moment.

Above, the pre-watercolor stage. At this point what I had was her basic form and some of the darkest dark areas, drawn in with a Wolff's Carbon Pencil (my favorite for detailed black line and shading).

Below, an earlier shot, done at night with a flash. THIS is why I hate taking photos at night, and incidentally, why I try to get my clients to photograph their animals in daylight and without a flash. It's the harsh light from the flash that turns everything icy blue.

Lousy color notwithstanding, if you click this photo to zoom in on it, you'll see what I was up to in the very beginning stages of this drawing. I had worked out the proportions of my image, and printed it at 9 x 7" so that I could translate it easily to 14 x 11" in the drawing. The lines I drew on the print are grid lines which I replicated, to scale (and very lightly) on my drawing paper. The grid is a centuries-old artist tool for ensuring accurate proportions, and while I don't always use it, it can really help reduce the time I spend correcting and re-correcting.

You can also see two other lines if you look closely. One goes from the left to right ear-tips, and the other down the middle of the head in front. Those are directional lines I sketch in to ensure that I'm seeing the correct angle of the head and that my ears aren't wandering off from where they ought to be. It's so easy to get caught up in the intricate details of eyes and ears, and miss seeing (until later) that their size or placement is wrong!

Hellooooo, Blue Moon!


Okay, the cat is unrelated (except that I like him), but I have news!

Back in mid-November I got a call from a marketing firm in Colorado, looking for artists to be part of a community campaign for Blue Moon Beer. This was exciting for many reasons, one of which is that Blue Moon has been a favorite of mine for years. But it was hardly a done deal; I still had to audition, as it were.

And then, as one might expect, I had to wait and see. Well, the waiting is over:


I'll update with more info when I have it, but essentially what this means is, I'll be at local events at local establishments, helping regular folks paint a large and very cool Blue Moon painting which will stay in that bar once the event is over. I love to teach, love to talk to people, and have found beer to be a wonderful means of getting folks past their fear of picking up a paintbrush, so I think this is going to be really, really fun.

They're flying me to Denver next month for a day of training. I can't wait. When we start to schedule actual events, I'll post them here, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Playing with Zug the Cat

Let's Play (Portrait of Zug), watercolor and pastel on paper, about 12 x 14"
 This is the second of what will be three drawings of Zug. Most animals I draw or paint, their characters and images come pretty easily. A few are much, much more challenging, for reasons I've never really understood; Zug -- a brilliant prankster by all accounts -- is one of those. He seems to need a much more vivid, bold treatment, so I broke out the pastels and struggled with "working" on him until I got so frustrated I didn't care if "work" turned to "goof around and see what happens."

That was when it all started going right.

So I like this one, and yet I have an idea, or a feeling, in my mind, and I am going to make a third drawing although Zug's person has not asked me to. Just because of an artistic instinct or impulse: I'm getting some darker paper today, and I am going to play again with Zug as soon as I can; probably tomorrow in the studio.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Bailey the Golden Retriever

Portrait of Bailey, 8 x 10", carbon pencil, pastel pencils, watercolor and pastel on cotton rag paper.
This was a piece I did for a benefit auction. More precisely -- I put a gift certificate in the auction, good for one portrait drawing of the animal of the winning bidder's choice. Bailey's owner won the item and mailed me a few snapshots, and I chose this one, with the sunlight falling so nicely on his golden-cream coat.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New Crow Series piece

She Followed Me Home, oil paint, wax medium, found wood and metal; 12.5 x 18"

Dedicated to the crow who started it all by following me, scolding all the way, for more than half a mile.

This piece and several others in my series of salvaged-material Crows and other birds will be on display at Frameworks Gallery in St. Paul starting Jan. 14.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy Monday, with Old Lilies

Gallery Lilies, 8 x 11" Conte crayon on brown paper, 2009
Well, "old" as in, I drew them a couple years ago while gallery-sitting at Robbin Gallery, and then posted and promptly forgot about them, though they're still in my sketch book.

This morning I got an email from a large publishing house in the UK, asking permission to use the drawing in an upcoming book on drawing skills and materials, for the chapter that includes Conte crayons. Checked out the contents of the book and looked up the publisher and author; I found everything solid, and said yes. The publishing house owns several imprints I know from the days when I worked at Barnes & Noble. Nice, nice company. Note that this is TENTATIVE at present as the project is still in progress and it's not certain my image will be used. Still an honor to be asked. Provided all goes forward as planned, I'll post again when the book is released.

The drawing is still available at $40 unmatted or $55 with a museum-quality 11 x 14" mat.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Animal Photography for the Rest of Us

Maggie the Greyhound, 12 x 9" oil on canvas. This is based on a small snapshot, the best photo the owners had. Maggie died a few years ago, so what I had to work with was, well, what I had to work with.

I create paintings of deceased animals pretty often, and this frequently means reconstructing portraits out of photos in which the animal's face is tiny, poorly lit, or not in focus very well; it's a difficult process of artistic instinct and guesswork, and usually involves searching for images of similar-looking animals to help me make the best decisions I can.
While it's true I can craft a surprisingly good painting from some very poor photos, there are two problems with this. First, it's much harder than it would be if the photos were better; second, not everyone can hire me. And it's just nice in general to have more good photos of your furry companions. I take shots of my own for use in making portraits, and I've learned that you need not be a pro to do pretty well. So here are my ...

Top Three Tips for Amateur Animal Photos

1. Turn your flash OFF and photograph in daylight. A bright window is good, or outdoors pretty much anywhere (you may want to avoid full midday sun, though, and use shade or morning/evening sunlight). Flash photos make animals look unnatural, causing eyes to reflect and coat colors to look harsh and cold.

2. Get close enough to see details. It often helps if you get on the animal's eye level instead of your own.

3. Take lots and lots of shots. If you're using a digital camera, why not just have fun? You're not wasting film, and good photos of animals are often the product of sheer luck, having snapped the shutter at what turned out to be just the right moment.

Winter pond and a watercolor goldfish

Winter Pond, above. Tiny watercolor and pen, just 5" x 3", from yesterday's stroll in Minnetonka near the Minnetonka Center for the Arts. The Fat Fantail, below, is 3.5" x 5", from a few weeks ago at JA Geiger Studio in St. Paul.

Currently in progress:

two dog portrait drawings, one cat in pastels, and sketches for three mural clients.

Oh, and a multi-artist show at Frameworks on Ford Parkway.

And Art Crawl is coming up! And I have classes to teach!

What ever happened to that stereotype in which les artistes hang around in cafes being languorous and cool? Where's my nifty beret and my glass of absinthe? Where, I ask you?