Sunday, December 26, 2010

Drawing: Frog Drawing

Here is a frog drawing I created quite a long time ago. It has been in storage for at least ten years. I used it in the story #3: Geraldine, from The Book of Bartholomew.  It looks just fine here as a digital image, but the paper which it is on is very thin and when I was shading in the area underneath his chin I pressed too hard.  This resulted in the paper buckling and puckering.  The lead is also shiny and different from the rest.  That is why it has been in storage.  BUT, it looks good here.  It was used as a background image behind the text in the story Geraldine

I have painted and drawn frogs over the years.  My interest goes back to a quote from a Flannery O'Connor book in which she describes a column of souls rising to heaven like an endless stream of frogs leaping over each other on their way to salvation.  I think humans are somewhat froggy.  We are uglier and more primal than we think.

I hope you all are having a nice holiday season, when we take time to see the beauty in those around us.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Oil Painting: Mangoes

This is a 16" x 20" oil painting of two mangoes.  These were originally painted for the second story in The Book of Bartholomew in which some kids get stranded on a deserted-island.  The question is what to do if there isn't enough food?  Thinking of what food might be found on an island, I opted for mangoes.  After all, I had to eat them when I was done painting them. I used red mangoes because there is murder in the story.  The pink background was a moment of inspiration.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Oil Painting: Boiling Frog

This is Boiling Frog, an oil painting based on the phrase "like a frog in boiling water."  The phrase refers to the fact that frogs are cold blooded and can, if you desire, slowly be brought to a boil without realizing it.  I find it an appropriate symbol for the world's current predicament, as we seem to have fallen on hard times without recognizing the warning signs.  I painted this piece for The Book of Bartholomew.  In the third story, Bartholomew falls in love like a frog slowly being boiled in water.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Oil Painting: Corn, Beans and Kale

Looking back I see that I have not posted the final image of Corn, Beans and Kale from the first story in The Book of Bartholomew.  This is a 16" x 14" oil painting.  Bon appetit!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Art Lesson: Vanishing Point

Vanishing points are a form of linear perspective that is used to create foreshortening or a sense of depth to an object.   Here are a couple of examples as to how vanishing points work.  With cylindrical shape, the seemingly parallel edges of the cylinder would meet at a point in the distance.  The front of the cylinder would be a circle.  The back edge of the cylinder should arc as if the back end was a circle also.  So what in 3-dimensions is two same sized circles connected by two parallel lines becomes in a 2-dimensional drawing two different sized circles connected by two lines that eventually meet at a point. These are two very different things, but one represents what is while the latter represents what we see.
The second example is that of a cube. This gets a little trickier because there are two vanishing points -- one on both sides of the cube.  Again, the seemingly parallel sides actually meet at a point away from the cube.  The vertical lines of a cube that is sitting on a horizontal surface will always be completely vertical.  Of course, if the cube is on a slope or some non-horizontal surface, the verticals will tip one way or the other, but they will always be parallel to each other. 
That's just a little tip about linear perspective.  If you are going to use angular geometric shapes, such as buildings, boxes, fish tanks, yoga bricks, desks, dumpsters (I think you get the idea) and such, in your composition, linear perspective can be helpful.  If your objects are biomorphic or non-linear, then linear perspective is not very helpful.  There are other ways to create perspective in those situations.  But that is for another time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Art Lesson: Graphite Pencils

Here is a little history and information I have learned about graphite pencils.

Important things to know about pencils:

You can sharpen your pencils in a few ways. The easiest and most common is with a Pencil Sharpener. Like many tools, you get what you pay for. I like a pencil sharpener with a built-in container to hold the shavings. This makes it less messy. The problem with sharpeners is that they can loosen over time and get dull, thus being less effective. Electric pencil sharpeners seem to hold up well but if you are not near an outlet they are not practical.

Often I will use a knife to sharpen my pencils, especially when I work outdoors. Knives always give you a point that is sharp. For some people it is hard to work the knife just right without cutting off too much wood or graphite. This can also be a messy way of sharpening if you need a waste basket for the shavings. To sharpen with a knife you stroke the knife away from you, like whittling a stick.

Sandpaper can also be used to do fine sharpening of the graphite. I find this a bit messy and do not use this method much. I would rather spend my money on a decent pencil sharpener.

Problem - Graphite in pencil breaks often when sharpening
If your graphite keeps breaking as you are sharpening it, this is because at some point your pencil was dropped and the graphite inside shattered. Be careful not to drop your pencils on hard floors and surfaces.

Your pencil should be held with what is called a dynamic tripod grip. The tripod grip means that there is equal pressure on the pencil from the tips of your thumb, pointer finger and middle finger. This grip gives the most flexibility while drawing.

I hope this information was helpful.
Keep using your Artist's Brain.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Art Lesson: Thumbnails, a Form of Protection


Where would we be without our thumbnails?  We would be in pain and misery, that's where we would be.  Our fingers would be wrapped in band-aids and nothing would ever get done.  And that is the same place we would be without thumbnail sketches!  Okay, maybe our fingers wouldn't be covered with band-aids, but we would be in pain and misery trying to complete an interesting drawing or painting.  Thumbnail sketches are very valuable to the botanical or representational artist.  It is in the thumbnail sketch (a small simple line drawing exploring composition and shapes) that:
- helps the artist explore the most effective and interesting view of their subject
- captures the energy of the first ideas behind the final composition
- defines the proportion of the final composition, and
- informs the artist what they need to observe, research or explore more deeply before investing lots of time into a project

I always first explore my compositions with thumbnail sketches, often done during boring meetings at work, and then expand them from there.  To see an example of a book cover developed from a one inch sketch, click here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Illustration: Book Cover - Bartholomew Makes a Decision

Here are images showing the progression for creating the cover for the first tale of The Book of  Bartholomew.  The first two sketches are my first ideas of what I wanted to paint: a plate of corn, green beans and kale.  The first is very rough and was only about 1.25" square.  The second image represents another plate of food with the words "KNOCK, KNOCK" on the cover.  This is because Bartholomew is interrupted during his meal by a knock at the door. All Bartholomew wants to do is find some decent food and once he sits down to eat he is interrupted by the phone and the door.

Then it was time to do some research. This meant enjoying a few meals of corn, geen beans and kale.  I cooked the kale once and the other time my girlfriend cooked it.  Hers was much better.  We cooked the food and then I went to work rearranging it on the plate to somehow match what I wanted to do.  I did not find my final composition, but it was fun and informative for the final painting.  The food was good.  I wish the green beans were from my garden.  Today I could pick them and use them, but when I painted this picture beans were not in season.

I used these images to layout the composition of the painting and made the first layer of paint on canvas. From there I built up the surfaces and colors to create a finished painting of a plate of kale, corn and green beans.  The cooked kale was the hardest to paint.  It was hard to get a focused picture of it as its edges are rather soft and difficult to pick out.
After completing the painting, I took the image to Photoshop and added the words KNOCK KNOCK and the title. This was a fun stage - turning a painting into a book cover

The next step was to create a background for the inside text pages of the story. Continuing with a food theme, I created drawings of forks and spoons. These images line the text pages and are faded behind the text. This was a very fun story to illustrate.  I like the idea of not showing Bartholomew or Gerald, but letting the reader develop their own physical image of the characters.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Art and Personal Salvation

Here is a quote from Becoming Human Through Art by Edmund Burke Feldman.

"The perfectionist impulse, manifests itself in primitive and child art as a result of the fear that raw, unadorned reality presents to the unsophisticated person. The child's art acquires a somewhat obsessive quality when he uses it to exorcise demons he cannot otherwise cope with. Contemporary artists, too, attempt to find in the reiteration of certain forms and themes a kind of personal salvation that life somehow withholds."

It seems so often that when I kick and scream against a stereotype about artists and why they create I eventually experience the very behaviors I rail against. In the movie New York Stories, Nick Nolte plays an artist who creates only when he is lonely for Rosanna Arquette's character. He needs the emotional turmoil of his relationships in order to fuel his art. I found this balderdash when I watched it as a young man in his twenties. Now, as a hopefully wiser man in his forties, I understand and have experienced the stress of relationships as a driving force behind creativity.

When I read the quote above about artists searching for personal salvation I normally would scoff a little bit. Art is art, there is no personal salvation to be found here. There is skill that can be fostered, there is vision that can be honed, there is support that can be won, but there is no personal salvation to be gained. Is there?

Is there more personal salvation to be found in creating art than in designing a car, selling a car, or building a car? Are others saved personally through carpentry, cooking, cosmetics? Is there a relationship between personal salvation and art?

Personal salvation does not come from actions you take. Personal salvation comes from accepting yourself while having a clear eye to your strengths and weaknesses. Isn't it a matter of perspective?

Yet here I am feeling a sense of personal salvation from writing stories for The Book of Bartholomew. Perhaps it is not salvation as much as setting something straight. There are times and experiences in my life I would like to revisit and do anew. I am allowed this opportunity through my writing. Perhaps this is a form of salvation -- perhaps it is a way of healing. I am not sure. But somehow I get the sense that soon I will be again experiencing a stereotype that I thought was ridiculous.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Completeness and Self-Expression

Excerpt from Becoming Human Through Art by Edmund Burke Feldman.

Why do I say the self is completed in the act of communication, that is, successful self-expression? Because I do not know in advance whether someone else will understand what I have made, or said or done. I await a response, I expect a knowing answer; I try to imagine how you will react by conducting a dialog with myself. But my expectations and anticipations are necessarily provisional until they are confirmed in a real, as opposed to a conjectured, reply. When you do in fact respond to my expression, you eliminate at least some of my uncertainty. Consequently, if you are a teacher, or a critic, or just another person, you have some control over my feelings of completeness or wholeness. You have the power to withhold your response or to respond inadequately with reference to my expectations. Or you may discover more in my expression than I thought I was saying. From this it follows that self-expression is at least two-directional; that we are responsible -- that is, answerable -- for each others self-development; and that self-expression in art is excellent or qualitatively superior only insofar as it exhibits the capacity to evoke excellent responses.
The unanswered expression of a self denies communion to that self and prevents it from becoming complete. The hyphen in the term self-expression provides the clue to its real meaning. It implies a self that acts and is understood.

I like this, except I do not necessarily think that the lack of an adequate response to an expression of self will prevent the self from becoming complete. Often it will drive artists to create better self-expression, so that the desired response becomes more likely. I have heard "no" too many times to really think that it has any impact on my becoming complete. I am complete whether people respond favorably to my art or not. Most artists learn quickly that attaching one's sense of self to their work creates a difficult road to follow.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oil Painting: Rush to Innocence

This is a painting, Rush to Innocence, I have recently completed. I have been working on this for quite sometime -- two years or more. It is about the giddiness and excitement children feel from seeing rabbits. An excitement so exhilarating they must start running. It would be great for adults to experience that emotion more often.

The rabbits belong to a friend who rescued them after their mother had been killed by a car. She raised three of them. Two are still alive more than two years later.

The image of the children is taken from a Dick and Jane primer from the 1950's. I took their clothes off to show the vulnerability of innocence and to play with the idea of innocence around nudity that is lost to adults. Yet, these two cherubs are running with excitement toward a symbol of fertility. Are they rushing toward the future? Or are they innocent to the future and just rushing because of their excitement about natural things, those in the moment and those yet to come? This is a 40" x 30" oil painting on canvas.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Living the Artist's Life - excerpt

I enjoyed reading this honest, maybe a little "catty", assessment of the wealthy in Living the Artist's Life by gallery owner Paul Dorrell.

But for the ones (the wealthy) who are awake, to connect with your art makes them feel more alive, even rebellious, especially after all the years of dull, repetitious, mind-numbing work many of them have had to do in acquiring their wealth. Unfortunately that kind of money-chasing often compromises growth, and can create an imbalance that is reflected by harsh acquisitiveness, appalling selfishness, and virtually no awareness.

When you meet certain of these people, you may see how their dignity suffered as a result of that chase, how all too often their goals were misplaced, weren't sufficiently rewarding, or were assigned undue priority. This may make them depressed, half-alive, or primitive in outlook, consumed by the misery of their greed. All too often this is the case. Their fixation with money likely screwed up their marriage, their kids, their own lives, leaving them drained of humanity, outside the feast of life, with them now trying, through art, to reach for greater meaning.

Whatever their individual natures, the rich do have a place in our system, and while it might not ultimately be as important as many of them think it is, it is still significant. Their businesses help create jobs, many of them passionately support the arts, and, when of the visionary sort, they do things for the underprivileged that you and I can only dream of. Regardless of who they are, and how benevolent they may or may not be, you must not judge them, you should never envy them, and you certainly should never allow yourself to be intimidated by them.

Be cool when dealing with the rich, be confident, but be humble. Like anyone, they are only looking for acceptance.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Watercolor: Wild Ginger, Stages 1 & 2

This is the first stage of a watercolor painting of wild ginger. What I mostly am doing at this stage is plotting out the internal structure of the leaf. Placing the veins and identifying edges. The veins are created as negative shapes as I fill in the between shapes of green. I varied color a bit to set-up the next stage of going stronger with color and making my tones and colors more accurate. There is an interesting play between a green with a strong mustardy yellow underneath and a green with a strong bluishness on the surface. I hopefully will be able to capture that contrast.

This is the next stage of the wild ginger plant that I am painting. In this stage I have defined the leaf veins better and, in the process, mottled the leaf and started to add contrast. The contrast is starting to create some depth to the plant. The stem is laid in simply at this point as it is very fuzzy and I will have to deal with that in the next stage. You can also see that the flower is more well defined. The flower is hairy also, so I have only defined things in a cursory manner and will leave it like this until it is time to do the fuzz/hair detail.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Watercolor: Wild Ginger Composition

I am currently creating a composition of a wild ginger plant to use for a watercolor painting. Wild ginger have two leaves that rise up on strong, fairly straight stems and a small flower that protrudes from the base and lays on the ground. They bloom in the spring, late April to early May, in Minnesota. They like shade and can be found in large quantities along the bluffs of the Mississippi River.

I created two drawing, one of each leaf, on tracing paper. Then, overlapping the two pieces of tracing paper, I moved the leaves around to determine what composition I wanted. Since there are just two leaves, I decided to have the leaves next to each other on the horizontal plane. I was going back and forth on whether I wanted the leaves to overlap or not. With an overlapping of these two shapes I could create a sense of depth rather easily. Since the plant is so simple, creating depth without the leaves overlapping would be harder.

I decided to have the leaves not overlap. Why? I just like the look of the leaves separated better. When the leaves overlapped it was abit confusing as to where one leaf began and the other ended.

I will share this painting as it progresses.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Art Question: What Motivates You to Keep Painting?

A friend of mine recently said she currently doesn't feel the motivation to paint and asked why I do keep painting, what motivates me?

The following excerpt from Becoming Human Through Art: Aesthetic experience in the school by Edmund Burke Feldman explains some of what motivates me:

We should try to think of art, in the present context, as an instrument or tool for dealing with human situations that call for expression. In the course of growing up there are thousands of events and experiences, whose meaning we want to share. It is not a matter of exceptional generosity or lack of self-control that makes children want to divulge their experiences; being human, they have to share, they cannot help sharing, the meanings of their lives. It is the human need to communicate with other people that is the foundation of art...

Sharing and exchanging the contents of their lives is what helps children grow into mature social beings who can function normally in communities, make friends, work productively, and develop confidence in their powers of human understanding and expression...

From a human standpoint, it is not correct to say that the individual sets out to create music, art or literature; rather, he is moved or impelled to say something and art is the result...

At present, artists combine media of expression; they are reluctant to recognize boundaries between paintings and sculpture, between two- and three-dimensional expression, between music and theater and opera and cinema and architecture and sculpture and industrial design. Whether he knows it or not, today's artist seems to be seeking the tribal artist's freedom of access to all media and types of expression. Obviously, the need to make a statement, to share experience, to evoke a response, takes precedence over the 'rules' about categories of artistic expression.

I find that most things written about why children make art applies as well to adults, or at least me.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Art Lesson: Transfering a Drawing

Here is an easy way to transfer a drawing using tracing paper. This is a video I created as part of the online drawing class I will be offering starting March 1. For more info about this class, look at my last post below.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Drawing: Crossing patterns in a Pineapple, Pinecone and a Cactus

I have been making this drawing of a pineapple to demonstrate pattern in plants.

The pineapple, pinecone and some cactus have an alternating spiral pattern going from the top to the bottom. I enjoy trying to make these things work right: both spirals lining up. It is always a wonder to me when it works right. It is so easy to get lost or to get confused where you are in the pattern. But very gratifying when it is completed.

This drawing is a study for a botanical watercolor of this pine cone. Pine cones, although probably less work overall than a pineapple, can make it more difficult to recognize and follow the pattern when they are open, like this one. This cone is from a white pine.

This is a study of the pattern of needles on a small cactus. This study was used to make an oil painting of the cactus. Unfortunately, I have not taken a photo of this piece (that will be remedied soon). One aspect of botanical art that I like is finding the pattern or structure of the plant. It is sort of like Where's Waldo? - only different. Plants are amazing in that they develop in stages and patterns. It is an elemental part of their structure. How well do you know your favorite plant? Do you know anything about its structure? Look again, there's always more to discover.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Art Lesson: Simple Composition tools

Here is a quick video on simple tools for framing or composing the subject in front of you that you will be drawing/painting. I made this video for an online course Beginning Drawing: Botanical that I will be offering later this month.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Painting Like a Child

I was looking through a book I have had around for years, Encouraging the Artist in Your Child by Sally Warner. It is interesting to read through her advice and think about how it applies to adults who are artists. Picasso once said something like:
"It took me a few years to learn how to paint like an adult. It has taken me a lifetime to learn how to paint like a child."

That is a very loose paraphrase - but I think the sentiment is true. We spend so much time trying to be "good" at art that we forget the aspects of art that make it worthwhile. Here are some of the quotes by parents shared in Ms. Warner's book and my thoughts on them for adults.

"My three-year-old spends (only) a minute on a drawing."I wish I spent one minute every day drawing. Any time is worthwhile. I get stuck on needing at least two hours to feel like I have gotten something significant done. Some parts of an art piece do take time and it also takes time to get into the right state of mind. I try to have several pieces I am making at different stages of development. That way, if I am in a mindset to do detailed work or to do big "blocking in" work there is something for me to do without fighting myself. When that happens, a short amount of time can be very useful.

"But she scribbles."
Letting the mind wander is very helpful. I quickly tire of being on task. Usually, the paintings I start that I think are going to be really great and a nice continuation or summation of a body of work aren't nearly as good as the ones that seem to come out of nowhere. Scribbling - letting the muse take over - is necessary to progress in a manner that isn't predictable and boring.

"He draws fine, but still paints like a chimp."
How about this: "he paints wonderfully, but his art just doesn't grab me." We all have our weaknesses - we all are chimps at something. There is so much to know about art. Some people are great painters but lousy salesmen. Others are lousy painters but great salesmen. We need to give ourselves a break and do our best to take things one step of improvement at a time. Side note: I actually know an orangutan whose paintings sold for several hundreds of dollars (that's what happens when you work at a zoo).

"He sometimes makes things and smashes them."
I think this would be fitting for my tombstone. Hey, if you don't like it, get rid of it. If you don't like it, stop. Don't waste your time and money on something that isn't going to work -- that isn't capturing the spirit of your creativeness. This is when it becomes duty instead of art. Until you are happy with it, everything is on the chopping block.

With children, art is not about the finished product it is about process; about testing and experimenting how paint and clay and crayons work. As adult artists, we should continually be that exploratory also. But once we have figured out how to use the paint, the clay and the pastels, we should continue to explore what it is we want to express. If there is no exploration in the process, the art becomes predictable. It may be well crafted, but it won't have much to say.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Art Class Quizzes

I have been very busy pulling together information for art classes I will be offering soon. As part of these courses I have been making quizzes. See if you can answer the questions below correctly.

1. Contour line drawing is meant to...
a. capture the light as it falls across your subject
b. express atmosphere or mood
c. have as much information as possible
d. improve your ability to see your subject

2. Botanical art is different from floral art because...a. there really is no difference
b. botanical is watercolor and floral can be any medium
c. the creator is an artist and a scientist
d. it doesn't sell as much
e. it is concerned with botanical aspects of the plant

3. Making a drawing without looking at the paper is...a. a good party game
b. ridiculous
c. blind-contour
d. a good way to embarrass yourself

4. What is a thumbnail sketch?
a. The same as a blind-contour drawing, but drawn with graphite attached to your
b. Duh, a sketch of my thumbnail
c. a quick simple sketch of basic shapes in a composition
d. a line drawing with shading

5. Lines are...
a. formed where two shapes come together
b. full of information if they fully express shapes
c. long thin things that wrap around the world

1. c + d
2. e
3. c
4. c
5. a, b + c

How well did you do?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Art Lesson: Gesture Drawings of Plants

Capturing Gesture: Gesture Drawing is meant to quickly capture the essence of the subject; its movement, shape, weight, etc. Gesture is based in the act of seeing. It is a representation of basic elements quickly witnessed. Gesture gives your drawings life – gives your subject life. Often botanical drawings can seem stiff and lack life. This is because, in the course of drawing an accurate representation, the artist has lost sight of gesture. Since drawing gesture is directly connected to what you see, it obviously is also about improving your observation skills. The following exercise will help you to develop your observation of gesture.

Materials Needed:

  • 4B pencil
  • Newsprint pad
  • A plant with a stem, branches and leaves
  • Variety of plants - In this exercise you will need to have a few different plants available for drawing. These plants could be house plants or plants outdoors. Plants should have a variety of characteristics.
Place a plant at a comfortable distance from you in a place where there is enough light to draw and to see the plant. Gesture drawing is about capturing the energy and posture of your subject. With figure drawing, the first action is to find the spine of the model and use this as the central organizing unit for the drawing. Thankfully, when it comes to drawing the gesture of a plant there is a “spine” on most plants called a stem or trunk. This is the place to start.

Locate the stem of the plant. Quickly draw a line that captures the pose of the stem. Is it bending slightly one way or the other? Is it straight? Is it doubled over? The energy of the plant can easily be found in the manner in which it is growing, for that is how a plant’s energy is expressed. So, quickly draw an energetic line that captures the pose of the stem. From there, quickly draw lines that represent the branches coming off the stem. Be aware of the angle with which the branches come off the stem. Do the branches go up, straight out or hang down? Now, continue with the leaves, drawing lines that capture their angles and shapes. With groupings of leaves, drawing each individual leaf is not necessary. Look at the grouping of leaves as one big shape with a few edges in its interior. Continue on like this until you have completed drawing the plant.

Gesture drawings are meant to be done quickly and to have energy. If this is the first time you have ever made a gesture drawing, keep your pencil moving and try not to take it off the paper much. Try not to think much. Observe and draw. Observe and draw.

Now do this again with the same plant – but do it much faster. Then keep doing this for several more plants. Pick plants that are vertically growing, like grasses. Pick plants that branch out like geraniums or trees. Draw a plant and then turn its pot halfway around and draw it again. For gesture, feel free to draw dead plants, live plants – any plants at all. Create about 15 drawings of a variety of plants. Do them all quickly. Take no more than two minutes on any one drawing. Set an alarm clock if you have to. Fill the page of your sketch pad with each drawing. Draw big and use your whole arm to draw. Be loose!

What is the gesture of a thicket? Look for obvious stems and see the leaves as clumps or "drifts" instead of individual leaves.

Have fun making something beautiful!