class work

Color Studies Out My Window

These are a few color and shape studies I painted looking out the window of my apartment building. I'm on the 9th floor of a renovated hotel that was built around 1929 and have a steller view looking south and west. I did these pieces for my Oatley Academy work, so I'm still experimenting with lasso and gradient tool painting technique. window_web

This first view is looking south out of my studio window at the street below. This was in the evening so the sun is slowly setting off to the right.

West Window_web

These views are looking out of my west window. The other structures you see are other historic buildings turned into apartments that line the street I'm on. In the distance you can see the big broadcast tower of the local PBS station. I did these over the course of a few hours as the sun when down so I could study how the colors changed. The first is purely observational but for the latter two I made a conscious effort to set a color palette and work from that.

Painting with the Lasso Tool


I've started working through a digital paining course over at Oatley Academy. In the first lesson we're focusing on shape and form so we're working on painting using only the lasso tool and the gradient tool in Photoshop. This was my first attempt, painted from a photo of Salvador Dalí. Making things so angular was not the goal but I was enjoying the look of it so much I tried to strengthen the facets rather than smooth them over. More to come!

The Caretaker's Village

Along with my digital painting class I also took a class called Environment Sketching with the super friendly and talented Phillip Dimitriadis. I've had a few classes in perspective drawing before (you may remember my gothic church art studio), but it was an eye opening experience to try applying those mechanical drawing principles to skills like gesture and composition. I learned a lot! This was my final assignment, based on a sketch of a big headed statue from a few years back. First some ground work:

I'm so used to my perpective drawings looking mechanical and regimented so I wanted to stretch myself as much as possible and do something that looked irregular and full of character. My good friend and super talented illustrator Leah has been hiking her way through Central America, and posted some very beautiful photos of the makeshift dwellings in some of the villages. I was particularly taken with this first photo looking down a long hill in Quito Ecuador. I wish I was this good of a photographer.

Here's my finalized version. We learned about a layout drawing technique using col-erase pencils on tracing paper that makes playing with the lights and shadows fast and easy. I went back over my major lines here with a micron pen to give things some definition.



Femme Fatal

Another piece of classwork from my digital painting class. This assignment was to paint a character in an environment. I had film noir on the brain and wanted the challenge of making a "beautiful" character so I decided to try for a femme fatal.

To start I did a little googling to find some relevant movie examples. A femme fatal has to be beautiful, but there is a certain look to that era of film, the costumes, the hairstyles, so it's helpful to have something to look at. If you know your cinema you may recognize Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) from Sunset Boulevard in blue there in the middle. In this and the next few sketches I loosely based things on cameos from The Postman Always Rings Twice (avoid the remakes), Double Indemnity, Carole Lombard, Betty Garble, Frances Farmer, Gene Tierney, Jeanne Moreau, Joan Crawford, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, and some Audrey Hepburn for good measure.

There are also a few artist that were helpful to look at. Cindy Sherman is one of my favorites. If you don't now her work as a photographer you should look her up. She has a series of self portraits from the mid 60's that look like stills from an Alfred Hitchcock film. There are also a few modern photographers who will do film noir portraits. Jim Ferreira has a particularly good gallery.

Anyway, after the sketches I tried a few full figure poses to look for something interesting.

You can see I'm starting to make the drawings more caricatures.

Here are some more face centered caricatures. That's Cindy Sherman there in the middle on the top row.

Through all of that research I started thinking about the film noir movies I really like. There are a lot of good ones but its hard to beat Casablanca. The problem with Casablanca is that it doesn't really have any femme fatal characters. Ingrid Bergman is hardly a villain. What it does have is the fabulously contemptible Sydney Greenstreet as the Signor Ferrari who runs Casablanca's black market from his bar, the Blue Parrot.

Ferrari makes a particularly good reference because his character is so visually memorable. White suit, fez, corpulent and always mopping his brow in the North African heat. He has all the hallmarks of a good character design in shape and silhouette. I thought it might be fun to try switching up his gender, so I put together the following sketch.

I tried to keep the background elements subtle and just hint at a few references from the movie and the character. I knew I wanted to make a big deal out of the shadows. Film noir draws a lot on German Expressionism and its high contrast, angular shadows.

I was pretty happy with this sketch but I got a few notes from my classmates that her pose and expression were leading them out of the picture. After some revisions and a bit of color here was my first pass at the painting.

 As you can see I made her a bit more full figured and changed the pose slightly. I was happy with the composition but the colors left a lot to be desired. After a lot of color fiddling in PS I finally decided that no color scheme was going to feel right. Film noir just feels black-and-white to me. That being said, simply turning the saturation down in PS made things look disappointingly flat so I opted for a hybrid approach. Here's the final in a page from my portfolio, along with a few character study sketches.

The image is basically black-and-white, but if you look carefully you can see that I've painted most of the background in cool grays and then hit the shaft of light with warms. I also continued the warms into her exposed fleshy bits. I think it gives the image a kind of undercover vitality that fits nicely with the ambiguous overtones of the subject.

I'm probably thinking too much.

Quetzalcoatl: The Feathered Serpent

This piece was another assignment from my CGMA digital painting class. The goal for this week was to make a creature design and have some fun playing with found textures. Seeing as doomsday is fast approaching, I thought it might be fun to try something a little Mayan. The first thing to get straight is that the Maya actually called their feathered serpent deity Kukulkan (for the Yucatec Maya), and Q'uq'umatz and Tohil (for the K'iche' Maya). Quetzalcoatl was the Aztec deity, but it's also the name that's the most fun to say.

First here's my sketch:


And the final painting:

I started out trying to use cut-up photos for the plants but the lighting and textures of the different photos wasn't blending well, and I'm sure you can imagine how much of a nightmare it is trying to cut leafy things out of their background. Eventually I came across the idea of blowing out the contrast on a few good plant images and then turning them into brushes. That worked really well.

The feathers and scales on the snake are all "based" on photos, but there was quite a bit of painting on top of them to blend things together.

Cloud Fields

While modern industrial cloud manufacture takes place around the world, the Flint Hill region of the state of Kansas is synonymous with its centuries-old traditions of artisanal cumulo-culture, or cloud farming.  Many connoisseur insist that clouds from the fields of Kansas, with their natural nacreous layers and hand hewn silver linings, are the finest in the world. One of the benefits of living in Kansas is the opportunity to sample each season's crop fresh from the fields. I must admit that I am a bit of a cloud snob. Kansas farmers produce dozens of varieties including some species found no where else in the world. While grows can occasionally spawn tornados and other severe weather events, such is the life in the Flint Hills.

This is a collection of plein air sketches and watercolors from around my home in Eastern Kansas.

From a few of the roads near my house, some (slightly) embellished to make the hills more hilly.

Playing with some different cloud shapes.

Watercolors from K-10. I have a habit of pulling my car off to the side of the highway to paint. I've met quite a few friendly Kansas Highway Patrolmen and wormen.

A few of the smaller grows in Desoto, between Kansas City and Lawrence on K-10.

A few larger studies. I really wanted to play with some of the colors. When you think of the Great Plains you often get this sort of drab golden Little House on the Praire look, but its actually very colorful here.

I must admit that the aerial views are more or less invented. I don't have access to a helicopter or artist's zeppelin (yet).

A few more views from nearer my house. That bottom one is actually a commercial farm, but it's still pretty.

Last few, anti-clockwise from the top left that College boulevard, K-10 in Desoto, and College blvd. again across from the local elementary school.

Soviet-Era Vending Machine

From venerated laboratories of glorious Soviet worker’s paradise, we are presenting now newest in modern convenience. Never again are brave citizens to be having to stand in line for to buy essential needs. Features of model is including: - 5 mm armor exterior for to repel minor damage. - state of art 6 1/2 bits computing control systems with Rotary User Interface (RUI). - new streamline design, is weighing only 1800 kilograms. - 10,000 year power supply Cobalt-60 gamma reactor core.

I've been taking a fantastic digital painting class with Eric D. Martin over at CGMW. This was for a prop design assignment. Can you tell I had fun?

Film Studies

I'm taking an online painting class for the next few weeks over at CGMW. As a warmup this week we did some digital studies of screen grabs from our favorite films. I used this as an opertunity to try a few different approaches. Here are are few of mine:

True Grit (2010) : Cinematographer Roger Deakins

I started this one with the lasso tool and just made big flat shapes. Then I came in with an opaque brush. I was trying to avoid any transparent rendering.

Road to Perdition (2002) : Cinematographer Conrad Hall but with a lot of direction from Max Allan Collins' comic.

This one I started with soft brushes and then came back in with sharper brushes to find the details. I'm not a fan of this technique.

Tron Legacy (2010) : Cinematographer Claudio Miranda

I did this one in layers, working up the background in soft brushes, and the foreground figures in harder brushes on a separate layer. I got to try my hand at making a pattern brush for the dots too. I think I really got the feeling of the two figures, that Jeff Bridges on the right and Garrett Hedlund on the left, even though theres very little detail there.

Amalie (2001) : Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel

I was trying to stick to just one or two basic brushes on the others, but for this one I decided to play with a set of texture brushes the instructor gave us.


For composition class this last fall one of our assignments was an image about "dreamtellers", which it was our task to define and then depict. I decided that a dreamteller must be like a bank teller at an institution that issues dreams, so I set about working out what that would look like.

I started out making thumbnails, of which I must have made over 60. I started to coalesce around the idea of a teller window inside a huge statue of an owl decorated with clocks and star charts and other items related to telling time. Here is a progression of thumbs from early stuff to what became the basis for the final illustration:

And some thumbs from near the end:


I wanted to give acrylics a try so I took some reference shots and started in on an underpainting:

Unfortunately the painting started to get overworked and the others suggested I try something different. I ended up working digitally using my thumbnail as an underpainting and layering in a bunch of textures and the photoshop brushes I'd been working on in painting class. Here's how things turned out:

The figures are not my favorite, but I had a ton of fun working out all the carvings and architecture.

Looking at this now with some distance from it there are a lot of little things where I don't know what I was thinking. Because we built up the compositions for this project over such a long time the work on this piece dragged out over several months, far longer than I've ever worked on a single piece before. I wonder now if this is a good lesson in objective distance. After you've been looking at something for ages it's hard to get a clear picture of what's really there. Stephen King in his On Writing book mentions that after he finishes the first draft of a story he put's it in a drawer for a while and doesn't look at it for a few weeks (or maybe it was even months). Only then does he take it back out and start editing. I can see where that is a useful practice.

Skeleton Analysis

One of the courses I took this last fall was Anatomy for Artists, taught as a companion course to figure drawing. I've been dyeing to learn more about anatomy, I've got quite a few books, but in the past it always seemed like an insurmountable task. So many bones and muscles, so many crags and knots and little doodads, and all that Greek and Latin! Well this is where great teachers come in.  The reason you take a class instead of learning something on your own is that (hopefully) the instructor's experience tells him or her what's important to learn and what's pedantic detail.

We spent most of the class on the skeleton and the first thing we learned was SIMPLIFY. All those little boney protuberances and ossuary processes and subtle sloping curves of form basically disappear once you wrap everything in guts and skin and whatnot. Instead, visualize the bones as simple geometric shapes and focus on understanding their positions and relations in space (which is quite hard enough on it's own, thank you).

I'm proud to say that we did study the medical names however, which is kind of fun.

Here is a set from early on in the semester to give you an idea of what I mean. At this point we'd covered the head, torso, and legs but not the arms. These are all drawn from reference photos (I left the clothed ones in, but I cropped out the nude ones, sorry ^_^).




So you can see how all that boney detail turns into boxy shapes, but the drawings still capture the figure pretty well. Even the complex joints can be turned into things like spools and cylinders. The joints on the knees are called condyles by the way, which is my new favorite anatomy word. Also, don't look at that ankle just above, I put the spool in backwards and it's wrong wrong wrong x_x.

Some things are easier to simplify than others. The pelvis for example is very complex in real life, but because it's mostly buried in fleshy bits you really don't need much more than a wedge shape to get the idea. Scapulae (that's shoulder blades to you non-doctor types) on the other hand rest right under the skin of the back so they take a bit more work. Heres me trying to sort them out:


Going through the process I learned some things that surprised me. For example, did you know that the two bones in your forearm ( the ulna and the radius ) actually cross and uncross as you rotate your wrist! It kind of gives me the chills if I think about it too hard.



Near the end of the semester we just started talking about the muscles, but unfortunately we ran out of time to get very far with them. For the final project I did these two complete skeletons:

The fellow on the left is Fred Astaire, the one on the right was a female model. I drew her once before in one of the drawings above. Comparing the two you can see how much more fluid and weighty this one looks.

Speedy Digital Portraits

These were a couple of quick portraits I did in digital to try out some brush ideas.

This first is Dorathea Mort, the mug shot subject I mentioned in a previous post about glazing.

This one I painted from a still from the movie True Grit. It was one of my very favorite movies this last year. This is actress Hailee Steinfeld done up as Mattie Ross.

Professional Hands

Working on hands this time. In this case I did master copies. This first set is from Alphonse Mucha. Mucha's work is what we all think of when we think Art Nouveau. It's all about the play between flat graphic shapes and subtle rounded forms and lots of organic curly cues. These were done in photoshop:

And these were pencil on paper:

This third set are based on J. C. Leyendecker. Leyendecker was a rough contemporary of Mucha's, but he worked in a very different style as one of the golden age American illustrators along with people like Norman Rockwell. Leyendecker did a lot of magazine covers and so had to work quickly. His style is all about getting the point across with a few strokes. He's one of my favorite artists. These were done in photoshop:

This set is based on sketches by James Jean, a contemporary illustrator. His does these sketches with single lines in pen, so they're basically impossible to copy. It was fun to try though. Mine also pen on paper:

I'm not sure who this last set are from, the file wasn't properly labeled. I believe it's someone contemporary. If anyone recognizes them (as if my copies were good enough) let me know. Mine are pencil on paper.

UPDATE: turn out these were from Jerome Witkin. He's a contemporary figurative artist.



Faciamus Mala Fecit Apparatus

As a rule I am generally opposed to self portraits. When I have to do them they generally end up pretty weird. A case in point:


Yes I do own a shirt like that. And the tie. And the silly giant jacket. But I usually don't look this moody and wistful, (usually). Just think of it as the 3 story tall mural in the lobby of my evil corporate headquarters. Somewhere there's a little plaque with a title like "Faciamus Mala Fecit Apparatus" (he made us make evil machines), and under that orange thing on the left theres a little expresso bar.

The portrait is all done in digital but I layered it in with some goodies scanned from my old engineering texts. I have this old book of machine parts that is full of wicked diagram drawings like these. For you chemistry nuts out there that's a zinc oxide molecule on the left. Believe it or not I have an entire book about zinc oxide.

Part of the assignment was to make a few custom brushes so here are the brushes I used in the painting. The ones on the right are things I made.


Wouldn't It Be Loverly: Renovated Gothic Church Art Studio

Our big project in perspective class this semester was to design an ideal art studio for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. That will buy a lot of chocolates and enormous chairs, but I wanted to make something pretty cool to put them in as well. I've always had a thing for houses made out of converted buildings. I heard once about this decommissioned nuclear missile silo that someone converted into a house, the star feature being the 20 ton silo cover door which could be opened in less than 10 seconds with the aid of several rockets.

Missile silos are pretty cool, but an art studio needs light and silos a more of a subterranean affair. When you need windows there's only one way to go. Gothic churches.

I've seen a few churches converted into houses as well, but most are smaller country churches and I wanted something big and stony like churches are meant to be. Here's the basic layout I came up with:

The section to the far left, what the cathedral folks would call the narthex, is 2 stories with an entrance hall and some small rooms on the bottom, and then a large open office on top with 20 foot celling. The middle section, the nave, is large and open with a split level staircase to the 1st and 2nd floors. On the far end where the apse and alter would have been is closed off to form a library and reading room. Pretty swanky huh?

Here's a measured floorplan I drew up in sketchup. You'll see by the measurements that this is pretty small for a gothic church. We call that Bijou in the real estate biz.

Drawing this thing in perspective was a bit of a challenge. I did quite a few studies. Here was a first attempt based on the sketches above:

And here is a study of the staircase:

One of the techniques we studied in class is called a plan projection. It's a process where by you can plot out your perspective drawing from a measured floorplan and elevation so that you know everything is precisely the correct size and location in perspective. It's a time consuming process but it works like a charm. In order to do the projection I needed an elevation to go with my floor plan above, so I made this rough model in sketchup:

Once you get these two as guides, you line everything up on a drawing table along with your drawing paper. My setup looked like this:

And here's my first attempt at the drawing:

Not too shabby, but I decided I wasn't completely happy with the angle on things, so I started over. Here was the final result:


I decided to try coloring it a bit in photoshop as well. If you look carefully, there are 3 cats hidden in the picture. You can see 2 of them in the detail above.

Along with the overall view I also did a shot from the interior. This time I decided to forego the plan projection and just do the drawing on my own measurement. I settled on a shot looking at my work desk up there on the second floor in the extreme left of the drawing above.

This drawing had a lot of overlapping elements so I actually used 4 sheets of paper overlaid on one another to keep all the parts separated. Here's what that mess looked like:

You can see all the construction lines I used to plot everything out. A good example is that circle floating in the middle of the page. That's how I mapped out where each of the 5 legs of the chair base should go.

Here's how it looks all cleaned up:

I got a little carried away in this one and added some subtle shadows.

20 Impeccable Cubes

Our first assignment in perspective class this year was 100 impeccable cubes, freehand. You don't usually think of perspective class as a place for freehand drawing, but it really should be. Being able to work out a complex perspective problem with a ruler is important but let's face it, most of the time drawing with a ruler is a drag. Rulers are a tool for finished drawings, not for sketching. But sketching is where all the design happens. I can only speak for myself, but I want to have the sort of draftsmanship skills that I can draw what I want to long before I have to get the ruler out. As with any hand skills, the only way to build them is muscle memory inducing repetition. So I started drawing cubes. 100 isn't that many, right?

The first hurdle to get over is to realize that what you think is a cube in your head isn't. It took me about 45 cubes to realize this. When I started drawing my cubes I did them out of my imagination. They were awful. To help things along we were encourage to build a model to draw from. Here's mine:

It's made from foam core board, 4 inches on a side, with some geometric printouts pasted on each face. Drawing from the model was a big help. I also taped a knitting needle to the end of my pencil to use as a measuring guide while I worked. I did the next 90 or so cubes this way.

It get's a little monotonous. Especially when you realize that there are really only 9 views of a cube (think about it). Everything else is just some slight variation of one of those nine.

One drawback to the cube model is that you're always about the same distance away from it, so the amount of foreshortening and wideangleness is always the same. A good alternative I found was to draw up a cube in a 3D program on my computer and then move the camera around at different focal lengths for variety. This is also nice because you can set it to wireframe and see where the back faces are too. It's super important to draw the cubes through to the back side to make sure you understand the structure.

By the end of the assignment I had drawn 227 cubes, but quite a few of them were less than impeccable. We were asked to submit 20 of our best. Here are mine (in no particular order):

You can see they've got a little of that hand drawn wobble to them, but that's fine. It just gives them a little class. The point is that my hands have the experience of drawing 227 cubes (and about 20 good ones), and my eyes can recognize a good cube from a bad one.

Glazing Portrait

So as I mentioned in the previous post, we did a number of painted portraits this semester. That last one was all about direct observation of color. This assignment was about observing value. We painted several studies of the portrait in monochrome and then added color through glazes later. I got the original picture from a very interesting collection of mug shot photos taken by the New South Wales Police Dept. around the turn of the century.

Isn't this picture fantastic!!! The Historic House Trust has a collection of hundreds of photos like these up on their website. The caption of this image reads:

Dorothy Mort, criminal record number 518LB, 18 April 1921. State Reformatory for Women, Long Bay, NSW

Convicted of murder. Mrs Dorothy Mort was having an affair with dashing young doctor Claude Tozer. On 21 December 1920 Tozer visited her home with the intention of breaking off the relationship. Mort shot him dead before attempting to commit suicide. Aged 32. Part of an archive of forensic photography created by the NSW Police between 1912 and 1964.

The photos are all haunting and amazingly detailed.

So anyway, here's how my underpainting went. I took a photo part way through and then again at the end. I was trying very hard to map out the planes of the face and make her features more angular with the intention of rounding things over when I got to the color stages later.

Because the original photo is in black and white I was going to need to make up the colors for her face so I decided to do a digital paint over to play with a few things. Honestly it didn't go that well. This was the best of the lot.

When the time came to add the color I decided to take a different tact. This same week in figure class we were working on master copies and were discussing the idea of using another artist's images a touchstones. I've always liked this portrait by Edward Kensella:

In fact, I've got a really bad laser printer copy of it on my wall. The color laser printer amps up all the colors and really saturates everything and it gave this picture this angry red glow that is totally absent in the picture above. It seemed like an interesting place to start from. Here's what I came up with:

Originally the idea was for the color to be a transparent glaze over the underpainting, and it was at first, I swear. But as things moved on and I kept adjusting it turned unto a rather opaque paint over. The glaze still comes through in the eyes. You can see where the black is now a deep red. I'm pretty happy with it.

Oil on board, about 8 in x 10 in

Direct Painting Portrait

My painting semester is over and I've got a bunch of paintings to share. I got a little behind in posting things. This piece is from way back in October in the first half of the semester when we were still working in traditional paints. The goal for this assignment was to directly mix colors from observation. This was in contrast to the previous assignment where we did monochromatic under paintings and then applied color later.

Because this assignment was an exercise in color matching I decided limit myself from doing any blending or mixing on the canvas. Only splotches of flat color ala Lucian Freud. It came out a little flatter than I was hoping but it was interesting to realize how much variation in color there is in areas that look solid at first glance.

Portraits are kind of a new area for me, so I've had a lot of fun practicing.

Oh! Before I forget. I found woman's picture on the photo stream of photographer Debabrata Ray. Go check out his work, he is very talented. I'm afraid I didn't give the original photo justice.

Oil on Board, about 8 in x 10 in

Figure Drawing Progress


I'm really enjoying the figure drawing course I've been taking. It's only been about 6 weeks but I am making HUGE improvements. One thing that's helped a lot is this method we are working with using nupastels on smooth toned paper.

It works like this:

  1. block in the silhouette of the figure with a light pastel, something lighter than the tone of the paper.
  2. cut back into the silhouette with a dark pastel to refine the silhouette and define a good composition.
  3. smear the heck out of everything so you're left with a sort of mid tone.
  4. cut back in with the dark to find the silhouette again, and then use the light pastel to add highlights and details to the figure.

Credit for this technique goes to Mark English who developed it while he was teaching figure drawing. It's very helpful because it gets you to focus on the big shapes in the figure before getting caught up on the details. Also, because you rub everything out mid way through you can spend the first half of the drawing noodling and adjusting all you want but the final result still looks fresh and not overworked.

Nupastel on toned paper, 18 in. x 24 in.