Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Notes: The Poster

The poster is a geometric simplification of the value structure of your image. Each form is built up of myriad gradations, which can be difficult to comprehend. The poster simplifies these gradations made up of hundreds or thousands of steps of value into a much smaller and more manageable number of steps. How many steps is up to the artist, and can be quite flexible depending on subject matter and the technique being used.

The idea is to ignore the gradations at first and instead focus on the patterns that the gradations are making. Is it a smooth transition from light to dark? Does it get gradually darker most of the way and then suddenly shift more quickly at the end? Does it shift from dark to light and back to dark? How do all these shifts correspond to the contour?

Thinking of what the gradations are doing and putting them down in steps allows us to analyze the progression of values without worrying about the technique of making the smooth gradations. There are all sorts of ways to make the gradations later, but it's important to understand what's happening in them first.

Back in Action

For the past several months I've been studying at the Art Students League in NYC. I was fortunate enough to study painting with Mary Beth McKenzie for six months, from whom I learned a lot. Unfortunately, while a lot of what I learned is in my hands, a lot of it has slipped from my head. When I switched over to Michael Grimaldi's class in November, I started trying to make more of an effort to write things down as I made connections, had new ideas, or heard something useful from the teacher or a fellow student. At first I was writing things down on post-its, but I developed a solid talent for losing them shortly after making them. Around Thanksgiving, my wife Aileen and I took the plunge and got ourselves some iPhones. I started writing down notes on the iPhone and have managed not to lose them (so far).

I figured I'd start a series of posts describing the various notes I made to myself. Some ideas have quickly become obsolete, and others are interesting thoughts but don't quite fully make sense yet. A few seem to be promising ideas that need further exploration. Still others are reinforcements of things I already knew (or thought I knew, anyway).

Perhaps by sharing them I'll spark ideas in someone else, or at least chronicle what's going through my head as I work and learn- for the benefit of me or someone else.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I wanted to go in a different direction than the last one, which ended up sort of subdued color-wise and more polished than I usually lean. The bright color's in Donna's costume wouldn't allow for subdued colors, so I was attracted to this setup. I felt like it was a perfect opportunity to try out the Reilly palette with a Russian Impressionist technique. Generally pretty happy with this one- need to clean up a few edges, but that always seems to be the case!

Plus, Donna's got a great face and a wonderful personality, so she was a real joy to paint.


This one veered kind of old-mastery due to the muted colors. I wasn't setting out for that in the beginning, but it started to lean that way so I tried to follow it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Almost Done...

Here's a piece from Mary Beth McKenzie's class at the Art Student's League. I'd like to clean up a few things in the background and fix some edges on the body before I call this one finished.

I got bogged down in the details on this one- I spent most of the last day trying to make the face look like the model before I really solidified the larger masses of the head. So I wasted a bunch of time that I could have spent on other things. I was able to mostly save the head mass in the head, but had to give up getting it to look like the model. That bums me out on a certain level- though no one would ever really know aside from those who saw the setup, I always feel I owe a certain amount of respect to catch the likeness or posture or something else characteristic of that particular model. I was also bummed that I never learned the model's name, which something else I owe to the model out of respect.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Composition of the Day: "Snakeskin and Thread"

Had to give the girl, the fox, and the fairy a break- the characters had developed to the point where each day's composition was taking longer and longer since it usually also required fitting in with the other ones and developing plot along with the

This is based on a drawing I did years ago. I liked the general feel, but it was done with little to no planning, so some parts hadn't totally worked out. This one is a step to resolving some of the issues of the old one. I'm also trying to recapture some of the energy of some of my old sketches. It's not there, but it's heading there....

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Monday, April 13, 2009

Composition of the Day: "The Fox Arrives"

Still working to figure out how I want the sketch for these to look. Went for something a little more tonal today. I should probably start putting these into a consistent format...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Composition of the Day: "The Challenge"

Spent a bit more time on today's since the last two haven't come out how I would have liked. I spent a lot more time on the thumbnail before moving on to the bigger sketch, and I think it really paid off. It lets me take the bigger sketch further more easily, and it's good practice trying to blow the composition up.

Composition of the Day: "The Fox Returns"

Hmm. Another one that didn't come out how I want. I'm having a tough time deciding what level I should take these to- just get the idea down, or start resolving some of the drawing problems? I think sometimes when I have less time it would be more beneficial to do the first. I imagine the best practice would be to solve as much as I can in the thumbnail before moving on to the bigger sketch, and posting the thumbnail if that's as far as I get in a day.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Composition of the Day: "The Escape"

I can't tell if this one works or not. I went against my thumbnails and added the foreground at the last second and am not sure if it holds up. Making the foreground read required more value than I usually need to make a composition read, and I find that simpler is usually better to make things read. However, this piece has a bit more mood than some of the others...

Composition of the Day: "The Show"

Not really happy with the way this one turned out. It's based on a little composition sketch I did years ago. I'd like it to feel like the space is packed full of stuff but still keep the center of interest clear. Right now it feels a bit empty, and far too flat.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Composition of the Day: "Above the Painted Valley"

Revision of the Painted Plains composition. Based on a region of China...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Composition of the Day: "At Cauldron Lake" Character of the Week: Dr. Who

This was a good piece to do. I didn't really know a lot about Dr. Who and I don't prefer doing sci-fi art, but I felt it would be good practice to do anyway. I love to read sci-fi and if someday someone decide to hire me to do sci-fi art I wouldn't turn it down, but when I dream up images they tend to be more towards light-fantasy or surreal narrative. That's where I'd like to find illustration work- so although this piece distracts somewhat from building a portfolio towards that, it would be good practice nonetheless.

Researching Dr. Who was a lot of fun. I knew next to nothing about it, and it looks a wonderful mix of camp and cool stuff. I love the idea of the regenerating doctor- blatantly done to get new actors into the role, but they really ran with it, and it adds an interesting dimension to the character across the different actors. I loved David Tennant as Barty Crouch Jr. in the Harry Potter movies- really a standout supporting actor: only on screen for a little bit, but totally memorable. Would love to see some of his Dr. Who episodes, along with all of the other doctors.

So I had to do a lot of research out of my comfort zone, and also try to scale the piece properly so I could get it done and do it justice (shot too high with my last Character of the Week effort). This was also a chance to put some new digital painting techniques to the test. I didn't get to spend quite as much time on this as I would have liked (Aileen and I went out of town this weekend and got back much later that expected last night), but it still is a major improvement on the last CHOW in several ways, which is about all I could ask for.

Daily Composition: "At Gotteren Falls"

Daily Composition: "Underneath Redwing Bridge"

Was out of town this weekend, but managed to get my daily compositions done!

Here's the first...

Friday, April 3, 2009

Composition of the Day: "Above the Painted Plains"

Quickie today- busy day at work and didn't bring a sketchbook on the subway since I'm headed to the Yankees-Cubs game after work today. It's pouring rain and Yankees Stadium is always really annoying about bringing stuff into the stadium. At least they were at old Yankee Stadium- maybe they're more lenient now- but I don't want to risk missing the first pitch at new Yankee Stadium because I have to go check something across the street.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Composition of the Day: "Underneath the Weather Tree"

Daily Composition- "In the Sultan's Sanctum"

Double post today to make up for yesterday, which was eaten up by a piece I'm working on the for the Character of the Week competition at

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lessons From Juggling, or, Do Something Simple 1,000 times

Frustrating night last night- multiple stresses from work and life, and general insecurity about my abilities as an artist and my chances for a career making art. Fortunately I dragged myself to studio, where there's nothing to do except art.

In college I used to take breaks from art and juggle. It's great stress relief- I think because it occupies your mind just enough that it breaks the loops your brain is in, but is largely physical so it takes you out of your head and into the moment. I owe a lot of things to juggling- it really taught me how I learn and I've translated the process I use to learn a juggling trick to help me learn a number of other skills. The biggest lesson I've learned from juggling is that I tend to learn things in one of two ways- either I immediately grasp it and can do it once I've seen it, or the other- more common- where I just cannot seem to wrap my head around it or get my hands to do it right for a very long time, until suddenly it clicks. Once it clicks, I can do it in my sleep- but it's often a long wait until then. There's very little steady progress for me, and with other skills that I'm more emotionally invested in it can be very frustrating. But I've learned enough things to know that all I need is persistence and awareness.

After college I stopped juggling on breaks because NYC is very un-conducive to juggling- outdoor spaces are limited, crowded, and unavailable for half the year, and indoor spaces rarely have high enough ceilings or thick enough floors. Fortunately, my studio has high enough ceilings- although it's quite crowded with my studiomate's equipment and sculptures. So I've begun juggling quite carefully in certain corners of the studio where it's unlikely I'll destroy anything.

Last night I was working on a drawing of a cellist from a photo I took years ago at college. It's one of the photos I've taken that I like the most, and have always wanted to translate it to a painting. Unfortunately, due to the lighting and the angle of the shot it's not quite a good photo to just directly copy into paint. It's also not a great composition for a painting. So, in the drawing the angle is slightly changed and this means (fortunately or unfortunately) that I can't be lazy and just copy the figure directly from the photo.

I've worked out the perspective for the cellist's chair and the background (and sufficiently cluttered the space, which is a current obsession of mine), and last night I started work on really nailing down the pose. It get a little frustrating, but it was compounded by the external stress that I brought to the studio and the pesky fears that I will be (or already am) a failure as an artist- especially if I can't figure out the construction for this hand right now!

Well, this all built up until I felt like calling it quits for the night. Having been at this point before, I decided that I'd take advantage of the new studio and see how that affected the situation. After some laying on the ground and staring at the ceiling, and some frustrated stretching (quite sore from riding the new bike) it dawned on me to go back to my roots and see if juggling could shed any light on the situation. Here's what I found:

  • Most of juggling is dropping. You get used to it and it becomes just part of the process. Most people think they can't juggle because they're not coordinate enough, but mostly it's because the multiple failures inevitable to learning something as complicated as juggling demands are too frustrating to them.
  • For a long time a trick makes little sense intellectually and is physically a total question mark. If you're able to even pull off the trick, it feels awkward and strange, and you're not quite sure how you even did it. The hands haven't grasped the mechanics, and everything is happening too fast for the brain to make heads or tails of what's happening. With persistence and attention, you slowly find when I let go with this kind of hand position or this flick of the wrist at this time things will sometimes work, and you slowly begin to understand why that is.
  • Doing the trick once doesn't mean you've got it. You need to be able to confidently repeat it.
  • If a trick is giving you trouble, it's usually more effective to break the trick down. Just do the first toss. Maybe don't even do the first catch- just the first toss. Do that 1,000 times with attention, and slowly that part begins to make sense. Now, the catch there is that often you can't really do the first toss correctly until you've mastered the whole pattern- but you have to start somewhere, and often the whole pattern is far too complicated to just try all at once. The key is to find something simple enough that your brain and hands can hold on to long enough for you to concentrate on it. Once you've got a decent hold on it, add the next part and repeat until that begins to become less opaque as well. For a complicated trick (which is really just one your brain/body can't grasp), you may need to break it down in many different ways- not necessarily just sequentially.
The list could go on. I suppose I could spell out exactly how those parallel to drawing, but I think it's somewhat obvious and would rather illustrate it with what happened last night. I went back to the pesky arm I had been working on and realized that I had been trying to draw the whole arm at once, which was just too big a piece to attack at once. I needed to break it down. Also, I realized that I had been attacking the arm from a purely intellectual standpoint- calculating the perspective, the anatomy, and the volume relative to the rest of the body from a given viewpoint. Once I started to also imagine and feel how the forearm was turning in space and pushing gently on the bow, things became more clear, and the intellectual understanding of the perspective came after that feeling. And once all the pieces started falling into their proper place in relation to the rest of the arm, I realized that the whole arm was out of proportion with the rest of the body- I had gotten all the steps of the "trick" separately, but hadn't really pieced them together and since by that point I had learned the individual steps of the "trick" well enough, I was able to repeat them slightly smaller to match the rest of the body.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bitter End Paint

Another night at the Bitter End. Missed the band's name...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bitter End Paintings

The Stuff Brothers & Oz Noy Trio- Guitarist Oz Noy & Bassist James Genus