Friday, October 30, 2009


The 18th century buildings along the Loire river in the Île Feydeau neighborhood of Nantes, France, have tilted rather alarmingly because their foundations were laid on sandy ground.

They dramatically illustrate a point that you can observe more subtly in almost any group of buildings or structures: Things settle a bit and get out of alignment over time. Or they weren’t built perfectly in the first place, especially before the laser-beam era.

When it comes to drawing a row of buildings, it is usually preferable to give them a little wobble. To do that, you can construct a whole set of slightly varying vanishing points.

When it's done very subtly, it gives architectural forms a certain naturalness and believability that beats the kind of cold rendering that comes from aligning an entire parallel facade with a single vanishing point.

(And yes! We saw the machines...more on that in a future post.)

Death Cart

Maybe it’s the weird braincase, or the tufts of hair, or the chips of obsidian for eyes——but this guy gives me the creeps.

He’s part of a Death Cart (Carreta de la Muerte) Made ca. 1890 near Taos or Córdova, New Mexico, United States. Philadelphia Museum, link. Happy Halloween!

Jules Verne Museum

The Utopiales festival here in Nantes is wonderful--more details soon on the amazing people and artwork we have seen, but first a few little side excursions.

We arrived before the event began, so had time to do a little sketching. I've been intrigued with this idea of doing fantasy sketches on location, with the subject in front of you for inspiration.

What struck me about the exterior of the Jules Verne Museum, right, was the way the historic building sits on the brow of a steep cliff, with a statue of St. Anne atop a long flight of stairs.

So I painted this 7 x 9-inch sketch on location, trying to imagine it separated from gravity on its own journey to another world.

I'm working on a separate piece of hot press watercolor paper, using fairly traditional watercolor. After laying in the broad masses of the sky, rock, and architecture, I further defined the details and textures using water-soluble colored pencils. This is a fairly fast way of working; the whole painting was finished on location in two and a half hours, but it would have taken me far longer to do the same thing in the studio.
Article on Presse Océan, link.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Imagine FX 50th Issue

ImagineFX magazine is marking the occasion of its 50th issue by pulling out all the stops and delivering a lavish issue, including:

Concept art from the film District 9.

Spotlight on master painter Craig Mullins.

Marshall Vandruff’s most extensive animal anatomy feature yet, focusing on the head.

My own 25 tips on how to create a science fiction future with a believable history, expanded from the material in Imaginative Realism. This article involved scouting a lot of dodgy neighborhoods looking for signs of wear and tear such as cracking concrete, rusting retrofitting, and dripping fryer vents. If you like, I'll serialize some of these tips in future blog posts.
ImagineFX website.
Spectrum review of Imaginative Realism.

Prehistoric Times

If you're interested in dinosaurs (and other extinct creatures) you'll love the magazine Prehistoric Times, which for over a decade has covered the intersection between science, art, film, and collecting. Now published in full color, it presents interviews with artists and paleontologists, dino drawing tips, book reviews, and round-ups of recent discoveries. It's also a good venue for emerging paleoartists to showcase their work.

Prehistoric Times website.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Spectrum's Call for Entries

The Spectrum has announced that it is now accepting artist submissions for its 17th annual of fantastic art. Volume 16 has reached U.S. docks and will be shipping out soon.

If you do imaginative art, it's a good idea to enter the Spectrum competition because its entry fees are reasonable, they give you a copy of the book if you get accepted, the quality of printing is unmatched, the level of talent is stratospheric, and the book is very well distributed. Categories include Comic Art, Book Illustration, Concept Art, Dimensional, Advertising, and Institutional.

This year's Call For Entries poster (click to enlarge) was designed by Paolo Rivera. Copies of his poster will soon be sent out via mail to US addresses. Foreign entrants (and those not currently on the mailing list) can download both the poster and entry forms from the website.

Entry info.
Paolo Rivera's blog.
Check out Paolo’s rough sketch for the poster.
Last year's annual, Spectrum 16, available online and at a small independent bookstore near you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Crossing the Atlantic

A ladybug shuttle took us to Terminal Z at JFK, where the Lepidopter was wreathed in steam and slowly test-flapping its golden wings.

But at the last minute Delta’s service rep barked out the announcement that there would be a service change. They switched to a Mayfly 4000. That meant an hour more standing around and sipping coffee, and it was a much more primitive ornithopter.

Liftoff was after sunset. We hit heavy turbulence, much to the displeasure of a school of guppy girls, who insisted on being dropped out the back so they could swim the rest of the way. The service carts kept banging my knees as I tried to sleep.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Voyage to Utopiales

Today, Jeanette will be boarding the Lepidopter for the night flight to France for the Utopiales Festival, which will be held later this week in Nantes, France, birthplace of Jules Verne.

Here's my schedule for the festival:

5.00 pm – Miss Spock’s bar
Are the horizons lost?
With : Thomas Day, James Gurney, Gilles Ménégaldo

2.00 pm – Espace Shayol
Meet with James Gurney

7.00 pm – Espace Shayol
Do architecture and town planning create better worlds?
With : Alain Boeswillwald, Laurent Lescop, James Gurney, Ugo Bellagamba

The traveling exhibit of 50+ paintings from Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara will also be on view.
More about the Lepidopter (butterfly flying machine) painting and maquette.

Sketchbook Shelf

A while ago someone asked about where all the sketchbooks end up, and here it is. It's nice to have one shelf in the house where you can park them all in order.

That's one of the reasons I don't use spiral-bound sketchbooks: you can't write on the spine. With book-type bindings, you can write on the date and even number them. As you can see, every decade or so I switch favorite types of books. Now I'm in an experimental phase.

I'm not as prolific or industrious as it may appear--sometimes months go by with hardly a doodle. But a sketch here and a sketch there, and after a few years it adds up.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

1933 Walker: Fact or Fraud?

This newspaper piece claims to show an Italian boy in the 1930s riding a four-legged walking machine powered by a gas engine.

As a fan of all walking machines and backyard inventers, I want to believe it, but something doesn’t ring true. Here’s my pro and con list:

Believe it
1. Italian fascists apparently wore the fez (link). The tassle shows action.
2. The jointing of the legs look plausible; someone must have built at least parts of this thing.

Doubt it
1. There doesn’t seem to be any power linkage between the engine and the legs. Nor a flyweel; the torque and power distribution issues would be pretty challenging.
2. Doesn’t seem to be any way to steer the thing. What’s the boy holding onto?
3. “Canter across a rough field with ease?” What happens if you step on some soft ground with those little feet?
4. Balance and control issues for a four-legged walker are too sophisticated for a straight mechanical solution. Even a walk would be tricky. Change of gait would require computer control. Six or eight legs might be more likely, giving you tripod balance at all times. (See 8-legged spider at Burning Man Festival.)
5. Lighting doesn’t seem consistent on the boy vs. the rig vs. the background. There’s no cast shadow on the far rear leg. No depth of field or motion blur, which you’d expect to see on an action shot taken in the 1930s.

My reluctant conclusion: Hoax. The inventor’s name must have been Bubbolone Bugiardo. What do you think?

Source: Modern Mechanix
Previous GJ posts: Timberjack forest walker, Walking Vehicles, Part 1 and Part 2.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Laguna College of Art and Design

A few miles away from the coastal community of Laguna Beach, California is a 4-acre campus with fewer than 500 enrolled students dedicated to traditional skill-building in the arts.

Laguna College of Art and Design, or LCAD for short, has majors in fine art, illustration, animation, graphic design, and game art. Faculty member Jason Dowd, right, told me that the game art division has grown the fastest, doubling in recent years.

A masters program in painting emphasizes traditional skills in representational figure painting and drawing. There are 14 teaching studios devoted to painting, drawing, sculpture, and digital techniques.

The reference bone collection includes not just human skeletons, but also an elephant skull. Marshall Vandruff, whose animal anatomy series has recently been featured in ImagineFX magazine, teaches occasional classes at the school. Students have drawn at several live animal sessions, where handlers have brought in bears, wolves, horses, and chimpanzees.

The librarian said that the most popular circulating items are the Gnomon videos. Other art school librarians have said the same thing.

Illustration department chairman Michael Savas, right, said, “We stress visual thinking. You’ve got to learn the characteristics of what you’re drawing, and then learn how to implement them.” Mr. Savas was an early adopter of digital techniques, and has taught a class in digital drawing from observation, but he values traditional skills equally.

LCAD official website.
Wikipedia on LCAD.
Marshall Vandruff website.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Moebius and Miyazaki

Moebius (Jean Giraud) and Hayao Miyazaki are two of the faces that would be carved in the Mount Rushmore of fantasy comics and animation.

So it's kind of a treat to watch them as they admire each other across the gulf of language. Mr. Miyazaki has the take-home lines:

"I believe one's view of the world and one's technique are indivisible. As far as technique is concerned, we basically use the method learned from European painting, which revolves around light and dimension," and then he goes on to explain that his team discovered unexpected resources as it found its own voice with Japanese subjects like Spirited Away. Mr. Miyazaki continues:

"The 21st Century is a tricky time. Our future isn't clear. We need to re-examine many things we've taken for granted, whether it's common sense or our way of thinking. We need to reconsider each norm in the field of entertainment and children's films, too. We must question the format we've been following. You can't just create a baddie from a mould, then beat him. We must not make a film in the easy way."

About his respect for his audience, Mr. Miyazaki says:

"Inside me I have negativity, despair, or hopelessness; in fact a lot of hopelessness and pessimism. But I don't feel like expressing it in my films, which children see. I'm more interested in what drives me to make a happy film or what makes me feel happy."

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Walkway over the Hudson

We took a walk on Tuesday on the newly opened Walkway over the Hudson. What used to be an imposing but forbidding obsolete railroad bridge has now become a kind of high-rise linear zócalo.

People of all ages and backgrounds promenade the 1.3 mile extent of concrete-surfaced walkway laid over the cantilevered iron structure or take the 3.6 mile loop across and back via Mid-Hudson Bridge. The views are mostly uninterrupted by high fences, allowing glorious views of Poughkeepsie, New York, hundreds of feet below in the full splendour of fall color.

Offical website with more information and pictures.
YouTube video about the history of the Walkway.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


A few days ago, a thrush struck the window. She lay on her side for fifteen minutes, and then brought herself to her feet.

Little by little she turned to face the evening light. After an hour and a half of quiet containment, she disappeared into the night.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Baby Tattooville Wrapup

I’ve been meaning to post a few photos and sketches from Baby Tattooville, the pop surrealism art event held at the Mission Inn two weeks ago in Riverside, California.

The gathering is the brainchild of Bob Self, above, publisher of Baby Tattoo books. Forty-five collectors and 11 lowbrow artists convened to talk, eat, collaborate, and doodle in sketchbooks. Shown here are Yoskay Yamamoto and Tara Macpherson, a returning guest artist.

I took a shift at the Art Jam alongside Miss Mindy, with BoingBoing cofounder Mark Frauenfelder shooting video and Buddha supervising.

The painting also included the brushwork of Greg Simkins, KMNDZ, Yoskay Yamamoto, Michael Hussar, Molly Crabapple, Buff Monster, Liz McGrath, KRK Ryden, Travis Louie, Gary Baseman, and Audrey Kawasaki. Photo courtesy of Arrested Motion.

My contribution to the painting was this bemused bug-eyed fellow named Ollie the Observer, wearing a party hat decorated by Buff Monster.

At the opening celebration of the “Son of Baby Tattooville” exhibition at the Riverside Art Museum, Mr. Monster could see that I was shortchanged in the hair, tattoo, piercing, and moniker departments, so he kindly loaned me his shades, a small coolness upgrade.

Every artist signed the “11-in-One” print, which was given out to each of the attendees, along with a goodie bag that included toys, books, prints, and originals.

My own contribution, in addition to a poster, will be one of the original Explorer’s Journal sketches, which I’m finishing up this week.
Official Website on Baby Tattooville and the Son of BT Museum Exhibit
Lots more coverage of the event on Arrested Motion.
BoingBoing post by Mark Frauenfelder

Monday, October 19, 2009

Berry: Observation and Memory

Alaskan Field Sketches
William Berry (1926-1978) was an animal artist who did few finished paintings, but many masterful field sketches.For three summers, from 1954-1956, he worked in Camp Denali in Alaska, recording his observations of bear, lynx, moose, voles, and porcupines.

In the margins of his sketches, he noted whether the sketches were from observation on the spot, or from memory later when he returned to his cabin——or sometimes a combination of both.

I devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to simply recording the facts of animal life—hundreds of hours and thousands of drawings in the zoo or in the forests, on mountains, in deserts, or plains. A caribou, for example, is never going to hold still for you, and a photograph of him, though useful for many reasons, is never going to show him doing exactly what you want him to be doing for a particular illustration. You have to learn the beast inside-out and upside-down, so that you can put him together on the page from scratch.

His book of Alaskan Field Sketches
 is a treasure for anyone interested in animal drawing or animal behavior.

Thanks, Carl R. and thanks to this site for the images.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Marking a Mark

Thanks to Katherine Tyrell for the nice post about Imaginative Realism on her blog Making a Mark.

For those of you who are art blog aficionados, Making a Mark is a wellspring of information about the art world, with information about competitions, art marketing, resources, and valuable links.

Rockwell and the Camera

Norman Rockwell went to great lengths to get his models to act. He spared no expense in hiring photographers to document their performances. The resulting photos—20,000 of which are in the Norman Rockwell Museum’s archives and have just been digitized—served as references for most of his famous Post covers after the mid-1930s.

As a new book and an upcoming exhibition demonstrates, Rockwell was always conscious of going well beyond the photo, striving for a exaggerated reality to communicate his ideas.

His painting “The Gossips,” 1948 (Oil on canvas, 33” x 31”) is a good example. The 30 heads in the painting pass along a piece of gossip about Mr. Rockwell himself, who confronts the source of the rumor in the last pairing.

The old lady and the young woman with the scarf went through a big transformation from photo to painting. The older woman in the painting is seen more in profile; and her smile is broadened. The younger woman’s eyes and her mouth open wider and her head tilts more forward.

The man in this pairing gets a bigger shock of hair, a pointier nose, and a more wide-open mouth. His neck protrudes from a greatly simplified collar. The woman is brought more into profile, and she’s given a hand.

The man at left loses his hat, probably to avoid duplicating his counterpart. All his expressive features: eyes, eyebrows, and mouth are exaggerated—and he gets a hand with a cigar. The man at right, who appears just before the crescendo of the story, is pushed to the extreme. His chin tucks in, his hat tips to the side, he’s gets a bow tie, and his head takes the shape of a light bulb.

Rockwell also lifts his eyebrows. Hardly any model—except maybe Jim Carrey--can simultaneously drop the jaw, squint the eyes, and lift the eyebrows. It’s not easy; try it! But it looks right, and Rockwell got it in the final.

Rockwell always wrestled with his conscience over his use of the camera and the projector, which he called “an evil, inartistic, habit-forming, lazy, and vicious machine.”

But he should have been easier on himself, because he really set a good example to the rest of us about how to use photos intelligently. He rarely forgot his initial conception, and he only used the photos as a starting point.

As he said in his classic work “Rockwell on Rockwell,” 1949, “I feel that the characters which I produce in this way more nearly express those which I have in my mind and which I am trying to portray.”
More about new book Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera, by Ron Schick on Amazon.

The exhibition: Norman Rockwell Behind the Camera will run at the Norman Rockwell Museum from November 7 – May 31, 2010, link for more info.

There’s an article in this month’s Vanity Fair with lots of images and a surprisingly respectful biographical overview.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Art Institute Inland Empire

Tucked away in a professional-looking office park in San Bernardino California is Art Institute Inland Empire, a career-minded school that trains artists in game art, web design, animation, fashion, and the culinary arts.

Santosh Oommen, the school’s academic director, (left) takes time away from his career in animation and visual effects to teach at the school. The school's geographic position in southern California allows it to attract a faculty with deep professional experience.

Students in the class on conceptual storytelling, taught by Stephen Bautista, sometimes work with classic stories, such as The Island of Dr. Moreau, by H.G. Wells. They design characters and environments to blend with the source mood and material.

At the beginning of their academic program, everyone is issued a wheeled backpack preloaded with textbooks that they’ll use in their foundational classes.

The school was crowded the day I visited because orientation was going on, so some people had a hard time seeing the screen.

Although young artists become versed in the state-of-the-art digital tools, they start out with traditional figure drawing and perspective. “We believe that traditional mediums are the way to start, and they go from there,” Mr. Oommen told me.
Official website, link.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Enchantment Exhibition and Symposium

The Joseloff Gallery of the University of Hartford has just announced its "Enchantment" exhibition.

The opening reception will be held on Friday, November 6, and the show will continue through January 17, 2010. Artists include Bouguereau, Bargue, Wyeth, Bridgman, Cornwell, and Gerome. The exhibition was curated by Zina Davis, who drew from the Dahesh Museum, the Kelly Collection, and many private collections.

"Enchantment brings together the past and the present with paintings from the Romantic era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries along with work by contemporary artists, many of whom pay direct homage to the Romantic and academic traditions for their beauty, symbolism, and illustrative qualities, while others use irony and humor to celebrate the genre in today's world."

On November 6, from 1:30 to 3:00 in the Wilde Auditorium, Peter Trippi, editor of Fine Art Connoisseur magazine, will moderate a panel discussion entitled "Enchantment Then and Now: Drawing Connections."

Maiacetus, Part 2

To imagine the four-legged whale Maiacetus, I made a quick maquette out of Fimo, keeping it in scale to printouts of the skeleton drawings. The baby maquette was easier to make; it didn't even need legs, because I knew I would photograph it mostly underwater.

After painting the maquettes, I placed them on a blackened cookie sheet covered with about a half inch of water. The C-stand holds a white umbrella to try to get some fill light into the shadow.

Here's the resulting photo, with small waves creating reflections. The reason I added the tail flukes was that I read an argument for them on a science discussion forum online. There are no bones in a whale's tail flukes, so it seemed reasonable to speculate that flukes might have been emerging in this cetacean ancestor.

But just to be sure, I contacted Dr. Philip Gingerich, who made the fossil discovery, and he said the evidence of the tail bones definitely rules out flukes. So off they came.

With the help of the reference photos, along with plein air studies that I had made of lakeside scenes, I did the final oil painting.
ADDENDUM--At the request of art director M. K. reading the blog, here's how the final page looked. Thanks to Donna Miller, art director for Ranger Rick, who fit everything together!

To see all the Ranger Rick posts back to back, link.