Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Smiling Presidents

American presidents started smiling for their official portraits in the mid 1970s or so.

Of course, they smiled for informal pictures before that.

Many cameras captured FDR with his famous smile. Rockwell painted Eisenhower for two Post covers in a rubbery grin. Jimmy Carter’s toothy smile was a big subject during his campaign.

But for the official and semi-official pictures, up until 30 or 40 years ago, presidents usually kept their faces dignified and serious. After Reagan, the full-on toothy smile (which is a very different challenge to paint) was here to stay.

Why the change? Was it the inevitable outcome of photography or was it the result of campaigning on television?

Are there other jobs that still demand a serious portrait, such as a Supreme Court justice, district attorney, or an undertaker?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Akira at the Toonseum

Toonseum is a new museum of cartoon art in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is currently hosting an exhibition of art from the animated film Akira.

Akira, set in twenty-first-century post-World War III Japan, was directed by comic artist Katsuhiro Otomo. Released in the USA in 1990, Akira was one of the last feature films created with traditional hand-painted cel and painted background technique.

On display are stunning perspective layout drawings and renderings of science fiction cityscapes, as well as effects animation cels and character designs. All of the art comes from the collection of Joe Peacock.

Toonseum is one of only two museums in the USA dedicated exclusively to art from the comic strip, graphic novel, comic book, and animated film. Earlier museums in Rye, New York; Boca Raton, Florida; and Northampton, Massachusetts are sadly no longer in operation.

Toonseum is very small—the size of a gallery or shopfront, but it’s fun to visit because it’s run by artists. They encourage you to sit down and draw on an actual worktable from one of Disney’s early animators.

They even granted me the geek dream of holding an original drawing from “Gertie the Dinosaur” by Winsor McCay.

And they talked me into doodling on the hall-of-fame group sketch.

Toonseum is located at 945 Liberty Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA. It’s open from 9 to 3 on most days, Wednesday through Sunday. The Akira exhibit will be on view through July 18.

Hours and admission

YouTube interview with Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo

Monday, June 28, 2010

Griffin Portrait

Until yesterday, I had never painted a living griffin before.

A magnificent specimen named China Blue Rockett posed for me during my hour-long demo on water-soluble colored pencils at Anthrocon.

I used an assortment of Caran d'Ache Supracolor 2 pencils. After a light lay-in, I scumbled a few colors and dissolved them with three Niji water brushes: one filled with clear water, another with a middle gray (the strokes on the sleeve), and another with black.

By juggling the water brushes, I kept the edge around the head soft, so as to suggest the fringe of fur without painting every hair.
Anthrocon aka Furrycon
More on GJ on that colored pencil technique
Wiki on Griffins (or if you prefer the spelling: griffon, gryphon, γρύφων, grýphōn,, γρύπων, or grýpōn).

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Castle of the Maidens

In 1901, American expatriate artist Edwin Austin Abbey unveiled his mural epic "The Quest and Achievement of the Holy Grail" for the Boston Public Library.

One of the panels shows the following, according to the official text:

"Sir Galahad's entry into the Castle is here shown.
The imprisoned maidens have long been expecting him,
for it had been prophesied that the perfect knight would
come to deliver them. They welcome him with shy
delight, putting out their hands to be kissed; behind
him lies his white shield bearing the red cross painted
with his own blood by Josephes, son of Joseph of
Arimathea. Having accomplished this mission, Sir
Galahad passed on to other deeds."

The murals have been restored and are open to the public.
Boston Public Library website info.
Full text explaining murals
More about Abbey from BPIB
Abbey on Wiki

Saturday, June 26, 2010

What Are Furries?

Furry fans are people who are interested in anthropomorphic animals, especially cartoon characters. Most furries strongly identify with a particular non-human animal species.

Furry identities are called fursonas. They include dragon, feline (cat, lion, tiger), and canine (wolf, fox, domestic dog) species.

Some furries blend species, such as a cabbit (cat and rabbit) or a folf (fox and wolf). A few furries identify with monkeys or apes.

The largest furry convention is called Anthrocon, also known as Furriecon, which is being held right now in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This year the theme is “Modern Stone-Age Furries.” Some dinosaur-based costumes have been made specially for this Anthrocon.

During the rest of the year, furries meet in cyberspace to compare notes on costume building and to share artwork depicting anthropomorphized animals.

While attending Furry Fandom conventions, some furries dress head-to-toe in animal-like costumes, referred to as fursuits. Fursuits, similar to what athletic team mascots wear, are constructed of fabric, not fur or animal skins.

While in a fursuit, a furry walks upright. Some furries superimpose human clothing on the fursuit; for example, a snow leopard diva may wear a red cocktail dress and a big yellow dog may wear blue jeans.

Most furries do not own a full fursuit because they are costly. Many furries wear a partial fursuit consisting of ears and a tail.

The preceding was adapted from, the official website for furry fandom.

This year’s convention has approximately 4000 attendees, the largest furry convention in the world, and the largest of all time.

It features a dealer’s room and art show, much like a science fiction convention, a track of programming that today included a puppet performance workshop by guest Jim Martin of the Muppets, a video game contest, card and role playing games, three different dance events, and a quiet art room for artists doing custom commissions.

I would just add that furry fans are some of the nicest and most creative people I’ve met at any sort of convention, and I’ve never been received more graciously or generously as a guest at any con before. The whole group conveys a spirit of acceptance and childlike fun.
Furry Artwork at
Wikipedia on Furry Fandom
Article in today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Friday, June 25, 2010


When Berkley books asked me to design the ultimate monster truck, I scaled up a lot of features of trucks that I liked. The book was called “Starrigger” by John DeChancie.

I imagined a giant vehicle that could make long runs across a planet that was basically a huge dry lake bed. When the sequel assignment came along, I was unfortunately too busy to take the job. But I was delighted that one of my heroes, John Berkey, received the commission. His painting, for “Red Limit Freeway” closely followed the design I came up with.

I was able to find time to do another sequel cover called "Paradox Alley," which shows the truck going off a cliff and the driver flying out in an ejection seat. That oil original is in the collection of Art Center College of Design.

See a lot more Berkey's at Jim Pinkoski's website.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Antique Dresses

A recent exhibit at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, showcased antique dresses.

The dresses were given by alumnae to the drama department, where they featured in many theatrical productions. But once the school discovered their value, they were given proper care by the Historic Costume Preservation Workshop.

One student described the experience of steaming out the underarm wrinkles. The heat and moisture revived the aroma of 120-year-old body odor, which made the past come roaring into the present.
"A Glimpse into Vassar's Secret Closet"

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


A centrolinead is a perspective tool with adjustable Y-shaped legs branching from a main bar. The legs rest against two nails placed on the drawing board.
As it pivots up and down, the main bar changes slope. The resulting lines orient to a remote vanishing point that would be otherwise difficult to establish.

E.G. Lutz’s book Practical Drawing includes the diagram above.

Concept artist and illustrator Craig Elliott discovered an antique centrolinead dating from around 1890 (below). Note how the Y-legs branch from a point along the top line of the ruler. He reports:

“I did a little building facade and some windows to test out the Centrolineaid. It is such a breeze, even better than using a long ruler! I set the map pins at 3 inches from the HL and the blades at 30 degrees.

I did the verticals with a t-square and the 30-60 triangle shown. I think two or three of these would make darn quick work of a two- or three-point perspective drawing on a quite small drawing board. This board is about 24 x 32. Another benefit of this tool seems to be that it doesn't pop off the pin all the time like a regular ruler would- it is very steady on the 2 pins.

For the pins or nails, I used a paper clip with one end bent up, or even an upside down flat headed thumbtack taped to the board or paper. This is good for balancing a ruler on for perspective points on the board or for this operation.

You could also use a sheet of metal to draw on, even with a Borco cover, and Neodymium magnets about 1/2 cube size for the pins. They are so strong they won't shift.”

Check the comments for a lot more links and tips. Below is a scanned version of Craig's antique model, with measurements.
Thanks, Craig!
Craig Elliott’s blog post about his centrolinead

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rockwell’s Bifocals

Norman Rockwell had a pair of bifocal glasses specially made with a vertical division in the middle of each lens. Instead of the close-up portion being below the far focus area, it was alongside it.

These glasses allowed him to shift his attention sideways from his reference to his painting, rather than bobbing his head up and down.

The actual glasses are currently on display alongside a scuffed sneaker in a glass case at the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Raccoon in the Chicken Coop

A raccoon got into the chicken coop and killed nineteen chickens.

Lenny was upset. The next morning at 4:00 a.m. he waited outside the chicken coop with his .22 rifle.

As expected the raccoon came back for more. When it spotted Lenny, it ran for the nearest tree and climbed up. Lenny stood below the tree and aimed the rifle. One shot stung it.

The raccoon descended the tree to attack him. The next shot killed it.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Briton Riviere's Studio

Briton Riviere (1840-1920) was a painter best known for his animal subjects. Here he is at his easel, surrounded by animal skins and skeletons.

From his rich imagination came this "Saint George and the Dragon," which tells the story of the fight through the exhaustion of the hero, and the terrible price his horse had to pay.
Wikipedia on Briton Riviere
Golden Age Paintings

Saturday, June 19, 2010

IMC: Last Day

The two large classrooms became galleries yesterday as students at the Illustration Master Class displayed their final work produced during the week-long fantasy art workshop in Amherst, Massachusetts.

From left, Kristen Freeborn with a variety of reference surrounding her painting of "Beauty and the Beast;" Winona Nelson shows the kit-bashed maquette she used for her interpretation of the "Jet Cycle Getaway;" Boris and Julie with Jim and Jeanette; and a visit from Jean-Baptiste Monge with Margo.

(Click to enlarge) The whole class of 82 students assembled in the lecture hall to thank Rebecca Guay and her team for making this unique event possible.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Advice from John S. Sargent

"Cultivate an ever-continuous power of observation. Wherever you are, be always ready to make slight notes of postures, groups and incidents.

"Store up in the mind without ceasing a continuous stream of observations from which to make selections later.

"Above all things get abroad, see the sunlight, and everything that is to be seen, the power of selection will follow.

Be continually making mental notes, make them again and again, test what you remember by sketches until you have got them fixed.

"Do not be backward at using every device and making every experiment that ingenuity can devise, in order to attain that sense of completeness which nature so beautifully provides, always bearing in mind the limitations of the materials in which you work."

Quoted from Sargent notes at
"Sargent in the Studio," an article about a 1999 exhibit at Harvard, with examples of Sargent's studies
More about the Boston Fine Art Museum murals at Brian Yoder's Good Art Gallery.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rented Cod Fish

In the current issue of Arts and Antiques magazine, D. Frederick Baker relates the following curious anecdote about William Merritt Chase.

"In 1904, when he held his summer classes in London, he happened upon a fishmonger from whom he rented a cod fish, which he memorialized on canvas. Two hours later he returned the cod, still fresh enough to be sold.

"An apocryphal story? Perhaps, but likely a great sales pitch to the Corcoran Gallery of Art who purchased the painting the following year."

Mr. Baker's full article at Arts and Antiques

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

IMC: Demos

Last night at the Illustration Master Class in Amherst, Massachusetts, Greg Manchess began his oil painting demonstration of "Beauty and the Beast," entertaining the rapt audience with stories from his martial arts training.

He gave a lecture a few days ago debunking the myth of the DNA gene for talent.

Mastery, he said, comes from steady practice, the willingness to embrace failure, and a positive attitude.

Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell talked about their creature design inspirations, and Scott Fischer led us through the process of composing the digital/traditional cover for an upcoming Robert Jordan "Wheel of Time" cover.

I was scheduled to do a demo after my "Color and Light" talk. So I asked Ken, one of the students (and a college archaeology professor), to pose next to our school mascot, Flynn, the Icelandic ram skull.

Ken is of Norwegian ancestry, so I tried to morph the two faces together into a sort of "Viking Satyr."

Illustration Master Class
Gregory Manchess Art

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

IMC Days 2 and 3

The second and third days of the Illustration Master Class have been filled with steady work in Studios 101 and 201 here in Amherst, Massachusetts. Each big studio room has about 40 students working on fantasy and science fiction illustrations for the remainder of the week.

From left to right: Sam Flegal showing scrap for "Warrior Priest," John Deininger with a color swatch chart getting ready to begin the painting, Eugene Young with a Sculpey maquette for Beauty and the Beast, and me and Grant Cooley with his incredible steampunk-kit-bashed jet-cycle maquette.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Studies of Nymphs

British painter of myth and romance, John William Waterhouse, (1849-1917) did these lovely studies from the model as reference for his painting Hylas and the Nymphs.

The finished painting shows the story from Jason and the Argonauts, where Hylas, fetching water for Heracles, comes upon a spring inhabited by alluring nymphs, who beckon him to his watery death.

Wikipedia: Hylas
Wikipedia Waterhouse
Many more examples of Waterhouse's paintings at Art Renewal Center

Sunday, June 13, 2010

IMC Day 1

Illustration Master Class began its first full day yesterday in Amherst, Massachusetts. Eighty-two students from as far away as Australia, England, and Calgary, Alberta assembled in the red-brick building called Fayerweather Hall on the college campus.

The faculty consisted of, from left to right, Dan Dos Santos, Donato Giancola, Irene Gallo, Greg Manchess, Scott Fischer, Me (with Jeanette), Rebecca Guay, Jeremy Jarvis, as well as Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell (not shown).

Students prepared preliminary drawings based on the themes of Joan of Arc, Beauty and the Beast, Warrior Priest, Jet-Cycle Getaway, Paranormal Romance, and Frost Titan.

From about 11:00 in the morning until 11:00 at night, faculty and students divided into two large classrooms, with the sketches posted on a large wall. We went through each of the drawings to suggest ways of improving the compositions, usually using tracing paper overlays.

We had brief breaks for meals and for presentations on art materials safety and how to shoot photo reference from models.

Illustration Master Class

Saturday, June 12, 2010


The brightness of any point-source illumination diminishes rapidly with distance. This weakening of light is called fall-off.

It diminishes according to the inverse square law, which states that the effect of a light shining on a surface weakens at a rate comparable to the square of the distance between source and surface.

As the diagram above demonstrates, at twice the distance, the light is only one fourth as bright because the same rays must cover four times the area. At three times the distance, it drops to one ninth as bright.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hand Made

It’s amazing what a master maker can fashion with the hands. This group of thirteen origami cranes is made from a single piece of paper. Little clusters of three cranes are attached to the beak, wingtips, and tail of the large one in the center.

The maker was one of the most remarkable teenagers I’ve ever met, Rose Dawson, who gave it to me at a Dinotopia booksigning. Rose is homeschooled, and encouraged to follow her own interests.

The joy of making things with the hands is the topic of Mark Frauenfelder’s new book, Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World. Frauenfelder is the founder of the BoingBoing blog, Editor-in-Chief of Make Magazine, and instigator of the Maker Faire.

He decided to take some time away from his work on the computer to figure out how to whittle wooden spoons, raise chickens and bees, construct cigar box guitars, and retrofit his espresso maker.

Less a how-to book and more a rumination on the value of screwing up as a path to mastery, Made by Hand is impossible to set down once you start reading it.

Mark's enthusiasm for the little successes and failures of the DIY neophyte makes you want to take a screwdriver and start taking things apart and putting them together in a new way.

Made by Hand on Amazon
Mark on Colbert Report
Make magazine
Maker Faire
GurneyJourney post "Origami Mystery" about a culture-jamming use of origami.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Dinotopia Contraband

Josh Turner says:

“I worked as a Correctional Officer during the summer before my last year as a undergrad. Every few hours, we were to pick a cell at random and check it for contraband. Since it was a pre-release center, we rarely found anything of interest.

“Once, I flipped over a mattress and found three Dinotopia bookmarks and a beautiful picture of an unmanned Skybax. Upon closer examination of the room, I found that the bookmarks had been used to create a really snazzy pen and ink drawing that combined the Tree Town scene with the Skybax over Waterfall City with random dinosaurs and small mammals.

I saw a lot of strange things as a guard, but I never expected to see dinosaurs!”

Thanks, Josh!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Boar Croc

The current issue of Ranger Rick magazine has a small profile portrait of BoarCroc, or Kaprosuchus.

This recently discovered croc lived in Africa and was a contemporary of the dinosaurs. The painting is in oil over a pencil drawing.

This little maquette out of Sculpey helped me understand the form better.

I painted the maquette with acrylic and lit it from the left before photographing it with a digital camera. What I’m looking for in a maquette are the unexpected nuances of light and form, such as the cast shadows from the long teeth.

Here are the initial sketches presented to the editors, drawn with water-soluble colored pencils. The editors chose the closed-mouth variation, which hasn’t been illustrated as often before.

Ranger Rick magazine
Previous RR paleoillustrations on GurneyJourney

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Cow Portrait

The cow came to the farm along with her bull calf a few weeks ago. She was restless when I painted her portrait, swinging her big head back and forth. I tried to pick two angles that she kept returning to.

It was feeding time. She was hungry. Bits of hay and drool dropped onto my Moleskine watercolor sketchbook.

Every once in a while, when she heard Lenny’s voice outside, she let out a powerful moo that resonated through the whole barn. I could see into the ridged, tan tunnel of her mouth, and feel the hot, moist blast of breath.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Stobart at Butler

A retrospective exhibition of John Stobart called "The Grandeur of America's Age of Sail" will be on show at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, for just a week more, ending June 13.

John Stobart is best known for his moonlit harbor scenes, often showing carefully researched historical views of American sailing ships and riverboats.

He was a prodigious student at the Derby School of Art and the Royal Academy before moving to Montreal and then to the U.S.A. In addition to his historical work, he is a skilled plein-air painter. Many of the small oil studies he made for a public television series are included in the exhibit.

A museum catalog with color reproduction of all 66 works accompanies the exhibition, showing some of the best work from his professional career that has already lasted over 60 years. He is one of those rare artists who has not only enjoyed a long working career, but he keeps getting better and better.
Butler Institute/ Exhibitions
John Stobart website
The catalog at the Stobart website
GurneyJourney "Is Moonlight Blue?"
Matthew Innis's blog "Underpaintings"--lots of Stobart images
Thanks, Shawn!