Sunday, January 31, 2021

The Microscopic Sculptures of Hagop Sandaldjian

The sculptures of Hagop Sandaldjian are so tiny that they can't be fully appreciated with the naked eye. You need a magnifying glass to make out the details.

Sandaldjian's interest in tiny sculptures grew out of his expertise in the ergonomic study of how to refine muscular movements and breathing when we use tools. 

The Museum of Jurassic Technology of Los Angeles displays some of Sandaldjian's work.

According to the museum's website:
"Born of obsessive devotion, an individual figure could take as many as fourteen months to finish. Each sculpted micron represented not only endless hours of toil, but exacting travail fraught with peril, as his work could so easily be destroyed or lost. An unexpected sneeze or misdirected breath could blow away a microminiature with hurricane force, while a casual movement could sabotage the work of months. Since even a pulse in his fingers could cause an accident, Sandaldjian ultimately learned to apply his decisive strokes only between heartbeats."

Saturday, January 30, 2021


Hydrographics is a method of printing in which an object with a complex shape is dipped through a thin film of pigment floating on a tank of water. 

Image via Muscle Car Days

It's also called "water transfer printing," "immersion printing," or "hydro dipping," 

(Link to YouTube video) The image is printed on a special water-soluble film which is carefully placed on the surface of water in a dipping tank. The clear film holding the image together dissolves into the water. As the object is slowly pushed down into the water, the image adheres to the object's surface, conforming to the shape. After the object is lifted out, it is allowed to dry.

Hydrographics on Wikipedia

Friday, January 29, 2021

What Does Your Work Aim to Say?

Art student Alexandra V. asks: "What does your work aim to say? (About the world or your life)"

Alexandra, when you ask about what my work aims to say, it sounds like you're wondering about the intended meaning of my work: what I'm after when I do it, or what I hope to express or communicate.

Let's start by distinguishing those two ideas. As I understand it, expression has to do with how art can translate a feeling or an idea into tangible form. Communication, by contrast, is concerned not only with the revealed thought, but also with what the viewer actually takes away from it. Expression can happen without publication or sharing, but communication requires another person to engage with it.

It's hard for me to explain what I hope that my art will express about my life or the world around me, much less what I expect people to take away from it. Here's why:

1. Each painting has a different motive. Sometimes I'm inspired by the delight of a spring day; sometimes it's the morbid glee of a devastating caricature, and sometimes it's the sadness of an abandoned building.

2. What a painting has to say isn't readily translatable into words. Painting and writing are such different modes of thought.

3. A lot of my paintings are about the thrill of creating a realistic illusion. I never tire of the pleasure of translating something fleeting or unloved into permanent form. It's like preserving a flower in clear resin.

4. I'm often interested in finding exotic beauty in commonplace scenes—or finding commonplace beauty in exotic fantastic worlds. Those two goals are related somehow. That explains how plein-air paintings of gumball machines were painted by the same person who created Dinotopia. 

5. If I've learned one thing from social media, it's that I can strongly influence the way people respond to an image by how I choose to present it. People react not only to the image, but also to the title and the caption, and you can measure that response in the analytics and the comments. If a picture appears in a video, it's influenced by what comes before or after, and also by the voiceover, the music, and the sound effects. If a painting appears in a museum exhibit, a person's reaction is shaped by the frame and the title card. It's impossible to present an image without some context, and context is everything.

6. Even though I write a lot about my art, and I'm conscious of what goes into it, the meaning of it is somewhat of a mystery to me. So I'll leave it to others to interpret what my work is about. Art critics and academics have no problem doing that. One time my son was taking a class in fantasy literature at an Ivy League college, and he told me they were reading and analyzing Dinotopia as one of the texts. I offered to come and explain why and how I created the book, or at least to discuss it and answer questions, but the professor said he didn't need to hear from me. From his perspective, what I intended didn't matter as much as what he had already concluded on his own.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Alaskan Residency Opportunity

Are you the adventurous type? Voices in the Wilderness is an unique artist-in-residence program where intrepid artists can explore the wilderness landscapes of Alaska.

2012 A.I.R. Susan Watkins paints the College Fiord in 
Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA, Chugach National Forest.

Regions include some of Alaska's most remote wilderness areas, including the Kootznoowoo Wilderness, Tongass Misty Fjords National Monument, and the Nellie Juan-College Fiord Wilderness Study Area. 

Wilhelm Kuhnert (1865-1926), Walruses 

They'll partner you with a wilderness professional who will guide you to the best places to paint and study and make sure you're safe.

Applications are now being accepted for this summer. The deadline is March 1. More info at Voices in the Wilderness

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Posing for a Painting Saved a Man's Life

Illustrator Saul Tepper (New York City, 1899-1987) hunted throughout the city for amateur models to pose for his illustrations. One time, as a deadline approached for a painting of a lumberjack, he entered a cafe, where he saw "a man of the proper features, sitting alone."

"Saul approached him," recalled illustrator Mason Combs, "explained the situation and presented his card, telling the potential model to be at the studio at 10:00 the next morning. The man took the card without conversation. The next morning he appeared, posed, and before leaving asked when the illustration would appear."

"A week after the issue hit the newsstands, the man reappeared at the studio. He told Saul that he had been sitting in the cafe, having decided to put the .38 he carried to his head and end it all. He had left his wife and family in his hometown upstate, lost his job, and been on a binge when Saul arrived on the scene."

"Once the Saturday Evening Post illustration came out, everyone in the man's hometown recognized him; his job was offered back; he was reunited with his family; and he became a town celebrity. Yes, Tepper touched many people's lives."

This story is part of a new book on Saul Tepper produced by The Illustrated Press. The book continues the series of monographs on Golden Age masters such as Dean Cornwell and Tom Lovell. The short introductory biographical essay by Dan Zimmer covers Tepper's career and his painting methods, and then the rest of the book is devoted to high quality color reproductions, mostly from the original art.


The Art of Saul Tepper hardback, 224 pages, $44.95

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

From Niagara Falls to Waterfall City

A few days ago, in a previous post, I shared some of the preliminary sketches for the establishing shots of Waterfall City (below).

Waterfall City (1988), and Waterfall City: Afternoon Light (2002)

But there's only so much I can do from my imagination alone. To go beyond that, I have to "fill the bucket," which is what I call the process of gathering reference. One key step was painting at Niagara Falls.

I set up my painting gear on Goat Island with a bunch of kids watching. The studies help me understand how the water should look, something that's hard to get from photos. 

The following clip is from a documentary I produced about the making of Dinotopia. 

Here's the full production if you haven't seen it. 

I also built maquettes. Below is a schematic maquette made out of styrofoam, cardboard, and a wood ball spray painted with gray primer. It helped me as a designer to keep Waterfall City visually consistent when it appears in various angles.

In a schematic maquette, you don’t have to sculpt every single building, just a few characteristic geometric forms. By looking at photos of those representative forms as you do your drawing, you can add details and multiply them into the full city.

The real benefit of such a schematic maquette is that you can swing it around at any angle and see how the light plays on it. This kind of model is a great help for entertainment designers or sequential artists who need to imagine a complex form consistently from a variety of angles.

I also built a more detailed maquette. This maquette is made from cardboard, styrofoam, and epoxy putty. 

 It helped me imagine perspective and lighting on this near corner of Waterfall City, which appeared from many angles in The World Beneath and Journey to Chandara.

After studying the maquettes, I draw a tone paper study and do a small oil sketch to solidify my vision of how the city will look veiled in mist.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The Rijksmuseum shares copyright-free images


The Colosseum in Rome by Josephus Augustus Knip, 1809, watercolor, 425mm × w 597mm 

Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum Museum has made its collection available as digital images for free online. You can download high-resolution files and use them however you want. All you have to do is set up an account with your email and a password. 

Famous for its Rembrandts, the museum has about two thousand works from the Dutch Golden Age, including by Frans Hals, Jacob van Ruisdael, Johannes Vermeer, Jan Steen, and the students of Rembrandt.
Rijksmuseum Studio
Blog post by Ian Visits

Thanks, Joseph Santoyo

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Can We Tune Our Level of Satisfaction?

A question came about my recent YouTube video which talked about the mindset that I try to cultivate while painting.

M C  asks: "How do you go from a high level of dissatisfaction to a level of satisfaction when you’re finished?? I find that I’m never satisfied with my work and therefore cannot enjoy it when I’m done."

My answer: MC, I think both of those feelings are vital for success throughout the process. We need the dissatisfaction to push ourselves to improve, but we need the satisfaction to motivate us to keep going.

Paintings don't always turn out well enough to satisfy my inner critic. Even if I do all the steps that I know will help guarantee a good result, I can never be sure it will work out. But sometimes it does, and what that happens, hooray! Either way, I try to trust the process.

Can we harness those twin horses of satisfaction and dissatisfaction? Can foster the emotions we need for success? Yes! 

According to neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett, emotions don't just happen to us; we create them. In her book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, she explains where emotions come from and how we can influence our own emotional life. 

In the case of the satisfaction that we get while engaged in a task-oriented activity like drawing or painting, a lot of it has to do with the production of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, is part of our reward system when we're engaged in a cognitive task.
YouTube video: Painting Mindset
Book: How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Portrait of Ben Franklin

One of the paintings that President Biden chose for the Oval Office is a portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Siffred Duplessis

Franklin posed for the artist in France. Various versions of the portrait exist, including one in pastel.

The White House has its own collection of art, but the curators there are able to borrow paintings from any museum in the Smithonian collection. This one appears to be the one from the National Portrait Gallery. This image of Franklin also appears on the hundred dollar bill

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Sargent's Study of the Marlborough Family

John Singer Sargent did a pencil study (right) of a group portrait of the Duke of Marlborough and his Family by Joshua Reynolds (left). 

Sargent's study seems to concentrate on the shapes of big light tones set within the large dark shapes.

He drew on the memory of this composition when he painted his own group portrait of the Marlborough Family.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How do you justify so much preparatory work?

These charcoal-on-vellum line drawings are half the size of the final painting of Waterfall City

This is the step where I figure out perspective, placement, and storytelling, thinking about how those gliders could get across the gorge, which areas to lose in mist, and which architectural forms are repeated.

Here are more preliminary sketches:

Eloise Scherrer asks: "Do you always do so much preparatory work for such paintings ? Was it a personal work or part of an editorial project/command ? (the underlying interrogation is how do you keep balance between the artistic necessities - lots of sketches - and the financial necessities - can't spend that much time in proportion of how I am paid ?)"

I've never done this much preliminary work on any picture. This one stuck in the back of my brain for many years. I did the sketches in my spare time after a day's work on paying assignments. This was the sandbox for playing in. 

The emerging print market gave me an avenue for monetizing this dream. The whole concept of Dinotopia came later.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

Civil Twilight

The term civil twilight refers to the period between the time when the sun goes down and when the natural illumination is so dim that artificial light is needed to distinguish objects on the ground. 

Officially it begins at sunset and it ends when the sun's geometric center reaches 6° below the horizon. 

The designation has some legal ramifications for laws that define when headlights are required or that designate a crime as having occurred in the daytime or the nighttime.

Artists are conscious of the big changes that happen during this period of time when the sun no longer shines on objects on the ground, but the light still touches the higher clouds. Maxfield Parrish made a career of painting during this fleeting time period.

Civil twilight is followed by nautical twilight (above), where the sun moves between 6° and 12° below the horizon. When you're at sea during that period of time you can still distinguish the horizon, but the sky is dark enough to discern many stars for navigation.
Wikipedia on civil twilight

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Painting with Two Colors (Plus White)

Here's a great exercise to try: paint a snow scene with just ultramarine blue and burnt sienna, plus white gouache.  (Link to YouTube video)

Art teachers of the past have recommended this method for centuries.

Arthur Guptill said, "A rich effect can be obtained with only a limited palette. A warm and cool combination affords the student the best approach to his color problems, especially as they relate to outdoor sketching." 

In his book on the history of watercolor painting, E. Barnard Lintott said, "For a young student there cannot be a better way of entering upon the study of water colour than by rigorously banishing all but two colours from his palette. It is the best and surest way to the study of full colour. The colours should be a cold and warm one; cobalt blue and warm sienna—or Prussian blue and burnt sienna—are two combinations which lend themselves to a great variety of treatment."

I also used a tiny bit of Alizarin crimson

Get the full video
Gumroad (HD download or lifetime streaming)
Sellfy (HD download) 
Cubebrush (HD download) 
DVD direct from publisher 

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Illustration Techniques of Robert McGinnis

Robert McGinnis (born 1926) painted glamorous women and gun-toting spies for paperback covers and movie posters.  

A video by producer Paul Jilbert introduces McGinnis and his work and puts it in context. Jilbert also produced a video showing the process of painting a standing semi-nude in egg tempera. 

The drawing is enlarged from photo reference on a Balopticon, similar to the one used by Norman Rockwell and Mort Kunstler.  

Book: The Art of Robert E. McGinnis 

Robert McGinnis on Wikipedia

Friday, January 15, 2021

Planning Waterfall City, Part 1

 The original painting for Waterfall City went through a lot of planning stages. 

I started with a lot of thumbnail sketches, trying to lasso my hazy mental image without looking at any references. One of my early ideas was to show the scene dramatically at night, with light from below.

Here are more early concepts for Waterfall City, some using pen and wash....

....and some little oil sketches, about 4 x 8 inches. 

Sometimes it takes weeks or even months for an idea to gel, and I need to generate lots of options to see if a feeling, and a story, emerges. I ended up with an eclectic mix of architectural scenes.

James Gurney, "Waterfall City" is 24 x 48 inches, 1988

The image appeared in Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time, 1992.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Vinnie Ream's Statue of Lincoln

To get a healing break from the images of chaos and violence in public spaces, I've been trying to take a minute to focus on the beauty of the art in the Capitol building, which I remember making a pilgrimage to see with the same kind of reverence that I have experienced in cathedrals.

A full-figure marble statue of Abraham Lincoln is one of the large sculptures in Statuary Hall, and there's a remarkable human story behind it.

The sculpture was commissioned by Congress from an 18-year-old young woman named Vinnie Ream.  According to the Capitol campus's art curators:

"Ream had previously shown her ability to depict the president in a bust that she created from life in Washington. Her selection, however, was accompanied by controversy because she was young, female, and had friendships with members of Congress."

She developed the sculpture first in plaster as was the practice. In the sculpture, Lincoln's right foot is forward and he's holding a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. His head is tilted forward with a serious expression. 

But Ream's sculpture was almost destroyed. During the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson in 1868, her family played host to Senator Edmund G. Ross. Ross was the Senator who broke with his party to vote against the removal President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached by the House. 

According to Wikipedia, "she was almost thrown out of the Capitol with her unfinished Lincoln statue, but the intervention of powerful New York sculptors prevented it."

Ream was a prodigious talent. She had trained with sculptor Clark Mills and with Luigi Majoli in Rome and with Léon Bonnat in Paris. She brought the Lincoln sculpt in Rome, where it was carved from Carrara marble with the assistance of Italian stone carvers. The finished statue was brought across the Atlantic and unveiled in 1871. 

After her early period of sculpting she had a 40 year gap in her productivity as she took on the obligations of being a wife and mother.

"When she married Lieutenant Richard Hoxie in 1878, he imposed restrictions on his wife's work as a sculptor. Their son, also named Richard, was born in 1883. In addition to her work in the U.S. Capitol, Ream's sculptures include her statue of Admiral David G. Farragut (1881) at the well-known Washington landmark, Farragut Square. Ream died in 1914 in Washington, D.C. Her grave in Arlington Cemetery is marked by a replica of her sculpture Sappho."

Wikipedia on Vinnie Ream

More from the Capitol campus's art curators

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Machine Algorithm Turns Text Into Images

Neural networks are able to generate plausible images by starting with a descriptive phrase written in natural language and then mining a large dataset of photos for the style.

For example this array of images was created by the Dall-e algorithm using the prompt "pentagonal green clock." 

They're all green, and they all have a sort of clock face with a long hand and a short hand. Those that have a numbered dial are mostly right.

But a second glance reveals that there are plenty of hexagons and heptagons too, and the spacing and symmetry seem off-kilter on a lot of them.

Here's a set of images generated from the phrase "A store front with the words 'Open AI" written on it.'

If you go to the Dall-e website, you can tweak the phrase and see what the machine comes up with. This one says "A neon sign that says 'acme.'"

Although it gets a few obvious things wrong, it's remarkable how the results pick up on incidental effects like the tubular nature of neon and the glow of the neon light on the colored background.  

The developers say: "We find that DALL·E is sometimes able to render text and adapt the writing style to the context in which it appears. For example, 'a bag of chips' and 'a license plate' each requires different types of fonts, and “a neon sign” and “written in the sky” require the appearance of the letters to be changed. Generally, the longer the string that DALL·E is prompted to write, the lower the success rate. We find that the success rate improves when parts of the caption are repeated."

Try it yourself at the Open AI Blog about Dall-e. Be sure to scroll down and try some of the art styles, too.

Thanks, Joseph Santoyo

Monday, January 11, 2021

William Fraser Garden

Victorian watercolor painter William Fraser Garden (1856-1921) grew up amid a large family of artists.

He painted carefully observed views along the river Ouse, using muted colors and often indirect light. His scenes usually don't include people.

Detail of the painting above

This is probably a studio painting based on location studies. Before he began laying the watercolor washes, he established a very careful drawing outlining each branch. 

In this wilderness study there's a lot of scrubbing and loose washes in addition to the carefully drawn parts. Below is a detail:

This closeup brings us in close to one section of the painting so that you can see the brush stippling technique he uses to build the masses of leaves.

There's currently no Wikipedia page about William Fraser Garden. 

Detail of the painting above

He was not well known in his day because he didn't paint very many paintings per year and he was not a member of any major organizations.

According to Charles Lane, "His apparent lack of ambition and the consequently few watercolours which he painted each year, even when at his busiest, resulted naturally enough in his failing to come to the notice of all but a local audience." 

Stephen Ongpin writes: "Garden was very poor for most of his life, and was declared bankrupt in 1899." 

Christopher Newall, in the book Victorian Landscape Watercolors, says: "He was always short of money, and in his old age he led an eccentric existence, living at the Ferryboat Inn at Holywell and paying his bills with drawings instead of bank notes."

More online info at Stephen Ongpin Fine Art

Exhibition catalog: Victorian Landscape Watercolors

Book: Victorian Watercolours, also by Christopher Newall