Thursday, March 31, 2022

Helene Schjerfbeck's Early Paintings

Clothes Drying, 1883

Helene Schjerfbeck's early paintings were influenced by French realism and impressionism. 

Helene Schjerfbeck (Finnish, 1852-1946) The Convalescent 1888

She studied with Léon Bonnat at the Académie Colarossi and painted in Brittany and then went to St. Ives in Cornwall. The newly formed colony in Cornwall welcomed visiting artists from Sweden, Russia, and France, and they found locals in town who were willing to pose, including the child who posed for "The Convalescent." 
"As Helene Schjerfbeck could not speak English very well, she often worked alongside Marianne Stokes, and a child that they painted together a number of times was so naughty at school that the teacher was only too glad when she sat for the artists!" (Source
Helene Schjerfbeck: German Edition

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Feather Identification Websites

Find a feather? What bird is it from? 

By law you're not supposed to possess feathers from wild birds (in order to protect birds from being hunted for their feathers), but there are a couple of good websites to help with feather identification anyway.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has a website called Feather Atlas that helps you identify feathers based on  color, position, pattern, size, and kind of bird.

Featherbase is another website focusing on bird feathers. The site lays out the feathers of a given bird, and arranging them in groups so you can see the variety of feather types that cover a bird's body. 

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Kinds of Tracing Paper

I'm working on an article about the uses of tracing paper. I'm trying to recall all the varieties of transparent paper and their characteristics. If I've forgotten a type or overlooked some key information, please let me know in the comments. 

Flimsy | Lightweight and very transparent tracing paper in white or yellow. Resists bleed-through. Comes in a roll up to 48 inches wide by 100 yards long.

Tracing paper | Most universal paper for sketching, overlays, corrections, tracing, and transfer. Usually sold in pads, quite transparent.

Onion skin | A thin, light paper made for typewriters in a time when airmail rates demanded light weight. The slightly waxy surface allows for relatively easy erasures. Term “onion-skinning” used in digital world to describe the ghosted display of adjacent frames.

Animation paper | Sturdy but translucent paper punched for alignment pegs and designed for pencil and pen.

Layout paper | Smooth-surface bond, slightly transparent, takes markers without bleeding through.

Cotton Vellum | Typically comes in rolls, made from 100% pure cotton fiber, archival, sturdy, and ideal for inking, transferring a drawing, or making a blueprint.

Waterfall City Interpreted by Minecraft

14-year-old Graysen Sullivan created a nifty Minecraft map of Waterfall City.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Dinosaur Expressions

Cody asks: "Did you give your dinosaurs facial expressions?"

Answer: Yes, I tried that idea in Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara. I suspect dinosaurs didn't have very mobile faces, so instead of having them gurning, I did what I could with the tongue and the eyes. 

Realistically, I assume dinosaur expressions would resemble those of birds, with most of the signaling carried by hackled feathers, eye dilation or "pinning," and body posture. 

There's always a temptation to anthropomorphize dinosaurs, but I find it more interesting to make their expression of emotions appear more exotic and strange.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Snow Scene with Juncos

In this new YouTube video I paint the view from my breakfast window: snow on the rhododendron, with juncos perched on top. Strap on your headphones — this one will have immersive 3D audio.

Watch it on YouTube

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Friday, March 25, 2022

Gradients Article in ImagineFX

My article in the new issue of ImagineFX Magazine (#211) walks you through eight exercises for creating gradients, using watercolor, gouache, and casein. (Link to video on Instagram)

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Strange Fate of "The Carpenter's Son"

American artist Edward Simmons created the painting "The Carpenter's Son" (Paris 1888, RA 1889) imagines young Jesus as a boy in a woodworker's shop.  

According to David Tovey:

Mr. Simmons "depicted his eldest son in his St Ives studio with wood-shavings scattered around, so converting the scene into a depiction of the Christ Child."

"The Chantrey Trustees were initially impressed by this informal presentation of Christ and offered to buy the painting, but an article in a Scottish newspaper denouncing it as heretical made them revoke their offer, which did not impress Simmons."

The painting ended up in the possession of the First Unitarian Church, New Bedford, Massachusetts.

In 1996 the painting suffered a strange case of vandalism. According to Wikipedia:
The painting was "yanked from the wall and cut out from its frame. The section depicting Jesus [was] taken, cutout and removed. The rest of the painting [was] left lying on the floor. The lost section was found in 2006, rolled up behind a refrigerator when it was being removed from the congregation’s kitchen. The painting was then restored and ownership transferred to the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum."

Wikipedia on Edward Simmons 

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Zorn and the Rain Storm

American painter Edward Simmons (1852-1931) was an eyewitness to how Anders Zorn painted in watercolor:

"Zorn was one of those artists who are always showing much originality in the use of their materials and combining this with a sense of humor, which often produces fine results. I went into his back yard one day, and he had a six-foot water color leaning against the house, and was throwing pails of water on it—“bringing it together.” 

Anders Zorn, Fish Market in St. Ives, watercolor and gouache, 100 x 76cm, 1888

"He had a great success at the Grosvenor Gallery with a picture of boats, sails, masts, and the seashore sand, with a fat fish-wife walking toward one. (In those days he thought the only beautiful women
were fat ones.) He laid this on a box hedge in the garden when a thunderstorm came up. We all rushed out and it seemed to me ruined."

Anders Zorn, Fish Market in St. Ives, detail

"'Now I can make a fine picture,' he said. He painted out the smudges from the sails and fixed the dirty sky, but in the foreground, in the sands, were large spots of raindrops. These he turned into footprints, and their naturalness has been commented upon more than once."
From Seven to Seventy, a memoir by Edward Simmons (1852-1931)

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Sight-Size Viewer Aids Accuracy

I had opinions about sight-size viewers until I built a "Gurney Grid" and tried it out. Excerpt from my new YouTube video. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Painting the 1929 New Standard Biplane

In this new YouTube video, I paint a 1929 biplane at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome using casein paint. 

Art Supplies
Richeson casein paint set

I'm painting area by area, filling in the lines almost like a coloring book. With that limited palette, I can get most of the colors I want, but there are other colors in my bag if I need them. More about limited palettes in Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter.

The light changes throughout the day as the sun moves from left to right and goes in and out of clouds.

In the video I consider how people imagined the future in 1929 when that aircraft was new and how close their predictions actually turned out to be.

Sunday, March 20, 2022


"Melodiya" by Ukranian composer Myroslav Skoryk was the encore of last night's live concert by The Orchestra Now in Hudson, New York.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Engine Room Worker


A guy from the engine room in Tunisia saw me sketching and asked if I would draw his portrait. When I was done he took a picture of the sketch, bumped knuckles with me, and smiled.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Confetti Strokes

"Confetti" is a term for small, colorful paint strokes that resolve into suggestive detail in the viewer’s eye.

You can find confetti in early painters like Canaletto. But it took off in the 20th century as the impressionist and abstract movements helped realist painters see strokes as having their own existence as pure shapes. Look for confetti in artists like Frank Brangwyn, Walter Everett, John Berkey, and Syd Mead.

I indulge in a sort of confetti, though my own preference is to stop short of strokes that draw too much attention to themselves as strokes.

Here's a detail of the crowd in the distance in Dinosaur Parade from "Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time." The figures were blocked in with a square bristle brush. The detail is handled a bit like a mosaic.

And here's a closeup of a festival scene from Jorotongo, from "Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara." You can see how I sketched the singers in terms of simple confetti-like shapes.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

County Tipperary

County Tipperary, Ireland, plein air oil, 8 x 10" (20.3 x 25.4 cm), 1994.

On this trip I decide not to rent a car. I just bum rides from friends and walk everywhere. All my painting gear fits in one backpack and all my other gear in a suitcase. I wander on foot each day alone in search of a motif while my son Dan is in Clonmel studying tunes and prepping for the Fleadh Cheoil, the annual international Irish music competition.

I walk up a hill road to a break in the hedgerow with a big view: sheep grazing on a far pasture, a passing shower. Way down in the valley I can almost hear the friendly fever of the jigs and reels while the silent sea of heaven rolls overhead.

You can get a copy of Dan's CD at this link.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Hagfish in Harbor

A few years before the Hagfish was sunk by rebels, it appeared in the harbor of Poseidos, near the place where Gideon Altaire made his escape on a yellow skimmer.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Using Historical Reference Photos for Sci-Fi Paintings

Blog reader Jeff Jordan asks: "I was wondering if you're using gouache strictly as a sketching medium, or if you've done or are doing finished works, illustrations, whatever, in gouache?"

Jeff, yes, I love using gouache for illustrations of vehicles, robots, and architecture. For example, this small (about 6x12") painting: "The Sinking of the Hagfish" shows a giant fish-like ship, burning and sinking, with its survivors standing along the top, hoping to be rescued.

It's part of Dinotopia backstory development, documenting dramatic events thousands of years ago in Dinotopia's Age of Heroes, when humans and saurians defended Dinotopia from an invasion of drones and mech dinos from Poseidos.

The inspiration for this composition came from this historic World War II photo of the burning carrier "Franklin" off the coast of Japan after it was struck by two bombs. Over 772 of the crew were lost, but the ship returned to port on its own steam.

In my composition, I kept the figures on the far left watching the unfolding drama. The feeling that we're among those watching adds a sense of vérité to the science fiction image.

The painting appears in the expanded edition of Dinotopia: First Flight.

Monday, March 14, 2022

The Excursion

 The giant Camarasaurus walks gracefully along, as Ornithomimuses dash by with the speed of ostriches.

There will be plenty of time for swimming, picking flowers and flying kites before the shadows lengthen and it's time to return home. 

I set up the dinosaur on an illuminated patch of ground, sandwiched in space between shadows in the foreground and more shadows in the middle distance.

To figure out that lighting idea, I adapted a maquette of a Camarasaurus (made by Kaiyodo), outfitted with a saddle that I made out of cardboard, wire, and starched cloth. The little plastic figures (made by Britains) helped me to figure out the overlapping and the cast shadows. I recruited some neighbor kids to wear my Renaissance-fair costumes (made by Moresca) and pretend they're riding dinosaurs.

The painting appeared in Dinotopia: The World Beneath. There's also an Excursion Art Print (signed and numbered) in my web store.

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Levka Gambo

Levka Gambo offers Will and Sylvia hot buttered tea and and blankets of woven fur after their arduous climb to the Tentpole of the Sky, a remote settlement at the summit of Dinotopia's mountains.
The painting is executed in transparent oil wash over a pencil drawing.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Arch of Septimius Severus


The Arch of Septimius Severus, sketched on location in watercolor, inspired the Roman-style architecture in Sauropolis, Dinotopia.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Miniature Carvings of Chen ZhongSen

Chen ZhongSen carved 5,000 characters on a piece of stone that's only 33 x 70 cm (13.3 x 28 inches). 

The characters form two poems: "Two Poems on a Hair" or "The Art of War." 

Thanks, A.R. and Nick Miller

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Don't Like the Portrait of You? Break it Up and Burn it.

In 1954, painter Graham Sutherland (1903-1980) was specially commissioned by the House of Commons and the House of Lords to paint a portrait of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

It was unveiled on Churchill's 80th birthday in a solemn official ceremony in front of both houses of Parliament. 

Churchill looked at the painting for a long while, then "remarked on the unprecedented honour shown to him and described the painting as 'a remarkable example of modern art,' combining 'force and candour.'"

His backhanded compliment brought forth peals of laughter from the assembled dignitaries.

Fortunately the moment was captured by the BBC.(Link to YouTube)


Churchill brought the gift home, but he continued to despise it: "He described it to Lord Moran as 'filthy' and 'malignant,' and complained that it made him 'look like a down-and-out drunk who has been picked out of the gutter in the Strand." 

Meanwhile, "Sutherland maintained that he painted the Prime Minister as he truly saw him and that the depiction was an honest and realistic representation."

The Churchills never showed the painting to anyone, and wouldn't bring it out for exhibitions. Later, it emerged that they had destroyed the work:

"In 1978, it was reported that Lady Spencer-Churchill had destroyed the painting within a year of its arrival at Chartwell, by breaking it into pieces and having them incinerated to prevent it from causing further distress to her husband. Lady Spencer-Churchill had previously destroyed earlier portraits of her husband that she disliked, including sketches by Walter Sickert and Paul Maze. She had hidden the Sutherland portrait in the cellars at Chartwell and employed her private secretary Grace Hamblin and Hamblin's brother to remove it in the middle of the night and burn it in a remote location. Many commentators were aghast at the destruction of the work of art, and Sutherland condemned it as an act of vandalism; others upheld the Churchills' right to dispose of their property as they saw fit."


Wikipedia on Graham Sutherland's Portrait of Churchill

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Learning to Paint from Art Magazines

How many of you remember American Artist Magazine?

Before the Internet it was the place to learn about realist painters like Richard Schmid, Andrew Wyeth, Tom Nicholas, Robert Vickrey, and Frank Frazetta.

It was founded in 1937 under the name "Art Instruction" by the two architectural draughtsmen Ernest Watson and Arthur Guptill, who also founded Watson-Guptill, the book publishing company. The mission was practical, businesslike, and didactic.

The first decades of the magazine spotlighted both easel painters and illustrators. The articles were usually based on studio visits, and the discussion always included process and professionalism as well as philosophy.

Mr. Watson went on such a flurry of visits to illustrators that he was able to assemble them into a book called Forty Illustrators and How They Work. In the '50s and '60s, there were plenty of post-impressionist-inspired painters, but the orientation was always relatively realistic compared to the more avante-garde magazines.

During the decades of the 1970's and '80s, as the realist revival gained steam, American Artist was the most vocal champion. For students wanting to learn about painting before the Internet era, it was the clearest window into the world of real working artists.

If you wanted to learn how to paint back then, you would study the step-by-step stages of the painting process printed in the magazines and books, and carefully decipher the artists' explanation in the captions.

The classified ads were the way to find out about workshops, art schools, or new art supplies.

I sent this postcard to the editor on its 75th anniversary, little guessing that it would be bought out by one of its rivals (Artists Magazine) and cease publication.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Jessie Wilcox Smith and Her Child Models

The American illustrator Jessie Wilcox Smith produced over 200 covers for Good Housekeeping Magazine, most of them featuring children. 

Editors of that magazine said that her artwork represented "the highest ideals of the American home, the home with that sweet wholesomeness one associates with a sunny living-room—and children."

She never married and didn't have her own children. So where did she get her child models? She tried using professional models, but they didn't work out for her. She said, 

"Such a thing as a paid and trained child model is an abomination and a travesty on childhood—a poor little crushed and scared, unnatural atom, automatically taking the pose and keeping it in a spiritless lifeless manner. The professional child model is usually a horribly self-conscious overdressed child whose fond parents proudly insist that he or she is just what you want and give a list of the people for whom he or she has posed."

Instead she asked her friends with kids to come by and let their children play in her home and studio, where she could observe and sketch them in natural moments of interaction, driven by their own curiosity and childlike instincts.

She recalled: 

"While they were playing and having a perfect time, I would watch and study them, and try to get them to take unconsciously the positions that I happened to be wanting for a picture. 

"Once during the war, when I was painting children's portraits while doing my bit for one of the Liberty Loan drives... I painted the portrait of three little brothers. They were just steps apart, little yellow-headed fellows, all dressed in canary-colored suits and as much alike as the proverbial peas. Their greatest distinction lay in the toys they carried. One had an elephant, one a camel, and the smallest a kiddie car... He disported himself by riding it round and round my easel while I worked, and I could catch a glimpse of his face only as he looked this way  for a second while turning a corner."

The new issue of Illustration Magazine includes a cover feature on the American illustrator Jessie Wilcox Smith written by Dan Zimmer. It also features illustrator John Schoenherr, famous for his Dune covers.


You can order Illustration #75 at the Illustration Magazine website.

Book: Red Rose Girls: An Uncommon Story of Art and Love by Alice Carter features JWS, Elizabeth Shippen Green, and Violet Oakley. 

The Subject Was Children: The Art of Jessie Willcox Smith

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Musée des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden's 1938 poem "Musée des Beaux Arts" describes how we respond to suffering, often by going on with our daily routine as tragedies unfold in plain sight.

Pieter Brueghel, The Fall of Icarus, Oil-tempera, 
29 inches x 44 inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels.

Musée des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Micrographic Penmanship of Matthias Buchinger

Matthias Buchinger (1674–1739) was an expert at drawing and lettering precisely at a small scale.

His lettering astonished his contemporaries with its complexity, control, and order. Some of the letters were so tiny as to be almost indistinguishable to the naked eye.

He also "performed on more than a half-dozen musical instruments, some of his own invention. He exhibited trick shots with pistols, swords and bowling. He danced the hornpipe and deceived audiences with his skill in magic." 

Even more remarkable was that he could accomplish all this with his unusual body: "Buchinger was just 29 inches tall, and born without legs or arms. He lived to the ripe old age of 65, survived three wives, wed a fourth and fathered 14 children."

Quotes are from the book Matthias Buchinger: The Greatest German Living, which features many examples of his artwork and tells his incredible life story, the result of exhaustive research by the author Ricky Jay.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

International Artist #144: Problems with Gouache (and How to Solve Them)

Gouache presents at least five difficulties: it freezes, it dries fast, it reactivates, it looks chalky, and it shifts values when it dries. The April/May 2022 issue of International Magazine explains all the challenges and the remedies.

The magazine has other features on Kim Casebeer, Warren Chang, Claudia Hartley, Sandra Bartels, John Lovett, Tanvi Pathare, Michael King and Erika Stearly.

You can get a signed copy of the magazine or the video for download and streaming.

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Book Review: Peter Clapham Sheppard: His Life and Work

Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1964) painter of impressionistic cityscapes that are reminiscent of John Sloan and the Ashcan School, with confident daubs of oil paint making a mosaic patchwork that evokes the bustle of city life or the growth of nature. 

The book Peter Clapham Sheppard-- His Life and Work is a full color monograph that covers his training and his life of art, working primarily in New York, Toronto, and Montreal. He was a contemporary and colleague of the Group of Seven. 

Art historian Ross King describes him as "a retiring, elusive artist whose skill and vision, untouched by the noisy nationalism of some of his peers, can now finally be properly celebrated in the remarkable artistic rediscovery that is unveiled in the pages of this book."

The publisher, Firefly Books, says:

"This book is a celebration of the rediscovery of the masterworks of Toronto-born Peter Clapham Sheppard (1879-1965), an artist who played a leading role in the founding of Canada's national school of art. A contemporary and colleague of the Group of Seven, he was one of the finest artists of his generation and his work is among the best in Canadian art.

"The book is full of beautiful color reproduction of Sheppard's paintings, and his work shows a wide range of sources and influences. In the early years of the 20th century he was a Realist who captured the life and times of the city and people of Toronto. Later, he was inspired by the French Impressionists to capture with paint the effects of light and weather, particularly in winter, in urban settings, especially New York City.

"Termed a "radical" in his early career, rather than being inspired by his friends and contemporaries in the Group of Seven, Sheppard looked to New York painters of the urban and industrial scenes for inspiration. He was a forceful painter of urban development which he interpreted as a metaphor of national growth and resilience during World War I.

"He was skilled at drawing and painting the city, capturing the dynamism of urban life, but he also traveled into the woods and wilderness of Ontario, much like the Group of Seven, to paint scenes of woods and waterfalls.

"Although he was widely exhibited in national and important international exhibitions of Canadian art in his early career, over the course of the last century Sheppard has fallen into the shadow cast by the Group of Seven. From occupying a place among a generation of artists who established a national school, he died in relative obscurity.

"This book casts light on a unique talent, an artist of his times, whose art matched the quality of the Group, but found inspiration beyond the sources that inspired his more famous contemporaries. This book is the culmination of a 30-year effort to bring Sheppard's name and art to its rightful place in this country's art history."
Peter Clapham Sheppard-- His Life and Work

Tuesday, March 1, 2022