Thursday, June 30, 2022

Checking Messages

Henry William Banks Davis, R.A. (1833-1914), A Spring Morning, oil, 30 x 60 inches

Is that shepherd checking his phone?

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Day the Desert Lab Caught Fire

Something must have blown up in his desert lab out on Route 23. The fire burned for days with strange colors. Sketch for a sci-fi paperback cover, oil.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Alma Ta-drama

Unpublished concept sketch for magazine cover, oil, 6 x 9 inches.


Monday, June 27, 2022

Baby Sketch and 35 Years Later

On a hot, humid night 35 years ago, I sketched my new son as he slept, wondering where life would take him. 

Here's a video of him now. He's an Irish accordion player as well as a coder. He helped do the computer work for a new digital exhibition that will launch on June 29 called "From the Bridge: A View of Irish Traditional Music in New York."

ITMA is committed to preserving, digitizing, and presenting valuable recordings of Irish music.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Skimmers in Poseidos

Skimmers are floating vehicles based on the design of trilobites and other Cambrian and Permian arthropods.

I originally produced this small painting as a concept for a virtual-reality ride simulator. Note the riders seen through the windscreen of the main vehicle.

I included the artwork in the book First Flight, which is set in Poseidos, the high tech capital of ancient Dinotopia. In this spun-off sub-universe, people and dinosaurs challenge a dystopian society of drones, surveillance, and AI-powered robots, all of which have become increasingly relevant in the 23 years since the book came out.
(Link for signed copies)

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Dinotopia and Smithsonian

Dinotopia and Smithonian have a long history together. Here's some trivia:

• A paleontologist from the National Museum of Natural History, Dr. Michael Brett-Surman, was an early scientific consultant on the project. He and other Smithsonian colleagues dressed up in Dinotopian costumes and came on stage to answer questions after a lecture I gave in Washington. They knew the answer to every question the kids had.

• In September 1995, Dinotopia was featured on the cover of the Smithsonian magazine, together with a behind-the-scenes article. (There are signed copies in my online store.)

• In 2002, the National Museum of Natural History hosted an exhibition of original art from the books.

• The exhibition also included Arthur Denison's original journal of the lost world, complete with chain, lock, and writing in the footprint alphabet, stamped into what appeared to be its saurian leather cover.

Friday, June 24, 2022

How They Made Prehistoric Planet

This behind-the-scenes mini documentary (link to YouTube) shows how they made the nature documentary called Prehistoric Planet, which recreates the structure and movement of dinosaurs in strikingly believable ways.

To match the photo-real look of a David Attenborough narrated nature documentary, they consulted with scientists, extrapolated from modern birds and other animals, and used the latest digital tools.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Watkins Glen Study

The stream at the head of Watkins Glen in New York flows over fine-grained Devonian layers of sedimentary rock. 

Watkins Glen, Oil, 8x10"

When the layers were uplifted, they cracked through with joints that make straight sided, almost rectangular pools.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Mountain Stream

Here's another painting that started with a panel primed with a red or pink color. You can see that color in the shallows and in the little spaces left over between strokes.

Mountain Stream, oil on red-primed panel, 8x10" 

More on red priming in my new YouTube video.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Art of the Backdrop

 CBS produced this lively overview of the art of Hollywood painted backdrops, or "backings," as they're known in the business. (Link to YouTube)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

The Magic of Red Priming

I often prime the surface with a tint of an iron red before heading out to paint in opaque gouache, acrylic, or oil.

Red priming gets mostly covered up by opaques, but it gives a zesty contrast to the greens and blues.

Full video on YouTube


Saturday, June 18, 2022

Painting Over Red Priming

Red is the complement (or opposite) of green, so if you're using opaque paint to capture a scene with a lot green, a reddish or warm pinkish priming can activate your greenery and sky color like a spicy dash of hot sauce.

I demonstrate with a plein-air painting of a Kenworth cement mixer parked near the supermarket. Smooth stays cool in the shade, and my artist-pal Jim Mushett stops by to say hello.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Astronaut Sketch


Astronaut at the hatch door, oil on board.

This was a small, unused concept sketch for a science fiction paperback cover called "Steps of the Sun" by Walter Tevis, 1985. 

Summary of the book's plot from Ebay: "In a world where America’s power is rapidly being overshadowed by China’s, only one man has the wealth, resources, and courage to seek the mineral resources his country needs to reclaim its greatness. Ben Belson, the richest man in the world, lacks for nothing his wealth can buy -- but he is haunted by the memory of a barren and loveless childhood. When he travels to the stars in search of the mineral wealth America needs, he finds more than he bargains for -- and gets more than he ever believed was possible."

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Shin-Hanga Movement

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the exchange of artistic ideas between Europe and Japan went both ways. 

Hikari umi (Glittering Sea), by Hiroshi Yoshida (1926)

Japanese artists who produced the ukiyo-e prints were inspired by the subjects and styles of European impressionism, (which itself used ideas from ukiyo-e).

According to the Clark Art Institute, artists in the Shin-Hanga Movement were working in "an intense period of modernization and Westernization, and many shin-hanga artists appealed to consumers by creating works that evoked nostalgia for a premodern Japan."

YouTuber David Bull has produced some videos demonstrating the process.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Sketchbooks and Their People

This video takes us into the Tate archive, offering a loving look at artists' sketchbooks.

The videographers include interview snippets with a variety of artists including theatre designer Rae Smith

Tuesday, June 14, 2022


Photo by scarecrowindisguise with a Lomography Diana F+ loaded with Lomography X-Pro Slide

Lomography is a form of analog photography using film cameras that allow for long exposures, double exposures and vignetting. 

The images exhibit what used to be thought of as flaws, but now are regarded as agreeable virtues: light leaks, graininess, blurring, bleaching, and over-saturation, making them resemble some Instagram filters or Photoshop techniques.

The movement began in Austria in the 1990s, with advocates using a small Russian toy camera called a Lomo LC-A, but other cameras and models have been brought into service.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Boldini's Portrait of His Father

Giovanni Boldini was just 25 when he painted this portrait of his father Antonio.

Antonio Boldini by Giovanni Boldini, 1867

Giovanni grew up in an artistic family. His father was a painter of religious subjects Ferrara, Italy and his brother was an architect. Young Giovanni traveled to Florence, where he studied at the Academy. He befriended other realist painters in the school of Italian impressionistic realism known as the Macchiaioli.

There's a Boldini exhibition going on now in Paris until July 24th (Thanks, Peace)
Giovanni Boldini on Wikipedia.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Making the Matterhorn

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) increased the vertical dimension to add drama to his study of the Matterhorn.

He later produced a studio landscape of the mountain peak.

According to the Metropolitan Museum, which owns the painting, "In the summer of 1856, during a four-year period of study in Europe, Bierstadt joined several American colleagues on a sketching trip. His fascination with the Swiss terrain resulted in a series of oil studies and pencil sketches, executed during the trip, and several large canvases of the mountain landscape, painted upon his return to New Bedford, Massachusetts. He revisited Switzerland numerous times between 1867 and 1897 to do more sketching. In this dramatic view of the Matterhorn, the artist depicted the cloud-encircled peak in the distance, strikingly juxtaposed with a low, rocky foreground."

Book: Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Enchanted Exhibition in Tennessee

The Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga, Tennessee is showing a fantasy art exhibition, and it's turning out to be a success. 

Chief Curator Nandini Makrandi says: "The exhibition has gone extremely well, with larger than usual attendance for us. It’s been really fun to see everyone enjoying themselves in the galleries."

Cara McGowan, Director of Marketing & Communications, says the response has been "overwhelmingly positive. Visitation has been strong, with lots of first-time guests (or those who haven’t been to the museum in a while) coming to see the exhibition."

Adera Causey, Curator of Education, says the museum has developed lots of programs for adults and kids connected to the exhibition. She says: "our summer campers have been delighted by it and it has inspired lots of monster-, dragon-, sword-, and fairy-themed art works by our campers." She says that the show has brought in lots of new guests, but also has helped existing audiences see the museum in new ways, too.
Enchanted: The History of Fantasy Illustration" will be at the Hunter Museum through September 5, after which it travels to Flint, Michigan. The original curator and organizer of the traveling exhibit is Jesse Kowalski of the Norman Rockwell Museum. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Painting Tips for an Urban Scene

Here are some painting tips for capturing the big-box landscape in gouache,

• Mustard-colored casein priming (done first in the studio) doesn't activate when rewet.

• In the drawing stage, I'm looking for key landmarks in the scene, which I use for measurements and alignments.

• The drawing is more a scaffolding or a foundation than it is a detailed underdrawing.

• By not making the drawing too elaborate, I'm more willing to paint over it, which is important in gouache.

• The sky is the keynote of every landscape, so I paint it first and paint my way to the foreground.
• With such an insistent priming color, I need to use opaques to cover it up.

• Limited gouache palette: white, cadmium yellow deep, burnt sienna, and ultramarine blue.

Watch the 5 minute video on YouTube, linked in bio.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Architectural Maquette

 I make the archway maquette to the same 1/72 scale as a set of tiny dinosaur maquettes by David Krentz.

The arch is made out of foam core board and mat board hot-glued together, with domes made of Styrofoam balls. I cover the structure with gesso and modeling paste and paint it in acrylic. The wall on the left is made from toy wooden blocks, which cast a shadow on the left of the scene.

I set up the tableau outdoors on a plywood base. It's possible to rotate the whole arrangement until the sun is shining into the scene at an interesting angle. I want to know how the forms are affected by the reflected light bouncing up from the warm, sandy surface in the foreground.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Karel Zeman's Imaginary Worlds

Czech filmmaker and animator Karel Zeman used a variety of techniques: stop motion, puppetry, live action, and miniatures to create imaginative films. 

According to the YouTube description, "This film takes a look behind the scenes of motion pictures made between 1947 and 1980 and shows how some of his special effects were achieved. Examples range from early shorts like "Inspiration", "King Lavra" and those featuring the popular character of Mr. Prokouk, to such features as "An invention for destruction", "Baron Munchausen" and "A jester's tale". In today's world of technology, Zeman's work has a home-made quality, but the designs have a beauty and elegance that has seldom been equaled." 

Monday, June 6, 2022

Painting a Realistic Urban Sketch with Gouache

Here's a quick video where I paint some ordinary commercial shopfronts on an overcast day using gouache. 

To achieve realism—and to speed things up—I use flat brushes and I paint patches of color that I subdivide with dark strokes. (Link to YouTube)

Sunday, June 5, 2022


A zograscope is an optical device with a large lens that enhances the impression of three-dimensional depth in a flat image.

It was a parlour amusement of the 17th and 18th centuries. According to Wikipedia,

"Some artists from the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age painting, like Pieter Janssens Elinga and Samuel Dirksz van Hoogstraten created a type of peep shows with an illusion of depth perception by manipulating the perspective of the view seen inside, usually the interior of a room. From around 1700 many of such "perspective boxes" or "optica" had a bi-convex lens with a large diameter and small dioptre for an exaggerated perspective, giving a stronger illusion of depth. Most pictures showed architectural and topographical subjects with linear perspectives."

Engraved views with enhanced perspective called vue d'optiques were created for this purpose.

Saturday, June 4, 2022


A folding wheelchair, sketched in an airport in 1995.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Gideon in Dinotopia

Gideon arrives on the main island and meets a society of humans and saurians. 

Thursday, June 2, 2022

A Good Explainer on AI Art

I'm honored that Vox media asked me to be part of this video about AI-generated artwork. 

If you don't want to watch the whole thing, I make a brief appearance at 10:25

Producer Joss Fong and her team came up with the brilliant explanation on what actually happens with a deep learning model. 

At 5:59 she explains multi-dimensionality with the example of yellow banana vs. red balloon. It's intriguing that we can't possibly know, in human terms, the criteria that the system is using to arrive at its results, or exactly what features it's extracting when a certain artist's name is used in the prompt.

There's a hidden bonus video that explores the reactions of various artists. 

Please add your comments:

• How do you feel this technology will affect the business and practice of art that you do?
• Do you want to use these tools?
• Will they change what you do or how you do it?  

I don't feel directly threatened by the tech, but I realize it will offer art buyers a cheap and fast method for generating editorial illustration, album cover art, and concept art. So it puts professional artists in those fields on notice and gives anyone the keys to becoming both an artist or an art director. 

As an art watcher, I have a kind of morbid curiosity to see where the technology is headed next, and I dread the onslaught of cheap surrealism that is already flooding social media. Another thing I've noticed is that there's a shelf life to each new set of tools, just as there is for each new type of VFX technique. Each new set of tools becomes old hat, as 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Donald Teague's Procedure

Illustrator Donald Teague (1897-1991) was known for his adventure illustrations. His process began with small pencil compositions. 

According to Ernest Watson, "He may make up a score, fifty or even more of these before he takes up his brush for color studies—these also at small scale. 'There is nothing I can add to this,' Teague said."

"'The preliminary sketches are just blood and sweat.' After he has produced a satisfactory color comprehensive, he goes out on location to sketch from models which he poses as they are to appear in the composition. There may be a dozen horses, three or four figures, and a vehicle or two in the picture. All will be sketched in pencil and afterward."

After that the sketches are projected on a sheet of watercolor paper. The pencil lines are finalized without resorting to an eraser, which could introduce unwanted oils. He then produces the final illustration in watercolor or gouache. 

Teague also traveled and sketched from observation with his watercolor set.

Quotes are from the book Forty Illustrators and How They Work