Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Interview with IO Remote

An association of German illustrators called IO Remote just released this video interview (in English) with me.

At 20 minutes in, they ask about digital tools and AI images, a topic that has been bouncing around the illustration world lately. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Sleeping Pigs

Sleeping pigs, pencil and gray wash

These pigs enjoy a summer afternoon on the barn floor. They twitch in their sleep as they dream about running, rooting, and eating.

Monday, August 29, 2022

John Oliver and AI Art

John Oliver and his team produced this witty video explaining text-to-image systems like Midjourney. 

(Link to video). Oliver shares some of the images the people have made portraying him, including one where he marries a cabbage. 

The results often fall short hilariously and bizarrely misunderstanding basic relationships. 

The failings of AI encourage him to generate his own surrealistic tableau, showing what's possible in the real world if you've got a big budget, professional expertise, and an imagination.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Iridescent Pileus Cloud

Photo by Beckie Bone Dunning

An iridescent pileus cloud forms when tiny frozen ice droplets above the top of a cumulonimbus cloud bend the light into colorful bands.

Below is an even more amazing image claiming to be of an iridescent pileus cloud.

This screengrab is from a viral video posted by Twitter user Science Girl, who later took the image down, not sure of its authenticity. A fact-checking Twitter account called Hoax Eye later determined that the image was manipulated. Already, AI-generated images have started to appear of iridescent pileus clouds

If you're wondering whether a given image is a real, photographic capture or a faked image, one of the best ways to check it is with reverse image search. Drag the image into the search bar of Google Images and you can figure out where the image originated and where else it has appeared.

This is a pretty benign example of a questionable image. With so many photo-real fakes appearing right and left, we have no choice but to be skeptical about the authenticity of everything we see online.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

What do you think of vertical video?

 I don't do TikTok, but the Instagram platform is pushing us all toward TikTok-like short, vertical videos.

I've tried various ways of creating vertical videos, and I have to say I'm not a huge fan. Severely cropping a horizontal video to make it a 9 x 16 vertical loses a lot of content and detail.

I liked Instagram better when it was optimized for artists and photographers. But I guess it's a lesson to us that if we want to build our careers on social media, we've got to roll with the decisions of people who run these platforms.

Whether the gamble will pay off for Mark Zuckerberg is yet to be determined, but I have a feeling most artists, illustrators and photographers aren't too happy with the way he's forcing things.

What do you think? How are you adapting?

Friday, August 26, 2022

Sketching Chicken People

Sometimes I like to sketch on location guided by a bizarre fantasy premise.

Such as....Chicken People!

Watch the new YouTube video.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Dinotopia: The World Beneath Now Free on Audio

Dinotopia: The World Beneath is available as an immersive podcast with actors, music, sound effects and dinosaur voices.

It was produced by Tom Lopez and ZBS Audio. You can listen free (with ads) at this Dramafy link

Wrap it around your head and it will sweep you away to another world. You can get the signed book here: Dinotopia: The World Beneath

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

If people had cars for faces.

I sketched these at a car show, replacing people's heads with their cars, and jotting down random comments.

"I've got my mechanic on speed dial." 

"Why do I have to do all the talking?"

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Costume Sketch Class

This costume sketch class is drawing a model in a Civil War costume. In the far room, plaster casts are standing in the soft light. 

It's a mixed group of men and women, with men sitting in the front row. They're working from the light of a skylight, just visible in the upper left. The room is set up for electric light as well. The upper electric light has a curved blocker to keep the light from spilling into the far end of the room.


Thanks, Kev!

Monday, August 22, 2022

Dinosaur Vision

"Dinosaur eyes take in a wider field of view, bending in at the edges like a glass globe filled with water. Nothing is gray or drab or dull; rather they see swimming particles of color, a moving mosaic of dancing colored specks. As we would see a starscape in the night sky, they see a sparkling 'lifescape' in the woods by day, a world teeming with life.

"Some humans can see with dinosaur vision, Bix explained: artists, poets, and children. But for the rest of us, as we grow older, the mammalian part of the brain clouds over the older reptilian part, and drains away a little of the glory of the world."
From 'Dinotopia: A Land Apart from Time,' 

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Egyptian Funerary Portraits

Realistic portraits adorned the tops of the caskets in Roman Egypt. 

The portraits were first discovered in the 19th century, and even to this day no one is completely sure how they were painted.

Some of the portraits are painted over a dimensional, sculpted base layer.

Modern researchers are carefully scraping off bits of paint and discovering the mix of wax and pigments. They're even using machine learning models to understand the patterns of brushstrokes. 

But they're not much closer to knowing who the artists were or what they were thinking.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Should We Change What We See?

Pine, 1892, by Ivan Shishkin

It's an age-old question: Should you as a plein-air painter try to capture exactly what you see, or should you deliberately make changes? 

Ivan Shishkin said: "The main thing for a landscape painter is a diligent study of nature. Because of this, the picture from life must be without imagination." John Ruskin said that the student should: “Go to Nature in all singleness of heart, and walk with her laboriously and trustingly, having no other thought but how best to penetrate her meaning, rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing.”

I don't think Shishkin is really dumping on imagination. Instead of the word "imagination," we might substitute "conventionalism" or "idealization." 

I sympathize with what Shishkin and Ruskin are advocating. There is a real joy and challenge for trying to capture exactly what's in front of you without changing or editing or "improving" it. Of course attempting to copy a scene from nature in all its color and detail is not really possible. You have to make choices and simplify something, because you can't capture it all. 

Back in the studio, armed with these studies, the artist can assemble the raw material of plein-air studies to create a virtual world of imagination.

I like having a lot of different conceptual approaches ready, like arrows in a quiver, when I head out. Sometimes when I'm on location I want to hold a mirror to nature. But other times I like to exaggerate, elaborate, or invent a fantastical scene while looking at nature.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Dover Stone Church

Dover Stone Church, watercolor
Dover Stone Church in Dutchess County, New York is a dramatic split in a cliff face of metamorphic rock.

If you step on the rocks in the stream that flows across the floor, you can enter the space inside, which leads back to a 30-foot waterfall.

Now, Dover Stone Church is part of a 174-acre public preserve. It's a short hike to the site, and a great place to spend a summer afternoon.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Cream of Wheat Ad Art

Nabisco hired the best illustrators in the early 20th century to create a warm feeling about their Cream of Wheat cereal products.

Many artists of the Golden Age of Illustration as N.C. Wyeth (top), Haddon Sundblom (above), and Jessie Wilcox Smith, contributed work to Nabisco's advertising efforts.

A cache of over 500 drawings and paintings were discovered, locked in metal storage cabinets at the old company headquarters. Long believed lost, these prime examples of advertising art were a surprise to illustration historians.

Notes accompanying the records revealed that the agency fee paid to the artist typically ranged from $200 to $1,000.

Examples of Cream of Wheat Advertising Art on website Period Paper


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Dennis Nolan, 1945-2022

Professor of illustration and children's book illustrator Dennis Nolan died yesterday in the company of his family after a long illness.

He posed for a watercolor portrait demo during one of my visits to Hartford Art School in Connecticut. Dennis taught illustration for many years at Hartford.

“You can forget everything else I taught you,” he would tell his students. “But I want you to remember just two things: how to place the horizon line, and how to draw an ear.” 

It’s rare to find a well-drawn ear these days, he said, even among professional artists. “Most people forget to show the leg of the helix descending into the conchal fossa,” he said. “And not many artists know about Darwin’s tuber.” 

Dennis Nolan taught his own mental model of art history, which questioned the standard view that the mainstream evolved from academic art through impressionism to modern and contemporary art.

That model leaves out comics, illustration, and animation It’s as if narrative art vanished from the face of the earth. But it didn’t disappear in the 20th Century. Like jazz and rock and roll, it flourished.

Dennis’s diagram puts the storytelling forms squarely in the center of the mainstream history of art, where they directly inherit the legacy of the ages. The modern movement still plays a significant, if culturally marginal, role as agent provocateur.

Dennis offered his students a solid grounding in fundamentals: animal and human anatomy, composition, color, and perspective, very much in keeping with the way art has been taught for centuries. 

He curated an important exhibition called "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition" at the Norman Rockwell Museum which traced teacher/student lineages going all the way back to the Renaissance.

If Dennis Nolan touched your life in some way, please share a story in the comments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

A Dinosaur-Eating Mammal

Here are two concept sketches of the Cretaceous mammal Repenomamus.

It's an extinct badger sized animal who raided dinosaur nests.

I also made a maquette out of an air-dry craft foam.

The finished painting of is fully documented in a Gumroad tutorial called "The Mammal That Ate Dinosaurs."

The illustration appeared in an article on paleo mammals in Scientific American.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Collaborating on a Glamour Illustration

Fritz Willis and Joe DeMers were two young artists who collaborated in an interesting way.

In 1946, they were picked by Esquire magazine to create the inaugural illustration for a new feature called "Esquire Gallery of Glamour." 

They decided to work together on it and to sign both their names to the result. According to a 1951 newspaper article quoted in Illustration magazine

"They worked closely together, Joe sketching the left eyelid, Fritz the blue in the white eyeball, Joe the left toe, and Fritz the fourth one. Or they might each work on a complete section. DeMers himself explained one cooperative effort: 'Fritz took the arms. I took the face, then he did the feet and I painted the legs.'" 

The new issue of Illustration includes a big article on Fritz Willis, famous for his brilliant pin-ups. It also features paperback cover illustrator Raymond Johnson, with an extensive biography and showcase of his work, plus an academic article called "The Delineation of Desire in 1920s Commercial Illustration."

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Ambiguous Images

Take a look at this picture. What do you see? When you look at it again, do you see something else?

Image courtesy Steve Stuart Williams and Tim Urban

Most people see a man, off balance, running into a snowy forest. Then after looking again, they see a dog running toward us. Some people see the dog first and have a hard time seeing the human.

What's going on is that there are two opposite streams of information processing going on in your brain. One stream is like a camera. Light enters your eye and resolves into shapes and patterns that move to the back of the brain and up through the cerebral cortex to higher level processing. 

But while this is going on, the brain is constantly generating theories of what it's seeing and delivering those theories down the pipeline, optimizing what you're actually seeing to fit its dominant conception.

All along you're reality-checking the top-down theory against the information coming up the pipeline from the eyes.

If the first top-down reading doesn't continue to fit the bottom-up facts, you start generating new interpretations.

A similar process happens with auditory processing when you hear a gunshot...or was that a firecracker?...or was someone popping a paper bag? You can feel your adrenaline surge when you think it's a gunshot, and all that changes when you realize it isn't.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Two Ways to Input an Image Generator

There are two basic ways to generate and image with a system like Open AI's Dall-E 2.

One way is to write a text prompt such as "Outer Space Man action figure."

Both images so far were generated that way.

You can also upload a photo (above) into Dall-E2 and let it create variations (following): 

I find the first two text-prompted images a little dull, and the remaining three variations seem both horrifying and hilarious. There are a few interesting new ideas in there, but for the most part they look lumpy, awkward, weird—sometimes funny and sometimes disturbing.

I don't think we need to worry (yet) about this technology taking over from human designers.

Friday, August 12, 2022

Holding Your Water Cup

My water cup for sketching is a 2-ounce Nalgene cup stuck to the steel palette area by neodymium magnets embedded in 2-part epoxy putty. 

There are lots of other sketch-tech tips in the Facebook group “Sketch Easel Builders.”

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Creatively Collaborating with People and Machines

Here's the collab painting after I added Reddy Kilowatt and his little buddy in the upper left.

It's a group effort by me, Ten Hundred, Kiptoe, Jess Karp, and Greg (Craola) Simpkins.

Here's a link to the the new video about it on YouTube. 

After finishing my section I got access to Dall•E 2

OpenAI, the creators of this new computer-generated art system, describe Dall•E 2 as an "AI system that can create realistic images and art from a description in natural language."

I tried writing a prompt to see if it could generate a character that was similar to Reddy. 

For this one, the prompt was "Reddy Kilowatt is a marionette puppet from the 1950s, waving to us, Rolleiflex TLR photo."

Although I didn't use Dall•E 2 in my creative process this time around, it was interesting to try this experiment. 

The technology still has a way to go in terms of image coherence and collaborative interface, it's one of a powerful set of new digital tools that many artists are likely to adopt into their creative process.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Collab Premiere tomorrow at 11AM

Should I burn this painting? Find out what happens tomorrow, Thursday, at 11AM New York time, when I premiere a new video about a big YouTube art collaboration experiment.

I join in with YouTubers Ten Hundred, Kiptoe, Jess Karp, and Greg (Craola) Simpkins.

The video also includes a visit to the toy collection of Mel Birnkrant, AND my first experiments with the AI art program Dall•E 2.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Menzel's Skull Studies

 Skull studies, Adolph Menzel, charcoal with white gouache highlights

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Warm Winter Scenes

Some of the most effective winter scenes are essentially warm in color. 

John Everett Millais - Glen Birnam

The camera doesn't usually see it that way. Cameras would probably see the fine branches as blue.

A City Fairyland Winter 1886 Copley Square Boston by Childe Hassam