Monday, October 30, 2023

Memory and Imagination

N.C. Wyeth once said: “Every illustration or painting that I have made in the last thirty years has been done from the imagination or the memory.”

Wyeth quoted a teacher of his, Charles Reed of Boston in advising him: “The faculty of memory has become a lost function among American artists." He (Reed) blamed what he saw as the lack of mood and imagination in their work to this thought.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Concepts for Colossal Characters

Noah on Instagram said: "Imma need to see that Sonic the hedgehog one up close too."

Here you go, Noah. I painted Sonic in this baseball-card size preliminary sketch in casein before we started the Colossal Character event. Sonic is reaching over the City Hall building, lowering his hand to street level to give people a ride.

My preliminary sketch of Mario has him sitting in front of the building with his hands down by his sides. 

When I moved ahead to the finished stage, I shifted his head more in three quarters view and his hands where we could really see them. I switched from a vertical to a horizontal composition, and emphasized the converging verticals of the three-point upshot perspective.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Mario in Pasadena

Supreme Mario, 8x10 inches, gouache 

Leading up to Lightbox Expo this weekend, 250+ artists from all around the world got together to create plein-air imaginative art of Colossal Characters around Pasadena City Hall.

I imagined Super Mario giving people a ride in his hands. Watch out, though, because his nemesis Bowser is materializing behind him as a huge cloud.

Aaron Blaise was one of the orange-hatted mentors, and he animated a giant striding through town on the new Procreate Dreams app.

Kymba Plushner (LeCrone) and Gabriel Gonzalez of Blizzard Entertainment joined in, as did Wouter Tulp, Angela Sung, Marco Bucci, Gary Geraths, Michelle Lin, Airi Pan, and Jacki Li, plus loads of other pros, students and enthusiasts.

Thanks to everyone who took part, and if you missed it, maybe we can do something similar next year.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Super Duper Mario

Super Duper Mario made his appearance in southern California at a workshop I gave for Blizzard Entertainment artists in Irvine yesterday.

After a half hour chat on materials and setup, I did this demo painting using gouache over a brayer-applied sky gradient.

About 20 of the top artists for World of Warcraft and Diablo set up their paints and brushes and joined the fun, painting their visions of giant steampunk dragonflies, Mothmans, Bowsers, and huge pink kitties.


Here's Gabriel Gonzalez working on his picture. Each of us had a figurine or toy to help for reference.

It was a fun day out in the light for all of us, and good practice for today's Colossal Character event at City Hall in Pasadena.


Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Albert Sterner

Albert Sterner (1863-1946) was a British/American painter, printmaker, and illustrator. He is best known for his portraits, figurative works, and illustrations for magazines and books.

Sterner was born in London and immigrated to the United States with his family at the age of nine. He showed an early interest in art and began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia at the age of sixteen. In 1883, he moved to Paris to continue his studies at the Académie Julian and the École des Beaux-Arts. 

After returning to the United States in 1887, Sterner established himself as a portrait painter and illustrator. He created illustrations for numerous magazines, including Harper's Weekly, Scribner's Magazine, and Collier's Weekly. He also illustrated books by writers such as Mark Twain, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

In addition to his illustrations, Sterner continued to paint portraits and figurative works throughout his career. He was a member of the National Academy of Design, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1929, he was elected president of the National Academy of Design.

Sterner continued to paint and illustrate well into his later years. He died in 1946 at the age of 83. Today, his work can be found in numerous museums and collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Library of Congress.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

How Shishkin Used Preliminary Drawings

Ivan Shishkin, a renowned Russian landscape painter, used preliminary drawings to develop his studio compositions. He typically established a grid for enlarging the drawing to the final canvas, and he used ink to clarify the outlines of the trees in his preliminary drawings.

Mast Tree Grove (Drawing) by Ivan Shishkin

Once the preliminary drawing was finished, he would proceed to do a tonal underpainting in monochrome before painting in full color.

"Before starting the painting, you have to do a sketch to clarify the idea and plan what you're going to be doing on a big canvas." Sometimes he would also do a color study to work out the plan for the painting.

Shishkin continues: "It's also important to do a preliminary drawing [on the canvas] with charcoal. Put a layer of charcoal on a clean canvas and wipe it with a dry tissue. You'll have a smooth base tone, and you can draw over that with more charcoal. You can erase off halftones and lights using an eraser made from a chunk of black bread. If you do that you will get the effect of lighting you need, and then you're ready to continue with the final painting."

Friday, October 20, 2023

Anime Documentary

This documentary about how they used to make anime shows how animated films were created in Japan before computer interfaces took over most of the production process.

The video also shows some of the stresses of the work culture on the artists. The video is advertised as relaxing ASMR, but there's considerable tension below the surface. 

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Colossal Characters Coming Next Week

On Friday of next week, come watch as a dozen concept artists with orange caps draw and paint Colossal Characters arriving at City Hall in Pasadena.

Better yet, bring your own sketchbook and draw or paint your own giant-size character, and you'll receive a free button from Lightbox Expo to memorialize the event.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Are Light and Shadow Opposites?

There is a symbolic and even spiritual dimension to light and shadow. Several religious movements have dualistic cosmologies, conceiving of light in opposition to shadow or darkness.

Rembrandt, The Risen Christ

Some religious and philosophical traditions associate light with wisdom (literally 'enlightenment') and darkness with ignorance.

Others have revered light as positive and good, while regarding the dark side as evil. Judeo-Christian religions view light and darkness as opposing forces in the universe. 

There are lesser known religious traditions such as Manichaeism and Zoroastrianism that have developed this dualistic cosmology with stories of epic battles between heroes of light and enemies of darkness. Both religions emphasize the importance of choosing the path of light over darkness to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

Where do these ideas this come from? Well, if you’ve ever been outside in a forest on a moonless night, you know how the absolute darkness can overpower you and blind you. A candle or a lamp flickering in that darkness can seem like a victory over fear and vulnerability.

We rarely experience that kind of profound darkness in our modern life, especially in cities. There are only different degrees of dim illumination. And shadows in the daytime aren’t very dark at all.

When I consider the daytime world from a painter’s perspective I have to look beyond these ideas of shadows as a sinister force. I think instead of shadows as a partner or a friend of the light. Here are some of the takeaways:

Light becomes visible only with the help of shadows.

Daytime shadows aren’t the absence of light; they’re just just areas with weaker illumination.

You don’t increase the effect of light by driving out or eliminating shadows. You do it be surrounding and supporting the light with darkness.

If you want your picture to convey a feeling of light, the first step is to plan the shadows. 
Shadows surrounding an illuminated area enhance it and define it. My curiosity about the topic of light and shadow has led me to learn more about 

More at this YouTube video 


Monday, October 16, 2023

Want to Subscribe by Email?

If you're a regular visitor to this blog — or want to keep up with it — let me recommend a convenient way to receive updates. 

It's a free app called Once you sign up, you can enter the web address (URL) of whatever blogs you like. You can filter your subscription by keyword or frequency. Then you can specify how you would like to receive updates, such as by email or on a single news page.


Sunday, October 15, 2023

Mendelssohn's Watercolors

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) is best known as a composer, but he was also a watercolor painter.

He started keeping a sketchbook at age 13 and produced approximately three hundred artworks throughout his short life. Like most well-education children of his time, he was encouraged to document what he saw in pen and ink and watercolor during his travels with his family through Europe.

He created watercolor landscapes during trips to Switzerland, Italy, and Scotland. One of his watercolor depictions is of the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany, where he conducted a performance of Luigi Cherubini's opera Ali Baba in 1836. 

The watercolor may have been executed as a memento of the performance or as a betrothal present for soprano Henriette Grabau, who participated in the performance and to whom Mendelssohn gave two autographed, signed letters and two songs he composed.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Susie Barstow Exhibition

Susie Barstow (1836-1923) was a Hudson River School painter who is now enjoying a small exhibition at the Thomas Cole House and Museum in Catskill, New York.

The exhibit includes some of her finished oils, many of them from private collections, together with her field studies, watercolors, and demos. 

Barstow was a formidable hiker and outdoors enthusiast. The curators say: "Barstow often left her traveling companions to hike and sketch on her own, enjoying continuous bouts of wanderlust....It was not uncommon for Barstow to hike 8, 10, or 12 miles, only then to set down and commence with the task at hand."

I loved the fact that they included some small canvases just pinned on the wall, which makes it feel like you're visiting her studio.

The painting above was probably done as a composition demo. You can see her experimenting with the idea of putting a tree on the right, and then painting over it. 

Exhibit cases include some of the art supplies she would have used, including these "camel hair pencils." (Brushes used to be called pencils.) The camel hair was held by feather quills, with orange dowels put into the open end when they were in use.

The exhibition "Susie Barstow and Her Circle" includes paintings by other artists including paintings by Fidelia Bridges and Laura Woodward. It will be on show at the Thomas Cole Historic Site through October 29th, 2023.

For those who can't make it to the show, there's also a new book by Nancy Siegel called Susie M. Barstow: Redefining the Hudson River School.

Susie Barstow on Wikipedia

Friday, October 13, 2023

Nie Jun, Chinese Illustrator

We don't get to see many illustrated books translated from Chinese author / illustrators, but one book that made the journey is My Beijing by Nie Jun.

It tells four stories about a girl named Yu'er and her adventures with her Grandpa. The stories have a gentle human warmth, sense of fantasy, and optimistic spirit.

The style and character designs are different from what we're used to seeing, but they're remarkably accessible.

The stories give a glimpse into the daily life of a traditional Hutong neighborhood, based on sketches Nie Jun did on location. In the back of the book is a "Huton Sketchbook," reproducing some of those sketches. 

Nie Jun was born in 1975 and grew up inspired by pirated editions of TinTin and comic work by Osamu Tezuka (1928-1989) and Zhang Leping (1910-1992). He was also influenced by Akira Toriyama and Katsuhiro Otomo, plus the French comic artist Moebius.

 My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Panel at Lightbox Expo on Illustrated Novels

This panel at Lightbox Expo should be a lively discussion about picture books and graphic novels. Each of us will share what goes into our creative process when we make long-form illustrated stories.

For those who can't make it to Pasadena, I believe it will be made available on YouTube in 2024.


Wednesday, October 11, 2023

A Neon Sign in Montreal

Wing's Noodles is a small neon sign on a nondescript building in Montreal, but it represents a major manufacturer of Chinese noodles, egg roll covers, and wonton covers.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Talking About Lighting


At my talk on lighting at Lightbox Expo, I'll be covering a lot of useful stuff you probably didn't get in art school. And the talk is not just for concept artists and illustrators. It's for everyone.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

A Program That Describes Images

A free and open-source model called Llava lets you upload an image and ask it a question about that image. For example, I asked it what's going on in this one:

"The image depicts a busy street scene with a large yellow robot or machine in the middle of the road, causing a traffic jam. The robot is surrounded by several cars, including a truck, which are stopped or slowed down due to the unusual presence. There are numerous people in the scene, some of them standing near the robot, while others are scattered around the street. A few individuals are closer to the foreground, while others are further back, possibly observing the situation or waiting to cross the street. In addition to the vehicles and people, there are two traffic lights visible in the scene, one on the left side and another on the right side of the road. A McDonald's restaurant can also be seen in the background, adding to the urban atmosphere of the scene."

That's pretty good, but it seemed to miss the flipped car, the crime-scene tape, and the police car. So I tried it again on a very different picture:

"The image is a painting of a man and a woman, both wearing blue shirts. The man is standing on the left side of the painting, while the woman is on the right. The man is holding a paintbrush, seemingly painting the woman's portrait. The woman appears to be looking at the man as he works on the painting. The painting is set in a room with a chair located in the middle of the scene. The man and woman are the main subjects of the painting, and their expressions and postures convey the artist's focus on capturing their likeness."

No deep insights here, but it seemed to get the basics of what I was trying to show. Try Llava on one of your photos or paintings. You can ask "What's going on in this picture?" or a more focused query. It's free and doesn't require a signup.

Saturday, October 7, 2023


Durango, Colorado, casein, plein air. 

Hotspot priming helps achieve this light effect.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Madeleine-Jeanne Lemaire's Flowers and Faeries

Madeleine-Jeanne Lemaire (1845-1928) painted scenes of women in interiors, faeries, and flowers, using oil and watercolor.

Madeleine-Jeanne Lemaire, The Faeries, 1908, watercolor

According to S. Elizabeth in the new book The Art of Fantasy, "during her lifetime she created hundreds, quite possibly thousands of paintings of flowers and other plants."

Elizabeth continues: "Alexandre Dumas is noted to have said that 'Only God had created more roses than Madeleine Lemaire."  


Wikipedia on Madeleine-Jeanne Lemaire

New illustrated book: The Art of Fantasy. "Profusely illustrated with museum quality, full color artwork, The Art of Fantasy: A Visual Sourcebook of All That is Unreal is an impressively informative and truly inspiring collection."―Midwest Book Review

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

'Norman Rockwell Paints Modern America'

It's been a while since I posted about AI art, and it's amazing how far it has come.

These images appeared on Twitter (X) under the title: "Norman Rockwell Paints Modern America."

This one is called "Body Count."

I’m struck not only by the coherence of the images and the accuracy of the “1940s Illustration Propaganda” style, but by the high-level satirical insights about our culture's foibles. 

Does anyone know, was this generated with Dall-e3, and what were the prompts?

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Planter in Watercolor

I’m interested in the pattern of leaves, which are mostly light against a darker background. I paint around the leaf shapes, then color the leaves with a variety of light yellow greens and pale blue greens. The cast shadow appears bluer at its edges, and darker in the occlusion shadow near the base of the pot. I’m intrigued by the way the cast shadows stretch diagonally across the front plane of the square concrete base.


Monday, October 2, 2023

The Round Table

Arthur Denison calls a meeting in Waterfall City. At the Round Table, the humans sit on high chairs to be at the level of the dinosaurs.

Oil illustration from the book Dinotopia: The World Beneath.