Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Why isn’t there a good Dinotopia movie?

Here's the short answer: It’s not easy to create an adaptation of the first two books that preserves the utopian appeal of the world, but also introduces enough conflict to make it work as a three-act drama for adults. If you make it too sweet, it feels corny or preachy; but if you give it too much edge, it feels wrong for Dinotopia.

In today's Wednesday deep dive on my Substack page, I share my thoughts on the challenges, pitfalls, and opportunities of adapting a dinosaur utopia to the film medium.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Creative Ruts vs. Wide Focus

One of the challenges of my career has been how to channel all my crazy vocations and avocations.

Which is why I laughed when the editor of Watercolor Artist Magazine (Spring 2024) asked me about dealing with issues at the opposite extreme.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Line Weight Hierarchy

If you draw in line, there’s a principle called line weight hierarchy. Thicker lines seem closer and more important, while thinner lines float to the background.

Examples by Charles Dana Gibson, Gustave Doré, and Alphonse Mucha at the link.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Custom Knitted Vest

Jeanette custom-made this vest with the v-neck a bit lower so that I can get to my shirt pocket, which always has reading glasses, fountain pen, and pencils in it, for drawing emergencies.

The design is based on the Shaped Vest (Plan 14) in Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ book “Knitting in the Old Way.”

After she swatched it for gauge, she set it up on size 7 needles, at 4.75 stitches/inch. Six rows equals one inch in stockinette. The pattern is pretty basic—just a matter of doing some math, beginning with that essential chest measurement and length, and then turning the percentages into stitch counts. It’s also completely seamless too. I love it. It’s just like a second skin.

If you’re on Ravelry, you can find Jeanette at “gurneyknitter”

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Two Unknown Art Students Riding the Rails

Before he was the Painter of Light, and before I was the creator of Dinotopia, Tom Kinkade and I were two unknown and penniless art students.

We had grown weary of sitting in windowless classrooms enduring lectures about art theory. We hatched an audacious plan to drop out of school for a while, hop on a freight train, and discover America.

Our goal was to document everything in our sketchbooks. Our heroes were Lewis and Clark, John Steinbeck, and Jack Kerouac. My mother was so terrified of the fate that might befall me (her brother was killed by a freight train) that she took out a life insurance policy on me.

On September 16, 1980, a friend dropped us off at the Los Angeles freight yard. We spotted a boxcar with an open door, threw our backpacks into it, climbed aboard, and sat in the shadows waiting for the train to start rolling east.

(Read the rest on Substack)

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Lighting and Photographing a Maquette

If you want to paint an imaginary scene that’s lit by believable outdoor light, set up the maquette outdoors.

Set it up against a simple backdrop. Spin it around and try lighting it from different angles. 

Everything will scale correctly—meaning the quality of the light, shadows, and reflected light will be the same as they would be at full scale, relatively speaking.

Monday, January 22, 2024

Should You Paint Your Reference Maquette?

There are various options for painting reference maquettes. 

Should you paint it white, gray, or polychrome?

Sunday, January 21, 2024

Thomas Moran's Use of Memory

Although most of his studio paintings were painted in oil, Thomas Moran preferred water media when he was traveling and sketching. He also occasionally produced small watercolor and gouache paintings for collectors on commission.

Thomas Moran (1837-1926) Upper Falls of the Yellowstone, watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper, 12 ¾ x 10 in. (32.4 x 25.4 cm.).

Writers of his time described his gouache paintings as “rapid, racy, powerful, romantic specimens.” 

Moran said: “In working I use my memory. This I have trained from youth up, so that while sketching I impress indelibly upon my memory the features of the landscape and the combinations of coloring, so that when back in the studio the watercolor will recall vividly all the striking peculiarities of the scene visited.”

Thursday, January 18, 2024

What's Coming

I've got a lot of new things coming your way in 2024: new books, upcoming videos, and my new forum on Substack. It's all in this video on YouTube:  

This will be a year of growth and change. Let’s start with Substack.

Those of you who are just looking around and dipping a toe in the water will probably want to be in either Visitor or Free mode. Visitors can just come by and check out the recent posts with no commitment.


If you choose to share your email, you can get the posts sent to your inbox.

I'll send out four free posts per week for free subscribers and one post a week (the Wednesday deep dive) for paying subscribers. 

In yesterday's deep dive, I shared details about the upcoming books and YouTube videos, and I invited input via a poll and a Speakpipe link about what subjects people would be interested in.

Check out more on my Substack page. 

Monday, January 15, 2024

Pro Tip: Skies are a source of light

Skies are a major source of light, and they should generally be painted lighter than they appear.

A wash of very light, cool, color is often enough to convey the feeling of a blue sky. Any small form that is seen against a bright sky should also be painted or drawn lighter than it appears. You see this effect a lot in photos, especially old photos, where tree branches and wires and poles gradually become lighter and melt into the bright sky. To achieve this effect in a watercolor painting, I establish a light “ghost wash” across the whole sky and then carefully lighten the values of all forms intersecting the sky, keeping those forms in the same cool family as the sky. In the painting below, I use blue-gray watercolor pencils for drawing such forms.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Review of "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst

 “Typography is the craft of endowing human language with durable visual form, and thus with an independent existence. Its heartwood is calligraphy — the dance, on a tiny stage, of the living, speaking hand.” —Robert Bringhurst

A guidebook on typography doesn’t have to be beautifully written, but this one is.

"The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst provides a comprehensive guide to typography, covering its history, principles, and practical applications. The design and presentation of the book is inspired by Strunk and White’s equally classic treatise about writing, The Elements of Style.

Bringhurst’s book is a valuable resource for typographers and designers, delving into the mathematical and scientific aspects of font design, making it indispensable for those interested in creating and using fonts.

Core principles:

• Clarity and communication: Bringhurst emphasizes that the primary purpose of typography is to help convey the meaning, so as a result he suggests that the first step for the designer should be to read and understand the material.

• Rhythm and harmony: Typographic design should contain qualities of rhythm and proportion, resembling music or poetry. These qualities are achieved with the help of letterform design, kerning, and leading.

• Respect for tradition: Bringhurst tells the story of the evolution of type design, with plenty of examples from different points in history. 

Key areas covered:

• Individual characters: The book explores the design of individual letterforms, discussing the effect that shape, weight, and spacing have on legibility and aesthetics.

• Typeface selection and combination: Choosing the right typeface and combining multiple typefaces effectively are crucial aspects of achieving a harmonious design.

• Page layout: A designer's toolset includes such factors as margins. columns, section heads, and footnotes, and Bringhurst explains how different ensembles of these factors are suited to different kinds of content.

• Special characters: Bringhurst takes a look at punctuation marks, diacritics, and other features that come into play when designing in other languages.

Bringhurst goes beyond all these technical details to discuss the philosophical and ethical aspects of typography. The type fonts we use, and the way we use them, are like the clothes we wear, subject to taste and tradition. But typography represents the clothing worn by ideas, so getting it right is especially important.

More info about The Elements of Typographic Style

Check out my new Substack page

Friday, January 12, 2024

When to Use Casein vs. Gouache

The Sleepy Knitter asks: Why [would] an artist would choose casein over gouache OR gouache over casein in an individual painting scenario? If I were you and preparing my plein-air kit for the day, what would make me choose the casein kit over the gouache kit, or vice versa? I'm debating whether to upgrade my student gouache kit to a professional one or instead to buy a professional casein kit. 

Hutton Street, casein

SK, good question. Of course casein and gouache are both water-based media. Both are opaque and both dry with a matte surface. You can even use them together. But the differences are notable. 

I often prefer casein when I want a fuller-bodied paint and a more closed surface when it dries. Casein can feel more like oil paint as it comes off the brush, giving you a more buttery tactile experience. When I am in an "oil mood" I often reach for casein. 

I painted for many years in oil, but I've mostly put that medium aside because of the toxic mineral spirits and the difficulty with cleanup. Also, casein is typically less expensive per cc than either gouache or oil, allowing you to use it more freely. 

On the other hand, gouache is a great choice for its fine detail capabilities and a wider range of color choices. It generally offers a higher pigment concentration and can provide a smoother, more precise finish. Gouache is also retains its solubility even after it dries, whereas casein resists reactivation once dry. 

Finally, the aroma of gouache is negligible, while casein has a striking "cleaning-solvent-like" smell that you should test first to make sure you're OK with it. Some folks love it and some don't like it, but I wouldn't use casein in an enclosed space among strangers in the wild for that reason.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

The Costumes of Dinotopia

Question: "What were some of your inspirations behind the style of clothing seen in Dinotopia?"

One day when I was just starting on Dinotopia I got a phone call from an artist friend in New York City. He told me that a big costume rental company was selling off its overstock of worn-out rental costumes, and I’d better get my butt down there now.

They were getting rid of stuff from theater productions, including capes, doublets, gowns, and robes. There was also a Dickens era jacket that was perfect for my 19th century protagonist Arthur Denison. I came home with a hodgepodge of old styles— baggy pants, vests, and all sorts of glorious fabrics.

I also bought a lot of clothing from my friend Lena Dun, who owns Moresca and makes costumes for Renaissance fairs.


Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Sundt-Hansen's 'Burial At Sea'

Norwegian painter Karl Sundt-Hansen depicted a somber scene aboard a ship after the death of a sailor.

Karl Sundt-Hansen (1841-1907) Burial at Sea, 1890

A foreshortened body lies shrouded under a flag, while his bareheaded shipmates gather around. At the head of the body, a bearded man reads prayers as his widow quietly mourns.  

Their faces, captured in various shades of grief, explore a range of human characters and tell a story of shared mourning and stoic acceptance. 

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Can Red Goggles Improve Your Vision?

You can improve your eyesight by exposing your eyes to three minutes per day of pure red light. 

According to Medical News Today, exposure to 3 minutes of deep red light once per week may improve vision, particularly color contrast vision, by an average of 17%. It is recommended to consider a brief weekly exposure to deep red light, with a specific hue of 670 nanometers, to potentially improve declining vision.
Buy link for red goggles
Thanks, Frank and Virginia!

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Meyerheim's 'Remains of the Meal'

Paul Meyerheim chose an unusual subject for this painting: 

Paul Friedrich Meyerheim (1842-1915) The Remains of the Meal
oil on canvas 138.7 x 176.3 cm, 1879

An outdoor meal that was abandoned by humans has become a feast for a flock of chickens and a couple of sparrows. The big rooster is the featured star of the action, strutting across the tablecloth.

It's an interesting twist on the classic Dutch still life painting of a table after a meal, and a scenario that would have taken some imagination to assemble.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Scene in a Laundromat

Laundromat. Three hours to kill.

I deploy easel and chair next to a washing machine. I leave just enough floor space for people to squeeze past me with their laundry hampers.

Takes a while to draw in all those darned colored gumballs. It crosses my mind: What if someone wants to actually buy a gumball and mess up the arrangement?

Should I post an "Out of Order" sign on it? No time. Gotta get it laid in.

Wait, what? A kid sneaks up behind me and jams a quarter into the slot. He spins the handle before I can say anything. Each time he cranks it, all the gumballs shuffle around inside.

“Hey, my still life!” I protest weakly.

He pops the gumball in his cheek and narrows his eyes. “What are you doing?” he says, between chews. “You an artist?”

Monday, January 1, 2024


Did any of you make a New Year’s resolution to go out sketching or life drawing on a regular basis?