Tuesday, July 8, 2014

North Cascades _ A Progress Check

View from the Switchback, Rainbow Creek Trail (WiP), 9x16, oils on panel
(the lower third's barely been blocked in but I'm "in the zone" and all is progressing swiftly)

18 oil paintings on panel, 58 works on paper (drawings, watercolors, and illuminated maps), 73 photographs, 3 videos, and almost all of the text! That's where I stand with the new book (The North Cascades: A Tale of Two Seasons) this week.

As things stand now I'll likely add two more panels and then turn my focus to selecting the final works on paper, photos, (maybe 2 dozen of each, I think) and videos. (Fewer of the latter -- maybe rounding it out to an even half dozen -- otherwise they can easily exceed a reasonable file-size limit for the book.)

More to come soon. (So, please stay tuned.)

A Word (or Two) About Custom Panels --

During my travel adventures I love to work on paper and panel. Both are versatile and compact. Un-cradled panels lend themselves particularly well to the rigors of working plein air. And Ampersand panels come in a wide variety of standard sizes that easel meet most artist's needs.

a 5"x14" panel (already toned) atop a 9"x16" panel

I also love to explore the creative potential of elongated rectangles (a format shape that is more common in oriental art and which I was introduced to while living in Taiwan many years ago.) And I especially find the elongated vertical and elongated horizontal formats of particular interest when working with landscapes.

Fortunately, the folks at Ampersand are particularly accommodating when it comes to the special needs of artists and were quite happy to produce custom panels for this project. You won't find my 9"x16" or 5"x14" panels in your local art supply shop or on any of the online retailers. But, if you've got something special in mind, you might visit the Ampersand website then click on "Products" > "Gessobord" > "Standard Sizes". Then scroll down to the bottom of the chart and click on the "For information about custom sizes please contact us." link and let them know what you need. Turn-around on orders is about two weeks, once the order has been placed. (They'll keep you informed at each stage of the process.) And customer service is outstanding!

Stay tuned for a follow-up article on a special project with really over-sized custom panels (Works that run 80" in width qualify as "over-sized", don't they?) from the folks at Ampersand.

And A Few More Words About Toned Panels --

As a general rule I prefer not to begin my paintings with a white surface. I find the glare under our Southwestern sun almost painfully harsh. And it's next to impossible to accurately judge the eventual hue and, in particular, the final value of color placed on a white surface. Any color (every color) will appear darker against a white background, and will appear to lighten in value as the white surface is covered with paint.

a standard 9"x12" panel toned (and textured) with Gamblin Yellow Ochre

For years I was in the practice of toning my blank canvases and panels with Gamblin Artist's Oil Colors Yellow Ochre. (I am particularly fond of how the ochre compliments the bright cobalt blue our predominantly cloudless Texas skies.) But, when my travels began taking me to places that experienced more variety in their weather I started experimenting with a more neutral (and a little more versatile) toning color.

After several experiments I have now been won over by Gamblin's Torrit Grey. First, because when I apply Torrit Gray with a variable brush pressure the paint film actually takes on a polychromatic appearance! That is, slightly thicker areas appear cooler and slightly "greener" (This can be explained by the fact that the dominant pigment in this mixed gray is phthalocyanine green.) and thinner areas appear to be warmer -- almost earth-toned (likely caused by simultaneous contrast.)

the range of tone and temperature in the Torrit Gray is due solely to 
variation in thickness of the paint film 

And the second reason I like Torrit Gray so much? It's free! If you aren't familiar with the Gamblin line of oil paints this may come as a surprise. But the story goes like this: each year Gamblin cleans the accumulated pigment out their Torrit air filters (These filters protect their employees from the potential hazards of breathing pigment particles.), mix the pigments with linseed oil, and give the paint away to their customers (through their retail distributers.) (Good for their employees, good for the environment, good for oil painters everywhere.)

Oh, and since the paint varies in value (from a middle tone neutral gray to a dark charcoal) from year to year, the company now dates each tube for artists who wish to build a collection of "vintages." (My pre-dating tubes of 2006 Torrit are a buttery middle-tone.)


Thursday, June 26, 2014

So, What's Next? (More Books, More Adventures!)

You might think after all the work involved in getting three books published in as many weeks that I'd be giving serious thought to taking a nice, long vacation. (Well, I will admit that the thought had crossed my mind.) But I've go s-o-o much material, and I feel like I'm kind of on a roll. So, I think I'll just keep on going till it's time to leave on the next adventure.

The Next Two Books --

Coming soon to an iBookstore near you!

Before I turn my attention to the next volume in the Drawn to Adventure series, I'm going to take a bit of time to finish up a two-volume series entitled The North Cascades: A Tale of Two Seasons. Volume 1 (Spring) documents the sights, sounds, and adventure -- through journals, blog posts, drawings, paintings, maps, videos, and sound recordings -- of my first season as North Cascades National Park's artist-in-residence in Stehekin, WA.

Adding finishing touches to one illustration panel...

The book is rapidly nearing completion (almost all of the text has been completed, and about three-fourths of the "visuals" are now in place) and, with a finished length of 130+ pages, this will easily be my most ambitious (and most profusely illustrated) book project to date.

...and underway with another.

Volume 2 (Fall) too is currently "in production" and will tell the story of our (my son and daughter were invited by the park service to join me as fellow A-i-Rs) second season as NCNP artists-in-residence.

I'll post regular updates here on the books' progress. And, in the meantime, I'd live to hear back from readers of the first three books. What did you like (or dislike) about the book(s) you read? What would you like to se more of? Was there anything you'd like to see less of?

Book Reviews --

Do you publish your own blog or write a newspaper/magazine column? Would you be interested in reviewing one (or more) of my books in exchange for a free copy of the book(s)? If so, please contact me and let's have a chat.

The Call of the Wild --

Why the unusual (and slightly uncomfortable) sketching position? 
(Watch the video below and see.)

After a few days in the studio or at the computer I have to heed the siren call of The "out-of-doors" (and, preferably the out-of-town out-of-doors.) So, at regular intervals you can expect a post that finds me and my day kit on sketching safari -- always with artwork included, sometimes even with step-by-step videos.

(I try to think of the "breeze", road traffic, and lawn crew as "aids" in honing my concentration skills.)

Far Away Places and Open Spaces --

And sometimes the wanderlust bug really bites deep. When I can no longer resist the siren-song (OK, admittedly, I don't try very hard to "resist.") you can expect posts as I hit the highways, byways, and even airways in search of new adventures -- and (if I'm really lucky) the subject for yet another "interactive, multi-media" book project.

PS, This is my first attempt at uploading video directly to Blogger instead of via YouTube. Please let me know what you think (and expect additional video posts soon.)


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Place-Based Journals and Digital Books

Well, it's been nearly two months since my last blog post. I've been "off the grid" but definitely not off the job.

The Clear Fork, cover

As most of you know, I enjoy traveling and exploring, and keeping a journal of both. And, for the past few months I've been exploring a new way (well, new for me) of sharing those experiences with others -- interactive, multi-media, digital books. Not one, or even two, but three books (with additional titles already in the works!)

The Clear Fork, pg. 19

The first book is entitled The Clear Fork and is a facsimile of a year-long exploration of the life cycle of an unspoiled stretch of the river of that name, which runs near our home -- the insects, plants, fish, fowl, and mammals that call it home and how they interact through the seasons (and how experiencing it all firsthand affected me and my children. The colorfully illustrated, hand-written journal is supplemented with additional photos and thoughts about our discoveries throughout.

Looking for The Clear Fork but not familiar with the iBooks Store? If you're in the U.S. you can use this direct link (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-clear-fork/id881307312?mt=11&uo=4). Or, if you're in one of the other 51 Apple markets you can find the iBooks Store within your online iTune Store and search by title.

Drawn to Adventure, cover

The second book is entitled Drawn to Adventure (Ireland) and is the first installment of our family's "slow travel" adventure in Europe -- through our journals, hand-drawn maps, sketches, plein air paintings, panoramic photos, and videos. In the introduction we talk about (and show) what was involved in planning and preparing (both physically and artistically) for our two-month voyage of discovery. Then we take you along as we begin the first leg of our journey -- again through words, drawings, paintings, and video. (Four future installments will take readers to the UK, the Netherlands and Paris, Normandy, and Germany.)

You can find Drawn to Adventure (Ireland) in the U.S. iBooks Store here (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/drawn-to-adventure-ireland/id886060856?mt=11&uo=4). Or you can search by title in any of the other 51 iTunes online stores worldwide.

click on thumbnails and they enlarge to reveal every brushstroke, panoramic hi-res detail, 
full-screen; click on embedded video to watch them full-screen HD

For over 30 years I've begun every new sketchbook/journal not with a drawing but with a quote; each quote the words of an artist, naturalist, writer, or philosopher who has influenced and inspired my life and my work. (And over the years I've completed a lot of journals. The third books is entitled Inspiritus and is a collection of some of my favorite quotes (presented as hand-written calligraphy) with pen &ink portraits of their authors.

U.S. "buyers" (remember, this book is free to download) can find Inspiritus at the U.S. iBooks Store beginning June 15. (I'll post a direct link here as soon as it is available.) All other readers can find the book by searching the title in your local online iTunes store.

Inspiritus, cover

All three books are available June 15 from Apple's 52 online iBooks Stores worldwide. Free samplers are now available of the first two titles -- with the full version of each selling for a very affordable $1.99 and $3.99 respectively. (For customer convenience, local Apple iBooks Stores will automatically convert the price to the buyers local currency.) And, best of all, the third book is offered free to all (in hopes that you'll find the words and images as inspiring as I have.) All are formatted to be read on iPhones, iPads, as well as Macs running the Mavericks operating system via the free iBook app.

Inspiritus, pg.25

Two other titles are already in the works, and additional installments of Drawn to Adventure will follow soon. In the meantime, I hope you'll take a look at my new books and mention them to your friends. (And I welcome comments and suggestions -- concerning subjects for future books, or how I might improve future editions of these books. (PS, updated editions of iBook titles are available free to purchasers of all earlier editions.)


Why the Apple platform and iBooks? There are, of course, several options currently available to ebook authors. However, I was specifically looking for a format that was particularly graphics/images friendly, enabled the embedding of widgets and videos, and would allow me to design a content-rich page layout.

If you have access to an Apple device, download one of the free samples and see for yourself what you think. And, if you have difficulty finding a title PM me with your country (but not your address) and I'll send you the correct hyperlink. 


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Pen Kimonos

As anyone who has followed my blog or visited my website can attest, I am a penman.

Don't get me wrong. I love working with pencils too, and I wouldn't start an adventure without one (or more) of my pochade boxes. But I'm certainly fascinated (my wife would sometimes say, "obsessed") with fountain pens; I like their history, their technology, their feel and appearance, and most of all I like drawing and writing with them.

the current selection of pen kimonos -- all one-of-a-kind!
Top Row: 1.Teapots, 2.Tropical, 3.Cowboy Boots, 4.Artic Wildlife
Bottom Row: 1.Sunflowers, 2.Fishing Lures, 3.Boots Too, 4.Teacups

Some folks (especially those with large collections) may opt to keep their fountain pens in display cases, where they are safe from dust and grime. But I like to have at least two in my day bag whenever I venture out of the house. Unfortunately, that raises the possibility of damage from the aforementioned dust, grime, and even dings, dents and (every penman's nightmare) drops.

my 24-year-old "daily carry"

Fortunately for me, my wife is creative in a wider range of media than I and came up with a lovely (and equally functional) solution several years ago -- the pen kimono! Using attractive fabric patterns for the pouch exterior, the "kimono" has quilting (to protect against shock or damage due to accidental drops) and two compartments (to prevent abrasions that would otherwise be caused by rubbing up against one another.

I've been carrying the original for over 24 years with no sign of wear or tare to pens or kimono!

applying bias-tape to one of the kimonos

Now my daughter (whose is quickly assimilating the artistic interests of both of her parents) has partnered with my wife to produce a new line of handmade one-of-a-kind kimonos for other fountain pen fans (a bargain at just $12 each!) If you count yourself among this group and see something you like, PM us. Please specify the kimono you're interested in (for example:.e member that these are one-of-a-kind. So, it's first-come-first-served. We invite queries regarding designs that have already sold, and will be happy to let you know if a specific fabric is available for special order.)

freshly ironed and ready to go! The difference between this one (which 
my daughter made for herself) and the two "Cowboy Boot" kimonos shown 
in the top photo demonstrate the one-of-a-kind nature of these pen carries.

Shipping within the U.S. is a flat rate of $6. If you live outside the U.S. PM us with your city and country for a shipping quote. All shipping comes with a tracking number. Please note that, in order to protect your financial security, all billing is done through PayPal. (No PayPal account? Not a problem. PayPal is happy to accept all major credit cards.)


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Back to Basics -- Facial Anatomy

In this week's lesson for the Back to Basics workshop I demonstrated step-by-step how to create a portrait on toned paper (http://www.strathmoreartist.com/artist-studio/about/). As a supplement to that video I thought it might be a good idea to offer some information about the structure of the human face for anyone who may be interested in this subject but who is approaching it for the first time.

We'll begin with a few general notes: first, all measurements will be based upon the overall height of the head (from the top of the hair -- NOT from the hairline on the forehead -- to the tip of the chin) and overall width (from temple to temple); and, second, this system of measurements is intended as a general "ruler" -- each person is unique in a variety of subtle ways, noting how your subject differs from the "rules" and depicting those differences is how you will achieve an accurate portrait.

centerline of the nose

First vertical measurement -- beginning with the face looking straight-on at you, imagine a line down through the center of the nose, from top of the hair to tip of the chin. Dividing that line in half will give you the (general) position of the eye line.

eye line

Second vertical measurement -- divide the vertical line segment running from the eye line to the tip of the chin in half and you have the position of the base of the nose.

base of the nose

Third vertical measurement -- divide the line segment running from the base of the nose to the chin in half and you have the position of the bottom of the lower lip (not the line between the lips.)

bottom of lower lip

First horizontal measurement -- with the eye line extended from temple to temple, note that the vertical centerline divides the face in half.


Second horizontal measurement -- divide the eye line segment running from the temple to the vertical center line in half. This gives you the position of the pupil of the eye.

inner corner of eye

Second horizontal measurement -- divide the line segment from the pupil point to the vertical center line will give you the position of the inner corner of the eye.

outer corner of eye

Third horizontal measurement -- divide the line segment between the pupil point and the temple will provide you with the outer corner of the eye.

NOTE: Each eye is one eye width. The distance between the two eyes is one eye width. The distance between the outer corner of the eye and the temple is half an eye width.

"wing" of nose

When the subject's face is relaxed (showing no emotion) --

  • the inner corner of the eye lines up vertically with the outer edge of the nostril (the "wing" of the nose)
  • the inner edge of the iris (the pigmented part of the eye) lines up with the outer corner of the mouth
corner of mouth

ear alignment

When the subject is looking directly at you, the top edge of the ears line up with the eye brow and the bottom edge of the ear lines up with the base of the nose. (If the subject pivots his/her head up or down though be careful to observe how the facial features also move up or down respectively.)

ear alignment with head rotated down

ear alignment with head rotated up

If the subject turns his/her head partially toward profile, note that measurements on the far side of the nose decrease due to foreshortening.(See the article on foreshortened circles for a review of foreshortening.) while the distance between the outer corner of the eye and the temple increases dramatically.

The neck is half the height of the face.

And, finally, once you have mastered the anatomical proportions of the head you can use it as a "unit of measurement" for the rest of the body (7 1/2 to 8 heads high, depending on the system you subscribe to.)

I hope you find this helpful (and human anatomy just a little less mystifying.) Watch for two more Back to Basic posts (which will conclude this series) soon... along with a sneak peek or two at some of the new adventures we have in store.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Back to Basics and the Zen of Traditional Pencil Sharpening (In Three Stages)

a well-used pencil in need of a thorough sharpening

There is something remarkably zen-like about the process of sharpening a pencil by hand with a traditional pen knife.

Phase 1 - the wood sheath has been tapered and lead is exposed 

When I'm feeling particularly frazzled by all the details and distractions of the day, sitting down and investing a bit of time in creating a truly fine point on each of my pencils before I actually get underway with a drawing session allows me to contemplate, to focus, to lower my heart rate and my respiration; it's sublime!

Phase 2 - lead has been tapered

Phase 3 - tip finished and ready to draw

 for quick reference while working I place my sharp pencils point up in the tin, 
and my dull pencils point down

If you've never sharpened your own pencils by hand before, I offer this little demonstration for your consideration. Who knows, you might just find the it as rewarding as I do (and, in the process, discover what a truly sharp pencil can do.)


two examples of the penknives frequently packed in my kit 

PS. If (like me) you travel everywhere with your sketch kit just remember: you can pack your pencils, pens, aper and erasers in your carry-on. But wait till you reach your destination to begin your adventure and ALWAYS pack your pocket knife in your checked luggage.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Back to Basics, Lesson 2 (The Foreshortened Circle)

Foreshortening is a visual effect experienced when objects recede (move away from us) in space: objects appear smaller as they pull away, parallel lines appear to converge as they pull away, and nearer objects may overlap and obscure farther objects.

All of that is fairly clear and, over time, we do a pretty good job of incorporating it into our artwork. But there are two things that can prove particularly challenging: the foreshortened circle, and the subconscious struggle between what we "see" and what we "know" (and which of these two we choose to depict in our artwork.)

(the circle is defined here in yellow)

What we know about circles -- a circle is a curved shape with a constant radius. This is also what we see if we view the shape from a 90ยบ angle. And, if we draw it, the circle could be said to have equal width and height.

What we see -- this is were things go variable.

viewed from the side (width, no height)

If the circle and our eye level share the same plane, we see the circle as a flat line (width, but no height.)

slightly beneath eye level - width and a little height (see the mouth of the pot)

farther beneath eye level -- width and more height (see the incised circles on the pot)

and further down still (see the bottom of the pot)

As the circle moves below our eye level the width remains constant while the "height" increases as the circle drops farther below your eye level. (NOTE: this will also occur if the circle moves above your eye level.)

our eye level is just above the vase, notice how the height of each lower 
circle increases in relationship to its width

If you bisect a foreshortened circle with a line running horizontally through its widest point, the upper curve will be identical to the lower curve.

How to draw foreshortened circles -- if you have a set consisting of more than one circle, begin with the circle on or closest to your eye level.

If you are drawing a complete foreshortened circle, place a straightedge (such as the handle of a paint brush) across the circle's horizontal width.

Observe and draw its upper curve.

Repeat the process with the lower curve.

Modify the upper and lower curves to match. (BE CAREFUL: Observe that the outer-most "points" on the circle are steady arcs, NOT points.)

(note the three incised circles curving down from the straightedge)

If you are only drawing half of the circle (for example, the forward half of a circle that passes around the outside of an opaque cylinder), place your straightedge across the widest part of the circle and draw the visible curve.

What you see vs. what you "know" -- probably the easiest way to discuss this conflict is by giving an example using the vase.

what we see vs...

...what we "know"

If the vase is below your eye level, the visible half of the circle that describes its base will curve downward toward its center. However, we KNOW that the base of the vase sits flat upon the table's surface. And, if we allow our subconscious to dictate what we draw (i.e., we draw what we "know"), we will inadvertently put our viewer's eye level in two places -- above the table and on the table's surface -- at once.

foreshortened circle (yellow oval) to the right of our line-of-sight

Final note: if we stand the circle up on one end we will experience the same foreshortening effects as the circle moves to the left (or right) of our straight-ahead "line-of-sight."