Pacific Marine Animal Studies

Some more studies from our recent trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I spent most of my time trying to capture a gesture or general feel for each animal, then tightened up my sketches later using photos I took and in some cases video, the puffins being the most difficult since they were very busy beasts! 

The jellyfish exhibits are like nothing else I've seen at other aquariums. Absolutely stunning.

Moon Jellies (above) are in abundance in the Pacific Ocean, however because they are white they look very similar to white plastic bags. Sea turtles have mistakenly eaten plastic bags and died as a result, one more reason to go from plastic to paper. 

I really loved these gentle sharks. Conservationists are concerned about them becoming overfished due to sport fishing along the Pacific Coast, where they live, mostly along kelp forests and rocky areas. 

Tufted Puffins are in abundance along the Pacific Coast, especially up toward the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. I loved watching them - this guy was very curious about us! 

The light shining through the water in the Kelp Forest exhibit made the anchovy schools look magical. Anchovy schools tend to gravitate toward long columns of kelp in a swirling spiral upward. Sublime! I did these studies from some video footage I shot and then painted various parts of different shots to make it all work together as a portrait of the habitat.


Next week Jamie and I will be busy sketching over Memorial Day weekend, so I will delay posting until the following week. Thanks for visiting!


Monterey Bay Aquarium/Color Studies & Sketches

Jamie and I recently went on a trip down the coast to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of my very favorite places in the world. We both brought our drawing, sketching, and painting supplies, including my new samsung tablet. Because most of my color sketching was going to be done inside the aquarium, I carried around my tablet in my messenger bag and took it out when I saw something I wanted to study.

As mentioned in my previous post, the primary reason I purchased the tablet was so that I could do a lot more color studies of interior lighting in situations where it would be difficult to take out my usual paints or pastels, places like restaurants, cafes, aquariums, museums, unusual interior lighting situations. Boy am I glad I did. Each time I would sketch from life in the aquarium, I would take a photo before I left. When I would look at the photo later, I noticed a HUGE difference - the camera most of the time did not capture the lighting effects I observed, and if it did, the spirit of that light was completely lost, subdued, or just not there. What an amazing learning experience!


Below are a few of my digital studies. I also did numerous pencil and watercolor studies of the animals in the aquarium, and a few pastels from up the coast. I will post those next week.

 The Kelp Forest. So glad I brought my noise canceling headphones for this one. There were deafening crowds of pre-teens on a field trip with their school. You never know what will confront you when plein air sketching - I highly recommend headphones if you sketch in public places. 

I liked the presentation of this display so much. The blue light spilling from the water and the  yellow-green reflections of the kelp were gorgeous. I felt the design stood well on it's own.

The sketch above is downstairs looking into the Sea Otter display, sea otters mostly spending their time up above water and only occasionally diving below. I noticed this perch watching people as they went by and thought it was funny...

Some sketches went faster than others. This one in the Deep Sea Exhibit was done in about 30 minutes. It was at the end of the day and just seemed to flow. I figured out a composition and story as it evolved in front of me. 

Of all the subjects I studied in the aquarium, this jellyfish display was absolutely the most difficult. I sat across from the display on the floor against a wall in almost total darkness. My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but when I looked down into the bright computer screen of my tablet, my eyes would adjust to that brightness, so that when I looked back up again at the jellies, I had to give my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness again. VERY tough! I spent a good two hours trying to capture the light of the tank. Wow, what a learning experience this sketch was! 

One sketch that I did not have time for that I saw over and over was the selfie in front of any given tank. Maybe next time.


I am going to start posting every Monday, as best I can, over the next four months. I have a lot of work to share from my latest projects, videos, sketches, paintings, progress on a few personal projects and the occasional workshop experience to share. 

Next week:

puffin studies, rockfish, jellyfish studies and schools of sardines studies. 

Thanks for visiting!


Digital Sketching | Leveling Up my Tablet

For a while now I've been sketching around town using my iPad. I like using a tablet for sketching when I am in situations where I cannot bring my usual pastel kit or oil painting kit for plein air studies. The iPad is light weight, fits in my bag, and can be whipped out without questions or funny looks just about anywhere.

Sketching at the Art Institute of Chicago

Until now I've been making good use of my iPad. I use the Wacom Stylus 1 (not 2) and the fantastic Procreate app. My only on-going frustration was the sometimes lag of the stylus and inaccuracy of the pen tip, as well as brush sizes and other issues that have often felt like painting with a giant crayon that I don't have complete control over. 

Frankly, I have been frustrated with Apple's lack of support and indifference for third party vendors who make styluses to use with their sketching, writing and painting apps. (Having worked in mobile games I know quite well Apple has rigorous internal checks before any app can be launched in the App Store - so why not rigorous checks for 3rd party devices intended to use with their products?!!) Additionally, it seems, I've been waiting forever for Apple to upgrade the iPad to run OS X so that it can run Photoshop or Painter, and - dare I dream - have it's own digitizer stylus. The iPad is cool, I suppose, but a tablet that can actually run Adobe software and be brought along in a bag is powerful stuff. 

Jamie painting in Golden Gate Park

 Here's The Skinny

Since about 2013, rumors have swirled around the internet about the secret development of the iPad Pro, which would run OS X and have a custom stylus. 

Most recently, rumors were that the iPad Pro would be announced this March, but the iWatch trumped that as Apple leaps into the wearables market. Still, rumors continue to swirl that the impending launch of the iPad Pro will be announced later this year, fall 2015. Still others are skeptical of a launch this year or even next. Ugh - I am tired of waiting. There are already several tablets on market available right now with a few being relatively inexpensive. Whenever the rumored iPad Pro does launch, one thing is certain, it will be an expensive version of the current iPads. Most likely more than I really want to spend for sketching around town. Even my plein air oil and pastel gear each came in around $500-$600 for the equipment.

Given my quest and budget, I identified what I'd like in a tablet and then set out to find one. 
I wanted these attributes:

between $300 - $600 max
light weight and slim
good battery life 
can run Photoshop
stylus with a thin and more precise tip, and good response with no lagging

Best Options:
Wacom's Cintiq Companion, $2000
Microsoft Surface Pro, starting at $800
Samsung Slate, a retired line which can be purchased new or refurbished around $450-550 on Amazon Marketplace. (I've seen it even cheaper on eBay and B&H Photo)

I know there are other tablets, but many of them get poor reviews, so I narrowed my choices down to the three listed above. After a lot of research & recommendations from friends, I opted for the Samsung Slate. 


Samsung Slate 

Out of the box I spent an evening fumbling around the Windows 7 OS, which I am not accustomed to. After I watched the on-screen tutorial for a few minutes, I was able to navigate around the desktop with the excellent digitized stylus. After I connected to my wireless account and accessed the internet, Windows promptly updated. 

I was then able to load the Creative Cloud app at $10 a month to run Photoshop. Since the Slate also has a usb port, an older version of PS can be loaded if you prefer. 

While I was researching the tablet, I found a great plug-in for Photoshop that enables two handed use in order to use the hot keys without a keyboard. This plug in, Art Dock, is also customizable and can be configured for either right or left handed use. 

When loaded, Art Dock allows you to work with one hand using your stylus for painting/sketching/drawing while the other hand hits hot keys - a very nice workflow compared to the iPad/Procreate model, where the stylus alone must choose everything from brushes, layers, colors, brush size in addition to painting.

The link for the Art Dock plug in and instructions for left and right handed docking is HERE.

For saving art, you can, of course, keep your files on the desk top (not recommended), upload your files to Dropbox (or another cloud based service) or save everything on a thumb drive using the USB port. Incidentally, I found the cover on the USB port difficult to remove and ended up using a sharp knife tip to remove it. Seems to work just fine now.

I also like the size of the Samsung slate. It's longer than the iPad, closer to the 16:9 ratio, which I like for studies, especially when studying film shots. The tablet also comes with a Sim Card slot and a camera, though not capable of video. That's ok with me as I usually carry my iPhone or a camera with me that can record when I need to.

Side by Side size comparison

Because the on-screen keyboard is awkward to use, you can also get a bluetooth keyboard and also a docking station if you'd like to use it as a casual computer.  I haven't purchased either of these yet and probably won't since I don't plan to do a lot of typing on the machine other than saving files.

When I finally got down to painting I felt like I was in HEAVEN! Using the Art Dock plug in plus sketching directly on-screen using PHOTOSHOP and my own custom brushes (uploaded from Dropbox) felt like I had been liberated from all the clunkiness that I was trying my best to be patient with. Pressure sensitivity is not that of a full blown Cintiq, but frankly, it is good enough for me to complete this sketch, below, without any complaints, lag time, or inaccurate brush calibration. The only noticeable oddness was that the screen sometimes changed brightness when the light changed, but that was due to the extreme changes in brightness of the television screen that was also in the room. This might be an issue later; if it is I will surely update this post. 

A quick process video using Flipagram

The final piece. I worked in my bedroom at night in three 45 minute sessions was able to finish this sketch. 

I don't know what your needs are for tablet sketching, but you might want to consider these options. If you have a budget, the Cintiq Companion 2 looks amazing. If you are like me with a pretty limited budget (this was already a splurge!), you might want to look into a refurbished tablet or take the Microsoft tablet for a whirl. Whatever you choose, I hope you enjoy a new avenue for plein air sketching practice. Please leave comments if you have additional info, good or bad experiences or questions.

Thanks for reading!


A Couple of Plein Air Digital Paintings

For awhile now, I've been trying to come up with an easier take-with-me-everywhere method of plein air sketching. I have full plein air kits for pastels, oil and watercolor, but often I find that even though I keep one of these kits in the trunk of my car, I usually don't feel inclined to bring it all in to a restaurant, coffee shop or on an afternoon trip downtown. I wanted something MUCH more lightweight and accessible - and the iPad has been it.

Here is a sketch from a recent day trip to the ferry building in San Francisco, a busy tourist-heavy area of the city. 

My main objective with iPad sketching is to mimic plein air oil paint using the alla prima technique, direct painting, as opposed to more labor intense methods. The idea is to work quickly on site and get it all down in about an hour or so of working. That means everything from gesture, composition, hue, value relationships and light relationships.

About the hardware: I have yet to find a stylus I am completely comfortable with; I am currently using the Wacom Creative Stylus 1. I am not keen on recommending it, however, because it feels like painting with a giant crayon. I unfortunately purchased the Wacom Creative Stylus 2 and found afterwards that it is not compatible with many painting apps, including Procreate. A few friends have given good reviews of the Jot Adonit Stylus, which is far cheaper and compatible with a lot of apps. 

In the Procreate app, I created a set of swatches in the color picker that are the standard colors of my basic oil painting palette, plus a few white convenience colors so that I don't have to constantly mix the same color over and over. Using these swatches helped me in getting a similar look to traditional paintings, although I think I could still fine tune the set. 

In addition to that, I am still trying to refine my brushes to find a working method that mimics traditional brushes. Procreate provides a set of brushes that you can then customize, but  I have yet to find some that are to my liking.


I recently purchased a refurbished Samsung Slate series 7 because it can run Photoshop, Painter, Zbrush and other programs that you usually run on a full machine but on a tablet. 
I plan to merge over to that in the coming weeks. 

Also, I have some really exciting projects I am currently working on that I can't post about. Soon! Please stay tuned for more stuff! 



Composition Breakdowns

In a recent class I took at the Animation Collaborative with the inspiring and seriously talented Armand Baltazar, we had an assignment to break down the compositions of narrative illustrations from visual development artists. 

We had to 
1. write one sentence describing the story of the piece, 
2. describe the point of view (POV) of the piece, and 
3. describe the emotion intended by the piece. 

After that, we drew over the composition breaking down these elements:
 4. the division of the graphic plane (the graphic shapes that make up the composition),
5. Redline the division of depth and mark the foreground, middle ground, and far background,
6. Mark the center of interest,
7. Redline where the eye moves across the piece.

This was an excellent exercise in understanding the architecture of a picture and the thought that goes into guiding the viewers' eye directly to the center of interest. I highly recommend analyzing compositions in this manner for anything from drawings, paintings, and even sculptures to increase your own narrative compositional chops.  

Although the exercise appears simple, I learned a great deal by analyzing each piece. There were some pieces that I haven't posted which failed compositionally; the artist meant the eye to go to one place but unfortunately the eye focused elsewhere. 


In other news, I am still working on painting illustrations, about 20 in all, from three personal projects that I am really excited about. My paintings and development pieces have been on pause since January because I am designing on an exciting unannounced project at Ghostbot

In the mean time, I've been doing some digital speed paintings which are akin to exercising. I usually dedicate about 3 hours a week to either digital speed painting or alla prima plein air sketches done traditionally, either Friday morning or Saturday morning, and then spend maybe about an hour for editing video and posting. Starting in two weeks, I'll begin posting my efforts once a week on Mondays here and on my youtube and vimeo channels.

Please stay tuned!


Year of the [Electric] Sheep

In 1968, Philip K. Dick wrote a groundbreaking book, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, which was later turned into the film, “Blade Runner”,directed by Ridley Scott. Perhaps the best (at least to me) science fiction film and story of all time. Douglass Trumbull designed all of the practical effects, a profound inspiration on science fiction film and myself all these years. In honor of Year of the Sheep, I did this speed paint.

An auspicious year. 

Year of the [ Electric ] Sheep. 


Credits: Recorded with Camtasia Studio. Edited in iMovie. Painted in Photoshop CS 6. Initial base layer texture from Cgtextures.com. Custom brushes. Observational study of a sculpture I photographed in the Louvre in 2012, a marble vase originally in Versailles. Music by Vangelis, "Blade Runner". 


Hello 2015

Instead of coming up with New Year's resolutions for 2015, I've been compelled to think about 2014, and all the years that came before it. 2014 was my 20th year as a working professional artist in art departments of all kinds, from commercial animation, game art, short films, print and packaging illustration, gallery shows, auctions and finally, in the last few years, as Art Director. The ups and downs of being an artist are, well, pretty extreme, but thankfully over the years my experiences have taught me to try to keep a lid on the drama in the most disruptive/stressful times and try to be the best problem solver I can be. Curiously, in more recent years, I've had the experience of non-art departments questioning the value in having any quality art at all - a strange thing for a life-long artist to defend and justify my own existence when obviously visual communication is more important than ever in this globally interconnected age. 

In my personal work and on-going portfolio refinement, I've tried as best I can to challenge myself, usually by taking course work with various artists outside of my usual day to day work as a designer. I like to expose myself to ways of art-making that are different than the ones I was brought up on and I especially enjoy research of traditional methods of the past that have been handed down (or not) to our present age. I honestly find any hand made and traditional art utterly more satisfying than digital art, and at the same time I enjoy the challenges of creating images digitally that deliver on the expectation the audience requires. I also enjoy the profound way that artists are interacting with the culture at large today, which is different than it was in the past, mainly through film and games as well as other interesting points of distribution via smart phones and devices. At no other time in history has art been so accessible.

Surprisingly, I have found that even with the rise of the atelier classic education, storytelling and narrative visual design has been strongly neglected - again, strange, given that we are in an age of storytelling unlike any other. I feel as though I've focused enough for now on traditional methods and now I'd like to expand in other important directions. I have been actively seeking out narrative based artist-teachers like the fabulous James Gurney and teachers (and working artist) Armand Baltazar, and other amazing visual development artists who teach at the Animation Collaborative, the Pixar founded film design school in Emeryville, where I currently take classes while on my extended sabbatical.

This is a great time for me as I've not had a break from working since I was about 16, my very first job being as a cashier at McDonald's just outside West Point Military Academy where my father taught and where we lived. I've been working hard ever since, all throughout art school and after, often accepting freelance work while working full time and trying to fit painting time in at the Palette and Chisel in between. All the while, it seems that I neglected, usually by life circumstance (translation = very little money to survive), to develop my own voice in my art, since most often I've focused on "how to" rather than grander concepts. Being completely independent since I was about 20-21, I feel like I've been in a constant panic to pay the rent and bills, and that has led over time to some neglect of my personal artistic development. I suspect this is a very, very common problem amongst those of us who aspire to become artists in the first place and then gamble on making a living as such.

So I've decided: 2015 is going to be a pivotal year for me. Currently my days are packed to the brim working on some new projects that I am excited about sharing over the coming year as they gain legs and come to life. I have a couple of projects for clients I am busy with and a few stories that I've written which I am busy designing art for in order to expand my visual development skills and deepen my storytelling/narrative painting chops. 

I am excited to share my endeavors throughout 2015 on this blog. I hope that your artistic journeys are also bringing new avenues of development, challenge, and most of all - joy.

Happy 2015! Let's demand it's a good one.



A Goblin Shark for Adelle

A few years ago my good friend Adelle Caunce, artist of Biguglyfishies.com, sculpted a paper mache goblin shark and photographed it for her website. Soon after it was picked up all over the internet by sites like reddit, i09, I F******ng Love Science, with articles assuming that this was a real photo of a real goblin shark and not a caricatured sculpture. At first it was funny because although it is a sculpture, no one seemed to be able to tell. However, after a while, Adelle and friends had a horrible realization, Adelle's photo of her sculpture was widely distributed all over the internet, memes were made, pins were pinned on pinterest, and yet there were no link backs or photo/artist credits made. Even today, when you google "goblin shark" you will find her photo along with real photographs of real goblin sharks with no link backs or credits. 

The internet is a wild, crazy place, and for artists out there, we need to be careful about making sure our work is not distributed uncredited. There have been many horror stories all over the world of artists' work being made into all kinds of retail items from jewelry to pillows and ornaments by big name retailers who should know better. In this image hungry culture we live in, artists are easily taken advantage of, apparently. By the same token, as media users we should be very wary of news stories and images. Adelle's goblin shark was sited by scientists (!!!) in articles about the wonders of the deep.

I've added some credits hoping that google picks up the credited photo in searches for Goblin Shark.

In honor of Adelle's birthday, I painted an illustration and drink recipe of her goblin shark for a recipe book that her lovely husband Steve put together. 

Painted in Photoshop using Adelle's Goblin Shark design.

Be sure to visit her site! She has a huge array of beautiful paper mache sculptures and has even been featured on tv! Biguglyfishies.com and biguglyfishies.blogspot.com



CTN Expo in Burbank and new website updates!

Hey Friends! I will be attending the CTN Animation expo in Burbank, California this upcoming weekend in order to show my portfolio, get some much needed feedback, meet up with friends, go to lectures and geek out over all the awesome art! 

Here are a few highlights from my portfolio. Although I am in the midst of working on a couple of story projects, I put together this basic portfolio with highlights from those projects (still so much more to come) and a couple of images from my game experience. I'm going to the expo with the intent of getting some feedback on the personal work so that I can focus for the next few months on what I need to accomplish.
Here are some highlights (not necessarily in order, and not everything):

I also updated my WEBSITE for the first time in ages. 

Hopefully this is a good "jumping off" point for the coming months as I develop my work.  I also am working on a small self published book of about 30 pages. Hopefully that will be finished next year.

Jamie and I went the first two CTN shows, the last of which Jamie had a table. We had such a blast, but in the past few years we have been pretty derailed by life events and haven't attended any shows anywhere. In fact, this year I will be attending alone. Hopefully Jamie will join me next year. 

If you are at the show and see me, please chat me up and hang out! 

Hope to see you there!