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!



"The Toad"

I've been taking part two of Armand Baltazar's visual development course at the Animation Collaborative in Emeryville, across the street from Pixar. 

It's been an excellent course for stretching basic visual development skills; it is restricted to sketching in black and white with many exercises designed to challenge design skills. I feel so fortunate to be taking this class with Armand. His teaching and feedback demos are nothing short of fantastic. Watching his draw overs of both my homework and other student's work has been a profound learning experience I will carry with me for a long time on the road to becoming a better designer and storyteller. 

Here are a couple of finished pieces from an assignment. I wanted to explore the "Toad" character to show who he is publicly and semi-privately. I wanted to bring the main image, "The Act" into full color in order to show the glory of his celebrity in the fairy forest world. :)

"The Act"

"Flirty Toad"

 "Fan Mail"

"Promo Shot", Toad's celebrity promo shot in the fairy forest world.

 I have a couple more sketches that expand the portrait of who the Toad is and will update this post when I complete those. I'm tempted to paint all of these in full color - and I may do that after CTN when I have a little more time. A short story is brewing in my head about this guy and his band of fairy-circus performers.

At the end of the course I'll post a bunch of the sketches from class too. So much fun stuff to inspire me working on illustrations for awhile! :))

Thanks for reading!


"Stubble Trubble", independent short film project

In the late 1990's, I worked on a short independent animated film at Calabash Animation called, "Stubble Trubble", directed by Joe Merideth. At that time, the studio had a steady stream of commercials that kept almost all of us very busy throughout the year, but on occasion there would be a lull in the schedule. During that time, we always had short films to work on. "Stubble Trubble" was one of two indy films that I art directed, and what a learning experience it was!

Below are a few samples from the mountains of visual development pieces I created for "Stubble Trubble". In the end, the film toured the short film festivals all over the world and was even nominated for an Academy Award in the short animated film category in 2001. After all of that hard work, it was amazing and so satisfying to have been recognized for the effort we made in making this film. 

Because Director Joe Merideth specified that he would like "Stubble Trubble" to look like animated cave paintings, I felt that a color script was necessary so that the film didn't become too monotone. The pencil tests that Joe developed at this point were full of energy and action, so I wanted to make sure that each scene was emotionally heighted by texture, lighting, and color in order to make those scenes feel dramatic. I had to balance the cave painting look with something that felt alive and kinetic. I developed a color script for the entire film, experimenting with how one scene's design would flow into the next and whether or not the lighting and color design worked scene to scene.
Once the script was approved by Joe, I was able to move forward with background texture explorations, line work development, lighting and compositing. The color script was the frame work for the entire film all the way to the final edit.

After I developed several visual development look paintings, I began working on the line work clean up look. I used one of Joe's scenes from the pencil test to develop a complete scene using this line work process to test whether it would work frame to frame. It did, so I developed a model packet and process for clean up and then trained the crew in the process. I even filmed a short clean up process video so that the animators could refer to it when needed.

 Above is a still from the final composite. We tested out how this would all come together in one scene to make sure this was a producible film. Joe, my director, was happy with the look so we moved forward with the final fim production. Below are a few more still from the final film.

"Stubble Trubble", directed  and written by Joe Merideth. Produced by Calabash Animation. Art Direction by Julia Lundman. Animation was entirely done by all of our amazing animation staff at Calabash.


This is the best quality I have of this film - but it will get the idea across. 


THE TIME MACHINE: Visual Development with Armand Baltazar/Animation Collaborative

I recently took a visual development course at the Animation Collaborative, taught by senior visual development artist Armand Baltazar, who has worked for many years in animated film, with credits on Dreamworks, "Shark Tale", "Spirit", and "A Bee Movie", as well as Disney's "Princess and the Frog", and more recently Pixar's "Cars 2", among many others. Of all the classes I've taken in recent years, I found this course to be perhaps the most exciting. I've always been deeply interested in visual storytelling, although I've not always had ideal opportunities to practice that very fine art to the fullest I've wanted. So when Armand's course came up on the roster and time in my schedule allowed, I jumped.

Aside from my own interests,  I feel a good visual development class is an excellent experience for any artist at any level to go through. So many of us have grand ideas around stories, world building and stylization, but how many of us have really gone deep into our visual storytelling skills? If you've not had the opportunity to take such a class, I encourage you to find one or else pick up a few good "art of" books for film, games, and television.

 Regarding this specific class at the Animation Collaborative, I felt it was absolutely worth it. Armand was a fantastic teacher and really put in a lot of extra work and effort in teaching the class, even staying late to give back really valuable individual feedback, paint overs and advice tailored to each student. Each class was chock full of fantastic information about visual development, portfolio development, and tips and techniques for working quickly, as is required on any project in development.

For the class we each picked a classic book to visualize as an animated film. I picked HG Wells', "The Time Machine", a book that I illustrated years ago, but unfortunately didn't do a very good job of it due to the extremely rushed deadline. For years now I've wanted to revisit the story, and have imagined a reboot tailored toward an animated young adult film. I thought I'd share my character design concepts here, and later will share more development. Over the course of the next year I'll be working up ideas around this story and will share more as I solidify ideas.


My Time Traveler in my reboot of "The Time Machine" is a young woman in present day. When I draw character sketches, I like to keep a very, very simple line with almost no detail. I like to save any modeling or texturing for painting. I really enjoy the challenge of trying to capture a gesture in as few lines as possible.

I envision the Time Machine device to be wearable tech made up of everyday things like hacked ipads, iphones and a laser tag vest. Like in the original book, the time machine does not move the individual through space, but only through time.

Imagine what happens to those digits after thousands and thousands of years of swiping/touch technology… I enjoyed working on my take on the ELOI quite a lot. I envisioned them growing tall and thin with elaborate hairstyles and lots of adornments. 

 The Morlocks live in underground caves where they have evolved eyes that allow them to see in the complete darkness. They live amongst the ruins, pollution and grim of thousands of years of human corruption.


Below are some quick color comps and sketches of what I have been developing around story moment ideas. Most of these are pretty quick, like 2 hours each or even less in the case of sketches. All of these are meant to be exploratory in nature, and will eventually become more finished paintings. I can't wait to work on these!

 I've long been a fan of Douglas Trumbull, well known in the film industry for his innovative special effects on movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I wanted to emulate his effects in some way, and have envisioned the bottom row of images to be my take on time travel effects.

 This is my quickie version of a future city, although I have plans to iterate on this a bit more. Given that our class was only 12 weeks and I only had the weekends to work on it, I felt that I didn't have enough time to really dig through this juicy subject. Looking forward to exploring some more concepts!

Hey, who doesn't need a hot Eloi boyfriend in the future? Actually, this is one aspect of the story that I am quite excited about: the friendship between The Time Traveler and Weena, in my version female (time traveler) and male (eloi). I think this can be resonate with the story themes in some unusual ways - I'm so excited to work some more on these ideas.

I actually have a number of additional sketches and comps, but they are still a little too compy to share. Hopefully soon! 

As I continue to develop my ideas I will post. I hope to put a little book together by sometime next summer, if all goes well. 

Thanks for reading!!!