Monday, December 6, 2010

1 hour

Saturday evening I went to a soundscape performance by Robert Fripp at the World Financial Center. It was about an hour and I spent the time sketching during the performance. I decided to see what would happen if I tried to make a painting in one hour based on some of those sketches. Oil on panel~ 5" x 7"

Friday, December 3, 2010

Deconstructing the "Astronomer"

For this post I'm going to look back at a previous painting, Alien Menagerie 004 • 天文学者 (Astronomer).

I wanted the astronomer to feature a cratered, lunar surface and an airless sky. Astronomer would be floating near weightless in the middle of the box. I went through various sketches I'd made over time, and found this one. It had a character I liked, and was the basis for the Astronomer.

These sketches outline most of the idea.
None of them have everything in place, but each of them contributed something to the composition of the final piece.

In preparation, I collected together reference photos. For inspiration, I pulled images of antique astronomical devices from the internet, principally telescopes, and armillary spheres.

I photographed the observatory at the New York Hall of Science Museum in queens NY. It's on one of the few remaining structures from the 1964 world's fair in Flushing Meadows Park. There's a lot of similarity from one observatory dome to another, but I liked using this particular one, modest as it is.

I also went to the internet for for photos of 1960's era control panels. Apollo mission control panels were what I was most interested in, but I found features I liked in photos of F-4 control panels as well. Then it was off to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City New York.They have the original Lunar Module, which was intended for the Apollo 18 mission to Copernicus Crater in 1973. More to the point, they have plenty of control panels with the sort of knobs and switches I was interested in photographing as reference.

The next step was a color study, and refinement of the idea in photoshop. It's an incredible advantage of digital medial that you can paint and revise an image rapidly. Mapping the star chart to the inner walls of the box for reference is a huge advantage as well I must say! All this would get painted later, but I really want to solve most of the drafting, composition, and color decisions in advance.

The previous three alien menagerie paintings all featured cyclopean individuals. I was concerned about painting yet another single eyed alien enough to have a look at a version with a few more eyes. Conceptually it worked fine for me and could be justifiable, but I wasn't sure about this one. I printed out 2 versions and hung them on the wall for a while. I surveyed the family. In the end, the singularity of just one eye to look through the telescope was more powerful. It seemed it was the correct decision for this piece after all.

Above is the final digital study. From this I would make a final pencil drawing on drafting vellum. I transfer it to a gessoed birch plywood panel with graphite paper.

While I like going into a painting pretty well prepared, with most of the important decisions made in advance, it doesn't preclude making changes.
I submitted the painting in progress, to some friends looking for critical feedback. It was pointed out that the head appeared to be balanced on the neck, as if it could easily roll off. Realistic, credible, alien anatomy, is not what I'm pursuing in these paintings, but as a matter of design, I knew the neck had to be fixed.

At one point I textured the control panel and facade of the box. While I liked that it gave the surface some detailing, I decided it was better to stay true to a flat gray painted metal that was characteristic of the Apollo control panels.

Time willing, I could do a several "Astronomers". I'd make a series of them, much in the spirit of Joseph Cornell's "Observatories". His work in general is one of the many influences that affect and inspire me.

Probably each would have to incorporate a star chart, maybe an observatory, and an antenna tower. Star charts and observatories have their place for pretty obvious narrative reasons. Antenna towers I find visually appealing, but it also implies a communication network. Would all the various astronomers be in communication with each other? Perhaps, but while I seek to construct a narrative (of sorts), I also prefer that it not be entirely explicit.

the original moleskin sketch was the source for this painting ~ alien menagerie extract 6

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Santa's from another planet

Need a holiday season gift idea?

I have some of my extracts available for $100 each. They're acrylics on Rives BFK paper, 8" X 10". They're available at and payment is processed through paypal. Click through the thumbnails, maybe you'll find something you like!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

update: 宇宙人 x.13

I'm happy to report that my second attempt at painting this one came out better than the first.

Process note:

The color palette I've been using for the these has been Lascaux: oxide olive brown, oxide yellow, oxide red and ultramarine blue. I've switched the ultramarine out for a Liquitex pthalocyanine blue.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

x.13 is missing

Actually I decided to start over, and repaint extract 13. It was overworked and getting muddy. Today, I'm skipping forward and posting extract 14 which I recently finished. I'll be working toward a better resolution for the missing 宇宙人.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

宇宙人 x.12

Three heads are better than one ~ another acrylic painting from my alien menagerie extracts.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

alien menagerie • extracts

Most of my alien menagerie project exists as piles of pencil sketches. The time I have to work on oil paintings is less than I'd like, so they take quite a long time to complete. "Extracts" is the name I've given to a series of more casual paintings that I can complete with more speed and spontaneity.

The aliens in these pieces are pulled straight from my sketchbooks. I'm not worried about setting up an environment for these, or how they might fit into a more elaborate piece or series someday. I like to think of them as plates from a journal or guidebook of various 宇宙人。

They're acrylics on Rives BFK paper (7.5x10"). It was really fun to pick up acrylics again for these pieces. I used them for most of my career as an illustrator. There's a comfort of familiarity that I haven't acquired for oils just yet.

Friday, October 1, 2010

getting the ball rolling: pencil sketches

Initially I was stumped by what the setting and dynamic of the winter creature would be. I considered a hibernating character. Perhaps the scene would be in a burrow, or maybe the box could be a freezer. I wasn't happy with the idea of painting a sleeping character though. On the upside, I rather liked the idea that came out of this line of thought, that we'd be viewing the scene through a frosted pane of glass with the center wiped clear.

Eventually I started playing with the idea of a snowman. Simple, obvious, though not 'biological', it served as a fun point of departure and pretty quickly evolved into the character I'm painting for this series. My snowman became white and fluffy, so now I'm working the balance between cute and weird.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Alien Menagerie: Winter • 冬 Maquette

Snowball on a stick is pretty limited as reference goes. To prepare for the painting I'm working on I built a model, or maquette.

I'd pretty much figured out how I wanted the alien to appear in my "winter" painting. With pencil sketches and a digital color study finished, I decided to go a step further than usual. I wanted to explore the building of a maquette. It's not a step in previsualization that I have ever used before. I arrived at this decision inspired by Jim Gurney's book IMAGINATIVE REALISM. His examples of the benefits of maquettes are priceless. My alien has some pretty absurd, if simple 'anatomy'. From my model, I wanted to learn more about how the fur could look, how the light falls on it, and the flow of the coat. It seemed even more logical to build a model, as stop motion animation characters were among my inspirational influences for this painting. There's some Rankin/ Bass abominable snowman in this fellow.

It's been a fun preliminary process. I'm keeping the maquette nearby while working on the painting, and this model doesn't melt under the lights.

*on upload youtube suggested I tag the video as "pets" & "kitten" hmmmm

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

reference photography

It's often a good idea to take reference photos when planning out a painting. Not a great photo, the lighting is poor, but I shot this as inspiration for the painting I'm working on.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Finished with Summer

When is a painting finished?

Sometimes a piece is finished by the necessity of a deadline, which can actually be a very useful. Lacking that, the question becomes more open ended. I've worked on this piece at various times, off and on. I considered it close to finished and sat it aside for months. I worked on other things and eventually came back and gave it more attention. I finally feel comfortable with calling it finished.

For a long time alien menagerie was a stack of pencil sketches and notes. I worked on and accumulated them for years without moving forward with them as paintings. Commercial work always took precedence, but slowly I've been finding ways to make more time for these pieces. I designed this guy a few years ago, while participating in an online design forum. It was a way to push my sketches and ideas for alien menagerie into a more fully realized form by making a digital painting weekly. The moderator of the forum had a thing about plants not being eligible as a source for creature design, so I took that as something to challenge in and of itself! I was quite fond of the result and knew I'd come back to eventually.

When I'm organizing ideas, I tend to think in terms of a thematic series. Lots of lists live among my sketches. This creature fit nicely into a series of four pieces on the theme of seasons. 春夏秋冬。This is summer.

Spring would be the logical place to start, but I didn't.

Winter is in progress.

This won't be a daily blog. Writing for me is a long process of write, erase, and write again, so I'm not a terribly efficient or confident wordsmith. That being said, I hope this becomes a useful avenue where I can express some of the thinking behind the pictures I make, and perhaps give a little insight into just what the heck I'm doing.

Finishing summer seems like a good place to start. September is a good time for starting something new.