March 30, 2009

Amazing Cologne Cathedral

Germany has an incredibly beautiful cathedral in the city of Cologne. The Koln Cathedral's classic gothic architecture is a symbol of human devotion. The stone blocks have darkened over the years making it look even more ominous. Six centuries of artisan handiwork went into this huge building. And it IS massive, as these aerial photos will show.

Stepping out from the train station, its presence will smack you in the face and you wonder if you're at Hogwarts Castle.
I managed to get a shot of myself on the steps of the plaza with the amazing spires and facade details (including gargoyles) in the background.

But the interior was even more incredible. I moved among throngs of tourists to view the religious carvings, alters, floor tile designs, and stained glass windows. This place is a photographer's dream. I generally suck at it, but taking hundreds of shots means I'm likely to get at least a few keepers. The arches and columns were symmetrically elegant and the windows, just glorious.

After hours of gawking and snapping away, it suddenly happened... For a few brief moments, the sun found its way through the clouds and this huge room became even more surreal as the rich colors poured themselves off of the stained glass windows and spilled onto the columns and concrete walls. It was SO cool.

The central alter made me think of what a great stage, with built-in drum riser, it would make.

There are nooks and crannies that hold dramatic carvings and ancient treasures.

Then I climbed the south tower... a spiral staircase of large stone blocks as steps. The stones were worn down an inch or two in the center of each step from centuries of monks and visitors going up and down. I paused at the bell tower, caught my breath and continued up the 500 stairs until my legs were weak and wobbly.

When I reached the spire, I looked up and the sunlight just streamed in through the open designs in the roof.

What an amazing experience.
I hope I get to go back someday, and if I have a heart attack from climbing those steps... ah well, it's not the worst place to die.

March 27, 2009

Life Drawing

One of the most valuable exercises for an artist to tackle is the human figure. When I was fresh out of school in the late 1970's, I took several life drawing classes at the School of the Worcester Art Museum. I was struggling and couldn't afford the course fees, but fortunately for me, they had a wonderful scholarship fund. Year after year I signed up and was repeatedly given the opportunity to attend these courses for free. I took illustration, painting, sculpture and life drawing classes. It remains a great museum school with great courses and great teachers.

Below is one of the drawings I did from a live model. I sketched it in about 20 minutes with a large black crayon.

I just love the way her legs and feet get bigger as they get closer. The lines are simple and clean with a minimal amount of shading. It's one of those drawings that I couldn't bear to toss out (or should I say, "bare"?)

The human figure is an amazing thing to draw and the most gratifying part of it is being able to give her life... she's not just a drawn object, but alive. I look for that in other artist's work and strive for it in my own. It's something more than accurate proportions. It's many things; flowing lines, composition, form, weight, the pose, the attitude, the technical aptitude...

I've been keeping this drawing in a portfolio book for decades. Over the years, the paper has slowly developed this wonderful sepia-toned patina which, to me, has increased its beauty. I've scanned it and touched up a few tears and marks but it remains fairly just the way I sketched it all those years ago.
...And that girl never grows old.

March 20, 2009

Three Moonbeams

I don't know why I keep painting this. i suppose it's because I want to get it right. This is the third time! The first was in the late 1970's. I was about 20 and wanted to try painting a moon scene using oil paints where the moon silhouetted a craggy mountain with a hole in it and a beam of light coming through the hole was casting a long shadow. It was very blue and dark and foggy. It did not include water or palm trees, just a lot of fog.
It hung for years in my studio. I was never really happy with the fog but the mood was very intriguing to me. I just love what moonlight does to the landscape. It was entirely Ultramarine blue paint and I either added black or white to it.

Over the years, I moved a few times and the painting got banged around. Eventually, I put it in storage (which damaged it further) and having moved to Maui, I noticed that I was missing it. I decided to paint it again only this time in acrylics since I had become more proficient with the airbrush, and living on the west side of Maui right on the water, I had a wonderful reference to paint from. So I added the ocean and the palm trees.
The result was a 24" x 36" painting that I immediately had professionally framed and hung up in my bedroom.

Five years went by and I moved to central Maui. That's when I noticed a smudge on the painting which I hadn't noticed before. Looking closer, it became obvious that it was a splotch of mold. On ALL my acrylic paintings, when they were finished I sprayed them with a protective clear coating. I forgot to do that with this one. I hung it up at the new place and figured I'd pull it out of the frame someday and try to wipe off the mold. As the years went by it got worse, but I really didn't notice because it hung in a darkened hallway. But mold LOVES the tropics.

A few months ago I was preparing for a show and trying to put together some new digital work. That's when I took a good look at a surface covered with mold. I mean it had its own ecosystem in the frame. I think I saw buffalo roaming the grassy plains in there. It was so bad that I took it out of the frame, scanned it in sections and tossed it in the trash.

Working in Photoshop, I had to piece the sections together and began repainting over every square inch, every pixel. Amazingly, it slowly came back to life within a couple of months. I tried to make a print of it on watercolor paper and was disappointed. Watercolor paper absorbs ink and the blues and blacks were just dull and flat. Then I tried printing it on photo paper and was pleasantly surprised. The blues were rich and the blacks were deep. It's the best version yet, and hopefully, the last.
Prints of "Moonbeam" are available on my website on glossy photo paper, limited to an edition of only 100.

March 17, 2009

Evolution of a Book Cover

When I was first asked to illustrate the children's book "Hello Ocean", it had a different name. The author, Pam Munoz Ryan, had written a poem about a little girl experiencing the ocean through her five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste and she had called the manuscript, "The Five of Me".
The publisher may have thought it was too vague and other possible titles were being tossed around. I was doing pencil sketches to illustrate the poem and this was the first sketch I did for the cover showing the little girl holding a starfish. I thought the starfish could be somewhat symbolic of the five senses.

I sketched a second one that looks over the girl's shoulder as she reaches for the starfish. At least this one showed a bit of the ocean. There are also five fingers, five toes, five shells and five seaweed leaves!

Coincidently, I sent them five sketches to choose from. I had the third sketch focus more on the ocean and I was getting ready to paint a nice beaming morning sky.

For a fourth sketch, I thought I'd give them my own suggestion for a title. In the five sections of the book, the little girl says that she loves how the ocean looks, she loves how the ocean sounds, she loves how the ocean feels, she loves how the ocean smells, and she loves how the ocean tastes. So I thought it might be beneficial to have a more emotional title like "I Love the Ocean!".

At the last minute, the editor at the publishing company said they had thought "Hello Ocean" would be a good title, which is the first two words the girl says when she arrives at the beach. This last sketch turned out to be the one they chose.

Also, sketch number two was a close runner-up and turned out to be the Title page which is the first page inside the book.

March 16, 2009

Using a frisket to paint

"Cold and Lonely" is the title for this piece. The background sky, snow, and water reflections were painted using an airbrush.

It can be tricky to use an airbrush because when you spray one area, it requires that other areas around it be masked off. In this case, I completely covered the smooth bristol paper with a frisket. A frisket is a clear plastic film that has a light adhesive on one side. Covering the entire sketch, I then used an Exacto knife to gently cut through the frisket film without cutting the paper beneath. First, I used a metal ruler to cut along the four sides of the entire painting. Then I cut along the mountain ridge following my pencil lines. I peeled up only the sky area and sprayed it blue. The frisket masking still covered the mountains and everywhere else.

Once the sky was colored, I replaced the piece of masking I had pulled up from the sky area. Next, the masking covering the mountains was peeled up and sprayed. Replacing the sky-masking kept over-spray from going into the sky. Laying in blocks of color like this throughout the painting is a tedious process. After each section is sprayed with color, all the masking is removed and the fun of adding the details with brushes begins.

Spraying just the right amount of paint is the tricky part of airbrushing. Spraying acrylic paint through the tiny nozzle of the airbrush requires that it be thinned down. Spraying it on too heavy could cause it to seep under the edge of the masking. You don't notice this until all the masking has been peeled up and you suddenly find an ugly blotch of dried paint. In time, I learned to paint in several thin coats letting each one thoroughly dry.

This painting was published in "The Butterfly Counting Book". What does it have to do with butterflies? Absolutely nothing! The author, Jerry Pallotta, thought it would be fun to start this counting book with the number Zero. There are zero butterflies in Antarctica -the only continent where there are NO butterflies.

I decided to title it "Cold and Lonely" because the Emperor Penguin seems like he's all by himself in this cold environment. With the global warming awareness, it could also seem like he's watching his world melt away. What do you think?

The original painting is for sale on my website.
A limited edition of 100 prints are also available.

Light is the Root of All Beauty

Every morning when I get up, I go to the window to see what the sun is doing to the sky and to the ocean. When I leave the house I can't help but notice the moving shadows on the sidewalk from palm trees dancing in the wind. I'll pull over on the highway to photograph the mountain if the clouds happen to be doing something interesting. I try to catch every sunset and every moon, because every time I see these things, it's like seeing them for the first time.

I've been drawing and painting since I was a kid. And lighting everything from heavy metal rock bands to ballets. Lighting a stage and painting a canvas are very similar activities in that they both deal with color, contrast, symmetry, timing and execution. Sometimes it's all about impact and other times call for subtlety.

I'm using this opportunity to blog about the craftsmanship of my painting for anyone who might find it interesting to read about the process, the inspiration, or the purpose behind the paintings, Linked to my art portfolio website, you may find a piece that you like and maybe you'll read a little more about how and why that piece came about. There's a place to comment if you like.