Monthly Archives: December 2010


It’s December 26th today and I’m back in the studio after a two to three day hiatus.  Instead of patronizing Hallmark again for Christmas cards, I painted a picture of our kids during one of the first snowstorms back in 2004 or 2005.  I remember taking the picture when it was really snowing and I loved it.  I started a watercolor of it in my sketchbook sometime after the photo was taken but abandon it.  Every now and then it would resurface as I was cleaning and organizing my piles of art and sketchbooks.

Kids Painting 5" x 7", original ~2005

I’d found myself repeatedly staring at the progress I’d made, and say to myself: “You should finish that one John.” Then it would get shuffled into the to-do pile and slowly get buried again.  So this year, I started on a larger version of it and after about two or three short sittings and five hours into it the 8” x 10” painting was completed.

The first version was a 5” x 7”; in it I tried to mask off the snowflakes but could not figure out how to  soften the edges to make them appear out of focus.  There were too many of them and some were very small yet still fuzzy.  I could have splattered masking with a toothbrush to get that random effect but the edges would have been hard and this would not look right at all, so I decided to leave them out and figured I’d try adding them in digitally when I was done painting.

8" x 10" v2. Kids painting completed, no snow added.

I scanned the painting in, and did a little bit of touchup on the faces in Photoshop then tried for a few hours to get the snow in and gave up around 2:00 AM.  I scoured the internet for tips on how to paint in real snow with watercolor to no avail.  Then I went and looked for Photoshop tutorials and didn’t find much.  Then the light bulb went on and I decided I’d pull the scan into Illustrator and just make layers of transparent white circles of various sizes and blur effects and presto! I had amazing snowflakes.  After about ten minutes of making a bunch of them I just started a massive copy and paste and kept grabbing more and more and laid them over the painting.  Then I got a bit selective and sized a few really large to resemble the photo and began deleting some of the small ones to clean up the image some.  The end result was fantastic.  I have to tip my hat to those digital painters who use similar programs to achieve aesthetically pleasing results.  This watercolor + digital was my first attempt using a computer to enhance my art.

Photo taken during Christmas snowstorm ~2004-2005

8" x 10" Watercolor + Digital Snow (Illustrator)

This painting was fun for me, and it was a pressure free piece of work.  It was not for sale, nor going into some show or contest, it was just something I wanted to do for me and I really didn’t care how I was going to get the end result.  All that mattered was that I had the picture done in time to mail prints out as Christmas cards.

Last but not least, for the handful of readers here, I want to thank you all for paying attention to my blog, it’s has been a good way for me to express my thoughts about my work, rant a little, soap box at times and get my thoughts out on paper.  I hope what I have shared has had some shred of value to you the reader.  Hopefully year two, 2011 will be even more insightful for each of us.

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The Deep Pensive

Today was as ordinary as any other December day I suppose.  I went to work, went through the routines of the day and packed up at 4:30.  As I strolled to my car I began to drift out, leaving work at work.  It has always been easy for me to check out mentally from the daily grind.  Often music triggers this, and it has the ability to carry me to places I wish I could go:  distant shores, serene forests, lush mountains and places I’ve often read about in fiction or movies I’ve seen.

I long to be free from the mundane struggles that consume so many hours of our lives.  The older I get it seems that technology itself is a struggle, in that it seems to take up a bigger and bigger role in my life.  It is as if technology has become a pervasive necessity to everyone, with its hooks cutting deep.  Technology is inescapable really, and practically everywhere we go throughout our day, it’s there.   It is ironic in a sense, my view of technology now as opposed to say even two to three years ago.  I’ve become a technology whore, and it feels like I’m drowning in it.  Eight hours a day my job submerges me in it.  On top of the job, add to every waking hour: on the fly emails, text messaging, alerts, streaming music, social networking, twitter, smart phones, online gaming, cable, satellite, DSL, Ethernet, PC’s, printers, laptops, ipods, ipads, and you have more or less defined ½ the civilized world by the objects they use.  You see as much as I’d really like to check out, I can’t.

Even as I type this, in the coffee shop downstairs from my art studio, more people are sitting with laptops (myself included) than not.  What are they all doing? Blogging like me? Facebooking, surfing?  What they are not doing is talking, rather they are texting because they are plugged in.  “The Matrix has you…” really makes a lot of sense doesn’t it?  Perhaps I’m being negative and judgmental, but for me I think I would be far more productive as an artist with most of these technology trappings gone.   I could live without cable TV, a smart phone, my laptop, and hell even the internet.  Yes it would be hard, but I bet would have met my 2010 New Years resolution to paint twelve new paintings and read twelve books.  I managed to finish four new paintings and I am on my third book, so I’m achieving 25% of my goals, which if we were in school would be an F.

I don’t even remember what it was like to not be reachable 24/7.  How the hell did we survive the past 2000 years without instant communication anywhere we happen to be at?   When is the last time you had a moment of solitude, without your phone handy, the TV on or anything?  Can you think of a time in the last month that you went anywhere in public and didn’t see someone texting or talking on their phone?  When is the last time your wrote a letter, yes actually wrote a letter and mailed it with a stamp?

What is my point?  I guess it would be to try unpluging for a day, which may be harder than fasting for a day.  Well as hard as that seems, not painting for even a few days makes me feel as if I’m wasting away, procrastinating.  I guess that makes art as integral to my being as technology is to society today.  All I need is some good old fashion pigment, paper, water and some brushes and yes some good Vangelis music.  Before long I’ll find myself in the deep pensive, painting and ‘checked out’ from everything and everyone.

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Too Many Letters…

My Lord of the Rings Book Collection

When I took the photo of my Lord of the Rings Book collection back in October of 2007, I thought how great it would be to be able to paint it.  I knew then that I didn’t possess the skill to pull a painting like this off.  It was the letters that seemed impossible to ‘not’ paint.   Jumping forward three years, having finished this endeavor, I learned that my initial instincts were right.  I spent as much time on the letters or trying to work around them as I did painting everything else in the painting.

My best guess on time invested into ‘The Collector’ is approximately 100 hours.  Worth it? Yes now that I’m done.  During the process as the weeks turned into months I was sick of the painting and wanted it to be over.   I began the painting on June 20th working at the same time I started ‘Liquid Gladiators’.  June 20th!  It is almost December 20th… six months & 100 hours for one piece.  If I was a general that would be a pyrrhic victory wouldn’t it?  Hard to make this a living when it will generate me $1200.00 assuming I sell it.  Well, the hell with the math and time, it’s about the process and this one taught me some things.

First and foremost, letters are a process in and of themselves.  If anything requires ultimate precision it is lettering.  We are so used to typed print: Word, Photoshop, Illustrator, and the perfect text we see in almost everything we read.  I tried to hold myself to that standard with my hand and a paintbrush.  Close was the best effort I could muster.  After staring at the picture with a 0 & 00 round brush trying to paint a font that was maybe 8pt in size things just got blurry and I had to take breaks and take off my glasses due to the strain.  It’s hard to believe that the delimiter of my painting is going to by my eyes and not my willpower.

As much as I pride myself on being a transparent watercolor painter, I had to resort to opaque paint (gouache) to get the job done.  I relied upon this with about half of the books, and used masking for the other half.  White was also used to add in some highlights and it helped to compliment the metallic watercolors I tried out.  Overall I’m happy with my work and based upon early feedback from my friends and people on Facebook, this seems to be a very successful edition to my portfolio.

If I was a digital painter, I think this painting would have further benefited from what you can do with lighting effects.  It is very difficult to simulate sunlight on metallic lettering at such a small scale and make it believable.  The painting is a small step closer to who I am as an artist.  The subject itself speaks some truths about me though the image isn’t very narrative of anything particular unless of course you know me well enough, then I think the revelation manifests.

Hopefully this small step will be a turning point for me in moving my artwork into a more personal, thought provoking direction.  I’ve always had a strong interest in fantasy illustration and really letting my imagination come to life on the 2D.  The Collector skims the surface of a deep ocean of ideas I have.  There will be fantasy paintings in 2011, and I think there will be an audience for them just as I’m sure this painting has already.  Maybe then something deeper will be revealed in my work.  It is December 5th and the Spectrum 17 just hit the shelves and it is a swirling mass of painting ideas wrapped up in one book.  I get the itch to move over to fantasy every time I pick one up.  It is one of my favorite things about December each year.

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