0

Beards, Mustaches, and Mr. Smooth-Face McKinley

I recently had a relaxing weekend at home and was able to get a good amount of work done. The final projects for my M. Ed. are due in a couple weeks, so I spent most of my time on those, but when I needed a break I did some reading and worked on my presidential sketches. I finally finished Harry Ammon’s James Monroe: The Quest for National Identity, after picking through it for two months. Perhaps it’s time to turn back to fiction for a little while. I think I’ll dive into Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Somehow I’ve never read that classic.

For my sketches, I worked my way from Chester A. Arthur to Theodore Roosevelt. Looks like our presidents used to sport some awesome facial hair. I had too much fun rendering President Arthur’s mutton chops.presidentialportraits - 9

presidentialportraits - 10

 

I included Grover Cleveland twice because he came before and after Benjamin Harrison, even though only the first portrait is official. But the second was painted by Anders Zorn and I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to study one of his paintings. My goal is to finish all the sketches and then paint over them in Photoshop. This’ll give me an opportunity to experiment with the digital medium, but also a chance to study the color and brush work of the original artists.

Perhaps when I’m done I’ll upload all the portraits in a single collage or poster.

0

Presidential Portrait Sketches

 

Way back at the start of the summer I vowed to read the best rated biography of each president. Why? Well, we kept getting stumped on presidential questions at bar trivia and I was tired of ignorance. I used bestpresidentialbios.com as my guide and started with James Thomas Flexner’s four-volume exploration of George Washington’s life. I read two of the four on a road trip to New Orleans and once I’d finished the series I decided to adjust my plan. I would read the best ONE-VOLUME biographies. Flexner’s work was amazingly comprehensive, but the sheer word count almost drove me to insanity. But I finished and moved on to John Adams: A Life by John Ferling, and then Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham, and then James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham. I’ve taken a break since Ketcham’s work to read a bunch of fiction, but when I resume I’ll be turning through the pages of James Monroe: The Quest For National Identity by Harry Ammon. Basically, I’ve been president obsessed this last year.

The other night I was listening to The Washington Post’s great podcast Presidential and decided to do sketches from the official presidential portraits. I used a brush pen in my moleskin sketchbook, spending about ten minutes on each portrait. Look for more to come! And if you like founding fathers and also happen to like musicals, check out Hamilton.

presidentialportraits - 1

presidentialportraits - 2

3

Studying Composition

Though it’s been many months since I last worked on my children’s book, my desire to finish it has not dissipated. On Monday I sat down and reviewed my old pages and made the decision to start over. Several changes were necessary. A minor point of the story needed to be brought forward, the whole story needed to be trimmed down, the art style needed to be changed, and most importantly I needed to focus more on composition. If I want this book to stand out, it must be more than simple characters on a page.

To begin this revision I went online and searched for compositionally strong paintings to study.

Bierstadt Study

Since I will be participating in a plein air competition this coming weekend, I thought to use the time to also study landscapes. I found Looking Down Yosemite Valley by Albert Bierstadt and spent a quick thirty minutes doing a half-page sketch. When I finished, I began designing the new page layouts for my books, using for inspiration and reference: The Art of Walt Disney by Christopher Finch, The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, and Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Layout & Background.

CezanneStudy

The next day I loaded up Still Life with Apples and Fruit Bowl by Paul Cezanne and continued practicing. Again, I kept the study short and sweet.

With the plein air competition in Portsmouth almost here I’ve begun hand making business cards to hand out to the curious. I’m sure there will be lots of people coaxed out of their homes by the warm weather. It’s going to be an exciting weekend. I even went this morning and walked around for two hours to find possible painting locations. I may have to go again on Thursday. For those interested in the event, check out the New Hampshire Art Association website.

0

Parsons Beach and Ducks

On the 26th I finished my last summer class and now I’m able to fully enjoy the weather. The next day we headed up north to visit my girlfriend’s sister in Kennebunk, Maine. She lives a few minutes from Parsons Beach, so we hopped on over there and spent the early afternoon soaking up the sun. I actually soaked up too much sun. The sunburns have been annoying. Time to get the season really started and buy some sunscreen.
Sarah and Allison

We were there for about three hours and I probably got two hours of quality painting in. Spent a good thirty minutes at the start figuring out what to paint. Eventually I settled in and painted my girlfriend and her sister. It came out pretty decent for a sketch. Used a 5″ x 7″ panel.

On Sunday I squeezed in a couple sketches of mallard ducks for Sketch Daily’s summer prompt.
Mallard Male

Mallard Female and Babies

Down behind my apartment in Newmarket, New Hampshire is a boat launch that slides out into the Lamprey River. Any time of the year a flock of ducks can be seen waddling around the area. During the winter they lay across the pavement for warmth. During the summer they hangout in the adjacent park and beg for breadcrumbs. I park my car down there some days and they always shuffle on over to say hello and see if I have anything to share.

Guess they were my inspiration. Though I didn’t have any pictures of them, so I had to make do with what I found through a Google search.

2

Painting in College Woods

At last I am done with the semester. First year of grad school out of the way! To celebrate I headed out into UNH’s College Woods to do some plein air painting. Well, first I bought some 5″x7″ canvas boards, gessoed, and toned them and then I went out.

Woods 5:14:15

Last Thursday was my first real free day and so I got up at six and headed to the woods. Campus was dead, even though graduation was just two days away. It was cold, the sun was barely up, and I bundled up in two layers of sweatshirts. After walking around a bit I finally picked a spot. The lighting was nice and creating a network of interlocking shadows on the tree trunks and ground. I spent about three hours working before the mosquitos drove me away. I met quite a few runners and dogs that morning.

Woods 5:15:15The next day I got up again, though a little later. I made it into the forest by 7:30 and found my spot by 8:00. I parked at a different entrance than last time and found myself on the far side of a pond. I picked a shady spot next to the water and painted the rising trail path. It was a bit more difficult of a painting than the first one. And once again I got driven away by mosquitos. They were horrible. Of course, I’d picked a bad spot as well. But I went out and bought bug spray on Sunday and it was a different story when I went out to paint that afternoon. (I’ll have Sunday’s painting up in the next blog post.)

On Monday the girlfriend and I traveled down to Boston to check out the Leonardo da Vinci drawing exhibit. The da Vinci drawings were mesmerizing and they were juxtaposed with drawings from his contemporaries, like Michelangelo. It was fun to try to compare the artists and see what their differences were. Unfortunately it was a short exhibit. But fortunately there was another major exhibit in the museum, a Hokusai show, so we headed right over to that.

Hokusai was a Japanese artist now known primarily for his print of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The exhibit was an exhaustive collection of his works, and though it was interesting to see The Great Wave and the other views of Mt. Fuji, my favorite prints were the ones he did of waterfalls and bridges. Here are my three favorite:

OneHundredBridgesinaSingleView

One Hundred Bridges in a Single View

TheHangingCloudBridgeatMountGyodonearAshikaga

The Hanging Cloud Bridge at Mount Gyodo near Ashikaga

TheFallingMistWaterfallatMountKurokamiinShimotsukeProvince

The Falling Mist Waterfall at Mount Kurokami in Shimotsuke Province

There’s a mystical quality about the prints that I absolutely love. While the latter two are from real locations, the first print was concocted after Hokusai had a dream of the place. I’ve been into comics a lot lately and it was interesting to see how graphic and similar Japanese prints are to traditional comics.

After the Hokusai show we wandered around the museum and I decided to do a sketch of Max Klinger’s marble bust of Beethoven.

Beethoven

I tend to gravitate towards sculptures when I’m looking to draw in a museum. It’s hard to replicate a painting through pencil, pen, and white pastel.

BookScanCenter_2 (1)

And when I’ve been given the chance, I’ve turned to doing some imaginary sketching. Here’s a recent doodle that started when I accidentally sketched out the outline of the bunny’s head. I was going for a sea lion, but my pencil had other ideas.

I’m gonna try to squeeze in another blog post before the end of the week. We’ll see what happens. I’m headed off on a road trip to New Orleans on Saturday. I’ll be bringing my easel along!

3

Working with Imagination

There were days in middle school where I would just doodle, letting the pen loop over the page and bring my subconscious imaginations to life. In my freshman math class at UNH I drew a comic of fantastical dinosaurs hatching from their eggs. There were times I’d get lost in my doodles. Still, doodling has never been something I do regularly. I tend to draw from life. Four years of art school trained me that way, I suppose. But I was sitting in one of my classes last week and got inspired by the nose on the guy in front of me and I started doodling. At first I just wanted to capture the nose, then it turned into something else. I was using my pocket sketchbook, so the limited space forced me to get inventive.

Head Scorpion

It was fun. It was something new. There were no restraints. Who cared if proportions were off? It was plain fun. So the next day I doodled some more.

Glop

I wanted to capture some sort of Moby Dick vs. Ahab feeling. Afterwards, I looked up what an actual whale looks like and laughed. Mine wasn’t even close. I guess I got the baleen teeth right at least. But I like my whale so much because my imagination skewed my memory of whales to the point that it became a new creature.

When I got home that day, I did some reading for homework. While I read I idly sketched circles. They somehow formed into a Mickey Mouse head and I knew I had to take a break to finish my idea.

Mouse Mascot

When my girlfriend and I went to NYC the other month I was fascinated by the costumed people in Times Square. Some of their costumes were spot on, but for the most part they were all slightly off. You could see the resemblance to the characters they were portraying and you could also see how they just missed their mark. When I drew the Mickey Mouse head above, my mind didn’t create an exact replica. It was just like a Times Square costume. Something was off. And I like that.

This is the first time in a long time that I’ve really let my mind control my drawings. However, I think that the years of formal practice have given me the skills to best express my imagination. It’s only now that I can begin to bring to life whatever I think of.

I’ve already got some more doodles for the next post.

0

The Race to the End

The school year is drawing to a close and I’ve been inundated with coursework. It’s been stressful. It’s been tedious. But I’ve learned quite a bit. Every week I’m at a local high school teaching the kids about various English things. They’ve been reading The Great Gatsby and The Catcher in the Rye and it’s been interesting to return to those texts so many years later. They’re much more enjoyable now than they were when they were assigned. And I suppose I’ve been forced to do closer readings since I have to teach them as well. I’ve had an enjoyable first year of grad school.

But I haven’t been able to draw as much as I like.

4:26:15

This small sketch of one of my teapots was done in a rushed hour before dinner. I experimented with different pen sizes and worked my way from an angular sketch into one with smoother transitions between lines. Not exactly happy with the angle of the teapot, as it feels like it’s leaning to the right, but that’s all right.

Finally, I discovered Jeremy Mann the other week and really liked his work. Check him out!

2

Me and Egon Schiele

I go on many Wikipedia journeys. If I want to know more about a place, or I’m working on a project, or I hear someone mention a person I’ve never heard of, well then it’s off to Wikipedia. After browsing for a bit, I’ll often click the associated hyperlinks. This causes me to jump from topic to topic, and sometimes land very far from where I started. During one of my recent explorations, I stumbled upon Egon Schiele.

Egon_Schiele_075

Self-Portrait 1910

Egon_Schiele_078

Self-Portrait 1912

Egon_Schiele_-_Self-Portrait_with_Physalis_-_Google_Art_Project

Self-Portrait 1912

I love the raw, unadulterated, self-deprecating quality of his work. He didn’t try to pretty himself up in his paintings, and instead chose to accentuate his angular skinniness. It makes me wonder how he arrived at that style. How many hours did he put in before these paintings? When did he realize he had a style? And these questions are why I enjoy studying the evolution of painters. For example, Picasso started very traditional and then founded the non-traditional cubist movement. How does this evolution happen? Is it just a process of time and exploration? And I wonder when I’ll know I’ve found my style.

Though I spent this last week looking at Schiele’s work, I didn’t exactly attempt to duplicate his style through a self-portrait. Mostly I thought about his use of line to define the boundaries of the figure.
Selfie 7-1

I started with a pencil sketch before working in some pen, but I kept my line work loose. I didn’t want the pen to become a definitive and bold boundary.

Selfie 7Because of the harsh lighting, I applied heavy sections of white pastel, but I may have overdone it. I didn’t let the tone of the paper do most of the work. It was fun to do a playful expression though.

2

Back From the South

My body is trying to readjust to the cold and I’m not helping the process. I dipped down in a hot tub earlier today and then relaxed in a steamy sauna. I’m just not built for the cold. I think it’s all genetics. My dad’s ancestors were the Choctaw from the bayous of Louisiana, so a predilection for heat must be in my blood. Still, it’s nice to be back home.

Today I ran into one of my old professors and we were talking about the art I saw on this week’s trip. Here are a few of my favorite paintings:

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bellona

Bellona – Rembrandt

I saw this painting and immediately fell in love with one thing: that shield. Rembrandt’s mastery of light is quite apparent in the shadowed face of the Medusa and the slow progression of scattered light over the shield’s surface. It feels so metal and yet so real. But I could only stare at it for so long before I had to move along. If the week was a whirlwind, our museum trips were super-cyclones. We tried to see as much as possible before moving on to the next stop. I don’t regret that. It was what I wanted to do. But I also look forward to the vacations where I can relax in these museums and take time to study the art.

chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums in the Garden at Petit-Gennevilliers – Gustave Caillebotte

The photograph doesn’t do this painting justice. Of course, I could say that about every painting. This photograph just doesn’t capture the transitions from light to dark. It was great to see how Caillebotte dealt with lights in the dark and darks in the light. And I just love how the canvas is almost split in half at a diagonal by the light.

Marie Julien

Marie Julien – Vincent van Gogh

I’ll admit that I wasn’t always a van Gogh fan. Back in school we would look at his paintings and I’d struggle to see what the big deal was. Then I saw his other paintings. That’s when I started loving van Gogh. Take this painting for example. It’s a blend of texture, large shapes, small shapes, line, saturated color, and complementary and contrasting colors. There’s something firm and solid about the painting and yet it is built up by small brush strokes.

Irises

Irises – Vincent van Gogh

I saw a lot of van Gogh on my trip. And I came to like his flower paintings the most. I’d like to incorporate more flowers in my own paintings.

The National Gallery of Art

A18388.jpg

The Island and Bridge of San Bartolomeo, Rome – Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot

On our way back north we stopped in DC and managed to spend a little time in the National Gallery of Art. It felt quite small compared to the MET.

I like this particular painting because it is able to represent a city with simple shapes.

A18418.jpg

The Tragic Actor – Edouard Manet

I see this painting as a counter piece to James McNeill Whistler’s Symphony in White, No. 1. If only because of its heavy and all encompassing use of black. I’ve lately been intrigued by paintings that focus mainly on one color.

edgar-degas-girl-in-red-ca-1866Girl in Red – Edgar Degas

Degas’ technique attracted me to this painting. Everything seems scraped and blurred to the point that the colors flicker and glow. It’s as if the colors bleed through each other.

A21167.jpgInterior, after Dinner – Claude Monet

I first saw this from across the room and then was surprised at how loose it was when I got closer. It works well from afar because of Monet’s use of light. The mind fills in the small details that the large shadows don’t distinguish. It would really be a great painting to do a study of if I could get into the museum with my easel.

Inspired by all the art I saw, I made sure to get some drawings down in my sketchbook.

springbreak2015006

On Monday we journeyed from Columbia to Charleston and relaxed on the beach. We were there for four hours while I worked on the above sketch. I’m not exactly pleased with how it turned out, but I learned I was really working too big to be effective with markers.

spring break me2

We arrived at 12:30am and the beach was mostly empty. It didn’t stay like that. For the rest of the day I had people asking me questions about my drawing. One guy asked to take pics of me drawing so he could prove to his art teacher friend that not all students were getting non-stop wasted on spring break.
spring break me1I applied and reapplied sunscreen all day long and I still got burnt. The backs of my knees and my ears got the worst of it.

Man my neck looks weird and elongated in this photo. I definitely was standing too close to the drawing.

springbreak2015001

When we were done with the beach we drove into Charleston proper. The city is like a beautiful movie set. I’d love to live there some day.

Because I was unsatisfied with my beach drawing, I drew a portrait of my girlfriend as we waited for dinner at Kickin’ Chicken. Then it was a two hour drive back to Columbia, where we fell immediately asleep and woke up early for more fun.

On Tuesday we went to Congaree National Park and explored the swamps and hanging moss. We didn’t have real hiking equipment and thus were confined to the boardwalk. Though were still able to take in a huge chunk of the park’s beauty. I’d like to go back and travel deep into the swamp and see the amazingly tall champion hardwoods.

From there we went to the Riverbanks Zoo.

springbreak2015002

There were very few people at the zoo and we only ran into crowds when we crossed paths with school groups.

My first few sketches didn’t turn out too bueno, but I hit my stride once I got to the flamingoes.
springbreak2015003I enjoyed the reptile house since those lizards were kind enough to hold still for me. My favorite drawing of the day is the one of the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana.

springbreak2015004Later we passed through the aquarium section and I found an unlabeled fish that was happy to patiently pose for me.
springbreak2015005

After seeing all the animals, we went to the flower garden and I got in a quick sketch of a brick arch and its surroundings. We were exhausted at that point and called it quits for the day and returned to Columbia. The rest of the trip we drove from city to city without a home base to return to at night. We arrived back at my parents’ house at 2am on Friday. It was a hectic end to our week, but I’m happy with all we got to see.