Sunday, May 20, 2012

Horse Mount

I'm close to finishing a small 12 x 12 painting for a group exhibit with the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective, at Last Rites Gallery in New York.  The theme of the show is "Taboo."

The challenge for this piece is the relationship between the human and horse.  I had to improvise, using my mini model skeleton and my "visible horse" as well as images from the web.  I was able to rig up my mini model skeleton, which was critical because of the extreme foreshortening of the rib cage. 

All that remains is to add more mid tones and highlights to the lower extremities of the human, and the forelegs of the horse, and clean up the landscape and horse rib cage.

I had a great weekend.  Electric Works had a booth at the ArtPad SF artfair at the Phoenix Hotel, and sold two of my paintings very early during the VIP preview.  The buyer is Chris Vroom, of ArtSpace, a major and well known on line art marketing platform.  The two paintings sold were Chimpbrain and The Falconer - I will miss the Falconer.  I got attached to it, and just finished it a couple of weeks ago.

Once I finish the small painting for the Beinart exhibit, I have to start packing and prepare to move studios.   I will be moving to a closer, more convenient location at 9th and Mission, under the roof of Electric Works.  There will be the Electric Works gallery, and behind it, several artist studios.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Voyage Through a Hidden World - the journey continues

Back in November, I wrote a short introduction to a new project - the Naturalist's Journal. This is a collaboration with friend and writer Julie Benbow. Not only is she a gifted writer, but she has beautiful handwriting and executes graceful calligraphy. The project now has a new name - Voyage Through a Hidden World. As mentioned before, the project consists of watercolor paintings of the fantastic creatures encountered by an Englishwoman - explorer in the late 1700s, along with her journal entries, with small ink studies along with the account of how each creature was discovered. The project is taking on a life of its own. A whole plot is coming forth from Julie's pen, and I wanted to share a little of it in this blog entry.

Above is the watercolor painting of the Mexican Spider Monkey, and the handwritten journal pages with drawings. Below is the typed text of the journal entry of Lady Lavinia Treadwell, numbered and dated Volume I, 1786-1787.

Brachyroseuspatel Gelagingrictus

Mexican SpiderMonkey

Friday, 4th May, 1787, Hispania Nova, Mexico

I write this late at night by the light of two tallow candles. I am greatly discomforted by the suffocating heat which at this late hour has rendered me enervated, and my nightgown clings inappropriately to my perspiration bedewed thighs and back. For the past hours I have been subjected to the vocalizations of the creature whose various grunts and moans vary from soft – a kind of beseeching – to loud and aggressive. I will put small wads of cotton in my ears when I finally retire to bed on completion of this diary entry.

I had planned to devote the day to the study and recording of the orchid specimens I collected from the jungle earlier in the week and have arranged in pots around my cabin. I plied my busy pen and the morning proved very productive. By the time I partook of luncheon with Captain Archibald I had completed the measurements and descriptions of two of the four plants.

Returning to my cabin and before setting out my paint palette to create a visual record, I partook of a short rest, languishing with my eyes closed atop the counterpane on my bed. I was rudely awoken by a thump on my chest followed by an unpleasant whispery sensation on my face. Upon opening my eyes I immediately screamed. A beast of huge proportion with the head of a baboon and the body of a spider was staring right at me, prodding my face with two long red and black hairy legs and grunting. Ye Gods! The thing is the size of a soup tureen!

Quickly I stood to shake it off, but it crawled onto my shoulder and proceeded to make a nest in my hair, all the while emitting crooning noises. At my scream, Samson had entered my cabin and without hesitation tried to pry it from my hair. The ensuing tussle left my coiffure in great disarray and the creature much agitated - it hissed and growled at being manhandled then escaped Samson’s grasp and scurried across the floor before disappearing beneath a chair, where it could be heard chattering. I quickly surmised that this was definitely a specimen worth recording but my butterfly net would not accommodate its great size. After some consideration it was apparent that the only receptacle large enough in the cabin was my chamber pot, so after Samson emptied it we set about capturing the creature. When it was safe inside the upturned pot, I took a fine ribbon from one of my bonnets and with great care attached it to one of the creatures legs, securing to other end to the wooden arm of the chair, thus allowing it some freedom and access to the orchid plants, upon which I presume, it traveled from the jungle into my cabin.

Feeling greatly rejuvenated after a refreshing cup of China Tea, I sat at my desk to continue recording the orchids under the keen gaze of the creature who had climbed upon the trunk, from whence it engaged in a stream of mutterings whilst rubbing his two front legs together. When I approached to investigate, it jumped upon my arm and made the most pitiful of cries in response to which I unknotted the ribbon from the chair and brought it to my desk where it now happily rests on a careful representation of a violet dendrobium painted upon a sheet of my best French hand-made watercolor paper, loudly devouring a slice of mango.

I shall now attempt to describe him – for I feel it is a male – and will name him Billy after our esteemed Prime Minister William Pitt, who has the same hirsute eyebrows and propensity to be verbose.

The body is 18 centimetres in length of which 6 centimetres is baboon head covered in coarse long golden hair. Billy has eight legs – approximately 20 centimetres in length and (8) covered in long bristles. The most engaging features of the legs are the bright red knee joints, also covered in bristles.

I think Billy dislikes Samson. When S approached he made the strangest gesture – rolling his lips, exposing his gums and teeth and flipping his upper lip out over his nostrils. S quickly retreated so, if these threatening or antagonistic behaviours are customary to this species – though outlandish – they are indeed successful!

Other behaviours I have noted include rubbing his hairy legs against the posterior part of his body then throwing the urticating bristles in the direction of the enemy. Unfortunately, Samson inhaled this cloud of small bristles and they entered his nasal mucous membrane causing him to greatly sneeze. I ordered S to leave my cabin as it is obvious he and Billy regard each other with great disfavor, and at this moment I prefer the company of Billy.

When I attempted to put Billy back on his trunk, he resisted becoming agitated and barked at me. His feet seem to secrete a sticky substance that allows him to adhere to surfaces. Currently he is stuck to my bodice and seems to be releasing a fine thread. I do hope he is not planning on making his home on my person, although I admit to finding his crooning quite soporific…

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Progress on the Naturalist's Journal project

Back in November, I wrote a short introduction to a new project - the Naturalist's Journal. I now have 5 completed watercolor paintings, and have started the sixth. But most exciting of all, my friend Jules Benbow has started working on the actual diary pages. These may eventually come together in a book. In the meantime, these are designed to be exhibited with the watercolor as the primary draw, and then excerpts from the naturalist's journal/diary, with little sketches added.

Jules developed a wonderful storyline, and even some characters who are on board the ship. Above is the painting of the hummingbird-elephant shrew. Jules has already come up with the taxonomical name for the creature. It eats flies attracted to the flower, and has sharp teeth. Like a shrew, it has a nasty temper.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Continued progress on the snake swarm

The snakes are coming along and are approximately 75% done. The guys in the back of the skull are complete, while those in the foreground need highlights. Once these are finished, the foreground plants will be highlighted more, and overhanging leaves over the snakes accentuated. The crow needs highlights and more details. Hopefully this will be done in a week to ten days.

It is such a tragedy that the snake that I used for the painting, the San Francisco garter snake, is highly endangered. Their pattern is perfect for this painting and the lines help to convey the writhing movement of the swarm.

When I was a kid growing up in Denver, we always used to see regular garden variety garter snakes, just an olive green and black variety. Cute, small, but not very colorful.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Swarm of Snakes

Started the next painting for a group show at a well known gallery. I'm pretty happy with it so far. It's not guaranteed that this piece will be accepted into the show, but nonetheless, even if it is rejected by the gallery, I really am happy with the concept of this piece.

I did do a lot of initial agonizing over this one. I started out making it an 18 x 24 piece, but then discovered there was a size limit for the group show. Additionally, there was a great deal of empty space at the top of the sketch, which was accentuated when I transferred it to panel. I redrew the whole thing, proportionally smaller, and discovered that it looked better on a shorter, proportionally wider panel. I blocked in violet and veridian green acrylic underpainting yesterday, and put in thin oil under painting for the distant background today. The dark violet grey foreground will be covered over with lighter greens (clover and grass). The snakes on the ground are blocked in so that I'll remember where to have the grass indented from the weight of the slithering bodies of the serpents.

The skull has a cool greenish underpainting, and the floor of the skull is underpainted with blue-green. Eventually the cranium will be filled with writhing snakes, so any part of the bottom of the skull that shows through will be in deep shadow.

The snakes will be the endangered San Francisco Garter Snake. It's quite an attractive species, and I've used them before in my works.

2012 is already shaping up to be quite a busy period. I need to finish several watercolors of hybrid creatures for the naturalists' journal project, for solo exhibit in March; two pieces for group shows with the Beinart International Surreal Art Collective; the piece above for a group show in March, and a solo show in late 2012 at Bert Green Fine Art.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Painting Process - Watercolor

Many years ago, I learned how to paint using watercolors. I started out painting traditional subjects like floral arrangements and landscapes. As I began to explore different subjects, I found I was able to convey my vision with oil paints. I hadn't really done much with watercolors over the last ten years. However, it has been very enjoyable tackling this new project using watercolor.

The early conceptual stages are the same whether in oil or watercolor. I start out with thumbnail drawings to visualize the idea. Then I make a more finished preparatory drawing to transfer. When the painting starts, however, the approach differs. In oil paint, I work mid tones and darks first, and add the highlights last. With watercolor, you must plan ahead and "save" the highlighted areas. The photos above document the process of working starting with light washes and then adding darks.

I was quite happy with the rhinobeetle painting. I feel that I have captured the spirit of some of my favorite natural history artists who inspire me, such as John James Audubon, Maria Sibylla Merian, and John Gould. I also admire a modern master, Walton Ford.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New Project - Naturalist's Journal of Strange Beasts


I've started a new project; one that will probably be a continuing pursuit. The premises is that the artist is an explorer in the early 1700's, sailing on a ship in the same way that Darwin travelled on the HMS Beagle as the on board naturalist. In this project, however, all of the animals encountered are imaginary creatures. All of these are going to be done in watercolor, though some of these might lead to the creatures being used for standalone oil paintings. Likewise, some of the creatures in past oil paintings might be included in this project.

With each watercolor painting, there will be notations written in the lower margin, as though the naturalist kept field notes. Additionally, there will be a "letter" to accompany the painting, written by the explorer, narrating how the creatures were found, the environment, and travel adventures.

My friend Julie will handle the notations and letter writing, since she has much better handwriting than I do. She studied calligraphy and is a superb writer. So this will be a collaboration of sorts, although right now I'm just coming up with creature paintings.

I don't know exactly where it will lead, but it sure has been a great deal of fun. I will probably work exclusively on these for the next couple of weeks, and then get back to oil painting.

I plan to include the initial twelve naturalist journal paintings in my next show at the Bone Room in Berkeley.

Above: Spider Baboon (Red knee Mexican tarantula and Gelada Baboon) (not yet finished - work in process. I need to finish the grass and plants)
Kangalion and mandrill-lope
Painted Lady Butterfly and Murine Mouse