Sunday, November 28, 2010


I made some good progress on the two skull paintings this weekend. Yesterday, I got the lizard skull transferred to panel and added the acrylic underpainting. Today, I put in the dark prussian blue background. It has a subtle value transition and gets lighter moving towards the top.

I also put down the first layer of reds on the chimps and began establishing their form and major shadows. Any flaws of the original sketch start to become evident during this stage. So I made some adjustments to the chimp on the right, making his left leg more to the side instead of face on to the viewer. I also moved the leg up on the chimp to the left. When I painted it in, the trunk looked too long. I think some of this distortion occurs when the tracing paper stretches when I'm transferring the drawing to panel. The original sketch did not have this distortion.

The next stage for the chimp painting will be very time consuming, as the next layer will add the details of the anatomy for both skull and chimps.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Final study, lizard aggression

The final drawing is looking good. I got more writhing action into the lizard on the right. I like how the lizards are almost bursting out of a skull that cannot contain them. They are overlapping the skull on three sides. I'll transfer this to panel tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lizard Aggression

I already started on a painting portraying a skull with fighting chimps inside. But I decided to go ahead and start another skull /lizard painting. I was looking at internet images of fighting lizards, but all of them seemed rather static and not real dynamic. I then took these images as a starting point and arranged my clay lizards into an arrangement that is much more twisting and interesting to my own eye.

What I intend to do is work simultaneously on the lizard and the chimp paintings. I'll then take the one that i like the best and submit that for the beinArt Surreal exhibit at the Copro Gallery in Santa Monica ... the painting, which ever one is submitted, has to be ready to ship by early February. This will be a challenge because both subjects will require a lot of detail work, and normally would take 1 1-2 to 2 months each to complete. I will be putting in some serious studio time in December.

Got the studies for the lizard painting to a satisfactory point. Unlike some previous paintings, this one came together after only several thumbnails. I blocked in the structure of the skull for the final drawing and shot the reference photos. The day after Thanksgiving, I'll finish the final drawing by putting in the lizards, and transfer it to a 20 x 20 panel. I will also continue working on the chimp painting. The middle tones of the skull are painted in, and I need to get the basic color layer in on the chimps.

I somehow got quite a bit done today at the studio despite a migraine. I took some imitrex, and lay down for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and was able to work a few more hours.

Friday, November 19, 2010


I was a mass of indecision in trying to figure out the color for the background. I wanted it lighter in value than the last skull painting, to allow the chimps arm to show up in the upper right corner.

I went back and forth, tried to mix a gray that I used on a past painting. Couldn't do it for some reason, and of course I had not written down the color mixture that I used. So I tried burnt umber, ultramarine blue and aliz crimson plus white. Used raw sienna as the "yellow" for the lighter gray area at the top. There is a more violet shift in the gray than is shown in the photo above.

This can all go out the window when I start blocking in the skull. It's amazing how the appearance of surrounding color changes when placed next to another. What I will probably do is make sure that some of the shadow in the skull includes some hues from the background, like reflected backlight. That helps to bring a unity to the entire painting.

I told Jude that I was just a mass of indecision working on the painting today. I felt like I was making some kind of decision every five seconds. She then made an interesting remark: "maybe that is why some painters stick to a "formula" and the paintings start to really look uniform. " I told her I couldn't do that for long stretches. Even those little conjoined twins had differences in the background. I suppose I could crank out paintings faster if I stuck with the same background on all the skulls, but I like the differences in each one.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Ready to Transfer to Panel

After numerous thumbnails, sketches, rearranging, and more sketches, the final study is ready to transfer to the panel. The background will be higher in value than the last skull painting. There will be a gradient, with the darkest value at the bottom, lightening as it goes up. If the value is too dark at the top, the left arm of the chimp with arm raised could get lost.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Drawings I made when I was a kid

I have a very old book that my uncle gave to me when I was about 4 years old. I've managed to hang on to this book for years. In it, there are little drawings I made, copying the photos in the book. I must have been around 4 or 5 when these were drawn. What's funny is that even at that age I liked skeletons. I copied an image of an x-ray of a common mole. (you can see the little drawings at the bottom of the photos shown above)

At that age, my mom gave me coloring books. I didn't care for them. I preferred to draw on the blank inside covers of the book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


I will admit that I struggled with this painting. I have one failure, an abandoned panel, with the same composition of two figures, but a background that didn't work. And with this stony rock wall background, I struggled with finding the right value to bring out the figures in the front, having enough contrast, but not being so dark as to be uninteresting. The stone looked really neat, like a warm light is glancing off some of the stone edges. But it didn't have enough contrast, so I ended up doing a couple of glazes of ultramarine blue to darken up the value. The trick was to retain the glancing light and shadow on stone.

The St. Andrews cross started out as a red cross, but it just didn't work. It became too prominent. So I reduced the hue so that it receded into the background more. And yes, the perspective drove me crazy too.

In my original sketches, the skeleton is looking straight forward and down. After mulling it over, I turned the skull to the right so that it is viewed in profile. Makes it more interesting.
My favorite thing about this piece is the way the light falls on the skeleton, especially the skull. The extreme side lighting enters through openings in the back of the skull and shines through the front and through the jaw/teeth.

The painting is getting close to done. I need to add the skeleton's left hand, more highlights on both skeleton and human, and little corrections, mainly to the vertebrae. It feels like it has been just a series of difficult decisions. I'll be glad when I can walk away from it. It is even haunting my dreams. Why else would I have a dream about giving some guy a blow job?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Journal versus Blog

When I started this blog I thought it would largely make writing in a journal irrelevant. And in fact, I wrote very few entries in my written journal during the time I've kept a blog. Recently, though, over the last couple of months, I've been writing way more frequently in the journal, and I've realized that blogging does not replace journal writing.

My journal includes quite a bit of material that I could never put out for public consumption. In fact, I don't even reveal some of this to good friends or even my partner. In scanning entries written over the last few years, I also realized that quitting my day job has allowed me to look much more deeply inwards. This is inevitable when you spend long hours working in solitude. This is in contrast to my job at the bank, where I spent a good deal of each day on conference calls or in meetings. I didn't have the time or the luxury of spending large amounts of time being introspective as I do now.

Above is a value/compositional study for the next painting.