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

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Exhibit at Modern Eden

The last 30 days have been intense, as I wanted to get several new pieces done for my solo show at Modern Eden, which opens on Saturday, November 12 at 7 pm (more details at this link.)

Over the last 6 weeks, I completed 8 small studies of mutant hybrid deep sea creatures, which were used in refining my technique for the final painting, "Trepanation." The most difficult effect to achieve in the final piece was the transparency and delicacy of insect wings on some of the fish. I used thin transparent layers to gain the effect. Additionally, reflections of violet and aqua were added to suggest the iridescence of gossamer membrane on the wings.

Not all of the creatures in the small panel studies were incorporated into the final painting. For example, the crabfish (shown above) was not used. However, it will probably be a character in another project that I am working on for the upcoming show at the Bone Room in Berkeley. (I'll write more on this new project in a future blog post)

Also, Bert Green (Bert Green Fine Art) visited me at the studio today. We had a great meeting and he updated me on his move to Chicago. He will continue to represent me, though in a different city.

Tomorrow will be the not-so-fun part of being an artist - packing all the work up so they can be delivered safely to Modern Eden.

Next year is already shaping up to be another busy year. In addition to getting ready for the Bone Room solo show in March, I need to get started on a painting for a Beinart Group Show, opening in March. And there are some other developments that, if they come to fruition, will mean that I will be running on all four cylinders all through 2012. Kind of like what happened this year!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Underwater Creatures

I've started the next project, which is a skull with mutant deep sea creatures exploding out of a hole. In ancient times, trepanation, or cutting a hole in the skull, was used to release evil spirits. In conjunction with the painting, which will be 24 x 18, I'm doing small 5 x 7 studies of the critters so I can work out difficult items like wings, scales, etc.

I did a painting of a skull with deep sea creatures in its head several years ago, but the painting was not successful. The head was supposed to be like an aquarium, but getting the effect of glass was difficult and didn't work. However, the painting, which I kept, has been helpful for this new project.

I have the final drawing done, and two of the critters fairly well developed, and four others that are blocked in with body color. The background on the large painting is done, but I need to paint in the skull before I add the creatures.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Getting Ready for the next exhibit

This fall is shaping up to be a very busy season for me. I am in the midst of getting ready for a solo exhibit at Modern Eden, a very cool gallery specializing in surrealism, in North Beach, San Francisco. The show will open on Saturday, November 12. In addition, I will also be participating in San Francisco Open Studios, Weekend 3, October 15 and 16, at South Beach Artist Studios, 340 Bryant Street.

I've been pulling some long days at the studio, and have worked there for 14 days straight, in order to get several new pieces done. In late July, I finished "Elegy" which depicts a skeleton adoring some brightly colored doves. The birds are an extinct species, the passenger pigeon. The painting was very involved, and took over two months to complete.

I'm now working on two anatomical chimpanzees. One is shown holding the flayed skin of a human. The other painting in process shows a chimp contemplating a chimpanzee skull - this was inspired by a etching by the master Andreas Vesalius. The chimp paintings should be finished in a week or so, and then I'll be starting on a skull with a hole cut in it, with ghostly mutant deep sea fish emerging. The concept is based on the practice of "trepanation" or cutting holes in the skull for medicinal purposes. This practice has been around since the stone age. In the painting, however, trepanation is releasing dark forces from the skull.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Next Piece

My partner and I took a vacation - my first real vacation other than trips to LA and Denver in 3 or 4 years! We went to London to see a special exhibit of Watteau drawings at the Royal Academy of Art. Our art trek also included other major museums: The National Gallery, the British Museum, The Tate Britain, a quick visit to the Tate Modern, The Victoria and Albert, The Natural History Museum, and two less known museums: The Wallace Collection and the Grant Museum of Zoology. I did a ton of sketching, especially at the Natural History Museum and the Grant Museum. I've uploaded some of them to Flickr, and you can view them at this link.

The real challenge was drawing at the Natural History Museum - though it was a weekday, you would not believe how many children were in the exhibit halls. I would try to keep to the side, so that they could easily see the displays. While drawing the wildebeest, I was suddenly surrounded by a whole classroom of kids who were anxious to get a look at what I was drawing. They were even ducking down to look at the drawing on the reverse side of the book facing the floor! I relented and showed them the work I had done over several hours, and they loved it. The stress of drawing in a fairly busy museum was worth it though - several of the drawings of animals will be helpful for the next few paintings I will be working on.

Upon returning to SF, I took a day to recover a bit from jet lag, and got back to the studio to start the next piece. It depicts a skeleton in a meadow, in front of a bush or tree, and surrounded by birds - passenger pigeons, which were driven to extinction early in the 20th century. The bird on the skeleton's left shoulder (to the viewer it is the right shoulder) was based on a Victorian type mounting of a flycatcher that I sketched at the Natural History Museum.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

LIzardbrain #3

I've been working long hours to try to have one or two brand new paintings ready for the exhibit "Spectacular Beasts" which opens May 6 at the Incline Gallery in San Francisco. It is going to be very tight to try to complete Lizardbrain #3 in time, but I really like how the painting looks so far. As usual, while painting I found that the perspective was a little bit off in the preparatory drawing, so today I spent several hours making corrections to the cutaway section of the skull. But it was worth making the correction. I'm sure only a trained eye would have noticed the error, but I knew it would bother me forever if I didn't fix it.

I'm on the last part of the painting. The lizards have been blocked in, and now I'm putting the scales in. The final stage will be adding the brightest scales over the layer that I'm putting in right now. The lizards appear dark right now, as this is the underlying layer. The higher value paint will make the scales stand out.

I got quite a bit done last week to get ready for the show: framed 3 drawings and 2 giclee prints, drafted an e mail announcing the show for folks on my mailing list, and developed / submitted a list of works for the show with pricing. I have two other new paintings that would have perfect for this exhibit, but they are still at the gallery in Santa Monica - unfortunately, the timing was just a little too tight to have them shipped in time.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Done, Finally

Well, done practically speaking. I have to highlight several blades of grass (which were added very last, swaying over the snake). And I have to perk up the whites on the baby snakes. Which shouldn't take too long. So this painting will be ready for my next group exhibit, Spectacular Beasts, at the Incline Gallery in San Francisco. This small group show will feature two other artists, Travis Kerkela and Scott Greenwalt. Their work is accomplished, and fascinating. Here is more info:

Incline Gallery and San Francisco Art Beat Presents
May 6, 2011 – June 4, 2011

Opening Reception: May 6, 2011 6 – 9 pm.
766 Valencia Street (@19th) San Francisco, CA

Incline Gallery and local arts and culture organization San Francisco Art Beat are thrilled to collaborate for a three-person group show entitled, Spectacular Beasts with Bay Area artists Travis Kerkela, Scott Greenwalt, and Sandra Yagi.

Appropriating the gallery space’s original function as embalming station for an adjacent mortuary, Spectacular Beasts explores the diverse perceptions of corporeality, the body’s thin human veneer over a fundamentally animal nature, and how the physicality of the body informs and influences the personal psyche.

The artists’ works explore these ideas through dynamic anatomical (re)design in various states of transformation and hybridization, and abstracted molecular topographies among surrealist and somewhat ominous situations. An incredibly skilled draftsmanship with foundation in anatomical drawing in tandem with knowledge of their subjects, both in science and art emphasizes the skill of each the artists’ art and exploration of the genre.

About San Francisco Art Beat: San Francisco Art Beat is an arts and culture organization that provides support and creates interest in the San Francisco Bay Area art scene and its artists of various experiences, lifestyles, and backgrounds. San Francisco Art Beat chronicles SF Bay Area arts news with critical insight into contemporary art events. San Francisco Art Beat also curates exhibitions throughout the city to provide opportunities for artists, both emerging and established to exhibit work, gain exposure, and take on larger roles in the community.

About the Incline Gallery: Through the unique collaborative relationship between Paxton Gate and the San Pancho Art Collective, an unusual series of ramps and volumes is transformed into the Incline space, a new San Francisco contemporary art gallery. Incline Gallery seeks to offer a nurturing platform and a solid support system for Bay Area visual and performing artists. By reaching out to these artists, curators, and the public at large, Incline Gallery opens the doors to an inspirational and experimental place of growth and community building

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Skull Complete

The past few paintings with skulls used warm colors, with a warm studio light cast upon the skull. This new painting of hatchling snakes uses an outdoor setting with a cool light. Even the highlights, though warmer than shadows, are much cooler than the colors I normally use for skull highlights. The skull in this painting has subtle shades of violet and viridian. The green of the grass is reflected on the shadow side. Mixing the colors was a challenge, but I was happy with how the skull is relating to the background.

All that is left is to paint in details of the baby snakes and finish the foreground foliage.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Blood Python

The mother python is largely done, and I even got some work done on the small snake crawling over her. It still needs some highlights on the back section.

In the next couple of days I'll start on the skull. The details for the baby snakes will be added last. Also need to bring up blades of grass in front of and across the snake and paint in more of the foreground foliage. I'm feeling good that I will have this painting done in time for a two person exhibit in early May here in San Francisco at Incline Gallery. Over the next week I also have to order up some frames for drawings and prints.

I had a near disaster today.... I somehow bumped the easel and the painting came flying off of it and fell to the floor. Fortunately, nothing happened to the painting but I will have a good bruise on my leg to show for it. Did I tell you that I am a klutz? This follows my other recent accident a few weeks ago when I spilled hot water on my arm and ended up with a 2nd degree burn. Now you know why I'm not in the food service business.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Seeing Grass

I'm now at the stage of building up thin layers of paint for the verdant grass surrounding the skull. I've been looking at grass very intently. First, I looked at Durer's masterpiece, a study of a small piece of turf. I've been staring intently at grass where ever I come across a patch. I looked at all different types of grass, in close up, on the internet. I looked intently at the reference photos I took at Golden Gate Park. I studied the grass in Virginia's back yard last evening at the Artist Roundtable (a weekly get together of artist friends at various locations). The more I look at grass, the more I see that it's not just little straight blades. Instead, the blades undulate, bend, reflect glare, and fall in layers over each other.

I've already built several layers to give the impression of fallen blades, with the upper layers catching the highlights. I've had to twist and manipulate the #1 round brush to attempt to give the grass the undulations and graceful arcs.

The artists and poets at the Artist Roundtable were focused on the interaction of word and image. One of the side topics that came up was that of "patience", and this painting is requiring big doses of patience. It's taking a great deal of time, because as the layers of paint go down for the blades of grass, I have to step back and determine where the high lights would make the most sense, and where the blades should curve around the skull and snake. This is largely an intuitive process. But in the end, the grass has to appear to be bent from the weight of the objects pushing the blades aside.

Anna Conti has given a good summary of the discussion at last night's get together, here at this link. The whole evening was very inspirational, and energized me for today's painting session.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baby Snakes

I made some progress on the painting of snake hatchlings. Over the last couple of weeks, I've transferred the drawing to panel, put in light warm acrylic 1st layer, and then the cool underpainting for the skull. Today, it took all day to block in the snakes. It took even longer than anticipated because I ended up changing some of the snakes from the original drawing. On casual viewing they might look randomly placed, but in reality, final placement was the result of much thought and experimentation.

The dark warm violet ground will eventually be obscured by grass and ground vegetation. I hope to get the background finished this week.

I'm very happy so far with this piece.... I just hope it turns out as well as the rather vague image in my head.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Final Drawing for Hatchling Snakes

The original idea for this composition did not include the mother snake looped around the skull. But after turning the idea around in my head, I decided it needed something more to complete the composition and lead the eye around the painting.

It is now ready to be transferred to panel. I also have the final drawing done for the wrestling lizard/skull painting ready. I'll be working on both of these modestly sized paintings over the next few weeks.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


While winding down the most recent painting, I've simultaneously been getting some preliminary work done on three new ones.

On Friday, Jude and I went to Golden Gate Park. I brought Freidrich's skull, in order to take a reference photo of the jawless skull laying in grass. I wanted the grass to have an unkept wild look, so the park was the obvious place to go. However, on looking at the photo (above) I decided that the grass in front of the skull would have to be a little bit shorter. This is the skull that will have python babies hatching out of the cranium. So I don't want the snakes in the foreground to get totally lost in overly long blades of grass.

This weekend, I developed a finished drawing of a skull with wrestling lizards. Before finalizing the drawing, I again watched a dvd that I recorded of fighting monitor lizards televised on Nat Geo. The drawing of the lizards above is idealized - the lizards on the dvd footage were never as clearly defined, nor as perfectly posed as I desired. This is very typical - I review internet images, television programs, and books to study the various animals in my paintings. In the end, the final image that I draw is a composite from many different sources.

For the lizards above, I also made some very simple clay lizard figures to help figure out shadows and other relationships. Very crude but it did the trick.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Inner Primate

After hours of work, this is finally almost finished. It just needs a bit of clean up and a bit of highlight on the tendons and ligaments.

I've already done quite a bit of work on the next two paintings; more about that in the next post.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Refined study of lizards

Today I spent most of the day doing a chore that I hate: laying gesso on wood panels and sanding them. I really need to get a mechanical sander, but in the meantime, it involved elbow grease. But I did get to spend some time drawing while the gesso layers dried, and so I refined the study of the two fighting lizards.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lizards and Snakes

Today I got some rough studies and reference photos done for two new paintings.

To assist with shadow and perspective, I sculpted little clay snakes and stuck them onto Freidrich's skull. When the painting is actually done, the snakes will appear to be hatching out of the skull, through little holes.

I also sculpted two entwined fighting lizards. Above is the rough sketch based on the little lizard replicas. To gain some traction, I watched a program about monitor lizards which had footage of a lizard battle. The drawing is somewhat exaggerated as compared to what I observed in actual film footage, but I think it will work better aesthetically. I have the lizards' necks, tails and torsos with more extreme curvature than actual life.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

varnished and ready to go

I lost quite a bit of time with a bad cold in late December/early January. After losing several days at the studio, I got back to work and put in the finishing touches on Lizardbrain #2. This work will be shipped to CoproGallery in Santa Monica for a group exhibit, Dystopia, with the beinArt International Surreal Art Collective.

I also have several rough sketches in process for some new paintings, including a skeleton with doves, writhing lizards in a skull, snakes hatching from a skull, among other things. Got some reference photos of the skeleton done and sculpted new fighting lizards, entwined about each other and in a deathgrip.

The good news is that I have a long list of ideas to work on.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Choosing Ideas

The year 2010, and in particular the last couple of months, has been a torrent of activity. I finished the last of the BDSM skeleton paintings in early November, and made great headway on two new skull paintings. I spent two days last week driving down to LA to deliver 30 paintings to Bert Green for the upcoming solo show. On the way back, I came down with a bad cold. So I finally had some mandatory down time, and took it easy for a few days, prior to New Years. Sometimes this down time can be valuable. I ended up consolidating a number of ideas that have been swirling around in my head, and several new ones came to mind. When I'm just laying around, my brain is always rushing around at full speed. I just kept a notebook by my side, and started jotting down ideas as they emerged.

By giving each idea a place on this list, they are less likely to be forgotten . At this point, most of them are "ghosts" of an idea. I can almost visualize them, but not quite.

The procrastinator in me is always unsure of which idea to pursue next, and wallows in indecisiveness. But usually, one idea will speak out in a slightly louder voice, start to emerge from the vagueness of the intangible, and begin to take shape (with a little patience and discipline).

I still have two paintings in process: one nearly complete, and the other 3/4 complete. But at the studio today, rather than paint, I sat at my drawing desk, under a blanket and close to the heater, and just tried to make some of the ideas more tangible by developing rough sketches.

The drawing above is a little more complete than some of the other thumbnail sketches that I did over the last few days. In this drawing, I've depicted little baby snakes emerging from their nest/egg, which is a skull. Snakes are not inherently evil, and are generally beneficial for the environment. But nonetheless, they are a powerful symbol conveying a sense of evil. In this case, because they are coming out of a skull it implies that evil is not from without, but from within.

My initial thought is to have the skull sitting in grass and leaves. The baby snakes (the species blood python Python curtus,) will have a burnt orange/red color that will contrast nicely against the green grass). They will be writhing free of their pre-natal confinement in the skull.

I'm grateful to have a tangible idea coming to fruition that I can begin working on once the other two skull paintings are finished. The studio walls are very bare now, as I've emptied the studio of all recent works and delivered them to Bert. So it feels a little depressing. Having a list of new ideas worthy of pursuing will help offset this emptiness.

Paintings Featured in Magazine-Mental Shoes

Several months ago, the editor of the art e-magazine Mental Shoes contacted me and asked if I would like my works to be featured in an upcoming issue. I gladly accepted the offer. It is a high quality magazine, and the editor has amazing vision and plus is a fantastic writer. (And I found out later he is also a photographer, which explains why he has such a great eye). The issue was published, and I was very happy with the look and feel of the issue. My painting "Lizardbrain" was featured on the cover.

Mental Shoes is based out of Amsterdam and the U.S. It features both American and international artists.

Click here to go to Mental Shoes. Once on the site, click on issue 018 to download the pdf. It's well worth it, and there are other very unique artists featured in this issue. In particular, Stephen Cefalo is a fantastic painter and I found the paintings by Aleksandra Waliszewska to be very fascinating.

I was even more honored to be featured in Mental Shoes, because the previous issue featured an artist that I greatly admire, Laurie Lipton.