Saturday, December 11, 2010

WIP - Jaguar - Starting the Detail Work

Slowly but surely I am making progress on the jaguar painting. I finished the base layer (decided not to spray it with fixative) and have started adding detail. I'm working mostly on the background but have also started some of the fur around the eye. I only wish I had planned out the area behind the fern a little better. For the foliage, I am using mostly the soft pastel sticks, and for the fur I am using mostly pastel pencils, which are a bit harder.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

WIP - Jaguar II

The jaguar is really coming along. The base layer of the body is nearly finished, and I have made significant progress on the background. The orange paper is actually helping with the fur. All that's left for this first layer is the other paw and the log he's sitting on. I'm really enjoying working on this so far.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

WIP - Jaguar

Things are still crazy as ever here. My little boy is just over three months old and starting to take longer and more predictable naps. Which means... I can actually get some drawing time in! I started this drawing this week - it is a jaguar in pastels. I am using a pale orange 19"x23" sheet of Canson Mi-Teintes paper. I chose the color because I thought it would be a good base for the jaguar, but as I work I think maybe black may have been better on account of the background I'm putting in. No matter. I'm learning a lot about pastels by just diving right in. I am working on the base layer now. Once that is done, I'll spray the whole thing with fixative, then put a layer of color and detail on top.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Given that I don't have time for drawing these days, I thought I'd try to keep my drawing skills sharp by actually using my sketchbook. I've been going through my zoo animal reference photos and have been doing quick 5-minute sketches in ink. Here are a few of them.

snow leopard cub


Thursday, September 02, 2010

Charcoal and Pastel - A Brief Comparison

As I venture into the world of pastels, I want to find my way methodically. Thus I thought it would be best to start by comparing how pastels perform compared to charcoal. To get the best comparison, I took color out of the equation and used a black pastel. The brand I am using here is Rembrandt, which I have heard are a little harder than many other brands of soft pastel. I am also using smooth bristol paper because that's what I had around. I also used a 6B charcoal stick.

In each image below, charcoal is on the left, black pastel on the right. The first thing I observed is the feel of the medium on the paper. Charcoal is gritty, rough. You can feel it scratching the paper. Pastel goes on much more smoothly. The black pastel is also blacker than the charcoal.

In the first image, I used my favorite blending tools for charcoal. I was quite disappointed with how the pastel blended. The stump seems to be the best option for not leaving stroke marks underneath. In the second image I tested erasers. Pastel clearly does not erase as fully as charcoal, especially using the kneaded eraser. Click the images to see larger versions.

Next, I want to experiment some more with applying pastel, layering and blending to get different colors and effects. Since it is really a paint, I'm going to use paintbrushes. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: Painting Animals That Touch the Heart by Lesley Harrison

I usually draw in only black and white, but occasionally I have the urge to do something in color. I've tried colored pencils but they don't resonate well with me, so I figure the next step is pastels. So of course I went looking for a book that combined that with the painting of animals in particular, and found this.

Let's start with what this book is: It is a decent introduction to pastel painting, and it does show some excellent step-by-step examples of how to paint a snow leopard paw, a wolf ear, a horse face, and other such things. If you are at all familiar with pastels, you will get a good understanding of the layering involved in each drawing. This book is also about how to set up a good drawing - not so much composition per se, but what makes an animal drawing that people would want to look at ... and buy. Her gallery is wonderful to look at.

What this book is not: this book is not a how-to on pastels. There are many examples, yes, but there is nothing on how to paint foregrounds and backgrounds (though there is commentary on what kinds of backgrounds to use).

I was a little disappointed in the section on paper. The author only describes three and clearly favors one. I would have preferred a little more variety as there are tons of paper types out there. In all, this was a very good book and I recommend at least looking through it. Unfortunately, it is out of print, so see if you can find a used copy or borrow one.

Edit 02/10/2011:
Now that I've had a little time to experiment with pastels and different kinds of paper, I understand why the author only uses velour paper: it is incredible. I wrote a quick synopsis of the papers I have tried here.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

What's This, A Pencil?

After a solid month away from the easel, I finally picked up a pencil today to draw. Not for long, because naps are short these days, but it was still good to get something done. I've been getting really excited about this crocodile drawing I set up, though I know it will be difficult. You can see the progress I made below.

For those of you who don't already know, I took the past month off because I had a baby. I'll be getting back into drawing slowly, at least until he starts sleeping through the night. He is adorable and doing very well.

In other news, I had the privilege of serving as a juror for the Los Alamos County Fair fine art competition last weekend. There were tons of great works from young and emerging artists.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

I'm Still Here...

It's been kind of a crazy few weeks around here. I haven't had as much time to draw as I've been getting ready for my second baby to come along (next week!). I have started a crocodile drawing, but something went wrong and I have to start over. It has given me the opportunity to practice a little on the water, though, before I do. Hopefully I'll have at least one work-in-progress to post before the little one comes, but after that it might be a while! Even if I don't get much drawing done, I hope to make a quick post every now and then. I sincerely want to thank all of you who have been reading along, and hope to have you back after a little time off.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Finally, it's done! For the past two weeks I've been toying with details trying to get it right, and I think I finally did. The original is 18"x24", and it and prints are available.

Next on the drawing board will be an active scene involving a crocodile.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Drawing Day 2010

Today is Drawing Day, and for the event I put together a quick drawing of a pair of African hunting dogs. I've had a bunch of photos of these guys for a while, and I really want to do a large drawing with several of them in it. However, I realized that black and white would not suit these wonderfully colorful dogs. So... that gave me the idea for this drawing - a small-scale test, if you will, with the tinted charcoal that I have not used in some time. I do need to practice more with the tinted charcoal. With such a limited range of colors it is hard to get the depth I like. But I think this test is promising.

Happy Drawing Day!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

WIP - Two Lionesses Started

After taking a few days off for the long weekend, I'm back into the swing of things. I finished the grass around the male lion and started blocking in the rest of the grass and the two lionesses. The one partially climbing the tree has been the most problematic as far as sketching. Since I have no reference for her (or any of these particular animals, for that matter), I'm having to rely on partial references and a knowledge of anatomy to get her positioned correctly.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Birdhouse Pyrography

This birdhouse will be donated to an auction for the Relay for Life, along with birdhouses from several other local artists. I chose to decorate mine with five birds that are local to the area: the black-chinned hummingbird, lark sparrow, Scott's oriole, red-breasted nuthatch, and ruby-crowned kinglet. The design was burned onto the wood, and then I stained the roof, base and perch. The auction will be held next month.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Opening Reception

The big day arrived! I actually set up my exhibit nearly three weeks ago, but tonight was the opening reception. I got a lot of praise from the visitors and even had a few people come in from out of town just to see my stuff. There was a group exhibit going on concurrently in the other room with a theme of "reflections," and the whole thing looked great. Here are a few snapshots of my area (see the whole area here).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

WIP - First Lion Almost Done

I've been working down the left side of the drawing. I wanted to get the male lion in place, and to do that I needed to get some of the background done first. Next I will put in the two females and start working towards the lower right corner.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

WIP - Leopard Finished

The top third of the leopard/lions drawing is done, minus some tweaking later on. I started blocking in the male lion as you can see. There will be two females, too, but I keep changing my mind as to exactly what their positions will be. Until I work that out, I'll continue with the male lion and the background foliage.

My tools are pretty simple. I'm using 6B, 4B and 2B charcoal pencils and a 6B charcoal stick. The 6B is usually my favorite, but I find I'm using the 4B more on this drawing. It is not quite as black or as soft, which makes the tree bark easier to handle. I'm also using a small blending stump for, well, blending, and a paintbrush and chamois for applying charcoal powder (chamois is great for large areas, paintbrush for small areas). Then, as always, is the kneaded eraser for highlights and corrections.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

WIP - Leopard and Lions part 2

Gosh, it's hard drawing a dead animal, particularly one draped over a branch. I spent ages trying to figure out where the shoulders and elbows should be. Now the gazelle is almost finished. I've started brushing charcoal powder on the leopard to give it a little definition before I continue with the spots, and I started blending in some more charcoal powder on the background where there will be distant trees (it's a little hard to see in this photo). In the next step, I'll finish the leopard.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

WIP - Leopard and Lions

I've been very busy the past week or so getting ready for my exhibit. Everything is set up and I finally have time to get back to drawing! As I mentioned in my last post, this one is going to be a leopard guarding its recent kill in a tree while three lions circle below. This will be my first drawing with more than one species. In this situation, it is important not only to get each animal in the right proportion, but also to get each individual in the right proportion to others of the same and different species. Leopards are smaller than lions, so that must be evident in the drawing.

Once I figured out the composition, I realized it would need to be fairly large in order to accomodate the detail I like to use, so I am working on an 18"x24" sheet of smooth bristol paper (my favorite paper at the moment). After several hours already, I have the layout set and have started on the leopard. I'm going to work mostly top-to-bottom because of the size. The photo shows the full size of the drawing and a closeup of the part I'm working on. It still has more to be done, and I will probably start working on the background a little. This will probably take me a few weeks to complete, and I will post my progress along the way.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Inspiration and Ideas

People often ask me where I get the ideas or inspiration for my drawings. To be honest, they come from almost anywhere. I take tons of photos when I go to the zoo, and often at least one will spark a drawing when I get home. I try to use my own reference photos whenever possible, but sometimes I have an idea that I have no photos for (the humpbacks are an example). Other times, I will read something or see something on TV that will give me an idea. Just the other day, I was reading a book on the big cat art of Guy Coheleach and part of the text reminded me of a scene I saw in a documentary (probably on Animal Planet), with a pride of lions circling a tree containing a leopard and its fresh kill. Suddenly, it was so vivid in my mind that I knew it would be my next drawing. But there's another drawing I want to do of a bald eagle that just came to mind seemingly out of nowhere. I've been working on that one in my head for months now and it's finally coming together to the point where I could start it. Other times, I have to work on a composition. I have a series of square drawings of African mammals, and the square format requires some serious planning.

I keep a notebook with all my ideas for future drawings. I typically work on one at a time, mostly because that's all I have room for, and once I'm finished I go through my list of thumbnail drawings and pick out the one that speaks to me at that moment. Some of my ideas have been around for years, unrealized, because I simply feel more motivated to do something else. And what is the point of starting a project unless you are 100% into it?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Blogs of Note

First, let me say: Wow. Then I want to thank the folks at Blogger for naming this a Blog of Note. What an honor!

First Breath

This is the third in my mother/baby series. I contemplated doing it on white paper like the other two, but the blue matboard was calling to me. I am quite glad I chose the blue!

When whales are born, they come out tail first and only have fifteen seconds or so to catch their first breath of air. The mother lifts the newborn up to the surface with her snout. I haven't decided yet whether I will do limited or open edition prints.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

WIP - Humpback Whales

After much deliberation on several ideas running through my head, I decided to do a pair of humpback whales as my next drawing. This will be the third in the mother/baby series, and I am working on blue matboard. This isn't the best photo, but after laying down some black along the bottom and white sun rays around the whales, I started at the top (the baby is not quite finished). The hard part of this one is drawing above and below the water at the same time - I hope it comes across well. I need to reduce the highlights on the surface of the water, but I like how it's coming along. (Note: the color is way off on this photo.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Pastel Lion Study

Every now and then, I like to play around with color. I took out my old pastels for the first time since I started charcoal. I've been scrutinizing other artists' pastel work and some online tutorials, and figured the best way to proceed was to lay down an underpainting with the soft pastels (heavily blended), then add detail on top with the hard pastels. Now, I only have a set of 30 soft pastels and 50 or so hard pastels, so I wasn't able to get the depth I was hoping for (my sets were seriously lacking in dark brown in particular).

My reason for doing this, other than a change of pace, was to see if I liked pastel enough to get a large set of pastel pencils and do some colored work in between charcoal drawings. I think I do!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Italian Greyhounds

Here is the final version of my most recent commission - a pair of Italian greyhounds resting on their favorite couch. The clients are very happy with it. Charcoal on 11"x14" smooth bristol paper.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Change of Schedule; Past the Panic Stage

At the gallery in my town, there are two rooms. In the main room, they hold juried exhibits based on some central theme. In the second room, a single artist (or group) is able to show several of their pieces at once concurrently with the main exhibit. I was accepted to show my work in this second room later this summer, but after a change in management at the gallery, my exhibit has been bumped up to next month, just over three weeks away! After the momentary panic, I realized I'm in good shape. Three weeks is just enough time to get my last two drawings framed, so all I have left to do is print up some promo material and do last-minute marketing. So, if you are in the area of Los Alamos, New Mexico, please stop by the Fuller Lodge Art Center May 5-June 18, or even meet me at the opening reception May 21, 5-7pm. Fifteen of my works from the last two years will be on display, framed and available for sale.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

WIP - Commissioned Dog Portrait

dog portrait commission charcoal drawingI've been working on a commission the past week or so. After getting the layout just right, I started with the drawing sort of reverse from what I usually do. I did the eyes and noses first, then went straight to the background - a dark leather couch covered with a soft fleece blanket the dogs love to sit on. The client has approved my posting of the work in progress, so here it is. Can you guess what breed of dog they are?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

WIP - Elephants - Al....most....There....

African elephant family charcoal drawing in progress
It's almost there! I've been spending a lot of time on the foreground, particularly the water. It's slow going, but it's coming together. All that's left is the strip along the bottom and some touching up. (The black part at the very bottom of the photo is the pencil tray on the easel.) For the water, I've been using mostly the 6B charcoal pencil and tortillon, followed by the chamois and kneaded eraser for smoothing and lifting highlights, then finally the white charcoal for the foam and highlights brighter than the gray matboard. My next post should be the completed drawing!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Before the Hunt

Mexican wolves white charcoal drawing on black paper
Here is the final version of the Mexican wolves, white charcoal on black Strathmore Artagain paper. Once the elephants are done (back to that one this weekend), I will be finished with the drawing part of getting ready for my exhibit this summer. All that will be left is a few more frames.

Prints of this drawing are available.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

New WIP - Mexican Wolves

Occasionally I work on more than one drawing at once, although I have found I prefer to devote all my energy to one piece at a time before moving on. In this case, I have been working on the elephants for a couple weeks and have reached the point where I'm not sure how to continue. So while I let it sit in the back of my mind and figure it out subconsciously (hopefully), I started another drawing. I really want to improve my ability with white charcoal, and this one will be the most complicated one I've done so far with three individuals and hopefully more depth.

Mexican wolves white charcoal pencil drawing in progress
I don't have a lot of reference photos of wolves, mostly because the wolves at the zoo nearby are very elusive and always either hiding or running too fast for my camera when I visit. However, I did find three photos that I am combining into this drawing. These are not the typical gray wolf, but rather a subspecies called the Mexican wolf which are usually thinner than their more northern relatives. So hopefully this will turn out well!

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

WIP - Elephants - Slowing Down a Bit

African elephants charcoal drawing in progress
The top two-thirds or so of this drawing is essentially done at this point (something I decided to do before continuing with the last elephant), but now I'm going to slow down a bit to make sure I get the water part right. I think the bottom elephant still needs some work on the head, and then I'll work on getting texture in the water and a few foreground plants. The color is a little off in this photograph, but I'm sure you get the idea.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

WIP - Elephants

African elephant herd drawing in progress
The last adult is in place. Now the hard part begins, when I try to add the last young elephant splashing and playing in the water.

Monday, February 22, 2010

WIP - Three Elephants Done...

African elephants charcoal drawing in progress
Okay, elephant number three is done, two more to go! Recently, I've been trying to do background before the animals, then foreground last. In this case, since the elephants will take up so much of the drawing, I am going to leave the background as simple as possible. And since I am working with a gray surface, I will most likely just add some simple clouds, and I'll do that before I start the foreground. Because I am right-handed, I try to work left-to-right as much as possible, although if I have to reach over a completed area it is easy to put down a clean sheet of paper to keep my sleeve off it.

I hope to have the next elephant completed by the end of the week.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

WIP - Elephants

African elephant mother and baby drawing in progressIncredibly, I was able to make significant progress on the elephant drawing this week, to the point where the first two individuals are essentially complete. I am saving the feet for later because I want to add foreground, probably some shallow water. I am guessing it took about four hours of work to reach this point, which is actually pretty fast for this size. I assume that is because I'm working with skin instead of fur.

I put down a light layer of 4B charcoal, thicker in the darker areas, then blend with the tortillon. Then I blend with the chamois to smooth out the marks, and repeat with more 4B and 6B until the right values are reached. Then I added wrinkles with a light 4B line and a highlight with the kneaded eraser.

There are three more elephants after these, and I will keep posting my progress.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Color of Dinosaurs

I have always had a fascination of dinosaurs - much like any kid, but I never grew out of it. It is also a goal of mine to hone my drawing skills to the point where I can draw extinct animals, which obviously have no reference photos. So I was ecstatic when I was pointed to this article from National Geographic (dated Feb. 4) which showed the first scientifically colored dinosaur. A feathered dino, Anchiornis was preserved so impeccably that scientists were able to extract pigment samples and compare them to modern birds. From this data, they modeled the dinosaur with its actual colors. How cool is that?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Working in a Square

My zebra drawing from a few months ago came about because I had a large piece of gray matboard floating around and didn't know what to do with it. It was square, 32"x32", and I cut an inch off each side to make sure the edges were neat (it was in the closet for a few years, after all). After completing that drawing, I decided I'd like to do a series of drawings of large African mammals in the same format. What I didn't know was how hard that would prove to be.

Working in a rectangular format is easier, or at least I'm used to it. But the square, while the same principles of composition apply, makes it much harder to emphasize one direction over the other. For the elephant drawing, I had stuck in my mind a line of the pachyderms along a river's edge, a composition that would have worked on a horizontal rectangle, but I could not get it into a square. Add to that the roundness of elephants, and I was stuck.

So finally, a few days ago I abandoned the river idea and focused on the square. How could I arrange two or more elephants interestingly in such a shape? Referring back to my copy of Design and Composition, I found my solution: the diamond. With one elephant at each vertex, I finally had the layout I was looking for.

Now all I needed were the reference photos. I went back over my stash and found one from a royalty-free, copyright-free book I have and the rest from a friend who graciously gave me his safari photos to use (thank you, Kevin!). I put the five photos (including the infant) into Gimp and played around with positioning until I came up with this collage. I was able to transfer the design to my matboard fairly easily using careful measurements, something I don't normally do with smaller drawings.

The only problem with my references is that they do not have consistent lighting. I may have to use some of my other photos to help, or I may have to do some creative guesswork. Ultimately, the final drawing will look a little different from this image, but this is the process one must go through to get a good composition.

I will certainly be posting my progress on this drawing over the next several weeks, so keep checking in to see how it's going!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Night Owl

great horned owl white charcoal drawingI do enjoy working in white charcoal on occasion. I find it a little more difficult to use than black because it only comes in one hardness and has a slightly oilier feel, but it is wonderful for drawing night scenes. For this drawing, I used a photograph I took recently of a great horned owl. The Wildlife Center, a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation facility in northern New Mexico, had an evening class on raptor identification a few months ago which I attended. Several of their educational birds were available, and I was allowed to photograph them. A portion of my profit from sales of prints and the original will be donated to the Center.

Friday, February 05, 2010


snow leopard mother and cubs charcoal drawingSo finally, here they are. I took several photos of this piece in progress, and I'm hoping to get them assembled into a slideshow. I named the piece Lookout because even though the cubs are busy playing and climbing on mom, she always keeps a lookout for danger.

Snow leopards live in the mountains of Asia, and many call the Himalayas their home. They live above the tree line in summer, then move to lower altitudes when the snow forces their prey downhill.

Since I took the reference photos for this drawing at the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque, I will be donating a portion of sales to the Zoo for their snow leopard breeding program.

The original and limited edition prints are available.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WIP - Snow Leopard and Cubs

After taking some time off for Christmas and recovering from various illnesses in the family, I am finally back full swing into drawing. As you can see, the snow leopard family is coming along pretty well. The cubs still need some work as well as the background. My new technique of applying the fur with the blending stump is not producing the deep shadows I was hoping for, so I have to go back in with the pencils to darken them. Overall, I am happy with how it is turning out.

Friday, January 15, 2010

New Fur Technique

I decided to try something new with this new snow leopard drawing (I just love these cats!), to loosen up my technique a little. I started with a base of charcoal applied with a blending stump to get the right value of the fur, then I added the spots with the 6B pencil and a bit of fur texture with the 2B pencil.
I'm going to continue the rest of the drawing this way, and I think it's a good way to achieve realism without getting into too much detail.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Year in Preview

I've spent quite a bit of time the past couple weeks thinking about my goals for my art. I suppose I can call them "new year's resolutions," which is why I'm doing this now (I mean, what better time?). It has been said that one way to improve your art is to compare it to art you admire. What does your favorite art have that your own does not? So I look to the art of Robert Bateman, master wildlife painter.

In his own words, Bateman says the problem with so much wildlife art is
when you see it, you feel you have seen it a thousand times before – yet another wolf, or another loon, or some other overworked subject done in the same old way. And, it looks as if it is done with a great deal of effort – every feather or every hair painted in great detail...
and also
the easiest of pieces is a head and shoulders of a mammal or bird with little or no background.... [This] presents almost no challenge to the artist or viewer.
This quite accurately summarizes what I myself have been unable to express. Drawing portraits and simple backgrounds is great for developing technique, but I am ready to do more. I think I'm heading in the right direction with my recent zebras and polar bears, but this year I'm really going to push myself to work on more interesting compositions with more complex backgrounds and greater depth of value.

So what is in store for the coming year? I have a couple pieces in mind for the mother/baby series (including one already started), and will do one, hopefully two more in the Africa series. I also would like to try my hand at some extinct species, but we'll see how things go.