My Process: Part One

I thought I'd try something I'd never done before: I'm going to document my process as I am working on a painting. I realized that I do not have any "in progress" images of any of my work. Not to mention, this should keep me on a schedule to complete this portrait. So, to start, what I am working on is a portrait of my two children. I took a number of pictures of them, as well as sifted through numerous other ones, to find what I wanted to use. I ended up using these two photos:

I thought about explaining why I picked these particular ones, but I think I would like the final painting to speak for itself. If anyone knows my kids, I hope they can see my reasoning. Put simply, I found images that not only reflected their personalities, but also their relationship as brother and sister. From these photos, I joined them in Photoshop to work on cropping and composition:

I didn't want all the stuff in the background to take away from the composition, so I blurred it. Next, I printed it out and began a sketch:

After much fine tuning, I scan the drawing and enlarge it on the computer. Then I print it out in "tiles" and piece it all together. This portrait is larger than most of my work – about 20" x 15". Looks like it's time to break out the big brushes!

Next, I get my watercolor board and transfer the printout to the board using graphite paper. I used to use carbon paper, but that stuff's pretty permanent. The graphite paper's like using light pencil – bold enough to see, and easy to erase and lift later.

And here's where I stand now: A board that is masked on the edges with painter's tape and the drawing enlarged and transferred. Next step: the beginning washes!!


There's a Dinosaur in My Backyard: Part 2

Well, I'm just all over the place as far as painting goes. In the midst of working on a portrait piece I will be entering in a few art contests, I decided to take a break and finish the 3rd illustration from the "There's a Dinosaur in My Backyard" series. Here is the sketch I did a few months ago:

And here's the final painting:

To recap – the main character has made friends with the T-Rex and he takes her for a ride. This one is my favorite, well, because it's the "pay-off." But don't get me wrong, I don't read the last pages of books are watch endings to movies I haven't seen. Anyway, it was fun to paint. Maybe it's because painting a dino was new to me. Maybe it was the fact that the subject matter was happy and festive. Either way, I had a lot of fun doing this and don't know if I can resist doing the other two before I start back up on the portrait. Cheers and Happy Holidays!


Lost and Found

Back in '98, I got a bug to do a Skywalker family portrait. I hadn't painted Star Wars before – I just practiced with this piece:

It was "down and dirty" really quick and really small. Plus I wasn't happy with how I rendered Leia's face. So I worked harder on a larger one – carefully picking out the best reference photos and thinking a lot more on composition. Well, I worked so hard on this piece that I actually painted it twice. The first one really had me frustrated: the glazing was not what I wanted and left a lot of mottling on Leia's face and I didn't like the deep shadow in Luke's face. I must admit, that I was so unhappy with it that I tore it up. But recently, as I was looking through my old art, I came across the pieces to this "second draft." So I scanned them and pieced it all back together just to see what I discarded. Turns out I was missing a piece – so that is why the bottom corner is missing. I found it very interesting to revisit this painting, even if by chance. I'm glad I restarted. I much prefer the final version to this one. So, here is the reassembled Skywalker family portrait – the "second draft" on the top. The final version is on the bottom. I think that if there was one thing I wished I would have kept, it would be the background texture in the first one.


Time Flies When It's Close to the Holidays!

My my. How long has it been? I think it's this time of year that teacher are just gnawing at the bit to make it to Christmas break. The students are starting to "check out" and we have to be sure that we don't or there will be utter chaos! But in the midst of benchmarking, rehearsals, tree decorating, stage decorating, grades, and the number of other activities our children at other schools are involved in; there are those bright moments – the little gems that make it all worth it. It could be a student proud that his or her artwork was on display; or it could be the fruition of weeks of rehearsals that result in a magnificent show of talent. However small they may seem, they are the world to me as a teacher. It's the mark that progress is being made – that the children's esteem is a step stronger, their courage is raised, their talent is nurtured. And through it all, if I helped make a step forward, toward the positive, then it was worth the minor frustrations. It is fascinating to watch a child grow. It is heartwarming to watch them grow strong.

Here's a pic of the stage as it was produced by myself and the Art Club. Couldn't have been happier with – and for – these kids! Scroll down to compare to my sketch! Until next time!


Martians' First Thanksgiving

Periodically, SCBWI offers contests for writers and illustrators. They'll present an idea, and we interpret it. This month, the idea for illustrators is called "Thanks, But No Thanks!" The description: "Ever been dragged to a Thanksgiving dinner against your will? Well, so have the brother and sister duo of your new book. But nothing could have prepared them for Thanksgiving '08. For this month's Illustrator's Contest, show us what your characters are up against at this year's feast."

I wanted to play a little with irony. For these Martians, it is their first Thanksgiving on Earth. However, when they are presented with the golden juicy turkey, they are disgusted. What does a turkey resemble to them? Why would it cause such disgust? (And no, they are not vegetarian.)


Graphic Designer turned Art Teacher turned Set Designer

Artists can wear many hats. I started out as a Graphic Designer. Now I am a teacher. All the while I painted and illustrated. Now I am back to something I haven't done since my high school days. As a junior and senior in high school, I helped paint the backdrops for our musicals. I remember painting the backdrops to "Sweet Charity." Now, I am called upon to do some work for my school's Christmas program. The theme – "Santa, you have mail." Here is a small watercolor sketch I did as a design. Hopefully I can pull this off with a little help from the Art club and some parents. I get rather intimidated doing art at a large scale.


Found Time to Draw!

Yes. More progress has been made. I worked on a sketch yesterday developed from a few photos of my children. I wanted a more "candid" shot – though my son is looking right at the camera. But I still think I captured the essence of both my children. Molly is in the foreground – not because of importance, but I wanted to say something about her personality – she's lively, "bigger than life," a show-off of sorts and consistently happy. Jacob on the other hand, is less extroverted – her can be found standing behind someone a lot, not that there's anything wrong with that at all! He's just the soft-spoken one of the two. However, he's still laughing along with Molly. I wanted that to be an indicator that he's not devoid of humor or liveliness. In fact, there's more to him than he lets on. A complex one he is!

I think I will produce this at a larger size (most of my work is pretty small). And I'd like to experiment with application. But don't know how far I want to go outside my comfort level. I've been studying the work of a watercolor artist named Kim Johnson-Nechtman. I love the way she presents realism, but in a loose yet controlled style. Anyway, here is my final sketch:


Been too long

My goodness! How long's it been since I've written?! And what has happened in a month's time? Well, what's happened besides Halloween, my school's Fall Pumpkin Festival (where I face painted for the first time!) and of course, the Election? For one, I have finally started the Art Club for my school. Looks like the kids'll dig it. Our first assignment? Set design for this year's Christmas program. I have also been preparing for something I haven't done in awhile – a portrait of my kids – together. I realized as I was looking at my portrait work, that I have done paintings of each of them, but not together. The challenge is that I want this to be more that a mere rendering. So I will produce it to enter in the North Light Book cover competition. And after today, I think I may have found the perfect images to work with!! At the same time, I will be working on the SCBWI illustration contest for November. The theme: "Thanks, but no thanks!" More on that later! In the meantime, here are some pumpkins I carved (from the fake foam pumpkins) and displayed in my classroom.


Field Sketch

I am really digging plein air painting. I feel like I did in art school – painting straight from life and very spontaneously. It's a nice break from the illustration series that I am working on at the moment. Though, all the outdoor sketching I had been doing is paying off – the scenes in the illustration take place outside. And it was much easier to set up the backgrounds having painting so many trees, grass and landscape in the last few months. The trick is going to be the dinosaur (you'll see what I mean when I finish). In the meantime, let's enjoy a day at the basketball courts. I even captured a few young players too.

More Time Sketching

We took the kids to the park yesterday. While they played, I sketched the playground they played in. Where are the kids, you may ask? Well, I'm pretty good at capturing people on the move in my sketches, but my kids move at the speed of lightning!


Adventures in Education

In the midst of a presidential debate, a floundering economy, and global warming – what is it that I, as an art educator, worry about? Last year – my first year –was so valuable even though it was so challenging. There are things I learned that has almost become second nature to me this year. Classroom management is still a struggle, but new insight has given me a better outlook on how to handle many situations. It has given me more room to focus on individual students. And I have begun to discover some of the pain these kids must suffer in their lives – the things we as adults tend to forget that come along with being a child.

A lot of what I'm finding are children who need validation, attention, love and encouragement. I learned at the end of last year and over the summer that there are educators who believe that classroom management should deal very little with consequences. By that, I mean that if we took a more proactive approach – where we focus mainly on relationships, monitoring and encouragement – then consequences become less of an issue. So I am trying this approach this year and there is some truth to that theory. But there are a handful of students that I am focusing on that really struggle because they feel out of place everywhere else and thus carry that with them into my class. True, I only have students for 25 minutes at a time, twice to three times a week, but I still feel compelled to reach out to them. One in particular actually thinks that I do not like him at all. I've given this particular student a lot of thought this week. My personal goal is to reach out to him, to let him know that I do care. And I hope to see him try to make more positive choices. Because I get a feeling that few adults have really done that for him.

It also strengthens my resolve to become a better father to my own children. They are definitely more privileged than most of the children I teach, but there are universal needs that every child has – no matter their financial and family situation.

Struzan in Training

Where has time gone? Since school started, I have been concentrating on classroom management, modifying my lesson procedures and plans and even starting an Art Club. It's going to be quite a year. I really hope the students get a lot out of what I have to offer this time around. Judging by their work so far, things are looking really good. At night, I have begun work on the series of illustrations centering around Molly and a friendly dinosaur (you can find the sketches in the sketches section). And speaking of unfinished work, I dug up an old drawing I did when I was 12. Looks like even back then, I had a fascination with Drew Struzan's work.


At Least Someone in This House is Doing Art!

Well, I've got to hand it to Jacob. I set out some paints and paper, and he produces. Meanwhile his dad only manages to get one out of three 7x10 drawings transferred to illustration board. I'm thinking I may have Jacob start doing my art for me.


Dual Passions

I was wondering,​what do people do who have dual passions?​How do they keep themselves​ motivated to maintain both?​ For instance,​ I am a second year art teacher.​ I couldn't be happier with my career change.​ And it takes​a lot of work to not only plan the days,​but to inspire and manage children in a classroom.​ But I also love painting and drawing.​I lead a second life as an illustrator and to be successful,​one has to continuously paint​ and generate presence by self-promotion.​ Whew!​ What to do.​.​.​.​ because what I SHOULD do when I get home from school is continue painting.​ But what I WANT to do is sleep​!!

Impromptu Illustration

It's a few days left before the weekend – then school starts. Being the art teacher, some of my colleagues will ask for a favor here and there to help decorate their room or hallway. This year, I am helping the first grade team by creating a hallway banner and t-shirt for their theme, "Dive into learning." I thought it would be a good opportunity to do an illustration. So, based on a concept from the 1st grade teachers, I came up with this in one sitting. It also gave me an excellent chance to try some different watercolor techniques.


I Don't Do "Cute"... or Do I?

As the school year approaches, we as teachers gear ourselves up with workshops, staff development, lesson planning and room-readying. Today, I was at an art teacher workshop. Got to do some really cool activities that I can't wait to incorporate into my lessons. One of them was creating a design for a creature and then create its egg out of modeling material. Well, without visual reference, I am a lost illustrator. So, I experimented with doing something TOTALLY out of my head and leaned it towards "cute." I have never done "cute" before, so this is my very first attempt.

En Plein Air

I've been on a real "en plain air" kick this summer. I think it's just been a nice break from painting from photographs. Nothing compares to painting from what you see through your own eyes rather than through a camera lens. I can see how colors and perspective can get distorted through a camera.

Today, we went to the pool with the kids and I took along my sketchbook and watercolors. It's not about details, as it is about shapes, composition and color. Not to mention, drawing and painting my 3-year-old daughter from life is a near impossibility.

Well, back to the lesson plans. School starts in 2 weeks!

Me, Myself and I

Well, every now and then, I just gotta draw myself. Not to mention, I am a member of networking sites and I was tired of using the same old pic of me as my profile image. It was weird digging through my old photos and drawing myself. It was almost like I went back in time to see what I once was – and to see how some of those physical features are still apparent and how they were passed down to my children. There were times I wondered if I was drawing myself or one of my kids.


I added a third illustration to "There's a Dinosaur in My Backyard" series. This one, the main character has made friends with the T-Rex and he takes her for a ride. As I said before, I would like to go back and flesh these stories out. Originally, the dino approaches her, then leaves. How boring is that? Anyway, next step: paint.

A Family Once Again.

"With the danger behind them, Mother watched her two boys with pride as they finally got along."

I finally finished the tiger painting early this morning. I changed the title from "Mother's Pride" because I didn't want to give the impression that I was making a double entendre to a lion's pride. Anyway, as I keep "retro-writing" for my illustrations, I'm starting to get a little inspired to see some of these stories through.

Ahhhh! The Great Outdoors!

Well, I'm back from Colorado. What a great time! I think to make vacations more enjoyable, you have to put as much into the journey as you do into the destination. We went as a family to see my brother-in-law and his family, and along the way, we stopped at The Great Sand Dunes, Lake City, Creede, Santa Rosa and even took the ole historic Route 66 back into Texas. I even had a little time to do some watercolor sketches at some of these places. It has been a long time since I painted outside. The colors are more vivid. You see things with your eyes and not a camera. And there's less restraint. I should do this more often!!


Like Riding a Bike

It's been a while, yes. I spent the last week and two days doing some freelance work for the agency I used to work for. It was a surreal experience to be back in the saddle again – in front of a computer doing design production work. At first I was extremely nervous – it had been 9 - 10 months since I designed or produced anything. Not to mention, I hadn't seen my friends there all year – up until just recently. So it was a strange experience – not a bad one – just "dreamy." I equate it to visiting your home and neighborhood that you grew up in, having not been there for years. It's a different neighborhood, with different people, and your old home is painted a different color. It's not bad. It's just that things moved on. But it was really good seeing my good friends there again.

Now, I must prepare for a trip to Colorado. I'm excited – haven't been there in about 3 years. I just miss the wide open space, the mountains and the cool air. And what I really want to do this time around is some "en plein air." I've got my travel palette and watercolor pad ready to go. In the meantime, I have a quick painting I did with this travel set. From "Lord of the Rings" – Liv Tyler as Arwen.

Time Capsule

Today I was doing a little cleaning in my studio area (the place is a disaster zone) and found a folder. On it was my name and the words "science" and "math" on it. To best of my recollections, I used it when I was in 7th or 8th grade. But in it, I found pages of drawings and paintings I had done from the age of, I would guess, 8 to age 17. This one here is the earliest one – I know I worked on it with my dad for the Cub Scout troop I was in (that's his handwriting at the bottom) – it was for a fund raiser poster. Of course I had a how-to cartooning book that I was enamored with, and that's where the characters came from. What's funny is that I hadn't seen this drawing in decades and when I look at it today, I still remember the struggles I had with shape and getting the proportions the way I saw them in the book. I wonder where that book is anyway?

Oh yeah, the signature you notice at the bottom was the name I went by in my childhood. I'd thank you not to call me by that name now Happy


There's a Dinosaur in My Backyard

The next set of illustrations I will be working on deals with a story I cowrote with some folks I used to work with. In my days in advertising, we had half-days devoted to strengthening our company's culture and understanding of its values. One of these days, our exercise was to work on a children's story – illustrate and write it. My group came up with this idea: a girl is playing in her backyard and discovers a dinosaur bone. Once she picks it up, she is met by an actual dinosaur. It was supposed to have the flair of "Harold and the Purple Crayon" where the object can transport the girl's imagination. It's been a few years since this exercise, but I still have the story, and have revisited it to re-illustrate it. In the original sketches, I used some stock photography for the girl's likeness, but wasn't really satisfied. (These sketches are in the "Sketches" section of the site). So I took some pics of my daughter and used her instead.

David and the Purple Crayon

As I was looking through my sketchbooks (when I should be sketching!!) I found some lost ideas, remnants of ideas that became something else entirely, and just some weird, sometimes dark, stuff. One ink sketch I found was an exercise I used to do for the illustration class I teach. The project was for a hypothetical children's book writers and illustrators conference whose theme was "magic." And I sketched a little ditty from my mind. You see, I haven't been doing enough of that these last few days – just letting my imagination run wild and letting my hand guide the pencil with it. Sometimes, I think I just need to make some time to relax and just draw. And when I did this drawing, I was doing just that – even if it was based on a class assignment.

Proud Father

Sometimes your kids do things that make you so proud. Maybe they score the winning goal, or get straight A's. My kids just draw and continue to impress me. First, on the left, is a drawing by my 8 year old son, Jacob. While I was working on the color scheme for "Space Boy," he brought me a drawing he did at school – from memory – of his color suggestion! He'd only seen my sketch once maybe twice! At any rate, I used his colors for the boy's shirt and the alien (it was almost purple!) On the right is from my 3 year old daughter, Molly. It is entitled "Molly" (Yes, that it her handwriting). Now she has the advantage of having an older brother who draws a lot – and she is learning quite a bit from him!


The Little Red Hen

One day as the Little Red Hen was scratching in a field, she found a grain of wheat.
"This wheat should be planted," she said. "Who will plant this grain of wheat?"
"Not I," said the Dog.

The painting – she is done. One thing I need to remember: don't buy cheap film frisket. That stuff just lets paint bleed under. I've used other frisket before without this problem. Now which part of the story should I illustrate next?


Red Hen revised revision

This has been a very good experience in adjusting eye levels. As much as I thought I was making the hound's eye meet the hen's, it just wasn't happening. So I went further and adjusted not only the eye, but the brow as well, and gave the pupil a little more white under it to further emphasize it's direction. I think I'm where I need to be to start painting!


Red Hen revised

I've taken this illustration to the SCBWI artists' forum and was given some advice. I think I like where this is going. At first, having the hen look like a hen with it's wild, non-focused eye didn't bug me. But engaging the red hen in the scene by having her look at the seed and the hound works so much better for me. Also, having the hound look up at the hen makes the scene work better in that it draws more attention to the seed and further engages the characters, and has them more anthropomorphized. If I like it enough in a few days, I think I'll start painting.


Next Illustration?

Right now I'm considering whether to finish painting "Mother's Pride" (see Sketches) or to put it on the backburner and finish this one: based on the story of the red hen. I'm thinking about changing the eye level on the hound to give the impression that he is looking up at the hen. But I almost like that he has that distant stare – like he doesn't care. Also, I may replace the single seed in her "hand" with a bag of seeds that say "seeds" on it. Right now, I wonder if people wouldn't know what that was. Hmmm...

Space Boy!

Here it is, in it's full-color glory.

First one out of the gate

Here's my first effort in over a year. It is based on a single sentence I wrote in my sketchbook, "As soon as he heard the noise, he donned his Space Boy Astro Helmet and grabbed his Space Boy Mega Ray Gun to investigate." Here's one of the final sketches before I started painting.

The first year

Well, I made through the first year of teaching. To say the least it has been quite an experience. I've learned so much, and feel that I have so much more to learn. Now it's time to illustrate. (cracking knuckles) I may be a little rusty. Soon I will have a few sketches up of my latest endeavor. Until then…