Monday, December 1, 2008

National Pie Day, among other things...

A Cautionary Note In This Festive Time

While it is entirely true that
December 1st is National Pie Day,
and the first week of December marks
Recipe Greetings for the Holidays Week,
it is also worth noting that the whole
thirty-one days as a unit constitutes
(in the more temperate climates,
but I kid you not nonetheless)
Cooked Grasshoppers Month.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A trip into the studio.

Ah, for starters, we have an empty mushroom can, punched through multiple times with a nail, submerged in a Ball mason jar of odorless paint thinner. This allows for sediment to settle (cheaply) to the bottom as brushes are cleaned against the perforations. In the background is my ubiquitous pile of paint scraped from the palette.

The palette itself is a sheet of masonite topped with a sheet of glass, amply duct taped around the edges and propped on top of an end table. The idea here is that the masonite will provide a nice neutral—a (rather warm) 50% gray—upon with to mix colors, lending a sense of relativity to the values and intensities mixed up. The glass allows for smooth cleanup with a razor blade.

I tend to use, in light to dark rainbow order, toothpaste-sized globs of Titanium White, Cadmium Yellow Light, Naples Yellow (occasionally), Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Quinacridone Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson (dries faster and is more lightfast than regular A.C.), Ultramarine Blue Deep, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Sap Green, and a guest appearance at the end by Transparent red earth. Occasionally burnt umber and Prussian Blue get to sit in, too.

It would be awful nice if I'd ever gotten around to puttying and painting my walls/ceiling up here, but somewhere in the middle of racing to finish an attic studio, a kitchen, and a nursery in our house, my first son was born. So I now just try to keep in mind that the particle board walls here (couldn't get sheet rock up the narrow, twisting stairs) make the light exceeding warm when I'm mixing colors, and adjust accordingly through the magic of unscientific guestimation.

So, here's the book sketch I'm working from at the moment:

...which was assembled from fair amount of period photo reference, building floorplans, ebay auction photos, and reference photos of a student of mine, dressed in $60 worth of (ebay) hundred year old clothing, cross referenced with other photographic period clothing reference.

Halfway through our photoshoot, my good camera died, leaving me with only my phone to finish up with. Sooo professional.

The sketch was then printed up at about 150% (the heads were comfortable to draw and paint at that scale...) and transfered via a light table to Fabriano soft press watercolor paper, which had been treated with a 50/50 solution of PVA adhesive and water, leaving it impervious to the elements but still feeling like paper.

Everything is then toned with a wash of either burnt umber or burnt sienna:

Working in blocks of minimally modeled, muted local color to establish shadows and midtones, the painting is blocked in, usually over about 4-8 hours. I'm thinning the paints with a combination of turpentine, thickened linseed oil, and venice turpentine, which imparts a fairly impasto-free (no lumps), smooth surface, due to the venice turpentine's tendency to "level," or flatten out once applied.

When painting for reproduction, I've found this can help limit reflections and unpredictable sheen when the scanning is done. Thickened linseed oil (I usually use Winsor Newton's) is already half polymerized, which, while making it more viscous, also speeds along dry time.

I typically add a few drops (literally) of cobalt drier to the mix, after which the underpainting will be dry to the touch and ready for a second coat in about 24 hours.

I have in the past started with faces, following advice I received once that if one screws up the face, there's really no point in finishing. This can make the portrait aspect of the painting too "sacred" right off the bat, at least in my case, so I like to get a bit of the atmosphere and temperature nailed down first.

Then I break out the little brushes. I'd still hesitate to say I'm erring on the side of detailed realism; for the most part, my surfaces never transcend from being paint into, say, satin, wood or hair. When the size 1 round brush comes in, it spends a lot of time just cleaning up edges and producing smaller matrices of painterly dabs and blobs. A lot of time gets spent hiding colors inside of each other, trying to play up coloristic temperature shifts to activate as much of the paint surface as possible.

The entire project won't be due for another month or two, so I'll keep this painting out and visible while continuing to work on the remaining spreads and spots, checking character consistency and attending to occasional tweaks.

oil on paper, 17.75 x 30. 2008.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

Open Letter to the House of Representatives.

I'm writing you for your desperately needed help as a constituent, and as a creative professional eeking out a living in the US, primarily as an illustrator of children's books, urging you to PLEASE do what you can to prevent HR 5889 from going onto the House calendar for a vote, and even more importantly to NOT adopt the proposed Senate version of the bill, which was passed in relative secrecy one week ago.

The Senate bill on this subject, the Shawn Bentley Orphan Works Act, makes egregious changes to existing copyright law, some of which go so far as to trample articles of international treaties on the subject. I'm urging you to not allow the adoption of the Senate version of this bill in the House.

The Orphan Works legislation as it is currently written—and particularly in it's Senate form—would put a terrible burden on those of us working as small business owners, earning lower- to middleclass incomes licensing copyrights for our diligent, highly specialized and personal work in the educational, advertising, fine arts and publishing sectors.

These bills would overhaul the protections intrinsic in our society's understanding of intellectual property that allow our work to even exist, and must be CAREFULLY considered for the potential harm they would do to our nation's entrepreneurs and artists for the benefit of small time infringers and large corporate interests.

While their professed intent is to protect and free up our nation's rich visual culture, they would in fact do irreparable harm to the rights and livelihoods of those who create and contribute to that culture, even going so far as to provide a deterrent from continuing to create and build on that artistic heritage.

Please do not allow this legislation to squeak by in its current form, not while the nation's eyes are averted by other crises, crises that–like our current economic issue–stem from allowing the self serving and material interests of a few to run roughshod over some of the principles and individuals that make our country great.

Adam Gustavson


Dear ________,

I am writing you today regarding my opposition to H.R. 5889, the Orphan Works Act of
2008. This legislation, if passed as written, will have devastating
consequences for millions of copyright holders. On Friday, the Senate
passed their version of the Orphan Works bill, and my worst fears will
be realized if the House follows suit.

I am totally outraged that now˜


when we were led to believe that the bill would not be passed by the
110th Congress NOW is when Congress is trying to re-write our
copyright laws.

I am joining in with of a loosely formed alliance of 75 organizations representing
over 500,000 artists, photographers, musicians and writers˜AND WE WANT
OUR VOICES HEARD. Please do NOT allow this bill to pass now˜ and do NOT
adopt the Senate version of the bill. This radical change to copyright
law is not in the best interests of our country ESPECIALLY given the
economic crisis we are facing. In the upcoming election this will be a
vote-deciding issue for me and many artists in our nation. We need to have a
voice in crafting appropriate Orphan Works legislation which will not
devastate multiple industries, and despite what you may have been told
we have not been given that opportunity. Please help us make that
happen˜in the 111th Congress.

I look forward to your reply.


Your name

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

There was a crooked man.

Quoth dear Mother Goose:

There was a crooked man
Who walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked six pence
Against a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat
Who caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together
in a crooked little house.

Aside from the wonderful weirdness of this nursery rhyme—it reads more like a Tom Waits boozer than an evening lullaby—there were some things in particular that excited me once I decided the crooked man would have a mean case of scoliosis an over-sized orthopedic shoe.

The main detail was the stile. A stile is apparently a human passageway through or over a livestock fence, sometimes a narrow opening, sometimes a small series of steps, and other times a pairing of ladders. Whatever the variety, they are never handicapped accessible, and the "crooked" quality of this one indicates it's not a simple opening between barbed wire posts. And the crooked man, pondering the impossibility of the short climb ahead, finds instead a crooked six pence at his feet.

And that is enough for him to purchase for himself a crooked cat. I originally wanted a manx, a tailless cat...every see one walking? Crooked. Of course, if this wasn't obvious enough, a cat with no tail in a painting could just look like an oversight, so I gave in and gave him a tail. And a crooked mouse (on the brim of the pork pie hat).

After all that good fortune and comeraderie, where else could they possibly live together in all their curmudgeonly creakiness?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'll tell you what it's for later...

oil on paper, 18 x 30. 2008.

But for now, it's for a book. About a person. For, like, a company.

A company that publishes books. When it's done, and furthermore when it reaches shelves, I'll be happy to give the author and I a big, loud, virtual pat on the back, with maybe a chest pound and a "hey look at me look at me look at me."

But for now, I'll be vague.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Leaf Guy.

Maple leaf, stem, twigs, grass clippings.

My two brothers and I used to make these in our back yard, some time back in grade school. I took it upon myself to teach my sons how to make them this past weekend, with varying levels of success.

After making enough of them as youths, my fraternal collaborators and I developed something of a science to the whole process; the optimum leaf size, twig proportions, even the freshness of the grass clippings we stuffed them with.

There were even a few we equipped with various weedy entrails and dandelion hearts. Then, perhaps just being boys, we did awful, torturous things to them.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Happy Sea Serpent Day!

A few words of caution:

When encountering an aquatic beast of unknown origin, always maintain a safe enough distance to account for the possibility that the object of your attention is in fact a sock puppet.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A nifty collaboration with the KLUTZ folks.

Why do I suspect this was one of the coolest jobs ever in the history of ever?

Well, when else but when working on a spread for "The 15 Greatest Board Games in the World" would I get paid to paint a kangaroo driving a Karmann Ghia through the Outback?

The car was originally slated to be baby blue, until the design team alerted me to the fact that the make and model I'd chosen was serendipitously the same driven by their editor, only hers was green.

Infomercial painting tip: If you ever feel moved to change a sports car in an oil painting from baby blue to a dusty 1970's green in less than a day, I highly recommend putting down a thin glaze of Schmincke brand "Indian Yellow." I bought a tube of it sometime around 1995, and until this painting had not figured out what on earth to use it for. It's very transparent, has no tinting strength at all, and is really too cheap to be worth returning, to expensive to throw out.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Hope you all celebrated in kind.

Although possession of a walking catfish has been illegal in the United States for years, Clement W. Clementine of rural Florida has had on his property since 1968 a member of the species named Charles, who has in time grown to exceed 170 pounds and even learned to play chess.

For those of you who commonly receive these in the mail and mumble to yourselves, "uh, what?", I give you this snap shot into the engineer's seat of my train of thought. I'd call it my conceptual problem solving technique, but that really might be stretching it.

First off, yesterday really was Catfish Day. (I have my sources.)

Near dams in North America, catfish the size of late 70's Hondas have been reported and sometimes even photographed; being bottom feeding scavenger types of indiscriminate palate, they munch away idly at anything that collects there, which pretty much encompasses everything that flows downstream.

Now that's weird already. What about walking catfish?

I looked them up. They are an invasive species from Southeast Asia, and very resilient. Their "walking" basically entails flopping from stagnant pool to stagnant pool, aided by lungs in addition to gills, a handy hybrid breathing feature.

So that's kind of irresistible. Combine the two and you get a 170 pound walking catfish. Of course, to really get the scale visually, one needs a frame of reference. A bike or car won't do; then he'd be, like, a driving catfish (though that contradiction too is tempting). He'll need a person. For some sort of dichotomy to remain intact, though, the picture is going to require a sense of companionship and sympathy, someone who would give a giant alien bottom feeder the benefit of the doubt.

I was originally figuring this would be a child. Children don't always give each other the benefit of the doubt, but a big ugly misunderstood animal could gain trust and protection pretty quickly. E.T. lucked out more than a little bit by cavorting with juveniles. But the big walking catfish just looked too ominous for a postcard; to really get the camaraderie would have required more than a cursory glance. Yup, once Frankenstein threw the little girl in the well, it got harder to pull this sort of thing off.

But it has been illegal to own one in the US for a number of years; though I couldn't find a consistent date for the legislation, this got me thinking, since their appearance does date to about 1968. That brought me to Clement W. Clementine here, and his first tour in 'Nam when he smuggled home a small, slimy souvenir of his traumatic tropical ordeal. He moved as far from civilization as he could bear to after the war, living in small shotgun style house in the Florida panhandle, blithely sticking it to the man through a blend of earthy hippie independence and libertarian stubbornness, living off the land and selling pirated copies of "Easy Rider" over the Internet.

The catfish, who was named Charles after Victor Charlie, the Viet Cong archetype, has lived on this wild, sprawling property since the war years, and will engage in a game of chess every now and then, provided Clement spritzes him with an atomizer periodically, keeping him moist.

Charles is, perhaps needless to say, a terrible chess player, and Clement whups his butt at it regularly.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Would you sell a franchise to this man?

Evolving businessmen, on their way to trade shows in hopes of one day operated their own franchise operations...of course, they're not heading to my client's client's trade show, which only deals with the most evolved of the species.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Grandpapa.

oil on paper, 2008

A peek at the new book I'm currently up to my coiffure in paintings for. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Can you hold that?

I may not be able to speak for the rest of you
spouses of bookish young men
smudged with cadmium
and disheveled,
but it would seem to me
wearying to recline finally,
feet swollen and aching from the day's labors,
only to hear those four words,
four dreadful and dreaded words,
whispered from across the sofa,
or parlor,
or bedroom,
or table,
which seem to imply
that your reverie is not your own,
but your static sinews are now fodder
for the flights, frustrations, scrubbing and swearing
of that cadmium smudged and disheveled
bookish young man
to whom you swore for what remains of your life
virtuous patience and love
but above all,
it would seem now,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Three of a kind.

The Douglas Boy.
2008, oil on paper, 9.5" x 12" .

My latest contribution to the "Drawer Geeks" club. The theme this time around was "triplets," implying anything coming in a set of three.

My wife gave me a long, strange look after I finished it.

I still haven't figured out how the three brains work together or against each other, but I'll let you know if I do. Right now, I figure that our young man has mostly monocular vision, like having a lazy eye, but that periodically the role of vision shifts from one brain to another, and with it goes control of his body and will. The blue eye is probably right handed, the brown one left handed, and the green ambidextrous, though I'd imagine it also represents his more sociopathic self.

He has a lot of cowlicks, and his left-eye cerebellum was slow to potty train.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


ink and gouache, 9"x12"

When asked to join in an online club of cartoonists, illustrators and animators called "Drawer Geeks" with the promise of biweekly random assignments, how could one possibly say no? How could one resist the gleeful clicking of heels and a quick girlish squeal?

This is my first contribution, or at least the first I managed to finish on time. Knowing almost nothing about the samurai outside of video game I once played in 1988, I thought limiting my research to an hour peering at such men of mystery photographed in the 1800s would be far more honest than trying to get any of the ancient armor right. I gathered at least that they didn't smile a whole bunch, but were prone to fabulous coiffures and some very cool high domed woven hats, the sort of haberdashery I, personally, could never pull off.

It is unfortunate, however, that a sheathed pair of samurai swords from almost any angle looks like an act of sepuku.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Some three hour paintings.

oil on canvas, 12 x 16. 2008

I started taking a painting class at the Art Students' League in New York this past month; as of today, two of the paintings have even dried. I'm plugging away at a picture book deadline till May, and thought I could use a visit back to the land of fundamentals with some intense observation and improvisation thrown in for good measure. Hopefully this will help keep the studio paintings from looking too stale as I dig in further.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Daylight savings time.

pencil and gouache on paper, 12" x 14.5", 2008

Surrounded by my studio detritus,
sitting on the futon
—that particularly uncomfortable,
and maybe even evil—
futon that her sister had given us
the first month we were married,
she was kind enough to sit for a drawing.
So she sat reading
bleary eyed for close to an hour
growing perhaps
smarter with each minute,
each word,
each chapter, sub-chapter,
footnote and sidebar,
while I sat across from her
in an old office chair
wired together with a coat hanger,
face, hands and clothes
smudged with silvery graphite and overpriced paint,
squinting to find the line between
the candid light on her cheekbones
and that funny look she gets
when she's thinking,
carried off somewhere
miles from the futon
–so miserly with the comfort it lends–
and the stacks of tape,
bubble wrap,
and crinkled, forgotten photos and doodles
that adorn each horizontal surface
around her now.
Outside the wind blows loudly through our stringy maples,
the lights flicker
and a chill drifts slowly through the seams
of the old house,
the one that we never quite finished
before the boys were born.
There are two boys now, fitfully asleep,
and I really must hurry–
a few more dabs of white,
and not so pretty
that she'll become skeptical.

6 am comes early tomorrow.

The Missus.

pencil and gouache, 12" x 18", 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Portrait sketch...almost

I was working with a high school student on a self-portrait project and did this little drawing of her in her sketchbook, demonstrating certain landmarks of human physiology and how they can sit in perspective. It almost looked like her, which was a plus. I don't usually do demos that require this kind of accuracy, as failing miserably at them can really muddy whatever point was to be made.

I made a photocopy of it and brought it home where I produced the following small oil painting from it.

It still almost looks like her.

Friday, February 8, 2008

It's Flat File Friday!

Some development work from several back burner proects I haven't quite gotten off the ground yet...