Monday, December 13, 2010

Fiddling around with pastels.

Here are three pieces I've been working on for a children's magazine job; I've been trying to find some way of working that doesn't change the process or overall quality of a piece, but makes the process a little more portable, a little more direct. The sketches are pencil and white gouache on gray Canson paper, which how I usually roll, whereas the finals are pastel, conte and charcoal over gouache on various shades of Rives BFK printmaking paper. The originals range in size from 13"x 17" to about 6.5" x 15".

I won't show you the poor wooden mannequin that I dressed in a tissue paper sari after watching way too many "how to wear a sari" videos on YouTube...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

For Demonstration Purposes Only.

It's that time of the semester when I find myself doing demos. Lots and lots of demos. So skipping over the one where I painted a tarnished brass frog sprinkler in blue and orange gouache to demonstrate a logical place for a complementary color scheme, here's a portrait of a student in my Art Appreciation class, executed over the course of an hour in class.

Fabiola, 2010.
oil on canvas, 11" x 16"

The following two were separate technique and color scheme demonstrations, based on a sketch from my "Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt!" book. They're both variations on tertiary, triadic color schemes, one utilizing a combination of red-orange, yellow-green and blue-violet, while the other is comprised mainly of red-violet, yellow-orange, and blue-green.

Each of these took about an hour and a half to complete (thankfully, the sketching and reference had been taken care of two years ago). The watercolor was for my University of the Arts Pictorial Foundation class, while the gouache was for a Seton Hall University 2-D Color & Design section.

Watercolor on Fabriano 140 lb. soft press, 10.75" x 13"

Gouache on Arches 140 lb. hot press, 10.75" x 13"

Here's the original oil that appears in the book:

"She simply decided to spend her time over his roof." 2010.
Oil on paper, 18" x 30"

...and the original sketch...

"She simply decided to spend her time over his roof." 2008.
Pencil and white gouache on gray Canson paper, 11" x 19"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mass Transit Hipster.

7.25" x 8," 2010.
pastel, conte and charcoal over gouache
on gray Rives BFK paper

Friday, October 8, 2010

It's World Egg Day!

On approaching the object,

Mable could think of nothing but
omelets, pancakes and cookies;
her every neural impulse
trained on visions of
homecooked vittles,
baked and fried.

This was indeed unfortunate.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A book signing in Brooklyn...

I'll be signing copies of THE BLUE HOUSE DOG at BookCourt, 163 Court St., Cobble Hill, Brooklyn on 10/3 at 11 with the book's author Deborah Blumenthal.

Stop on in, by all means!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

If I knew what my laurels were, I might rest on them for a second.

But as it turns out, I'm not sure from whence that saying derives. So I guess I won't.

For what I'll just generalize as contractual issues, I'm not saying what these are from at the moment. For now we'll just call them jobs, though if even that gives away too much, I'm happy to pretend for now that it's all from one big job detailing the long involved travails of Bigfoot, some yeti hunters, and a couple of time traveling musicians.

Various sizes, oil on paper, 2010.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Calico Dorsey

Hey, even if it's not shipping until September 28th, my latest picture book illustration project on the market, "Calico Dorsey," written by the extraordinarily gifted Susan Lendroth, has already garnered a nice review from School Library Journal. In the in interest of shameless plugs and self-aggrandizement as a healthy and effective marketing and promotional tool, I'm reproducing it below:

Gr 2-5—Illuminating California's silver mining era, Lendroth creates a plausible story line. It is based on a possibility of actual events surrounding the Border collie that came to be an official U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, crossing the Mojave Desert between the town of Calico and the hills where the miners and prospectors worked. Perspectives on the dog's experiences are related by the Stacey brothers, who run the general store and post office; Nellie, the young daughter and niece; and Dorsey himself, which create excitement for young readers. In the author's notes, Lendroth writes that she uses the information she found during her research to create a story based on fact. Gustavson's paintings are intergrated into the text, flowing from page through the centerfold to page, making this obscure story larger than life. The vitality of the characters is enhanced by the artist's accurate, yet expressive details that add humor and sweetness to the faces of both the people and Dorsey.—Tina Hudak, St. Albans School, Washington, DC

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Blue House Dog now available. I'll be signing shiny new copies of the book with author Deborah Blumenthal Wednesday, August 18th from 10:30 - 11:30 at the Clinton Book Shop, 12 East Main Street, Clinton, NJ.

From Publishers Weekly:

Blumenthal’s dog-and-boy story may be too sad for some, but her lyrical prose and Gustavson’s (Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt!) lush paintings have the impact of a documentary film. The Blue House Dog, a stray German shepherd mix, has been left homeless after his owner dies, while the death of the boy narrator’s old dog has left him bereft. Blumenthal (Charlie Hits It Big) observes the boy as he works to approach and tame the stray, paying close attention to physical sensations (“He lets me run my hand/ lightly over his fur./ It’s the same color as my hair”) and crafting affecting prose-poetic lines (“he scrunched down/ under a building,/ waiting like a soldier/ hiding from the enemy”). Gustavson’s paintings capture the big dog’s skittishness and the boy’s protective instincts. Scenes of autumn leaves and spring flowers reinforce the sense that the intimacy between the two takes months to develop. The emotions are raw and authentic, while the way in which they’re delivered is elegant--a potent combination. Ages 4-8.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

End of the School Year...

So it's time for some quick thank you cards to my children's wonderful teachers.

And their equally wonderful retiring principal.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dead guys and deadlines.

I'm currently working a series of illustrations for a mystery magazine called the Strand Magazine, which is publishing in serialized form a lost manuscript by the writer Graham Greene.

This isn't the first serialized novel I've illustrated; in 2000, I worked with The Oxford American magazine, illustrating the debut of John Grisham's A Painted House.

The Grisham job was full of interesting adventures from an illustration standpoint; each bimonthly issue contained between 4 and 6 oil paintings; each story installment rolled through my fax machine on an indeterminable Thursday night. Pencil sketches were due via fax the following day, and the paintings had to be dry enough to FedEx out on Monday, directly to the service bureau/printhouse doing the scanning so the magazine could go to press on Tuesday. Never quite knowing when the job would come in, I finished a few of them on vacations, once even sending the art out from a local upstate NY realtor's office, as they were the only scheduled FedEx pickup in town.

My initial offer to work for the Strand bore some semblance to this experience, actually. The initial email (oh, 2000, with your quaint fax toner ribbons and extra phone lines...) offered up two days for final art, no sketch required. It's a murder mystery, which obviously means I can't tell you anything that happens, except that for the sake of this post it takes place in an English estate around 1926, and includes an aging police detective and a houseful of deceptive, suspicious and temperamental Edwardians.

So with two days to draw, paint, dry, and scan, here's the detective in the dining room with the murder weapon. (I should probably take this moment to state that there is in fact no retired military man bearing a condiment for his surname, nor is anyone done in in the study with a candlestick.)

About two weeks ago, while in Savannah researching an different book project, I received another email, containing the next installment, this time with a week's deadline to produce a painting under. I spent most of that week with flu-like symptoms in a fetal crouch of self-pity and sinus mutiny, but pulled this one out in the end, with the help of a fast drying acrylic underpainting...

...only to discover that that particular scene will be fleshed out in the October installment. I'm still not telling you what happens, but apparently in between these two pieces, something like this happens with yet another English gentleman...

...who left a few dots of fresh white paint on my scanner bed.

The downside to super quick deadlines, really, is that they require a particular reliance on "chops," an the creative decisions made in them often have much to do with what someone like me is confident they can pull off in a pinch. So that said, there aren't a ton of surprises, no greenish skin tones or odd violet shadows spilling in from nowhere. The end result is fine, but the nuanced creativity in a painting—beyond concept and composition, which all need to work out pretty quickly too—often is the unpredictable stuff that happens in the third coat of paint, and sometimes, after all the wham-bam-thank-you- ma'am-er-google period research and figure studies, there just isn't time for one of those.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Holy Flying Boats!

Some work for an upcoming project with the lovely folks at Corby Street Press, with more details to follow.

oil on paper, 13 x 20 inches

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Plein Air" sounds fancier than "That guy wandering around painting stuff."

Orange Painting #3, 2010. Oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches.

Orange Painting #2, 2010. Oil on prepared paper, 16 x 18 inches.

Orange Painting #1, 2010. Oil on prepared paper, 15 x 14 inches.

But that's what it looks like to everyone else.

I've been trying to get out of the studio and wander around the neighboring neighborhood, taking advantage of some of the dereliction and crumbling facades before they're one day torn down and replaced with something more respectable. Searching for character is really such a selfish pursuit; I think overall it's better to try capturing these fleeting bits of ugliness than it is to fight their slow gentrification and lament the aesthetic loss. Plainness does suit the greater good, really, far more than falling bricks and exposed wires. The things I like about squalor have far more to do with how it catches light than how nice it would be to live amongst.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It's National Rationalization Day!

Kevin realized he'd left the screen door carelessly ajar, and for this he would surely be punished. Still, there were no longer any leftovers moldering in the fridge, and Mom had never really approved of those old hunting trophies anyway.


Today also marks the launch of The Rhinoceros Boy's Lament Store on, accessible through the lovely widget panel to your right. You now have a one stop shop for Unholy Holiday ephemera and other high quality goodies.

Never again face Penguin Awareness Day without a gift to give!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Low-down on Long-winded Me

I had the pleasure this past Monday of talking with Mary Ann Scheuer at , a part of the Sydney Taylor Awards "blog tour" interview series. My 2009 title "The Yankee at the Seder," written by Elka Weber and published by Tricycle Press, was recently named a Sydney Taylor honor book by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

The interview, along with a plethora of related art, is posted over at

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Year in Pictures

2009 was a year of about eighty or so paintings around here; included in the mix were 36 watercolors completed in a two week span for an educational book packager, as well as two picture books taken from start to finish, and a few 2008 stragglers completed. Here are some highlights, in no particular chronological order.

From Calico Dorsey, by Susan Lendroth. Tricycle Press, 2010.


From Blue House Dog, by Deborah Blumenthal. Peachtree Publishing, 2010.


A handful of the afore-mentioned watercolors, though for contractual reasons that's about all I can tell you about them.


Mind Your Manners, Alice Roosevelt! by Leslie Kimmelman was completed and released this past year as well. Peachtree Publishing, 2009.

For my lovely sister-in-law's baby shower, of course. These were typeset with tongue-in-cheek dietary information and wrapped around baby food jars containing the party favors.


Also published in 2009 was The Yankee at the Seder, by Elka Weber. Tricycle Press.