Sunday, August 28, 2011



As a freelancer I've always made a good living working for whatever company that is in need of my services. You're always on a bit of a roller coaster as good times and bad times  come and go. But whatever the job, you are always adjusting your  work to the needs of the client. As long as the pay is good, the people you work with are pleasant, and the work isn't too weird, it's not a bad way to make a living.
Working on your own personal projects is much more rewarding, but the pay is usually very little. And while you are always hoping that whatever creation of yours that you are working on will bring you fame and fortune, the real motivating factor is that you are doing exactly what interests you.

The one  job that is a bit of a crossover between the two is drawing commissions for fans. I try to keep my prices on this work as reasonable as possible, since these folks are the true patrons of my art. While they are often specific in what they want, they tend to let you work in your own direction, and certainly at your own pace. And the fact that they are laying out there own hard-earned money for the artwork is the ultimate compliment for me.

True, there are occasional difficult ones, but I assume these people are the folks who will eventually wind up being either an  art director or an editor. And I've rarely had the problem of doing something for a discounted price, only to see it up on e-bay soon after.

So here are a few examples of some of the commissions I've had over the years. You're my favorite
people to work for, so never hesitate to drop me a line:

There a many more of these on my flicker site:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Austin Briggs

In the 70’s there was a retrospective of the great newspaper strips that featured a figure or Flash Gordon drawn not by the creator, Alex Raymond, but by some guy named Austin Briggs. As a youthful idiot, I was incensed by the outrage - who’s Austin Briggs?

It wasn't until much later that I discovered more about Briggs and what a talented illustrator he was. Born in Humboldt, Minnesota in 1909, Briggs was raised in Detroit, Michigan where he studied art at City College. His first jobs were drawing figures of fashionable people to enhance automobiles in advertisements.

As this work went out of vogue, jobs were hard to find in the Depression, and Briggs turned to doing comic strips for a number of years (during which time he did the offensive Flash Gordon figure.) He was also moonlighting for Blue Book Magazine doing several illustrations a month from 1935-45. As Briggs recalled: “These were experimental years. I explored new compositional approaches, new techniques or variations of old techniques, and new manners of working with limited means.”

In the 40’s Briggs was developing as a great commercial success, but he felt something lacking in his work: his own individuality. When problem solving he always turned to others for for solutions, usually the current popular favorite. Feeling he was losing his ability to learn and observe from nature, he took a sabbatical to the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada for four months. Here he sketched and painted anything and everything from nature.

Briggs felt this trip was a “declaration of independence”  and his future work became more intrinsically his own. But for Briggs this trip was only one of a series of continual steps forward, because like all dedicated artists he refused to stand pat on his achievements and constantly searched for the means to improve himself. He started out a good draftsman with an understanding of the black and white medium and ended up one of the most brilliant painters and designers in all of illustration.

With his friends Robert Fawcett, Al Parker, Albert Dorne and several others Briggs was one of the founders of the Famous Illustrators School. His abilities as a storyteller and communicator also made him an excellent instructor.

(Briggs using his friend Robert Fawcett as a model in an illustration.)
In 1969 he was inducted in the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame. His work, constantly in demand, appeared in the Post, TVGuide,Look,Cosmopolitan, and many other publications. He died in Paris in l973.

And I wasn’t all wrong about that Flash Gordon drawing. Raymond’s work exuded sexuality and  romanticism. A realist and a naturalist, Briggs couldn’t compete when imitating Raymond. But when he became his own man, that was another story. Hanging in a place of honor in my house is an Austin Briggs drawing- I’ve yet to shell out for an Alex Raymond.

Briggs'  job description of an illustrator is well worth remembering:

“The illustrator must combine the knowledge and talents of a dramatist, stage designer, costume designer, director, stage manager, lighting expert, photographer, research man, advertising man, art director, salesman, diplomat, accountant - and painter! Every illustration he makes involves all these varied skills and talents. Unless he is accomplished in these fields , his technical abilities as an artist will be of little financial value to him. It is true that what he finally sells is a painting or a drawing - but the actual art work is only the final culmination of many different kinds of activities which are completely foreign to the purely aesthetic painter.”- Austin Briggs

There are several more Austin Briggs illustrations up on my Flickr page.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Amy At Bill's- AcrylicPaintingDemo

Here's a quick demonstration of my painting process. I usually have a stack of reference pictures that have caught my attention from various sources. I periodically go through and pick out things that I think I might like to draw in my sketchbook, or use for paintings.

In this case the reference was a photo of Amy Adams from one of my wife's magazines, an old photo of my friend Bill Stout's studio (when it was still relatively uncluttered,) and a snap I took of my cat Repo's mother Maw, a beauty that my wife rescued from a feral lifestyle.

The first step was doing a little rough combining all the reference material. (Upper left. When I am at the drawing workshop at Bill's I tend to do one or two life drawing sketches on a page. Then as another type of compositional exercise, I add little doodles around them- either roughs for future paintings
of little studies of anything and everything. You can see more of these if you check out the sketchbook section of my Flickr site.)

Step two was doing a detailed pencil study for the painting. I'm usually very linear in this approach,
with the only real value studies on the main focus of the planned illustration.At this step I want to make sure that the drawing and perspective are correct, and  eliminate any compositional problems, such as the ever present tangents that always show up. This drawing was done with a 2B pencil on illustration board (which is Bristol Board glued to a thicker backing.)

I next tape the drawing down on a piece of masonite (since it tends to warp and curl with the very wet approach I use to painting). I then do a quick wash of watercolor over the entire piece to have something to work against. Like the pencil, the watercolor will eventually be painted over. I did leave a bit of white on the dress and window, since I felt those might be white in the finish.

I work with Liquitex Acrylic paints since they are fairly smooth to put down. I also tend to water them down so it's almost like working in ink (but without the shellac they put in commercial acrylic ink). Using a mixture of Burnt Umber, Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Red Light I draw everything in lines of varying degrees of darkness. I use sable brushes that can give me a good bit of control
for this step, usually a #1 or #3.
Taking the same three colors, I mix up pools I can use as washes to create a series of values. In this case, I tried to keep the benches, chair and back wall with warm neutrals, and the floor and trim with a cooler, and darker neutral.I use acrylics as if they were watercolors, but they tend to dry much darker and are essentially lightfast. But in the course of a painting, my board is going to see a lot of water. When I apply washes I use as large a brush as the area I'm working on will allow.
I continue with the process of washes, adding darker values to the floor and trim to create more of a feeling of depth. The window is far too light and needs to be toned down. I've also added on a lot of white opaque to create highlights on  the hair and skin, and have started to flatten the dress with a coating of white. I've also added on a few highlights on Maw.
Painting is all about trial and error , and the beauty of the the studio today is that we can try things in Photoshop to see if they might work. I rescanned the painting and started working digitally. In this case, I've intensified the dark values and added a lot more opaque white. In terms of value, this is
pretty much what I want for the final picture.

(I should have taken a couple more scans during this process so you could see more how it progresses.) First off, using the Photoshop study I brought all the value in the  background up to a finished level on the actual painting. I opaqued the window to a murky yellow that pops against the flat white I used on her gown. On the step and the braces, klieg light, tablets,etc. I've added opaques to pop things.

 The most defined areas were first doing the finishes on Maw, by adding a very dark value with some opaque white and orange highlights. I then added the fleshtones  and highlights on Amy, and tried to create as readable a likeness as possible, adding in the extreme darks and then highlights on her hair.

Over all this I washed a bit of local color using a very warm pallet. I generally use very little color on the paintings. I like a lot of neutrals with just a bit of color to pop things.Over the entire painting I added a wash of very light yellow orange. When this was dry, I went back and punched up the white on the dress and a few highlights on her flesh.

The final step was adding a thin wash of glazing medium, which both adds a sheen to the work and increases the brilliancy of the colors.

Whenever you're working on a painting, when to stop is always the major consideration. All of us have stacks of things where we should have quit earlier; and that is balanced by looking at a framed painting sometime later and realizing you should have taken it a couple of steps further. And there is always a spontaneity and life in the work at some time in the process that is always so difficult to keep in the final product. 

I'm certainly not a proponent of "my way or the highway", especially with something as nebulous as the process of painting. If something works, stick with it, if not, continue on your highway and enjoy the ride. That's what makes the creative process so interesting.