Mar 01 2013

Harlem Renaissance / Lindy Hop sketches

At one point I was thinking about setting Romeo & Juliet in the Harlem Renaissance, and I watched some fun documentaries about it. I had a lot of fun sketching some of the great lindy routines they were doing in the dance scenes.

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Feb 13 2013

Society of Illustrators Sketch Night 2/12/13 (NSFW)

Published by under sketchbook

Wow, I can’t believe it took me 2.5 years since I moved to NY to get over to the sketch night at the Society of Illustrators. 2 models, 3 hours, Live music, $15, surrounded by great art. What’s not to like?

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Jan 28 2013

Great review

Published by under odyssey,reviews

Wow, talk about being in good company! The review is very flattering in its own right, and supports my belief that The Odyssey is not just a ‘boy book’…

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Nov 25 2012

Audiobooks for a tragic romance

Published by under romeo and juliet

I did a short interview with the fabulous Jenn Dowell at Audiofile magazine, and I’m featured in a very brief spot in the October issue.

In preparation I looked up what audiobooks I listened to for the 14 months I was working on Romeo & Juliet (previously: what I was listening to while drawing The Odyssey). Here they are, in no particular order:

11-22-63 (Stephen King) – good, but WAY too long.
A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula LeGuin) – still great, but too short.
Out of the Silent Planet (C.S. Lewis) – still fun, but WAY too short.
Apprentice Adept (Piers Anthony) – I’ve long since outgrown his writing, but this series is still fun and I think it’s high time we made “The Game” in real life. Who’s with me?
SEAL team Six (Howard Wasdin) – I don’t quite know what possessed me to read this. It’s not bad, but pretty much just what you’d expect.
Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson) – good, but repetitive. Needed better editing. The ubiquitous cover photo has caused numerous people to tell me I look like Steve Jobs.
Ready Player One (Ernest Cline, read by Will Wheaton) – fantastic! The perfect audiobook, at least for a child of the ’80s.
Divergent (Veronica Roth) – at times I enjoyed this, but found it ultimately unconvincing, and I have a pretty strong feeling “the intellectuals are the bad guys” is not just a convenient plot device, it’s something she believes.
David Copperfield (Dickens) – couldn’t finish. It was bad enough when the protagonist was a non-character, but when he turned into a debauched twerp I couldn’t take it any more.
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larsson) – holy exposition Batman! Couldn’t finish. Tried the film, and still don’t understand why so many people like it. I found it to be a weak mystery with weak writing and chockablock with horrible gratuitous unpleasantness.
Winter’s Tale (Mark Helprin) – pretty interesting, but I couldn’t finish. I think the reader killed it for me.
The Bluest Eye (Tony Morrison) – brilliant, and oh so unpleasant.
The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway) – ditto, but in a different way.
A Farewell to Arms (Hemingway) – even more depressing.
Snuff (Terry Pratchett) – not his best, but quite good.
The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorn) – I enjoyed this way more than I was expecting based on my very vague memories of it.
Soon I Will Be Invincible (Austin Grossman) – I enjoyed this more in print, I think. The readers are mediocre.
The Ring of Solomon (Jonathan Stroud) – Awesome, awesome, awesome.
The Wake of the Lorelei Lee (L.A. Meyer) – as with the rest of the series, highly enjoyable, thanks mostly to the fabulous reading of Katherine Kellgren.
Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortenson) – good.
Better (Atul Gawande) – Complications was better than Better. I was hoping for more insight on how surgeons stay on the top of their game, especially with the long hours that seem to come with that job.

and of course my favorite audio series, which I constantly revisit, Sherlock Holmes.

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Oct 24 2012

History was never so much fun

Published by under reviews

Nathan Hale is the illustrator of the Rapunzel’s Revenge & Calamity Jack graphic novels with  Shannon Hale (no relation — she’s also the author of several critically acclaimed YA novels). Mr. Hale has now decided to leverage his fortuitous name (identical to that of a certain historical figure), to create a series of graphic novels for kids about American history. He calls these books Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, and I am here to tell you that in my opinion they are absolutely brilliant.

The first two titles in the series are One Dead Spy and Big Bad Ironclad, published by Amulet Books (a division of Abrams). They are narrated by the historical Nathan Hale, with a hangman and a British guard as his fictional audience / peanut gallery. He first tells his own story (One Dead Spy) and then the story of the major naval clashes of the Civil War (Big Bad Ironclad!). With a deft touch for cutting away everything extraneous, and a healthy helping of silliness to spice things up, the two Nathans make these tales accessible and fun in a way that had me laughing and shaking my head with admiration all the way through. This is the point in my review where I have to admit that American history is my Achilles Heel. In school I excelled at most academic subjects, including math, science, and English. But American history I almost failed twice. For some reason I find it difficult to retain historical information, and American history in particular. Some of my friends are gasping with shock here, but yes it’s true, my brain and American History are like reversed magnets, oil and water, republicans and democrats, truth and advertising… you get the idea.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales are the most engaging history books I’ve ever read. Quite possibly a real history buff would argue that this is “dumbed down history” but if so then maybe that is just what some of us need. The books are not lacking in historical detail — they’re actually quite dense. I’d say they pack significantly more factual punch than Larry Gonick’s critically-acclaimed History of the Universe for example, while being just as funny, and narratively more compelling (I love Gonick’s work, but it doesn’t really stick with me. Hale’s effort seems, so far, to be sticking better). In short, these are books I wish I’d written, and I will definitely be looking for the next installment.

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Sep 19 2012

More painting

Published by under Uncategorized

In an effort to maintain some of the momentum from the painting workshop, I went out to paint the George Washington Bridge last week. I rather like these. The reason I did two was because the first one seemed a bit too close in value, especially between the sky and the bridge.

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Sep 18 2012

Gallery hopping

Published by under reviews

Just wanted to share a few highlights from Chelsea galleries I visited this past weekend:


Beth Cavener Stichter‘s incredible animal sculptures at Claire Oliver Gallery.

Matthew Cusick’s huge, intricate, beautiful, and slightly disturbing collages made out of old maps at Pavel Zoubok Gallery.

Shea Hembrey (known for his TED talk “How I Became 100 Artists”) – Dark Matters at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery.

Diana Al-Hadid‘s amazing dissolving sculptures at Marianne Boesky Gallery.

Trey Speegle’s clever riffs on paint-by-number at Benrimon Gallery.

The unadvertised show of Anselm Keifer’s GIGANTIC and powerful collage/assemblage landscapes made of metal, earth, burnt wood, and other unconventional materials, plus George Baselitz‘ giant humanoid sculptures,  at Gagosian Gallery (24th St location).

Kwang-Young Chun‘s large paintings and sculptures made entirely from triangular paper-wrapped packages at Hasted Kraeutler Gallery.

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Sep 17 2012

Painting Workshop on Little Cranberry Island, Maine

Alison and I just returned from a lovely 4-day weekend in Maine, where I attended a great little painting workshop with Henry Isaacs and Ashley Bryan. Henry is a landscape painter whose work I find absolutely stunning and inspiring. Ashley is inspiring to me both as a children’s book author/illustrator, a painter, and a radiant beacon of joy in the world. The workshop is organized and hosted by the Islesford Dock Gallery and Restaurant (Cynthia and Dan Lief are the wonderful proprietors). The gallery has excellent art, as I had seen on many previous visits to Islesford. The restaurant, as I discovered over the weekend, has really spectacular food — by any standard! We were fed so well I’d have to say the meals threatened to upstage the painting.

I will post a few of my paintings above the cut, and the rest below — along with a bunch of thoughts about painting that are bouncing around in my head.

Friday was a very foggy morning on the beach. Henry gave a great little demo and talk about seeing everything as solid, even the air, and treating it that way, rather than having a background with a subject in front of it. My first attempt at this was clumsy. I was using gouache, which is my favorite medium for landscape. It’s hard to cover a large surface with gouache though, and that caused some problems every time I tried to work larger than about 5×7″.

My second attempt used too complex a subject, and while I like this piece, it feels more like a drawing than a painting, and more like my habitual approach than what I was going for.

After that I did some pieces that caught parts of what I was after.

Continue Reading »

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Sep 14 2012

Literary Lights Video

Published by under appearances,tools & tech,video

This video is edited way down, so a lot of great stuff is on the cutting room floor, but what remains still gives a glimpse of a very fun event.

Pam Munoz Ryan, MT Anderson and Kate DiCamillo all gave wonderful speeches which are barely hinted at, and Annabell’s intro was also particularly good. Oh well. At least you get to see me draw.

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Aug 27 2012

A drawing explained – Harvard Museum of Natural History

Published by under sketchbook

My friend Theo asked me to go out and draw with her sometime and try to teach her how I sketch from life. That seemed like a bit of a tall order, but I was very willing to give it a shot, and I think it actually worked fairly well. I should mention that Theo does have quite a bit of art experience already, so we weren’t starting from scratch.

So anyway, we walked over to Harvard and found a spot to sit and draw. This piece took about 40 minutes, with a few breaks to explain things. Since some of my readers may be interested in this topic, I will attempt to capture some of what I told Theo, and walk through the process of how I choose a composition and do a drawing from life.

First I look around for something interesting to draw. For me, that often means an interesting overlapping or framing of shapes. In this case Theo pointed out a tree she liked, and I found a distance and angle from which that tree (The small one) was framed by two larger trees, with the entrance of the Natural History Museum behind it.

I often start out with a quick “thumbnail” composition, to figure out the framing and the main elements I’m interested in. In this case you can see I’m emphasizing the curve of the small tree, the trunk of the pine on the left, and the large branch of the oak coming in from the right, and you can see how I tried both horizontal and vertical framing.

At this point Theo did a thumbnail which she didn’t like, and I encouraged her to work over it with a different, heavier tool. One way to think of an artwork is as a record of a process, and leaving the mistakes there often makes it much more interesting.

Next I transfer the rough composition to the larger size of the “real” drawing (unless I have skipped the thumbnail step). These are Theo’s photos (thanks Theo!).

Then I start to add some values and details. Because life sketching usually needs to be done quickly (whether because of changing light, need to eat, other time constraints, or just to stay loose), I try to find some quick, scribbly marks that represent the different types of leaves for each tree.

I deliberately experiment a bit here, because sometimes the first/automatic marks I make are something habitual that doesn’t really reflect what I’m seeing. This will be especially true if you are a beginner or haven’t drawn for a while — you might revert to some canonical leaf/tree shape you have in your head, ignoring what’s really there. It still happens to us professionals too.

Here’s a closeup showing the scribbly oak leaves and the much smaller/lighter leaves on the small tree below it. Note that for some of the closer oak leaves, I’m drawing (roughly) their actual shape. Having a few examples lets the viewer extrapolate to figure out what the other leaves on that tree would look like.

Theo was writing down my comments while I talked so she didn’t get another photo until I was pretty well along. I’m trying to work the whole picture plane without obsessing about any small areas of it, keeping the marks loose but based on observation. That’s important! By the way, that’s a Cretacolor Nero (medium) pencil I’m working with, on a Holbein multi-drawing sketchbook.

Here’s the finished drawing at the point where I chose to leave it. I could of course add/refine more details, but this basically captures what I was after, and if I worked it further it might lose some of its freshness.

Hope that was useful. I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.

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