Viking Santa

...for no reason whatsoever. I just doodled this Viking, and, when I went to take it to full color, I thought, "Y'know, you make his bearskin red, and this guy's Santa." So I did.

I'll just say that he's the one that brought Christmas joy to all the good little Norse boys and girls back in the tenth century. I imagine that it would be a bad idea to be on the naughty list.

And, despite his rather grim visage, I want to wish everyone Merry Christmas!


Newer, Slicker...

...and something to put up, since the holiday season is upon us and I haven't had a chance to update the blog for a while. Up next, though, a Christmas picture! Of sorts. Coming soon.


The Sad Fate of the Happy ABCs

Remember how I said that Arianna liked her book so much that she took it to the crib with her? Well, there was this one particularly sleepless naptime, with this resulting carnage:

However, perhaps there is a bright side. The ABCs are dead, long live the ABCs! I had such a good experience printing up Arianna's Baseball Catch that perhaps I'll do the same for the Happy ABC. Although this time it won't be watercolor comps, oh no. It'll be the newer, slicker computer illustration kind, as seen below:

Actually, the main benefit to doing it is the local printer binds books with spiral binding, and the book printer binds it like a real book. So maybe Arianna will be able to get her book back, and it'll be somewhat harder to destroy. Or maybe I should just print it on metal plates.


Arianna's Baseball Catch - the cover

Got in the proof from the printer – looks even better than I was expecting. Usually when I do the kids' Christmas books, I just go down to the local print shop and have them staple it or at most spiral bind it. This is the first time I've gone with an actual printer (Walch Printing, to give them a shout out), and so these things look like actual books.

I'll be getting the batch of them in before long, so this post is also to let people know that I'll be selling them soon. Several people have already asked me to let them know when they're ready, and I'll be emailing them to let them know, but for anyone else, you could let me know via the comments section. The price will be $9.95 (which is also a testament for going with a good printer. The local place I usually use would have been about three times that). with an additional $2.50 for postage if you need me to mail it.

I have a paypal account set up, which hopefully will make things easier all around. Here's the link:

Thanks to all the people who have been keeping up with the progress of the book, from the first sketches to the finish!


Little Chef

I don't usually do computer art when I'm doing illustration for myself, but this was so graphic that I couldn't resist.

It all started with a drawing by my four-year-old son, Gavin:

This is actually a drawing of Thomas the Tank Engine. The top is the funnel, the two circles under the face are the buffers, with the wheels below that. You can tell it's a train because of the tracks that come out from behind him.

But I thought it looked like a cute little chef. So I did my version:
And, because I can't leave well enough alone, I also had to do some action shots:
Up next – the cover! For real, this time. Mainly because if I do any artwork between now and when the book proof comes in, it means I'm not spending enough time eating holiday dinner. Happy Thanksgiving!


The Monster King

Up in his treetop fortress, the evil Monster King taunts Piggie, sure that his mighty bulwarks will keep out all heroes. But is his security real or hubris?

The funky shape of the overall painting just came about all by itself. This was originally going to be a spot illustration, with just a hint of the wall. Then I got into making all the brickwork. And since it was that bottom heavy, I needed to add something on top. The Chinese-brushwork-inspired clouds just seemed to fit right in with the drawing style, rather than fluffy clouds. I like them so much, they'll be cropping up any other time that clouds figure into the picture.

Along the lines of illustration for books, I just sent off Arianna's Baseball Catch to the printer today. A couple of people have asked to buy copies, and I'll let them know when they come in. But this is my official pre-book notice that it's coming!

Up next: Arianna's Baseball Catch - the cover! (unless I manage to squeak another illustration out before the print run finishes)



Here Piggie confronts his nemesis, the Monster King, from beneath impregnable castle walls. Frustrated but undaunted, he considers his next move!

This is from a fairy tale I wrote for my children. I plan to submit the story for publication, so I wanted to do a finished painting to go with it. Up next – the Monster King!


Happy ABC - the Cover

I had to do at least one painting of Arianna for her own book, so she made it onto the cover. With any luck I'll have it printed and bound tomorrow. I'll be interested to see her reaction!
I gave her the book, and she loved it! And there was no guarantee of that (after all, if the kids hadn't reacted so indifferently to the last Christmas book, I'd never have tried to make the Gingerbread Policeman to make up for it). She did dub all of them "HAP-eeee!" but what she really liked were their tongues. Every time she turned a page to a letter with a tongue, she'd say "Tung!" and stick hers out.
And she does take the book to bed.


Happy ABC - the poster!

I still plan to put the happy ABC's into book form, mainly because Arianna loves books so much. When I say she loves them, I mean she takes them to her crib with her to sleep, along with her stuffed animals. I've always loved books and I don't even do that! It has to be board books now, ever since she went to bed with Harold and the Purple Crayon and woke up with a page ripped out the next day, but still, she needs one with her to go to sleep.

While I'm getting the book ready (which also means a cover illustration), I thought I'd assemble them all as a poster to hang in her room. It was Serena's idea, actually. I tend to think in terms of books, so I appreciate good suggestions like that.

I think there's something about these figures that make people think of wall hangings. When another friend saw these, he said they'd look good as one of those long prints of the alphabet that hang over school chalkboards.

So Arianna will have this to look at until I make her book. Hopefully one strong enough to stand up to a night in the crib.

Halloween P.S.

I was carving Halloween pumpkins, and remembered that Arianna likes things to be happy. So I carved one that had a face like the alphabet letters. When Arianna saw it, she raised her hands and said "HAP-eeee!"



Catalog Cover

Usually I create illustrations on the computer at my job, but this was a dream assignment from them. They were making a catalog of leveled readers, and, as all of the book covers have traditional illustration on them, they wanted the catalog cover to have one as well.

They really let me run with this one – at first they wanted me to match a style of one of the existing covers, but when they saw my rough sketch they said they liked it the way I had done it. There were changes, of course; for example, my first sketch had the teacher holding the book, and they wanted the students to have them. But that's all part of the illustration process so it was an incredibly fun painting to do.

(Just for the record, image is copyright Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)


Comic Redraw Contest – I Won!

One of the webcomics that I like to read is Amazing Super Powers (which I think is the most awesome name for a comic ever. I wish I had thought of that first, even if I didn't have a comic to go with it). Every year they have a contest for people to recreate one of their comic strips. And I won! The comic strip and winning entries are here (you have to scroll down from the comic to see them), and the strip I was recreating is here.

I have to give some credit to Serena, however. When I first tried to redo the strip, I thought I would just do the strip exactly, but drawn differently. I showed Serena and she pointed out that it wasn't really creative at all. So I had to figure out something else to do, and that something else won. So art critiques really do help.

Here's the first panel of my original take on the comic, just to show you what I mean:

One last thing. They wrote a comment above my comic about the content, which I'm somewhat alarmed to realize never once occurred to me. I'll take some solace in the uncapitalized portion of the comment.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: Finished!

The letter I – the final illustration! I still have to put them together with the text, but that'll be easy enough by Christmas to give it to the kids.

Some people had expressed interest in a copy of this when it's printed up. Instead of taking it to a printer myself, I'm planning to use some kind of print-on-demand company. Perhaps lulu.com, but some writer friends have said they've used other places as well, so I want to check out prices. If anyone is interested in it, drop me a line and I can let you know once I find a printer.


Happy ABC continued

These keep coming, in random order – although it's the random order that makes me have to think about it a little more. I have to think in terms of what color the actual surrounding letters will be, not what they are on the page of four that I'm currently painting. So there's a lot of yellow letters today, but if I plan it right, they'll all be fairly spaced by color when I put the whole alphabet together.


Happy ABC

"I have a sentimental weakness for my children and I spoil them, as you can see."
— Don Corleone, The Godfather Part I

Even though I'm one painting away from the original concept of the alphabet book, how can I say no to an adorable 2-year-old that wants everyone to be "HAP-eeee"? So here I go again, another 26 paintings. The things I do for my kids!


If I Had Only Known...

I was writing out the alphabet for Arianna yesterday (because, well, she doesn't have her alphabet book yet), when she seemed to ask me to make the letters happy. Or, as she puts it, "HAP-eeee!" She says happy a lot, although whether it is to say she is, to hope we are, or to make someone so (or any combination of the three) it's not always easy to tell. But on the off chance she wanted the letters to be happy, I drew one with a big smile on it. She raised up her hands and said "Yay! HAP-eeee!" So I drew more and she loved them all.

I painted this one for her at lunch today – took less than an hour. Had I started this way, the whole thing would have been finished within a week.

I'm almost through with the letter I painting, but I'm tempted to give all the kids a copy of "Arianna's Baseball Catch" as their Christmas book, and give Arianna the "Happy ABC" book as her own alphabet book. I think she'd like it a lot more!


Arianna's Alphabet Book: I, sort of

The last letter is still stalled, so as a nod toward some sort of progress I'm putting up the line drawing. What with the bookshelf and the vanity and the end tables and all, it's taking me some time.

This didn't start out this complex. I was going to have her fall through the hole in the ground and land on a pile of leaves. Then I thought a couch would be funnier, or at least more surreal to have under the ground. And, if you're going to have a couch, you would have end tables, and perhaps a bookshelf, and... you get the idea.


Went Apple Picking...

...and ended up with pears as well. I don't even normally like pears, but these were so good we picked a bunch of them.

Painting a picture of one was actually Serena's idea. When a pear came off with the stem and leaves attached, she said that it would make a great subject for a painting. So I have to give her the credit for me deciding to do this one.


sketch: on the train

Still working on the letter I. If it takes too much longer, I may post the line drawing, to show what I'm up against. But Arianna is already learning to sing the ABC song, so I have to hurry up!

In the meantime, though, another watercolor based on a train sketch.


sketch: on the train

I wasn't able to actually paint on the train (although that might be interesting to try some time), but I did the sketch for this one while riding on it. It was a perfect trifecta for drawing – she was asleep, listening to an ipod, and seated slightly in front of me. I had so much time to render the drawing that I thought it would be worth trying to do a painting from the rough, and this is the result.

I like it better than just the plain sketches, so if I can get good enough rough drawings I plan to do more of these.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: And this is the easy one

The only one left is the letter I, which has even more going on in the illustration!

S for stairs was one of the first concepts I came up with, even though it's gone through a lot of revisions. I initially was going to do the classic straight but steep stairway up into a murky height. But when I began drawing it, a tall stairway didn't look as interesting as an endlessly meandering one. It seemed the sort of thing that an Evil Queen would build – if she must put a stairway in, she'll make it as inconvenient a way of access as possible.

Then I thought it would look even more daunting looking down.

The stairs won't daunt Arianna, but the shadows on the figures just might. She's incredibly intimidated by her own shadow. I think she doesn't like that it seems stuck to her feet. On sunny days, we have to pick her up, because she won't walk if she sees her shadow.

Maybe the figures are so far in the distance that she won't recognize that it's supposed to be her shadow. Or so I hope!


sketch: on the train

Sitting slightly behind someone is another way of getting to draw them without being beaten up, er, noticed.  Along those lines, I was noticed drawing someone on the train today, but not by the person I was sketching. The subject was a couple seats forward, asleep with his head back. But when people got off the train, someone walked past me and said, "Hey, is that the guy up there sleeping?" When I said yes, she said she'd have to watch out if she saw me on the train. Or you could pose, was my answer.


sketch: Serena

Moving beyond faces to the whole figure. Although I can't help but feel there's something wrong here – Serena's the one sitting in front of the TV, drink in one hand and remote in the other. Perhaps if I watched more sports (i.e. didn't go to art school) I'd be the one on the couch.

Along those lines, the other day I had a dream that I was being stalked by a bear. When I told Serena she asked, "Was it polar, panda, or koala?" Koala?!? Sure, I'm an artist and all, but I hardly find koalas terrifying. At least she didn't add "teddy" to that list.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: Z

Arianna and her new friend safe at home. Obviously Z is for "Zzzz," but I also put "snoozing" in the text so all the Z's aren't in the snoring sound.

Two more after this one, both full-page illustrations. The next one I'm going to tackle is S. I had done an initial rough sketch for it, but it didn't seem dramatic enough. So I'm going to try it at a different angle, or, in other words, make it even more difficult. That means that after this I'll probably be putting up train sketches for a bit, unless I get into a total painting frenzy and knock the next one out quickly.


sketch: woman on the train

Remember how I said it would probably be a mistake to stare at someone while scribbling in a notebook? The significant exception to that rule is a person using a Blackberry. I was a couple seats away, but I could probably have sat right next to her and she wouldn't have paid me the least bit of attention.

Suddenly, I really like Blackberries. I encourage all public transportation users to get one.


Interlude: sick puppy

A friend of mine, a self-described sick puppy, asked me to do a drawing for him so he could use it as his profile picture on Facebook. This is what I ended up with.

As he put it, "Sheesh, I wasn't expecting anything that elaborate (or downright cute)! I was expecting a quick pencil drawing of a puppy blowing chunks."

I, too, thought I'd do a quick pencil sketch. It was just one of those things that ran away with me.


Back to the Book: V

This one was another one of those departures, one that would probably get sent back by an editor for not matching the other pictures in the book. But if I did it like the others, there would be an awful lot of gray in the background, so I decided to spruce it up with the yellow from the hanging lights. Also, the colors are a little less dark, but I liked it. As another artist I showed it to said, the rendering shows that the stairs recede, so I didn't need to go overboard in making the far background extra dark.

I had to show this one to someone else even though I considered it finished. It was one of those "Is this done? I think so. Or am I kidding myself, so I can move on to the next one?" So I was glad that someone else thought it looked complete too, and I could move onto the next drawing conscience-free.

V is for "Very soon, they saw a shovel."


sketch: Serena

I mentioned a couple posts back that the only time Serena is still long enough to sketch is when she's asleep.

I had originally meant to sketch her mouth – I was on "The Mouth and Chin" chapter in Vanderpoel. But I enjoyed gazing upon my Beloved so much I that just kept on drawing.

Normally, I need about 20 hours a day more sleep than she does, so I'm not sure why I was still awake to even do this drawing.


sketch: more figure drawing

Another quick one while I'm working on the next page of alphabet book.

Feet fascinate me artistically. They seem to me to be just as expressive as hands are.

In contrast, my wife thinks feet are gross (or maybe it's just my feet). Although she does like pudgy baby feet. Especially ones that are so plump that they're like little balls with toes. If I can catch the kids while they're asleep, or try Gabriella's patience again, I'll try drawing some hopefully cuter feet to accompany this one.


sketch: Gabriella

Still working on the last four drawings for the alphabet book, but in the meantime I've been trying to continue with figure drawing as well. It all started with going to the museum and drawing the hand, and now I'm working my way through Vanderpoel's The Human Figure again.

The hard part, of course, is finding people to draw. Or at least, people that have the time to sit still long enough. Serena's modeled for me before, but with all that's been going on I don't think I've actually witnessed her sitting still recently (although I did do one quick sketch of her face when she was asleep).

I've tried drawing people on the train ride home, but you have to find the ones that are asleep. Otherwise, I imagine they'll get really angry if they find you staring at them intently while scribbling in a notebook.

So I was pleasantly surprised when my six-year-old asked if I would draw her. And even more surprised when, amazingly, she sat still. I mean, have you ever seen the energy a six-year old has? Once in a while she would move her head, but I'd ask her to move it back and she did. I just did the face quickly to start off with – I didn't want to push my luck. But she seemed to really enjoy it. She even asked if I would draw more portraits. So you may be seeing more drawings of my daughter up here, as well as the watercolor illustrations.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: K

While it might not have the √©lan of battle penguins (but then again, what does?), here is the next drawing for the alphabet book. Getting ever nearer to the finish line, especially since I decided to keep the letter U picture as it's painted. Part of me wanted to revise it, or do the new version, but in reality I think that I just wanted to avoid the appearance of laziness. I realized that I actually like the first version. So I'll stick with that.

Only four more to go, then – as long as I'm in denial that I don't have to do a cover illustration.


Interlude: Barbarian Squirrels Astride Battle Penguins

Last night my wife had a nightmare about penguins, yes, penguins getting into the trash cans. They were aided and abetted by squirrels, and before long the whole mob had gotten into the house.

Being the loving husband that I am, I naturally visualized it for her. I will no doubt receive vast praise for bringing nightmares to life.

As soon as I'm finished with the alphabet book, you'll be seeing this one in color.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: A

Finished number 20, and a full-page one as well! It really makes me feel like Arianna will actually get her alphabet book after all. Especially since this is the first letter – for some reason, finishing the letter A makes me feel like the alphabet book is on it's way, no matter how many I've done beforehand.

Speaking of the letter A, if we had named her anything else this book would have probably been completely different. The conceit of the book is that each sentence on a page starts with the appropriate letter (so it can be a capital letter), with the small letter contained somewhere in the sentence as well. Because of her name, I was able to start the book with "Arianna walked to the park." And, I also get to title the book Arianna's Baseball Catch, which works out great, in just about every way.


Back to the Book: B

The pun drawing is back. I'm not sure whether anyone would know this is batter or not without me saying so, but hopefully the egg shells and measuring cup will help.

Number 19! The end is in sight. Once I finish number 20 then I'll feel like the bulk of the work if done.


Interlude: because sometimes, you just have to.

I love cartooning and all, and am still working on the alphabet book. But after reading about the Pre-Raphaelites and visiting the Philadelphia Museum, I just had to get back into figure drawing. As I had only one thing to hand, I used it.

It started out in blue pencil. I added watercolor for the shadows, some slight additional color, and pastel highlights to bring it to a finish. Just a fairly quick sketch, but hopefully the beginning of more of this sort of thing.


Back from Vacation: R

Haven't posted for a bit because I've been on vacation. Good times. Especially relevant for this blog was a chance to check out the Philadelphia Art Museum – I got to see a lot of my favorite artists. Whistler, Sargent, and Alma-Tadema in particular, but also Cassatt, Munch, and Toulouse-Latrec. In addition, my son loved the armor exhibit... sniff... I'm so proud...

Here's something I finished just before taking off. It's R, for Rushing out the door.


The Problem with U: 3 versions

Above is version 1 – what I had in mind when I designed the piece. Version 2 would be with more dimension and color (more on this in a bit). And then there's version 3:

Which throws off the first two versions entirely.

I'll go into the top one first. I'd pictured it as a stark image, running up cavern stairs. It's flat, because I'm aiming more for a mood than a representation – I'd even considered doing it just as a pure silhouette in just black or purple. So since it's what I had in mind, I could just leave it as is and call it finished.

However, I did show it to a friend, who said that the stairs could pop out from the background more, I could add more color to the figures, and so on. All valid critiques, I'll be the first to say, if I'm trying to represent it dimensionally.

Now on to version 3. While I was debating all this, I realized that the figures aren't necessarily supposed to be suspended in space, on a narrow stairway. It almost looks a little like the Bridge of Khazad-Dum from Tolkien. So I thought about how it would look if they are going up a labyrinth of stairs, and came up with drawing 2.

In some ways I like it better, especially with the other wanderers climbing the stairway along with them. It would mean starting again, of course, but it's worth it if it makes a better illustration. I'll have to figure out which direction to go here, but if anyone wants to chime in, I'd welcome people's opinions!


This one also ran away with me...

...but in a less obvious way.

This was supposed to be another straight-forward watercolor illustration. Then, when I was almost done, it seems like I needed to add a bit of blue to the skin tones. So I put brush to paper and... it turned the color a flat, dark gray.

I'll have to remember that color combination if I ever am called on to do a drawing of zombies, but not what I had in mind for the alphabet book. I hit the painting with a lot of water, hoping to lift off the color, which resulted in a flat, light gray.

So I had no choice but to reach for the acrylics.

I ended up really liking it. I've been wanting to put more color in the figure, but I didn't want to muddy it too much. If I paint with acrylic, though, I can put in all the color I want. I'll still probably stick with watercolor for the bulk of the pictures, but use acrylics for the features.

Regarding the alphabet book itself, this is one of the few pages where the image has something in it that starts with the actual letter. I had originally planned to have P stand for penguin, but it seems like penguins are everywhere in kids' literature. I opted for the platypus instead.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: Q

Q for "Quick!" and queen.

Another fun one to do. I liked getting closer to the figures, for the sake of Arianna's hands. Usually the fingers are just little stubs in proportion to the rest of her, but up close they can be more expressive. Also got to get back to the acrylic highlights and shadows – the illustration for Y didn't seem to need it, but it helped here.

My older daughter (age 6) saw the post for Y. She liked it, but said she couldn't figure out what in the picture started with the letter Y. I had to explain to her that what the characters say in the story has a Y in the sentence. I like making this one a story, but if Arianna gets equally confused when I finish this and show it to her, I may need to reference one of the other 2 alphabet books to help!


Arianna's Alphabet Book: Y

"You're right!" she said, and dug them out quickly.


Arianna's Alphabet Book: X

This one's pretty obvious.

I'm beginning to add more acrylic in again – the walls and the X, but I especially like the reflected blue light along the platypus' back. It's easy to get a range of color in the tone with watercolor, but to really make it pop, the acrylic is great.

I got the idea for the blue from J.C. Leyendecker's paintings. There's one where he has a painting of a man, and the highlight at the top of the sternum, just below the neck, is in that shade of blue. And it worked perfectly. Had it been just a shade of the color around it, it would have been flat and boring. So I'm going to try and bring more of that into these watercolors as well.


Lucky Number 13: W

Finally... made it... to... the halfway point... >gasp< >pant<

And a big thank you to Mr. Shatner for teaching me all I know about acting. Apparently, this ability has been passed down to the kids. You should see the dramatics should there happen to be something like, I don't know, the wrong dessert. The lip tremble, the pregnant pause, the wail. I wish I had Oscars to hand out.

On an unrelated note, perhaps I should actually talk about what I posted. W is "What's this for?" and wondered.