It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

New Sketch for Pyewackett Sets Sail

A new color, marker sample illustration for the last page of my wife Amy's story Pyewackett Sets Sail. It shows the two main characters, the cabin boy Thomas, (grown up and a captain of his own vessel) and his friend, the cat Pyewackett, presiding over a litter of his great grand-kittens. 
We have the book completely dummied, and have submitted it to a third publisher, Erdman's Books for Young Readers, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Artspeak AWAKEN Promo Piece

Our church, High Rock Northshore, holds a Performing and Visual Arts Show to Fight Human Trafficking in Salem, MA  every March to raise money and awareness for different organizations involved in fighting human trafficking. Last year the organization was iSanctuary, a California-based organization that helps women rescued from sex trafficking return to normal lives. Each year has a different theme that relates to the cause. 2013's theme was "Restore". This year's organization is Amirah House (,  a "non-profit organization located in the Boston area dedicated providing “transformative whole-person care for survivors of commercial exploitation as we engage, educate and mobilize our communities and partners to respond to human trafficking.”
The theme this year is AWAKEN: "Art wakes us up. Just as we’re nodding off to the repetition of daily life, a picture or song or film or story rouses us, reminds us that the world is strange and beautiful, full of mysteries and wonders. Sometimes the awakening is pleasing to our senses, sometimes jarring. Either way, we feel more alive, more aware as a result." As part of the Arts group that helps plan, set-up and run the show, I was selected to produce the signature image for the event promotional materials. I kicked around several ideas for the piece. I knew I wanted something I could paint, that was different, impressive visually, and not cliché, (like a sunrise, sleeping beauty, Rip Van Winkle, etc.) or overtly religious in nature.
Then I happened across several images from the Hubble Space Telescope on a friend's FB post. 

They were beautiful and mysterious, like looking into creation itself. I felt that these images lent themselves perfectly to the "awaken" theme, on an almost cosmic level. The universe "waking up". 
There were many images to choose from, but I settled on one that seemed to draw the eye in a natural spiral, and also had a variety of colors in it, as well as some great contrast between the largely orange background and the intense blue of the stars.

Although the image was freely available on the internet, and I could have used the photograph itself, I felt strongly that I wanted to paint the image. I wanted it to feel more organic and personal. I gridded out an 8.5" x 11" color printout and created a scaled up corresponding grid on a 14" x 18" x.5" gessoed wooden panel. 


I started with a loose underpainting in orange and burnt umber. I quickly discovered that the image that at first appeared to be very simple, was in fact, incredibly complex and  unlike anything I had ever painted before. I render a lot of recognizable objects, in my paintings, people, buildings, vehicles. Things with recognizable scale, angles, orientation, and most importantly, edges.
This images was vast areas of space that were filled with nothing but dust, gas and stars.
Plus I was working in acrylic, and it was very hard to blend the colors for the soft look of gas clouds. I lamented the fact that I no longer own an airbrush. It was a lot harder than I had anticipated.

I started to add in the darker areas. If I had it to do again, I would paint the entire panel dark brown, and then add the clouds of gas over that as layers of semi-transparent washes, rather than adding in the darker areas over the orange. At one point I was so frustrated that I was ready to chuck the piece out, but I stepped away. When I came back to it, instead of feeling like I was fighting the medium, (drying too fast, not malleable enough)  it felt like it was starting to work for me. I was adding layer upon layer of thin washes, for the gas, punctuated by the opaque blue and white of the stars. It became more and more complex visually. After working on it for two days, I decided I had better stop, as the image is so complex, that I could literally spend another 20 hours adding in details.
This is what I ended up with. I fell it conveys the essence of the original image, but has some more personal touches, especially in the intensity of the colors and the brushwork.


I call the piece "cosmic awakening" 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Scott Frey Portrait

Early in December I was approached by Peter and Mary Frey, a young couple at my church, about painting a portrait of Scott Frey, Peter's father. Scott had died the year before, and they wanted to give a painted portrait of him to Peter's mother as a Christmas present. This presented some difficulties, as I had never met Scott, and could not have him sit for sketches, but i agreed to do the portrait. Peter and Mary gathered a series of photographs of his father in different poses and settings.  Peter wanted his father to appear healthy, relaxed, and in one of his favorite settings; on his boat in the Choptank River in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, near where he lived. Several photos had interesting elements, but none was going to work as is. I was able to cobble together several sketches using elements from several photos combining the face and body from one, the hands from another, and the background  elements from two others. I selected the best pose, and sent the sketch off to the Freys.

The sketch was about 1/4 actual size, and Peter had some concerns about the details of the face, but otherwise approved the sketch. I enlarged the sketch using my copier, and transferred it directly onto the 16" x 20" canvas by placing graphite paper under the enlarged sketch and tracing it onto the canvas surface. I started laying in the basic shapes using a burnt umber liquid acrylic, adding washes for tone.

I then started roughing in the areas of sky, river and blue jeans using a combination of bright and thalo blue, and the shirt, using parchment, gray and yellow ochre. I kept the highlights on the face, head and clouds, white.

Adding a mixture of blue and purple to shape the clouds.

Adding some warmth to the skin with thin washes of yellow and red tones.

Refining and adjusting the overall tonal values.

The painting took about two days total. I finished it just in time for the Freys to come pick it up on their way to Maryland. They were very pleased with the results.