Plein Air Painting: Malott Hall, University of Kansas

Can you tell there are lasers in this building? I mean big lasers. BIG LASERS. This is Malott Hall at the University of Kansas, home to the physics and chemistry departments. I had a number of classes and labs here when I was a student. It’s full of the sort of glassware labs and big hand-built science contraptions that are the reason you become a scientist. Even the roof is cool, it’s covered with all sorts of vents and steam hoods and weather equipment and important looking sticky-outy doodads. I used to wander around the building between classes sometimes to look at the equipment in the hallways but really I was mostly looking for an unlocked door to get up on the roof. I never managed to find one though.

I painted this from the sidewalk next to Budig hall. Watercolor and pencil, about 4 in. by 9 in.

Rigby and the MASKC

I got a mention on twitter today from @MASKC_Komondor whom I had never heard of before. I’m always excited to have someone new tweet me. Turns out they are the Middle Atlantic States Komondor Club, and they posted a very nice note about The Misfits on their blog. How cool is that!

Rigby, one of the misfit animals, is a Komondor dog. Here’s a nice action shot of Rigby from the book:

The Komondor breed comes from Hungary where they’ve been used as sheepdogs for centuries. They have thick matted coats that gather into chords. This makes them look a bit like mops. I had a lot of fun designing Rigby for the book. He’s one of my favorite characters because he’s a blast to draw, and because he wants to be an artist. Here are a few sketches of Rigby from early on in the character design process:

More Fun Music Finds – Tell Your Girlfriend

Here’s another fun music find from the Scriptnotes podcast. This time it’s Robyn’s Tell Your Girlfriend covered a-capella and clappy cups style by a trio of Swedish singers called Erato. Here’s their fun blog full of cat pictures. Apparently the original is a very popular Pop hit but I hadn’t heard it before. You can hear it at the link above. It’s also good is a very anti-a-capella way.

북한의 Take On Me

I’ve been listening to this over and over for days. This is a group of North Korean musicians playing Take On Me by A-Ha on accordions.

If you’re wondering, by the way, how a bunch of North Korean teenagers ended up playing this, its part of a project by Norwegian Morten Traavik called THE PROMISED LAND (I think it’s supposed to be capitalized, also not to be confused with the Matt Damon movie), that is connecting with North Korean artists, which I am all for.

I really like strange cover versions of songs. And strange songs. And Strange Bands. This is what I live for, and I have to thank a new podcast I’ve been listening to for this and about a half dozen other great musical finds in the past week or so. The podcast is called Scriptnotes, and is a podcast about screenwriting by John August and Craig Mazin. The podcast has almost nothing to do with music, but every week they choose a different, usually youtube, piece of audio for their into and outro. Love it! The podcast is really good too.

The Misfits are Here!

The big day has finally arrived! The Daring Escape of the Misfit Menagerie is finally out. Visit your local book monger or purveyor of fine volumated manuscripts and procure yourself a genuine specimen.

It’s kitty cat approved!

Misfits is a grade school chapter book about a band of misfit animals who must escape the clutches of an evil circus master. The story was written by my super talented writer friend Jacqueline Resnick. I had the pleasure of making 30 illustrations for the story plus the cover image and titles.

I also can’t forget to thank my art director at Razorbill, Emily Osborne, for all of her hard work.

Super Extra Special Late-Breaking Update:

Amazon has selected Misfits as one of its December Editor’s Picks for Kids and Teens. Huzza!

This Is Why I am Thankful for Walls

OK, I admit it. I was vanity googling the title of my book (which comes out tomorrow, *so excited*). Anyway, when I put “Misfit Menagerie” in the search box, look what popped up:

Isn’t this adorable! Look at the stripes. Are you looking?!? I want it so badly. SOOOO BADLY!

This is a Faux Taxidermy Blue Hare by the obviously super talented Stephanie Gunning. You can see an ark full of her other work on her Etsy store. Go buy things from her so she will keep making objects of awesomeness like this one. Go now. I’ll wait.


Back from CTN

I got back this week from my first ever trip to CTN Expo. Right up until last week I was feeling uneasy about the expense and nervousness of the whole thing. I’m kind of a shy person and the prospect of traveling so far by myself to meet people I didn’t know was unnerving. But guess what! I’m so glad I went. I had a fantastic time.

This picture is a sort of take off of my business card design. I gave away a metric ton of cards while I was in Burbank, and I got a similarly sizable stack to take back with me. I put this image together to send out to the e-mail addresses of all the friendly people I met as a kind of “keep in touch note”.

I thought this would be a good way to help keep me memorable in people’s minds. Which got me thinking of all the other things I did (and wish I had done) for the conference. So I thought I’d put together a brief list of advizos (is that a word?) for anyone planning their first trip to CTN (or any industry conference, really).

Don’t worry about going alone.

If you go with a friend you’ll send the whole time talking to them. Being alone forces you to meet people. And for some of us shy people, sometimes a little force is necessary.

How to meet people.

Like any event with lots of people, you are going to find yourself standing in a lot of lines or squished next to someone in a long row of audience chairs. These are the people to strike up a conversation with. Ask them a polite questions like “what’s this line for?” or “when does this presentation start?” Then introduce yourself and make a new friend.

Bring lots of business cards.

Make sure your name and e-mail are one there in a legible font. Don’t spend a lot on super crisp papers and rounded laser cut corners and embossed letter press printing. You make pictures. Make something pretty, print it cheaply.

Here’s what my cards look like. I’m not fond of the back image so I think it’s going to get a redesign one of these days.



Take notes on the business cards you get.

On every card I got I made a little note to myself to help me remember where I met this person (Glen Keane line), a few of their personal details (works at ad company, storyboards, from Iowa), and maybe what we talked about (portfolio printing).

Update the bios on your social media thingies.

I have a very ordinary name so it’s important that when someone goes looking for Matthew Cook they can pick the kindly artist Matthew out from all the other Matthew.

This might also be a good time to change your avatar picture to an actual photo of yourself, at least for a few weeks. If your own photo frightens you like mine does, maybe have your profile picture match a picture on your business card.

Bring some money for loot.

I stuck to a strict budget at CTN because my travel costs were so expensive, but I wish I had budgeted just a little more to buy some stuff. There was a lot of neat stuff.

Bring some healthy food.

The fast food nearby got old really fast, and I didn’t have a car to go hunting for a grocery store. Next time I’ll try and bring some other options.

Wear comfortable shoes – it does occasionally rain in California.

I wore my worn out old sneakers with a hole in the bottom, so my socks got a little wet.

… and last but not least, follow up with your new friends.

Be brief and polite. Say it was nice to meet them, and comment on something you talked about to refresh their memory of who you are (now is when those notes on the business cards come in handy). Add a list of your web addresses or social network links and invite them to send you the same. Hopefully they will point you back at their web site or facebook page and you can keep up with what they’re doing. That way when you run into them next year its like you’re old friends.

Election Day Construction Equipment

Last Tuesday was election day here in the United States. Since I’ve been glued to my work table for the last few days I relished the chance to get out of the house and do something, so when I left for the polling place to go vote I brought my watercolors and my little travel watercolor sketchbook along.

I’ve been following James Gurney’s blog for a while and he regularly posts these charming little watercolor plein air sketches. If I were James Gurney I would be brave enough to talk to the poll-workers and ask if I could sit in the polling place and paint their portraits or those of the voters. Unfortunately I’m terrified to talk to strangers and even more terrifies that if they would agree they would want to see the finished painting. I know, I know, I’m working on it.

Anyway, instead I decided to take a walk after I voted and came upon these bulldosers. I went to vote in the late afternoon figuring that there would be fewer people, and so by the time I got to this spot the sun was on its way down and there were long cool shadows running across the road. It looked sufficiently Gurneyish so I gave it a try. It took about an hour.

Gouache Sketches

I’ve had a few gouache palettes going but I recently got a new sealable palette that I can (hopefully) take with me to paint around town. I hate to throw out the paint in the old palettes because its so expensive so I spent a very frustrating few hours trying to rewet and then scoop the old gouache out of the old palettes and get it into the new one.

By the time I was done I don’t think much actually got transferred, and there was still a lot in the old palettes so I decided to try and use some of it up before I tossed it. I’ve been doing little gouache studies for the last few weeks. Here are some of the ones I’m not embarrassed to post. These are all about 2 to 3 inches on a side but I scanned them real big for your viewing pleasure.


A WWII bomber of some sort, a woman’s profile, and standing woman with a basket, and a crazy tribal looking bird thing. Pretty standard art stuff I would say.

Landscape study from my collection of “iPhone Photos Out the Car Window As I Drive On Kansas Highways and Should Probably Be Looking Where I’m Going and Not Taking iPhone Photos but This Particualr Thing Looked Pretty so I had to Take A Picture”.

This one is from a photo I snapped of downton Seattle. Did you know they have big trees in Downtown Seattle! Why doesn’t my downtown have big trees I wonder?

Iguana, he has no name, and also he may be a she. I don’t know, I’m not a herpetologist.

Someones really pretty glass bobble from Etsy.

One of Claes Oldenburg’s giant shuttlecocks from the lawn of the Nelson Atkins art museum in Kansas City. These are probably my favorite thing in the world.

And finally some pretty ceramic bowls because I wanted to study warm and cool bounce light.


Remember, when you are designing the uniforms for your personal guard, style and color counts! Stormtroopers may look cool in the movies but you’re going to have to look at these guards every day as they mill about your hollowed out volcano. So choose wisely.

These are the Beefeaters, or “The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary” *gasp*. Which is a ridiculously long name and probably why everyone just calles them “beefeaters”.

They guard the Tower of London and keep Her Majesty’s ravens. You know the guards belong to her because she writes her name on everything. “E II R” is Queen Elizabeth’s royal cypher and translates as “Elizabeth the Second, Regina“.


The Caretaker’s Village

Along with my digital painting class I also took a class called Environment Sketching with the super friendly and talented Phillip Dimitriadis. I’ve had a few classes in perspective drawing before (you may remember my gothic church art studio), but it was an eye opening experience to try applying those mechanical drawing principles to skills like gesture and composition. I learned a lot!

This was my final assignment, based on a sketch of a big headed statue from a few years back. First some ground work:

I’m so used to my perpective drawings looking mechanical and regimented so I wanted to stretch myself as much as possible and do something that looked irregular and full of character. My good friend and super talented illustrator Leah has been hiking her way through Central America, and posted some very beautiful photos of the makeshift dwellings in some of the villages. I was particularly taken with this first photo looking down a long hill in Quito Ecuador. I wish I was this good of a photographer.

Here’s my finalized version. We learned about a layout drawing technique using col-erase pencils on tracing paper that makes playing with the lights and shadows fast and easy. I went back over my major lines here with a micron pen to give things some definition.



Femme Fatal

Another piece of classwork from my digital painting class. This assignment was to paint a character in an environment.

I had film noir on the brain and wanted the challenge of making a “beautiful” character so I decided to try for a femme fatal.

To start I did a little googling to find some relevant movie examples. A femme fatal has to be beautiful, but there is a certain look to that era of film, the costumes, the hairstyles, so it’s helpful to have something to look at. If you know your cinema you may recognize Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) from Sunset Boulevard in blue there in the middle. In this and the next few sketches I loosely based things on cameos from The Postman Always Rings Twice (avoid the remakes), Double Indemnity, Carole Lombard, Betty Garble, Frances Farmer, Gene Tierney, Jeanne Moreau, Joan Crawford, Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, and some Audrey Hepburn for good measure.

There are also a few artist that were helpful to look at. Cindy Sherman is one of my favorites. If you don’t now her work as a photographer you should look her up. She has a series of self portraits from the mid 60’s that look like stills from an Alfred Hitchcock film. There are also a few modern photographers who will do film noir portraits. Jim Ferreira has a particularly good gallery.

Anyway, after the sketches I tried a few full figure poses to look for something interesting.

You can see I’m starting to make the drawings more caricatures.

Here are some more face centered caricatures. That’s Cindy Sherman there in the middle on the top row.

Through all of that research I started thinking about the film noir movies I really like. There are a lot of good ones but its hard to beat Casablanca. The problem with Casablanca is that it doesn’t really have any femme fatal characters. Ingrid Bergman is hardly a villain. What it does have is the fabulously contemptible Sydney Greenstreet as the Signor Ferrari who runs Casablanca’s black market from his bar, the Blue Parrot.

Ferrari makes a particularly good reference because his character is so visually memorable. White suit, fez, corpulent and always mopping his brow in the North African heat. He has all the hallmarks of a good character design in shape and silhouette. I thought it might be fun to try switching up his gender, so I put together the following sketch.

I tried to keep the background elements subtle and just hint at a few references from the movie and the character. I knew I wanted to make a big deal out of the shadows. Film noir draws a lot on German Expressionism and its high contrast, angular shadows.

I was pretty happy with this sketch but I got a few notes from my classmates that her pose and expression were leading them out of the picture. After some revisions and a bit of color here was my first pass at the painting.

 As you can see I made her a bit more full figured and changed the pose slightly. I was happy with the composition but the colors left a lot to be desired. After a lot of color fiddling in PS I finally decided that no color scheme was going to feel right. Film noir just feels black-and-white to me. That being said, simply turning the saturation down in PS made things look disappointingly flat so I opted for a hybrid approach. Here’s the final in a page from my portfolio, along with a few character study sketches.

The image is basically black-and-white, but if you look carefully you can see that I’ve painted most of the background in cool grays and then hit the shaft of light with warms. I also continued the warms into her exposed fleshy bits. I think it gives the image a kind of undercover vitality that fits nicely with the ambiguous overtones of the subject.

I’m probably thinking too much.