Our Friend the Alfred

matthewcook_windows2_web matthewcook_window sketches web


One of my favorite things about physics class in college was learning about the SI units. My friends and I took to calling them Old Dead White Guy Units (ODWGU) because it seemed to us that most of them were  named after … well … distinguished European gentleman of the englishmen era.

Perhaps its a little solipsistic to claim some aspect of the natural world and name it after yourself. But I supposed we have to call these things something, and it’s kind of fun to learn the history behind each discovery. Plus, if those gentleman can do it then I don’t see why I can’t. There are so many things in life that are just yearning for quantification.

A case in point: Todays unit is the Alfred (Alf)

The Alfred is the SI Unit of intrigue, as observed through a window. It’s named for Alfred Hitchcock, English director of the film Rear Window.

Here are some common observances as measured in Alfreds:

0 Alf  =  An empty, non descript window (theoretical, all actual windows are > 0 Alf.)
0.001 Alf  =  1 mAlf  =  A window with a spooky shredded curtain blowing gently in the breeze.
0.01 Alf  =  1 cAlf  =  A scowling child looking back menacingly.
0.012 Alf  =  1.2 cAlf  =  A scowling child looking back menacingly and eating an ice cream cone.
0.04 Alf  =  4 cAlf  =  Scowling twins in matching outfits (any age).
0.1 Alf  =  A mysterious shadowy figure.
0.2 Alf  =  A mysterious shadowy figure in a fedora.
1 Alf  =  A gruesome murder in progress, as seen in silhouette.

Note that the presence of a cat in the window automatically multiplies any recorded value of Alfreds by a factor of 0.045. This unitless constant is known as Pluto’s coefficient.


Thieves Guild Show at the Phoenix Gallery



Come and see some of my art in person!

I have two pieces that will be part of an art show at the Phoenix Gallery in downtown Lawrence, Kansas. The exhibit is a showcase of work from the Thieves Guild, who run themed figure drawing nights each month here in Lawrence. There will be drawings and finished pieces by over a dozen of the regulars including a lot of my very talented friends.  The work is all based on art created or inspired by our drawing sessions over the last year and a half.

There will be an opening as part of the Final Fridays Art Walk this Friday, the 27th of June, starting at 6pm at the Phoenix Gallery on Massachusetts Street. If you can’t make it to opening night, no worries, the show will be on display through the month of July.

While you are there, keep an eye out for my pirate lady sculpture and this portrait of our model from 80’s night. I will post a bit more about the process of making these, but don’t miss out on seeing them in person.


Painterly Hand

test hand_web


This is a hand study I painted in Photoshop. I was experimenting with brushing, looking for a way to make things painterly but not have that overworked digital look. I’ve been following Carol Marine’s painting a day blog for some time now and I love the way she can render things in oil with such big chunky brush strokes. This study didn’t really achieve that but I like the way it looks anyway. If you’re curious to try it yourself, this is just one of the default photoshop chalk brushes after playing with the brush settings a bit.

Painterly Object Studies

painterly color and material studes_web


A few more attempts at painterly digital studies, still looking at Carol Marine’s blog. I thought trying some things with different textures would be interesting. These are embellished from photos of an old brass stein and a plant in a porcelain goblet vase that I found on the web. I wish I could link you to the original pictures but they have sadly passed into the Internet’s back catalogue.

Bristle Brush Portrait

Dad in Mono_web


I look through a lot of portrait photography on the web (usually Pinterest now) for things to draw and over the past few years I’ve come across a lot of black and white portraits in this sort of “show every wrinkle” sort of super-sharp, high contrast closeup. I’m embarrassed to say that I don’t know where the trend comes from. If you do leave me a comment.

In any case, I wanted to try rendering one and I thought it might be a good match to use a very scratchy looking bristle brush. I turned the opacity all the way up and laid out a set of color steps to sample from as a way to force myself not to keep overworking things. I think the study still looks a bit overworked. Next time I’ll force myself to use a larger brush as well. But I do like the scratchy texture. It gives things a bit of energy.

Color Studies Out My Window

These are a few color and shape studies I painted looking out the window of my apartment building. I’m on the 9th floor of a renovated hotel that was built around 1929 and have a steller view looking south and west. I did these pieces for my Oatley Academy work, so I’m still experimenting with lasso and gradient tool painting technique.


This first view is looking south out of my studio window at the street below. This was in the evening so the sun is slowly setting off to the right.

West Window_web

These views are looking out of my west window. The other structures you see are other historic buildings turned into apartments that line the street I’m on. In the distance you can see the big broadcast tower of the local PBS station. I did these over the course of a few hours as the sun when down so I could study how the colors changed. The first is purely observational but for the latter two I made a conscious effort to set a color palette and work from that.

Painting with the Lasso Tool



I’ve started working through a digital paining course over at Oatley Academy. In the first lesson we’re focusing on shape and form so we’re working on painting using only the lasso tool and the gradient tool in Photoshop. This was my first attempt, painted from a photo of Salvador Dalí. Making things so angular was not the goal but I was enjoying the look of it so much I tried to strengthen the facets rather than smooth them over. More to come!

Tattoo Hand Studies

I want a tattoo so badly but I think I’m too fickle to decide on just one thing I want for the rest of my life. I’ve been reading about mehndi henna painting lately and I even bought a henna kit but I haven’t worked up the courage to give it a try just yet. It has a sort of strong smell to it. Anyway, it gave me the idea for these watercolor hand studies. The hands are all from reference photos but I added the tattoo designs out of my noggin. They’re all about 9×12 or so.







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.

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“.