For composition class this last fall one of our assignments was an image about “dreamtellers”, which it was our task to define and then depict.

I decided that a dreamteller must be like a bank teller at an institution that issues dreams, so I set about working out what that would look like.

I started out making thumbnails, of which I must have made over 60. I started to coalesce around the idea of a teller window inside a huge statue of an owl decorated with clocks and star charts and other items related to telling time. Here is a progression of thumbs from early stuff to what became the basis for the final illustration:

And some thumbs from near the end:


I wanted to give acrylics a try so I took some reference shots and started in on an underpainting:

Unfortunately the painting started to get overworked and the others suggested I try something different. I ended up working digitally using my thumbnail as an underpainting and layering in a bunch of textures and the photoshop brushes I’d been working on in painting class. Here’s how things turned out:

The figures are not my favorite, but I had a ton of fun working out all the carvings and architecture.

Looking at this now with some distance from it there are a lot of little things where I don’t know what I was thinking. Because we built up the compositions for this project over such a long time the work on this piece dragged out over several months, far longer than I’ve ever worked on a single piece before. I wonder now if this is a good lesson in objective distance. After you’ve been looking at something for ages it’s hard to get a clear picture of what’s really there. Stephen King in his On Writing book mentions that after he finishes the first draft of a story he put’s it in a drawer for a while and doesn’t look at it for a few weeks (or maybe it was even months). Only then does he take it back out and start editing. I can see where that is a useful practice.

Father’s Day Card (part 1)

I have the roughest time picking out cards for people. I like blank cards because I like to write my own sentiments but good blank cards are hard to find; most card shops have only tiny little blank sections if at all.

Well this year for Father’s Day I decided to make my own. My Dad is a car enthusiast and a fan of boats . . .

Now In Living Color: Vehicle Paint Studies

I don’t seem to be getting much painting practice as of late, but with classes canceled and a drizzly day outside yesterday I decided to have at some of my vehicle sketches with the acrylics.

I’m still developing the idea for this one, but the current concept is a little clockwork vehicle that looks a bit like a shrimp or a sea-monkey (the actual ones, not the ones on the package). I imagine they’re made by one of those misguided mad inventors, and piloted by whatever unfortunate creatures she finds in the forest for her experiments.

thing in a glass

gear head

fly wheel


Diesel Ground Sloth (EX package shown)

After the demise of the Detroit auto industry, a number of large empty parts warehouses and assembly plants were shuttered, quickly becoming important habitats for local urban wildlife.  Like artificial reefs constructed from sunken ships, a new, more environmentally focused local government encouraged the overgrowth of these derelict skeletons of industry in the hopes that a resulting blossoming of natural wonders might generate an eco-tourism industry to rival the former industrial economy.  City fathers went so far as to call for the release of many of the Detroit Zoo’s specimens into the “urban biological diversity zone” as seedlings of sorts.

Although a breathtaking number of new species resulted, as products of their environment most resembled aspects of the city’s former industry that residents were hoping to forget.  Although the animal lover’s mecca city planners were hoping for has yet to emerge, the area has raised interest among foreign chemical and energy consortiums looking for spokes-creatures to put a friendlier public face on their industry.

A Box Full of Grass


First up, some preliminaries on drawing paper.  The top is simply graphite, but this time with some smearing.  The bottom is an acrylic wash.  The acrylic works just like watercolor, but subsequent washes don’t mix with what’s underneath.  Once it dries, the color is fixed.


The smearing above was an interesting experience, so I gave it a try on a larger scale.  This one’s on smooth bristol (big mistake).  The smooth texture won’t take much graphite, so getting those dark values is a challenge.


Longing for more texture, this one’s on some pretty hefty watercolor paper.  I did an undercoat of sepia acrylic, and then overcoats of watercolor washes for the colored items.  Then graphite over the whole thing for tone.  I like kind of like this one.

[re]frigerator (now in color)

Starting from last week’s sketches I made a few attempts at the refrigerator composition in paint.  


For a first attempt I decided to go with acrylics.  As you can probably tell I didn’t get very far.  For whatever reason I find acrylic paint to be endlessly frustrating: it dries too quickly; it looks like flat plastic once it does so; it’s uneven if applied too wet; and lower layers disintegrate if you overwork new layers on top.  


For my next try I went with oils.  I had my first real experience with oil painting this last semester and found it to be enjoyable, but I’ve been reluctant to use it at home because of the fumes.  Here I used a small set of water mixable oils that avoid the need for turpentine, but the paints themselves still have strong fumes.

In any case, this piece turned out much better than the last.  However, because the oils take so long to dry I had to make this composition in a single pass, rather than the layers I worked with in previous oil paintings.  Working in this way is not as enjoyable because I end up fighting with the wet layers of paint.  


My last attempt was made in gouache.  I bought a small set of gouache colors some time last year but never really made much use of them other than to thinly mix with watercolors.  You can see here however that I’ve kept the paint thick and opaque.  I really like the results.  The colors don’t have that rich depth that the oils give you (in fact they’re a little chalky looking), but the layers were easy to work, and the the final piece scans really well.