An Illustrated Tour of My Evil Lier

More observational drawings from my sketchbook. These are all from my house / evil lier.

This is the fan in my bedroom. It sits across the room from by bed and doesn’t really point at it. I run the fan every night, even in the winter, because it drowns out all the creepy deep dark woods sounds that are outside. The table is an antique that came from my grandfather’s house and somehow ended up as my end table. It’s way too ornate for the rest of my room.

This is one wall of the room next door where we watch TV. You can see my overflowing book cases on the right. They’re full of computer books, most of which are out of date now but I can’t get rid of them. To the left of the TV are a bunch of magazine clippings I’ve thumb tacked to the wall. My favorite is a New Yorker cover painted by Wayne Thiebaud of two melting ice cream cones. Under those is my cat’s little scratching post thing. She likes my office chair better. On the far left is my piano.

And here is my nightstand, which is actually my dad’s TV tray repurposed as a nightstand. The lamp cost $4 and does not work, but it looks like bamboo! The cloth there is an old t-shirt. I use it to wrap around my alarm clock because the numbers are too bright at night. I cover over the face with the shirt and just lift it up when I want to read the time.

These are a few buildings from near my house. The one on top is a gym that has very nice architecture to fit into the rolling hills. The bottom building is a watertower that I think is one of the better looking watertowers around.

In the Company of Taxidermy, and other titles I’ve rejected for my autobiography

Over winter break I spent some time working on my observational drawing skills. I’ve been applying to a few art programs that require admissions portfolio’s, and most ask for recent examples of observational work. I’ve been doing a lot of art lately but it’s mostly illustrative imaginary or narrative stuff that didn’t quite fit the bill. I’m planning on posting a few things in the next few days.

This whole endeavor however (it rhymes!), brought me to this question:

Does taxidermy creep you out?

I ask because it completely fascinates me. It seems a morbid curiosity, I realize, but I can’t help it. Taxidermy animals and skeletal specimens have this atmosphere of victorian curiosity about them that harkens back to when the lines between science and art and philosophy were all blurry, biologists were “naturalist” and spent most of their time trekking through wilderness with firearms, and discovering something new meant you could name it after yourself.

I’ve never owned a taxidermic animal, per say, although I have several lucky rabbits feet I got as a child, which I suppose are sort of similar. Funny thing, you used to see rabbits feet for sale all the time in airports and gas stations and little knick knack stores all over the place but I haven’t seen one for sale in decades. I wonder if they’re illegal or just passé. I’ve always wanted a preserved raven that could sit in my room and be my friend, and I think an elephant or a small whale would be so cool, especially if you has a small apartment and it got a room all to itself. There was a trend for a while of preserving your cat or dog after it died – they have this whole fancy freeze-drying process – but somehow that doesn’t interest me all that much.

Here in Kansas we have what is probably the most impressive collection of taxidermy animals you’re ever likely to see. In Dyche Hall on the University of Kansas is the Panorama of North American Mammals. Developed from an exhibit originally built for the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair the exhibit has over a hundred taxidermic animals displayed in one huge diorama that transitions through their native habitats.

The exhibit was built by Lewis Lindsay Dyche, one of those Teddy Roosevelt Victorian-style naturalists I was talking about, all from specimens he collected traveling the world. You can read about Lewis on the University’s website.

The best part of the exhibit are the walruses (which I find are the best part of anything that contains walruses). I’ve been going to the museum for years to sketch the animals. I find they’re much more cooperative than those fidgety versions at the zoo.

Here are a few sketches from the museum. The skeleton in the upper corner belonged to a manatee. I don’t know it’s name or if it was a boy or a girl, they don’t put that kind of info on the museum placards for some reason, but I’ve named him Lindsay after Lewis Lindsay Dyche, and because he kind of looks like a Lindsay.

Oh, and just so you don’t think it’s all about the dead, here are some sketches of my very lively cat. She was a very good girl to put up with me following her around with my sketchbook for as long as she did, but she’s not so good at sitting still just yet. We’re working on that.

Drawing My Studio

Do you ever wonder what your life would be like if you lived, say, a few hundred years ago? I think it’s kind of romantic to imagine myself living in a victorian manor house or as a medieval artisan but the longer I dwell on it the more I realize that, 200 years ago I would probably be considered blind.

Now, today, in 2010, I’m not blind. I have big thick glasses. Without them anything more than an inch or two from the tip of my nose is a blurry blob, but when I have them on I can see just fine. I pass my driver’s test, I catch things people toss to me, I do carom off furniture but that’s just because I’m clumsy. Vision wise I’m just fine.

The one caveat is that, to correct for my astigmatism, my lenses have a pronounced cylinder rating. This means that when I look directly on at a straight line like the corner of a room or the edge of a table it looks as it should, but as I turn my head and look at the line askance it begins to curve away from me as if the wall bowed outward.

When I first get an updated prescription the difference can be pronounced and things can look a little strange. For example with my glasses on it looks to me like I’m at least 4 inches further from the ground than without. But, after an hour or so my brain adjusted and everything looks ok again. After that I don’t notice the effect unless I consciously look for it. It’s not that I get used to things being curved but that my brain tells itself that the curved things are straight, which is pretty amazing.

I often wonder how this distortion effects the way I draw what I see. I don’t seem to have any trouble drawing things in perspective and as far as I can tell the straight lines I draw are actually straight. Still, it’s hard to say what the effect might be

It also makes me wonder what other optical effects my brain is screening out of what I think is the real world.

Consider this:

The lens in your eye focuses light on the back of the inside of your eye in an area called the fovea where the majority of your optical receptor cells are. However stuck in amongst those receptors in your optic nerve, which has no receptors on it. This causes a blind spot in your vision, an area where you see nothing. Everyone has this spot, but you don’t perceive it because your brain edits it out.

Or this:

When you fix your vision on something your eyes don’t stay still. Instead they’re continually making tiny jerking movements called saccades. This is because your brain will begin to ignore signals coming from your optical receptors that don’t change. If your eyes didn’t move then you would swiftly find yourself unable to see what you’re looking at.

Makes you wonder what you’re really seeing, doesn’t it?

Well this all brings me to what I’ve been drawing. I’ve been working on some backgrounds and interiors for my animation project and since it’s been a little while since I last did some real perspective work I was feeling a bit rusty. To sharpen things up a bit I parked myself on the floor in my studio on Sunday night and took a stab at drawing the room.

I have to admit I goofed off a bit, but after about 2 hours here’s what I came up with:

I’m pretty happy with it.

Part of that goofing off I mentioned was listening to things on my phone. When I was all done it occurred to me that the phone has a camera too and that got me wondering how my drawing and reality compare.

To draw the section of the room I did, I had to turn my head a bit. To cover the same area with the camera I had to take a few shots and stitch them together in the computer. Here’s what I ended up with:

I should say a few things about this image to begin with. First, it’s awful. The light in my room at night is not very good. Sorry. Second, in camera terms your field of view is determined by the focal length of the lens. For a 35mm camera normal human vision is in the neighborhood of 50mm. Lenses around 35mm or below would be considered wide angle (think fish eye) and higher around 100mm would be telephoto. My phone’s camera is equivalent to a 30mm lens. This means that there’s a degree of spherical distortion in the image. This is intensified by the fact that this image is stitched together from 6 pictures moving across the room.

So here’s the moment of truth. I’ve superimposed my sketch over the photo (deep breath):

It’s interesting to see what I got right and what I didn’t.

  • The general perspective lines (angles of the walls and ceiling) are pretty darn good.
  • I started the drawing in the back corner where the two walls meet, and based measurements of features near that location. As you move away from that center you can see that the differences increase.
  • Most of the things I measured carefully were rendered pretty well (windows, desk, back table with radio, computer monitors). Things I drew free hand did not fair so well (notice how big the lamp is compared to it’s photo).
  • Some things (the stuff pinned to the wall for example) I drew without regard to reality, so they can be ignored.

Keep in mind that there are three distorting factors here:

  • The distortion of the camera.
  • The fact that the drawing is in 2 point perspective, but reality (camera reality anyway) is in spherical perspective. This causes a lot of distortion towards the far right edge for example.
  • General “mistakes” in my drawing.

I put “mistakes” in quotes because I still think the drawing is pretty successful as a drawing. I also think it’s interesting to consider how my subconscious may be responsible for exaggerating the size of some objects like my lamp and radio while others nearby were basically the right size. I do interact with the radio and lamp a lot, and if I were doing an imagined drawing and wanted to emphasize certain elements in a room I might exaggerate their size. More food for thought.

To round things out I colored the drawing. I always wanted a green room. Here’s the final piece:


A friend asked if I could draw some penguins for her so I took the opportunity to get the ink and brushes out over the weekend. I have a very sketchy piece-meal style of drawing that basically involves drawing a contour and then redrawing and re-redrawing it in fits and spurts until I can find right shape. I know other artists who do this, but I also know artist’s who can draw things with only a few strokes as if they’re doing all the work I’ doing on paper in their heads. It’s very enticing I have to say. Especially when you want to draw something in ink with a brush or pen. Every once-in-a-while I give it a try, but in the end I usually end up back where I started with lots of little lines.

Jaunty Witches and Things Without Faces

With all this 3D modeling type learning under my belt I want to start putting together some animation examples for practice and to populate my demo reel. My initial plan was to make a very generic figure dummy, something like one of those posable sketching figures, and then animate that doing various things so that the action would focus on the action and not on an elaborate character that would be hard to animate anyway.

This whole line of thinking has involved a lot of “what would I be interested in if I worked in human resources for a studio and had to see boring old demo reels all day”, which it turns out is a dangerously recursive place to play, because then I started thinking that “a boring old dummy is boring and I want to make something shiny”, which lead to “I bet they want to see something shiny too, that would make my animation sample stand out”, which lead to “I like witches (for no particular reason)”, which lead to sketching all morning rather than animating.

But look, I drew some jaunty witches!

One thing I did get out of all of this is the idea of dressing my dummy up in some interesting accouterments, like those stylish high boots. It reminds me of the character from Emanuelle Walker’s Après La Pluie movie from Gobleins a few years ago.

I also briefly flirted with the idea of doing a monkey figure rather than a human, but I think I’ll leave that for the second go at things.

Little Witches

A very long time ago I wrote one of those uncontextualized and plotless fictional vignettes I write from time to time (we’ll talk more about that later, I promise) about an elderly college professor who would, from time to time, go to sleep in his bed and awaken the next morning still in his bed clothes but nestles in the arms of a large statue in the center of town, unaware of how he got there.

Then about 4 years ago I saw the movie version of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The movie was, well, unfortunate. But, in the opening scene you see the Deep Thought, a mountain sized computer that looks a bit like a little person with a giant CRT head.

Then last year for Animation class I invented but later abandoned an idea of a pitch battle between a little witch (representing magic) and a little scientist (representing, well, science).

And that’s what I was thinking about when I drew these.

A Wedding in the Woods

Two good friends of mine are planning a wedding in the fall and asked if I might be interested in making some illustrations for their invitations. Needless to say I jumped at the chance.

The wedding is planned for an outdoor setting so they asked if I could put together something with birds, squirrels, trees, and the like, so my first stop was the natural history museum to sketch the stuffed creatures.


Turns out there weren’t many squirrels at the museum, but there were a ton of birds. These sketches were fun, but for the invite the couple asked if I could make something sketchy and whimsical, so I played around a bit with different ways to abstract bird and squirrel shapes.





Along with the critters I needed somewhere to put them so I started playing with some different forest ideas. I really liked this idea of the bride and groom riding giant animals but it’s a little over the top for a wedding invite. Maybe I’ll save it for something else.


I was thinking about different ways to portray the forest: light and airy, dense and thick, tall trees, small trees, etc. It got me thinking about some images Luc Desmarchelier posted to his blog a while back when he was doing concept work for Open Season. I took a few cues from his use of hatching to create layers of foliage and thick underbrush. In the end though I think most of this was too thick for what I needed.


When we first talked my friends asked for something sketchy looking in pencil, probably without any color. Even so I decided to do some color experimentation just to see if it would generate anything interesting. Most of it wasn’t but the exercise was fun.


Really like this one with the two trees. I think I’m going to make it into a card for another occasion.

Back to the pencil stuff. I decided it might be interesting to think about different perspectives on the trees, such as looking up through them, or from low down or cropped tightly in the thick of branches.

Weather was finally looking up at this point so I took the camera out in the yard and took some shots of leaves and branches just to have something to look at.


Starting to close in on some ideas now.


I’ll post more when things are finished.