Tuesday, August 28, 2012


In case you should be wondering what happened to my self-imposed assignments (I know you are not wondering at all, but let me dream a bit) - I am paused. I admit I have a particularly uninspiring one (collage, hugh!) sitting on my easel since three weeks. In almost exactly one week the semester starts, so I think I will just enjoy another week pause before diving into that kind of hectic....which is of course orders of magnitude above any kind of self-imposed regimen. I am not totally idle, though. I have moved forward with my figure self-study, and I am now fully into anatomy...which is not half as bad as it sounds! I am using several different sources, some of them pretty unusual for artists, so I thought I would share my choice of study books.

My first stop is Bridgman’s “Drawing from life”. At the beginning I thought this book was plain ugly, but now I really appreciate the amount of detail he goes into in explaining every single portion of the body, at rest, from various angles and in movement. There must be at least 100 pages only on the arms! The sketches are really essential and therefore very fast to copy (which is the only way to learn anatomy in my eyes, really).

Loomis’ “Figure Drawing” is much more essential but has some really nice schemes - and the drawings are much clearer than Bridgman’s at times.

Burne Hogart’s books (“Dynamic Anatomy”  and “Dynamic Figure Drawing”) are a world on itself. You cannot really use them in alignment with the other approaches, but I find they complement the other two authors by offering a different perspective and process. I am not using them a lot at the moment, but I know I will go back to them again and again when it comes to real world challenges.

An essential aid for me is not a book but an App - the incredibly wonderful VisibleBody app for the iPad2. It allows you to view the skeleton and each single muscle from any angle, highlight it, name it, remove it, put it back again, see how it attaches to the bones, etc, etc, etc.... It is designed for medical doctors and students of medicine, not for artists, but I find it invaluable in really understanding what sentences like “The biceps long head extends from the glenoid cavity (under acromion) through a groove in head of humerus, the  short head from the coracoid process to the radius” actually mean. I cannot recommend it enough, it is worth every cent of the 30 dollars price tag. 

And finally, a little treasure I discovered by chance: “The Muscle Guide” by Frederic Delavier. This is a book for body builders, but the illustrations are just incredible. It is the only book that really shows the muscles in action, with pseudophotographic accuracy. You see what happens when muscle contract under weight, when the limbs go into extreme positions, or upon stretching. It is full of unique details (for example a comparison of the male and female pelvis bone, down to the different tilt in standing pose - which explains why women always have a little belly, regardless how much they exercise).

Monday, August 6, 2012


Semester is over, life is good: I have started a new sketchbook today. I am not an accomplished artist or illustrator, so probably nobody cares, but I thought I would share some personal thoughts on sketching nonetheless. 

I have always sketched, mostly on loose sheets, but I started keeping sketchbook(s) since about two years - and it has turned into a self-indulgent and regular habit, like smoking. I generally have two running - a big one for a serious job and a pocket-sized one for the quick drawing in-between. I also sketch on notebooks and the back of printouts when I am supposed to listen to whoever is holding a seminar, but that is another story. It took me a while to get over this maniac and misguided idea that sketchbooks have to look nice. Forget about all the examples out there that show you fantastic A3 spreads with awe-inspiring drawings - sometimes in color. My sketchbooks look ugly. They are and full of unfinished drawings, careless notes, unreadable thumbnails and my daughter’s scribbles. They are a cross between diary, shopping list, scrap paper and...well...sketchbooks. To realize that this is ok was an important step forward for me. I often have only five or ten minutes time to sketch, sometimes with my daughter chatting in between and my son trying to eat the wheels of the push-chair in the meantime, so if things had to look nice I would never sketch at all.
Of course there are nice drawings in there and a lot of great visual notes and ideas in thumbnail or study form, but the overall impression is careless and disorganized. And still, while I have read a zillion art books, my sketchbooks are the most inspiring and didactic collection of information in paper form that I own - actually most of the books I read only start to make sense after I have experimented on my sketchbook whatever they are trying to teach.
So, to my new sketchbook. For my standard, it is a luxurious volume. I bought it in Bookbinders Design on sale - still ludicrously expensive with 50% discount. Apple green and almost square, opens to about 60 cm width of ivory white paper with a wonderful silky texture (my last one was very rough, so this is a welcome change). The quality of the binding allows me to draw across the gutter (that is why I never buy ring-bound sketchbooks). The paper is just thick enough to avoid seeing the drawing on the back (I have never understood how people can draw on Moleskine paper, where you see the three previous drawings through the ultra-thin pages!).
As usual, the first sketch is always of my children - with some inspiring text to remind me of my luck and responsibility in having them. This time I also sketched on the return information page.

My absolute favorite sketching instrument is not a pencil proper - it is a Caran d’Ache Luminance colored pencil No 009 (Black). This tip comes from one of the old Loomis’ books, where he suggested that a black colored pencil (I do not remember the make) is a good choice for sketching because it does not smear. This was one of those little golden nuggets that may easily go unnoticed. For me it was a revelation. I went to an art shop and tried all black colored pencils they had until I found one that really did not smear. After working with this for a while, I have to say it is far superior to graphite pencils for sketching and I will probably never use a standard pencil again on a sketchbook. It has many advantages:
  • It is permanent and lightfast
  • It really does not smear (minimally, if you really insist), which is a must for the conditions under which I normally sketch (see above)
  • Has very little wear. I can go through a whole page and still have a reasonable point at the end
  • The point does not break when it falls (again, a must under my sketching conditions)
  • It is soft enough to leave a mark with minimal or no pressure
  • It gives an almost full value range, up to near black
  • Even if you fill the tooth of the paper completely, it will not reflect light like graphite does
Such a perfect instrument has of course a little fault...you cannot erase! But who has the time to erase while sketching? Erasing is for finished pieces or underdrawings, not for sketching! And carrying a kneadable eraser around is a such a messy undertaking anyhow! To be honest, I think it could be erased with the right tool, but as I only use kneadable erasers I have never tried.
I also sketch in ink and washes at times, for which I found my perfect tool in Rotring’s ArtPens, with their standard water-soluble black ink, and a water brush (a pen with a brush instead of a tip and a water reservoir behind - a very simple and clever device).
I sketch everywhere. Actually my family probably hates the moment when I take out my sketchbook - they know I will get stuck where I am for a while. I love sketching people, particularly faces, and I do it at any occasion, but I also sketch in museums, conference halls, coffee shops, tram stops, playgrounds, in the middle of the road...whenever anything catches my attention and I have enough time to stop and jot it down. And if there truly isn't anything interesting, I sketch from imagination. It is really an addiction! One day I might take part in the sketchbook project. Check it out, it is a truly great idea.

Friday, August 3, 2012


This piece is for my second GLA assigment of the semester, the topic is “Technoscapes”. The assay that accompanies it addresses the risks and opportunities of virtual reality, modern neuroscience and the research for immortality. 
I really liked the idea and the title - I find it very evocative. I convinced my brother to pose for the figures, which gave me some fantastic photographic reference to work with.
Still, I am not so convinced about the result. I think I overdid the color once again. And I struggled once more with a stupid technical problem: how do mixed-media artists transfer their intermediate steps in traditional media into the computer to continue working in digital? Do they all have rotary scanners? Do they have fully equipped photographic studios? Do they only work in format A3? I am at a loss. The photos I get are definitely not good enough. This time I had it scanned professionally but the quality of the scan was miserable and I had to tweak the curves in Photoshop for one hour before starting.
In summary, I did the figures and the background in pastel in A1 format (to have sufficient width for the spread of the arms). Then scanned it in, fought with the levels and saturation, then added the background (a picture of the connectome) in overlay mode. I fought with the levels a bit more, adjusted brightness here and there, desaturated part of the background. I then added the mesh on the winged figure (overlay with some outer glow) and a little bit of glow around the head. Well, that’s it. Sometimes it is just not a “Uau”.

Update: This illustration was actually selected for the Fall Show at the AAU/Society of Illustrators...so it is probably not as bad as I think!