Sunday, January 31, 2010

Animal sketches made for sculptures

Bit of a quick post this week.
Just a handful of animal scribbles I've made at various times for working from:
mainly bits and pieces that caught my attention I didn't want to forget.

I got a bunch of spectacular pics of Sprightly in Antarctica this last week, so I'll be posting them soon.
I don't think the mice need any introduction.
This was my old room-mate's puppy, Kahlua the chocolate lab. I almost became a sculptor when I got stuck into making a model of him out of Sculpey probably back in 1998, but it got broken and I never finished it.
It would be several years later before I got my hands on some clay and the sculpting bug finally got a hold of me!
This is my tree frog. I've got a few more ideas to do with tree frogs right now.
These are some macaque expressions and hairstyle studies I made for my monkey/turtle discus thrower.
Grumpy old toads.

My website... - Sculpture that loves you back
My Etsy store, CritterVille

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Record breaking Sir Ranulph Sprightly Mouse arrives in Antarctica!

According to the How Stuff Works website...

'Nearly 40% of mammal species are rodents, and they are found on every continent except Antarctica.'

Now I can add 'UNTIL NOW!'

Yes, that's right, in one small step for a rodent, but one giant leap for rodent-kind, Sir Ranulph Sprightly Mouse has set foot on Antarctica as part of his epic journey to be the only rodent ever to reach the South Pole!
He's already the only rodent ever to reach Antarctica (as far as I know), so that means he's a record breaker!

It's summer there now, so it won't get dark for months.
That doesn't mean the people that work there can run around in shorts and t-shirts to work on their tans.

There are numerous 'stations' on the continent of Antarctica, although I have no clue what people do there. Perhaps I should find out for a future post.

Here's a map to show where exactly Sprightly is (McMurdo).
Click on the map to visit the website I swiped it from.

Here's Sir Ranulph reporting on his saga...

'I was greeted by a splendid fellow by the name of Trevor. He's been very hospitable. Here I am heading in for my long awaited nice cup of tea since it has been quite a while since I left my home.'

'I forgot to bring any money, so I have to hunt for nibbles to go with my tea.
It's a bountiful place to find food, after all there's literally no competition!'

'I'll set off later for the South Pole itself!'

Stay tuned...

Other Antarctic posts...
Sprightly leaves for Antarctica
Sprightly explores and eats a leopard seal

My website... - Sculpture that loves you back
My Etsy store, CritterVille

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Orson Welles with a paint brush: The impact of meeting the amazing John Watkiss-Part 3 of 3

Pulling human remains out of your desk drawer every time you aren't too busy at work is one great way to get noticed on the job!
I had added purple plasticine teeth to the mouldering skull since it didn't have any.

I'd moved through a couple of storyboard companies as London moved towards a recession in 1990, to end up working full time for an ad agency on the edge of Kensington Gardens.
I found stability there while my knowledge could grow.

John was teaching life drawing and anatomy one night a week on the edge of Regent's park in a fantastic old building called the Diorama, where he had a little painting studio.
He painted buried inside some ornamental hybrid of an old Victorian asylum and a giant greenhouse.
I didn't miss a single session, 26 in all, and soaked up everything I could, practicing in all my spare time both at work and at home. My mission was not to have to be told anything twice.
I learned about proportion, direction, volume, mass, anatomy, synthesis of one shape into another, flow, feeling and all sorts of other things besides.

John's a terrific and very generous teacher.
He sees analytically and shows you just enough that you don't know, to keep you moving enthusiastically in the right direction to achieve the most benefit.
If you were able to soak up every last bit of everything he knows, he'd happily show you.

I'd rush across Kensington Gardens from work in my lunch break for frantic sketching sessions of the sculptures in the Victoria and Albert Museum, since there weren't too many nudes posed casually on the street.
I'd study fellow passengers riding the tube on the way to work. The way you do it is to trace over them in your mind, the big shapes first, then working down to the details, and then recreate the experience on paper when you get to work before the memory fades.

I'm sure there were a few people who must have noticed my unwavering stares, although I did try my best to glance about a bit while I was at it!
I didn't completely abandon attempts to develop surface technique with markers, since I'd likely have been out of a job in that case.

But during those few years I made frequent visits to John's magical painting studio where I'd sit for portraits (he'd just about drop everything to work on his portrait painting skills) in exchange for handy hints and critiques, and sneak peeks at whatever comic book or painting he was up to now.
I always could hardly wait to see what was new.
It was the range and variety, along with the rigorous background in classical drawing that just kept me coming back for more. Even the loosest scribbly frantic pen and ink work was clearly grounded, and guided by knowledge under the inspiration of the moment.

His dream was to run a school or academy. He came close, getting into talks with the Prince's Trust, but nothing ever came of it.

After a few years I took what I learned and moved for a while to Hong Kong. We crossed paths again years later in Los Angeles where he was blowing everyone's socks off at Disney painting large inspirational panels for the artists who were working on Tarzan.

A whole floor was taken up with his breathtaking cinematic panels. I think seeing them all stretched out down miles of corridors has been the single most stunning encounter with his stupendous creative output.
I'd always thought I must have seen the best of it by now: I was always wrong!

It blew everyone away. And this is a bunch of artists at Disney we're talking about.
They're no strangers to great stuff on the walls there.

©disney enterprises
About one sixth of the large 3 foot long visual development paintings for Tarzan

He made hundreds of drawings breaking down the figure into semi-abstracted shapes to develop the look of Tarzan for the animators.

So why 'Orson Welles with a paint brush' for a title?
Hollywood loves the one sentence summary. And with all the skills and knowledge you could get sidetracked with by John's work, I think his focus on cinematic composition, drama and engagement always drives the work.
A quick look at these storyboards drawn for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow will show you what I mean...
He's brought this dynamic composition to everything from comic books to murals to decorative paintings, using oils, acrylic, watercolors, markers, and pencils. And whether it's a comic or an epic painting, you can be sure the resulting art will be worthy of the name 'fine'.

I later studied film language and worked extensively with directors who appreciated my range of skills.
Bringing both film directing and drawing skills to the table has proved popular with ad agency creative directors, many of who like to simply throw scripts my way and then look over my roughs before I finish everything.
For my storyboarding career I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John who really set my learning on the right path at a young enough age to be driven by boundless enthusiasm. Might as well have all that energy working for you in a positive and useful direction than floundering about in a sea of uncertainty!

Since then I've also branched out into the world of sculpture, which of course is what this blog is really all about!

I always quite fancy the idea that somewhere, nestled in a grimy old building in Great Marlborough Street, there's a bunch of people working away at who-knows-what, surrounded on every side by exquisite drawings and paintings.
I like to imagine myself one day returning to that small room where it all started, just to stand there for a moment and again breathe in the atmosphere.
I never will of course, since seeing it all painted over would be more than I could stand.
© disney enterprises, inc
Click the above pic to see more visual development for Disney...

I hope you enjoy the few examples here, and explore these links to see more...
There's a few books you can get through John's website if you feel so inclined!
More paintings here.

Click the pic below to see the art that sold the concept of Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes to studio execs...

Orson Welles with a paint brush: The impact of meeting the amazing John Watkiss-part 2 of 3

London's sooty brown and grey buildings wore golden halos in the long summer evenings.
Patches of pavement would swarm with happy crowds of standing drinkers marking the locations of pubs, like bees densely gathered around the entrances to hives.

It was a magical time for me, full of hope and excitement of what the future might hold.
In the narrow streets of Soho was a doorway in a building on Great Marlborough Street that was just like any other, but twenty years on the impact of what lay beyond is still with me.
It's as vivid now as it was when I climbed the narrow stairs, worked my way through some offices and stood in front a small, innocuous door.
An intense character ushered me inside.
Lighthearted one second, deadly serious the next, the twenty seven year old artist had something of the 1960's pop star about him, with his immaculate tight fitting suit, narrow tie and shiny beatle boots.

The room had few windows, but light seemed to pour in from everywhere.
I looked around in an attempt to take in the experience.
The walls were festooned with red chalk drawings of nudes, and anatomical studies, and sketches in oil.

Straight onto the wall. No fumbling around, no second chances, just confident, joyful expressions of life glowing all around me. You could have told me Leonardo had returned and drawn them and I would have believed you.
Draped figures and nudes glowed with life. If they weren't painted straight onto the wall I would easily have believed they'd been stolen from the National Gallery.
The pics below are a couple of random samples of John's handiwork, since I don't have pics of the old Magic Box studio...

At one end the whole wall opened up on a utopian scene of native people collecting and carrying baskets of all kinds of fruit. Behind them a lush valley stretched out beyond, inviting you to join them in their idyllic existence.
I looked up and saw cherubs floating about the ceiling, ascending toward the heavens.

Two guys about my age, or a bit older, were drawing figures and anatomical studies.
Not as good as the stuff on the walls, but honest and enviably fine none the less.

Propped up on a radiator was a stolen Frans Hals portrait, with its fresh, vigorous brushstrokes, a bit like the laughing cavalier.
Until I learned it had been painted that morning while waiting for a job to arrive.

And then the drawers were opened.
Out came great sheets of wonder.
There were pastel paintings of shirtless workers and fruit gatherers, the light catching large forms and intricate details.
There were watercolors of country scenes serene and subtle in their muted tones.
Cityscapes of greys, each with its own mood. There was drama and nuance of every kind here.

Out came a very large sheet with a detailed drawing of a man artfully posed, but without his skin on. It was a spectacular anatomical drawing that took my breath away. You could follow the muscles of the forearms down to their tendons, and see how they passed through splits in other tendons of the fingers to terminate in their attachments at the farthest tiny bones of the fingers.
And it was the same across the whole body. Muscles, tendons, bones and cartilage drawn with intricate detail and accuracy.

He asked me with obvious pleasure if this wasn't what I expected to find in a storyboard studio.

My mind was reeling. I asked him where his models would stand while he painted and drew all these marvelous things.

The other guys lowered their pencils and looked over while John delivered the bomb that could mess with a person's head forever.
'Oh, I just make them all up.'

My jaw dropped visibly. Clearly I wasn't the first person that happened to, and they all seemed to enjoy the reaction.

'But, like that one,' I asked, pointing to a difficultly foreshortened pose, 'with such an unusual angle, how can you draw that without looking? You must have a photo at least?'

'Nope. Just what's in here.' he said, tapping what was clearly no ordinary head.

I must have seemed doubtful, because at that moment he sat down and grabbed a pen and I watched it magically dance across a sheet of paper leaving pure magic behind. The pen tip traced patterns in the air just above the surface, leaving just a few scattered dots on the page.
Then a few straight lines appeared, then organic curving contours, each one driven to its destination with forceful conviction.
It became a torso, twisted and stretching upwards, but I knew it had become visible on the paper to John the moment he picked up his pen.

Then he flipped the page and did another.
Then a head. Then a head from a very awkward angle. The kind of angle it would be hard to get right even if you were staring a model in the face.

After the first couple, done in silence to deepen the impact, John explained as he drew a couple more.
'See, these dots lie on each side of the frontal bones, these on the zygomatic arches, and these trace a line down the front of the face highlighting only key points you refer to when you're doing these parts here, for instance. And then you simply connect these points, being careful to observe this curve here, which always travels in this direction, and these planes which must always remain exactly the same relative to these points here...'

And so it went on.

'And this knowledge is what makes it possible to draw these storyboards of women climbing about on rocks, from all these interesting angles and viewpoints, without getting bogged down with hunting for, or being limited by a lack of the right photo reference. You can be quick and efficient. All you need is to be armed with the right knowledge.
You can be fast and sure, but acquiring this knowledge takes time.'

I was stunned. Speechless. My mind had very clearly been blown. Something that happened quite regularly in this little room on Great Marlborough Street I was certain.
In a few minutes I had not only learned more, but I'd been left more inspired than from all four years of art school.
Not one teacher had ever once picked up a pencil and demonstrated anything.
What they offered was vague and nebulous encouragement for any enthusiasm you had.
But certainly no sense of direction.

Now I'd learned that knowledge was the key. With it you could do great things.
And I was hungry to learn.

John looked over my work diagnostically, told me what to forget about and gave me a few pointers to work on first, then I'd come back and he'd see how I did, and take it from there.

Forget about finish - focus on structure. Learn it, and learn it well.


What an opportunity. I was going to soak up as much as I could. I made it my business never to be told the same thing twice, while I thoroughly absorbed every word of advice that came my way.

I wasn't sure how far I could take this with my normal sized brain, but I was determined to find out.

Orson Welles with a paint brush: The impact of meeting the amazing John Watkiss. Part 1 of 3

Part one of three (part two) (part three)

Why couldn't I draw decent looking people without having to look at photographs or live models?
My childhood drawings consisted of the usual inventive scribbles all kids seem to do, or else I was doing 'serious' drawings, practicing rendering techniques in different mediums. But I was always copying something, either from a photograph, or someone else's work.

How did the old guys paint pictures with people and horses, in rearing, action packed poses, back before the days of photography?

This had vexed me for a long time.

Later, I didn't know what career I would take when I was a college art student. But in my second year (of four) in one of the class rooms I came across a clue that would lead me to find out.
It was a brochure for a storyboarding company in London. Leafing through it, I was arrested by a block of four images which stood out in stark contrast from the rest.

I'd always appreciated the drawings of Michelangelo and Rubens, so I reckon I was poised to spot a decent bit of drawing when I saw one!

They showed a dynamic flair for composition and an understanding of anatomy and figure drawing that just sucked me right in. And they were executed with such apparent ease: I knew when I had the chance I was going to have to investigate further.
Every mark in those four panels meant something. It was beautifully efficient - not one unnecessary line, and no evidence of clumsy fumbling or having slavishly copied something from a photograph without knowing why.

Fast forward another two years, my college days were over, and I had to contemplate earning a living.
I was lucky enough to intern for free at the storyboard company in London who had put out that brochure.

After a couple of weeks of looking over people's shoulders while they worked, and trying things out myself, and practicing every minute at home that I wasn't at the studio (I lived with my parents about an hour's bus ride from London) my two weeks were up, but although I'd been exposed to some very talented artists, I didn't see anything to inspire me like those four pictures in the brochure.

So I asked who'd done them.

That was greeted with a much sucking of air between teeth, shaking of heads, and deeply concerned mutterings in lowered tones as well-meaning artists dutifully assembled to warn me of the dangers.

'Oh, you don't want to meet that guy.'

'He's a genius you know.'

'You'll just make yourself crazy. He'll make you want to cut your hands off'

'He's got more stuff in his head than you could fit on a planet.'

'Don't even think about it, you'll just end up hating yourself.'

'This one guy got so obsessed trying to do what he can do, eventually from frustration he gave up drawing altogether. I think he's a salesman or something now.'

So, more excited than ever, I had to know his name and find out if there was any chance I could find him.

'Look, I'll tell you his name, but if you go and see him just don't start to think you can ever do stuff like that'

It was like I was being handed a jar of nitro glycerin to carry in my pocket before riding a bicycle with no tires over a series of cobbled streets and cattle grids.

'His name is John Watkiss, and he's got his own place round the corner. It's called Magic Box.'

Was I ever in for a treat!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sumo toads centerfold (sort of!) and Sprightly mouse in Yosemite!

I get tickled pink every time someone sends me pics of their sculptures in their homes, or other unusual or interesting places!
My friend Mil collected some of my mice a few years ago, right after I made them. He was one of the first handful of people to snatch them up.
Well, he got back from Yosemite with his family recently and sent me these pics!

Thanks Mil!

And, to start the new year off on a nice optimistic note, some neighbors called and dropped by to let me know I was in the Albuquerque Journal's art section!
Or, to be more precise my sumo wrestling toads were.
I'm glad they told me, I had no idea!

Someone's a happy camper.
And thanks Bob and Joe for the alerts and clippings!

I'll add that to my recent articles in Western Art collector (Nov) and Southwest Art (July) and declare that I've had quite a splendid run of good luck this last year!

It's had its ups and downs, but it sure is nice to just remember the ups!

I think my next few posts might focus on an artist friend who had the biggest impact on my early days in the business of drawing for a living, John Watkiss.
Stay tuned, his stuff is spectacularly good...

Sunday, January 3, 2010

How kids wielding pre-paid American Express cards already made my year!

So it’s a brand new decade. Who knows what any of us will be up to when it’s over?
I don’t know about you, but the world seems to be changing faster than I can keep up with.

But I’m trying! I wasn’t a sculptor when this last decade started. That was something I launched into in 2006.
In 2000 my world was yet to encounter facebook, YouTube and Etsy, in fact I don’t think I even had a computer or knew how to type (thanks Mavis!).

Thank you all for reading Globspot so far. I have a few things up my sleeve for 2010 which I hope you’ll also find interesting.
They will come tumbling out in good time.

Here’s something you might get a kick out of. I know I did!

Jessamine and Patricia at Manitou Gallery here in Santa Fe told me a story that I found really touching.

A mother and her two daughters were in the gallery shopping for art.
The two girls, aged six and seven, each had pre-paid American Express cards which had $50 credit on them.
Their mother was teaching them about credit cards, money, and collecting art.

They each picked out one of my very tiny turtles as their very first art purchases.
Apparently they were very self possessed, and matter of factly acknowledged in the affirmative when Nathalie asked if they would like to have appraisals mailed to them following their purchases!

When I heard I was so chuffed, I thought ‘how cool is that!’.

Thanks kids!
And Mom too, who also snapped up my next size up tiny turtle.

New year’s resolutions:
Keep trying new things.
Give away 60 mice to animal shelter art auctions (I give one away for every 5 I sell, and I gave 19 away since I started six months ago, with a few more standing by to kick things off this year).
Next year on I will donate one for every five sold, up to 25 mice a year.
Everyone’s favorite- lose weight. 40 lbs with any luck by the end of the year. I’m posting my poundage monthly at the end of my email newsletter: Not because I imagine for one second any of you are all that interested, but because it will (hopefully) act as a major incentive for me to keep at it! Jan 1 2010, 210.2 lbs. I hope you can forgive the indulgence!