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Merry Christmas!

Perhaps the day after Christmas is too late to be wishing people a “Merry Christmas!” and giving them gifts, but I never knew quite how to act proper. So, in honor of yesterday and in gratitude for the few of you who know about this site, I show you some of the paintings I made for this Christmas! I hope these paintings give you a smile and a sense of awe in your heart. May this Christmas season bring you and your family closer to heaven and to each other.

Snowball - My sister and I would run around the backyard and pelt each other with snow. While my memories show me as the one sneaking up behind my sister, I do remember the distinct feeling of snow down the back of my neck. Obviously, my sister got me good too.

Hard Luck Story - I am privileged to have discussed life and prayed with a few of our local homeless characters. I had the idea for this piece based on a couple incidents which happened to me. Thankfully though, I haven’t gotten a pink slip like the poor guy outside the Unemployment Bureau in my painting.

Treasured in Her Heart - This is an adaption of my Heaven in His Eyes for a church in my area. We wanted to give more context to original image. In creating that context we changed the meaning slightly, which is fine with me. The original image was more of a statement on the Jesus’ deity and humanity. This image is about Mary’s (and all humanity’s) relationship with Jesus. The title comes from the verse, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” [Luke 2:19]

Peace on Earth - A local church asked me to paint this for their Christmas Eve service. I tried to emphasize a real family dealing with a stressful situation, and the wonder in the midst of the strain. Normally, I would like to make my paintings more historically correct, but I do not think that most people would recognize the original nativity. Someday, I will make the totally historically correct portrayal of the manger scene.

Until then, I hope you will remember that the event actually happened and ushered in the most remarkable change in human history. No longer are men left to their evil and judgement. A Savior has come. The Lord of the universe made peace between Himself and men, by living with us and sacrificing Himself for our eternal salvation. Christmas is a celebration of that liberating gift—Jesus Christ our Lord.


My Favorite Illustrations

Every once in a while a project lands on my desk that just stands out from the rest.  Something happens where one illustration ends up better than the others.  These paintings are my favorite professional illustrations.

I like this painting better than any other professional illustration I have ever done.  The main visual themes from the story weave together with the carefully chosen colors, the tight composition built around the title, and the themes of adventure and tenderness all in one illustration.  It is not often that an artist gets the privilege to work on something so involved and rewarding.


I like this.  I could talk about why I like the composition or the interplay of colors, but in the end I just like it.  When I look at it, I can taste the hot dust in my mouth.  It is a dry year to be planting, but maybe after the plowing is finished, the rains will come.


I enjoyed working on Helen Keller.  She faced so many obstacles with her limited senses, but she overcame them through hard work and discipline.  The world around her is barely perceptible, as this picture illustrates, with her hands the least altered by the fog.  Her hands became her doorway back into reality.


For this illustration I distorted photographs to provide realistic texture and recolored them as color washes inside the lines.  As an illustration, I like it’s novelty.  And as an illustrator, I just think that it’s fun.


A poem in one of the A Beka readers needed a portrait of Pocahontas.  I chose a historically correct portrayal as far as age and ethnicity goes, but I had to remove all the facial piercings and body paint that she probably would have worn.  The poem made no mention of the practices, and many of the readers would have found the strict historical interpretation offensive.  As it is, it is my best digital imitation of an oil portrait.  And it’s a touching picture of a young woman coming to the age of decision.


This is one of my earlier computer paintings.  I took a sketch and colorized it.  The young man in the story is essentially sacrificing his chances to become the king’s son in order to protect a lost little girl and bring her home to her mother.  His coat, a gift from the king, is tattered and torn from his good deeds, while his rival sits inside and preens the matching coat.  I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t guessed the outcome, so I’ll just say you can read about it in A Beka Book’s reader, Open Skies.


Life can be complicated for missionary kids.  They deal with the trauma of extreme situations in foreign lands, many times with very little time from their parents who have gone to the field to minister to others.  Ofter the children feel isolated and lonely.  In this story the missionary boy befriends some Japanese boys through a makeshift basketball court.  The colors in this illustration especially appeal to me.


Edison experienced an accident on his first real job selling newspapers on a train.  He saved up for chemicals and would conduct experiments with chemicals he had bought.  Once the train hit a bump and a jar of phosphorus spilled and started a fire on the train.  The enraged conductor physically threw Edison and his chemicals out of the train onto the train tracks.  The tilt of the train car is shown visually with the strong diagonals and Edison’s contrasting corrective movement.


While this may not be the most captivating image I have ever created, but for those who have ever been lonely or those who have stared at fires, it may strike a familiar chord.  The illustration has just enough detail to make scene look stark.  The vibrant color contrasts with the mood, and the cool blues and magentas carry the lonely feeling.


This illustration started as a very textured colorized sketch, but I layered opaque color to cover up a lot of the texture.  The overpainting subdued the strong texture in the sketch.  I used the same colors as I used in the last illustration, but they are softer, more fitting to the mood of the story.  I found a bust of Beethoven and used it as a source for his head in the picture.  Believe it or not, the shadow on the wall is my favorite part of the painting.


I visited the Rockies only once, and Arizona once.  Someday I’d love to go to the badlands or travel the Oregon trail.  This cover is sort of an ode to all those dry and difficult places in life that can look so beautiful in the right light.


The Animals in the Great Outdoors reader was one of my most intense illustration experiences, and one of the most profitable.  I had just finished college, and still had that ignorance that made impossible deadlines seem feasible and the energy that compensated for my time miscalculations.  Frogs are wonderfully clumsy and beautiful creatures and I look back on this reader as some of the best creative work I have done to date.


One of the third-grade readers included a poem with a mock rendition of Robinson Crusoe.  I created this illustration, a tongue in cheek, as an almost "Wish You Were Here!" postcard depiction of Crusoe.  I like the sun hitting his left eye, the perfect shipwreck practically sitting on the water, and the sand castle peaking over the beach.  I laugh whenever I see this.


This is one of the first illustrations that I used the colorized black and white sketch style.  I had not refined the style yet, but it displays a raw intensity that convinced me of the technique's potential.  I still begin many of my illustration with variations of this technique.


This began as a joke in the publishing department, and provided a great deal of enjoyment for everyone involved.  I love the sheer variety in this painting—the cat breeds and the expressions on their faces.  I also enjoy the grouch of the bunch.


This final painting expresses an ideal that is too often absent in the modern conception of a father.  This father, as he checks his son in the night, provides a portrait of a loving, protective father.  One hand holds the lit match, the other shelters the flame, and both hands form a heart.

How I Illustrate

Anybody can write a story, some write good stories.  Really, anybody can illustrate, but it is my job to illustrate well.  Through my process of idea generation and refinement, I strive to make the best illustrations possible.

First, I read the text to be illustrated.  If I do not know what the text is saying, I cannot illustrate it.  In this case, the text was the nativity story from the Bible.

Very often when reading a historical story, I realize that many details have been left out.  What exactly did people wear during that time period?  The author is not going to spend a chapter detailing the make and fit of the heroine’s dress with the fabrics and patterns.  So I will have to research characters and settings outside of the story in history books and encyclopedias.  Sometimes I will call museums or specialists to isolate the right fact.

Throughout the research stage, I am thinking of images.  How can I illustrate the text in the most powerful way?  As I am researching, or afterwards, I spend a certain amount of time creating rough sketches.

A rough sketch is a road map for the artist.  Many clients insist on seeing sketches, but I have rarely met a nonartist who understands what the illustration will look like straight from the sketch.  A better indicator is either the final drawing, the color study or a color sketch.  Often I will jump straight from the rough sketch to a color sketch, and then start refining that into the final illustration.  However, I started with a rough sketch for this illustration because of time issues.

After a sketch is approved, I look for source photos.  For this painting, I visited a farm and photographed cattle eating.  A friend who lives across the country posed as the face and my sister posed in costume as Mary.  In lieu of a friend from New York, I posed for Joseph, but more on that later.

I also looked up pictures of sheep on  Most photos only give a feeling for the anatomy of the sheep, and I mix and match body parts and poses, making sure to keep the image my own.  Every once in a while, I run across a pose and lighting situation that matches exactly what I want and have to resort to changing the species, like in the above image.  In the final illustration, I changed the species to one of those speckled lambs.  I would be more careful with what I use for my sources, but this was a donated illustration.

After creating my source collage, I create a color study to get a better idea what the painting will look like when it's finished.  I now have correct poses from the collage, and can experiment with the colors.  I paint the characters and setting in with broad brush strokes, not caring about a lot of detail.  I know that I will be going over the entire painting before it's finished.  I just want enough detail to get a feel for how the painting will look in the end.

The faces and the hay painted.

I usually break the illustration down into sections.  I work first on this face and then that face, then on this body and then on that body, then on the foreground elements, and then on the background elements.  Step by step, inch by inch, I steadily finish the illustration.

Sheep painted on the right side.

Cattle painted on the right side.

Mary's outfit painted.

Animals painted on the left side.

Wall blocked in and Joseph painted.

Often when painting a face, I will have a friend pose as a character from history or as a different nationality.  This pose will give me the lighting and much of the modeling needed, but will not give me the unique facial features.  I will then find photographs or artwork depicting the face I need.  I will then think about the face in a three-dimensional way and model the face after the source, while preserving the lighting of my model.  As a final step I will tweak the expression to make it exactly what I want.

Rock wall and final tweaks.

After I finish a painting, I send it off to my clients and often they have suggestions to improve the painting or to mold it more closely to their vision.  Sometimes comments can leave me feeling troubled, as any creative person feels when someone critiques their work.  Many times, though, after assessing them for validity and urgency, the suggestions cause me to create an even better painting.  And I really enjoy making my paintings better.  There is few things in life as pleasurable as a job well done.


Fine Art Paintings

I enjoy illustration with all my heart.  Telling stories with images satisfies me like few other occupations.  However, my art training taught me as a fine artist with acrylic in high school and oil in my higher education.  So now and then, I enjoy painting a landscape, and I’ll be painting a series of still lifes in the future.

Each medium is special in its own way.  While I paint full-time digitally and love the intuitiveness that the digital medium has, it cannot compare to traditional media in many ways.

First, I can work with more colors with traditional media.  With printed media I have four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black (excluding specialty colors).  With traditional media, usually artists will squeeze six or more colors on their palette.  I can play with warm and cool reds, blues, yellows, greens, violets, greys, browns, and an assortment of other colors.  The artist that uses many colors creates artwork with much more depth than an artist who uses few colors.

Second, traditional media have a three-dimensional quality to them.  Not only can oil paint be painted thick in an impasto way, but the buildup of color creates interesting juxtapositions of color variations.  Even flat media like pastel and colored pencil build up color, laying one color on top on the other.  The effect cannot be imitated by printed media yet.  Also, an artist must impose texture in the digital realm, but it appears naturally with actual media.

Third, with the right materials a work of art will last for a very long time.  At worst a digital illustration only lasts the longevity of the printed material.  This can be as long as a magazine is printed and sold to someone needing fire starter.  Or it can last as long as historic prints.  But paper yellows and inks fade.  Paint pigments fade too, but they last several hundred years before doing so.  Also, file formats constantly change, and as programs become outdated, some file formats, and thus works of art, become inaccessible.

Fourth, when dealing with fine art, the artist is hard pressed to identify the original of a digital painting.  Is the first print the original?  Is the digital file the original?  Art historians have argued over questions like that for years with found art and other non-original genres.  The difference between found art and digital is that the artist has created a truly original work.  The original is merely intangible.  I’m sure art theoreticians will enjoy thinking about the question of originality as pertains to digital painting.

Last, authenticity is difficult to establish.  The ease of copying other peoples images causes some people to be suspicious about the legitimacy of the artist’s claim to ownership.  An artist who creates traditional oil paintings, even if he copies his source images, has a more of a convincing claim than someone who creates digitally and uses no sources.  The tangible paint seems to have a credibility that digital media does not have.

So why do I work in digital media?  I love the speed, the flexible precision, and the intuitiveness.  I can think in Photoshop in a way that I cannot think with other media.  I can get details on the computer that I can't get with other mediums.  I don't have to wait for paint to dry to send my painting to my clients.  So, while I recognize the superiority of traditional media over digital, I will probably never switch back entirely.

Sometimes when out painting plein air, the painting rises to the level of fine art.  I feel that this is one of those rare times.  I loved going out that morning before dawn.  I loosened up by painting the sunrise at 5:45.  The sunrise happened so fast, I had only a few minutes to paint it.  Then I painted this sketch.  The colors in the morning glow danced in the open field and the shadows of the tree.  The glow lasts a couple hours, but my painting buddy and I had things to do and couldn't stick around too long.  The "mountains" in the background are actually distant buildings.  The non-literal interpretation of them worked out better than I imagined. 


I needed a painting for an art show, and ran out of time.  The day before the show, I drove out to a dock with my painting buddy, John Ball, and painted this in a couple hours.  Some of the most interesting experiences happen while out painting.  While we were out there, a truckload of guys drove up and inquired into having a smoke under the same bridge.  We requested that the do it upwind from us, but they decided against it and drove off.  Later they probably enjoyed laughing about my green rubber gloves, smock, and other painting gear. 


My grandparents have lived on this farm for most of their lives.  My dad grew up here and we kids played in the haymow and fields.  I painted this from a little plein air I had painted in the summer.  I was having difficulty with hay fever, and almost couldn't see clearly.  The half hour plein air turned out so well, that I painted this larger painting for my grandparent's anniversary.  The corn is just a few inches high.  A storm promises to bless the growing grain with a gentle rain.  And the ancient farm overlooks the good land.


By my grandpa's hog barn, they have an abandoned hogshed.  They would separate  a new mother hog and her piglets from the rest of the hogs for a few weeks for the safety of the piglets.  Now that grandpa no longer raises hogs the shed just sits there, unused.  Even the old tractor ruts run by the shed, seeming to pass it by.


This painting shows inside my grandpa’s hayloft.  As a child, my cousins and I would construct forts in the bales and play all kinds of games.  I enjoy the textures and play of light across the bales of hay.  Though the hayloft is abandoned like the hogshed and the bales have begun falling apart, the loft still holds the wonder that we kids would feel with each visit.  Also, a hayloft is a beautiful place to paint.


For my master's degree I painted this marsh triptych.  Every morning for a week, I would drive out to a bridge that overlooked the water and paint the sunrise.  No sunrise was the same.  The amazing amount of variation in the play of colors over the sky and water awed me everyday.  From that experience, I created these three paintings.  They signify the unpredictability at the beginning of a brand new day.  The left painting stands for a peaceful day, and the far right stands for a day full of adventure.  Who knows what a day holds in store for us?

I painted my family’s house while home for Christmas in 2005.  The conditions may not have been the best for painting outdoors, but the painting that emerged is a family favorite.  We did not actually have a fire going in the wood stove, but my family did not a problem with the liberty I took in adding the wisp of smoke emerging from the stove pipe.  We have since moved from the house, so the painting preserves the memory of our beautiful woods and the wonderful snow up north.

This isn't an oil painting.  I painted it on my computer from a collection of old family photos and heirlooms.  My sister had dried a rose in a vase and the petals had not fallen out.  The dead flower was beautiful and provided the inspiration for this.  I wanted to express that every life is precious, even those long gone and forgotten.  I placed the photographs and heirlooms around the flower in a carefully lighted environment, and then painted from life.  The print now hangs in my grandpa's house.



A good sports player needs practice, and so does a good artist.  He can get this practice in a number of different ways, but most artists practice figure painting and plein air painting.

Figure painting:  I have heard that a good artist should paint one head from life every week.  While many good artists currently do not do so, they have done so in the past.  The studies from life have given them knowledge in the play of light over three-dimensional features.  If an artist does not have an understanding of the human form, he is crippled as an artist.

Over the past six years I have met often with fine artist John Ball for head studies in his garage.  The practice is great, and the camaraderie is always wonderful.  Because of my constant study, I can paint the human head with confidence.  I can get a finished face in a relatively short amount of time: an hour.

 2004 - 2.5 hrs.

 2004 - 2.5 hrs.

 2005 - 2.5 hrs.

 2006 - 2 hrs.


 2007 - 1.3 hrs.

 2007 - 2 hrs.

 2007 - 1.25 hrs.

 2008 - 1 hr.

 2008 - 2 hr.

  2009 - 1 hr.

Plein Air: A French term, en plein air means “in the open air,” and refers to artists who paint the landscape outside, instead of inside their studios with photographs or memory.  Because the dramatic change of light over the course of a day, plein airs must be painted within a short amount of time.  Historically, collectors have not considered them finished fine art, but recently a market has developed for smaller, less finished works like plein air paintings.  The real value with painting en plein air is the technical proficiency of painting fast.  An artist must observe correctly and paint carefully in order to preserve the impression of detail in a landscape under a shifting light.

This painting reminds me of some of the Hudson River School painters.  I really enjoy the work that they do, and perhaps looking at their work has affected my own work.  I hope so.


When my family took a vacation in the Appalachian mountains, I eagerly took my easel with us.  The beauty up there is astounding.  Because we kept very busy, I was not able to sketch as much as I wanted.  However, this sketch at a camp site somewhere in Tennessee gives a small indication of the incredibly beautiful area.


I have painted at Alan's mother's house only a couple times, but I look forward to getting out there in the future.  They have some beautiful woods out behind their house, and I have not been able to do justice to it yet!


I loved the way the birds perched on top of the old dock posts.  There were several different kinds of bird, and the mix was fascinating.  I also liked the way the verticals cut right down the composition.  Some paintings are just fun to look at.


As my master's show approached, I needed more art.  So I set aside an hour or two to paint whatever I could.  So I set up my computer and painted the view out my back window.  This needed to get done to finish a group of sketches, and it worked well in the grouping.  I love meeting objectives.


I created this special plein air sketch from the cockpit of a two person airplane.  A friend of mine took me up while he was getting his pilot's license.  The sunset was beautiful.  I rested my Wacom tablet on my lap and held my Macbook above it with my left hand.  My right hand would paint a few strokes, then hop up to the laptop keyboard to change the brush size, and then hop back down to the tablet again to move color around.  It was very exciting!  I love the painting, but it cannot fully portray the amazing experience of painting airborne.

Imaginair:  A term of my own making, imaginair refers to a landscape that is constructed from memory or the imagination.  Every once in a while I will see a sunset or cloud formation that catches my eye, but be unable to set up and paint it immediately.  I will make note of the general effect, remembering every detail and color that I can.  Later, I will find a good time to paint my impression of what I saw.  It may not result in the most incredible art, but the practice keeps the mind sharp . . . and helps me remember fascinating images that I have seen.

On the way home from vacation, we drove through rain in southern Alabama.  Whatever people may say about the state, their pine trees look so beautiful obscured by the misty rain against a dusk sky.  I tried to remember how everything looked and painted it as soon as I could.


A couple summers ago I traveled by train to visit a friend in El Paso, Texas.  The trip through the vast barren Texas landscape struck me as awe-inspiring.  This painting, the second of my imaginairs, resulted from the experience.  Someday I hope I'll go back, if only for the train trip through God's beautiful creation.