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Young Artists

Often young artists will ask me to critique their work.  I enjoy doing so and try to use the critique to teach them some things about art that they might not know.  Every once in a while an artist comes by with an outstanding work of art.

Such an amazing painting landed in my inbox last week by a fellow collaborator.  He asked me to critique it, but I could find little wrong with it.  So I critiqued the little there to fuss about, and asked if I could post both his artwork and my critique.  It's a great example of where I hope all my artistic friends will be in the future!

For finished piece click here!

First of all, let me commend you on your draftsmanship.  Beautiful work.

Ok, I have three levels of art criticism: metaphor, representation, and aesthetics.  Because you aren't really saying anything with this particular piece, we can throw out the first level.  However, I will note that the greatest works of in the history of mankind all had a message or purpose outside of themselves.  So while we do create artwork to better ourselves, we ultimately want to make something meaningful outside of practice or personal achievement.

On the representational level, I have little to criticize.  You have captured the light in space in a believable way.  I love the light falloff of the large earth-like planet.  The detail, color, and value of the land, water, and atmosphere masses are very believably painted.  Also, the larger moon's light falloff, combined with the shadow of the planet is beautiful.

I would have two criticisms.  The first deals with the falloff of the little moon.  Though a little moon would naturally have a smaller falloff, that falloff would be proportionately the same.  Thus the little moon looks more like a round hole in the picture.  If you give it just a little more falloff and a whiter highlight, it should be perfect.

The second issue has to do with gravity and the large moon.  Perhaps it's the placement of the moon, but it can look like the moon is sitting on the surface of the planet.  In fact, with the small moon in the light side, we might wonder if the these orbiters really have that much of an orbit.  Perhaps it's the value and color: the planet being very bright and thus seemingly close to us, and the moon looking darker and more neutral and thus looking farther from us.  Perhaps the large moon just rolls around on the surface.  (Ok, so maybe I'm exaggerating a little now......)  If you created some space atmosphere in between the planet and the moon, pushing the planet back in space and pulling the moon out toward us, that would solve the problem.  Or you could brighten the moon and darken the planet.  Or you could make another orbiter, which is obviously out in space, maybe on the other side of the composition.  Or you could introduce rings to the planet in such a way as to show that they have distance from the planet.  Or you can try to do all of the above.  Just be sure that you save a layered version of this picture, and be subtle with your spatial enhancing techniques, whatever you do.

On the aesthetic level, again I have little to criticize.  The color is very good, beautiful in fact.  Your use of value is stunning.  Compositionally, this is very strong.  You have placed your planet/moon cluster at about the 2/3 or 3/5 section of the painting.  Your bright blue star balances the composition nicely.

Since the critique, Dieki implemented my suggestions.  You can see his finished piece here.

Not all of the artists I critique are as skilled as Dieki, but I enjoy critiquing them, all the same.  If you want to share one of your paintings or sketches or get input on them, be sure to email me!  Happy painting!


An artist off to a film festival?

Well, this has been a very exciting year!  I have learned a lot and have grown in my artistic repertoire.  

In just a week I’ll be headed off to the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival.  I've been watching this festival with great interest since it started back in 2004.  It's a dream come true to go out there and participate in the festival.  I especially look forward to meeting with some of my new found film friends.  

One of these friends is named Mike Dornbirer, and he’s made a movie called The Free Ride.  I highly recommend this film, not just because it’s got a great message, but because I did a sky replacement for it!  The movie made it into the festival, so I am very excited to see some of my work on the big screen!  If you watch it, look for the moon.  That’s my sky replacement!  Go here to check out Sanctum Entertainment’s website.

A still from The Free Ride

I’ll also visit with John Moore and Johnny Reighard, two filmmakers from Heumoore.  I’ve been working with them on artwork for their next film, Ace Wonder.  The movie should give many Christians a lot of good excitement and fun with a thought-provoking message.  Check out Ace Wonder’s website for more details.  If you look hard enough, you'll see some of my artwork in one of the trailers.

A still from Ace Wonder

Well, speaking of artwork, I think I’m going to get back to work now…


Illustrated Portraits

An illustrated portrait is a portrait that has illustrated elements in the painting.  It faithfully represents the person, while introducing historical or geographic elements that add spice and adventure.  The illustrated portrait is an exciting way to make a portrait more meaningful.

Ace Alan

I love painting people’s portraits.  When my illustration schedule allows, I try to paint at least one portrait a week.  This habit developed while in art school.

Head Study '08

However, I also love illustrating.  The challenge of telling a story and of recreating an era or a culture, which is far removed from our own, excites me.  I suppose this desire grew out of my family’s fascination with living history museums and national parks.  It seemed like every vacation my parents would pack my siblings and I into a cramped car and drive a day or so to find some historical spot.  One summer we traveled the Lincoln trail, visiting where he lived in Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.

Pocahontas Illustration

Historical Book Illustration

 The two pursuits are very different.  Painting portraits is very academic.  The finished painting must at least look like it’s subject.  Preferably, the painting will also carry something of the feeling or emotion of the person modeling.

Head Study '07

In contrast, illustrations are patched together.  The illustrator uses a book on European landscapes to understand what the Norwegian coast looks like, and googles the latest archaeological find on Scandinavian jewelry.  He may have a model pose as the subject, but he often will tweak the face and proportions to make the subject look more authentic.  The illustration has a message to deliver, and the artist sacrifices all for that message.

Treasured in Her Heart

The illustrated portrait is an amalgam of the two different crafts.  On one hand, the artist must carefully represent the person being painted.  On the other hand, both the artist and the client have the freedom to choose a different historical or cultural setting for the painting.  The person can even choose to set their portrait in a classic novel or fairy tale.

Self-Portrait as Mock Renaissance Artist

If you are interested in creating an illustrate portrait, email me at


Step-by-Step Sketch from Life

I have wanted to paint Alan now for at least a year.  One good reason: he sits real well.  Second reason: he carries on fascinating conversation while he is sitting.  So this is my step-by-step sketch of a dear friend. 

I quickly sketched his head shape to start off.  Unfortunately this looks more like Voltaire than Alan, but I took care of that later.

I sketched in the rest of his body and added the shading on his lower face.

Glasses next, and definition to the lower shaded area.

At this point I realized that his face was too low in his head and so I shifted his face up.

Clean up of the nose and a little forehead and chin work, too.

At this point I realized that I had skewed the whole figure.  Often artists will twist the figure without realizing it, but I try to eliminate all skew in my own work. 

Now I get to begin laying color down!

At this point I am playing with form through the use of warm and cool colors.

Whenever I paint, I am constantly refining edges, constantly trying to determine if the expression is right.

At a certain point I abandon all hope of a masterpiece and just try to finish the painting.  I enjoyed painting Alan very much and look forward to the next opportunity to sketch him. 


Weekly Portrait Sketch

I'm hoping to do this every week.  We'll see how it goes!

Second painting night of the year:  We had an excellent model, but I was struggling to get his face, and you will see that.  I never really got his face until the very end.  I’ll explain why I think that happened as I go along.

First of all, I think it started with the hat.  The hat stood out as a strong element on the model, so I painted it first.  I probably should have started with the eyes and nose portion of the face.

This forced me to work from the outer proportions inside and make the inside fit the outside.  To do that I really had to nail the outer proportions . . . and I didn’t.

I squished the face horizontally, and so I fixed that here and went on to lay in more value.  However, the face was too large in the head, and I didn’t realize that yet.

The most significant difference between this step and the last one is his left ear.  I lowered it slightly.  In the midst of painting the artist is constantly checking the proportions and alignments of all the features in relation to the whole picture and to each other.  Sometimes it can be very complex to isolate one problem in the middle of a cacophony of problems.

In this step I just piled on a bunch of value.

Here I refined the beard and the eyes.  After doing that, I realized two things about my painting:  First, the face was too big for the head, as I’ve mentioned before.  Second, his eyes looked slightly wall-eyed and that bothered me.

Here I fixed the face by squishing it up into the head.  Right now it looks strange, but in later steps it should all make sense.

Finally, I decided to compose my painting.  I felt that positioning his head slightly toward the left side of the painting would eventually create a dynamic composition after I introduced the color and finished the painting. 

Also, I obliterating some of the detail work in the eyes and mouth.  This will prepare for better detail later.

At this point I am finally satisfied with the general proportions of the face.  The eye sockets take up the right amount of space.  The mouth is in correct proportion to the mandible.

On the foundation of a strong value painting, color can happen very fast.  Since I had been working transparently over the background, I could paint the warm light underneath the face.  The warm shadows I painted over the face and then I crunched the layers together.

With the cool and warm light dynamic happening, I felt comfortable painting the eyes again. 

I solidified light play over the flesh and worked on the mouth.

My fellow artist were finished and I was dawdling on.  So I laid in as many final details as possible.  The mouth finally looked the way I wanted it to look.  So I called it quits.

This morning I revisited the painting, added value to the background and played with the levels, hue and saturation.  I wish I could change the hat and the shirt, but I’m leaving it the way it is.  At some point the artist must stop, and that point is happening . . . now.


Step-by-Step Sketch from Life

Last night I had an enjoyable time at painting night with some old friends.  I’m ashamed to admit this is the first head from life in a long while.  And my rustiness shows in the amount of time that it took to finish this—about two hours.  However, the sketch turned out really well.

After arriving late, I slapped in some face and hair color in the general shape of our models upper face.  We took a break before I could get very far, but that interruption allowed my working method to stand out.  This is generally how I start my paintings.

After I got the rest of the face blocked in, I resized the face to crop it for an interesting composition.  By this time in the painting process, I should have recorded all of my major lights and darks and have determined my color scheme.  All that’s left is to define and refine….

My painting is in the midst of the “ugly stage.”  I have just enough of the major features to recognize what it is, but not enough refinement to acknowledge any artistic accomplishment.

By this stage, the painting is refined.  I could stop here, but the likeness is too far from the model for my comfort.

I moved her jaw and left eye closer to the left margin of the picture.  Also the colors of the face were updated.

At this point, the painting was finished, for the most part.  So I isolated the remaining details that needed to brought closer to a decent level of finish, and step by step finished each little area.  It wasn’t until I reached this point that I could see some of the features that resembled her sister.

So, just before I uploaded this, I finished it off with some color adjustment in Photoshop.  The painting now has a fine art quality that I like.

So that was the painting night.  I had a lot of good conversation and got the privilege to paint a beautiful painting.  Maybe calling it a present from God is too presumptuous, but maybe not.  Even the air we breathe and our ability to converse are precious gifts from God’s gracious longsuffering hand.  We often take His simple blessings with scarcely a nod.  So, I’m thankful of His hand of blessing and grace last night.


The Largest Paintings I’ve Painted to Date

Last autumn a friend asked me to get involved with a very large project.  I worked on the two paintings for about a month. 

Before this, most of my professional work fell in the 50-100 megabytes range.  The illustrations measured about 2x4 to 9x12 inches.  During my master’s degree, I worked on some large digital paintings in the 300-600 mb range.  They measured from 18x30 to 24x36 inches.  At that point the sizes and the save times (10-15  minutes) blew me away.  I thought I would never really use the larger digital paintings ever again.  How many people actually make poster-size digital paintings? 

The banners measured 3 feet by 10 feet.  The master file used 6+ gigabytes (a gigabyte is 1024 megabytes) after a little crunching.  The largeness of the files created two major problems.

1.  The files took really, really long to save—up to 30 minutes.  With sizes like that, I can’t save every 5 minutes.  So I work for a significant amount of time, and then I save, and go write a philosophy paper while you are waiting.  Unfortunately, if Photoshop unexpectedly quit before I could save, I sometimes lost an hour’s work.

I had no way to solve that problem, except to treat my computer with kid gloves.  So I was very careful, and prayed a bit, and tried not to rush the computer if it was having issues.  Patience really makes a difference.

2.  The paintings were so large.  Because the paintings were so large and the objects in the paintings were so huge (imagine a crown that you could lay down in), I could lose myself in the painting and could forget how a brushstroke compared to the big picture.  I do not get the full effect of the whole paintings through my small laptop screen.  Nor can I see how one small brushstroke effects the whole painting.

To solve this, I would zoom out a lot.  This helped me remember how small details effected the big picture.  Also I would do a lot of my work at actual size.  That helped me remember how big something was in relationship to the whole.  Finally, as a last tactic to ensure a good final product, I began by painting the large shapes, and finished by painting the small shapes.  The painting really became cohesive by painting large shapes before detail.

The two banners hang as decoration in a friend’s church sanctuary.

Agnus Dei
Our worship revolves around a suffering Savior.  The first painting emphasizes the pain and the agony that Jesus experienced, by showing a crown of thorns like the one He wore 2000 years ago.  The guards in charge of His torture pounded a similar crown onto His head shortly before He was killed.  We realize that Jesus took the punishment for our sins by dying, so our worship reflects the pain and the relief at knowing that our evil is removed and that we no longer are slaves to that evil.

Christus Rex
Our worship also revolves around a King in Heaven.  The second painting emphasizes the glory and the honor that Jesus Christ deserves as Son of God.  While He will get that honor as ruling Lord of Heaven at the end of time, so He also is King now.  Three days after He died He arose from His grave to demonstrate His power over this natural life.  So in our worship, not only do we look back on a suffering Savior, but we look forward to a ruling Lord.  At the same time we recognize that His sacrifice covers our present sins and that His Authority extends to our current living.  We are not only set free from the power of sin, we are called to live holy lives before Him in love.



I can think of no other project that I would rather have had to cut my teeth on very large paintings.  It was very rewarding.  The creative director was Sarah Marina and the graphic designer was Sean Kent and together we did something that continues to encourage families at a modest church in California.