The balloon kid

At one point, feeling like I had no inspiration for new images, I turned to Facebook for suggestions, and my Dad offered me several, including, “a kid with a balloon tied around his wrist which is lifting him off the ground, while his mother walks along with him, unaware.” I really liked this suggestion and decided to sketch it out:

I wanted to add a little bit of background, so I decided to set the scene in a park, and added flowers and a bench. I texted my wife for outfit suggestions for the mother, since I’m not really into fashion. I’m not sure why I chose toned paper for my original sketch, because it was difficult to get a nice printout to use for inking. After adjusting the levels and making other tweaks in Photoshop, I was able to print out the sketch to transfer to watercolor paper on my light table:

My first attempt at colors was fairly straightforward in terms of color choices, but I messed up while painting the sky, and I felt like adding the sky was taking away from the impact of the balloon, so I decided to try and add a shape in the background instead, and get rid of the bench and flowers. That strategy didn’t really work for me either:

I messed up the subsequent inks a couple of times, and eventually decided to just go with the simple background and white sky. Even on my final version, I made a couple of mistakes with the colors, but fortunately I was able to correct them in Photoshop:

This is one of those images which took several attempts to get right, but the end result was worth it. Thanks for reading!

Wheelbarrow rabbits

I was out running an errand one evening, and stopped at a traffic light near a very nice neighborhood, when I noticed a yard cart sitting on a lawn across from me, unattended, filled with yard clippings to the point they were spilling over the sides, and next to it was a rabbit nibbling on the overhanging greenery. The ingenuity of this enterprising rabbit made me chuckle, and my next thought was, “That would make a pretty neat illustration!” I initially drew the scene I had witnessed, with one rabbit and the yard cart, but later decided to make it into a family affair so it would be more visually interesting. I also changed the yard cart into a wheelbarrow because it is more iconic. Here is my sketch:

I inked this fine family on hot press watercolor paper using my brush pen, with the help of my light table desk:

I had recently painted a nice daytime scene, so I decided to set this painting in the evening, much like the actual encounter which inspired it. I think I probably went a little dark on the shed and trees, because the rabbits get a little lost, but it wasn’t a big enough deal to make me want to redo the whole thing. Overall, I think it turned out pretty well. I was particularly pleased with how the sky gradient from blue to pink turned out. Thanks for reading!

Meerkats playing croquet

My wife is full of good ideas. Often when I’m having trouble coming up with an idea for a new illustration I will ask her for suggestions, and this is one of her ideas. I have no idea what prompted ‘meerkats playing croquet’ in her mind, but I liked the suggestion. It took me a while to draw this group, but here is my pencil sketch:

There were a lot of details here and it was time consuming, but I carefully inked this group on hot press watercolor paper with a brush pen:

Painting was tricky because I had to try to fit the grass around a lot of strange shapes. Because I knew it was going to be difficult, I started with the grass first. Here is an in-progress shot of the painting.

Once the grass was done, I painted the rest of the background and then moved on to the meerkats and croquet equipment. My final step was to water down some white ink which I used to create the clouds. I think that overall it turned out really well. Thanks for reading!

Giraffe on a chopper

I find the process of creativity fascinating. I love how this painting of a giraffe riding a chopper through the savanna grasslands turned out, but its inspiration was completely random. Some of my students wanted to sketch, but weren’t sure what they wanted to draw and were asking for suggestions. To help them, I led them through an exercise I’ve used sometimes where I create some lists of random things, and then try to find an interesting combination. We made a list of animals, a list of activities, and a list of objects, and settled on a giraffe riding a motorcycle. They began drawing and I decided to join in, and was almost immediately struck by how funny a giraffe would look with its over-sized neck sticking way beyond the handlebars! I knew that it would need to be riding a chopper with an extended front end for balance. Here was my initial sketch, done in about ten minutes:

My next step was to revise my rough sketch. I am not really a motorcycle guy so I looked up a lot of reference to make sure my design got the look and feel of a chopper right, even going so far as to send my sketch to a friend of mine who knows motorcycles inside and out. I added gloves and a jacket to my giraffe, and modified his pose so that he looks more streamlined and settled in on the seat:

Next up, inks! I used a brush pen and my light table to ink directly onto hot press watercolor paper. I was very careful not to be too heavy with the brush pen, and tried to keep the lines from getting too thick:

I started my painting with the savanna grasses and the dirt road on which the giraffe is riding. Next I painted the sky, using pinks and purples to indicate either morning or evening, depending the viewer’s preference (I thought of it as sunset), and added several layers of clouds. I then went back in and added the silhouettes of some very distinctly African trees to make it clear this giraffe isn’t riding through Nebraska or Iowa. I also added some shading to the grasses to separate them from the sky and create the illusion of depth.

On to the central character! I chose maroon for the bike color because it stood out as a distinctive color, but still fit in generally with the color palette of the rest of the piece. The coloring and shading for the giraffe and chopper was pretty straightforward, and once I was finished, I used the brush pen to add a few inks to the path, the grasses, the horizon, and the trees. The last step was to use some white inks to add highlights, and the subtle indication of speed lines around the giraffe and the chopper:

I’m delighted with how well this painting turned out! I feel like I’m getting much more comfortable with the watercolor medium, how colors work together, and the process of painting in layers. I really enjoyed just painting the background without first sketching or inking in guidelines, and then selectively inking parts of it after I had painted it, and I’m looking forward to using this process in more paintings. Thanks for reading!

Bubble Girl

I love blowing and watching bubbles, and I’ve been trying to come up with an image involving bubbles for a while. I eventually settled on a girl running with a large bubble wand and her dog chasing along behind her. Here is my pencil sketch:

I used a brush pen and a light table to ink directly on my cold press paper, rather than penciling on the paper and inking over it:

I think this piece turned out pretty well, though I feel like the dog’s jumping-while-running pose could feel a little more natural, but I’m not sure what I need to change in order to do that. I may revisit this idea in a couple of years, but until then I feel I’ve done the best job I can with it. Thanks for reading!

Hockey Bear

My wife suggested at one point that I paint a polar bear playing ice hockey. It took me a while to get a pose and concept I liked, but eventually I decided to have the bear practicing shooting. I decided I wanted some other animals standing around watching, and some pudgy birds fit the bill. Penguins wouldn’t work due to geography, but a search of Arctic birds revealed that puffins live in the Northern Hemisphere, so they were chosen. Here is my final pencil sketch:

I inked the image using a brush pen directly onto the watercolor paper with the help of my light table:

I decided to set the scene at sunrise to contrast the purple and blue tones I wanted to use for the snow and ice. I live in Nashville so I costumed the bear in colors that are reminiscent of the Predators’ colors, without being specific about it. I’m really pleased with how this turned out, and am delighted with the color blending effects I’m learning to add to my work. Thanks for reading!

Dragon siblings

I was commissioned to paint these dragon siblings by a friend of mine who was decorating her recently born daughter’s room in a fantasy creature theme. She asked for a scenario depicting a young female dragon interacting with her older brother (who would represent the real life older brother.) My first task was to create character designs for the dragon siblings. Drawing characters who were recognizable as dragons rather than dinosaurs, were not scary, and who also looked young was challenge for me, but after a couple of revisions, we arrived at these two designs:

With the characters established, I sketched out several possible scenarios for these two. The brother helping his sister stay on the log was chosen (though riding on playground unicorns was a close second):

Here is my cleaned-up sketch. Because it was going to be the focal point of the bedroom, the finished painting was 20″x 30″ (the largest watercolor I had ever done), so transferring the pencils to the final size for inking involved a couple different projectors and a lot of patience:

I did a quick color comp to establish color patterns for these dragons and guide my coloring:

I was really worried that I would mess up the final image and have to start over, but I am pleased to say it all went to plan perfectly the first time, and I completed this massive painting within a week of starting the watercolors. I am really pleased with the result and enjoyed taking this idea from start to finish. Thanks for reading!

Young Rhino

Last Summer I got to see some white rhinos at the Baltimore zoo and although I have seen rhinos before, this time I was much more mesmerized watching them than ever before. Perhaps it was the overall setting, because there were ostriches and zebras in the same enclosure, so the scene felt prehistoric somehow with the huge powerful animals lumbering around while fleet footed bird monsters roamed around in packs. I still had rhinos on the brain when I got home and wound up sketching out this little guy:

Around the same time I invited a friend of mine over to show me some of her watercoloring techniques, and so I let her paint on these inks while inking a second for myself, the results of which you can see above. I’m very hesitant about working in too many layers when painting with watercolors, which is sort of the opposite of how my friend works, so this represents a tentative step forward in that area. After adding a layer of grays, I added some light pink, yellow, and orange washes in certain areas to make the colors more interesting, and I wound up really liking the results. Since then, I’ve been working on adding this technique to my work.

Shy Mouse

white mouse standing in a patch of clover, holding a clover blossom.

I was sketching a mouse one day and decided it would be interesting to have it holding a clover blossom. In the process I decided to make the mouse female, and have her sort of coyly holding the clover, possibly in an alluring way. Here is that initial sketch:

I eventually redrew this pose, and decided to make her more shy than coy. I changed her pose, I hid her face behind the clover blossom a little, and changed her tail. I also added a patch of clover as a little bit of a background:

In the final inks, I made her ears a little rounder. During the watercoloring process, I tried to add some gradual color gradients on the clover, shifting from a yellowish green at the top to a bluish green toward the bottom. I’m really pleased with the resulting effect on the clover. Thanks for reading!


A friend of mine challenged me to do some work that would push me out of some of my artistic ruts, namely making characters a bit more cartoony and playing with the relative sizes of everyday objects. I started by sketching what I thought to be an action-oriented, sort of cartoony scene of a guy outside grilling, and fending off a bee which is flying around:

Based on this, my friend suggested I redraw the scene where the bug is much, much larger and being intimidating. Here is the result:

Feedback included making the bug even larger and more intimidating, including more creepy insect details, and emphasizing the physical shock the guy feels at suddenly seeing this bug crashing his bbq:

I finally wound up with this sketch, which I inked and painted for the final image. This exercise was really good for me, and has given me several more things to think about every time I approach an illustration.