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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Bug BBQ

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.

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Dancing Gator

This dancing alligator started with me doodling some random shapes in my sketchbook. I just started moving my pencil around , and after a few shapes I tried to determine if the shapes looked like anything, in the same way that we look for shapes in the clouds. In this case, the shapes started looking like an alligator, and I began moving the sketch in that direction, settling on this dancing gator with a cane and top hat:

Before inking, I made a few small changes, such as closing his eyes, making the cane topper a duck instead of a fish, and adding an old fashioned Victrola record player:

I messed up my first attempt at painting by, on a whim, adding music notes to the background despite the fact that I know basically nothing about music. I re-inked the image and looked up sheet music for a song I like so that I could reproduce a sequence of actual notes. The result was much better, and I really like the result. I think this image has a very New Orleans feel to it, which was exactly what I was going for.

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Not a morning porcupine

porcupine fb

This image started as a quick sketch of a porcupine I did after seeing one in a zoo. As I was drawing, I started thinking about what a porcupine would look like with bedhead, and then I drew the hairbrush stuffed full of big quills, the way that many hairbrushes tend to gather and hold hair:

I took this sketch and did a refined sketch where I tried to give our porcupine friend a little bit of environmental context. I initially pictured him in a bathroom, and tried to indicate that with a sink and vanity mirror stand (because I didn’t want to draw a whole bathroom). Here’s that sketch:

I wasn’t satisfied with the look of the bathroom background though, and though I kept trying to change it, I couldn’t get it where it looked right to me. Eventually, I decided to change the background to a bedroom, to emphasize the bedhead nature of the porcupines wild quills. This felt better to me; more visually self-contained:

The inks and colors went pretty smoothly once I had finalized my pencil sketch. I think we’ve all had the experience of being up earlier than we want to be, and realizing that our normal morning preparation instruments need maintenance before we can use them. I really enjoyed creating this image and I think it turned out pretty well.

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Puppy chasing butterfly

Several months ago I drew this happy little puppy while doing some warm up sketching:

I liked his head-to-body ratio, his flapping ears, and his determined expression, and decided to turn him into a watercolor painting. As it turned out, I wound up doing six versions of this painting because each time there were things I liked and things I didn’t like. Here are some of the versions:

Eventually I was able to take all the things I liked from all the various versions, and put them together into a final version of this painting. I’m pleased with how it turned out. Thanks for reading!

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Roller skating elephant

rollerskating elephant fb

I was recording a podcast for a friend of mine (the audio was messed up, so don’t go looking for the interview) and we were discussing how I can pretty much draw any idea I can see in my head.

He said, “So, if I gave you an idea, like, an elephant rollerskating through the park, you could draw it.”

“Yes,” I replied, “In fact, that’s a great idea, let me right that down!” That was the beginning of this image. Here is my first sketched out idea:

This drawing was ok, it is definitely an elephant on roller skates, but it had no energy. I wanted to capture how easy and light on his feet this elephant would be on roller skates, and it just wasn’t happening. I spent a lot of time redrawing things in this image, trying to make it better, more right, but eventually I gave up and decided to start again with a simpler sketch to try and better capture the energy of a roller skater:

This loose prelim sketch perfectly captured the feeling I wanted. The pose is more open and natural feeling for rollerskating, the action feels forward moving, and the closed eyes bring a feeling of comfort and ease. Here is my cleaned up pencil drawing:

I stripped some things out of my original sketch, like the ipod and the earphones, as well as the wrinkles on the skin. They seemed unnecessary, and I didn’t miss them. I eventually added a second tree to make the setting seem more park like. I painted this elephant with red shorts, and then began to second guess my choice. Through the incredible technology of Photoshop, I was able to shift the color of the shorts through the whole color spectrum, and I opened up this image for comments from my friends on Facebook:

I tallied up the votes, and red slightly edged out blue (people didn’t really seem to care for green), however, the reasons people gave for choosing blue were more convincing to me than the red, so I went with blue. Blue made the image feel more peaceful, and was a lower visual anchor to the blue sky. As you can see in the final image at the top, I changed the color of blue slightly from what you see in this comparison image, making it a little lighter and shifting the color slightly toward green-blue. I really like this painting, I feel like it succeeds at everything I was trying to capture, and it makes me smile when I see it. Thanks for reading!

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Wild birthday party

birthday party fb
A friend of mine pointed out to me that I should have more images of groups of people in my portfolio, which is largely images of one or two figures. He also suggested that I should look at the portfolios of other illustrators and find an image to sort of recreate in my style while keeping the general content and feeling of the original image. I chose an image of a very chaotic birthday party with lots of kids running around doing stuff, a dog, a toddler, and a slightly overwhelmed parent. Here is my first sketch:
I felt like this conveyed the action and feeling I wanted, so I tightened up the pencils and in the process, made a few changes. I added a couple more kids to the background, sort of reposed the Mom so that it seemed like she was in danger of being tripped as she moved through the kids with the cake, and I decided that the kids would be playing with balloon animals and objects. Here is my tightened pencil sketch:
I then made a few more changes after looking at the image with fresh eyes, such as changing the position of the Mom’s legs, the position of the baby, making the pairs of balloons asymmetrical in relation to each other, and making some of the balloon strings more curly, which added even more to the feeling of movement and chaos.
I inked this image traditionally, scanned the inks, and added colors in Photoshop using  a brush that simulates the look of traditional watercolors. I think this image turned out very well, and was a good exercise for me.

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