From My Illustration Days…

“The River Test at Stockbridge” gouache on illustration board-
from a photo I took on one of our trips to England in the 1990s

Back in another professional life before I became a painter in oil I worked in gouache and also a mixed media technique I learned at Mark English’s Illustration Academy. I also used watercolor and pen and ink for some illustration class assignments when I was getting my BFA Illustration at the Academy of Art (then College) from 1987-1989. Since spring is on the way I thought I’d share four that have a landscape or plant subject…two that play it straight and a two where I, well, didn’t and went for a humorous touch.

“Pond and Foxgloves” gouache on illustration board-
from a photo I most likely took in England
“Scarecrow and Friend” Watercolor, pen and ink on paper; this was for a class assignment which I think was to do a robot being used in food production. I always loved doing the research part and this was no exception
“Another Vacation Spoiled by Mischievous Fairies” Mixed media (acrylic and colored pencil) on illustration board; Don’t ask. I have no idea what corner of my mind this idea came from but once having thought of it I had to do it. I must say, it was a lot of fun and is unlike anything I’d done before or since

Show News!

On “location’ at home the first day of the Humboldt Paintout with Peregrin

Most art shows have gone virtual due to Covid-19 but they’re still happening! I recently rejoined our local Redwood Art Association in time to enter the 2nd annual Humboldt Paint Out with was held from September 29- October 3, Monday through Saturday. The sticky part was that, due to a wildfire to the east of us it was smoky for the entire time (three out of four weeks total). Time to “make lemonade”. I was intending to head out and see what, if anything, I could find as a subject but saw the sun rising above the evergreens to the east of us and decided I’d try to capture that. Grabbed my painting gear walked three feet from my studio, set up and got to it. I had already decided to paint in gouache (opaque watercolor) which I’ve used on and off for decades. Here’s the result:

“Smoke Light”

That same day I painted “Smoke” from the same spot trying to capture the visual texture and color of it. So instead of just photos I have some of it recorded in paint.


The next few days were really bad and we didn’t want to be outside at all unless absolutely necessary. But Friday, Oct. 2, rolled around and I decided to hit the road and head north. My original idea had been to do one painting at each of the lagoons- Dry Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Freshwater Lagoon, Stone Lagoon and I hoped that maybe some or all of them, being right by the ocean, might be clear enough to be ok. Alas, it wasn’t smoke but heavy fog that put paid to that idea. I’d also wanted to paint at Prairie Creek State Park, which is also part of Redwood National Park, so I went on north with fingers crossed. And when I got to Orick, not far to the south, SUNSHINE! And, although it was hazy, it the air was ok enough to set up and paint a scene of the namesake prairie. I’d taken one of our collies, Hailey, with me and she happily settled down at the base of my easel for the duration. In fact, she got a little stubborn when it was time to leave.

“Hazy Morning, Prairie Creek”

By the time I was done the smoke was starting to thicken so home I went back into fog and smoke.
At this point I decided to stay home and finish up the event at our house and in our own neighborhood. When we bought the acre we built our house on there were almost no trees left from when the previous owner had it logged. But there was one special tree, a very old alder. I created the basic floor plan for our house and put the window over the sink such that it framed it. It was challenging to paint in the shifting smoke light but I finally felt I’d captured it. I’d been wanting to do this big old bole for years and had only managed a couple of sketches. I did it in the afternoon after I got returned.

“Our Old Alder, Smoke Light”

One more day to go and, of course, it was smoky at first. On the road one takes before turning onto our street one of the properties to the north has a few very tall old pine trees, probably what’s left from a windbreak. After lunch the wind must have changed because suddenly we had clear blue skies! So I loaded up my painting gear and drove the whole couple of minutes or so to the corner where I could set up under some very old cypress trees. I work pretty fast. One of the things I like about gouache is that it dries fast so one layer colors quickly. Which was good because I had about ten minutes to go and back came the smoke. I’d taken photos when I gotten there so was able to get the last bits done in the studio (which is NOT cheating). I did have fun playing with color temperature.

“Neighborhood Pines”

On deadline day, Saturday the third, I scanned all of them, made necessary adjustments so they would be as accurate as possible and submitted them. And then waited, as we do when entering shows. The juror was Randall Sexton, a very accomplished artist who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since I’m not really a plein painter like those who do it as their main art activity I didn’t think much about getting an award. For me it was more about getting involved again in the local art scene and getting started doing location work in gouache. But…to my surprise and pleasure “Our Old Alder, Smoke Light” took 5th place! The reward was a check for $200, a $100 gift certificate from our local frame shop and another gift certificate from a local spa for a massage! I loved that the judge liked the one that is the most special to me.

And wait, there’s more! I also enter the RAA’s “Halloween” show. Once again I used it as a springboard to try out something new, a combination of pen and ink and watercolor. Once again my purpose was to have fun participating. Scott W. Prior, nationally known painter, was the juror and he picked “Quoth, The Raven” for an Award of Merit”!

“Quoth, The Raven” pen and ink, watercolor on hot press illustration board

So that’s what I’ve been up to for the last month or so. I’m currently working on a set of three oil paintings for a Nov. 13 deadline. In my last post I showed the value and color studies for them. I’ll post a full step by step when they’re done.

Every Artist Starts Somewhere- Art School

"Jazz"- Gouache on illustration board
“Jazz”- A classmate modeled for me in a tuxedo coat from the prop room, I went to a local music store and shot reference of one of the employees playing the clarinet to make sure I had the hand and finger positions correct and invented the mice and the lettering. This was for Illustration III. Gouache on illustration board.


This is the third installment of a series I started last year, my beginnings as an artist. You can find the previous posts here and here.

In the early 1980s I was living in Berkeley working as a freelance graphic designer. I hit a very rough patch, rough enough that I had to sit back and figure out what to do career-wise. I saw my choices as getting a job, re-dedicating myself to my freelance design business and really digging in on marketing or “taking some classes” to increase and improve my skill level. What ended up happening is that in 1987 at age 35 I went back to school full-time at what was then the Academy of Art College (now “University”) in San Francisco for three years and earned a BFA Illustration in 1989. While I had intended to focus on graphic design and also take some illustration classes (a relative and a friend had both trained as illustrators there so I knew it was a good program), within a few weeks I knew Illustration was what I wanted since I had FINALLY found the art field where traditional drawing skills were still highly valued.

I had up to nine hours of drawing a week. It was a struggle to undo all the tics and faulty perceptions I’d built up trying to teach myself and, in fact, had become so frustrated that I didn’t draw at all, other than for work-related jobs, for close to ten years. But class after class I just kept going, drawing after drawing. I never won any awards, but at the end I had the knowledge and skills to keep improving. Within a few years I felt that I could finally say that I knew how to draw.

In the Illustration Department we had to do an illustration a week, every week. The first semester required us to use first pen and ink and also gouache. Below you’ll see some of the initial exercises we did. I was one of the very few who liked gouache and I was interested in greeting card work, much of which was painted in that media at the time, so I stayed with it all through school. The second semester was watercolor and dyes like Dr. Martin’s. From the third semester on we could use the media of our choice.

Among my favorite classes was one taught by Stan Fleming, who did storyboarding for quite a few LucasFilms, including at least of of the Indiana Jones movies. He would come to class in his leather Indie jacket, to our delight. Our assignments were movie-based, like doing a storyboard for Ghostbusters or object designs for a fantasy movie, and a lot of fun. Another favorite instructor was Dennis Ziemienski, who is now a nationally-known fine artist, but became a well-known illustrator for, among other things, his Elmore Leonard book covers. All his assignments were based on actual jobs that he’d done. He also brought in guest critiquers. For me the memorable one was Neil Shakery from the legendary design firm Pentagram. I’ve posted three images below, for a children’s magazine, from the assignment he critiqued. I encountered him downstairs afterwords and he took a minute to tell me how much he liked what I’d done. That meant a lot to me, as you can imagine. We also had guest speakers who included Robert Heindel and Drew Struzan.

So here’s a trip down my illustration memory lane:

Color strips
Color strips, Yeah, I know, exciting stuff. But it’s how we learned to control the media we were going to be using.

Exercises using watercolors or dyes.
Exercises using dyes. Anyone who has followed this blog for any length of time won’t be surprised by my choice of subject matter. Dr. Martin’s dyes on vellum bristol.

Learning to see the largest shapes in two values plus the paper color.
Learning to see the largest shapes in two values plus the paper color. Gouache on construction paper.

Illustration II watercolor.
Illustration II watercolor. I remember vividly the lesson from this one….”Acknowledge the third dimension.” Critical and without which an artist cannot create the illusion of three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface. Watercolor on illustration board.

Watercolor assignment for Illustration II.
Watercolor assignment for Illustration II. The texture was created by sprinkling salt on the wet paint. Watercolor on illustration board.

The assignment was something like "dessert".
The assignment was something like “dessert”.  I bought the dessert (which was consumed after shooting it for reference, of course). Everything else were things I had and the rose was from the garden. Getting the perspective and ellipses correct was a challenge and I pretty much pulled it off, but not quite. I think the purple shadow is a bit much now, even though we were constantly encouraged to “plus” everything. Gouache on illustration board.

Assignment from Dennis Ziemienski's class.
Assignment from Dennis Ziemienski’s class for a children’s magazine. This one was one right up my alley.

The mouse and the moon.
What is the moon made of? Green cheese, of course. I did my research for the astronaut’s suit. It’s simplified, but accurate, Watercolor/pen and ink on hot press watercolor paper.

Do fish sleep? The mermaid thinks so.
Do fish sleep? The mermaid thinks so. Watercolor/pen and ink on hot press watercolor paper.

The assignment was to do an album cover.
This assignment for Illustration III was to do an album cover. I’d recently discovered Kitaro’s “Silk Road”. Gouache and watercolor on illustration board.

This was for Illustration IV, I think. And the assignment may have been an open one, the hardest to do.
This was for Illustration IV, I think. And the assignment may have been an open one, the hardest to do. I’d been doing medieval illumination for years as a member of the Society of Creative Anachronism, so it was fun to use that skill in art school. Gouache on illustration board.

One of my classmates posed
One of my classmates posed for me wrapped in a bed sheet. I’ve always loved Alphonse Mucha’s work and it was fun to try to capture the spirit of his wonderful work. Watercolor on cold-press watercolor paper.

For my final semester, I did an independent study one on one with an instructor. He assigned me a movie poster.
For my final semester, I did an independent study one on one with an instructor. He assigned me a movie poster and I chose “Camelot”. I really had to battle to get the likenesses in gouache, but I loved coming up with the design.

As you can see, I took advantage of the opportunity to try all kinds of styles and approaches. Next time I’ll share some of the work I did after graduation for my professional portfolio.