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The Art Geek

Thoughts on technique, experiments with new ways of working, works in progress, or general ramblings. Much of the material posted here relates to SketchUp, to painting in various media, and to drawing. Your mileage may vary. Enjoy!

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Time Limits

Saturday, April 25 2015 8:48 p.m. UTC

Picking up the art blogging again after a long hiatus.

Recently I’ve been thinking about constraints a lot, and finding out how helpful they are. I think they are especially helpful for artists.

For example, since I started my new job last year, I am in the habit of taking photos on the way to or from work. I use the following constraints:

  • Use only the iPhone with no extra lenses (digital filters/manipulation OK, but only on the iPhone itself).
  • Picture must be taken on the way to or from work, or near the office.
  • Post the ones I like on Facebook, to this album.

The pictures are not always awesome, but the practice itself is most satisfying. It’s a way to stay creative and visually-focused despite the demands of a “real” job. And I find the instant feedback I get from friends and family on Facebook more satisfying than many a gallery show has been.

Another way I’ve been exploring constraints in the last few years is by painting outside. This practice has a number of constraints more or less built in: you can’t carry too much stuff around; it’s only light out for so long; and you typically paint the stuff you find in front of you (rather than stuff you make up).

Lately I’ve been redoing my Web sites and thinking about some old art projects as I sift through blog posts. I really enjoyed working with SketchUp awhile back and have been itching to return to that. So I’ve been wondering what sort of constraints might be helpful, similar to the ones I get “for free” by painting outside.

I decided on the following formula:

  • Four hour limit per painting:
    • Hour one: make an image using SketchUp
    • Hour two: transfer to panel and work on the drawing
    • Third hour: underpainting
    • Fourth hour: top layers / final painting.
  • Fifteen minute break in between hours
  • Use a Clojure program I wrote to help with the gridding of the drawing.

Today was the first time I’ve been able to try it out. And, hey, it worked out pretty well!

First stage, after one hour: exported from SketchUp and gridded with ptg

After second hour: drawing.

After third hour: underpainting

Final image

Detail 1

Detail 2

Things I learned:

  • Constraints help. I ordinarily have trouble finishing paintings. Though there were a few points when I thought things were totally off the rails and the work was going to be a disaster, overall I had a lot more focus (and fun!) than I often do while painting.
  • I originally planned hour three (underpainting) to be in acrylics; but I found I wanted to just jump in with oils, and it worked fairly well. Being flexible about the plan in this regard was good.
  • Having painting supports ready in advance was helpful; NOT having a concept or content queued up (for the SketchUp part) was also good, I think, though I might experiment with brainstorming content as a (timed) stage in the process.
  • SketchUp is a total rabbit hole. I could have burned the entire time just fooling around in SketchUp alone. Warning: dragons dwell there!

The Wheel

Wednesday, Oct. 19 2011 4:09 p.m. UTC

Detail of drawing in progress

Detail of drawing in progress

The wheel turns, and returns — during a very busy fall season work-wise I have been unable to get much painting done but have lately been drawing in the evenings with ink and goache — such a fun and flexible pairing of media. Drawing seems to be what I come back to, again and again.

Will be headed to the Pole again in just a few weeks, so check back for some more blog posts!

Plein Air

Saturday, Aug. 27 2011 8:21 p.m. UTC

Today’s painting — Town Line Road at OO, oil on panel, 8“x10”

I’ve had a week off and have been painting outside, at my mom’s house out in the country near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The investment which has made this possible is called a pochade box which is essentially a small portable easel which fits on a tripod. The one I got is called the Prochade by Artwork Essentials. So far I’m pretty happy with it, and slightly amazed and bemused at how fun it is to use.

I’ve had a lot of resistance to painting outside over the years. The few times I’ve done it have been enjoyable, but something about the bugs, the cold, the heat, the sun, the rain, the lightning, the tornadoes, the spectators, earthquakes, muggers, cosmic rays, etc. has kept me from doing much of it. And my passion has always been surrealism, fantasy & sci fi, nudes, painting from imagination, the darker architecture of private spaces. Many of my favorite artists also work this way, and I don’t think I met anyone in art school who painted from life outdoors (or who admitted to doing so) ... painting outside seemed almost corny, a Sunday painter’s habit.

Lately, however, I’ve been interested in getting out there and working from nature. Possibly some of that interest is thanks to blogs like James Gurney’s. Gurney interests me because he is an artist of the fantastic (see his Sci Fi book covers or the Dinotopia series), but is also an avid plein-air painter, which very much informs his fantastic work. (He even goes so far as to build sculptures or 'maquettes’ of his characters so as to be able to see and paint the real, natural light on them.)

I’m also interested in making some slower, visual contact with the real world, and perhaps ever so slightly less interested in aesthetic navel-gazing (though I’m still very interested in painting imaginary worlds).

Usually I paint sitting down at my easel in the studio, with a computer, music, food, etc. all close at hand. I never liked painting standing up in the studio; but standing up alone outside for a few hours is surprisingly easy and pleasant. Also it is really nice to be away from computers for awhile (an iPod can be nice while painting outside, though being in the actual space with the crickets and the wind is part of the experience too).

The French term for painting outdoors is “en plein air” — which could be re-translated as “in the full air”. There is something pleasant and “airy” about just choosing a subject and painting it alla prima— no preliminary sketches, no layers of glazes, photo transfers, reference materials, SketchUp studies or traumatic mid-stream adjustments of content — just walk up to the easel and make a painting! I finished three paintings this week… my rate in the studio is sometimes less than three per year. Plus the paintings themselves are more lightweight — things I could just destroy or give away as gifts rather than agonize for months about whether they’re done, where to show them, how much to charge for them, etc.

I love photography and take lots of photographs in addition to the studio paintings. Painting with the pochade box combines some of the things I love about both art forms — you scout your terrain and frame your image (à la photography) and then bring all your gestural and color sensibilities to the material. You just do it, like clicking the shutter, except it takes a couple of hours rather than a couple of milliseconds. In the end your 'shot’ is juicy, oily, full of bugs, and, maybe, ready to hang on a friend’s wall for awhile. Nice and easy!

Next, maybe we’ll see how it goes painting around Chicago.

Pochade box in action

More Space

Tuesday, June 28 2011 4:42 a.m. UTC




More painting concepts. More space. More depth. More fictional worlds with people standing around looking at weird stuff.

SketchUp and Makehuman

Monday, June 27 2011 4:09 a.m. UTC

Mockups for paintings

Makehuman figures imported into SketchUp

I’ve been playing around with the Golden Open acrylics a lot lately and preparing a bunch of small and not-so-small supports for new paintings. After trips to MOMA and the Chicago Art Institute’s Architecture and Design room, I’m fired up to try more content using SketchUp as a planning tool for dreamy, sci-fi spacious otherscapes.

While playing around with this I stumbled across a new program called Makehuman. It pretty much does what it suggests — makes a 3D model of a figure. There are for-pay software packages (Poser) which do this, but Makehuman is open source. You can turn knobs to change gender, body type, facial parameters, hair, etc… strangely addictive. Some blog posts online suggested how you could import Makehuman figures into SketchUp, but I had to hack around a bit before I got a recipe which worked:

  1. Make model in Makehuman
  2. Export it as Wavefront .obj
  3. Import that into the latest Blender release
  4. Export THAT model as a 3D Studio Max (.3ds) file
  5. Import the .3ds file into SketchUp

You can’t really pose the figures yet in Makehuman, though that feature is apparently in the queue. This stuff is evolving fast and I think some really cool art could be made using the tools that are being made now.

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