Thursday, January 31, 2013

Oil pastels

I can honestly say I haven't used oil pastels since graduating from high school.  I kinda fell in love with the things in my mid-late teen years because they were easy, fast, and the colors were incredibly vibrant (wait...we're still talking about pastels, right?).  Then I stopped, for some reason, and pretty much stuck to watercolor for the past 10 years or so.

Well, yesterday I broke out a set of Holbein pastels I bought a couple years ago (but had yet to use), and did this:
Goliath and the Shepherd  (16" x 20")

It was a blast to get back into these soft, oily crayons.  Also, it was pretty cool to be able to start and finish a piece on the same day...which almost never happens with aquarelle.  The background is a watercolor wash with white pastel over.  It's so nice to not have to worry about washes bleeding into finished's almost like oil and water don't mix.

There are definitely some things about this piece that need work, but it felt great to get re-acquainted an old flame from those halcyon days of youth.


Monday, January 28, 2013

A couple more of these guys

A unicorn standing next to a tower
A unicorn partially concealed beneath a decorative rug

Friday, January 25, 2013

From OK, to bad, to meh.

You may remember this guy from awhile back:  

Through no fault of his own, he was forced to mutate into this:

...and this week, finally turned into this:

And that's it.  I'm done tinkering with this mouth-breathing bear and his stupid border.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Ruth Triptych

Here is my first completed commission of 2013.  The subject was Ruth, from the eponymous book of the Old Testament, and it was a birthday gift for my brother-in-law's aunt.  I'm told aunt Ruth liked her present.  Score.
16" x 20" Watercolor, ink
The polyhedron in the right panel was a new element for me and was a lot of fun to research and toy with; I'd like to explore these geometric forms further, for sure.  Also, the coils and spirals at the tops and bottoms of the three panels were a new (and time consuming!) challenge.
The large black background in the center panel owes more to the fickle gods of fluke than any sort of skill or planning on my part.  I had no idea what to with that large space and, in the end, decided to make it all green.

Weeeeeeell, it looked like crap.

Then, I decided to add some textural elements using India ink.

It looked worse.

Finally, I just doubled-down and decided to black it all in...I needed to drink a beer before I could bring myself to do it.  I think it turned-out alright, and the contrast with the Hebrew text is just what I was shooting for.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Unicorns are the new bears

It was a pretty productive first full week of 2013.  My energies have mainly been focused on starting/finishing a commission I received late last year (pics to follow).  However, during the down-times on that piece (waiting for washes to dry, planning next moves, etc.), I've been exploring a theme I began sketching while on a flight shortly after the New Year.  Here are the first three pieces of what is perhaps shaping-up to be my Unicorn Cycle (my unicycle?).

A Unicorn Wasting

A unicorn in Iceland (Einhyrningur)
A Unicorn Run-Through by an Angel of the Lord

All pieces were done on 14" x 10" Cotman watercolor block (140 lbs cold-pressed).  I grabbed a few of these blocks when my favorite local art shop was liquidating its inventory.  Excellent paper!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Product Review: Factis Tri-42 Eraser

Whilst in Vienna Elin, Tryggvi, and I took a trip to an art supply mega store called Boesner.  They had it ALL.  Knowing full-well I'd have to pack all my purchases into my already-hefty luggage, I showed some restraint in my shopping.  I snagged some sketchbooks, a pencil sharpener, and a couple erasers.  It's the erasers I'd like to talk about right now, in a first-ever product review on this blog(!).  

Factis has come out with a real game-changer, here: the Tri-42.  It's never been so easy, or such a joy, to vanish one's mistakes.  The hardness checks in at a relatively soft 42 degrees shore A, but this baby is all business when push comes to rub.  I'm usually not one for the fancy bells-and-whistles, but the rounded corners on this thing (three, by my count) allow for a degree of precision and control hitherto unknown by this humble artist.  The action on the soft rubber is silky smooth with excellent absorption and no skipping or smearing.  The grit clears easily from both drawing surface and semi-moist hands.

Seen here with rubber of lesser repute.
Pros: The most fun you can have with a scalene triangle with your clothes on.
Cons: you'll probably have to go to Europe to get them.  Or have the internet.    

Friday, January 11, 2013

A pilgrimage to Hütteldorf

Over the past decade I've had a few artists that were major sources of inspiration or admiration: Jacek Yerka, Zdzislaw Beksinski, Stephen Doitschinoff, and Ivan Bilibin.  These artists have influenced me in various ways, both consciously and subconsciously, I'm sure.  My current fascination, however, is with a Viennese master: Ernst Fuchs.
Like any proper hero, this one has a sword.
I've known of Fuchs for as long as I've known of any of the other surrealists, but never truly appreciated his works until a few years ago, during a chilly day in February at the Kalamazoo Institute of Art.  My girlfriend and I were taking a break from touring the galleries and sat down in the library for a moment.  Here, on a whim, I pulled an enormous tome off the shelf with a name I was vaguely familiar with, but had never really explored: Ernst Fuchs.  I was instantly drawn to Fuch's unique style: bold colors and forms, flashes of the Old Masters combined with a new surrealism, and rich symbolism.  

I've since bought that book (which was, at $125, the most I've ever spent on a single volume) and one other.  The latter having been signed, to me, by the man himself.  In Vienna.

While on vacation in Vienna last December, my girlfriend, her father, and I made a trip to the outskirts of Vienna to the Ernst Fuchs museum (website).  I'd never been to a more impressive museum.  The building itself is an architectural treasure designed by Otto Wagner and also serves as Fuch's personal residence.  The three of us had the place to ourselves on a cold, rainy December 22nd.

Fuch's artistry and meticulous attention to detail can be seen everywhere

wallpaper and furniture, all designed by the artist

"Daedalus/Perseus and the Nymph" - a current favorite, despite titular inconsistencies

He definitely seems to be an ass-man.  Respect.
The museum's floors are carpeted and many of the works are lit by table lamps which makes for a very intimate experience.  Through a door to the living space, I could hear some talk.  Ernst Fuchs is 82 years old and had just undergone surgery (heart, if I remember correctly), so obviously he was not entertaining guests.  Still, he managed to scribble out a small message in a book, in German, for an admirer who had come all the way from Michigan.

Leopold Museum!

It was a pretty cold day.

Robb goes to Austria

I was blessed with the opportunity to spend Christmas and New Year in Vienna with Elin's family.  Sixteen days immersed in such rich history and culture, under the care of two extremely generous and creative hosts, it is really no surprise that I came back from the holidays feeling invigorated and inspired.  I actually couldn't even wait until I got home to begin...I managed to fill some pages of my newly purchased sketchbook during the flights back to Michigan.

Tryggvi, my girlfriend's father and an avid artist himself, gave me some really excellent art materials for Christmas.  I did a 4-part series over the course of my stay that summarizes, to a large degree, the entirety of my stay (although they might seem a bit odd without the proper context).

I did these using watercolor pencils and a Pentel waterbrush on a watercolor block.  I'd never used the pencils or the waterbrush before, but they definitely started to grow on me.
The waterbrush and a small aquarelle travel kit

My girlfriend's parents also have an impressive collection of books on a broad range of subjects relating to art, so I drew further inspiration from them.  I've tried to be more aware of my use of color and light in these little paintings and, despite the challenges of working with a new medium, I can't help but smile when I look at them.