Image Problems?

Lately when I load my blog page, it seems that half the time the image header doesn’t load. There are also times when some of the images on the right side of the page don’t load. Is anyone else having this problem when viewing my blog? If so, please do me a favor and leave a comment saying so. If it is a problem for other people besides me, I need to look into it. Thanks!!


Sketchbook Update: The Merchant of Venice

(Click for a larger image.)

Last night I took my wife to see Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” performed onstage at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. That makes me sound a lot classier than I am. My wife is the Shakespeare fan, I honestly couldn’t tell you half of what was going on in the story. But it was still fun for two reasons. First, I always have a great time going out with my wife. And second, I took a small sketchbook along and was able to spend over two hours filling the pages. I’ve been so crazy-busy with client work lately that it was a real treat just to draw for myself, whatever and however I wanted.

If you ever get the chance to attend a high-quality stage production, especially a period piece, by all means bring your sketchbook! The stage last night was filled with expressive character faces and fun costumes to draw. The lighting also created wonderful dramatic shadows across the faces that you normally wouldn’t see in “real life”.

It’s hard to overstate the value of keeping a sketchbook. For some good reading on that subject, I recommend a series written by Mark Kennedy on his blog. Kennedy reminds us that the point of a sketchbook is not to do beautiful drawings, but rather to risk making lots of bad drawings you can learn from. Personally I prefer to sketch with a pen, for two reasons. First, not having an eraser as a “crutch” forces me to think harder about my lines before I put them down. Second, knowing I can’t fix anything anyway frees me up to make bolder decisions (and yes, lots and lots of mistakes). In the short term I get sketchbooks full of bad drawings. But in the long term my skills are sharpened and my instincts are honed, so that over time I can work more confidently and with better results.

Photo Reference

Many professional artists use photo reference when drawing, which can be especially helpful when deadlines are tight. In the days before the internet artists would collect a “morgue”, or “swipe file”, a collection of photos cut from magazines and books and then organized under headings (i.e. “children”, “ducks”, “trains”, etc.). When I was in art school I used to collect old magazines anywhere I could get them, even digging through dumpsters at the local recycling center (with permission), hauling them home, and snipping out photos. My swipe file now fills 2-1/2 filing cabinets.

In my early years of freelancing I also took a lot of my own photos. I purchased an expensive camera, some lights, and even purchased or rented a few costumes when necessary. Then I would either take photographs of myself or invite friends over to dress up and pose for me. With the advent of digital photography I could instantly manipulate a photo in Photoshop to fine-tune it for the perfect composition.

My style has since evolved to the point where I don’t do “realistic” illustrations anymore, so my dependence on photo reference is not as heavy as it once was. But even as a cartoonist I still find myself using it on a regular basis. Drawing in a “cartoony” style doesn’t mean I can just make things up in my head all the time. I find that before I can simplify something into a cartoon drawing, I first have to study and understand what it looks like in the “real world”. For instance, doing life drawing and studying anatomy helps me to simplify the human figure more gracefully. As the saying goes, you have to understand the rules before you can break them properly. Or, as another artist once said, “Always respect your subject matter”.

There’s a big debate in some artistic circles about the value of using photo reference. Some see it as a virtue, others as a vice. Using photo reference certainly has its pitfalls. It can easily become a “crutch”, tempting the artist to lazily copy rather than create. There are also copyright issues to consider when drawing directly from a photograph. (Contrary to popular belief, there is no law that says you can legally alter an image X percent to avoid violating copyright. In a court of law, the real test is whether or not the average person would look at the photo and then look at your drawing and conclude that one was copied from the other.)

Nevertheless, those who frown on photo reference are (in my opinon) throwing the baby out with the bath water. When used properly (and not overused) photo reference can expand an artist’s mental library as he draws, thereby strengthening his mental drawing muscles. Studying good photographs can inspire and enhance an artist’s creative instincts. When deadlines are tight photo reference can help the artist to quickly capture the perfect pose, expression, prop, or camera angle. Also, if the photo is used as *reference only* and not copied directly, most copyright concerns can be avoided.

Canadian comic book artist Stuart Immonen (pictured below) recently wrote an article for Comic Book Resources discussing his use of reference material. It’s a good read.

Finally, here’s just a few of the many websites and books available for photo reference:

Google Image Search
Photo Reference page on
Terra Galleria
Facial Expressions: A Visual Reference for Artists
The Fairburn System of Visual References (clothing and hairstyles are dated, but still a great reference)

Good Friday

This is an old drawing I did ten years ago when I was still in art school. At the risk of sounding “preachy”, I thought it would be appropriate to post today as Christians pause to remember Jesus’ death for our sins. Think about it–he willingly took the punishment that you and I deserve. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Amazing. We don’t go to heaven because we are good people. We go because we are guilty sinners who have a Savior.

If you’ve never thought much about that before, consider this.

Skinny Rabbit Animation

I’ve been dabbling in Flash animation again. This time its a brief internet promo for a forthcoming book by best-selling author John Trent titled “The Skinny Rabbit” (to be published by Thomas Nelson). A couple of months ago I did some character designs and artwork for the book. Then they came to me with the concept for this animated promo.

The book is still in its final stages of development, but Mr. Trent gave me his permission to post the Flash promo on my blog. (The “Send to a Friend” link at the end has an incorrect link, I just needed some filler to show what could be done).

Being a self-taught animator, I’m open to feedback/suggestions if you have any.

New Header

Nothing fancy. But a change was long overdue. Hopefully sometime soon I’ll find time to do up something really cool, but this’ll do for now.

EDIT: Someone wrote me that the top half isn’t displaying on their computer. If anyone else is having problems seeing the header, please leave a comment and let me know. Thanks!