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Pencil drawing for A Little Space, still working on color studies as I try to decide on the look overall.


Color study : A Little Space

In a recent post I mentioned that I am moving back to more traditional techniques, away from the computer. So the studies I had done for the book about a little boy who loses his gravity were done on the computer, now I’m approaching them again with traditional media.


I don’t much like using illustration board, one of the things I’ve moved towards over the years is printmaking paper. It’s a thick paper, that absorbs paint quickly. I have some different techniques for working with it. I can gesso the paper with clear gesso. This gives me a nice gesso surface for painting so that paint doesn’t get absorbed, and lends itself to the texture of paint.

This study tonight is done without gesso on the paper. There are two reasons, one is that the gesso stunts my drawing, because the pencil loses any delicacy it had on the paper before.

Another reason is that I want my paintings to feel live and fluid. I’ve probably blogged before about being able to see a painting in progress, “non-finito”. It allows me to keep some of my drawing intact, and work with the drawing, and the paper, rather than covering it all with thick layers of paint. I don’t always work like this, but it’s something I return to again and again, and I’ve returned to here tonight doing a study for the book I’m currently working on.

UDK : UE4 Arrives

This week with GDC’s arrival, Epic Games announced the arrival of UE4 to everyone not one of their beta developers. With a new subscription plan, the software is $19 a month, plus 5% of gross revenue. It’s a deal that puts a game company at the finger tips of many indie game developers.


After using UE3 just a couple days I would say that it’s possible they’ve taken some pointers from Unity, or maybe they’ve just moved permanently away from the graphics interfaces of old. Now widgets can be customized and set up to a user’s liking. In essence it has more of Unity’s simplicity and even the layout overall. I’m not sure if Unity is influencing Epic, or if there is just becoming more of a global expectation with 3D programs. Programs like Maya, Unity and now UDK are starting to match philosophy and layout. This may seem random to some, but take for example that until we showed Autodesk the way we use Channel editors at Rhythm and Hues, they hadn’t even had the channels available. Now the same channel editors have become par for course in software across the board.

While some of the graphics choices are a bit larger than I’d like (they take up too much real-estate than they should on a laptop) overall they feel much better, more up to date than the old.

Another oddity of UDK in the past, was saving game packages in the Engine location on the disk. This was always a dangerous prospect to me. Now, when setting up projects it sets up the project to the User/Documents area of your drive.

Blueprints vs Kismet : Blueprints is the name of the graphical programming editor that replaces Kismet. Kismet was in need of an update, and having just gotten started I can’t say too much about this, except that the idea of making kismet “prefabs” seems to be more the plan now.

Static vs Dynamic : Another change is that in the properties of a static mesh, you can decide what the physics properties are without having to convert the mesh to a dynamic mesh.

Game Types : There are some out of the box game types you can use to set up your project; side-scroller, third person, etc. Again, it seems to borrow from the simplicity of Unity, but with the working guts of UDK that has been such a draw to developers.

There seems to be a simplicity of philosophy in the new software, a real move to encourage artists to get in and work with the tools. Although at the moment I’m still getting used to a house where someone has moved all the furniture around, it’s a move in the right direction and very promising.

Skimming Stones

This past week I’ve been in Los Angeles, while my wife Sheryl has been recording some video courses for MindBodyGreen. While she tapes, or prepares, the boys and I have been out and about exploring the city, or even exploring together Marina Del Rey where I once lived while working at Rhythm And Hues for many years.


I think I appreciate the Marina area more now as I experience it through the eyes of my sons. They experience everything with a curiosity and joyfulness, and a willingness to try new things. So we go for walks in the marina, and over the channel bridge to the beach and run from waves every day.


The idea for Monkey Marbles came spontaneously, as I was walking that same beach and skimming some stones at sunset. The first draft popped into my head, a spontaneous recitation, and when I got home I wrote it down. It began;

Innocently me, skimming stones int the sea, when I heard a sound far off it seemed, innocently me.

The cadence influenced in part listening to Bob Dylan at that time period, started me off, and later I dropped the repetition of words at the beginning and ending of each stanza. The reason is that every page was forced into this cadence and repetition, and it became difficult to sustain in a meaningful way.

Not long after, I had my first sabbatical from Rhythm and Hues, and I dedicated myself to writing and illustrating Monkey Marbles. After hundreds of drawings I thought I had found a style and I began some paintings. I later showed my book in New York and Los Angeles at the SCBWI conventions, and although I had some nice comments and an offer to illustrate a series of textbooks in India (which i turned down), I didn’t see any real interest in publishing it. I’ve written a lot of other stories since that story, and now I’ve come back around to see if I can start finishing up Monkey Marbles as well.

When working on Monkey Marbles I worked hard not just trying to find the style of drawing that I wanted to create the book with, but I did a lot of prep work. I drove to distant towns in California just to take hundreds of photos of quaint buildings that I wanted to be my location. I worked my childhood home into the book, and the lighthouse nearby to where I grew up in New Jersey. The bridge in Marina Del Rey appeared in the book too, the one my sons now call Monkey Marble bridge.

I did many drawings in pencil and then inked them. I did type layout and copied it onto transparencies so that I could overlay my illustrations and then color photocopy them as pages and make working dummies of my book as it progressed. I also tested various mediums doing test illustrations in an effort to find the look I liked best. I tried color pencil on paper, and then progressed to full painting on illustration board.


One of the most difficult things I found with Monkey Marbles was that drawing a marble, especially gigantic as they were in the book, was difficult to pull off. A marble relies heavily on reflection and refraction, so I set up a tiny light box, bottom lit with a light bulb, and a back drop of white to photograph marbles in detail. I then would paint a page of illustration minus the marble, and would shrink the painting down using photocopies to a size more in proportion to the marbles and put it in my home-made marble light box. Once the miniature of my page was set up, I’d photograph again, and see what kind of reflections and refractions I got on the marble. Which you can see in the full painting with the griffin, boy and marble.


Now coming back to the book I am looking at my images and I am struck by two things of course. I wrote Monkey Marbles when I was single. Yet here I am years later on the same beach playing with my sons who bear some resemblance to the boy in Monkey Marbles. It’s the same beach where the story sparked to life, and where the photographs were taken for the seascapes, and I wonder what that says about the unconscious.

I also admit that after all this time my painting and drawing style, and ability has evolved and I look at my paintings from that period with some dissatisfaction, and I’m not sure if the original style will stay intact when I pick up paint brush again.

I had originally thought I would simply finish up my paintings on my ipad, but I’m not sure that I feel satisfied with this approach right now. I’m considering transferring drawings back to illustration board again and doing the work with real brushes, in the real world.

Of real interest to me as an artist, and spending time with my sons is that I not only get to immerse myself in a child’s vision of the world (which I only too easily allow myself to do) but I get to photograph my sons in their play and explorations and file these things away for stories that I am working on now, or may come up with in the future. This week I’ve photographed them with space ships, on deck of the Queen Mary and inside a Russian submarine. We took photos at the beach, and at the Petersen Museum, alongside old cars, and those city streets at the Petersen set in other time periods. I don’t pose my children, but rather try to catch them being who they are in the moment, spontaneous.

In essence I get to spend time with my sons and explore, and play and teach them, and part of me is “working” on drawing and painting and writing at the same time.

The idea for Monkey Marbles was spontaneous, something that popped into my head, and that took a lot of effort to put into a book form and the work is ongoing. The recent flood in Colorado has convinced me that I need to stop sitting on my books and finish them up though. Many of my original drawings were destroyed during the flood, as well as some more finished illustrations like the one above. I’m hoping when I get back to my studio, to make some progress on work like these and get them out of my filing cabinets and into the world for what it’s worth.

Unready to publish Monkey Marbles, I did self publish a smaller version, Ten Monkey Marbles, an interactive counting book for the ipad in 2013, which can be found on the Apple App store.