Now here’s a great idea from a group of artists for an informal series of creative projects that also translates into a fun web site.

I can’t sum it up any more succinctly than they do themselves in the first paragraph of their FAQ: “DrawerGeeks is a fun thing we do every other Friday, where professional artists (mostly from the animation, comic book, illustration and design fields) all draw their own version of a chosen fictional character.

The result is a delightful amalgam of divers styles, techniques and artistic approaches that is pulled together with a common theme. The characters are often drawn (if you’ll excuse the expression) from mainstream comics, e.g. Thor, Captain America, Wonder Woman and Bizarro; but you’ll also find characters from movies, literature, fairy tales and other areas of pop culture, like King Kong, King Authur, Little Red Riding Hood and Cereal Mascots.

The artists sometimes make the themes bit broader than they seem by giving them an open-minded interpretation; Iron Man, for example, can be the Iron Man, the Marvel Comics character, or an iron man. Keeping to the chosen character is one of only two rules the artists apply to themselves, the other being to “keep it clean”.

There’s no requirement or limit on the amount of time devoted to the piece, and you will see examples from both ends of the spectrum, though most tend to be quite finished and some are very elaborate.

This seems a tremendous way for these artists to have fun and encourage themselves to indulge in playful creation, unrestrained by the demands of art directors and deadlines, but within a framework of a collegial atmosphere and perhaps a bit of friendly competition.

I’ve chosen a few images from the Cavemen topic to show here (from top: Cedric Hohnstadt, Mike Maihack, Jim Bradshaw, Sarah Mensinga, Jeremy Vanhoozer).

Before you run off looking for how to join, DrawerGeeks is more or less a closed circle. In order to try to keep this as a fun thing for the original participants, and not burden someone with administering a giant web site, participation is limited to invitation only.

The idea to take from this, beyond enjoying the fruits of their project by following the site every other week, would be to initiate a similar project among your own circle of artist friends.

Or, if you want an already established framework for creating a themed illustration on a regular basis and sharing it with a large group, check out Illustration Friday.

The other thing to take from DrawerGeeks is to check out the page that lists the participating artists and visit their individual web sites — something I’m just starting to do. Enjoy.

Suggestion courtesy of Meg Levitt


Gilbert Stuart

Gilbert StuartIn addition to his famous portraits of our first president, George “father of his country but not exactly the handsomest guy” Washington, Gilbert Stuart, who has been rightly called the father of American portraiture, did less-well-known portraits of the next four presidents, First Ladies Dolley Madison and Abigail Adams, artists Benjamin West, Joshua Reynolds, John Trumbull and John Singleton Copley, as well as numerous members of high society in American and England.

After initial study with the Scottish painter Cosmo Alexander, he became a student of Benjamin West, an American painter who had become very successful in England and was eventually elected president of the Royal Academy there. Stuart studied with West for five years, returned to the States and set up shop in Germantown, a suburb of Philadelphia (later incorporated into the city). He later settled in Boston, and museums in that city, as well as Philadelphia and New York, hold much of his work.

Stuart painted three portraits of Washington from life, but then, due to great demand, turned out over 100 replicas of them, starting a successful cottage industry in presidential portraits (and perhaps laying the groundwork for Presidents Day sales).

The most renowned of these portrait series is the “Lansdowne” type, based on a full length portrait painted in Philadelphia, the most famous version of which was painted for the White House, and the original version of which hangs here in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (image at left, top). It’s interesting to look at the differences in the handling of the draperies, the faces, and the rainbow arcing across the sky in these two versions.

Many other copies of this painting hang in state houses in other states. The White House version of the painting was rescued from the White House by Dolley Madison, when that structure was burned during the War of 1812.

The most famous of Stuart’s Washington portraits is the “Athenaeum Head“, the unfinished portrait of Washington facing to his right that was commissioned by Martha Washington, an engraved version of which faces the other direction as he stares out at us from the front of the one dollar bill (talk about painting money). The other major Washington portrait type is the “Vaughn” type, with washington facing to his left, which was actually the first painted and of which there are at least 15 of his replicas known. (You can see couple of them on the ARC site.)

Stuart’s style, though directly influenced by West, carried a lot of the feeling of Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, who were very influential at the time. Some of Stuart’s society portraits feel stiff, showing pasty-faced rich folk with dour expressions that look a bit like the portraits, and their subjects, have been gathering dust for some time. Others, however, are bright and engaging, showing a remarkable flair for color, lively brushwork and a forceful sense of the sitter’s personality, like his portrait of Rachel Harvey Montgomery, or his beautiful dual portrait of Mrs. Samuel Gratliff and her Daughter (image at left, middle and detail, bottom). These paintings are also here in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

There is also a nice online feature on the site for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, based on an exhibition from 2004, that gives a good overview of Stuart’s work.

Stuart was well-liked by his patrons, very popular and quite successful in his career, with the slight exception of the fact that he tended to live beyond his means, neglected his financial affairs and was often under threat of being sent to debtor’s prison. Since he didn’t actually have the ability to paint money, he moved to Ireland to avoid his creditors, and wound up in financial trouble there as well.

I guess he just couldn’t wait for credit cards and Presidents Day sales.


Sarah Wimperis

Sarah WimperisFor the past year and a half, I’ve been following the “painting-a-day” phenomenon, in which painters do one small (usually postcard-sized) painting a day, post them on a blog and offer them for sale directly to the public, most often through the means of an eBay auction. When I started covering the practice only two or three painters were following it. Since then, numerous painters have jumped on the bandwagon and the numbers are still increasing.

Sarah Wimperis, a UK artist living in France that I mentioned in my “Painting a Day” Blogs (Round 4) post last July, has jumped off the bandwagon and no longer bills herself as a daily painter.

She says this is not due to the demands of the discipline, she still paints daily (but often devotes her painting time to larger works), posts her work on her blog(s) and offers it for sale to the public directly. Her disenchantment with the “painting a day” label stems from her feeling that the spirit of the practice has been watered down.

Wimperis has also changed many aspects of her approach, transitioned from watercolor to oils, become established in galleries in the UK and the US, and is getting additional galleries interested. Unlike many of the other painter/bloggers she doesn’t like the eBay auction process and prefers to to offer her work at a simply stated price, balancing her time and effort with a desire to keep her work accessible and affordable. So far, it looks like her new path is serving her well.

Wimperis’ oils are colorful and still reflect much of the immediacy of the painting a day regimen in her choice of subjects, often everyday scenes and simple objects that happen to catch her eye. She usually accompanies her posted images with a brief paragraph describing the approach, subject or other thoughts related to the painting. She seems to be developing a style that leans toward broken color, particularly where chunks of color can represent patches of light or reflections. She has posted a video of one of her small paintings in progress here.

Her internet presence is a bit spread out and a little confusing. She apparently has three blogs. The Red Shoes, which features posts of her smaller, daily painting style work, The Red Shoe Box, showcasing her larger works, and Muddy Red Shoes, which chronicles her day to day thoughts and sketches (and, for reasons that escape me, throws music at you, unbidden, when you open it, forcing you to leave quickly — hopefully a temporary lapse in judgement). Confusingly, The Red Shoes blog is at muddyredshoes.blogspot.com while The Muddy Red Shoes is at sarahwimperis.blogspot.com. This is further complicated by her actual web site, a Flickr gallery, her presence online on the site of the Gillian Jones Gallery in Ohio, and the lack of a consistent and clearly defined navigation between them.

Personally, I think artists who spread themselves thinly would benefit from a more concentrated, or coordinated, web presence. (I’m a fine one to talk, but my various sites are aimed at very different audiences.) This is one of the many interesting challenges facing artists like Wimperis who are finding their way through this new world in which the net allows artists to connect directly with those interested in their work.


William-Adolphe Bouguereau

William BouguereauThe thing about opinions, as the saying goes, is that everyone has one. When it comes to William-Adolphe Bouguereau (sometimes called Adolphe-William Bouguereau), those who are have an opinion usually have a strong one.

Depending on who you ask, Bouguereau was either a purveyor of sentimental treacle, suitable only for reproductions on calendars, or one of the greatest geniuses in the history of Western art.

Fred Ross, founder of the Art Renewal Center, the impressive online museum of representational art that was the subject of my very first post on lines and colors, seems intent on elevating him to the status of a demi-god.

To say I come down somewhere in the middle of a range like that is pointless, of course; but I can narrow it to somewhere on the side of “superb painter”, with reservations on the rest of it, and a surprising lack of emphasis. Perhaps it is because I haven’t had Fred Ross’s experience, apparently life-changing, of standing in front of Bouguereau’s 1873 work Nymphs et Satyre (Nymphs and Satyr) at the Clark Art Institute (whose curators apparently come down on the other side of the fence, and denigrate a piece in their own collection by stating that it “exhibits the hackneyed mythological subject matter and glossy realistic style typical of French academic painting”).

Bouguereau was one of the most popular artists of the 19th Century, certainly the most popular French artist of his time. His popularity was with his patrons, who purchased his elaborate paintings glorifying nymphs and satyrs, and his simple but elegantly painted images of peasant girls, for huge sums, and with the general populace of art lovers who, though they couldn’t afford to buy his work, would line up to see it at the Salon. Critics, on the other hand, even in his day, disparaged him as slick and facile, pandering and irredeemably shallow.

The reaction of critics in his own day was nothing in comparison to the way he was essentially exorcised from existence by the 20th Century modernists, who reviled figurative art in general and Bouguereau in particular. The post-war modernist critics, in particular, waged a concerted campaign to denigrate representational art and elevate modernism as the pinnacle of artistic achievement to which the previous 2000 years of artistic achievement were a mere prelude. (This is where you picture me rolling my eyes and moving my hand back and forth in a rude gesture.)

Bouguereau was all but forgotten until a revival of interest in 19th Century academic art over the last 20 years or so brought him into renewed light and favor. You will find many books on 19th Century art in which the most popular painter of the time is reduced to a mere footnote, if mentioned at all. Fortunately, there are a few monographs available today, including the inexpensive and quite nice Bouguereau by Fronia E. Wissman,

It’s hard to isolate Bouguereau from the barrage of opinions for and against. On one hand, he used his influential position with the Academé des Beaux-Arts to champion the cause of allowing women to train as artists, and counted among his students Cecillia Beaux and Elizabeth Jane Gardner (who he later married). On the other hand he used that same position to help exclude the Impressionist painters, who he despised, from exhibiting at the Salon. (You can take the art out of politics, but you can’t take the politics out of art.)

If you find that you like Bouguereau, the Art Renewal Center is the place to go, it’s essentially Bouguereau Central on the web in addition to its other goals of reviving interest in 19th Century academic art in particular and representational art in general. Though I’m a strong proponent of the last two, and a definite fan of 19th Century academic art, as you may know if you’ve been reading lines and colors for any length of time, I still have trouble getting enthused, one way or the other, about Bouguereau.

I do like Bouguereau, and I will say that I think he was a superb painter with a masterful technique. I definitely admire him for that, but I’m not quite ready to park him in the Pantheon of artistic gods next to Rembrandt, Vermeer and Velazquez just yet. (This is where you picture me coughing into my hand and smirking.)

For all of Bouguereau’s dazzling technique, his subjects leave me unaffected. It’s not that they’re sentimental, it’s that there’s not enough sentiment. Even his supposedly sympathetic portrayals of peasant girls, which I prefer to his more elaborate mythological works, seem lacking in emotion or drama.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, another 19th Century academic against whom the charge of proficiency without substance is often leveled, is more to my liking. His work conveys at the very least an invitation to step into another world of visual wonders, while Bouguereau’s work feels more like a finely crafted artifact displayed in a vacuum-sealed display case, beautiful to look at, but difficult, for me at least, to enter.

It may be because the originals I have seen of his are definitely not among his most renowned works that I have not had my “life-changing experience” with Bougereau. (You may have noticed, though, that even though I profess no strong opinion about Bouguereau, I’ve wound up with a rather lengthy post on him.)

I remain distinctly impressed with his extraordinary facility as a painter, but Bougereau feels to me like an eloquent orator with a wonderful voice, who just has little to say, and no strong opinions. He is certainly worth checking out, though, even if only to see if he elicits a strong opinion from you.


Don Maitz

Don Maitz
Every once in a while I just get the hankering for a good dragon painting. An artist who immediately comes to mind when I think of dragons, of course, is Don Maitz.

Maitz is a well known science fiction and fantasy artist who has been awarded the Hugo for best artist twice and also taken home numerous Chesley arwards and a Sliver Medal from the Society of Illustrators. His clients include Bantam Doubleday Dell, Random House, Watson Guptill, Harper Collins, The National Geographic Society and Joseph Seagram & Sons, for whom he has been the illustrator for their highly successful Captain Morgan Spiced Rum pirate character.

Maitz has made pirate imagery one of his specialties and you will find a pirates gallery on his site alongside the fantasy and science fiction galleries.

Maitz will often paint sketches and preliminaries in acrylic, but he works in oil for his finished paintings. His richly detailed images of other worlds and times are full of texture and lively color. His fantasy heroes, damsels and dragons tread on cold stone between rough barked trees and his futuristic worlds gleam with high-tech polymers and chrome steel. Maitz makes his otherworldly images vibrant with tactile details.

In addition to his illustration work, Maitz has worked as a conceptual artist on the Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius feature film and the recent release Ant Bully.

Maitz is married to author/illustrator Janny Wurts, There is a site devoted to their collaborative works.

There have been two collections of Maitz’s work, Dreamquests: The Art Of Don Maitz, and First Maitz, which are unfortunately out of print, but you should be able to find them from Amazon and other used book sellers. His Pirates! 2007 Calendar is easily available and chock full of his grinning, attitude-filled pirates.

Maitz is also featured in Fantasy Art Masters, an excellent book about the work and techniques of ten well-known science fiction and fantasy illustrators including John Howe, Brom, Chris Moore and others. The wonderful dragon image above is prominently featured, along with preliminary sketches and color studies for it, and it was also the work chosen for that book’s cover.

Yuko Shimizu

Yuko ShimizuOK, What do you get when you combine the colorful open-lined style of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints with ink outline and color styles from comic book art, fashion drawing , movie posters, surrealist drawings, pen and ink illustrators from the 30’s, pop art from the 60’s and modern mainstream illustration, throw them in the pop-culture blender, mix well, and sprinkle with a dash of influences from Indian art and elsewhere?

You get the delightful work of New York based illustrator Yuko Shimizu (not to be confused with the Japanese designer of the same name who created the Hello Kitty character).

Shimizu’s illustrations have a fresh, casual feeling. The line work is relaxed and informal, the lines themselves are often textured. Her colors are more muted than they seem at first, it is her use of them together that creates the impression of brightness. There is a really pleasing feeling of openness and immediacy, and the way she plays with her influences makes her images feel familiar and new at the same time.

Her clients include he The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Financial Times, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Playboy, MTV, Neiman Marcus and others.

If you enter her website and happen to click on the link for “Recent Illustrations”, you can get happily lost in her portfolio of illustrations. They are arranged by topic, so you will find some repeated in different sections, but you won’t be disappointed to encounter them a second time.

Don’t get so involved in the illustrations, though, that you forget to come back to the home page, where you will find links to her paintings and a range of special projects, like her Letters of Desire sexy alphabet book project, comic related illustrations, themed sketchbook projects and more. There are also links there to her bio and news pages.

My favorite of these projects is her fascinating “New Drawing Series“, a series of loosely themed ink drawings at times accented with understated color.