Monday, December 31, 2007

Merry Christmas 2007

Every year, my family decorates Christmas cookies. We like to add nontraditional forms to the mix--this year we had an elephant, a pig, and a dog in addition to the usual holiday shapes. I thought I would share my favorite cookies with you on the blog. After all, these are art, kind of.

Ballerina Reindeer

Paris Hilton Angel

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bento: A New Painting

I just completed a new painting for a group show with the Three Rivers Artist Guild. The show is entitled The Art of Food, and I've been chairing the committee to get the show organized. I had ambitious ideas about a painting of a sushi chef I know who works at the local Market of Choice, but in a pinch, I ended up doing this variation on a still life. I am intrigued with bentos in general because they are, inherently, works of art. This is a fantasy bento--rather than painting one from real life, I looked at hundreds of photos of bentos and chose the contents I thought were most beautiful in combination with each other. The painting is acrylic on canvas board, 12 x 9 inches unframed. A painting like this takes me at least 20 hours, not including the time spent researching/referencing and composing the sketch. I'm quite happy with the finished painting.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sketches from the Italian Countryside

My recent visit with Barb Blumer got me reminiscing about our trip to Italy back in 1999. It was my first experience with plein air landscape painting, as well as my first experience using oils. Barb always reminds me about how excited one of the teachers got about my drawings, and I always remind her how excited one of the teachers got about her compositions. Anyway, I thought I'd go ahead and scan those old charcoal drawings in and post them on the blog so Barb could see them again. They're not so great after all. But they're not so bad either. I've got two poems I wrote about this trip to Italy. Maybe I'll post them on the blog.

You can see Barb's awesome paintings at

I've been busy working on my book of poems, as well as getting a new wall and flooring put in to make my studio fabulous. I'll post pictures when the work's all done.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Nadine's Kitchen

Boy, this one has been tough! I'm not sure it's totally there yet, but time to move on to the next. One thing I borrowed from David Hohn's teaching--if the composition is static, try turning the picture on an angle. What do you know--it works.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Nadine Illustrations

I thought I'd post an illustration in process to show how I'm creating these. I start with a basic sketch, then I add on as I go, building up layers of paper. The last thing to go in is the paper for the walls and floor. I won't decide what they will look like till the very end. This is a very fun process.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

New Illustrations Started

Okay, I've broken through to the other side, and thanks to Antonia's permission, I've allowed myself to start using collage for the illustrations for Nadine. Hurray! I've actually started. Here's the first look at what Nadine (the book) will look like. Retro illustrations using cut paper. I'm loving it.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A Scene from Froggy Went A-Courtin' from Thumbnail to Finished (almost)

Well, my class has been over for several weeks now, and I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever finish the painting. I thought I'd go ahead and show the finished work here, so you can see how the concept evolved from thumbnail sketch to a finished (almost) piece of art.

Stage 1 (above) was the thumbnail sketch. Here you see the main elements--the three cats peering into the hollow tree. This thumbnail was done with tracing paper and a pencil, then marker over top that.

Above, you see a more finished sketch. Here we have all of the characters taking shape. This sketch was created on a large sketchpad with colored pencil, then revised several times with tracing paper.

Above is the value study. This was completed with color pencil on white paper. I had a really tough time with this stage.

Finally, the finished art begins to emerge. Painted on Bristol Board using acrylics. The light still isn't quite right, and the highlights need to be put in on the cats, but I like the way the scene has come together. Also, you can see the color palate I would work with for the entire book. Will this ever be a book? Depends on my ability to pitch it to a publisher. I think I'll have an easier time with it if I already have a few books under my belt.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

CD Cover Art for Dad's CD

My dad, Bruce Jennings, just recorded a 2-disc CD of music that he used to sing to my sister and I when we were young. The title of the CD is, appropriately, When We Were Young. Duncan listens to it every night when he goes to bed. He calls it "Grandpa Bruce Music." I wanted to do cover art that would feel very fun and modern, but would evoke the era I was raised in--the 70s. I took inspiration from the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, as well as a dress fabric I saw in Star Magazine recently. I'm really happy with the way the project turned out.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Getting to the Value Study Stage

We only have three more illustration classes left (sob!). The goal now is to come up with three finished pieces of art using the sketches we've done so far. I've selected two of the scenes. Not sure which the third will be. First, I'm going to do "Last to come in was the old gray cat." I posted a thumbnail for this sketch earlier. Here is a more developed sketch--I'm still not happy with the proportion/perspective:

I need to make the wedding party smaller to increase the sense of height in the room and not make the bugs seem out of proportion with the cats. I like how one of the cats is looking at the reader. I learned this is called a "cheat." I wanted to make sure the reader understood these figures as cats.

The next scene I am definitely doing is the proposal scene. I started by creating the finished sketch/value study for the protrait of Uncle Rat. Then I will do the scene with Froggy and Miss Mousie. One of the things this stage requires is fully developing the characters. I had to think about Uncle Rat. I want him to look stern and vaguely threatening in the portrait, yet still a bit comical, so he isn't terrifying. I'm pretty happy with this drawing:

I like how Uncle Rat is holding sheaves of wheat. I have decided he is a miller. Portraits done in the 1700s often showed a clue about the person's profession. I based this portrait on a few done in the late 1700s. I'll scan them in later to show here on the blog.

Next stage will be to do the scene with Froggy and Miss Mousie (see post below for explanation of how this spread will be laid out).

New Scenes from Froggy

Well, the next assignment in my class was to sketch three pivotal scenes in the story (Froggy Went a Courting). I had a very hard time with this assignment--definitely using some brain pathways I am not very familiar with. My drawing really has to come up to speed. What I'm realizing is that unlike painting, where you can kind of edit the composition to match your skill set, with illustration, there are just some things you have to put in. So here are some of my efforts, with notes attached:

The text for this sketch was: "He took Miss Mousie on his knee and said Miss Mousie will you marry me. Without my uncle Rat's consent, I wouldn't marry the president."

This was the only one of my three sketches that was really well-received. I had to agree, because the other two were just causing me all kinds of problems (as you will see later). The guys thought this sketch was good "storytelling," and they liked how I introduced Uncle Rat in the scene by way of the portrait. Their main suggestions were: crop the image to get closer, have the portrait spotlighted on the facing page, and only show a portion of it in the larger image. Here is the sketch the guys suggested:

The next scene I chose was: "Where should the wedding supper be, way down yonder in the hollow tree." I didn't hate this sketch--it has a nice layout, I think. The guys, however, felt it missed the main point of the text, which was to introduce the Hollow Tree--the scene for most of the action in the story. Here's the layout they suggested, which really shows the tree as a destination. One of the amazing things about my teachers is that they can come up with amazing visual problem solving on the spot.

I'm not even going to show the third scene because the issues are so similar to what I just showed in the Hollow Tree scene. I need to focus on the storytelling a little more and think about what I really want to say with layout.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Rojankovsky's Cat

Feodor Rojankovsky won a Caldecott Medal for his illustrations of Frog Went a Courtin way back in the 50s. I thought I'd show how he treated the same text I'm working on. This is obviously "the moment."
Rojankovsky was a Russian who was obviously influenced by folk art. I believe my tastes were influenced by him at an early age, both directly and indirectly. Many of the books I loved that were published in the 70s took their cue from his line-heavy work; loose, rangy rendering; and flat perspective. Other books that came after that rely on this style include Just Right by Lilian Moore with illustrations by Aldren Watson and The Fox illustrated by Peter Spier (also a Caldecott winner). Rojankovsky also reminds me of the work of Roger DuVoisin, but DuVoisin worked earlier and contemporaneously with Rojankovsky, and the two must have been aware of each other.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Before/Moment/After Assignment

This week's assignment is to choose a moment in the text, then illustrate the moment, as well as the moment before the moment and the moment after the moment. Got it? The idea is that those moments can actually be more powerful than the moment itself visually, because they contain tension and release. I'm continuing with Froggy. This time, I've chosen the climax of the story, "Next to come in was the old gray cat, ate up the mouse and swallowed the rat." I've conceived of the cat as a British commander and Froggy as a revolutionary spy.

Before #1

In this version, the cat and his two cronies watch the procedings from outside. They are strategizing their attack. I like this version because it emphasizes their role as soldiers.

Before #2

This version of before is probably better. The composition is more interesting. It emphasizes the "catness" of the villains rather than the "soldierness."

The Moment

In this sketch, Mrs. Cow flees in horror as the old gray cat eats Miss Mousie (left), and the cat cronies hold Froggy pinned by their bayonets.


Froggy, having escaped, is running away, while one cat tries to shoot him with a musket.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Color Sketches

I've narrowed this week's assignment down to four sketches. I'm doing them in larger, color sketches now to see what appeals to me. I'm having a lot more trouble with this week than last week.
So far, I like the one above. Maybe because of the color combination. I thought, what if I make everything BUT the frog green so your eyes are drawn to his face.

I'm setting the story in Revolutionary War America. The frog's outfit is supposed to look like Paul Revere. I didn't really like this layout, but every single person I asked picked it.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Little Monkeys Gallery and Cafe at the Carnegie

This post and the next feature art from the new kids art gallery I'm working on. This is not all my art, folks. Just a few cityscapes from my O-Town series.

I spent most of Saturday haning art at the Little Monkeys Gallery and Cafe in the Carnegie Center. I've been working on this idea with Sascha Gordon-Manning since September, and we've finally got it going. We will be filling the space with art that is appealing to kids and families. The point is to make original art affordable for families, so parents can decorate their kids' rooms with original art--not mass produced stuff from Babies R Us. We've got it about 1/2 full right now. We'll be adding work throughout the month of May, and we'll have a big opening on June 9th. But you can go there now--anytime the Carnegie is open.

This may be crazy, but we are hanging work at eye-level for kids, so they can actually get up close and see the work (a few exceptions--ceramics, textiles). I want this to be a place designed for kids.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Need Some Feedback--1

This week, the assignment is to come up with 3 layouts for the same moment in a text. I have chosen "Froggie went a courtin' and he did ride." Please take a look at the 8 layouts and tell me which three you like best (or which 1 you like best).
Layout 6
Layout 7
Layout 8

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Need Some Feedback--2

Here are 5 more layouts. Please weigh in--which are your favorite?

Layout 1

Layout 2

Layout 3

Layout 4

Layout 5

Estrella in Paint

I couldn't get the whole painting scanned, so here are three different portions of it. Together, hopefully you can get the whole Estrella experience. She was well received in class, but the teacher critiqued (quite rightly) that I didn't really nail the quality of being "mischievous." I agree. She looks playful and mirthful, but not really mischievous.

This is Picolo, her little frog. One person said, "Alligators eat frogs." I think Estrella may be a vegetarian, possibly an activist on behalf of PETA. I mean, she must be opposed to using Alligator skin for clothes, shoes, bags.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


I love my illustration class. I'm so excited about my new assignment. We each had to draw (at random) 4 slips of paper from a pile. Each slip had a different character trait or description on it. The assignment is to create a character that features each of the four traits. Here are the four I drew:



30 years old


I brainstormed quite a bit, and here's the lady I came up with:

Inspirations for Estrella include Peggy Guggenheim, Kelly Osbourne, Paris Hilton, Marjorie Meriweather Post, and Lili Pulitzer.

Her little frog is her vanity pet. I'm thinking his name is Picolo. I'm working on painting them in acrylic right now to work out some of the details and colors. One thing I'm thinking about is whether I want to do my illustrations in ink or in paint. I will have to try both f0r a while to see what I like best.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Illustration Class Starts Tuesday

I've just started taking a class on illustrating children's books. The first assignment was to copy 4 characters that we like from other people's books, as well as 1 character that we don't like. Here are my offerings: Copying the baby from Binky turned out to be the hardest. I thought it would be the easiest. Getting just the right take on each black line was very difficult, and the subtleties of his body placement/gestures were very hard to capture.
I thought the Forest Princess would be the hardest. She was actually one of the easier characters to render, but the medium, pure pen and ink, was brutal. I had no way to cover up my mistakes.
Sendrak the sorcerer was the most fun character. His whimsical hat and shoes and the little stars on his coat really appealed to me.
Stamp-collecting trollusk makes me laugh just looking at him. Working on this drawing, I felt Mercer Mayer is probably the best illustrator of all that I picked because his line-work is so precise. My version is much sloppier than his because I don't have the practice/patience to make mine line up just so.
This is the character I don't like--Critter from Mercer Mayer's Little Critter series. After drawing him, I decided he's really not so bad, but I really don't like the overall art in the books. Maybe it's too cartoonish, too bland, to representational.

What I learned: In every single case, the quality/style of the black outlines was the number one most important element. For the Stamp Collecting Trollusk, I had to try three different black pens to get it right. You can see where I started with too thick of a pen on the trollusk's ear. Yet that same thick pen was perfect for Mayer's Critter.

I also learned that I'm a better renderer than I thought. The more I did, the faster it went and the more confident I became. This was a valuable exercise.