Category Archives: Art Resources

Pose tool

Generally, when I am starting on a new pose, I will start with drawing or sketching.  This allows me to take a moment to understand the pose composition and proportions before diving in to creating an armature.  Also, since building an armature can be a pretty left-brained activity, it helps me to draw to get into the creative frame of mind before I start worrying about accuracy and potential structural issues.  I have a small 3×5 sketchbook on me at all times for these quick sketches.

For this pose, I tried an additional tool after making these quick sketches: Pose Tool (iOS, Android, Kindle, Windows Phone) by AlienThink.

You set the pose by manipulating natural joints.  I discovered this to be a remarkably insightful tool to figure out ‘how exactly is that arm getting in that position’.  For complex poses, my biggest enemy can be thinking I know what is going on compared to just observation.  And frankly, even with observation, it can be difficult to figure out rotations sometimes.  Short of actually grabbing the live model and flexing their joints to figure out how they work (educational–not recommended), using a tool like this was actually quite helpful.

Pose Tool is not meant to be a 3D modeling program like Modo or 3DSMax.  But it sure did make want to do more 3D modeling in programs such as them though.  When I saw muscular, proportion, or compression differences between the live model and the Pose Tool mesh, I really wanted to get into the nitty gritty and make it all ‘just right’.  For better or worse, Pose Tool gives you just enough control to get the general pose but not so much that you begin to start noodling on eyelashes and finger nails.  For that reason alone, it was invaluable for forcing me to focus on capturing the pose rather than be distracted by surface or muscular details.

There are also some interesting overlays, including showing the inter nature armature wire positioning and a simple box version.  The simple boxes allow you to see the big shapes and their orientation to each other.

Some minor quibbles with Pose Tool

  • I would really appreciate it if there was a highlighted segment mode when posing.  I lost track of how many times I grabbed the wrong segment.
  • Undo.  See previous comment.  Pro tip: Save. Often.  I had to restart several times because I accidentally screwed one thing or another, or accidentally reset the pose.
  • The file management (load and save) user interface is obtuse at best.  I still don’t think I have it figured out.  Are there two sets of saves, one for male and female?
    • I really wish I could save to a cloud service, such as DropBox so I could use the same pose on multiple devices and have peace of mind.
    • Naming save files would be great. ‘female pose 0’ doesn’t really help much.

My favorite feature is  a variety of included textures, including flat white, monotone skin, colored skin, generic proportions model, and anatomy.  This helps with simplifying what you are looking at so you can work on basic posing and then later review anatomical and surface details.

When I first used Pose Tool, I thought it was an interesting novelty.  However, actually including it in my workflow and using it as a way to sketch the pose quickly on my iPad makes it an incredibly useful tool for you to create references from.  And finally, once the pose is created you can manipulate it to see angles that are critical for modeling but are generally impractical when working from a live model.

Worth Killing Trees For – Art Magazines

Below are the art magazines that I subscribe to and read.  While most of my reading is currently digital, these magazines are either not available digitally, or their production quality is so good that I just enjoy them more in print.

Considered one of the best art magazines, International Artist is my favorite.  It is targeted towards artists with practical explanations on working methods and tools.
A publication of the National Sculpture Society.  Really, the only magazine focused on figurative sculpture work, that I am aware of.  Most other sculpture magazines are focused on the avant garde, including installation and abstract art.
Fine Art Connoisseur is a wonderful magazine sharing modern representational artists in many mediums.  Whatever this new guard of neo-classical artists will be called by art historians, Fine Art Connoisseur is targeted towards collectors fine art.

Never Buy Another Art Magazine Again! RSS Feeds

I was talking with a fellow artist today and I promised that I would share some of the RSS feeds that I subscribe to.  For those of you who are not RSS-savvy.  RSS subscriptions allow you to receive updates to all kinds of syndicated internet content, particularly blogs.  I subscribe to hundreds of art blogs.  Below are some of my favorites.

Before that, a brief note on tools.
I use Google Reader to capture all of my feeds, and I use different clients to read my Google Reader subscriptions depending on the platform.
iOS: Reeder
Mac OS: Net News Wire
Windows: Feed Demon

Now is also a good time to plug my Twitter feed.  Every time I see something interesting and useful related to art, I post it to my feed.  I’m very selective about what I put on my Twitter feed.  You won’t find out what I had for lunch, that I’m stuck in traffic, or a particularly interesting article I found about the technology gossip.  Just art.  I think of it as an Art Channel.  If that is the content you are interested in, I promise that my Twitter feed is just that.

Okay, so on to my favorite RSS feeds, not in any particular order.

Artist Blogs

Art Business and Inspiration

Despite my inflammatory headline I do, in fact, subscribe to several art magazines.  I will cover those in a future post, including why.  I also have an upcoming post on Art Podcasts.  Stay tuned.

As always, comments welcome.

Undressed Art

I read…a lot.  Particularly books about art.  However, every so often I read a book that is so good that it makes me glad that I am literate.  It so good that I am thankful I know how to read.  Because by being able to read I have been access to so much life-enhancing knowledge.  This book has literally made me better by reading it.   A better artist.  A better person.  The book is The Undressed Art ,Why We Draw by Peter Steinhart.

Books about art generally fall into a few categories, (a) how-to books written by artists, (b) art history books by art historians, and (c) self-help books written by artists or marketers.  Every now and then, someone addresses the fundamental nature of ‘why’ people do art.  Usually, it is done on how art relates to society.  The Undressed Art, however talks about why to do art from an artists perspective.  The first two chapters describe the experience of drawing and going to a life modeling session in better words than I could articulate myself.

Steinhart describes the experience of a figurative artist, what draws us to the subject, the experience of working in a life drawing session, and what motivates both artist and model.  He discusses how the acceptability of figurative art has changed through the history of art.  There are many interviews and quotes from artists, teachers, and models that discuss their experiences with life drawing and its meaning to them.  He discusses the taboos in a life drawing session as well some humorous anecdotes.  Steinhart discusses the issues of eroticism and sexuality of figure drawing, and how clinically artists and models treat the experience compared to how non-participants imagine it is.  And importantly, he describes the futility of the experience and yet why artists continue to persevere.
I recognized many years ago that art was not optional for me.  In particular, figurative drawing is core to who I am as a person.  Although done in groups, figure drawing sessions are often silent and artists rarely interact during a session.  Reading this book for me was like having a conversation with a kindred spirit in a way that I would never have in real life.
I recommend this book to anyone who is a visual artist, and particularly to anyone who draws as their premium medium.  More importantly, I recommend this book to the spouses and partners of artists, because I can think of no better description in words of the figurative artists experience than what Steinhart captures in this book.
Comments welcome

Sculpture Videos

Although I got a BFA in Sculpture, I feel like I have learned more about sculpture before and since my formal education.  Part of that is simply time in studio.  Many years have passed since I have graduated, and as a result I’ve simply spent more time in the studio, practicing, working, and learning.  The other factor is that there are vast more resources available for art education than when I began sculpting.   Many artists can self-publish books, videos, and workshops in order to share their knowledge.  This has led to a great proliferation of art education materials.

Belows are some of the sculpture videos that I recommend.

Mark Prent’s Ultimate Guide to Fine Figure Finishing
This video is intended for special effects sculptors who want to create hyper-realistic life casts.  Although my interest is not in the film industry, Mark provides excellent instructions on casting and finishing.  In this video, Mark covers installation of glass eyes, how to embed hair and how to airbrush color onto the figure , face and hands.  The airbrush coloring section is particularly useful because Mark provides specific color recipes for each layer as he paints.  This alone would be worth watching for anyone interested in creating realistic skin tones.
Available from SmartFlix to rent or Pink House Studios to buy.

Mark Alfrey’s Standard Molds and Casting
A very thorough overview of making molds for both plaster and silicon.
Available from SmartFlix

Making Babies with Lewis Goldstein – Vol 1: Sculpting a Child’s Head and Making the Mold.
He focused on making portraits of children, particularly for dolls.  However, even if you aren’t interested in dolls, the section on making the mold is useful.  He describes how you can make a plaster box mold with very little effort.  Very useful for smaller portraits.
Available from SmartFlix

Photographing your art work – Part 3: Lighting 3D

Photographing 3D work, such as sculpture, has a unique set of challenges due to the complexity of managing the work (you can’t tape it to the wall), and lighting.
For previous posts in this series, see Photographing Art on the Cheap and Lighting 2D.
Behind my work, I have a roll of seamless background paper spooled on a curtain rod.  I roll it out across a stool creating an even background.  For many years, I just used a black sheet.  Make sure that it clean and ironed so that it doesn’t show any texture or folds.
As far as lighting, you will need at least two lights, one on either side of the camera.
If you are photographing figurative or portrait sculpture, there are many resources on how to photograph people, which will apply directly to photographing sculpture of people.  I generally light my portraits with three-quarter lighting.
Do you have suggestions on photographing sculpture?  Please leave comments below.


Photographing your art work – Part 2: Lighting 2D

To see information about photography equipment, check out my previous post, Photographing Art – On the Cheap.
The diagram below shows how I set up lights to photograph art.  You will need two lights.  Mount the art to wall.  Tape it or hang it.
Angle the lights so that the brightest part is not directly on the work.  Pointing the light directly on the work can cause hot spots and glare.  However, if you are using continuous lights, you will want to angle the light more towards your work to maximize the brightness.
Alternatively, if I have a lot of work to photograph, I will set it up on a panel leaned up against a block or paint can.  This way I can lay work down flat, and just shoot the camera, without having to re-tape every piece or adjust the lighting or focus with every shot.
  • Make sure the camera is perpendicular to the art work. Otherwise, your image can become trapezoidal due to foreshortening, with the nearest edge being wider than the back edge.
  • Crop your images. Remove the background, torn paper edges.
  • Avoid ambient light. Photograph at night or in a completely closed room. The most common mistake I see in artists photographing their work is doing so in daylight.
If you have tips and recommendations for photographing your work, please leave a comment below.
Coming up next: Photographing 3D Art


Photographing Art – On the Cheap

Knowing how to photograph art is a necessary skill for artists today.  With many online art communities, you need to know how to create digital images in order to share your work.  Most competitions now require digital images of your portfolio or your proposal.  Learning how to photograph your work can be intimidating because photography can be a very technical skill.  The good news is that most artists only need ‘good enough’.  My advice is to take the best pictures you can with the best equipment you can afford.  However, unless you are pursuing a career as a professional product photographer, there will always be equipment and techniques that are more than what you need.  The other advantage to the artist is that once you find out what works for you, write it down and just keep doing it.

When to scan versus photograph
HP PhotoSmart PSC 2610 All-in-One PrinterWhenever possible, I scan images rather than photograph them.  It is is just so much faster not having to set up lights and dealing with the camera.  Some artists avoid scanners completely as they can wash out colors,  but I’ve found that for getting images from sketchbooks,  small drawings and watercolors it is the least hassle.  I have a very basic multi-function printer/scanner/fax HP 2610xi.

The biggest limitation of a scanner is that work must be flat, the medium dry, and has to fit within the dimensions of the scanner.  That said, for beginners it is perfect.  Just constrain your artwork to the dimensions of the equipment you have available.

The starving artist setup
Setting up to take pictures of your artwork does not need to be an expensive or cumbersome process.  You’ll need some basic equipment to get started.

  • Clamp lights.  You can pick these up at most hardware stores.  For years I clamped these to a ladder, a bookshelf, or a spare 2×4.  You’ll want to use the brightest, whitest bulbs that the clamps can safely operate.  You’ll want 100W or higher.
  • Digital camera.  You’ll want one that can attach to a tripod, whether you have one or not.  It should also have a basic zoom lens.  It’s good to have a camera that you can grow with.
  • Basic photo editing software.  Whatever your camera comes with will probably be adequate.  You just need to be able to crop images and resize them to specific dimensions.
  • A black bed sheet for a backdrop.  I picked one up at the local Goodwill for a few dollars.  Make sure to iron it and keep it clean so you don’t pick up dirt and folds in your background.
Slik U8000 Video/Photo Tripod

  • Do not use the flash.  It tends to flatten the image, wash out colors, and cause glare.
  • When photographing, keep the work perpendicular to the camera.  Otherwise, the image will be foreshortened, with the nearer edge wider than the far edge.
  • Take pictures in as high of resolution as your camera supports.  You may not think you need it, but storage is cheap, and you will want the best quality original as you adjust and crop your image in software later.
  • Take your pictures at night or in a room with no ambient light.
  • Use a tripod if you can afford one.  You can get one for less that $50 USD.  Otherwise, put the camera on a shelf, table or chair to keep it shaking.  I used a work bench for many years.  Most cameras have a timer which you can use as well, to keep the camera absolutely still when you take the picture.

My current setup

I think of my current setup as one step above hack and several below professional.  It is good enough.  I have two lights on tripods, a tripod for my camera, and I use the light meter in my camera to make sure that there is a even distribution of values.  I take my shot and clean it up in photo editing software later.

    • Olympus SP-500 UZ digital camera.  This camera is several years old now.  I only share the model to show that your needs do have to be sophisticated.
RPS Studio 1000 Watt Continuous 2 Light Kit for Olympus Digital SLR
  • Slik U-8000 tripod.  Just a basic tripod.
  • RPS Studio Continuous 2 Light Kit This kit comes with (2) 1000W bulbs.  The best part about having lights on tripods is being able to quickly set up and tear down for a shoot.  You can also use much brighter bulbs.
  • Seamless background paper for backdrops.  I use black and neutral gray.
  • Shutter speed: As high as possible
  • F Stop: As low as possible
  • Adobe Photoshop.  This is still the tool of choice for amateurs and professionals alike.  The nice thing about photoshop is that although it can do much more, editing photos is what this software was made for.  it does it quickly and easily.  There is a bit of a ramp up on this software because it now has so many features, but the time will be well invested.

The ‘Pro’ version.
My disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer.  However, these are tips that I have received from other artists, that I am aware of, but haven’t taken to applying to my regular shooting practice yet.

Canon Digital Rebel XSi 12.2 MP Digital SLR Camera with EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens (Black)– Use a DSLR camera. One popular model: Canon Rebel Xsi
– Strobe lights.  Calumet Travellite 375. These will allow you to use much brighter bulbs.
Bracket your exposures.  I do this more when I am photographing sculpture as it is more challenging getting the exposure right.
– Take a white balance shot, and set your camera to a custom white balance based on this.  Remember that you will need to reshoot your white balance if you move your lights during a shoot.
– F Stop: 8:0
– ISO: 100

General Tips:

  • Make friends at your local photography supply store.  A good store will be happy to answer your questions without pressuring you to buy equipment you don’t need or afford.
  • Talk to other artists.  Find out how they set up to photograph their work and what equipment they use.
  • Hire a professional photographer at least once. Listen to them about the choices they are making in determining how to make your work the best. Watch them while they work. How are they measuring light? How are they arranging your work? A professional photographer will not be threatened if you have lots of questions. You aren’t going to steal their business because you picked up a few tips from them. That said, when image quality is most important, such as preparing images for print or catalogs, either be a professional photographer or hire one.  You want your work to look its best, and you get what you pay for.

I will update this post as I continue to learn more myself.  As my setup has become more advanced over the years, I expect it will continue to do so, while still remaining below ‘professional’.

Coming up next: Part 2: Lighting for Photographing 2D Art

If you have tips or suggestions on photographing your art work, leave a comment below!

Tutorial: Hollowing a clay model for firing

I thought some people would be interested in seeing how I prepare a clay model for firing.  Here are two sculptures that I recently completed.

Above is a life-size half-torso. It’s 25″ tall, made of clay, which means that it weighed a lot when completed. I didn’t put it on a scale, but it probably weighed ~80 pounds and took two people to move it. The crack at the top of the head is due to ‘slumping’. The clay compressed, and the armature pipe inside did not, causing the top of the head to pop off while drying. This was easily fixed during the reassembly process below.

Above is a much more modest sculpture was a life-size portrait.  I didn’t weigh it either, but it was probably ~40-50 pounds of clay.
As you can see, the hair was fairly detailed on the side, so slicing vertically was going to cause me some rework.

In general, the process is simple:
1. Cut the piece into manageable chunks,
2. Hollow out each piece
3. Reassemble the model, obfuscating any evidence of the repair(s).

As in most things, the devil is in the details.

These are the tools I used:
– Medium loop tool
– Large loop tool
– Sponge
– Modeling tool
– Butter knife (my favorite modeling tool)
– Clay wire

Beth Cavener Stichter mentioned that she spends 1/8 her time modeling and the remaining 7/8 trying to preserve it. That has certainly been my experience. And through the process of preservation, there are plenty of opportunities for the model to be destroyed. Clay teaches detachment. I started this post because there was no guarantee that these pieces would survive the process, and I thought it would be useful to share the process.

For those unfamiliar with working with water-based clay, some important points:
– By design, clay is soft which means that to build a large piece you need to build an armature to support your model and/or build slowly, letting the inner core dry and become more substantial as you build. Otherwise it will ‘slump’ causing the model to compress and collapse. For instance, Rodin did most of his sculpting in clay, and built on top of a cone of clay for support. In Rodin’s “Balzac”, the structural pyramid is clearly visible in the finished piece. Armatures for water-based clay need to be as simple as possible, in contrast to armatures for oil-based clays, because you have to figure out how you are going to remove it from the model later. For oil-based clays, you don’t have to worry about that, so you make the armature as detailed as possible to minimize the amount of clay you need to use, and have the entire piece be as structurally strong as possible. For this clay model, I used a 24″ 3/4″ threaded rod into a pipe flange, with a 3/4″ “T” pipe fitting on top. It’s simple, works great, and is easy to remove. If you aren’t paying attention though, slumping can be a minor issue, as I’ll share later.
– If you are going to make a mold of a piece and cast it later, you can make your mold right on the clay as-is and be done with it. Often the clay model is destroyed in the process of molding. However, if you plan on the final product being the clay version, you will have to take some preparatory steps for firing it. Most important: hollowing. Clay must be reduced so that no part of it is greater than 3/4″ thick. Thicker than that, and it has a tendency to crack during the firing process. It is also more likely that there will be trapped air in the clay, which can cause the piece to explode during firing. Yes–explode.
– Clay can shrink by as much as 20% as it dries. If it dries unevenly, this can lead to cracks. These cracks can be superficial or structural. A piece can be completely destroyed during the drying process. This is rare though if you are paying attention and monitoring the drying process closely. You can affect the rate a piece dries by covering it with plastic, ventilating the plastic with progressively larger holes, eventually exposing it completely. To slow the drying down, you can spray the piece with water. This is particularly important if the piece has thin sections like arms and legs as those will dry faster than the thicker torso. Again, the entire model needs to dry at a consistent rate, or cracks will occur.

The first cut is the hardest. I spend several minutes planning how many sections I am going to cut the piece into and where I will make the cuts. The goal is to minimize the number of sections (and resulting repairs) and make cuts that are easy to repair. Broad surfaces are easier to repair than complex detail. The joins also need to be structurally solid, so you need to consider whether or not the lower joins will be able to bear the weight of the upper joins. Below you can see that I’ve performed a lobotomy, and cut just below the chin. You can also see the newspaper that I’ve wrapped around the “T” fitting, to add mass to the interior. Both the newspaper and the fitting will be removed.

For the male figure, I went with all horizontal slices so that the reassembly would be simpler.  I decided to cut off the shoulders, flipped them over, and hollow them out like a bowl. You can see that the head and cranium have already been hollowed out. The armature is now clearly visible.

When I’m hollowing a portrait, I can usually get away with a single vertical slice either in front of, or behind, the ears.   Notice that I’ve laid the pieces onto a large foam pad to protect the modeling.

My detailed description of how to reassemble:
1. Hollow the each section so that no section is more than 3/4″ thick.
2. Use a fork to pierce the interior surface. I cover the interior with piercings approx. 1/2″ apart to roughly to 1/2 the depth of the wall. This reduces the likelihood of trapped air and creates more surface area for the interior of the model to dry with.

3. Score both sides of join. I use cuts ~1/8″ apart and ~1/16″ deep. They are just random scores, but my intent in sharing is the measurements is to show that the more scoring the better. The purpose of scoring is to maximize the surface area of the join, allowing the repair to be structurally sound.
4. Paint both scored sides with clay slip. Use either a brush or sponge.
5. Join the two pieces. Press firmly, making sure that the slip presses into the scores and the pieces are joined as tightly together as possible.
6. ‘Stitch’ the join together, pulling clay from one edge to another. This may be an unnecessary step, but I’m not taking any chances.
7. With a small loop tool, carve out a channel across the entire seam.
8. Using coiled clay, fill in the the stitches and the channel, across the seam.

9. Using the same modeling tools that you created the final surface prior to hollowing, redo your finish, blending with the other modeling, so that the seam is invisible.

Voila! Now the piece was ready to finish drying. This usually takes a couple of weeks. Once it is completely dried, you can fire it for the first time.

Art Education

When I went to college, I had idealistic dreams of mentorship that would take me into an apprenticeship beginning a career in art. What I found instead was a environment choked with academic politics, ivory tower idealism that sneered at practical business skills, and professors who claimed their favorites and ignored the rest. It is not bitterness that I speak with now, but disappointment for those who follow me. For, I was one of the favorite pupils, one perceived to have so much potential. I went so far as to earn an MBA for my business skills, and I sought out the idealism. What disappoints me is that I left school ill-prepared to make a career out of art. Like many graduates, I did freelance design work, continuing to make ‘fine art’ for myself. However, I had no connections on how to sell my work, or even inspiration to apply my artistic skills in any occupation other than a gallery artist. Since graduating I have since discovered a wide world of careers related to the arts, as well as many inspiring methods of art education. My hope is that this journal can offer guidance to aspiring artists on where their path to creativity may drive them. On a personal level, I relished studio classes while in college. At my peak, I was taking 24 credits per term, including four studio classes, with 30 hours a week in the studio either drawing or sculpting. This was on top of my academic courses. Because of this, several of my teachers recommended that I go to an art college to finish my degree. However, for many reasons not relevant now, I chose to stay where I was, get my degree through a traditional university, and continue my art education for many years after graduation. One of the many inspiring post-graduate lessons, was my reading of Julietee Aristides “Classical Drawing Atelier“. Aristide’s book describes the classical Atelier’s that trained artists such as Renior, Degas, Seurat, and Sargent., and recreates the curriculum as it is taught in modern ateliers today. It is ironic that some of the greatest artists of modern art became symbols of rebellion against the system that trained them to be great artists. For my own art, I have always sought to learn the fundamental skills first, so that my unique expression would be better articulated.
 A second inspring book was a receation of Charles Bargue’s Drawing Course by Gerald Ackerman. From this book I have created my own curriculum for my continued art education.

I discovered these books from the Art Renewal Center (ARC). ARC’s manifesto is that modern art lacks technical skill and artistic soul due to a lack of traditional figurative drawing and painting in modern art education. I agree with this premise whole heartedly. I find that those modern artsists that I respect, repesentational or not, are ones who have a fundamental technical skill. They can create figurative art, they may choose to abstract it or ignore it. But the skill provides the choice. ARC is a fantastic resource for figurative artists as it includes referrals to art schools, editorials and vast online museum of magnifient figurative art for inspiration.

In closing, I offer an open studio to any artists that wish to join me in the recreation of a classical atelier. I have the space, prints, and casts available to share I would enjoy the company of any aspiring artist, of any age or experience, who also seek to refine their skills through the study of traditional figurative art.