Monday, April 27, 2009


These are pics from my first foray into bookbinding. I was in a four-day workshop learning eighteenth-century French commercial binding techniques taught by Jeff Peachey. Awesome!

The above are pictures of the sewing frame, where the text block gets sewn together.

These chords will be laced into the boards to make the front and back covers of the book.

The above pictures are of the covered and laced book. The frayed chords above are laced into the boards through three holes and then pasted down. Historically, I leaned too late, they would not have been pasted. Oops.

This is the spine covered in vellum. I pared down this parchment to back the spine; it's shaped like a comb and attached between the chords. You can see the signatures (groupings of folded pages) and sewing through the skin. Cool!


I used a plough (or "plow?") to trim the edge of the text, according to historical practice. But I messed up in two ways: 1., I forgot to make the covers a little bigger than the textblock (squaring the boards), and 2., I trimmed it at a skewed angle. Crap.

So I trimmed the text block further and removed the old boards. I then attached new boards and laced them more simply. I trimmed them after this.

This is while I was sewing headbands (small decorative bands of colored thread). This took a while. You can see that by this point we painted the edges of the pages red.

Subesequently, I messed up on paring down the leather to cover the whole book. This frustrated me because I got the parchment pared down, and leather is thicker and softer. But no dice. So I can't learn all of bookbinding in one weekend. But I did learn a lot and it was a rare and amazing opportunity!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Scribal selections

This is a mezuzah I wrote. It's actual size is about 3 x 3 inches. Below are sections of two mezuzot that are magnified for detail.
Sometime soon I'll elaborate on the creation of these really small scrolls.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Now on Fox: Antelopes Gone Graphite!

Yes, that's right: a Giant Sable and an Addax, everyone's favorite antelopes. I drew these from mounts at the American Museum of Natural History, or, as I like to call it, Heaven on Earth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Masiakasaurus sketch

I just wanted to put up this old sketch of Masiakasaurus knopfleri. I've had second thoughts about the raised second toe, but when I drew this - a long time ago - I went for what I thought would be a noasaurid look. Oh well.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Velociraptor sketch

Just a Velociraptor mongoliensis. I sketched this extemporaneously with no skeletal references, so please forgive innacuracies.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Look Ma, No Arms or Legs!

These two torsos are from the same sketching session at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Both were done using 2B mechanical pencil lead in a .5mm Pilot mechanical pencil on Fabriano paper, and the amount of time for each was not too relatively disparate. However, the difference in the results is clearly huge.

Two main differences I noticed in the process were the lighting and my use of a tortillon. The top sculpture was much better lit; the second sculpture was lit by various sources including skylights, which made the resulting shadows muddy. Concerning the tortillon, the Fabriano paper I used is highly textured yet does not hold the graphite strongly, which makes it, ironically, and excellent paper for the use of a stomp or tortillon. The paper + graphite really beg for smoothing.

I have done many drawings without a stomp or tortillon but I felt unable to work without it in this case. I didn't want to resort to it for some reason; I wanted to achieve every effect with just my fingers and a pencil. I didn't use a stomp or eraser on the lower drawing, but by the time I got to the point you see above, I just felt it wasn't worth finishing. So I moved on to the other sculpture, and I like the results.

But I'm still not satisfied. I will post a drawing of the second sculpture and it will be finished and we'll see how it works. Maybe it will be on different paper so I don't feel as required to stomp. Any thoughts from you all out there?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Statuesque Two: Electric Boogaloo

More statues. This bronze was from the American Wing at the Met museum, but unfortunately after I drew this the wing closed for renovation. Since the drawing is already a year old, I probably won't finish it when I get back to that sculpture gallery.

Here's a torso that I'm not too happy with. I tried tinted paper with white highlights to capture the gleam of the marble but my shading came out too chimeric. Capturing the intricacies of the chipped marble didn't help the piece, though I thought it would add interest.

Monday, March 16, 2009


These are sketches from statues found in the awesome Greek and Roman galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Greeks certainly loved portraying naked dudes, but this sculpture happens to be female and clothed. As I will discuss in an upcoming post, I have been struck down by the astute criticism of an artistic superior, which opened my eyes to certain subtle drawing practices that have already improved my sketches. I have been trying to learn these new techniques, which are in some ways entire paradigm shifts in artistic methodology. I was feeling pretty successful with this clothed female Greek, until I was forced to eschew one basic and important aspect: completeness. If it were up to me, the Met would be open evenings until very very late, so I could go and draw whenever. Also, the museum would switch its lighting around so that the statues are all lit in such a way that makes drawing them most fulfilling. But alas, the world does not revolve around me. So the Met kicked me out and closed its doors before I could finish this drawing. I may finish this sketch soon, though, because I think it was going well.

I often take a lot of time to remove all lines form my drawing, for lines are unnatural. Line in nature is determined by shape and contrast, rather than contour. In sketching, line is a basic and useful tool. So a sketch may be made by increasingly tightening lines to form the desired object. If the drawing will be taken to completion, these lines would be applied in such a way as to be easily subsumed into the shading. In the clothed woman sketch above, I didn't even get as far as planning to subsume the lines.

This next sketch of a robed Roman man was another aborted artistic process, but this wasn't the Met's fault. This was to be a chiaroscuro drawing, because if I remember correctly this sculpture is metallic and I thought the ability to highlight would be beneficial to the sketch. I skipped any outlines entirely and started applying values in a haphazard way. I became impatient and stopped after some minutes. It is really worth noting that the full process of taking each artistic step to completion is the best way to achieve finished, quality, realistic drawings. That is in fact true of almost every human endeavor. While there are valid drawing techniques that don't rely on line, but rather on the application of dark and light forms and values, this evidently wasn't suitable for my mind and the piece at the time.
I didn't end up finishing this drawing, or even spending more than the few minutes required for this sketch. I went back to it the same day with a different technique and instead focused on line to make a preparatory sketch with more success:
It's interesting how some techniques fit certain subjects sometimes but not others. Tell me what you think and what works for you! I'll be posting more statuary soon...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Surrealism and Sci-Fi

I rarely like surrealist art, except for a few notable exceptions. I appreciate many of the amazing works of art by notables like Dali, but they're not works that I choose to view or surround myself with. One surrealist, however, has been quite influential on my art: the art and creature design of H. R. Giger. He was a very successful designer and artist, and his work has a unity and consitency without being monotonous. Check out this website dedicated to his art. The image above is a prominent example of his work from that same site.

Many of his works are oddities of biomechanical and sexual themes. The alien monster itself from the movie is basically a large spiky phallus that goes around eating people. The pseudo-Freudian nature of Giger's imagery both distracts from and contributes to the elements that intrigue me: the anatomical basis, the use of transparency, and the play on familiarity and alienation.

All those facets of his art are manifest in the Alien creature. The anatomical basis transcends the sexual inspiration that defines the eggs, face-hugger, and Alien's head. The endo- and exoskeletal nature of the creature itself is both human and something more. You can see in some of Giger's work that the Alien cranium, though lacking eyes, is based on a human skull:
Here's the same sculpture (I don't know who made these) topped with the cranial covering:
The pretty tansparencies aren't limited to the cranium, depending on the artist and, moreover, the movie designers' choices. Which brings me to the cool full effect of the anatomy and transparency, and that's the humanness of these aliens. Sure, that's not hard to pull off, we're used to seeing and creating humanoid things. In the case of Giger's designs, the Aliens are
just humanoid enough to be accessible to the imagination, but so . . . alien that they make the viewer uncomfortable with their familiar elements rather than comforted by them.

You'll see more artwork posted here based on Giger's Alien designs, but here are two sketches to start with:

Friday, February 27, 2009


More drawings! That's all for now...

Friday, February 20, 2009

A dinosaur could not drink from a straw!

Without lips, that is. So since dinosaurs could not drink from straws or even whistle to call a cab, there's no doubt that they could not have evolved into more intelligent species. What kind of a civilization could they have without swirly straws?! Okay back to topic.

Now cheeks. So I drew this wounded
Triceratops for paleontologist Andy Farke:

It was a fun learning experience. I started with the bones (which were later modified). The wounded fossil lacked much of the skull, so I reconstructed the fossil cranium according to Andy's direction (i.e. which skull to base this skull off of) so you can see the chunk missing from the frill:
Among the many things I found out is that ceratopsians (horned dinosaurs like
Triceratops) probably had ridges on their horns, like you see today on rams and such. These ridges grow on the sheath that covers the bony core of the horn, so they wouldn't be present in the fossil specimens. Here's an example from a modern ram:
The drawing itself illustrated the wound on the frill. A big chunk was missing and the edge of the bone showed regrowth and healing. Which is awesome.

There were other decisions about what the dinosaur should look like. These horned dinsoaurs have a long row of plant-chopping teeth that is a little inset from the edge of the jaw. If I can find an illustration of that, or the time to illustrate it, you'll see it soon. I wanted to know how Andy wanted the cheeks to look, so I sent him some sketches.

Sketch one is the classic cheeked look. Scientists long assumed that the tooth row was inset to make room for a cheek, which would keep the food from falling out of its mouth when eating:
This is a half-cheek; same great flesh, less cheeky:
The next sketch is a lipless, cheekless face. The lower jaw has an upward-projecting muscle attachment site (like the coronoid process on human jaws), which means a lipless, cheekless jaw would still end at that muscl-ey area:
This is a lizard-like lipped mouth closed:
And open, like a smile:
Now, the mouth would have occluded (I learned), so there would be no space between the upper and lower beaks.

The final choice was cheeks not because they were the most scientifically accurate, but because they are conventional and the focus is the frill, which is very rational.
Here's the drawing in color:

So that was a little bit more about the choices that went into a scientific illustration...

Saturday, February 14, 2009


Dinosaur sketches! I'm biding my time as I prepare a post on cheeks in ceratopsians (horned dinosaurs). Here's a sketch of a chasmosaur:

And here's a Triceratops that I like. Notice the ridges on the horns? I'll talk about that soon. I like the way the texture and foreshortening worked out:
And lastly, a chasmosaur in a forest. This was fun:

Thursday, February 12, 2009

T. rex is Cool the Third: Jaws!

Holy Lip Gloss, Batman! I haven't posted in a long time. This will be post three of four on the subject of dinosaur faces. For now, that is.

And soon I will share my thoughts and feelings concerning some amazing medieval manuscripts I've had the chance to ogle recently.

Jurassic Park from waaay back in 1993? It affected dinosaur imagery in far-reaching ways. Not only did it help convince a lay audience that dinosaurs were active animals rather than sluggish monsters, but it brought scientific ideas to the popular perception of dinosaurs. Despite these steps, it was still a movie, and it's ultimate goal was entertainment. In the last post, I talked about the flesh covering the jaw attachment site. The JP T. rex design had a very idiosyncratic version of this anatomy. In the picture below, you can see the characteristic zig-zag JP jawline. You can also see that the actual lower jaw does not zig-zag:
This zagged jawline was proliferated due to the popularity of JP. It filtered into scientific publications as well. Here's a recent depiction of T. rex from, unfortunately, I don't know where: It has that same zigging and zagging lower jaw line. Why are they depicting it that way? Well, unlike most theropods (the lineage of mostly carnivorous dinosaurs that now includes birds), T. rex has a thick tooth line and a particularly thick and prominent jugal bone:
This bone is part of what accounts for the wide, boxy cheeks of T. rex. These cheeks also turn T. rex eyes forward significantly, giving the animal a degree of stereoscopic vision: The wide jugal projects over the lower jaw in a remarkable way: The articulation and overlap of the upper jaw over the lower indicates how the flesh should appear. There is, generally speaking, a huge overlap of the upper jaw over the lower jaw in carnivorous dinosaurs: In at least one T. rex specimen, the overlap is so great, that teeth from the upper jaw actually project below the lower jaw. Here is another view, where the red is the amount of the overlap of the jaws: So what we have is osteological evidence for the appearance of the jaw attachment. The artists behind JP took this overlap line and made the lower jaw follow it. I suspect that this also had mechanical purposes: the animatronic dinosaur model had to close and articulate its jaws, and maybe different kinds of cheek were harder to pull off. But I've never felt that the JP design was either scientifically supported or aesthetically ideal. But that doesn't mean that I've always succeeded in my attempts, either.

In the drawing below, I made the cheek covering similar to the flesh covering the rest of the head. When shading the jaw, I think I understated the jugals projecting over the lower jaw.
The problem is that if this drawing were correct, the cheek flesh would have to extend over the jugals and down to the lower jaw thusly: Which is pretty far out there anatomically. What's next is to update the drawing and have both versions. If any of you have an opinion, let me know!

For now, here's Sue, the Tyrannosaurus rex, with "her" particularly wide face: