Monterey Bay Aquarium/Color Studies & Sketches

Jamie and I recently went on a trip down the coast to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of my very favorite places in the world. We both brought our drawing, sketching, and painting supplies, including my new samsung tablet. Because most of my color sketching was going to be done inside the aquarium, I carried around my tablet in my messenger bag and took it out when I saw something I wanted to study.

As mentioned in my previous post, the primary reason I purchased the tablet was so that I could do a lot more color studies of interior lighting in situations where it would be difficult to take out my usual paints or pastels, places like restaurants, cafes, aquariums, museums, unusual interior lighting situations. Boy am I glad I did. Each time I would sketch from life in the aquarium, I would take a photo before I left. When I would look at the photo later, I noticed a HUGE difference - the camera most of the time did not capture the lighting effects I observed, and if it did, the spirit of that light was completely lost, subdued, or just not there. What an amazing learning experience!


Below are a few of my digital studies. I also did numerous pencil and watercolor studies of the animals in the aquarium, and a few pastels from up the coast. I will post those next week.

 The Kelp Forest. So glad I brought my noise canceling headphones for this one. There were deafening crowds of pre-teens on a field trip with their school. You never know what will confront you when plein air sketching - I highly recommend headphones if you sketch in public places. 

I liked the presentation of this display so much. The blue light spilling from the water and the  yellow-green reflections of the kelp were gorgeous. I felt the design stood well on it's own.

The sketch above is downstairs looking into the Sea Otter display, sea otters mostly spending their time up above water and only occasionally diving below. I noticed this perch watching people as they went by and thought it was funny...

Some sketches went faster than others. This one in the Deep Sea Exhibit was done in about 30 minutes. It was at the end of the day and just seemed to flow. I figured out a composition and story as it evolved in front of me. 

Of all the subjects I studied in the aquarium, this jellyfish display was absolutely the most difficult. I sat across from the display on the floor against a wall in almost total darkness. My eyes had adjusted to the dark, but when I looked down into the bright computer screen of my tablet, my eyes would adjust to that brightness, so that when I looked back up again at the jellies, I had to give my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness again. VERY tough! I spent a good two hours trying to capture the light of the tank. Wow, what a learning experience this sketch was! 

Sketching in France: Paris, Angouleme, and Saintes

Jamie and I just came back from an inspiring two week trip to France, where we visited Paris, Angouleme, and Saintes. 

I knew the Musee d'Orsay in Paris would be an epic day, and true to its promise, I was completely overwhelmed. Taking in the Ingres, Bouguereau paintings, as well as the Naturalist painters and Impressionists was more than a full day's worth of viewing. Yet, it was the sculptures by Carpeaux that left me speechless. Carpeaux's sculptures contain that rare combination of not only perfect anatomy and structure but also, perhaps more importantly, the personality, gesture, and the life of the subject. I stood a long time looking at this sculpture, The Dance, commissioned for the Opera Garnier in 1869.


Because the museum is huge and I was eager to see everything, we did not have a lot time to draw. I chose to sketch this bust by Jean Carries because it's so unusual to find a bust of an infant. I'm not sure I captured it very well due to a lot of glare on the glass case.

study of La religieuse souriante, vers 1893-1894, Buste gres emaille 
(More samples of his work here)

I could spend a life time drawing in the Musee d'Orsay...


After a few days in Paris, we took a quick train ride down to the comic book festival Angouleme (in the town of the same name) where we met up with our friends, art book bookseller Stuart Ng, and Ted Mathot who was doing a book signing for his comic, "Rose and Isabel".

Comic book artists in France are like no other; the work is typically of very high quality, and the top artists are  revered for their ability to draw well. Fans line up to get their "dedicace", dedication drawings on the inside of the book by the artist, each of which is expected by fans to be unique.


After a fantastic time in Angouleme, we got on another train and headed south for the historic coastal town of Saintes, known as Mediolanum Saintonium when it was the Roman capital of southwestern Gaul. There, we met up with Jamie's father and step mother. We were all thrilled to see each other, and excited to be in Saintes, the center of art history and culture for the region, possessing a wealth of architecture, complete with The Arch of Germanicus, remnants of a Roman ampitheater, Roman baths, archelogical museum,  and  11th Century Churches.

 This temple of Roman fragments contained so many samples of decorative stone work, I wanted to draw it all. However, the choice was pretty obvious - the Julio-Claudian torso needed to be studied!



The temperature read 25 degrees the day we decided to study the Roman torso, and our hands really felt it! Given that my hands were turning to ice blocks, I decided to work on the line drawing as best I could from life, and then took several photos so I could finish the modeling of the form later.




Before we embarked on our return journey back to Paris, we sketched inside the Sainte-Pierre Cathedral in the center of town. I picked a warm spot to study some detailing on a plaque, but instead of the cold being a factor my problem this time was light! The dark interior of the church and the early setting sun made this sketch extra challenging. I couldn't get it all because I could barely make out my drawing pad and pencil.


For many years now I've admired the details in the decorative arts, many of which were created by artisans and craftsman whom we do not know. These artists contributed decorative details to churches, shrines, cups and saucers, pitchers, and on and on...I feel a certain brotherhood with these artists; the work I do professionally as an illustrator is how I earn my living, and is as close as I can get to contributing my skills to the culture. These artists were lucky that their work survived a 500+ years, whereas my digital-photoshop files for video games will most likely be lost in the binary ruins.

Before heading back home to San Francisco, we took a 2-3 hour train ride back up to Paris, where we spent two more nights, giving us enough time to spend an entire day sketching at the Louvre.


While I studied and sketched two Barye sculptures, Jamie sat in the main courtyard through the far archway sketching Hercules versus Achlous.


I was completely enamored by this particular case of sculptures by the Romantic period sculptor Antoine-Louis Barye. I wanted to draw them all, especially the elephants in the upper left, but the sun was setting and the room was getting dark. I was happy and felt honored to have spent some time studying these two gems from my favorite of the Romantic era sculptors.




Roman Emperor heads and incredible gilded ceiling at the Louvre. That's me in the center looking at a sculpture of Ceaser's head. Jamie took the above panoramic shot with his iphone using the "autostitch" app.

Before the journey, my father gave me an audiobook, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough, which I listened to on the plane ride back. I was thrilled to learn of the many artists who made the journey to Paris, over extended their stay, studied and made copies of numerous masterpieces in the Louvre (and even writing home about a few that made a deep impression on me). These fellow artists of the past also came away as I have done on this trip, feeling that our American culture lacks art and craftsmanship on the whole, and that striving for Beauty is a more than honorable quest.

I must get back to Paris.

Studying the Loacoon, Plein Air Sculpting

On Thursday nights I sculpt with a group of friends who are passionate about studying the figure and sculpting. Recently, when we set up our model, Jennings, we decided that the poses he was gravitating toward reminded us of "The Loacoon". We decided to go with it and have our fabulous model take the pose of the famous sculpture.

If you are unfamiliar with this sculpture, there is a wealth of information for you to learn about this incredible example of sculpting history. My brief summary is as follows:

The Laocoon comes from the Hellenistic Era, about 50 BC, when Greek sculpture evolved from a rational and classic art into a passionate and emotional expression whilst still retaining the idealization of the human figure. 

The group depicts a scene described in Virgil’s Aenid. The Trojan priest Laocoon and his sons are set upon by serpents at Poseidon's command as punishment for Laocoon warning the Trojans against the wooden horse. Three sculptors are credited by Pliny to have sculpted the group: Hagesandros, Athanadoros and Polydoros of Rhodes.

The sculpture was lost until it was discovered on January 14, 1506 during an excavation in a vineyard of Felice Fredi at “Sette Sale” on the Esquiline hill in Rome. When the sculpture was found, the raised arm was broken off. Michelangelo believed that the missing right arm was originally bent back over the shoulder. Others believed it was more appropriate to show the right arm extendeded outwards in a heroic gesture. The Pope held an informal contest among sculptors to make replacement right arms, and the contest was judged by Raphael. The winner, in the outstretched position, was attached to the statue. In 1906 a fragment was discovered and believed to be the original arm. This arm sits on the statue today.
*summarized from Wikipedia

Pope Julius II placed The Loacoon Group in the Vatican where it still resides. Many casts were made of it subsequently and acquired by museums around the world. One of those casts sits just outside the Legion of Honor Museum, tucked away on a quiet path, making it accessible for study.


"Loacoon and His Sons", outside of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California

Our Thursday night poses are typically set up for six three hour sessions. We decided that when this pose was over, we'd take our sculptures to the real Loacoon and work from the actual sculpture for comparison.

WOW. What an education...

I found that when I sculpted my block in from the live model, I interpreted the muscles of the back VERY differently. The back muscles I sculpted from our model Jennings were anatomically correct and logical but not simplified or idealized in a way that communicates strength and agony. My block in did not communicate this essential truth of the original and was merely an unemotional study of anatomy.



Lundman_sculpting friends 2 Lundman_sculpting friends


In addition to the enlightening exercise of sculpting from life and then from the actual sculpture, I found sculpting outside to be incredibly FUN. With a few careful preparations and perhaps fingerless gloves to keep hands warm, it would be possible to sculpt other outdoor studies of other sculptures in order to learn how to interpret and idealize the form. 

Practically speaking, an artist must come prepared. Blocking in the figure ahead of time either from the live model or photographs is helpful and necessary. Once there, you can use your hands to warm up small bits of clay and add to or take away as necessary. We used our plein air painting boxes placing our studies on top of our stands. My friend Lenny used a sculpting stand called "Hercules" that he recently bought, which seemed like a great option for indoors and out.


***A note, however: although the stand is called "Hercules", it has it's limits regarding strength. The bolts at the bottom of the tripod are not strong enough to withstand heavy weights, I'm guessing over 50 pounds. However, for smaller works it is fantastic. The top has a rotating base that you place your board and sculpture on which sits upon a tripod, making it easy to transport or put away in a closet when not in use. 

After I got home from hours outdoors and defrosted my frozen fingers, I took a long look at my block in. Before we went to sculpt the original sculpture, I knew something was not working in the torso and back, but I was unsure of what. After seeing the original sculpture live, my vision became more clear and my understanding about what to aim for about the entire piece understood. A sculpture (or a drawing or painting) is not about the individual muscles but about the whole. Each area is important and can be idealized, but it makes no sense if the gesture is not working. All of those individual muscles will be meaningless if they are not working together to communicate the idea.



In addition to the gesture and over all idea of the piece, there is an enormous amount to observe and learn about how to idealize various areas of the body. It is unlikely that one particular model looked like this man. Rather, several models were used for various areas and each form made to be "the best" way to depict an area of the body. There is so much information in this one sculpture group to learn from.

I will continue to work on my study of Loacoon here and there over the next few months bringing my block in with me to study the idealized figure. This will be a long term project, taken in slowly, allowing the beautified form to seep into my consciousness a little at a time.

For drawing practice and sculpting study and reference, I may also purchase this Mask of Loacoon's head.

and also his torso: