Bee Spiral – the Finish

The good news is that the piece survived being wrapped around an 11” diameter drum scanner. The gold looks no worse for wear and I am almost breathing again. The less than good news is that gold leaf doesn’t scan worth a damn. I’m not laying this on the fabulous folks who did the scan, they did the best they could, and if it wasn’t for the gold, the scan would be perfect. This is going to lead me on my next big adventure in art prints; how do you reproduce gold in an archival print?

Meanwhile, back at the drawing board…

BSpiralBeeDetail1webMy original concept had the bees in a more abstracted form. But when the colors in the spiral started doing cool things, I knew the bees had to be more realistic, thereby adding depth. They are not completely realistic, they still fit within the confines of a circle, but there was a lot of – draw a few lines – look at a photograph – draw a few lines – look at a photograph. The painting process wasn’t much faster.

The bees are mostly done (I went back later and punched up the black) and I'm laying down the first layer of black, which isn't really black.

The bees are mostly done (I went back later and punched up the black) and I’m laying down the first layer of black, which isn’t really black.

With the bees finished, I moved on to the ‘black’. I write it that way because it isn’t black. In fact there isn’t any black on this piece at all. What you see here is a mix of Burnt Umber and Ultramarine. If any of you have studied classical painting, you will have heard of this mixture. I had not until recently. My usual mix for black is Alizarin Crimson, Prussian Green, and Indigo. I think these pigments have seen changes that offer better lightfastness and lower toxicity, and I think there has been a color shift as well. My old black mix doesn’t respond the way it used to. It’s a subtle thing that most people would not notice. I do. So I went to the Ultramarine/Burnt Umber mix and got very nice results. There was a slight panic when I realized I had no Burnt Umber paint. Luckily I remembered my natural pigments and ground up a small batch. It blended beautifully with the Ultramarine. The snippet you see above is just the first layer. I went back with two or three more layers to get the density I wanted without that flat wash look.

The final. Whew!

The final. Whew!

I am very pleased with the finished piece. I’ve been calling it the bee spiral, but the real name is ‘The Waggle Dance’, and the gold pattern in the corners is derived from the motions the bees go through. Honey bees use this ‘dance’, and others, to communicate the location of a nectar source when they return to the hive. It is thought that some insecticides may inhibit the bee’s ability to waggle dance, thus making it harder to find food, which in turn, could be a contributor to colony collapse disorder. For this reason, I’m going to dedicate at least 10% of sales to research and preservation for honey bees.


Green Man at Last

Hmmm. I was supposed to post something about the final Green Man art, but things got a bit hectic at the end. There I was, pleasantly painting away, when I got a phone call from a gallery I’ve displayed at before. Turns out they had a big show coming up and wondered if I had anything to submit. Well technically I didn’t because the piece wasn’t done. But I had two weeks before the show was hung. That’s plenty of time. Right?

This was at the end of April and if you look at the progress of the art in the previous post, it wasn’t a lot farther along. In fact it was going to be a push to get the piece ready at all. After it was finished, I had to have it scanned, and then framed. It all came together, but just in time.


Normally I do my own scanning, but this was for reproduction. So I took it to a local shop, the Color Group, and the results were fabulous. Apparently they use an old drum scanner and the optics are amazing. One of the papers the use to make prints is the same as what the art was painted on: Arches 140# hot press watercolor paper. They gave me a color proof on the hot press. Stunning. The framer actually thought it was the original when she saw it.

And now that I have a GOOD scan, and once I figure out a web site I can sell from, there will be prints available. Go ahead and contact me if you’re interested and I can put your name on a list. Then I can send out an announcement when I have all my ducks in a row.

Until then, on to the next thing…

The Glories of Antiquated Technology

As the result of a fabulous consultation with Lucy Ruth Cummins of Simon & Schuster last April, I have been, oh so slowly, coming up with more black and white samples aimed at interior illustration for children’s books. Not picture books, as those are usually in full color, but middle-grade to young adult novels. Ms. Cummins also suggested that I concentrate on animals. No problem, says I, and off I went to create new, amazing samples in glorious black and white.

But that’s not what this post is about.

The first scan @ 600 dpi on the HP. This probably has not had any tweaking in Photoshop.

In my first few posts I made mention of the difficulty of scanning black colored pencil. My scanner (an HP Photosmart All-in-One thingy) simply refused to see the lighter grays, so a lot of the subtlety of my drawings got blown out. My wife’s scanner is a newer version of mine and even though it can see more gray tones, it still knocks out the lighter stuff. And to make matters worse, my art work is often on paper larger than 8.5×11. Look at your scanner. See how the glass is lower than frame? Imagine trying to get a good scan from a 9×12 piece of stiff watercolor paper.

Now the solution to all of this is very simple. Get a good, legal sized, flatbed scanner. Unfortunately, my budget will not allow that.

So what’s a boy to do? Call on his geeky friends.

That’s what.

One such friend of mine used to run a large format digital print shop. When I told him of my problem, he said “I probably can’t help you. The scanner I’ve got has a SCSI cable. It won’t hook up to your new machine.”

Ah, but I have an old G4 Macintosh that I was thinking of scrapping. Not any more. The new (old) scanner was easy to install. The AGFA website still had downloadable drivers and manuals. In minutes I was up and running. And the results? Holy dpi, Batman! That thing works! And it’s flat. I’ve draped 12×14 art work over that thing and stitched it up in Photoshop. No problem.

The scan on the left is from the HP scanner at 600 dpi. I think I went back into the original art and darkened things up and boosted the contrast in Photoshop. The one on the right is from the AGFA scanner. It’s a 16 bit file at 450 dpi. It is HUGE. I don’t remember if I bumped the contrast on this one or not.

A close-up from the second HP scan. Note all the blown out white areas.

The same close-up from the AGFA scan. Hopefully you can see some sketchy lines in the light area under his jaw line. That’s my under drawing. My original layout scribbles.

I’m sure there are scanners out there now that will hold this kind of detail, and there’s no way I could have afforded the AGFA when it was new. But that can’t stop me from singing the praises of a piece of antiquated technology that not only works, but rocks.