Sunday, March 18, 2018


Caspar David Friedrich's Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer, 1818
Rückenfigur is a German art term for a figure seen from behind, and placed inside the scene as a proxy for the viewer.

Such a figure invites the viewer to identify with the attitude or perspective of the person, who is usually central in the composition. 

Eugen Dücker (1841 - 1916)
By showing only the back of the person, we don't focus as much on their individual identity, and they seem more of a type.

Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916)
A Rückenfigur invites us to wonder what the figure is doing or thinking, and can lend an air of mystery to a scene.

Rückenfigur is different from a repoussoir figure, typically more of a compositional framing element at the outer edges of the scene.

(Link to video) Watch a BBC documentary about Hammershøi by former Monty Python member Michael Palin.
Books: Hammershoi and Europe
Vilhelm Hammershoi 1864-1916: Danish Painter of Solitude and Light (Guggenheim Museum Publications)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

ESPN Adventure on YouTube

Here's a 3:25 minute YouTube compilation of the short videos I've been releasing all week about my adventure painting an NBA game. (Link to YouTube)

The upcoming issue of International Artist Magazine has a feature article with step by steps and the behind-the-scenes story.
Check out the whole blog series:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Painting a Logo Using Old-School Tools

To wrap up my coverage of professional basketball, I'll paint the NBA/ESPN logo by hand using old-school tools. (Link to video)

At almost any antique store, you can find high quality drafting sets, by Dietzgen or DesignMaster. They're not too expensive because few people use them anymore. For example, I recently found a DesignMaster 1146C for about $20. 

Drafting sets contain a variety of compasses and ruling pens. Some of the compasses can be set up with either a graphite tip or a ruling pen tip. The ruling pen tip has a small set screw that precisely adjusts the width of the line. The bigger compasses have double break points so that your ruling pen meets the paper at a right angle.

You can fill the reservoir of the ruling pen tip with either ink, watercolor or thinned-down gouache. Instead of dipping the tip into the ink or liquid paint, you should put a drop into the gap using a brush or an eyedropper. 

With these tools you can paint a perfect circle in gouache. 

The logo for the NBA on ESPN is usually seen in its digital incarnation, which has a gradation to make the white ring look dimensional. To do that, I load two brushes, one with dark red and one with lighter red, and blend the colors wet into wet.

The NBA / ESPN logo is a trademark belonging to their respective owners
The result, which appears here a little larger than the actual size of the original, isn't perfect, but it's just a sketchbook page. If I wanted to refine it, I would work larger and spend more time on it.
Check out the whole blog series:

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Knicks Game at Madison Square Garden

There are so many things in motion on and off the court in an NBA game that it kind of boggles the mind to translate it into paint.

(link to video on Facebook) As you can see in the video, I try to use the brush systematically to paint similar objects with a given paint mixture, so I'm not mixing and painting every spot.

Here again, I'm starting the sketch from life and finishing it later from a variety of references, including photos and videos. Even playing a sound recording of the game gets my head back into my memories.

Knicks game, Madison Square Garden, gouache
With a vignette like this I wanted to gradate the picture to the white of the page at the edges. I arbitrarily lightened it with cool colors on the right and warm colors on the left.
Check out the whole blog series:

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Kristaps Porziņģis, NBA Star

Kristaps Porziņģis was on an All-Star track and putting up good numbers for the New York Knicks when I painted him, but then he got sidelined with a season-ending torn ACL knee injury. Now he’s on the path to recovery.

Kristaps Porziņģis, gouache, 5 x 8 inches

I approached this painting as an alla-prima (painted all in one session), combining sketches, memory, and photo reference. I focused on KP's characteristic relaxed and confident expression, even in pressure situations. 

As you can see in the time lapse, a portrait is made up of a thousand corrections and adjustments. I find I have to maintain a spirit of constructive dissatisfaction, always thinking of what's wrong, why it's wrong, and how I can fix it. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

ESPN Commentator Stephen A. Smith

I’m on the basketball court at Madison Square Garden an hour ahead of game time. While the Knicks warm up, ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith delivers a fiery pre-game commentary. 

My first step is to wet the paper and drop in a soft ultramarine blue wash with a half inch flat synthetic brush.

I cover the first layers with transparent watercolor and then build it with opaque gouache. I like to get the face resolved early and add surrounding areas later.

(Link to video on Facebook) We see just the top of the cameraman’s head above the camera and part of the logo on his sweatshirt. Most of these areas go down with a large round synthetic brush and generous washes of pigment.

I carry the scene across the gutter of the sketchbook to show the arm of the cameraman. I add just a hint of the basket at the top edge and some impressionistic spots in the background to show that the team is in warm-up mode.

Stephen A, gouache, 5 x 8” 
The essence of this picture is Mr. Smith projecting his fire-and-brimstone opinions to his virtual audience via the camera. The guiding principle for a storytelling portrait like this is to show only what’s essential—no more and no less.