Abbey Lincoln portrait, revised

A couple of years ago, I drew this portrait of Abbey Lincoln in one of my sketchbooks. I was experimenting with painting a shape and then inking line details on top. The paper was a bit too thin for the gouache painting so some wrinkling occurred and came through in the scan along with the gutter fold of the sketchbook.

I opened the scan in Photoshop and converted the blue painted shape into a single color. This also captured a bit of the gutter fold shadow creating a crease across the face area.

I then converted all of the ink line details to solid black. This also captured some of the gutter fold shadow along with some additional shadow areas from the wrinkling of the paper.

I cleaned up the black from the wrinkle shadows as well as the sketchbook edges, but decided to leave the gutter shadow marks. I liked the accidental aspect of it and how it referenced the sketchbook, also how the line related to the diagonal black lines in the background. I didn't realize though that some might see this mark as a cut across the face, not my intention of course. And I realized that the reference to the sketchbook was probably only apparent to me. So I decided to remove the gutter shadow "cut" mark.

I also lightened up the blue a bit. And looking back at this piece, I remembered that I had made an alternative version, one with less distortion.

I liked how this version turned out, although I think it makes the body appear a bit odd in relation to the head. Overall, I prefer the distorted version, even better without the cut.


Another Illustrator doodle that developed into a character study. Yves is a delicate boy with a cauliflower ear and perpetual tears and nasal drips. Happy, sickly, sad; but mostly happy really, with a naive unsuspecting manner.

Water illustration for WellDone

water drops illustration I was asked by Kate Worum to create an illustration about water for a project she's working on at WellDone.

I often use Adobe Illustrator to doodle, to make an image with no plan in mind, just play around with shapes and color and see what happens.

For this illustration, I set up a few simple rules for the doodle. The format was 6x6" so I began with a blue square. Then, since I wanted it to be a face, I began with two circular eyes. After that, I made a drop shape to use as the only shape for the rest of the image. I could re-size this shape and rotate it, but I could not distort it, redraw it, or crop it (cropping could occur if the shape extend beyond the format edge). The palette was limited to three values, white, black, and blue as the middle value. My final rule was to create a left/right symmetry to reflect the symmetry of the eyes and the left/right symmetry of the drop shape (not counting the eyes, this rule was broken once, can you spot it?).

Again, I had no plan for this, other than a face. Would it be a human face? an animal?


a Proboscis monkey?

Proboscis monkey

a bear?


a lemur?


an odd-looking man with a mustache?


a butterfly?


a clown or masked wrestler?

clown or wrestler

But, eventually, what began to appear...

...was a tiger!


a decorative tiger!


with a winged one-eyed bug on its nose!

final image

waterdrops animated

Sketchbook update

It's November and I've been neglecting my sketchbooks, busy with schoolwork. But things have slowed a bit for the moment. Here is an update of sketchbook pages over the past few weeks.

I have a box of LEGO®s in my office and made a CVA logo out of them.

Some lettering and art for posters promoting CVA's Illustration Club.

Line work for an illo about a bee and a message of sweetness.

Mr. Ted

I created this piece for the University of Minnesota's Alumni magazine's summer issue for a short story about the manager of a fast-food restaurant, Mr. Ted.

I started out thumbnailing quick concepts about grease and the deep-fryer and grill, and since the story was also about two of Mr. Ted's workers, I worked up some ideas about them. My first thoughts were about the environment, the grease and heat, along with character studies of the workers and Mr. Ted. The story was a mix of humor and melancholy; Mr. Ted was trapped in his career choice and his two young workers at first saw Mr. Ted's life as humorous and made light of it but eventually gained respect for him.

The client wanted the image to focus on Mr. Ted rather than the two workers so I sketched some variations of him at the grill with drops and flames (top two rows of thumbnails). The drops pattern serves as a symbol of the environment and the mood; grease, rain, tears, sweat.

The final direction was to combine the background of drops with patty shapes at the bottom, no smoke or flames, so a combination of the third and fourth sketches in the top row. Another request was to change the "RB" (the name of the restaurant) to Mr. Ted.

When I begin to work on the final art in Photoshop, my first step is to combine the sketch with a ground color along with a second color and texture. This gives me an initial impression of the value design, how the figure elements and ground elements relate, and how the texture is working with the design.

I cleaned up the rough sketch with some simple pencil line. I then used this pencil line as a reference for the final line work.

I used two methods for the final line work; the first was with a Pentel Brush Pen (top) and the second was with a Wacom tablet using the Blob Brush tool in Illustrator (bottom). I preferred the cleaner quality of the digital line in some areas and the thicker rougher quality of the brush pen line in other areas, sometimes combining the two styles of line and then adding and subtracting with the Pencil and Eraser tools.

I knew the hand was a mess so I took some quick reference photos and used them to correct it and then made the additional line work with my brush pen (I redrew this later for one of my sketchbook exchange images).

On a top layer, I make a white frame that I use for cropping. This white frame layer allows me to see the image against white rather than against the window edges and allows me to include bleed if needed.

I had initially set the darkest value as the background with the drops pattern being one of two middle values, but I decided to make the background a middle value so that the drops could be both lighter (the lighter middle value) and darker (the darkest value) than the background to create a back-and-forth visual movement. I also varied the sizes of the drops to further emphasize this effect.