Suffering Sloths…

I have begun finally departing from the pencil and getting base coats of paint slathered onto my plywood.  I won’t explain anything, but let the martyrdom of this innocent sloth speak for itself.  It is 48 inches tall and 24 inches wide, and I really enjoy the unique vertical orientation and making the goods fit into it.

I have started to put in some of the wood grain, and am considering switching to oil paints for the sloth….but then again, my heavy ass hands need to rest on the wood to paint and oil ain’t not no good for that.

Probably go for a rainy/cloudy sky next after the wood gets a bit closer.

Update:  dark sky foundation brushed in…but still can’t decide if I should make this terrible day rainy and windy?  Tropical vs. Temperate?  I can envision some mold about to happen on the woods soon…

A new course in Science Illustration

If it wasn’t evident already, nature is cool.  My science art class will show you why…

I will be teaching a brand-spanking new course in Natural Science Illustration at Wenatchee Valley College this fall.  This is a one time only course that is damn-near impossible to find anywhere!

We will be exploring the anatomy and techniques to render many strange and fascinating natural forms of life.

Field trips, skulls, insects, high powered microscopes, ancient beasts, and everything I can fit into a 3.5 hour block.  We will learn to use traditional and digital techniques, creating portfolio pieces in both color and black & white.














Here is a link to the course description at WVC:


Finished! Coryphodons rumaging around the Eocene

Misbehaving Photoshop filters couldn’t stop me finishing! I finally finished it, and I am happy how it came out. It is large, made to be printed out at least 48 inches across, but the detail could hold up a lot larger…I have to print one myself to see how it looks on a format other than a computer screen. Otherwise if you want to see it in action, go to Western Washington University’s Environmental Studies building.
I shot screenshot timelapse video of the whole creation, including the modeling of the clay so hopefully I can get that video together soon. Until then, let me know what you think. Depicted are the creators of trackways found at the Racehorse Creek landslide that inhabited the low lying tropical estuary ~50 million years ago. There are prehistoric analogues of modern Herons, and Willets, and of course the group of Coryphodons- today we have nothing similar or even distantly related. They were fascinating creatures that had perhaps the smallest known brain to body ratio of any mammal. Do you think I created them in a believable rendering? As the artist, I chose all of the non-skeletal features such as hair, color, ears, snout shape, habitus, etc. Large responsibilities for someone who never saw them in real life!
Here are a couple wikipedia links of Coryphodons and the Eocene.

getting hairy

Shapes are bulging and sinking as I downplay areas not reached by that imaginary sun, and uplift hairs that glisten (oh so) tenderly in the Eocenic tropix. I still have many details to add, but this step is a big one when muscles and posture really develop. I absolutely loved doing neon orange on the ears to accentuate their thinness and glowthru. I wrote this song to go with the video…

Speed painting of furry Cory basebodies

Against my conventional wisdom, I have proceeded to paint mouths and eyes before the base detail! What is the world coming to? I always paint the eyes last when I work, (completing an eye early on in a composition is a crutch, right?) so we will see how it goes. I am still deciding on the coloration and hair details. Stay tuned for alterations ‘n’ iterations in composition….
btw I capture an image each 3 seconds

cow cuts

I recently did this picture as a gift. It is rendered in ink and pretty large (24×36 inches). It was an interesting project to do because ALL the references that I could find had contradictory information on them. Some had cuts broken up into the dozens- in French, Spanish and English- but the dashed divisions were drawn with no consistency, even if they were in the same language.
Fascinating to view an animal through that lens. Maybe I will make another with some tiny animal like a mouse or caterpillar divided up for the chopping block in the same way? any ideas?

Palaeontology publishes paper with Peterson’s Diatryma

My image of the fruit-laden, lumbering Diatryma was featured in an article for Palaeontology by George Mustoe.  Cool.  I love how my fleshed out painting was aligned and mirrored facing a pic of the articulated fossil bones.  The bird seems to be asking “does this position make my heelpads look fat?…Can you photoshop in more voluptuous halluces?”

Creodonts of the Chuckanuts…as told by a Tapir Toddler

I am finished with my paleo painting!  It was quite the diabolical time sink, but I am quite pleased with how it came out.  I have painted many discrete subjects over the years, but creating a fully rendered environment in and around a given creature is a full-on leap in complexity and dimensions.  Gotta “cut your teeth” on a project of this magnitude at some point…might as well be when you should be packing to leave for Sulawesi and have no time anyway.

I worked on this digital painting in ways that I never could on a traditional (i.e. gouache or acrylic) painting.  For example, I painted all the characters first, and created the background around them.  What are perhaps my favorite benefits of pushing pixels on a monitor- rather than traditional art- are the endless ways to manipulate specific layers.  One has the ability to work on a background behind the foreground, play with the nuances of opacity (so awesome), and pick the perfect color immediately.  But perhaps most valuable of all is being able to experiment in a direction for a time, to realize it isn’t going how I want, so I can delete what I did or backtrack and continue in another direction.  These 4 aspects are invaluable.

What I lose in doing a digital piece are the tiny little accidents of color and form that happen in traditional painting.   And perhaps better posture?  I became a hunched vulture laboring over my wacom tablet.  Click these words to check out another painting I did of a: Diatryma in the Chuckanuts This was entirely acrylic paint so you can contrast these two pieces.  What do you prefer about each?

I tried very hard to turn the whole process into a video, but sadly it wasn’t to be:  I was unable to find the right automated screenshot recording software (anyone know what I can use?).   While I was squandering my time researching software instead of painting, the videos I had used in the beginning were really poor resolution and I gave up.  But I had the idea to make each flattened layer a different frame of a time lapse video, so stacking all them together will be an upcoming project.

I loved thinking about this incredible time to be on the planet.  Washington in the tropics teeming with tapirs, creodonts, and giant flightless birds- wickedly sweet!  The creatures that evolved to fill the Cenozoic vacuum left by demise of the dinosaurs are endless daydream fodder for me.  If anyone knows anyone with a time travel device, we need to talk.

Please let me know what you think!   Enjoy!

Mantispids have the most amazing lifecycle of any creature on earth. Period.

newly hatched mantispid larvae await the ride of their lives

..but I would love to be convinced that there is something even cooler.  The larvae of the order Neuroptera have the most incredible repertoire of ambush predation…someday I hope to illustrate the best of them!

This illustration was by far for me the most fascinating to research and I learned about this creature in so many ways, on so many disparate levels.  It could very well be the coolest creature on our planet today.

I feel bad for the spiders, but all life on the planet is preyed on from microbes or fungus on up at some point in their existence.

let me know what you think!  or if you know of other crazy relationships among insects and spiders!

tenderly feeding from within the protected eggsac 

3 ways that arachnids inject venom into their prey


I made this graphic to showcase the incredible evolution of venom-injecting structures that these major groups of arachnids have independently arrived at.  The scorpion thru the telson, or the tip if the “tail”; the wolf spider (you can tell by the eye arrangement- check out the lower row of 4 eyes!) injects via fangs at the tip of its chelicerae.  Lastly the pseudoscorpion has venom administered via its vestigial pedipalps- it even evolved an opposable thumb to compliment it!  And we thought we were special?

Illustrating a tiny, tiny spider for the Cal Academy

This extremely tiny spider (~1mm across!)  is called Silhouettella assumptia and is from an elusive and little known family of spiders called Oonopidae.  They are known to lay people as the “goblin” spiders, but to latin linguists in labcoats the Oonopidae means egg-eyes.

3/4 view of the Oonopid Silhouettella assumptia

Illustrating a  spider requires special techniques.  They are different from insects in that their exoskeletons aren’t as hard all around- many parts will shrivel up so they must be stored in alcohol.  That’s why you don’t see all the gorgeous spiders of the world mounted in cases next to insects in Natural History museums!  (…but not to discredit the world’s bias for insects and against all things arachnid- it is real!!  you must teach the next generation to love them!)  For example if you try to dry and mount a spider, likely the abdomen will quickly resemble a raisin.  A terrible inconvenience.

For this project I had to keep the specimen submerged in liquid so that it wouldn’t dry out, and surprisingly (to me) sand is used at the bottom of the liquid petri dish to help steady it.  This enables me to study under a stereo microscope and a powerful light.   I also had access to “stacked focus” digital images if many different angles.  I had the experts around me at the Cal Academy to help me come up with the illustrated posture, (and crucially) the relative lengths of the legs.

I rendered the image in gouache, and stroked the many different colored hairs in colored pencil right over the paint…a great combination!   The original drop shadow I painted underneath was quite disappointing, so I opted to make a subtle digital one instead.

Are there any other spider lovers out there on the WWW?

Argentine Ants: conquering new niches thru peace and aphid-herding

This image was extremely fun to work on.  It was for an article for Natural History magazine about the triumphant success of so called Argentine Ants. I chose the “pioneer” theme of the wagon, bonnet, cowboy hat, aphid-oxen etc.  to make it a very easy to grasp visual metaphor.

After I had done it, I wondered if it would have been better to have the same main wagon but instead of the other following wagons, it would ride through a vast expanse of thousands of dead ants, (as the one in the foreground).  It perhaps would better suggest the unlikely success of “sweepstakes dispersal”.  Such an image would pay homage to  all the other ants that didn’t make it!

But I digress.  I am quite happy with the image, which is a combination of watercolor and digital coloring.

Back to the ants:  they are known scientifically as Linepithema humile and they have a tendency to become successful at exploiting niches at whatever hostile shore a soft pregnant queen at the brink of death happens to wash up on.

In short, they spend their efforts on food, (not warring with other militant ants), have a propensity to herd scale insects and aphids, and perhaps most importantly have an uncanny ability to intermingle amongst other “colonists”.  Here is a fascinating excerpt from wikipedia:

“They have been extraordinarily successful, in part, because different nests of the introduced Argentine ants seldom attack or compete with each other, unlike most other species of ant. In their introduced range, their genetic makeup is so uniform that individuals from one nest can mingle in a neighboring nest without being attacked. Thus, in most of their introduced range they form “supercolonies”. “Some ants have an extraordinary social organization, called unicoloniality, whereby individuals mix freely among physically separated nests.

In contrast, native populations are more genetically diverse, genetically differentiated (among colonies and across space), and form colonies that are much smaller than the supercolonies that dominate the introduced range. Argentine ants in their native South America also co-exist with many other species of ants, and do not attain the high population densities that characterize introduced populations.

I hope other illustrations like this one will come my way.

I hope you like it, let me know what you think.

Chefs dueling over cooked vs. raw foods

chefs duel over raw or cooked foods

This was an image I did for Science Notes for an online journal article.  check out the article here:

I “drink the cool-ade” when it comes to cooked foods, so my embedded visual opinion on it is obvious:  you can tell the well-fed chef wielding the corn is going to win!  We (humans) got to where we are today because we burn the microbes and boil out the toxins that lie in wait for us!!!  Maybe the problem is that people who scamper around nit-picking their uncooked food never saw Quest For Fire?  Its our legacy…

UC Santa Cruz Science Illustration Program- chapter 1!

We all (15 of us) have met each other, the personalities are beginning to emerge, and the projects with their fudgeless deadlines have just begun to descend upon me.  We are starting with black and white, which seems fitting, and are steadily seeing on the horizon projects that will be rendered in pen and ink, (…funny term- is there ever a pen without ink?)

as for traditional media, all is done in pencil, and it was splendid just to hear someone explain the difference between H, HB, and B leads!   I could tell you but then what could I justify paying this frightening tuition for?

There is a huge case of shells and bones and pinecones and whatnot to inspire a first project…I wanted to do something that had’nt’ve been done yet…so I found this badass gourd at the grocery store, and decided to make the sweet warts and imperfections on it morph into the most fantastically patterned and delicate sea urchin “core”.  I was quite happy with the outcome, and here it is for you to see.  using all different leads was almost as crucial as reserving the whites!  I definitely grasped even deeper the utter gravity of ensuring that the preliminary sketch was dialed…but when is that not the case?

anyway, let me know what you think!

btw you can see a larger version in my portfolio gallery