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Why I keep a sketchbook

There are a lot of reasons to keep a sketchbook and I wanted to offer my approach and what its benefits are to me as an artist.

First off, I wasn’t always a sketcher. In fact, it wasn’t until about 2 years ago that I started keeping a sketchbook and using it on a regular basis. I sketched infrequently, usually when bored and I never had a clear goal of what I was trying to accomplish when I did sketch. That changed two years or so ago when I decided to get “serious” about sketching.

What type of sketchbook?
People prefer different kinds of sketchbooks but for me, a spiral-bound sketchbook is my favorite. It offers two advantages that a book bound sketchbook doesn’t possess. First, you can fold the sketchbook so that you can work on a single page in your lap. This also allows for easy scanning of the pages if you’re so inclined. I find myself constantly fighting a book bound sketchbook to stay flat or to work at a specific angle. This isn’t an issue with a spiral bound book. The second advantage is that you always have the option of ripping out a particularly bad sketch, although this will truthfully happen much less as your sketching improves. Nevertheless, it’s still an option and gives you that extra bit of confidence to try outrageous ideas without the embarrassment of them being a permanent fixture in your sketchbook.

Book bound sketchbooks offer some advantages over spiral bound, namely that they smudge less than a spiral bound book where the pages have a greater tendency to rub against one another. I resolve this issue by using a workable fixative on all of my finished sketches. Another advantage of a book bound sketchbook is that you can draw on two pages at once, creating a working surface twice the size of the sketchbook. I find myself almost never requiring more space in my sketchbook because of the next topic…

What is the size of your sketchbook?I use a 9″ x 12″ sketchbook to provide plenty of real estate for sketching. I have grown extremely fond of Canson’s Field Drawing sketchbooks as the paper is very tough, has just the right amount of tooth for easy sketches, and the pages are slightly off-white making it easier on the eyes when sketching in full sun.

What’s your favorite pencil/pen you use when sketching?
Invariably, I use a combination of mechanical pencil whiles sketching. Most frequently will be 0.5mm pencils in 2H for layout of the basic sketch proportions, refining of the subject, and the basic shading. I use HB grade once I’ve established the roughed in sketch and for refining details. I’ll employ a 2B for deep blacks or for accentuating very robust lines like on the shaded side of an object to really make it pop.

How is your sketching different than “drawing”?
My sketching tends to be focused more on form and proportions than getting bogged down with tone. This is why I typically use 0.5mm pencils rather than my standard 2mm clutch pencils that I use for the majority of my finished drawings. 

Do you carry a sketchbook with you all the time?  
I do not carry my sketchbook wherever I go but I do take a smaller 3″ x 5″ sketchbook when I think there might be some down time while I’m out. Otherwise, I’ll simply carry a pocketable digital camera to take snapshots of things that catch my eye.

Do you have a mobile sketch kit?  What’s included?
My mobile kit includes a Grande Pajaro field bag which is the perfect size to carry a 5.25″ x 8.25″ Moleskine sketchbook. I include my three 0.5mm pencils along with a kneaded eraser and a pair of dividers just in case I need to measure proportions in a book or I can hold them up to measure things at a distance.

How often do you sketch?  Daily, weekly, never?
I would estimate that I spend dedicated time sketching around 3-5 times a week. It varies based on what else I happen to be working on.

Why do you sketch?
In all honesty, to simply make me a better artist and because all of my heroes keep a sketchbook. Leonardo da Vinci is obviously one of the most renowned for his sketchbooks, but I also admire the sketches of James Gurney, who is one of the most visually creative artists around and produces amazing studies in his sketchbooks, and  Robert Bateman who said this about sketching:

“I have just discussed the most important aspect of my work. The technical details matter but are, to me, less interesting. I start with little sketches in pencil about the size of playing cards. I may do one or two or ten until I get the right composition. Since I was an abstract painter in my late 20’s and early 30’s, I can see the simplified shapes – or abstract qualities – on this small crude scale.” – Robert Bateman

Moose Study completed

Just completed a new drawing titled, Moose Study. The reference was from a 2008 trip my wife and I took to Glacier National Park. We were out for an early morning hike along Swiftcurrent Lake when we spotted a beautiful moose cow wading in the water and eventually taking a morning swim around the lake.

I was able to capture quite a few frames while we stood quietly watching her. The original reference was quite a bit brighter and less intimate than the version I’ve gone with here. Hopefully it conveys the peace and quiet that we experienced that morning. It was a great day.

The drawing is 4″x6″ and was drawn on a new paper for me, Canson’s Illustration Board. It’s a very smooth, extremely durable board that I will definitely be using again. It’s great for smaller pieces and really takes the darks well (as is hopefully evident in this piece). I was able to erase details in the shadows and lift graphite very easily while working through the piece. My next piece will employ another version of Canson’s artboard, but this time will be their Pure White Drawing Board. It will be interesting to compare the two papers.

Article on art forgery

An article appearing in The New York Times today describes an exhibit at the National Gallery in New York focusing on the tools used to ensure various works of art are authentic. One of my favorite quotes from the article is

“People love fakes because fakes play into the populist suspicion that much art is really just a scam, a suspicion encouraged by the fancy names wrongly attached to and insane prices often paid for the stuff.”

Sometimes, this can be an accurate assessment when discussing high-profile works of art. Another quote might just edge out the previous one for its insight about another artwork of dubious origin:

“Its role in the evolving narratives of art history changes. Its price can go up or down. But cost is not value.”

 This quote reminds me of the book, Life Inc. by Douglas Rushkoff wherein he states,

“We look to the Dow Jones average as if it were the one true vital sign of our society’s health, and the exchange rate of our currency as a measure of our wealth as a nation or worth as a people.”

Does a work of art have less artistic value if it’s determined that the artist isn’t famous? It’s an interesting dilemma and one that should make us all pause when admiring art and evaluate it on its own merits. This, of course, is different from setting a price in an auction based on the artist’s name — different market (literally) and the “value” of the artwork is its market price, not necessarily its artistic value.

The article concluded with this reminder:

“But look, never mind what the label says, and you may notice something else about the picture, too, some other truth.

It’s beautiful.”


Moving to the other limbs, today’s sketchbook page is dedicated to legs. I actually set up my camera for some reference photos of my own leg for one of the sketches. I wanted a reference that showed the shape of the calf when it is in a flexed position and none of my anatomy books had a decent reference.

I realized after setting up my camera and tripod that I don’t have a remote trigger for my camera anymore. I used to have one for my Nikon D90 but when I went to a new system, I realized I no longer have one. Well, it was fairly comical to try to press the shutter and hit the mark where I had pre-focused and set up my pose in 2 seconds! Needless to say, it took me several tries to get a decent photo that wasn’t blurry and had a relatively interesting geometry.

I am definitely going to investigate a remote control for my camera to help make things a bit easier on myself.

Arm studies

Today was a great sketching day for some odd reason. I was working my way through Stephen Rogers Peck’s Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist and really seemed to “get it” for some reason. I’ve taken most my drawings a bit further than his brilliant pencil strokes, which speaks to how well he is able to convey information with an economy of effort. The book definitely takes a bit of study to grasp some of the fundamentals he’s trying to convey but I feel that it is simply the best book around to truly understand the mechanics of the human body.

All of the drawings were done with a 0.5mm mechanical pencil with B lead. Other than a bit of rearranging of the pieces for a more attractive layout and some desaturation to get rid of a color cast, the drawings are unmodified. The sketchbook is Canson’s Field Drawing book in 9 1/2″ x 12″.