Museum Sketchbook: Ancient Egypt

egypt_sketch When I was a kid I really wanted to be an archaeologist. I was inspired by the likes of Indiana Jones, H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, and Aliki's Mummies Made in Egypt. I was fascinated by Egypt, the Mayans, and other ancient cultures. Surely there could be nothing better than digging up mysterious artifacts and exploring (probably haunted) ruins.

At some point I realized I would rather tell stories and draw pictures than kneel for hours in the sun scraping away at shards of pottery. I'm still fascinated by ancient cultures. Here at the museum I can admire the artifacts without having to do the back-breaking labour of digging them up.

Museums always give me the feeling that past and present are separated by a thin veil. I look at a pot made over five thousand years ago, and I wonder about the person whose hands smoothed the clay-- how they lived, and how they died. I wonder how the pot was lost, and why it lay in the sand for so many centuries before someone found it again.

Museum Sketchbook: The Habsburgs

habsburg_journal I've been anticipating the Houston Museum of Fine Art's "Habsburg Splendors" exhibit since it was announce a year ago. One of my favorite paintings is on display: Jupiter and Io by Correggio, along with other treasures collected by the Habsburg monarchy. There are some fascinating pieces of armor, including this red coral-hilted ceremonial sword: utterly impractical, but gorgeous. I hope to visit again before the exhibit leaves in September.

Other news! I now have prints for sale of my recent work at my new Inprnt shop.

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Inprnt has been recommended to me by several other artists, and I'm very happy with the quality of a print I ordered from them. They print in-house, check for color accuracy, and all prints are on 100% cotton rag acid-free paper.

At the moment my puppets and some older prints of children's illustrations are still available on Etsy.

Museum Sketchbook: Bouguereau

bouguereaustudies Several weeks ago I had a free afternoon, so I went to the MFAH to wander around their European art collection. I hadn't visited this part of the museum in over a year. They have two paintings by Bouguereau (deux Bouguereaux?). Bouguereau never fails to inspire me, and at the same time makes me feel as clumsy as a child daubing in finger-paints.

One can learn a lot by looking at a work of art in person. The colors and texture never truly translate in a print. But Bouguereau's brushwork is so smooth I have to get creepy-close to the canvas before I can see his layers of paint. I'm sure I make the guards nervous whenever I put my nose too near a priceless work of art. (Last year I got told off for putting my finger too close to a Sargent watercolor. No, I wasn't trying to touch it! I was pointing out some details to my father.)

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Note: this is not an accurate representation of the size of these paintings. 'The Elder Sister' is about 4' tall, and I estimate that 'Our Lady of the Angels' is over 10' tall.

Both pieces have clouds in the background, and as I sketched the cloud-shapes, I noticed something. Something I would never have realized if I had not been trying to make my pencil follow Bouguereau's shapes and composition, because he does it so subtly and naturally:

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He uses the shape of the clouds to guide the viewer's eye where he wants them to focus: right in the center, on the Most Important Object. James Gurney has written numerous posts on composition on his blog, and my other teachers have tried to drill this "guiding the eye" into my head. I know the theory, but my own attempts feel like I'm hanging blinking neon signs shouting "LOOK HERE! LOOK HERE!" And I still don't do it quite right.

Bouguereau does it so subtly, so gently, that your eyes follow his guidance without ever knowing they are being led.

This is why master copies are important. Some things you can only learn by following in the footsteps of those who knew the dance best.

Zoo Sketching

Yesterday I paid my first visit to the Houston Zoo. I'm always inspired by James Gurney's and Aaron Blaise's animal sketches, and I wanted to do a few of my own. zoo_paint

The longer I watched Smaug, the less repulsive he looked. I noticed the subtle shifts in color on his scales. I will never be a reptile enthusiast, I can appreciate that they have their own unique ferocity and beauty.

(I still hate snakes, though. When my dad pointed out a bronze cobra statue in front of the reptile house, all I saw was a huge serpent shape. I leapt backwards and shrieked. Then I realized it was only a statue, not a giant cobra escaped from its enclosure.)

I knew I'd have to work quickly, because animals move around. I wasn't prepared for two other problems, however:

1) People. I sat at a distance so I wouldn't block anyone's view. But this meant my view was constantly being blocked by kids throwing themselves against the glass or fence, yelling, "HEY MONKEY," or "HEY SMAUG." Or couples taking selfies. Or entire families. Next time I'm taking a spot beside the enclosure and staying there.

2) The sheer discomfort of juggling pencils, brushes, and paint while sweat and sunscreen is trickling down my arms. As I've discovered with museum sketching, supporting a sketchbook, drawing AND holding pencils is uncomfortable and frustrating. Add a watercolor palette and water, and I knew I'd have to work sitting, not standing. Another reason my view was frequently blocked by a parade of people.

Gurney uses watercolor pencils and water brush pens to save on some of the hassle. Before I attempt this again, I ought to buy some. And whenever the Nomad Satchel finally becomes available for order, I'd like to get one. I missed their Kickstarter, but supposedly more will be for sale during the second half of 2015.

In other news, this week I finally got a smart phone and joined Instagram. Come follow me there! I'll be posting in-progress shots.

instagram @paigencarpenter on Instagram.

Museum Sketchbook: Mysteries of Sanxingdui

This past Sunday my sister-in-law gave birth to her first child. While she was in labor, I paced the halls of the Houston Museum of Natural Science waiting for news. I felt like I had to keep moving-- as if that would speed my sister-in-law's labor along. I'd already planned to visit the museum that day, since a new exhibit, The Mysteries of Sanxingdui: China's Lost Civilization, had just opened.

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I walked and sketched and prayed for the baby's safe delivery in the company of some of the oddest works of art I have ever encountered. I have never seen anything like these bizarre bronze statues. Apparently the archaeologists haven't seen anything like them either, because the information for each piece was very vague: "We think this is a religious artifact," or "this wheel might symbolize the sun."

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On the upper left is one of my favorites, a smiling head the size of a boulder with two pillars jutting out of its eyes. Perhaps the pillars symbolized a gimlet gaze, or all-seeing eyes. My father suggested maybe this was a torture victim with spikes driven through his skull. If so, this head is the happiest torture victim ever, because it's definitely smiling.

I was also struck by the consistency of design. The ears had the same curls, the eyes and jaws the same lines and geometric angles. I'm no archaeologist, but these pieces look as if they were designed by the same artist, or at least came from the same "design studio", or the ancient Chinese equivalent. The muppets created by the Jim Henson Company all have a family resemblance. Tim Burton's films all have that creepy Burtonesque flavor. These bronze oddities have that same feeling.

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All in all, a great exhibit. And my niece, Henrietta Mae, was welcomed into the world at 2:39PM EST:

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Month of Love - Love is All Around

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Plein air sketches, Mercer Botanical Gardens. Watercolor & pencil. 6" x 9".

The Month of Love challenge for this week was slightly different from the others: "Get outside your studio and your comfort zone. Go somewhere you’ve never been and look for “love”...The possibilities are endless if you go out with eyes (and sketchbook) open."

Sounds like a plein air assignment to me, so I went to the Mercer Arboretum & Botanical Gardens, which I've been meaning to visit for over a year. On the way I took a wrong turn and found myself on a toll road with no way off, and no cash to pay the toll. The lady at the tollbooth gave me a card announcing "THIS IS A NOTICE OF A TOLL VIOLATION EVENT." I was terrified I'd have to play several hundred dollars in fines for taking a wrong turn-- but since I was a first offender, in the end I only had to pay the cost of the toll.

Never doing that again. Ever.

The Botanical Gardens were beautiful. I can't believe I waited this long to visit. Even though the flower beds were still mostly brown and dead, the gardens were still beautiful. Daffodils were blooming, the grass was green, and there were lots of white flowers that resembled lilies-of-the-valley. I also made the acquaintance of one of the gardeners, who happens to be a one-eyed cat.

Month of Love - Love Thy Neighbor

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Love Thy Neighbor. Pencil, graphite & white charcoal. 8" x 6".

For the Month of Love challenge.

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?"

Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Matt. 22:35-40

Art Order- Reckless Deck Challenge

recklessdeck If you haven't heard of the Reckless Deck, it's a 72 card deck that is "a shock to the creative system for illustrators, concept artists, cosplayers, and gamers"-- with a wild variety of prompts.  I asked for a set for Christmas, and I love it.

The Art Order recently hosted a challenge based on the Reckless Deck.  A set of prompts would be randomly generated, and entries would be created based on them.  Above you can see the cards I was given.   And here is the finished drawing created from them:

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Prototype. Pencil, powdered graphite, & white charcoal on toned paper. 14" x 11".

If this has a Winter Soldier/Mass Effect flavor, it's probably because I've been playing a lot of ME recently, and mulling over the tragedy of Bucky Barnes.

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Samurai Sketches

On Sunday I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to visit their new samurai exhibit. My scant knowledge of samurai came mostly from video games, so I knew they carried a sword called a katana and cared a lot about Honor and Duty. Thanks to my younger brother's passion for Japanese culture (and those video games), I'd also heard of bushido. I hoped the exhibit would fill in a few of the blanks. samuraisketch2

The exhibit had some fascinating pieces, but it was disappointingly small (especially for the current price, $25 for non-members and $12 for members). Only two rooms of artifacts, and so dimly lit that it was impossible to see fine detail. I have no idea why the HMHS keeps some of their exhibits so dark. Even the spotlights on the displays are dim.

And no, I don't have cataracts.

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I was fascinated by the helmets (properly termed kabuto). On the left is a sketch of a fish-helmet. The fish is a creature called a sachihoko, and it has the head of a tiger and body of a carp. Apparently they were supposed to cause rain to fall.

On the right is a sketch of the most evil looking tortoise I've ever seen, another kabuto decoration. Evil Tortoise had fangs and claws and a nasty grin.

There was also a helmet with huge bunny ears. I regret not sketching that one.

If anyone is interested in seeing more crazy kabuto, I have quite a few pinned to my Arms & Armour board.

Houghton Hall Sketches

A few weeks ago I spent several hours at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, walking around their recreation of Houghton Hall. The exhibit was marketed as a real-life Downton Abbey ("If you like Downton Abbey, you'll love Houghton Hall!") or at least as real as it can get without actually going to England and poking around the cellars of a country estate. I do not like Downton Abbey, but I did enjoy Houghton Hall. h1_blog

Each of the exhibit areas was arranged as closely as possible to a real room in Houghton Hall, with huge photographs of the interior covering the walls. There was not much opportunity for sketching-- nowhere to sit, and nowhere to stand for long unless I wanted to block someone else's view. So I mostly took notes.

Sir Robert Walpole, who constructed the hall in the 1720's, had a passion for buying art. Judging from what I saw, I wouldn't say his taste was good, so much as it was expensive. He was Prime Minister for twenty years, and "liked to think of himself as a modern Roman senator." He had a stone bust of himself made, wearing a toga, with close-cropped Romanesque hair, and put the bust on the mantel so everyone would be sure to see it. (And support him in his next bid for office, I assume.)

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There was also some horrendously ornate Sèvres china. One bowl had CAMEOS around the inside rim, and a ring of what looked like garnets and pearls at the bowl's bottom, circling a miniature painting of doves, which I sketched above. I don't know if the bowl was meant to be decorative only, or if Lord Walpole regularly swallowed pearls and garnets with his soup.

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At the end of the exhibit was a collection of the family's paintings. Again, I had no time to sketch, so I made notes of a few paintings I really liked so that I could look them up later. It's overwhelming to stand in the midst of so many works of art. I can't give each one the attention it deserves. My brain starts buzzing. If I spend a minute gaping at a painting-- the result of hours of work and a lifetime of skill-- I feel like I'm insulting the artist.

I spent a long time (though not as long as the painting deserved) in front of The Prince Enters the Briar Wood by Sir Edward Burne-Jones:

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Beside the painting was this quote from Burne-Jones:

I mean by a picture a beautiful romantic dream, of something that never was, never will be-- in a light better than any that ever shone-- in a land no one can define or remember, only desire-- and the forms divinely beautiful.

I think I just became a Pre-Raphaelite, if I wasn't one already.

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Image of The Prince Enters the Briar Wood from The Art Renewal Center.

Magna Carta Sketches

Saturday I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see the Magna Carta, on loan from the Hereford Cathedral. I spent an hour driving in circles searching for parking. At last, several blocks from the museum, I found a metered spot next to a park where two girls in huge pink dresses and a bevy of male attendants (wearing tuxedos and hideous pink shirts that matched the dresses) were having their Quinceañera photos shot. I started chunking quarters in the meter. I fed the machine about $3 worth of quarters before my math-challenged brain realized it was only giving me THREE MINUTES per quarter. By then I only had 39 minutes on the meter, which was barely enough time to walk to the museum and stand in line for a ticket. So it was back in the car and several more long loops around the museum before the previously "Full" parking garage was no longer full. I parked, went to the Museum, and saw some history.

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The exhibit included displays about the time and culture that produced the Magna Carta, and a lot of very interesting information. I was disappointed that the only authentic items in the exhibit were the Magna Carta itself and the King's Writ. Everything else (period tools, costume, weapons) were reproductions. There were two blacksmith's hammers that the display invited viewers to "try" to lift. They were HEAVY, but I lifted them. Yes, I'm worthy of Mjolnir.

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Apparently oak galls were used for dye as well as ink. I wonder whose fun job it was to climb trees and harvest all those wasp-larva-infested lumps.

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Peppercorns used to be more valuable than gold. Who would have thought? (I hate peppercorns.)

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Obviously I was not going to copy out the full text of the Magna Carta. I did sketch how it had been folded-- in half, then into thirds. The script was so tiny and delicate. No one has penmanship like that anymore. No space was wasted, the lines were crammed so closely together. It's humbling to stand in front of a piece of parchment that was here long before I was born, and (hopefully) will be around long after I'm dead.

The exhibit also said that 17,000 people in the USA can trace their ancestry back to the twenty-five barons who forced King John to seal the Magna Carta. Seventeen thousand from twenty-five! They were fruitful and multiplied indeed.

Sketchbook Studies

A few pages from my sketchbook-- all of these are on toned paper, with pencil and white pastel: feet_blog

A study of the feet from the statue 'Ugolino and His Sons' by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux.

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Male back from a figure drawing class last year. I love the way light and shadow work across the human form.

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Studies of wolves for a commissioned painting. Having no live wolves nearby for observation, I found a documentary and paused the footage from time to time to sketch the wolves.

Lovely Laufey

Laufey_paigecarpenter_blogPencil and white charcoal on toned paper. 8.5" x 11"

Continuing my Norse series, this is Laufey, mother of Loki. (With baby Loki!) Her name means "leafy." She is also called Nál, "needle". Little is known about her other than her name, so I imagined her as a sort of forest spirit, with leaves and beetles in her hair and fawn spots on her skin.

Loki's surname in mythology is a matronym (Loki Laufeyjarson) rather than a patronym (for example, Thor the son of Odin would be Thor Odinson). I'm not sure why. Perhaps his father, Fárbauti, refused to acknowledge him? At any rate, his mother was important to him.

If you've seen the first Thor film, you may be imagining Laufey like this. Somehow Marvel turned the sweet lady of the leaves into a huge blue MALE frost giant who abandoned his infant son.  I'm counting that as a Fail, Marvel.

Others in my Norse series:

Angrboda, Bringer of Sorrow

Freyr, Lord of Summer

Freya, Lady of Love

Helblindi, Loki's Brother

Journey Home, Part II

The conclusion of the book I wrote and illustrated at the age of seven-ish.  You can read the first part here. Warning: some embarrassing Southern-isms ahead.

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Seventh Page: Soon She Came to a sign. It said, (my mother's handwriting) "Candy Forest." "Yee-ha! (my handwriting resumes) I Can't Wait"

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Eighth Page: She went along the path till She came to another Sign. It said "Candy Forest" "OK!"

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Ninth Page: "Candy! Candy! OK!" So off She wint.

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Tenth Page: The Forest was not very big Soon She came to the End of it. "HH" She Side.

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Eleventh Page: She up and done. But She Staid on the path.

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Twelfth Page: So She Went along the path She Saw Some Smoke. "AAHH"

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Thirteenth Page: "I AM Home!"

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Fourteenth Page: The End

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Author's Note:

I have no idea whether the mysterious Miss Lydia was a villain who kidnapped the infant April, or a compassionate guardian. Miss Lydia's villainy is suggested by two things: first, the fact that April had never owned a doll, and second, April's secret midnight escape. Her innocence is supported by the fact that she gives April the doll from the attic, and that I drew her as a pretty woman in a green dress. As a child I was raised on the most basic fairy tales, where ugliness meant villainy, and beauty meant goodness.

I must also admit that my concept for the Candy Forest came from Candy Land, which was my favorite board game for most of my childhood. (Later replaced by Pretty Pretty Princess, then Clue.)

Also, I don't know who to blame for the phrases "Yee-Haw" and "She up and done."