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.


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.

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.


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."


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.


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


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.


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.

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.


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


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.

Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - Sketches

Since one of my new year's resolutions is to visit more museums, I began yesterday by visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in downtown Houston. Admission is free every Thursday. The MFAH has a wonderful collection of European art, including this painting by The Master Himself, Bouguereau.

eldersister_bouguereau The Elder Sister

She has a soft smirk on her face that I didn't notice until I was very close to the painting. I know that proud, sisterly smirk. I used to wear it when I held my baby brother.

Museum sketching is difficult. Standing for a long time in one spot resulted in people shuffling around me, and it's awkward to support a large sketchbook in one arm while trying to draw with the other. I really want a Nomad Artist Satchel whenever they become available.

Anyway, I did a few quick sketches. I'm fairly certain I saw and sketched another cast of that statue of Diana at the Met.


The first visit to a museum is always overwhelming, even when I tell myself I don't have to see it ALL. Next time I'll slow down a bit and try to do more detailed drawings.


Photograph of "The Elder Sister" from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Helblindi - Sketchbook

helblindi_small_paigecarpenter Helblindi, brother of Loki.  One of the jötnar (giants).

Over the past few weeks I have:

-gotten a sinus infection

-packed up and moved from Florida to Texas

-gotten a stomach virus (much coughing & vomiting ensued)

This is the second year in a row I've been ill or injured on Christmas. Not my favorite sort of seasonal tradition. A belated Merry Christmas to everyone, and a Happy New Year!


Some quick studies for Thor. I don't usually draw muscle men. I'm beginning to think I was missing out.


Those are Chris Hemsworth's pectorals, by the way.


Playing around with Thor's costume. I think, if I go ahead with this illustration, I'm going to design armour for him. It's not that smart to rush into battle without anything protecting the vital organs. But I have to admit, it's fun to draw muscles.


I'm headed to the IMC again this year.  (YES!!)  One of the illustration assignments is an action sequence involving vikings or Norse mythology.  I don't usually paint muscley men in combat, so I want to give it a shot.  I've also been on a Norse mythology kick recently, triggered by the recently released trailer for Thor 2.  (Loki's HAIR.) In the Norse tales, Loki and Thor were not brothers, though they behaved a lot like brothers.  One was always dragging the other along on some wild quest, and someone (usually Loki) had to get them out of whatever mess Thor's impetuosity caused.

At some point the two became enemies, or rather, Loki became everyone's enemy.  Either way.  At the end of the world, at Ragnarok, Loki will fight on the side of the monsters and the dead, and Thor on the side of men and the gods.


I did a lot of quick sketches from combat videos on Youtube.  On the right, Loki with his dagger.  On the left, Thor with Mjölnir.  I'm debating about whether a one-handed or two-handed hammer is cooler.


But I don't want to go completely action-scene-muscley-men-fighting.  The real tension in this battle is bitter, venomous hatred-- and any lingering love.  After all, one of Thor's kennings in mythology is "he who has compassion for Loki," and one of Loki's is "friend of Thor."


Another sketch for Loki, casting fire.

Lens & Pencil

           I spent the weekend visiting my brother's fiancée, Stacey. She's a photographer, and she took this photo of me while I drew a little sketch of her. She's actually much prettier than this, but I have never been fast with my pencil, and we were about to go to lunch.

After lunch, we went to Cocoa Village and did a photo shoot.

I always assumed that there was no real art to looking through a lens, and sometimes the photographer got lucky and took a really amazing photo. I was wrong. It is an art.

If you need a photographer and you're in the Central Florida area, take a look at Stacey Danielle Photography. She's an artist with her camera.

Botanical Study No. 3

I have three broccoli plants I've been tending since November.  They're finally starting to fatten up at the top.

Broccoli has beautiful silver-green leaves, but I'm having trouble matching the colors my eye perceives to the colors I can mix in my paints.  So I tried making a Viridometer, a green version of a Cyanometer-- a tool for matching perceived colors with actual colors.  James Gurney recommended the Cyanometer in his book, Color and Light

I went to Lowe's and got some (free) Valspar paint chips, which have these nice little windows:

...And compared them to the lights and shadows on the broccoli leaves.  The results were startling.  The colors that matched the best were much darker than I thought.  I'm still not sure how to apply this new knowledge to painting.

Botanical Study No. 1

Hydrangea quercifolia.

This summer I really want to improve my knowledge and skill of drawing plants.  I'm working through Sarah Simblet's Botany for the Artist.  These Oak Leaf Hydrangeas are blooming everywhere.

I'm also trying a new method of shading using Faber-Castell's artist pens.  This sketch was shaded with "Cold Grey," small tip.