Thursday, August 28, 2008


Last Friday my family and I went to visit my mother, Barbara Laube (pronounced "Lobby"), at Byrdcliffe in Woodstock, N.Y. It was the final day of a monthlong painting retreat. Byrdcliffe is an artist colony that was started in 1905 and houses about 10 artists at a time.

When I spoke to her on the phone I got the clear impression that she was having an absolutely wonderful time. I honestly felt a bit jealous. This past month she has produced about 15 canvases, ranging from 6 inches to 6 feet. It was very inspiring to see the work. My mother is able to capture feelings and recognizable people in the loosest of brushstrokes. Her work is intense, not just something pretty for above the sofa. She's beginning to get some recognition, and it makes me so happy to see this happening. One of her longtime painting idols, Jake Berthot, stopped by the show and gave her some very high praise, along the lines of "You have it." Here are a couple of photos of her work:

The nature of paint is so far removed from what I do in 3D Land. Oil paint can sing, or scream, or lull you into a vortex of luscious color. Gooey. On the other hand, digital 3D is a cold, hard, synthetic, plasticky medium. Yet it's a frozen medium that can be coaxed into warmth. One of my earliest memories is being strollered around the DeKooning exhibit at the Whitney museum. At the time I was bored out of my mind, but I look back at this memory very fondly. I love the smell of turpentine and oil paint. I remember looking at my mother's oil pallette and thinking it looked good enough to eat, those juicy, wet blobs of rich color. But I really feel there is the possibility of bringing that life, that spontaneity to 3D. Some of my better pieces begin to approach this, I think.

I am fascinated by great artists' ability to convey something with just a few brushstrokes. This idea of a precise looseness. In 3D land, nothing is spontaneous. It's a long, painful, drawn-out process, and the final results tend to look frozen and lifeless. I'm not really sure how it is possible to stay loose working in 3D. But it is something I aspire to. Not rendering every possible detail, or limiting my color pallette seems to give some life to the 3D work.

The idea of transparency and layering that you see in J.M.W. Turner's work, or even Mark Rothko's, is also something I think about when working. There's a layering in these pieces that gives them a depth and luminosity that I respond to. Ironically, most of the 3D I see out there is very flat and 2D-looking. Things tend to look a bit like train dioramas; despite all the detail on the surface they are oddly fake-looking. I feel part of this fake quality has to do with disregard of how light plays off objects in the world. In terms of transparency and layering, here are a couple of pieces that I feel are relatively successful.

You may be looking at these wondering what visible connection they have to the paintings above and the artists I have mentioned. When looking for inspiration, I rarely try to mimic the final look of the artwork; rather I look to the piece's inner logic and structure. I look to what processes made the piece successful. Was it the layering of color? The line? The composition? The finished piece is a combination of all these different processes, and when I just try to copy the final look without really having explored the piece from within the results tend to stink. The process and the intention behind the artwork is the thing.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ned Goold at BCD

About six months ago a space next to my studio became available. We've converted it into a gallery/performance space. I had a show of my large-scale work there a few months ago.

It's an intimate setting for music; it seats around 50 people. I've never been a fan of concert-hall jazz, and this space is a personal response to this. Sitting five feet away from a master is very, very different than sitting in nosebleed seats. Live music needs to be felt, not just heard, and this space promotes this experience. This endeavor isn't about making money, so the burden of getting "talent" to fill seats every day won't be a consideration. I will only be booking artists I love and who deserve to be heard.

Last month we inaugurated the space with a performance by guitarist Stephane Wrembel. Stephane spoke about the history of gypsy music, particularly that of Django Reinhardt, and played many of his songs. It was a beautiful night, and the music was wonderful.

And now I'm really happy to announce that tenor saxophonist Ned Goold will be performing at the space on Friday, September 12th, at 7:30 p.m. Ned tours and records with Harry Connick's band as its lead sax/musical director. I first heard Ned in the early '90s when I was playing tenor sax myself. It was quite an ear-opening experience. He's truly a unique musician, one of the few people who has deeply imbibed Monk's music and made it his own. Ned's a brave performer; I felt his music was the opposite of the day's convention. His quartet has a hard swinging Basie-esque feel. There's a unique inner logic to his music that I love. I really doubt that Ned tries to elicit emotions with the particular tunes he writes, yet a certain open dancing joy and twisted melancholy pervade his music.

Here's a clip of him performing (live) his original composition "Spoiled Rotten":

So come by and check out one of the most gifted jazz musicians on the planet.

Ned Goold Quartet
Performing at BCD
Friday, September 12th, at 7:30 p.m.
155 Maplewood Ave, Suite 4
$10 cover, free wine served

Reservations recommended- email

From the city you can take the New Jersey Transit train from Penn Station; it's about a 35-minute ride. Our studio is 100 yards from the Maplewood train station.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Technical Ambivalence

At times there's a common theme in the commissions we get. There will be a few months in which we do a slew of "The New You" for multiple clients. Then maybe it's "Gadgets You'll Be Drooling Over Six Months from Now." Currently we seem to be doing nothing but neurological pieces. Below is a job we did for the delightful folks at Condé Nast Portfolio.

This latest research into neurology and the brain is wonderful stuff. But it's freaking me out, man. This idea of reducing who we are to electrical signals or physiological on-and-off switches harshes my dirty-hippy mellow.

There is a undercurrent in my psychological makeup. It goes something like this, "Eventually everything I do will be done much better by a computer." Another theme is, "What I'm working on today will look so ridiculously dated and ugly and dumb in the next few years that I should just give up." Or, "Without the computer I am nothing, talentless." And these fit in pretty well with the stories we're currently working on.

Also, I've noticed that these thoughts become more persistent in times of change. And we're undergoing some pretty major changes here at BCD. Just got a PC (gasp) render farm. Beginning to incorporate Maya into our workflow. Just had a meeting with some tech company that's going to set up some kind of X server with "promise" drives for the studio. My head is spinning. I begin to fantasize about my beret, rolling my own, and oil painting. I guess I could do all those things AND run a studio at the same time. I have been selling art prints lately, so I feel I can justifiably wear my beret occasionally. Maybe I should experiment with being a prima donna?

Also, I think my psychological profile is at times at odds with the fact that I work in 3D. I was originally very skeptical about 3D. I started working at my father's studio, Slim Films, in 1996. With my first jobs, I was working in Adobe Illustrator 5.5. I feel kind of warm inside just thinking about that version of Illustrator. I spent maybe a year working in Illustrator, learning how to set up 2-point perspective grids, vanishing points, learning how to work with CMYK sliders. Then 3D came into the picture ... and you could set up a template and bang out something in minutes that would have taken hours to do in Illustrator. It felt like cheating to me. I imagine it's similar to the way Illustrator feels like cheating to traditional illustrators using Rapidographs, etc. Or oil paint would feel to a fresco painter.

So 3D felt like cheating, and it was just so damn ugly when you really looked at it and got past the initial oohs and ahhs. Harsh shadows, crummy color, bad composition. Ick. I'd look at what was being done in 3D in the late 90's and then look at old Fortune magazine covers from the 40's. I'd look at illustrators' works from the 50's and 60's. This current 3D stuff was just so synthetic and soulless! Below is an example of one of my dubious pieces from this period. Nice color scheme, huh?

But things are changing (thankfully). I started to truly embrace 3D about five years ago. That's when I began experimenting with radiosity in Lightwave. Something has shifted, and now I feel that there is the possibility of depth of feeling in this medium that is its own. I really feel its capabilities are limitless.

I did have a glimmer of this potential the first time I looked at a 3D program. My father, Andy Christie, was giving a demonstration to Scientific American magazine art director Ed Bell on how to add an atmosphere to a planet in Specular Infini-D. This was probably in '96 or '97. I saw the four windows—the perspective, x, y, and z axis windows—and felt this feeling of looking at a blank template or universe just waiting to be inhabited. Those black, voidlike windows elicited a feeling of silent anticipation. It was a beautiful experience. I occasionally have those moments now, and when I have them it makes me happy and excited to do what I do.

Monday, August 11, 2008

A Beginning, the Olympics, and Male Genitalia

I love my profession. I love talking about my profession. At this blog I'll be discussing some of the more interesting projects I've worked on. It will also be a place that I drop some random thoughts that are related to what I do.

I understand that the original Olympians back in the day performed au naturel. Watching beach volleyball the other night made me pine for those times. The athletes wear bikinis (of course). And strictly from an artist's, or medical illustrator's, perspective, it was great seeing the nearly naked torso breathing, torquing, twisting in all these ways that you'd only see in dance (or porn). Watching Misty May-Treanor inhale was something else. You could see her ribcage expand many inches, could almost feel her diaphram drop into her gut. Was just a moment I had, a clear example of the body inhabiting three-dimensional space, an organism that when frozen in time you just don't get a clear picture of. You need to see the movement.

At editors' requests, I have removed countless nipples from my work. I've lost count of how many men sans penis I've drawn. Ahh, the body and the American hangup with it. Maybe this whole sans penis thing started with our perceptions of classical statues and their missing (smashed off) genitalia. Below are a few illustrations I have done of men. Other than having no hair, what do these guys have in common?

I just finished a commission for Men's Health magazine. I'm happy to announce that it's a drawing of a penis. A big, full-page illustration. I was really happy to take this project on. Was a bit liberating and freeing. With my medical work I try to not get in the way of the pure intrinsic beauty of the body. I hoped to draw a penis that illumined the beauty of its inner workings, so much so that the oddity of seeing a full-page penis receded into the background. It should be on the stands in a month or so. I think it's successful ... I think. I have a three-month rule: it takes me at least three months to see a job clearly. When I send in finals, I usually can only see the things I would change or am not happy with. There is the occasional miracle job in which I am truly happy with it when I send it out. That sounds morose. I'm not that down all the time; it's just something I've more or less accepted about myself.

More deep thoughts on the Olympics and penises TK.

Or maybe I should just stick to drawing.