Scott Bakal
Things I Draw
Portrait of Jan Hus for Liberty
One of my favorite clients over the years, Bryan Gray of Genesis Design called to do a couple of portraits for the next few issues of Liberty Magazine. This is the first one, Jan Hus. In a time when you questioned the church, you took your life in your own hands. The poor fellow was burned at the stake. 
It's not very often that I stick with a limited palette but I kept leaning toward it when I was thinking about how to handle the final. Reminiscent of the red crayon drawings of the time, I wanted to give a feel of that period in the early 1400's.
Artwork in context.
Vancouver Opera
With Tosca opening this past weekend, I am honored and privileged to present, after nearly a year under wraps, my paintings for the Vancouver Opera. The operas are Tosca, Albert Herring, Don Giovanni and Don Carlo. I would like to thank Doug Tuck and especially designer Annie Mack for making this experience exciting and wonderful.

I didn't know much about the opera so I had to take a crash course on it as well as study the performances that I was going to work on. After hours of watching DVD's they sent me and getting schooled on the history from Doug, I dove into the project with a newfound respect and excitement for the artform.

To create a single image from seeing such intense operas is quite daunting. Trying to encapsulate the mood and the subject matter in one image from operas that provide unlimited visuals isn't very easy. I am grateful that Doug and Annie were there to talk out the possibilities of each image and pare it down to one solid piece of art that hits the heart of the piece. It was a wonderfully collaborative effort.
A couple of months ago, there was an added angle to this project when the Vancouver Opera decided to create TV spots for Tosca and Don Giovanni. An animation studio in Vancouver, Giant Ant, did an absolutely stellar job taking my original painting for Tosca from the files I provided them to create a powerful 15 second spot that blew my mind. Don Giovanni will begin production in a few months.
Below are a fraction of the sketches I did for the project. These were the one's that I sent the client.

As you can see, Tosca and Don Carlo were the pieces that we went back and forth a couple of times discussing exactly what they were looking for. I think they felt those two performances were the most important because Tosca is a powerful opera that opens the season and Don Carlo is an elaborate production that the Vancouver Opera hasn't put on in 30+ years. The Albert Herring and Don Giovanni work, they felt I got it right in the first round and selected from these initial sketches.

One of things Annie wanted to do which is different than past posters is include the text right on the art with the art being a separate entity. In the past, the art was either completely separate from the text or composed with the text as part of the art. I initially didn't feel too good about that as I want to compose the art in its proper space and let the designer work out how to deal with text. In this case, there needed to be monstrous space in the art to accommodate the type.

I decided that if this was the case, then I wanted to do the lettering along with it. Annie was excited about that and let me have free reign with the type and listened to some suggestions. You can see in these sketches that I was thinking about the text as I was composing some of the ideas. I was getting a feel for the type of lettering I wanted to do.

Originally, I wanted the text to be a sort of script. Annie and I deduced that we needed to make sure it was legible and we were worried that script would be too problematic so I went with a print-style version. I do wish some of these layouts came to fruition though. The center sketch wth the two eyes in the top row I thought could have been interesting.
Here is a selection of finished drawings that I used for the paintings and a sort of color treatment and layout option for Don Carlo that ended up being a direction that the rest of the posters ended up being designed.

All pretty much stayed the same except for Albert Herring. About a week ago when Annie was finishing up the layouts for the posters which were only just finalized (nearly a year after these sketches), Annie realized that Herring wasn't going to work. So I did some of my digital magic to pull the head and hat off the art and recreate the background to make room for the lettering and information.
Here is the collection of final posters with the final type. I don't think there is too much of a need to show all the lettering studies. In a nutshell, I used pencil, charcoal, ink, ink stopper, chopstick and other 'pens' to write the titles over and over...and over again. When I found two or three for each opera that I felt best convey the opera but that could work collectively together as part of a series, I sent selections to Annie to choose from.

I am extremely pleased with this series and speechless of the honor to be able to create work for the Vancouver Opera. I've already been getting nice notes from folks up in Vancouver who have seen the Tosca posters and advertisements. Good luck to the opera and the new season and thank you again Doug Tuck and Annie Mack for your trust, wisdom and the wonderful experience.
Sketchbook #23
It's been a long while since I've posted anything from my sketchbooks. Usually, I'll post stuff from my work sketchbook along with the finsihed art. These are from my 'play' sketchbooks where I mess around and just let be whatever will be. Here's a sampling from Sketchbook #23.

Sometime during the end of this year into the New Year, I am going to be cleaning up my websites including my Drawger blog here and start making more use of the galleries which I haven't in ages. Until then, please enjoy my visual ramblings and Happy Thanksgiving!
My Mom last year on dialysis after quadruple heart bypass. Her blood was flowing through that machine.
A sniper I met while at McChord Air Force base in Washington.
Models do the oddest poses.
While watching/listening to a science program.
Creation of a Line - Part 1
I lost a dear friend a few weeks ago.  My Boston Electric Pencil Sharpener.  It seems that after just about 20 years, this well used sharpener of pencils bit the big one.  The motor just didn't have the 'oomph' to sharpen anymore when a pencil was inserted.

This new guy over on the left is a stop-gap until I research some new pencil sharpeners.  This one here is Staples brand equipment and if it weren't for the fact that it has an auto-shut-off when it thinks the pencil is sharpened and that it doesn't have what I feel is the proper weight it should to stay in place, it is not that bad of a sharpener.  The points are sharpened evenly and quite pointy.  What made me go for this one was the top-loader feature.  I kept pushing my 'ole Boston back nearly off the table every time I sharpened something and consequently had to tape the sucker down to the table.

If anyone has good recommendations on sharpeners, I'm all ears.
Part of my collection that runs across the top of my drafting table.
Weeks ago, while I was dealing with the failing sharpener, I thought to myself (as I often do) that maybe it would be cool to do some features on interesting pens and pencils that I like to use as some sort of informational blog thingy.

I was originally going to do this in one long-ass post but I use too many different types of materials and this post would be about 27 feet long.  Just with this post, I only touched upon 4 of the pens I use most often and no mention of pencils yet.  So maybe this will be a two or three part thing.  I hope I maintain the interest and have time to continue.

By no stretch of the imagination am I an authority of what defines 'good' and 'bad' pens or materials.  You're reading stuff from a guy who thinks the Ticonderoga #2 kicks the hell out of most fancy art pencils.  I can only write what I use regularly and maybe can tell you why I like them.  I am sure for every good thing I write about these sorts of things, someone can comment on how much it sucks.  Such is life.

If you'd like, comment on your experiences with this stuff if you'd like or make comments about some of your favorite pens.  I'm always willing try out new materials.
Pilot P-500 - nib detail
Most people that know me well have seen me carry this guy around and talk about it with love and affection.  It's a nice general writing pen with a good point, and decent gel ink.  I also draw with this one a lot.  The ink has a tendency to roll out just a tiny bit heavy but that doesn't bother me.  It usually gives me a nice dark, black solid line and pretty easily manipulated with some water within a few minutes of drawing.  I use a water-brush-pen for that.
Pilot P-500 - cap detail
I've got about six packages of these pens in my desk because I go through a lot of ink with them.  I always have one in my pocket, one in my planner, one to write the grocery list in the kitchen, etc.  The problem is, that they are getting harder to find and I think the next step will be online ordering.  Staples used to carry them regularly, now it is hit and miss.

In my mind, when you talk to people about this pen and you show it to them, you must introduce it like a deep voiced TV game show host..."Here's the...PILOT P-500!"  It is also suitable to have background music in the vein of a chorus of voices rising high up into the hollows of a church as you say the name.
G-TEC-C4 - nib detail
Pilot G-TEC-C4 - Now this bad-boy I would recommend to buy if you are looking for a nice razor-sharp line.  The ink flows pretty well....I'd say a 7 on 10 scale.  I just recently picked these up to try them out and I am very happy I did.  They've allowed me to get more detail that some other pens just don't seem to come through with.  They come in a very nice fitted plastic storage case and the caps snap on and off in a very tight satisfying manner.
I decided to buy these in a multi-color pack to try them out but want to go back and check out what other variations of the product they have.  This is a pen and pen set that was certainly designed well to cater to those with discriminating quality standards.  Kudos to the industrial designers.  I am not sure this is a good day-to-day writing utensil because it is so sharp and creates a pretty thin line but I do think it fits the bill when it comes to drawing.

If you ever get the urge to stab someone with a writing utensil, I imagine this one will do the trick.  Very sharp.  I've ripped into paper and board by pressing a bit too hard.
G-TEC-C4 - packaging detail
First page of my new Moleskine #23 sketchbook. Line example for the G-TEC-4.
I think this is one of those pens that if you are an artist and you don't own one should probably download a coupon and go to AC Moore and pick one of these up...or someone might give you a wedgie.

Archival ink, 005 razor points, comes in other sizes and varieties of colors...I've got piles of these and I destroy the nibs constantly.  The one pictured above is new.  I wear them down until I am drawing with the metal part of the nib.

The two colors I use the most with this brand is pink and black but pretty much have their full collection of colors to play with.  The pink and black are pretty solid colors and I like the way the ink flows.  Red isn't bad either but I usually use Prismacolor Red.
From sketchbook #18. Drawing on Long Island Railroad.
FABER-CASTELL - Pitt Artist Pen

This is a pen that I only have a handful of.  I don't use it very often but thinking I may start to because I am beginning to do larger paintings for galleries and some illustration jobs and thin .005 lines just doesn't read well above 11x14" pieces especially when you scan them.  Their 'fine' nibs are about the size of the .05's in other brands.  I think I used the brushes more than anything this past year but far and few in between.  The ink flows well and don't have any complaints about performance.

I find myself using them more for quick figure/life drawing.  Nudes and Faber-Castell's are a nice match.  Nudes and anything are a nice match.

* Ironically, after I wrote this, I just finished a job using a brown fine point...the pen was flawless.

This is a pen I use a lot.  Usually the 005's and the brushes.  Good color and I prefer Prismacolor's black, red and dark brown colors.

Out of all the pens, this one and Microns are the ones I go through the most.  I also should say that the Microns and Prismacolor sits on paint pretty well too.  I draw on paint quite a bit so I need to make sure this stuff works.  It also holds up to spray fix and varnish well.  You're taking risks if you brush varnish on a painting that has ink lines.  I don't like risks like that.  No, I don't.
Prismacolor Pen and Brush example. Sketchbook #21.
Dark brown ink example. Sketchbook #21.
As I close Part 1 of this thing, I started thinking to myself (again), and its pretty obvious, that our artistic lives really start and end with pens and pencils.  As a kid, the pencil changed my world.  Those Grade Z red pencils in the 70's that were the size of tree trunks help me become what I am.  Working with pens, took me further into the forest of creativity.  I especially like working with pens in the sketchbook because you can't take it back.  You have to own every line that you put down and accept it for better or worse.

I guess this and the next couple of posts are my nod and tip of the hat toward these tools.  I am not precious with them or anything and beat the hell out of most of my materials including brushes...I actually have friends who've banned me from using their brushes if I am visiting and get a last minute job in because their brushes end up looking like those fuzzy headed troll dolls.  Even so, I do care about what I use and try to find the best stuff that works for me.
Sketchbooks #21 and #22.
Bakal/Dunlavey Sketchbook 2007-2009
In July of 2007 I called up Rob Dunlavey and asked if he would like to do some sort of sketchbook experiment.  I really didn’t know how to define how or what we were going to do this but I was open to anything.  We ended up talking about ideas and directions of what we could do.
As we’ve all here at Drawger have come to find out, Rob really takes his sketchbooking seriously.  It is really inspirational and I always enjoyed looking at his sketchbook stuff here at Drawger.  I thought it would personally be a cool experience if I worked with him on something like this.  Maybe I’ll learn something, maybe he’ll learn something…maybe we’ll make a pile of shit.  Whatever!  No matter what we thought would come of it, it would be a pretty cool project.
I was happy that Rob thought it was a cool idea and the rules we ended up with were pretty simple.  We’d get a sketchbook,  hold onto it for a couple of weeks/months and play around with it and mail it to each other when we hit a point that we thought we should pass it on.  As far as the work itself, all was fair game.  If one of us wanted to paint over something or redo a page, we did it.  If we wanted to add something to an element that was already there, we did it.  The only stipulation is that if we add or subtract something from a page, even completely painting over an entire page, we had to do it with respect to making a better piece.  There certainly were some failures in this book and I’d say about 6 or so pages in their current state were completely different pieces of art when they started.  This is a tall order because we are two separate artists with different sensibilities.  We actually did have a couple of phone calls that were along the lines of “Oh man!  You painted over that!  I liked that!”  when one actually liked what was happening and the other didn’t.  Such is life.
This version was in progress: I remember Rob getting all pissed off when I painted this white figure all over his laborious circles that he painted then cut out individually and pasted down. It reminded me of that thing in Chuck E. Cheeses that you can jump around in with all the balls.
This sketchbook travelled the greater New England area for a year and a half and we saved some of the cancelled postage to go along with that book.
One of the things that I knew which was going to happen, and which I wanted to happen was the development of new elements and bringing my work somewhere new.  Some of the elements that I first started in this sketchbook regularly appear in my professional work now.  How to deal with odd shapes, strange colors and textures that I normally NEVER would have thought using was thrown in my face from Rob to deal with and elaborate on.  Knowing that it was a no-holds-barred situation, it allowed me to mess with things and not worry too much about result.  In my mind, often it was about the act of making art and not worrying too much about result.  Still, I studied what I ended up making in the work and saw if something actually ‘worked’ or not.  Even today, I look at some of the pages and think…”Nahh…that one still doesn’t work.”  It came to a time with this book where we both needed to stop and accept the current results.
This version was in progress: I bought a tube of Liquitex Brilliant Blue I wanted to try out and had my wits about me to paint these stripes all over the place...even over pre-existing drawings. Rob ended up taking some of my used train tickets I threw in one shipment to create a new face.
During the time I had the book in-hand, I often took the opportunity to show the progress to students to inspire them to start their own sketchbooks. They still ask about it!  In turn, over the last year or so, many started collaborative efforts with classmates or started their own very experimental sketchbooks themselves.  It is fascinating to see what the students have been coming up with.
I attached in this post are some midway scans of the some of the art as a reference for you to see how one image developed over a period of time to what we ended up considering the ‘final art’ for the book.
In the end, it was a great self generated project and I made a great friend throughout the process.  We haven't worked through what we're going to do with it yet but we've gotten into discussions about putting it up for auction to create a scholarship for the Society's Student Scholarship Competition or to give to a charity that we agree on.  We'll see where that all goes.  We did want to share the fun with everyone first!
This version was in progress: I thought this thing sucked but ended up pretty good in the final version after Rob got a hold of it.
Showing our sketchbook to students at the Academy of Art in San Francisco during my lecture there April 7th. (Photo: Chuck Pyle)
John 'Tough Guy' Dykes, Rob Dunlavey holding the book and Alan Witschonke. I went to an opening of Rob and John's and handed off the book to him.
The well-worn packaging that has seen at least 1,500 miles of traveling back and forth!
Pink Mountain
Pink Mountain, 10x13", Final painting
For the most part, I work pretty often in my sketchbooks.  Actually, one day I mentioned to a friend that I think I am slowly moving away from being an illustrator and becoming a professional sketchbook artist!  I just got addicted to the thing.  Simple, fast, to the point.  An idea is in my head then in a few minutes an impression of it is down.
Of course, the problem becomes a book full of impressions and nothing ‘finished’.  I thought about this a lot.  Couldn’t a sketchbook piece be a finished piece of art in itself?  Maybe.  I guess it depends on what you are looking for.  Some sketchbook stuff, I wouldn’t dream of recreating because I think it stands on its own.  Some, definitely need to go somewhere.
Many of us here have posted stories about how the sketchbook is the ‘window to the creative soul’, so to speak.  I agree.  For so many years, a sketchbook was only something to do sketches for client in.  Not necessarily for the sake of creating images.  There were a couple of people in my life that changed that, one being fellow Drawger Rob Dunlavey.  The Sketchbook Machine!  I recently posted something about an exhibition he was part of but go take a look at his library of sketchbook work.  I totally dig it.  I am grateful for the inspiration because it really opened my eyes to my own personal possibilities as an artist.  I sometimes find myself asking fellow artists for me to look at their sketchbook before their finished work!  I don’t know…I think it has something to do with ‘seeing behind the curtain’ of their technique and so-called style.
Here is a sketchbook piece I did on my couch one night watching Northern Exposure reruns and the next day, and since I liked it so much, created a final from it.  It was one of those sketchbook pieces that needed to be painted properly.
Pink Mountain, Moleskine Sketchbook #21
Iraq (Repost with Bonus Images!)
(featuring Johnny)
This is a reposting of these drawings based upon my thoughts about the Iraq War. 
To clarify, I ride the train three days a week in and out of NYC and I usually do a drawing each way.  Lately, the theme has been on the war.
I thought I'd add a couple more so it isn't the exact post again.  For you to enjoy....
Bonus Image #1!!!
Bonus Image #2!!!
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Bakal is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!