Hairy Woodpecker Pencil Sketch p75

Hairy Woodpecker Pencil Sketch

Hairy Woodpecker Pencil Sketch

Its been a while since I’ve posted a plain old sketch. This is one of the Hairy Woodpeckers that frequents our suet feeders.

We’ve been fortunate to have Hairy Woodpeckers regularly visit our suet feeders for the last few years. As an added treat over the past two summers they’ve even bred nearby. We’ve never located the cavity, but they fly off to the woods to our east carrying huge wads of suet for their young. Eventually the young birds came in to gorge on the suet. In previous summers we’d stop feeding suet for fear that it would go bad, but now we know there’s enough bird traffic to eat everything before the suet goes rancid. It’s fun to see how many birds use it.

Hairy Woodpeckers definitely look like Downy Woodpeckers on steroids, with a bit of Pinocchio in their beaks. They seem absolutely massive by comparison. Although smaller than Red-bellied Woodpeckers in general, their sizes overlap. 

Woodpeckers have their annoying moments, I suppose. One summer when I was a teenager a Downy Woodpecker decided the stack vent from our plumbing was the ideal drumming post. After a steaming hot and humid night of attempting to sleep, I was finally getting some shuteye when I was awakened by what sounded like an AK-47 going off in my ear. After orienting myself for a minute I thought, who is on the roof or in the attic with a hammer? Shoving a steaming hot pillow over my head did nothing but raise my core temperature—and my temper with it. I stomped out the front door to see what craziness was going on, only to find a tiny woodpecker incessantly beating his beak against the metal pipe with all his might. After a few moments of wondering if a quick misting with the hose might prompt him to stop, my anger was replaced by an odd sort of respect for the guy. After thumbing through some bird books at home, I realized that he was merely drumming loudly to attract the ladies. He continued the deafening serenade every morning for a week or two.

Since then I’ve seen woodpeckers pounding on gutters and other parts of houses that serve to amplify their efforts more than a log. Strangely, this always reminds me of my grandfather. No, he didn’t hang from the house pecking the gutters and vent stacks… well, at least not while I was looking. My grandpa Frank was continually telling stories. A favorite of his went as follows:

“I was walking through the city the other day and heard this whump, whump, whump sound, so I decided to investigate. I went around a corner and came across a guy beating his head against a brick wall. I stopped him and asked,‘Why are you beating your head against the wall?’ He looked at me with his purple, swollen forehead and replied,‘Because it feels so good when I stop!’” 

I think of the fool in Grandpa Frank’s story and the industrious, determined Downy Woodpecker beating his head against the pipe on our roof, and I’m not sure which individual I am more like. There are goals I’ve set for myself that make me feel as if I’m beating my head against the wall, and like the woodpecker, I’m not really seeing any tangible results. I guess there are benefits to thinking like a woodpecker. Don’t quit, but don’t expect to move the pipe, either. Just try to enjoy the work and hope something good comes from it… and that no one sprays you with a hose to get you to stop!


Catch Me If You Can! (7×10-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Catch Me if You Can! (7x10 inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

Catch Me if You Can! (7×10 inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

More Crazy Fish Caricatures in Transparent Watercolor

Not for Dinner! (5x7 inch Transparent Watercfolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

NOT for Dinner!  (Anguilla sociopathica) 5×7-inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper

Wormy Lips (5x7 inch Transparent Watercfolor on Arches 140lb HP paper)

Wormy Lips (Mucinex aquatica) 5×7-inch Transparent Watercolor on Arches 140lb HP paper

Well, I had enough fun painting the previous fish that I thought I’d do a few more. These are a 180º from the day job, medical illustration work. With that, every artery, muscle, tendon and bone has to be in just the perfect place, or you will hear about it. On top of that you have to please art directors and committees, which can seem like an uphill battle at times. There is little room for artistic freedom. When I’m painting birds there is a similar quest for accuracy and detail. Fortunately, in the bird paintings there are opportunities for making artistic images within those constraints.

These quick paintings allow me to go a little nuts and just have fun. The wild, loose backgrounds are fun to paint, and coming up with outrageous fish is entertaining. With these, the anatomy is right when I say it is. It’s hard for me to stop putting in detail, but I’m trying not to work these paintings to death. It takes a surprising amount of practice to make a successful loose, splashy background. 

Crazy Fish Caricatures: Eight Transparent Watercolor Paintings

Trash Fish (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Trash Fish (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Gatorface (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Gatorface (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Smug (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Smug (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Shoeface (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Shoeface (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Picklefish (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Picklefish (3.5×5.75 inch-Transparent Watercolor)

Grump (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Grump (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Glum Chum (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Glum Chum (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Psycho Goldfish (3.5x5.75 inch Transparent Watercolor)

Psycho Goldfish (3.5×5.75-inch Transparent Watercolor)

Now for something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT! 

I suppose these are going to need some serious explanation. After spending close to a hundred hours on my previous painting, I thought it made sense to do a few quick pieces. Now I’ve never been master of the “loose watercolor.” In fact, I’ve always been a bit envious of those who can keep everything fresh and fun. My friend Don Brown is a master of that style, doing fantastic watercolor and ink paintings for his incredible children’s books. Have a peek at and to see some of his genius. I thought it would be fun to try my hand at something a little less heavily rendered than usual. I managed to paint the backgrounds pretty loose and splashy, but try as I might to prevent it, the fish themselves ended up moderately tight.

Why fish? I’m not really sure. When I was in high school, I spent an embarrassing amount of time drawing a school of cartoon fish and cartoon penguins playing electric guitars. I usually did my drawing at home, but I confess that, yes, I would occasionally doodle during class. I’m sorry.

Once in study hall, I finished what I thought was a particularly hilarious creation involving some low-brow toilet humor. Then I subtly tilted my notebook to share it with my friend Bill Q. Now, Bill was a great artist and had a wicked sense of humor. I still laugh remembering many of his one-liners. He was a true connoisseur of creations like this and the perfect audience for the comic subtleties of this scatological masterpiece. Upon seeing it, Bill audibly chuckled, and I got caught. The teacher ordered me to bring it to the front of the room. I embarked on the march of shame to his desk. With a sour demeanor he inspected it, then burst out laughing. He folded it shut, gave it back to me, and that was the end of it. Thank goodness he appreciated “Fine Art.”

You wouldn’t dream risking a doodle with some teachers at that school. Sr. Marie Catherine, for example, was a history teacher both feared and respected. She really was an amazing and dedicated educator. If you were drawing in her class, it had better be a map of the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, Bosphorus Strait or the Black Sea, or you were in for some serious trouble. As part of her class we spent the first ten minutes being quizzed on current events. She expected you to read the newspaper. Well, I dutifully “read” the newspaper every day. Unfortunately, where I fell short was that I always started with—and spent the most time on—the comics. Those were always completely fresh in my mind the next day in her class. The front page stories, unfortunately, were pretty fuzzy in the ole memory banks. I knew better than to tell Sr. Marie Catherine about what Hagar the Horrible and B.C. were up to. Garfield didn’t really discuss Solidarność or Anwar Sadat with Jon and Odie. I seldom could remember what happened at the front of the newspaper. I looked at the headlines last and honestly spent a lot less time there. I’m a fairly visual learner, and back in the early 80’s there were few photos in the paper, and they definitely weren’t in color! A well-prepared student like my friend Carm would quickly recall a headline about Idi Amin or the Hostage Crisis in Iran, and only then would I remember any details. Too late. Maybe they should have some cartoons with those stories as well to draw in knuckleheads like me?

How I settled on fish and penguins as subject matter I can’t precisely recall, but I remember trying to think of a cartoon that hadn’t already been done, and I hated drawing people. They weren’t particularly good drawings, but they did get better with time. I still find myself doodling mentally unstable animals and miswired humans when I’m confronted with a few spare minutes, a scrap of paper and any sort of drawing instrument. 

Over the past few years I’ve had clients asking for cartoons and caricatures rather than 3D and Photoshop art. I think people may be tired of the more highly rendered art. I’ll try to post some samples of those creations in the near future.

If you’re interested, these fish will be available on Etsy soon. If you’d like to buy a print or original, let me know. Keep in mind that the images above show the fish at larger than actual size.


Early Goldfish Watercolor Painting

Three Fancy Goldfish Transparent Watecolor Airbrush(21 x 29.5 inches)

Three Fancy Goldfish (Transparent Watercolor Airbrush 21 x 29.5 inches)

While cleaning up my archives, I came across this old painting that I did in 1989. I’d honestly forgotten that I’d done it. This was my first airbrushed painting, created in preparation for a grad school class that was coming up.

At the time my brother Ted and I had a bit of an obsession with fancy goldfish. Each of us had tanks with some real beauties over the years, including orandas, lionheads, moors, calico ryukins and a myriad of hybrid varieties. As often happens with siblings, we got competitive, but in a healthy way. Our main challenge was to see who could get his fish to be more massive. While Ted was in the game, he always managed to get the best of me. I’d come home from grad school and be blown away when his fish had doubled in size. Being a generous sort, he’d share his most recent secret. It was usually some sort of Japanese fish food in a brightly colored package covered with Kanji, probably promising explosive growth. He had one enormous lionhead named Cy that would eat food from your hand. You could stick your finger in the water, and he’d come up and rub his jelly-like head against your finger. Eventually Ted left the game. I continued on until a few years ago.

The problem I ran into with goldfish was that along with that exciting potential for growth came a huge drawback: goldfish are terrible polluters. They explosively grew until the point that they overcrowded the tank. Even with massive amounts of filtration, their bodily processes contaminated the tank, requiring that at least 75% of the water be changed each week in order to keep them somewhat healthy.

Goldfish are carp. They excrete goldfish growth hormone into the water surrounding them. In nature this diffuses out into the surrounding water. Once the concentration gets high enough, it has an inhibitory effect on their growth, preventing overcrowding. A small fish isn’t going to put a lot of hormone into a large tank, so it grows rapidly in that environment. Put a few large fish in the same tank, and the growth hormone concentration can raise enough to inhibit growth. Basically, the fish grow until the point that they are continually polluting the tank.

I had always started with fairly small fish in a big tank. I’d have a maximum of one fish per 15 gallons of water. Eventually I’d have massive, stressed fish that were always getting sick. When well fed, fish can grow about an inch a year. I had an old oranda that reached ten inches in length, including its tail. Its body was bigger than a baseball!

In the end I spent more time checking ammonia, nitrate and nitrite levels as well as changing and treating water than enjoying the fish. I felt more like a chemist and septic tank cleaner than an aquarist. Being busy with two kids and work, I gave up the aquarium. Old habits die hard though. I always take a long pass by the goldfish when I’m at the pet store.