Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ancestor Portraits

It's not often that I write about the portraits I've done but I thought I'd share something I experienced recently that was fun and unusual... at least for me. 

Over the years I have done a significant number of portrait commissions for a very old and prominent family in Dallas TX. The family has ancestry that goes back to the early pioneers of Texas and are very proud of their history. 

Underneath are a selection of drawings I did of these settlers. The reference in some cases was from xeroxes of newspaper clippings that where very, very old. This was a lot of fun because although the feeling of character was there, I had plenty of room for interpretation. 

Over the years, I've done many others including some more recent ones. Two of which are underneath. This is the subject as an adult and as a baby.
There's much that could be written about this family's history and their rise to prominence. Not the least of which is their dealings with the Rockefeller's and their inventions. However, this is not the place and I'm not a historian.

Recently, one of the paintings I did for them was damaged and I stopped by to repair it. To my surprise much of the work I did for them hangs in an enormous room dedicated to portraits of their ancestry. 

Underneath is a short video pan of that room's paintings and drawings, the majority of which, were done by me. 

I realize this may come off as though I'm bragging; I'm not. As an artist, it's not every day one has a body of their work housed in such a grand manner and I wanted to share it. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

IX Museum show and Painting Demonstration

This past weekend I attended IX7 more commonly known as Illuxcon, held at the Allentown Art Museum, in PA. The show brings together much of the world's top talent in the field of what is coming to be broadly referred to as Imaginative Realism. 

The main purpose of IX is to bring collectors and artists together. It was a great show and as always, it's wonderful to see my work hanging in a museum setting. 

I also did a demonstration of my painting process from start to finish in approx. 3hrs. which was nicely attended. 

Underneath are photos taken from my friend's cell phone.

and a link to really zoom in and pan around the painting here:

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Commission - Magic

 Commissions can be a fun aside because they offer an opportunity to work on pieces that one might not ordinarily choose to do on their own. 

This commission was from an ardent admirer of magic and enthusiastic collector of art. My paintings of ethereal floating figures inspired him to work on a project together that centered around magic or illusion. 

The basic direction… "Do whatever you like, just make it have something to do with magic or illusion". For anyone who has worked on commissions, the first part of that sentence is magic. 
Magic Painting
Zoom in on the painting here:

On occasion, artists brag about how quickly they accomplish something. In this case, I don't believe anyone would ever believe how long it actually took to do the painting. The photos never really captured what I had in mind and reworking the drawing to achieve the simplicity of design and maintain the subtly was something that underwent constant change through the whole painting. 

Like most of my paintings I can't resist incorporating some level of symbolism. 

The design of the cards are loosely in the form of a DNA strand, representing the cycle of life and evolution. I forgot to mention that this collector is also a scientist specializing in biology. 

There is more regarding my choice of masculine and feminine cards, the prominence of the Queen and even the choice of numbers but this post is already long enough. 

In the end, it was a fun project with many happy memories. Not the least of which was painting K completely white for the photo reference!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Museum UV Glass - Archival Claims Tested (Part 2)

After my last test (Part I) to determine the archival qualities of ink from one of many artists favorite drawing instruments (the ballpoint pen) I decided to test again. The last test used the Bic as compared with the Montblanc claiming the archival DIN ISO 12757-2 Standard. So I used the same pens for this test. 

We already saw in my previous results that there were basically no differences in the archival qualities of either pen, regardless of the manufacture's ISO claims. Uggg… I truly which this were different. This time I did the same test again, using the famous UV Museum Glass, sold at every frame shop. 

The Claim:
The manufacture's claim is that the glass blocks out 99% of the rays. 

My results underneath demonstrate the real life test results. The "acid free paper" still yellows, but not as much. Both the Bic and the Montblanc inks still faded and changed color but slightly less. 

To make things fair I tested several color pencils and two separate inks which I also use to draw with. The Noodler ink is from a fountain pen and the Speedball, super black ink, I use with my dip pens occasionally.   

Clearly, neither the color pencils or the two black inks faded. I knew this would be the case because I've tested them extensively before without the glass.

My conclusion is that the Museum UV Glass works but does not offer protection any where near what the manufacturer claims. I'd say instead of 99% protection, the real number is probably closer to 15% protection. Uggggg... again. I desperately wish this were different. 

The bottom line is if one works with any fugitive material like a ballpoint, or paint, or collage element, etc. it will definitely disappear. As the saying goes, it's not a question of if, it's a question of when. In the case of these wonderful drawing instruments, if they are exposed to any kind of real light, you can look to see them start fading in less than a month. 

I still love drawing with a ballpoint but sadly it's best uses are for work that won't be on display, like a sketchpad. I suppose if one were determined to frame a drawing done in ballpoint for display, the best thing to do would be to keep it in a very low light environment, like a hallway with no windows and low wattage bulbs. 

If you know of any ballpoint that draws as well as a Bic and does not fade, I'd sure like to know about it and I'd be willing to pay you for the knowledge.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hardboard Archival or Not? A Brief Good and Bad

After my last post another friend wrote to ask about the archival qualities of hardboard for painting and specifically about a particular company that makes prepared boards artists. I don't believe in speaking badly of anyone's business. So, I'll just give my advice and let you decide. 

The Bad
The bottom line is... it's wood pulp (think sawdust), pressed together. it's the same material as cardboard, or the other inferior papers from the previous post. 

Yes, It's pressed to lay flat and not warp but it's primary intention is for the inexpensive, disposable furniture of today. Disposable and inexpensive are the things that concern me. 

It's held together with glue (sometimes) but I can't help asking myself, what happens when the glue looses it's strength and becomes brittle as all glue does?

If you use any board to paint on, it's a good idea to coat both sides and especially the edges or moisture will get in and destroy your board. 

The Good
The above said, sealed properly, hardboard is an absolute pleasure to work on and is actually much more stable than a stretched canvas of any variety. 

I've painted on hardboard, primed it myself and left the panel outside for a year in all sorts of weather as a test, with no damage. 

Still, if you're asking I assume you want to use the best. If you want to paint on panel, I'd suggest using real wooden panels. I've seen pieces in museums that were done hundreds of years ago that look like they were done yesterday without a single crack or any sign of damage. 

Final Note of Interest

In the past several years there's been a lot of talk about aluminum dibond. I don't know much about it yet but that might be the logical next step. Paintings have been done on cooper for hundreds of years and again, they've held up beautifully. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Dye Based, Acid Free Papers... Fade Badly.

Today I received an email from a friend about trouble he had with toned Strathmore Paper. I started answering and then though it might be of interest to someone else, so... 

Here's his letter to me, the response from Stratmore and my suggestions, including the best paper in the world. 

Hi Dorian,

How are you buddy? I wanted to get your opinion and I thought you might be interested in this paper tech issue. I generally don't use out of the pad type papers but I had purchased an "artagain" pad from Strathmore on a whim, its a 400 series tinted paper, its smooth and good to draw on. Long story short-see attached drawing! It faded within about 14 months. 

This guy tells me this is normal for a 400 series acid free and lignin free paper? I have several drawings on this paper that I can't sell for obvious reasons and the only thing he is offering is sending a sample of a "so-called" better quality paper to buy, where this won't happen? 

This is what is expected he says!?! Am I missing something here, I have newsprint that outlasted this strathmore 400 series. I realize that dyes are not as lightfast but the pad does not advertise anything but 400 series and acid free, it should be labeled as craft paper.

Anyway hope all is well, talk soon.


Hi Joel, 

Yes, that's the problem with most of their paper line and most papers in general. To sum up quickly, I'll give you my short answer and then a slightly more detailed explanation with links if you want to know more. 

Short Answer: 
It's a good idea to consider "acid free" as craft paper. It's basically the same, with a chemical treatment to change the PH balance. The treatment is not permanent and not even remotely to be considered archival.  
As far as paper goes, Fabriano makes the best paper in the world. It's not even a close contest. Nothing even compares. Here's a link to what I use: Best Paper
If you want a toned surface, tone it yourself with watercolor, gouache, acrylic, ink or some other archival color that has been tested. You can always test colors yourself if you don't trust the labeling. If you want something smooth like the commercially prepared papers, use an airbrush.

Almost all commercially toned papers are colored with dyes. Yes, it fades… badly. This is obviously the case with many 19 century drawings. Many Prud'hon drawings come to mind but many others have had this issue.

 I don't think it diminishes the value of their drawings in the market but I know how you feel. 

You want to sell something that was created with a high standard of materials. It's disappointing to find out that a reputable company you like sells inferior quality materials. Still, I think if someone likes your drawing they'll still like it if the background color fades. That said, if you want to work off a toned surface, it's probably a better idea to tone the paper yourself with archival quality paint. 

As a side note of interest, I've just completed an ink test using the finest Museum UV glass available on the market. It's designed specifically to help protect against the fading issues. All I can say is, I'm not too impressed. I'll post the results in another post. 

To stay competitive everyone produces, what to us are "craft papers" for sale. However, if you know what's what then you can avoid those papers and stick to the good quality papers.

Details (in short): 
Acid Free paper is really acidic paper that has been treated to help it last longer. There are varying degrees of quality but none of it should be used for anything art related. Unless of course you're just sketching. This is how the manufactures justify offering this quality of paper for us to draw on. In all fairness, it is less expensive paper. Less expensive is often the bottom line for most people. 

I was once in conversation with a manufacturer and was surprised to learn that only 10% of the market for art materials is consumed by professionals. By that measure, it's a miracle we have anything of quality to use period. 

Acid free will eventually become acidic and then highly acidic. In a pad, the process takes longer. This makes perfect sense if you consider that the standard for acid free was designed for use in printed books. Exposed to light the acidic process can take as little as a month. I did my archival ink test on acid free paper and you can see what happened to it in short order. (yellowed and brittle) 

"Paper made from wood-based pulp that has not had its lignin removed turns yellow, becomes brittle, and deteriorates over time. When exposed to light and/or heat, the molecules in the acidic paper will break down even faster. Acidic wood-pulp paper became commonplace in the late 19th century, and in the 1930s William Barrow (a chemist and librarian) published a report about the deterioration of acidic paper in the libraries. For fear of the gradual disintegration of written materials, measures have since been taken to improve the quality of paper." (Wikipedia link)

Although obviously everyone knew of this problem, amazingly it wasn't until the mid 1980's that any standard was established for the USA and the mid 1990's that there was an international standard. Still, it's a pretty weak standard allowing for as little as 2% alkaline to consider something acid free. Additionally, I don't think any of us would be surprised to learn that China was making the paper for most companies and we know how relaxed they are about standards. 

There are all sorts of interesting fillers that go into making acid free papers but the main thing to keep in mind when you buy acid free paper it's basically treated newsprint and should be used only for quick sketches. 

There are specially designed pens you can buy to test your paper but when you're going to do something of quality, only 100% rag is archival. 

Problem solved?… Not really. Not all 100% rag papers are made equally.  With some papers you may have noticed difficulties in handling and small tears when attempting any type of rendering. I won't mention names but one very popular company beginning with the letter "A" that dominates the market sells very inferior paper.

The best paper again is made by Fabriano. Nothing even comes close. 

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Painting Detail

A short post today. I've been drawing at the gallery, speaking with visitors and preparing for the opening next Saturday, March 1st. The show isn't up yet but we've given a few back room tours for interested people.
One visitor commented on details and this piece in particular, so I thought I'd put something up as promised in a previous post.
The show is being held at an enormous 8500 square foot gallery space in Hallandale Florida. There's a lot of nice things to write about the director, the space, location etc. We haven't even officially gotten the show up but I can't say enough about how pleased I am. This is supposed to be short, so I'll post more about the Sirona Gallery and the experience another time. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Drawing Process - Part 1

Several weeks ago I finished this commission. Usually, people allow me complete freedom but in this case there was one small request… knee highs. 

I like working through ideas in my sketch pad even for the simplest of drawings. These thumbnails, shown at approximately the right size are a little looser than usual but still gave me what I needed in order to decide on a direction.

I love working spontaneously because it introduces an element of surprise but often I feel my best works are the result of this practice. 

Sometimes, I find even the simplest ideas benefit from a few scribbles before hand. Another plus is that this process often stimulates seeds of growth for new ideas. 

This was definitely one of those times. On a single page, I see ideas for three separate drawings which I finished and will share over the next couple of posts. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

UnderPaintings Blog Post

Last night I found out that Matthew Innis wrote a beautiful post on his Underpaintings Blog after visiting my studio. To say that I was pleased is an understatement. We spent hours together, exchanging ideas and losing track of time so completely that we completely missed dinner. 

In his own way, I thought he caught me very well. It's an intriguing read from my perspective because one always hears the statement regarding how "other people see" you. Well… here it is. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Archival Ball Point Pen Ink Test

This is a much longer post than usual because I figured that for those interested in the subject, it's probably worth reading. If you just want the results scroll done to the bottom. 

One other note... Like most of you reading this I thought what about Museum Glass? It's supposed to block 99% of the destructive UV light. So... I tested that too. Here's a link to that post:
(spoiler alert... the Museum glass had no effect.)

Ok, on to the post:

From time to time I do light fast tests on my materials because for obvious reasons, I'm curious about what I'm using. On the one hand, there are the claims of manufactures which lean toward exaggeration and the other there is real world experience, which puts things in perspective. This post is about the real world experience with ball point pens. Bic vs MontBlanc, Parker or any other pen claiming the archival DIN ISO 12757-2  standard. 

Many of my artist friends and I enjoy drawing with a ball point pen. I've drawn with it for years and basically carry one with me every where I go.  Every sketch pad I own has at least one sketch in ball point pen. 

I've known for a long time that they're fugitive (meaning that the ink will fade/disappear) but it's just such a good drawing utensil that it would be silly not to carry one. Honestly, in my sketch pads the ink has held up just fine. So it was hard for me to believe that if they really did fade, it would be a problem.

Years ago I did a bunch of preparatory drawings and hung them on my studio wall because I needed to reference them while taking the idea further. Actually, it was a series of ideas and I had the drawings up for several months while I worked on various other projects at the same time. 

I had a north light studio and figured that since no direct sun light was hitting the drawings they would probably be ok. 

One day, I looked at the drawings and was surprised to see them noticeably fading. 

I was reading a great book then about inks written by Jos. A Smith that described a light fast test. I followed the instructions and ran a light fast test on the Bic (my favorite, then and now) and every other pen I could find. 

The test called for half of the sample to be exposed to direct sunlight for 3 months, with the other half hidden from the light. 
In short, every pen I tested faded  almost completely within a month - Damn it! I Love drawing with them. 

Recently, a friend of mine made a beautiful drawing using a Bic and we got into conversation about it. Other artist friends claimed to use the expensive Mont Blanc pen with the all important ISO which apparently doesn't  fade. I tested those pens previously but thought I'd test again. Any one who has looked this up online has come across across Jerry's  posts listing every pen he could find with the DIN ISO 12757-2 rating. 

The test results are underneath. I also tested a UV spray recommended to me at the art store.  The scanner picked up more that is apparent in real life but anyone can see that the basic results. On the left is the protected strip, in the middle the exposed strip and on the far right the exposed with 5 coats of UV spray. 

My conclusions: The UV spray is useless and actually discolored the paper. The DIN ISO 12757-2  standard is complete hype. It fades so badly that it's barely different than a regular Bic.     The Bic which is really the most comfortable to draw with, has the most control and has the least amount of ink blots when drawing, is a complete loss. 

In the end, if you love drawing with a ball point ( I do) just keep it covered. Skip the UV spray. 
Another note of interest is the paper used for this test. It was "acid free" which basically means it was treated to be a neutral PH. Using quality paper is another important consideration for obvious reasons. The scanner equalized things somewhat but you can still see what's happened. Holding the sample in reality, it's easy to see that the exposed paper is substantially more yellow and brittle. 

I'm running a test now with the famed expensive UV Museum glass that is available in most frame shops. So far I'm sad to report that it's basically the same. Meaning that the glass offers little to no protection. I will update this post when I have the results.  

I posted this on the recommendation of a friend who thought it would be of interest to many people. I've searched for years for an archival ball point pen and have never found anything better than the above. If you know of anything archival, please post a comment here or send me an email at  It would be great to have a quality instrument that doesn't fade. 

UPDATE - Feb 13, 2014
I wrote to Bic to explain the limitations of the ink in their ball point pens. Their response (sadly predictable) is underneath, as is my corresponding reply (which I don't expect to go any where).

Dear Mr. Vallejo:

We have received your e-mail.

Over the years, hundreds of ideas have been developed by BIC’s engineers, designers, business and marketing experts, as well as by outside consultants.  Some of these ideas have been used in the past or are currently in use, others are retained for possible future use and yet others are still under development.

Our engineers continuously study the market for ways to improve our products including size, shape and color.  Our product line is updated to meet the ever changing needs of our consumers.  When they find the demand for a change great enough to warrant mass production, you can be sure to find it on the market with the BIC Trademark.

Currently there are no plans to manufacture an archival ballpoint pen.  BIC writing instruments are designed for general purpose usage in the office, home and school.

Thank you for your interest in our products.

BIC Corporation, One BIC Way, Suite 1, Shelton, CT 06484-6299 USA 
My response: 

Thank you for your response. I understand your position but would like to point out if you take into consideration the amount of artists using Bic ballpoint pens for artwork that is often sold and you consider the requirements of of artistic materials to insure their permanence, I believe the undeniable conclusion is that there IS a demand in the market place for an archival ballpoint pen.  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Show Invitation

I usually play things so close to the vest that on occasion it doesn't serve me too well. A few friends have commented on this. So, I think I'll try something different… and see how it works out.
I guess a good place to start is with the invitation to a show I'll be having on March 1, 2014 in Florida. Instead, of waiting until the opening to reveal everything, I think I'll start showing things over the next several weeks.
AT approximately 8500 square feet, the Sirona Gallery has a huge space. This panoramic was taken by a friend of mine on his cell phone. It shows my setup at the Allentown Art Museum in October of 2013 for a show focusing on imaginary realism. I posted this before but wanted to post it again because it shows five of the paintings and a sense of scale. Even still, I wonder how the work will look in 8500 square feet of space.
Underneath, is a photo showing the artist Dan dos Santos taking cell phone shots. It is from a post on the popular MuddyColors Blog, the authors of which were also at the Allentown Museum show. You can see the more of photos he took and follow what their doing by clicking here.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Huffington Post Article

A couple of days ago, I found out that Daniel Maidman, artist, novelist, and blogger for The Huffington Post, mentioned me on his blog and then again in a Huffington Post article. Thanks doesn't seem like enough but… thanks Daniel.
Here's a link to the HP article:

and a couple of my images from the article.

Plus a screen grab of  how they featured the post in their arts page graphics scroll.