Arthur and the Art Show

For the past few years, I’ve been a participant in an annual arts festival at my medical school. This year, I specifically painted a portrait of my skeleton buddy- dubbed “Arthur” after the movie starring Dudley Moore (I like to think of him as a fun-loving skeleton)- for the event. I really wanted to use oils. I forgot how much I love the smooth texture of oil.

However, I also needed him to be show ready for display in a matter of days, and oil can take weeks to months to truly dry. I decided to use acrylics.

First, I positioned him to where I was satisfied with the angle and shadows. Skeletons can look sad, angry, or pensive, depending on where the light is hitting the orbits. I made a rough outline in brown, and slowly started filling in the darker shadows of his face. As the painting became muddy with brown, I started having trouble seeing my original outlines, and so began using a bold, blue paint to repaint over critical parts I needed to visualize.

The blue was a wise choice. I didn’t notice it before, but I’ve been on a blue and brown kick for a few years now.

Along with shadows, I began filling in the highlights with a bone white color- I just mixed white with brown and added a tiny bit of yellow. Sometimes for fun, I like to restrict my colors to only 2 or 3 when doing freehand paintings, but I let myself use whatever colors I desired with Arthur’s portrait. He’s all bone; to make white less boring, I used many different tints of white. I played with the idea of using a bright color for the background- like a lime green or fascia- but was ultimately inspired by the chocolate I was eating at the time; a rich, dark brown background would really make all the whites stand out.

As I painted, I was reminded of a Van Gogh painting- of a skeleton with a lit cigarette. The background in that painting was also very dark. I suppose I’m still on a Van Gogh kick, too.

Van Gogh

At some point, my house plant leaned into the painting’s backdrop, but I decided I really liked the green color behind Arthur’s skull. So, I incorporated the leaf. And, to better see Arthur’s ribcage, I put a black poster board behind him. He was a good model.

At the art show, people really seemed to enjoy the finished piece:

Something New

I’ve been thinking of something new for a while now, and I finally started to put the colors on paper. While browsing for impressionism works, as I sometimes do, I came across a more defined type of art with bold cartoonish outlines, poignant shapes, and sophisticated, layered colors. At some point in the 20th century, artists were abandoning the play on light that hallmarks traditional impressionism and experimenting with more flat and frank emotions expressed in color and shape- and as I kept browsing into these types of works, I finally found a definition for the paintings I had already completed in my mind: “post-impressionism.”

Here are some examples of post-impressionism paintings:

Post-impressionism uses color and shapes to convey emotion, in a more surreal way than impressionism. Nothing is natural, but the objects are still clearly present. It was the movement leading up to expressionism, in which there may not be any natural shapes at all.


Many people have asked me why I like to outline the figures in my paintings in dark lines, often stating that these lines make the paintings look “less real.” Realism is just one style of painting, and at least for now, it’s not my favorite to create. In realistic works, acknowledging the skill of the artist distracts me from seeing the creativity; I suppose there is a time and place to enjoy all types of paintings, but right now I prefer making ones that express or evoke more emotion. Bold outlines have many uses: they balance out a composition, make whatever is most emotionally important stand out, and can add dimension when using only flat shapes- you can tell when objects are supposed to be in the foreground or background by how they are layered with lines, without the need for shadows.

Example: foreground and background is evident here through the use of bold lines

Paul Guaguin’s Still Life With Three Puppies is one of my favorites from this era. I can’t put my finger on why I like it so much:

My first painting in this style is a painting of myself. It is not complete yet, but I aim for it to have a post-impressionism feel mixed with some art-deco simplicity.

Art deco style

I am alone many days and study often in unfamiliar places. This painting depicts an experience I had one night while staying in temporary student dorms. At peace, but alone. And, there is a cat that is following me everywhere, and I decided to add him into the painting as well. My mom once told me when I was little that the black grackles on the electric wires looking down at us where guardian angels, watching their assigned humans. Maybe this cat is my guardian.

Here is the incomplete work:

When I think about it, I’ve always used this style in my paintings- some of my first pieces utilized similar shapes, colors, and layers. There are a couple in particular that look more like Fauvism than post-impressionism. Fauvism is similar to post-impressionism/expressionism, except in Fauvism, very bright and bold colors are utilized, like oranges and reds. Here are some paintings I’ve done in the past, many of which I never finished:

I will have to finish these. But first, I’ll finish the one I recently started.

Peanut Butter & Jelly from 2014

I finally finished a painting I started in 2014. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich to add to a collection of huge still lifes I’d started that year. I was inspired by a huge painting of a tooth brush that I saw on a bedroom wall during a random soiree in high school, and I don’t know why, but I fell in love with the work and never forgot about it. In 2014, I attempted to create my own large paintings of random objects. Funny, they all turned out to be food. As they were meant for practice, they are all painted on a roll of white paper. My mom keeps telling me to stop painting on surfaces that will eventually deteriorate; I should probably start taking her advice. 

The first huge still life I completed was of apples.

The next big painting I made was of a cracked egg. I was inspired by the eggs in the Mr. and Mrs. Smith film, and thought it would be a fun challenge to try to paint the clear yolk. 

Eggs in a carton

Here is the photo of the cracked egg. My sister Hope deserves thanks for letting me crack an egg on her kitchen table.

The painting:

My sister says it looks like there is a finger nail clipping in the yolk and I see what she means. I made the little white debris too defined. Maybe I will fix that one day.

Finally, there was the PB & J:

I worked on this painting for a long time…For some reason, it fell by the wayside that year. It was rolled up, and I never completed the work.

I’ve lived in at least three different places with this painting rolled up in my closet.

Finally, after a couple of chocolate martinis, I took out the painting this past weekend, and finished it.

I know it’s hard to see just how big the painting is; I’ve been a terrible photographer and I apologize. I’m very happy with how the table and shadows have turned out. This is one of my favorite big still lifes. I added depth with thicker layers of paint, which is different from the thin strokes of the previous paintings. I’m really happy in my post-masters years; I’m not so poor anymore that I have to worry about running out of colors and not being able to buy more. 

Another one of my favorite big still lifes is this one of bananas that I painted before the apples, and have since gifted to my dear friend, Matt.  

I’m not sure why, but I enjoy painting bananas. In fact, my first painting ever- in 2003- was of bananas:

Inspired by Van Gogh

While I was studying for one of the more rigorous exams of my medical career, I began painting a vase full of flowers. I’ve been deeply inspired by Vincent Van Gogh for the past few years, and just having purchased more paint, I decided to try a thicker painting style.

This is one of my favorite paintings of flowers by Van Gogh:


Here are the flowers I purchased.

IMG_9740 (1)


I first sketched the flowers with a pencil. I am straying away from measuring proportions or tracing; that is, I’m not using a ruler to make sure that each leaf is the right size in comparison to each other leaf. I don’t want my paintings to look like photographs these days, but rather colorful depictions of how objects/subjects make me feel when I look at them. It is much better to not measure. It’s more representative of my perception rather than reality.

I began to layer paint, and decided on blues and browns as the color scheme. Van Gogh has a way of using blues and yellows in delicate balance, but I strayed away from yellow and perhaps this was a mistake, as the painting is quite subdued in hue.




I had additional troubles getting the leaves to jump out of the painting, but I found that using very small traces of black about their edges helped bring them out from the background. The background seemed boring to be with simple beige, so I added more browns that I pulled from the table and just a little bit of blue for some movement. Here is the finished painting:


I’ve learned that laying on thicker paint gives dimension and texture to a painting that is not replaceable by other techniques. The shadows from thickened layers add colors that move as the viewer changes his position to the painting. They become alive. In all these years I’ve been painting, I’ve always shied away from using thick paint- only so that I could save money. But it is well worth the price to be able to create effects like these. I want to try using scrapers and knife edges next time to create even more dimension with thicker paint.


I decided to try a self portrait using the same technique.


In this portrait, I used more yellow than I did with the flowers.

Portrait Project #7 Stefunny

I have a beautiful friend who goes by Stefunny. I decided to attempt her painting during an army training I had to complete. It was a great way to ease the stress from perilous outdoor adventures and overthinking my future.

I actually bought an acrylics painting set and some very inexpensive sketching paper to complete the work.

I’ve been very taken with Van Gogh in recent years, reading everything I could about him one night for no particular reason at all. Having worked at a psychiatric hospital, I feel that I can see him more clearly with my mind’s eye; I can feel who he was, and it grants me more meaning when absorbing his art. One of my favorite paintings of his is of a physician who treated him, Dr. Gachet:


Inspired by blues, I began to paint Stefunny. Here’s the reference picture:


Unlike some of my other paintings, I did not measure scale; the idea is to create more of an impression instead of an exact copy. What do I see when I look at the photo, instead of what is exactly in the photo.

I added more oranges to lighten the mood of the painting. This is the final result.






Beards and Scrubs YouTube Channel Art!

Over the summer, I had access to Adobe Illustrator, and used it to complete a few logo/clip art projects.

One medical school friend of mine, Shawn Izadi, asked if I could help him create a logo for his new YouTube channel, “Beards and Scrubs.” It may have taken us many nights in the library to come up with a catchy name, but Shawn already had a vision for the logo: a silhouette of his face, with a beard of course.

His vision was to create online videos to give advice to new medical students and prospective applicants. He wanted to include how-to videos, interviews, stories, and fun events. It’s a great and creative idea, and I was very happy to help.

I wanted the logo to be unique and the silhouette so recognizable, that family and friends could easily tell it was him. To accomplish this, it was best to construct some kind of tracing from a photograph.

The first time I ever used Illustrator was in high school, and using it brought up some fun first memories with computers. I remember learning the basics of HTML code, creating my own website in AngelFire, and spending hours playing Chip’s Challenge… I once got in trouble at school for my illustrations using the Paint program: we had to create our own diagrams of the layers of a leaf for science class, and the teacher wanted to fail me because she thought I’d copied and pasted the pictures from a book. In reality, I had drawn them using a mouse and Paint. It’s not the best quality, but here’s another illustration I did using Paint with only a mouse (and at the time, there was no way to trace a photo):


In high school, I was enamored with Adobe Illustrator. I used it to create graphics for the school’s news show. I became familiar with vector art; essentially, bending single lines to make pictures. Vectors are great because they can be easily manipulated, and to a mathematically detailed degree. I hadn’t seen Adobe Illustrator since high school, and although it had changed enough that I had to watch tutorials, I found it comfortingly  the same.

A friend and colleague of mine, Ignacio, showed me an app that can change photos into vector art (Adobe Capture), and I used it to take a photo of Shawn and upload it onto the desktop version of Adobe Illustrator.

Now, all I had to do was erase the background and darken the inside of Shawn’s face and body.



I cropped his bust, added the title in a classic text, and put a circle in the background to make the logo concise. I also added carefully selected white lines to show he was wearing a shirt, and to make his beard more obvious. As we are both University of Texas (UT) alumni, I thought it would be nice to leave his UT ring plainly visible. It took a few added white strokes with the paint brush tool to get the beard and hand just right:



But, it wasn’t quite finished yet. Shawn wanted the logo to have more of a medical leaning, so we decided to add a stethoscope. I wanted the picture to maintain consistency, so I decided to trace a stethoscope from a photograph instead of trying to draw one by hand. I took another picture of Shawn wearing a stethoscope:



I increased the contrast of the vector image so that the stethoscope would be as clear as possible. After uploading to Illustrator, I isolated the stethoscope in its own layer by erasing everything else. Then, I dragged it on top of the existing logo.


From here, I had to make some adjustments. Since the stethoscope was now on a black background, it looked different; the black lines were now gone, and the white lines were visible. This gave it a messy look. I decided to erase some white lines and added/adjust others to make it look clean. To better see what I was doing, I made the stethoscope pink during editing. The green dots below denote vector points on each line that make up the stethoscope drawing. This is vector art:



The stethoscope might have been the most time consuming, but it was great piece to add. Here’s the finished logo:



You can see the it in action on Shawn’s YouTube site, Beards and Scrubs. It’s been up and running since June! Take a look at his videos and subscribe. He’s a charismatic guy.


And he also has a ‘manbun.’


I’m very proud to support this creative project. If you have questions about medical school, beards, or manbuns, his channel is a good one to watch.



“Arrival”: a digital painting for Joseph Alvarez’s album “When We Arrive”

This summer, I’ve had the opportunity to become better acquainted with digital media, and I recently finished my first ever digital art commission- an album cover for a very good friend of mine, Joseph Alvarez.


He’d been working on creating music for many years now, and was finally ready to release his first single, “Redemption Song.” I’ll let Joseph describe his album, “When We Arrive” to you; straight from his Kickstarter webpage:



Born in Austin, TX, he envisioned the Austin cityscape, with a vaquero (Mexican cowboy) walking toward the city. He wanted to mix the old world and new world. Just after Texas became annexed to the US, Mexican Americans,  due to sheer prejudice and pride, were left out largely out of  US urbanization and the benefits that come along with it (education, increased standard of living, etc.). I thought of a painting that depicted the idea that modern Mexicans are still feeling pushed out of industry by gentrification and racism; they perpetually feel left behind, looking through the gaze of their vaquero ancestors, confused and alone in a strange, growing new world… in a land that used to be entirely theirs.

I made a few sketches. Joseph wanted the work to be a black and white, with a charcoal feel. He’d even gotten a friend, Eliana Bernard, another artist, to make a rough draft for him a few years ago, when he was first publicizing the project:


Credit: Eliana Bernard


I decided, in an interesting twist, to use my iPad to create a digital piece. That way, it would match the appropriate digital color codes, and I could play around with adding colors and textures without the worry of permanent marks. I, too, made a rough sketch by hand, before beginning on my iPad:



Joseph liked the overall composition in the sketch, so I set to work on the planning the piece. I would need photos of the Austin skyline, and possibly photos of cowboys or someone who at least looks like one. I took a friend of mine, David Ortiz, out for a small photo shoot. He doesn’t necessarily look like a cowboy, but I needed a model in the shot to have proportions for the body I would add in later.





I did some research on painting apps, and decided to try one called Procreate. I used the photograph of Austin as a bottom layer, and began tracing the outline of the city over it on a top later using a pencil/pen tool. The great thing about digital art, is that you can delete the bottom layer (in this case, the photo), and the top layer (the tracing) is still there. Tracing the city took many hours. I do think tracing is incredibly easy, which one could argue takes credit away from my artistic talent… but, the sheer amount of willpower it takes to spend hours tracing all the details is a talent in and of itself. It took a long time; I wish I would have kept track… but school kept me busy otherwise and time was a blur.




Once lines were drawn, I had to find a cowboy. I used a compilation of some photos I found online. After that, the creativity began… I used various digital tools to shade, paint, and color the composition, progressivly bringing the buildings to life:




I showed Joseph the progress, and we both noticed that the cowboy looked a little too much like an American cowboy, and not particularly like a vaquero. Joseph researched a couple of other photos he thought better conveyed the Mexican cowboy style, and… since I was using digital media, I easily could delete the original cowboy and replace him with someone more suiting. After adding more layers, and blending in a foreboding sky, here is the end result:



I am incredibly proud of the work. I like the new vaquero much more than the other one. He’s more proportional to the background, and better fits the attitude of the scene.


You can hear Joseph’s single, “Redemption Song” from his album, “When We Arrive” on Joseph’s facebook page:


I was delighted to be in the credits, among the many great names. Thank you, Joseph, for the wonderful opportunity.




But, the project isn’t over! I’ll be adding some fun color to the work for t-shirts and posters…




Summer Update

It’s the first day of summer. Medical school has waned, and art has commenced. Since my last day of classes a few weeks ago, I have had opportunities to design digital works for friends and colleagues, and just recently, I resumed working on an album cover for a musician friend. But, I will write about that in a separate post.

During the year, I’ve been mainly using cooking as a creative outlet. I’ve made delicious dishes that are within the parameters of my most recent diet: the Whals Protocol. It is a diet I’ve kept now, off-and-on, for nearly two years. It has a very credentialed author, and current research is showing lots of promise at staving off chronic disease. Plus, I feel wonderful most of the time, digestion and energy-wise. Sometimes, the best evidence comes from conducting experiments on oneself.


I’ve also left various doodles on white boards around school.


Obviously, or not so obviously, some other students added their drawings to my cupcake and coffee:


As soon as school let out, I finally hung up some old paintings around my home, and I tried my hand at painting a rose. However, I had to throw away the first attempt, because I was very rusty. The painting was not becoming what I had imagined in my mind. It’s been about a year since I’ve worked with actual paint, and patience is a requirement for obtaining skill. It’s frustrating when what you’re attempting to create doesn’t match with what is in your mind’s eye.

As I worked, it was fun to see the skill slowly come back. Here is the second attempt:

It’s still not exactly the look I wanted, but it’s much better than the first one I threw away. I will probably not finish it, since it is a practice. It’s been sitting idle for about two weeks now…


I have a couple of research projects for school to focus on during the first half of summer, but I’ve been thinking about pursuing the “Painting A Day” challenge for the second half. In recent years, some artists began creating one, small painting each day in order to sharpen skills, and gain more discipline. It’s a modern movement, with many artists selling their small works online. I think the activity could be a great way for me to get more practice in July.

Here are a couple of links to inspirational artists who have gone the “paintings a day” route. Their works are mainly impressionistic still-lifes, which I love:

Duane Keiser:

Here are some of his works:

Carol Marine:

Here are some of her works:


Of course, before embarking on a painting a day (which I imagine will be difficult to maintain at times), I will be working on the current art projects at hand, including the portrait project, and that mysterious album cover. By summer’s end, I plan to have a gallery of sorts on my blog for my old paintings.


More posts to come,


Portrait Project #6: Ana

After a few month’s delay, the Portrait proejct has continued.

For Ana, I thought I would do something fun, but simple:  A classic color scheme with some bleeding washes and risky textures… and of course, renegade scribbles:


I wasn’t sure how to complete the background, but I think I did a pretty good job of framing. Framing is really the name of the game when it comes to digital art. The photo I selected didn’t include her entire head, so I decided to make it fade into the background. With digital art, framing is a fun thing to do, too… you could layer colors all day without the permanency of paint.

I hope she likes the completed portrait. Hopefully, I’ll have the next one by next week.



I’ve Gone Digital…

There are some incredible iPad apps for digital art. Ever since I used Notability to draw a self portrait for class, I’ve been having fun with the possibilities. Much less money than Adobe, and yet, still just as professional.






Using these apps brings a memory to mind:

When I was in elementary school, I remember getting scolded in biology class for allegedly copying and pasting a diagram of the layers of a leaf… we were to draw our own diagrams for a major project, and the teacher was very upset that I hadn’t followed the instructions. Despite my protests, she was ready to give me a failing grade. I had to bring my mother to school for a parent-teacher conference about the issue, and when my mother saw the project, she laughed and supported what I had been saying the entire time: that I had actually drew the diagram myself on our 90’s Dell PC computer, using none other than the old “Paint” program.

I miss the old computer… but I don’t miss how it would crash. It once crashed when I was in the middle of writing a story, and it deleted everything. That was not a fun afternoon.


Portrait projects are back on- and this time, they’re digital.