Category Archives: Photos

Sweet Zombie Jesus


Bovid I by Meg Lyman

9×12″ oil on board

Etsy link

When I ordered this super awesome cow skull someone on Etsy found in the desert, I was excited. I was not, however, prepared for the sheer size of the thing. I pulled it out of the box, said “WOW,” and cradled it in my arms for an hour. I love it way more than I should. I wanted to paint it as soon as I laid eyes on it.


Note: larger than it looks

I set up to paint it on a cloudy day, with no lights on, just the nice north light overcast coming through the window. This limited my time – good practice for plein air. Plus I procrastinated and started after noon, but that’s neither here nor there.


Daylight… almost… gone…

I paid special attention to values on this, which is something I’ve always eyeballed, to the detriment of every painting I’ve ever made. I dusted off the value finder card and actually matched my paint to the values coming off the skull. I was surprised by the things I learned doing this, as is often the case when I actually pay attention.

The first thing I noticed is that the lightest value coming off the skull wasn’t the lightest value on the card, and ditto with the darkest. I would have painted it with the full value range if I hadn’t known that.

I have four tubes of Vasari paint – I love them very much – and I wanted to use them all on this, so they drove my color choices. I set up an orange cloth to get some nice, warm reflected light in the shadows. Then I laid out some color strings, matching them to the skull with the value finder.


Color strings being born

My colors were Vasari Raw Sienna, Naples Yellow Extra, Silver Point, and Cerulean Blue, plus some Blue Ridge Turkey Umber for the darks and some titanium white. The first three values of light blue I mixed were 9, 8, and 7, out of 10 on my value card. I tried to follow the very subtle shifts in value on the light side of the skull, which were totally obliterated by the camera shot above. And the one below.


bad photo, sorry

So I know the photo is washed out here, but you can still see some of the value shifts if you squint. And you can see the second thing I learned today – the light blue values that looked pretty dark on my palette look absolutely white on my dark blue toned board. I’m certain the toned board would have caused me to push the value range too far on the light side of the skull if I hadn’t measured.

This stuff fascinates me! I bet that when I’m painting on a white surface, I do the same thing with darks – lose the subtlety of the value range because of the contrast with the ground. No wonder classical painters and the old masters toned their boards and did ebauche and all that fancy stuff. I had read about all that stuff but learning it the hard way really makes it stick. It also makes me excited to try it again next time.

p.s. this is one of those studies I was talking about – practice still life, plus skulls, will feature in a future larger scale painting. I promise.



Saida, Lebanon

Lebanon rocked my socks but I didn’t do any art-related activities. Well… I took photos. That counts, right? The good, artsy ones are up on my website.

Now I need to get back into the swing of arting things. Christmas cards are probably out of the question this year, since it’s getting late so fast. But since I’m in the spirit, I can make one for next year…

p.s. Thank you everyone for your well-wishes! I did go swimming but never saw any sharks…

100 Cephalopods


This week has been a whirlwind, and I haven’t any new art to show you. I’m slightly ashamed. But here, have a cute cuttlefish instead!

I spent a few hours at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga this weekend, and it is one awesome aquarium. They have about a dozen young Sepia officinalis who had arrived earlier that week! Curious little buggers – you can see the intelligence in their eyes. They also had a giant pacific octopus named “Wonton.”

The 100 Cephalopods Project is something I contrived after seeing other artists take on similar projects with their favorite animals. The gist is to do 100 finished pieces of something – anything – in a genre you choose. For instance, one artist started on primates. I haven’t seen a completed set of 100 yet, but that’s understandable – it’s a huge project. That goal I had to complete the project this year may have been a tad bit ambitious. Considering that I’d have to paint a finished piece every three-and-a-half days, and I haven’t even done one yet, and I have other commissions to complete… well, I’m amending the goal to have at least some finished. Check back for developments! Demand them of me!

Also, props to Maggie Stiefvater for her awesome blog, and for her particularly awesome post about using complements. She used blog readers’ art to discuss the use of complementary colors, and chose one of mine. Thanks, Maggie!

Atlanta Boat Show

Beach Mollusk 2

Beach Mollusk 2 by Meg Lyman

35mm slide

Prints: available

Hey everyone, happy 2008! I enjoyed my lovely, languorous 2-week break, but I missed you guys. I hope your holidays were peachy.

As soon as I got back, I began preparations for the Atlanta Boat Show. They have a gallery room with about a dozen artists, including my friend Rhea. We each have a booth to run, but most of us are only working the show part-time because it goes all day, Wednesday through Sunday (Jan 9-13). I’ll be working every evening and all weekend, so if you’re in the area, come by! Tickets to the show are cheaper if you buy them online before Jan. 8.

All the art is water-themed. I have plenty of cephalopod art to show, but I also dug out some photographs. I have a bunch of them that actually show water (gasp) so I framed them up.

I probably won’t get to post during the week (or next weekend) with the chaos of the show, but as soon as I can, I’ll give you a report. With pictures!

Beer Vacation

My short absence has not been idle – I was on beer vacation! It was planned as a regular family reunion, but unexpectedly turned into a beer vacation, which is perfectly fine with me.

Day 1: Meet with Casey Klahn of The Colorist, who has the most beautiful backyard ever. Got to see some of his originals and his awesome new studio-in-progress. He has cute kids and gave me beer. Thumbs up!

Walnut Brewery Old Elk Brown Ale: a nice red beer, tastier by far than Killian’s. Ratings for a non-dark beer… M: 7 N: 6.5

Day 2: Family reunion in beautiful Leavenworth, WA. Found out that I have the same birthday as this handsome fellow, my great-great-grandfather the horse-wrangler.

Also found out that I’m related to an excellent botanical artist, Catherine Watters. My family rocks.

Leavenworth is a Bavarian Village, and has tons of good beer on tap. Here’s what we drank:

Big Sky Brewery Moose Drool Brown Ale: chocolatey, mild, complex, and dark for an ale. On tap at Gustav’s, which makes kick-ass cheeseburgers. Non-dark beer ratings… M: 9 N: 8.5

Boundary Bay Imperial Oatmeal Stout: served room temp, it’s dessert-sweet and rich, like a mild black russian. On tap at Ducks and Drakes. M: 9 N: 9

Elysian Perseus Porter: complex, better than Guinness. On tap at I forget which beer garden. M: 7 N: 7.5

Hales Brewery Sleeping Maiden Porter: deep, rich, tasty. On tap at, and made exclusively for, Gustav’s. M: 7.5 N: 7

Deschutes Brewery Black Butte Porter: smooth and mild, a typical porter. On tap at Gustav’s. M: 8 N: 7

Day 3: Drove to Dayton, WA to visit my grandmother, a 96-year-old firecracker with a 20-year-old sense of humor. Visit Palouse Falls. Successfully take photos without falling in.

Day 4: Visited Little Goose Dam and its fish ladder. I’ve never seen salmon so big.

Day 5: Dinner at Skye Book & Brew in Dayton. It’s an awesome little mix of cafe, coffee shop, and bookstore. Their brewmaster makes excellent beer that is only available on tap at this restaurant. They have $1 pints on Monday night. ONE DOLLAR. I love this place.

S. McTaggart Scottish Ale: dark, complex, and earthy with a hint of cocoa. Non-dark beer ratings… M: 9 N:9

Pataha Creek Porter: light for a porter, smooth, complex, and bitter. M: 7.5 N: 7

Tucannon Honey Wheat: not dark beer at all, but Grandmother liked it, so I had to try. Sweet and tasty.

Startin Starveout Stout: I had this on my last trip to Dayton, and it was delicious. They aren’t making it right now. Shame.

Day 6: Pick wild blackberries. Dinner at the Weinhard Cafe. Awesome food.

Deschutes Brewery Obsidian Stout: full, smooth, thick, nutty, and sweet. M: 9 N: 8.5

Day 7: Had beer on tap at Squatters Pub Brewery in the Salt Lake City airport while waiting on a layover.

Squatters Polygamy Porter: mild, smooth, with a small bite. M: 7 N: 5

Squatters Captain Bastard’s Oatmeal Stout: complex but verrry bitter and sour, smells like coffee. M: 6  N: 5

That’s it! Hope you enjoyed my beer vacation as much as I did.

A Photo and a Macro Fact

Just a quick one today – Señor Damselfly here was very fun to photograph. The only reason he is fairly sharp is a) it was really bright out and b) I used my tripod. Notice the verrrrrrry narrow depth-of-field when using an extreme macro focus. I didn’t get him quite in the middle of the field.
Also, here’s a photo of RAGBRAI in Laurens. That’s it for now!

I Return – With Souvenirs

I’m back from my relaxing vacation in the middle of nowhere, Iowa. It was the busiest I have ever seen the place. I will share with you some amusing anecdotes, including some artistic lessons learned.

  • Laurens, Iowa had its 125th birthday this year. We celebrated all weekend.
  • Laurens is the home of the Straight Story, a movie about an elderly local who rode his lawnmower to visit his sister in Wisconsin. The mower was in the parade.
  • It is difficult to take good photos of a parade.
  • Laurens, Iowa is a sister city of Laurens, France. 11 French people, including the mayor of the little Provencal town, came to Iowa for a week.
  • I thought they’d be bored. Instead, they enjoyed themselves way more than any of the Americans did, even though we fed them burgers and beans twice a day for three days. They really loved drinking Budweiser and riding lawn tractors. They brought a bottle of wine for every resident of the town.
  • The Sister finally found a post-graduate use of her French degree by translating all weekend. She was a hit.
  • I did not even know Tractor Square Dancing existed. It is the coolest thing ever. EVER!
  • It is difficult to take good photos of tractor square dancing.
  • I got to hear both my 89-year-old grandma play honky-tonk piano and an outdoor swing band and a church choir sing patriotic songs on the same beautiful 80-degree summer day. Doesn’t get better than that.
  • RAGBRAI came to Laurens last weekend, too. When a town jumps from 1,500 people to 15,000 and back in one day, it is quite a show. Lance Armstrong was there. We followed him down the street while munching on ears of sweet corn.
  • They strung a wire between two huge tractors on main street for a bike rack. It was overflowing, as were the gutters and storefronts.
  • It is difficult to take good photos of 15,000 people and their bikes.
  • If you leave your 400mm lens and camera on a tripod, it will be top- and front-heavy. Do not leave it setup near anything, especially small children and cats.
  • If you do leave it out and it gets knocked over, face first, into the concrete, you will learn well the protective value of lens caps, UV filters, and vigilance.
  • Three hour airport layovers are good opportunities to draw random things. However, people will look at you funny.

The Majestic Tripod

Recently, my best customer ordered four 11×14″ photo prints. I’d never had one blown up that big before. It has been an interesting experience, worthy of sharing.

Looking at a standard-size print gives no insight into what the quality will be when enlarged. Looking at a 35-mm negative with a 10x magnifying loop gives no insight, either. Well, maybe for an 8×10, since, you know, it’s 10x bigger than a negative. But any bigger, and you’re guessing.

Here are crops from two photos I enlarged to 11×14:

On top is a Viceroy. On the bottom is a Fritillary. To my eye, the area in focus looks equally sharp in both. Neither looks perfectly sharp… but the two are pretty close.

At 11×14, the Viceroy looks good. The Fritillary looks horrible. It is compounded by the fact that I used macro on it, which reduces the sharp focus to one thin plane. However, even the sharp area looks bad at 11×14.

I don’t know exactly why I couldn’t tell the difference on the standard-size print, but the best solution to this problem is: sharper negatives. Time to break out the trusty tripod.

Taking close-up macro photos without a tripod is generally a bad idea, even in bright light. The length of the barrel makes it hard to remain steady for even 1/250th of a second. The tripod helps a lot with that. Even though the setup shakes a bit as the shutter is depressed, and holding the barrel is sometimes necessary to keep the camera still, the tripod makes sharper photos almost every time.

Last weekend’s photoing proved the point. Even I can see the difference between the above photos and this one, which used macro; I bet it enlarges to 11×14 nicely.

Too bad insects don’t hold still like blackberries do.