Category Archives: Fan Art

Artist Projects 2016: Dale Chihuly


What if glass artist Dale Chihuly was commissioned for famous sites like Starfleet Academy? Image: Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Dale Chihuly

Dale Chihuly is likely one of the best-known, and best loved, living glass artists today, with his bright-colored, architectural installations found world wide. He has been exhibiting his work continuously since 1967, and has been featured in museums around the globe.

He was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, and first learned about working with glass when he was studying interior design at the University of Washington.

 He really began exploring the world of environmental works with materials like neon and blown glass when he first enrolled in the Rhode Island School of Design in 1967, and also received a Fulbright Fellowship to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice, Italy.

His smaller works include glass cylinders inspired by Native American textiles, “Seaforms” glass pieces, a Venetian series of Art Deco inspired vases, and one of latest series, Rotolo, creating complex forms from a simple coil of clear glass.

Chihuly’s work has inspired others for several years. In 1971, he co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School artist-in-residence program in a Washington tree farm, using primitive conditions and the minimal materials. The site still serves as an international center of art education. Other early projects include the Artpark in New York state, near Niagara Falls, which utilized colored sheets of glass in simple arrangements.

Chihuly is especially recognizable for his installations and commissioned work in hotels, theatres, parks, cruise ships and other high-profile venues world wide, including creating the set of an opera, Bluebeard’s Castle. His outdoor installations, are particularly popular, as they seem to give the surrounding area surreal or fantasy-like feeling with flowing ribbons and coils, floating orbs, spikes, glass blossom-like shapes and other brightly hued, blown-glass forms.


Dale Chiluly is best known for his vibrant and bright blown glass installations found all over the world, like “The Sun” found in Kew Gardens, and his chandelier at Victoria and Albert Museum, both in London. Images by Adrian Pingstone and Patche99z (Public Domain). Artist image: Erik Charlton, Flickr Creative Commons.

In addition to his glass works, he has worked on paper with graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and more. His permanent installations can be found everywhere, including the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus, Ohio, the Glass Art Garden in Tayoma City. One of his exhibitions, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem, drew more than 1 million visitors to the Tower of David museum to see his works.

Chihuly is still releasing prints, hosting workshops and creating installations. He is often asked what his favorite project is, and answered that on his official website, saying he has worked in “many great projects” over the years including Chihuly Over Venice and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000, and his work in Seattle at Chihluly Garden and Glass.

 However, Chihuly has decided to keep his options open for now.

“Perhaps,” he said, “the next project will be my favorite.”

The Project: Flying Colors

Chihuly, although very different in style from fellow well-known present day artist Maya Lin, also takes advantage of the environment for which a piece is intended.

His use of color, form, shape and even lighting effect work with the surrounding atmosphere to both enhance and celebrate it, whether in a natural setting or building.

With this simple project, we’ll creative small-scale replica of what a Chihuly installation might light look if commissioned by a fictional school, headquarters, military base or other famous location.

This method is similar to those many elementary art teachers use as Chihuly projects, but the secret is in the color. The color scheme and design for an installation on the stark, floating environment of Empire Strikes Back’s Cloud City might be very different that the glowing natural world of Avatar’s Pandora. Would an exhibition at Hogwarts highlight the various House Colors? Would a one at Starfleet headquarters symbolize uniform colors? What if he did a piece for the TARDIS? Would it be the famous blue, or look more like the wardrobe of the Doctors?

Since blown glass isn’t a method that can be learned for a summer afternoon family crafts, here are two ways to create Chihuly-inspired looks using upcycled water bottles and plastic party ware:


Hanging Gardens of Pandora.

The “Coils”

Color the outside of clear (clean and dry) water bottles in the desired hues, and gently cut off the bottom. Adults might want to get it started for younger crafters. Next, cut around the bottle, in a coil fashion so it resembles a spring or curly hair.


Plastic water bottles colored with felt tip markers or suncatcher paint, can be cut in coils and arranged for Chihuly-style chandelier.

You can leave the top of the bottle in place and lace a string or pipe cleaner through it for hanging, or cut off the top, and lace the coil through a hanging thin chain. These also can be mounted on wooden posts, long wrapping paper tubes, hanging wire baskets, or just from fishing line or floral wire.

Remember, think about where this is going to go, and think of a color scheme or design to best suit it.


The Monster University Quad art

The “Plates”

Using permanent markers, paint clear plastic plates or clear plastic cups the desired hues. Thinner plastic items are easier. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with foil, and bake at about 350° for a few minutes, until the plastic warp it like blown glass. This can take from 1 to 2 to about five minutes, depending to on the plastic. Keep and eye on it, and don’t bake it too long.

This is also good way to utilize the bottom of the water bottles used for the coil method, instead of plates.

Once painted and melted, arrange these in the pattern you want, glue them on a flat piece of balsa wood or corrugated cardboard. If you use a glue gun, place the glue on the board, as it may continue to warp the plastic a little.

This work might not be as detailed as Chihuly’s blown glass pieces. His own advice for young artists is to remain inspired by others, yet follow one’s own visions:

“Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible,” he says. “Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.”


Clear plastic like plates, cups and water bottle bottoms can be melted to resemble shapes inspired by Chihuly’s baskets and Seaforms


Artist Projects 2016: Grandma Moses


Grandma Moses in Westeros? Image: “On The Night Watch” by Lisa Kay Tate

Originally ran in my summer Be The Artist series for on June 10, 2016.

The Artist: Grandma Moses

Most people might not know painter Anna Mary Robertson, but they know Grandma Moses (Robertson’s nome d’arte) as one of the most influential folk artists of the Twentieth Century.

Moses was born in 1860 in Greenwich, New York, and spent most of her life working on farms. She was one of 10 children, educated in a one-room schoolhouse (where she discovered she loved painting), and left home at 12 to work for a wealthy families doing chores on their farm. One family, who noticed her interest in some Currier & Ives prints in their home, even purchased her some crayons and chalk.

She met her husband, Thomas Moses, at age 27 when they were both working on the same farm. They spent their first 20 years of marriage working on four different farms, while Moses made potato chips and butter for extra income. They were eventually able to purchase their own farm. This wasn’t an easy life. The couple had 10 children, but five of them died in infancy.

In 1927, after 40 years of marriage, Thomas passed away. By the mid 1930s Moses was devoting much of her time to the peaceful pastime of painting, as arthritis was preventing her from doing embroidery. She concentrated on images of rural life, from everyday events and chores to seasonal holidays, and her works were filled with activity and motion. In 1938 an art collector ran across her work, and in her late 70s Grandma Moses began her new life as a soon-to-be world famous artist.

She was often known as “Mother Moses,” “Mrs. Moses,” and what eventually became her most famous moniker, “Grandma Moses.”


Grandma Moses’ “Sugaring Off” (right), sold years after her death for $1.2 million, and a postage stamp was created in her honor in 1969. Images are Public Domain.

She didn’t start painting until late in life, but this doesn’t mean she didn’t enjoy a good run as an artist. During her career she created more than 1,500 works of art, wrote an autobiography, won several awards, and received two honorary doctorates.

On her 100th birthday, New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller declared Sept. 7, 1960 “Grandma Moses Day,” and played piano for this influential artist. Her health was already declining, however, and she for lived a little more than a year, passing away in December of 1961 at age 101. In 2006, one of her most famous paintings, Sugaring Off, sold for $1.2 million. Not bad considering she sold her first paintings for around five bucks.

Her long life and successful art career reflected her charming, happy, and lively nature. This life philosophy was summed up in her autobiography, My Life’s History.

“I look back on my life like a good day’s work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered,” she said. “And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.”

The Project: Grandma Moses visits….

Grandma Moses was what is known in the art world as a “primitive” or “naïve” artist which, in the simplest terms, is an artist with no formal art background. In other words, she was completely self-taught.

When she was a girl, she painted her earliest landscapes using lemon or grape juice and other natural materials from ground grass to sawdust.

Later, she would call her own work “old-timey” as she avoided depicting modern day features like tractors, cars, telephone poles, and other signs of present day life in her paintings.

Now, here’s the challenge: what if Grandma Moses visited a favorite fictional location, making sure to avoid any “modern touches?” Some places may be easier. She might visit a harvest dance in Hobbiton and be right at home. However, a garden party at Wayne Manor near Gotham City might need some dialing back of the time line. How about Gallifrey? Or Narnia?

As far as the painting technique, follow Grandma Moses’s own discipline of painting “from the top down.” She would start with the “sky, then the mountains, then the hills, then the houses, then the cattle, and then the people.”


Grandma Moses painted “from the top down.” Start with sky, add the landscape.

This is an easy way to create a scene one simple step at a time. Use any medium you like, from watercolor to acrylic, or use more translucent colors for the background and brighter, more opaque colors for the figures and fore ground.

Paint straight to the canvas or paper, don’t draw it first.

Paint the sky and ground, as if there were just a big empty space. Add some natural features, as Grandma Moses did, like mountains, hills, trees, rivers, or streams.

Next, add the “man-made” features, like buildings, carts, barrels, tables, bridges, and anything else you feel captures the scene.

Finally, bring in some people and animals, (or orcs, white walkers, dinosaurs, dragons, or whatever your world needs), just as if you are adding figures to a playset. Don’t worry about overlapping what you already painted. That’s part of the action.


Even with the buildings added, there’s something missing without a few folk and critters.

These steps will make it easier create an entire world without being overwhelmed and wondering where to start.

No matter where you think Grandma Moses visits, make sure there is some sort of activity, be it a battle, a wedding, or just the every day to-dos of an era.

Every place, every moment, every story, from comics to classics, can be filled with activity, be it peaceful and laid-back or frantic and frenzied. Just take a moment to relax, concentrate, and imagine that moment.

This is what Grandma Moses did, as she told Time Magazine in 1948:

“I look out the window sometimes to seek the color of the shadows and the different greens in the trees, but when I get ready to paint I just close my eyes and imagine a scene.”


“Smallville, 1942” by Lisa Kay Tate

Find That Prop!: Terry Gilliam’s Outré Animation


In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

tgartmainTerry Gilliam’s Oddball Animation:

Even the boys of Python should appreciate the irony the weirdest member of the troupe that defines British-style comedy is American. Terry Gilliam was born in Minnesota, but became an ex-pat in the 1960s like many of the counter-culture teens and young adults.

Once there, he fell into a rather silly crowd, worked as a strip cartoonist for magazines (including one photo strip featuring John Cleese), and did some animation for a children’s program called “Do Not Adjust Your Set” featuring his soon-to-be Python pals Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

Gilliam is often known today by many film buffs as the director of several cult classic films including what he called his 1990s “Trilogy of Americana” that included “The Fisher King,” “12 Monkeys” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” but his eye for the surreal and the off-beat that was so prevalent in his animation, remains true to his work today.

He liked to mix his own original art (the giant foot, and 16-ton-weight, for example) with movable cutouts, often taking advantage of the seriousness of Victorian era antique photos and illustrations, or even well-known fine art images, to create the unexpected, madcap and sometimes just freaky weird style that Monty Python’s Flying Circus just wouldn’t be the same without.

Where to Find It:

The bottom line on finding original artwork, especially work signed by Gilliam himself is, well “Good Luck.” His work is not easy to find.

Any “cels” or images used in the Monty Python movies or series are even more elusive. There are atgbooks few signed pieces from time to time on sites like Comic Art Fans, and even eBay, but these will fetch well over $500 for a simple line drawing. Not unreasonable for original work, but out of range for the standard Python fan.

Don’t let this be discouraging, because it isn’t hard for find concentrated examples of Gilliam’s work. A&E has released a series of “Personal Best” DVDs for each member of the Python clan, and the Terry Gilliam version features 45 of his best ‘toons. These retail for $19.95, but can be found on Amazon for $10.95, and Barnes & Noble for $14.86.

Gilliam also wrote sort of how-to book called Animations of Mortality in 1978, later turned in to a CD-Rom edition in 1996. The book features words and sketches that give a glimpse of what goes on inside the head of an animator. The hardcover edition isn’t cheap (about $97 on Amazon), but paperback versions will run around $31.

In 1999, author Bob McCabe released Dark Knights and Holy Fools: The Art and Films of Terry Gilliam: from Before Python to Beyond Fear and Loathing. If you can get past the overwhelmingly long title, the book is a good look at the evolution of Gilliam’s work. This book ranges in price from around $3 to $6 for used hardback and paperback versions, to about $17.99 for new paperback versions and $73.99 for new hardbacks.

Later this year, Gilliam will have his own say with a new autobiography Gilliamesque, a Pre-posthumous Memoir. Pre-orders are currently being taken on Amazon and other book sites.

A great online source for Gilliam’s animation and other work has been compiled by someone who knows the man best, his daughter, Holly.

The site, Discovering Dad, hasn’t been updated since 2013, but still has plenty of Gilliam facts, art and wonderful personal memories from Holly Gilliam. She also maintains a Twitter feed that is more current.

Now for something, completely different…Make Your Own Art:

dancingbeibThe beauty of Gilliam’s work lies in its simplicity. He manages to take a simple, portrait or drawing and turn it into a crazy storyline, just by adding a few extreme movements or features.

There are plenty of vintage images and illustrations to play with on the Internet. The easiest method is to take a portrait and make it “talk.” Cut out the image along the mouth and down both sides of the chin, like a ventriloquist’s dummy.

processAttach the cutout “mouth” to a thin piece of paper, and tape it slightly at the top (see image above).  This will make a nice little handle for a picture puppet. Add a couple of googly eyes or other painted or glued on features to make them even sillier. This is the type of animation popular sites like the eCard business, JibJab have mimicked.

Gilliam and the Pythons also did their share of poking fun at current events and celebrities. Go through old catalogs or magazines for full-body images of over-publicized persons — singers, politicians, actors, reality stars, over-memed cats — who you feel might be in need of some humbling.

manly-menNow you have our permission to cut them up….NO! not the actual people, that’s horrible, but go crazy on their images. Cut them off at the neck, shoulder, groin, knee and elbow, ankles and wrists.

Now they can be assembled on paper like your your own personal marionettes. Take a series of pictures of them in different poses for a photo animated strip like Gilliam liked to do in his early years.



“The whole point of animation to me is to tell a story, make a joke, express an idea,” he said. “The technique itself doesn’t really matter. Whatever works is the thing to use. That’s why I use cut-out. It’s the easiest form of animation I know.”grumpydragon


Artist-Inspired Projects: Mary Blair


What if century concept artists like Disney Legend Mary Blair had worked on some of today’s popular shows and movies? Image: “There were Dragons” by Lisa Kay Tate

The Artist: Mary Blair

Mary Blair is one of the Walt Disney Studio’s most beloved artists, and is credited for bringing the modernist art style to the Disney family with her concept art for both film and theme park attractions.

Born Mary Robinson in Oklahoma in 1911, Blair attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship, due to her gift for painting. When she graduated, however, it was in the middle of the United States’ Depression era, so instead of trying to make it as a fine artist, she took on her first job at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.


Left: Artist Michael Netzer’s portrait of Mary Blair capturing her modernist style. Right: A section of Blair’s 90-foot mosaic at Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort. Images: Wikicommons.

Soon after, Blair and her husband, fellow animator Lee Everett Blair, went to work for the studio of animator (and close friend of Walt Disney’s), Ub Iwerks. By 1940, she had joined the Walt Disney Company as a concept artist.

In addition to serving as art supervisor for the classics Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, she contributed her animation and concept art talents to some of the studio’s most famous animated films in the 1950s including Cinderella, Peter Pan, and Alice In Wonderland. She was also the driving force behind the look of the Disney Parks’ most famous attractions, It’s A Small World.

One of her most famous pieces, a 90-foot-high mosaic mural created in 1971 for Walt Disney World’s Contemporary Resort, still greets visitors today.

In addition to her work with Disney, Blair illustrated several Little Golden Books, designed sets for Radio City Music Hall, and did freelance work for everyone from Hallmark to Nabisco.


Blair style adds to theme park rides like It’s A Small World and picture books. Images: Rick Tate (left) and Lisa Kay Tate.

Her work was respected and loved by fellow Disney legends like animators Frank Thomas and Marc Davis. Davis even listed her work on the same level of Henri Matisse, and described her as bringing “modern art to Walt in a way that no one else did.”

Even after she died in 1978, her legacy continued, as she received several posthumous awards. This included the honor of being inducted into the Disney Legends group in 1991, now held every other year during the D23 Expo. She share the honors that year with other legends like actress Julie Andrews, and Uncle Scrooge creator Carl Barks.

The Project: “What if Mary Blair did Concept Art for……”


Emphasizing a certain color may add to the personality of the piece. Image: “Oliver!!!” by Lisa Kay Tate.

Remember the Marvel Comics series “What if…,” which gave alternative stories to familiar characters, with ideas like “What if Wolverine was a Vampire”?

Well, this project asks the question “What if Mary Blair did Concept Art for…….?”

Blair’s wonderfully imaginative style could make any type of show look a little better. She was a master of watercolors, especially the opaque watercolor medium gouache, which made up many of her vivid paintings.

One of her defining factors was her innovative use of color. She would combine images and color in a way the would make even the simplest drawings would come to life. What if she was recruited to help brighten up the tone of today’s popular shows and movies?

This “Be the Artist” will be a little different, as it isn’t as much about mimicking an artist’s style, but her spirit. Use colors, simple and bold figures, lots of lively background, and a sometimes childlike, playful attitude.

Find a scene you think would be fun to see in the mid-century style, and paint it. Use simple, but bold expressions in any faces you use, and don’t forget the background. Use watercolors, acrylic, craft paint, or other bright medium. I used a mix of watercolor and colored pencil, which can be easier if still mastering more detailed areas with brushes.

I’ve chosen some more “grown-up” shows I enjoy that seem unlikely candidates for retro Mary Blair style storyboard—Dexter (the early season before it became too unwatchably depressing), Top Gear, since I’ve been binging this show lately, and Game of Thrones, because, well, I love drawing dragons.

However, young artists shouldn’t choose an inappropriate show for their age. One of today’s animated favorites could be given a fresh mid-century style makeover, ala Blair.

Add a little descriptive explanation under the image, as they did in many mid-century children’s books, to make it even more playful.

Today’s television and movies seem to be so dark, cynical, and somber, compared to the days of Blair’s most significant works. Perhaps with a little Blair-style mid-century modernist treatment, everything can seem a little brighter.

Don’t think you can do this? You never know unless you get to work and try. Blair felt actually doing something was where the real learning began.

Blair historian and author of The Art and Flair of Mary Blair, John Canemaker featured this inspiring quote from Blair about on that very subject:

“You get an education in school and in college,” Blair said. “And then you start to work, and that’s when you learn!”

Originally published for Geekmom on July 20, 2015.


Remember, it doesn’t take much too much detail to tell a good story. Image: “That Rascal Moon” by Lisa Kay Tate.

Summer Artist-inspired Projects: Roy Lichtenstein


Matt Murdock (aka Daredevil) takes a break in this Roy Lichtenstein-inspired photo paint-over by Lisa Kay Tate.

The Artist: Roy Lichtenstein

American pop art pioneer Roy Lichtenstein began drawing as a hobby, and enjoyed drawing portraits of this favorite jazz musicians playing their instruments. He enrolled in classes at Art Students League of New York his last year in high school in 1939, but it wasn’t until the 1960s, when he was a teacher at Rutgers University, that he began creating his pop art paintings that incorporated his cartoon-style images influenced by commercial printing techniques.

His portraits often featured thick outlines, bright, bold color schemes, and a pattern known as Ben-Day dots, a printing method named after printer Benjamin Day using dots to give the illusion of color. This method was common in early color comic strips and books.

Lichtenstein worked primarily in oil and an early form of acrylic paint called magna, and incorporated these painting methods to give his paintings the illusion of being a photographic reproduction.


Roy Lichtenstein’s Ben-Day dots were always popular. All images: Wikicommons.

One of his best known works, the 1963 painting Drowing Girl in which a singing woman dramatically exclaims “I don’t care! I’d rather sink than call Brad for help!”, was his take on a panel from DC Comics’ pulpy romance series Secret Love #83. Another piece, the Disney-inspired Look Mickey, was the result of his son looking at a Mickey Mouse comic and saying to his dad, “I bet you can’t paint as good as that.”

His painting Whaam!, actually a painting of the word itself in dramatic comic book letters, is considered one of pop art’s earliest examples. Many of his works were very close copies to the image that inspired them, like an ad or comic book panel, and he even worked on a series where he added his own style in reproductions of pieces by other famous artists like Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso.

Lichtenstein also worked with sculpture and screenprinting, and even in his last decade of life, he was working on new series that turned everyday images into pop art. He died in 1997 at age 73.

Despite his work being shown in galleries from Tate Modern in London to Museum of Modern Art in New York, some critics discounted the comic strip appeal of his works as trite. One Life Magazine article in 1964 posed the question as to whether Lichtenstein was the “Worst Artist in the U.S.”

Today, Lichtenstein’s legacy has risen high above any complaints from his critics, as some of his works have sold for millions of dollars. His style is now copied by many, including a recent trend of recreating his look on real-life people with make-up and face painting techniques.

The Project: Hero Paint-overs


Scarlett vs. Scarlet….came out bit too “Material Girl,” bit still follows the idea.

Remember, some of Lichtenstein’s most popular pieces were near copies of something else, but were still his original works. (Though this ‘borrowing’ has detractors.)

We’re going to take a cue from the makeup artists who turn real-life models into pop art, but we’re not actually going to use a real face.


Find a face and get ready for the project.

Instead, print out a portrait photo of a character or personality on card stock or thick drawing paper. Square images look best for this. Make sure it’s printed lightly, because you’re going to paint over it…just like a comic book inker!

First, use a dark marker, like a felt tip, and draw over the contours of the person’s face, so it starts to look like the edges of a coloring book. Do this first, because when you go back to paint over the image, you’ll  have a better guide.

Next, using lighter colors, paint over the face. Then paint the background, hair, clothes, or any larger spaces. Paint thin enough so you can still faintly see the detail below. Primary colors were used heavily by Lichtenstein: Don’t be stingy with blues, reds, and yellows.


Little use felt tips and acrylics to turn a photo into a painting.

Using brighter paint and makers, outline as much of the face as you can once more, so it starts to look like it was drawn image, rather than a photograph.

Paint (or paste on) a think bubble or quote box, and give that character something to say. It can be sad, dramatic, meaningful, or just plain funny. Lichtenstein used thin, simple letters for his words. They don’t have to be fancy.

Once you get the details you want, add the Ben-Day dots of brighter colors to the skin area of the portrait. This is the hardest part, because you want to keep the dots in fairly straight grid, not just random. This process will take some time and patience. Felt tip markers work well for it, but wait for all paint you use to dry first.

Once done, you’ve done one of the things that made Lichtenstein famous, make a near-copy of something else, but with your own touch to make a completely new work.


Once the painting process is complete…don’t forget those dots.

Lichtenstein even talked about this, in a response to his critics, in a quote found in a 1972 biography by John Coplans:

“The closer my work is to the original, the more threatening and critical the content,” he said. “However, my work is entirely transformed in that my purpose and perception are entirely different.”


Originally ran in Geekmom June 22, 2015.