Armand Cabrera
I have been having a discussion online with some other people about the need or use of reference. There seems to be this disturbing trend in younger thinking that reference isn’t a good thing and that you can learn enough about drawing and painting to not need it. They seem to think using any kind of reference is mere copying, which couldn’t be farther from the truth.

                                                                 Jean Leon Gerome

While I agree that there are many people who get by with a professional level of representational work that doesn’t rely on reference. I think you cheat yourself to not include its use as a professional artist.  This goes double for working from life. No matter what your level of ability or chosen genre, the use of reference can only help. Of course you have to be confident in your abilities and smart enough not to let it supersede artistic judgment.  Reference should only follow and enhance design, never decide it.
                                                              Francisco Pradilla Ortiz

Working from life allows you an infinite amount of solutions to the problems of form, value and color. Our finite imaginations and limited memory can’t even come close to that full range of possibilities and combinations. Even composition can be better informed with the use of reference and life studies.

                                                                          Ilya Repin

The great artists and illustrators of the past used everything they had available to them to create work of lasting impression.They worked hard to achieve their artistic goals and never settled for an easy solution to their paintings.  If you just work to only satisfy a client and get by with the barest minimum of professionalism, then you doom your work to mediocrity and the trash bin of history. Not an epitaph one wishes for their career.

Zdenek Burian


Armand Cabrera

Zdenek Burian was born in 1905 in Morovia in the Czech Republic. Burian showed talent at an early age. He was accepted into the art academy in Prague at 14. He completed two years of training at the academy but dropped out in his third year to take professional illustration assignments. Burian received regular assignments for illustration magazines and books all through the 1920’s. Burian married in 1927.

 It was about this time he started illustrating famous adventure novels and classics for English and Czech publishers. The titles included the Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling, Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea.

 In 1935 Burian met professor Josef Augusta and in 1941 started a collaboration on recreations of prehistoric man and flora and fauna. In the 1950’s a series of books were published that would bring Burian world renown. They were reprinted by Paul Hamlyn in England in the late 50’s and early 60’s.

Burian’s prolific output is estimated to be in the range of 15,000 to 20,000 drawings and paintings. He has influenced generations of comic book artists and illustrators who grew up seeing his depictions of their favorite stories and his paintings of prehistoric worlds.

 Zdenek Burian Died in Prague in 1981. There is a Museum now dedicated to his work In the Czech Republic.


I usually get my information for these biographies from books. In this case all the biographical information I found was on the internet. Most of it was in Czech  and was translated by the computer. There are a few references in English

English References

The Edgar Rice Burroughs ERBzine website an article written by Camille Cazedessus

Bud Plant Illustrated Books website

Jim Vadeboncoeur

Czech Reference

Zdenek Burian Museum

Quote (translated)

You know, a painter, as well as an actor must be able to experience all the adventure of his drawing in his imagination. If he wants to paint a horse that swims the rapids, he must be on that horse for a while. 
Zdenek Burian

More Dean Cornwell Quotes


Armand Cabrera

More quotes from the Dean of Illustration.These are from a 1926 lecture and were originally written by Horace Gilmore. I am leaving the misspelling and grammatical errors intact. I want to thank Kev Ferrara for hunting these down and sharing them.
 All images are Dean Cornwell.

Suggestion for designing canvas/composition – it is well not to have commonplace placement that is equal parts of foreground, middle distance, and distance. Better to have ample spacing of one or other.

When you use light and shade use it for all there is in it. If making a line drawing, then make it entirely a line drawing.

Have variety of space and shapes. When a canvas is designed it’s impossible to sign it without spoiling it.

Said picture looked as if a camera had just clicked without any thought, (happened to get it that way).

Suggested gasoline to clean canvas.

Picture looked as if it were made from other pictures instead of nature. Go to nature for everything. Natural edge of vignette, tree, edge of leaves.

Illustration perspective is free-hand perspective.

Study still life in different lights, outdoors, in doors, sunlight, etc. Have simple still lifes. Just one or two objects. Observe nature, relative values, and different lights, as moon and sunlight, night etc.

Regarding model in studio, always have picture practically finished before seeking models. Sometimes has model low for working on head, higher for working on body, and still higher for feet to get it as picture is laid in.

Light – (unreadable word – might be “Cornwell”) does part with artificial light, some with sky, related greys, etc.

Ideas that can be told in words are story ideas and not pictorial ideas. Pictorial ideas require consideration of nice design, sweet lovely tones, and color values and light, etc.

Don’t “do” everything. Sort of accent (bring out spots), nice large quick areas, and spots of detail carrying through.

Get the spirit of the picture. Different people have different kind of homes, do/live differently, etc.

Use light sweet high keyed tones for lovely girls, and low tones for men.

Dean Cornwell Notes part 1

Dean Cornwell Notes Part 2

Henryk Hector Siemiradzki

Armand Cabrera


Henryk Hector Siemiradzki was born on October 24th, 1873 in Bilhorod near Kharkov in the Ukraine, part of the Russian Empire at the time. Henryk first studied painting with a local teacher but his parents convinced him to get a degree in mathematics and natural sciences.
 After receiving his doctorate in the natural sciences he continued to pursue his study of painting at the Imperial Academy of the Arts in Saint Petersburg. He was quickly recognized for his talent. He was awarded a gold medal and a grant to study abroad upon his graduation. He chose Munich, studying under Karl Von Piloty for a year. 
After selling his first large scale work to the St Petersburg Academy Henryk used the funds to settle in Rome and built a studio there, in the summers he would stay at his estate in Poland.
Henryk won a gold medal and the French National Order of the Legion of Honor at the 1878 world’s fair in Paris. His success brought him many commissions. His large scale works were often acquired for museums.  He is best remembered for his work depicting antiquity and the life of Christ.
Henryk died in 1902 at the age of 58
Some Call it Kitsch
Masterpieces of Bourgeois Realism
Aleksa Celebonovic
Abrams 1974

Painting the Cherry Blossoms

Armand Cabrera

Wednesday I got up at 5 am to ride the Metro into DC to paint the Cherry blossoms. I don’t go out every year to paint them and I was really looking forward to being there this year. I arrived just as the sun was coming up and hitting the tops of the trees at about 7:30 Am.


The blossoms are very ephemeral and when they start to bloom you only have a few days to capture them if things go well. The weather did not disappoint and it was a beautiful Spring day. Some years the weather is miserable, you never can tell. I have been there painting when it was in the 30’s and some years like this year it broke 90.


With two thirds of the Washington monument covered in scaffolding I gave it a pass even though it is one of my favorite subjects on the Mall.

I started and ended my day with the Jefferson Memorial. The Jefferson Memorial with its round shape, dome and columns is always a fun challenge for a two hour painting.


I painted the boathouse in between the two Memorial paintings. By the time I started the second painting it was standing room only in the more popular spots along the shore.

I walked the tidal basin twice taking photos for large studio paintings. I finished my third painting by 2 pm,  packed up and headed for the metro before the rush hour mobs. All in all it was a good day and a lot of fun.