Category Archives: Drawing

Moonlit Garden

Hearts-Intents_web  Graphite on light bond paper, 11″x17″ (2002).

Often when a first doodling turns to a sketch, it seems words take part in the making of an idea. This was a case where a poem came into mind as the doodle became a drawing, and after a bit it became a rendering of a whole concept. The poem was setting there waiting for an image.

Often it is engaging to start a sketch with a basic shape, in this case a circle, and after giving a few guide lines it looked as a crescent moon. With a little dabbling it soon became a moonlit garden and it needed people.  It is unusual for me to come at a picture this way; I usually “see” the idea and refine it rather than see a refinement become a picture.

It is both disappointing and delighting to “find” an image rather than “create” an Idea.

This happens with watercolor painting, and painters a lot, the finding or accidental flowering of a great painting controlled but not contrived. They call them happy accident paintings, and over time take credit for the guided masterpiece.  I suppose it is true that mastery of the medium is a form of creating.  To me, it is more rewarding to see and then render, than to render and then see.




Blue Walking Bridge

walk-bridge-fish_webBlue Walking Bridge located in Canal Park in Duluth, MN and spanning the Minnesota Slip. 8″x9″ graphite on illustration board with “Iron Fish” insert 5″x5,” also graphite on illustration board. I have sketched and illustrated several versions of this bridge and its “fish.” The Iron Fish sculptures are a pale green, mounted on concrete pedestals. The walkway is made of heavy timbers.

This bridge is known locally as the Blue Bridge in Canal Park because, well, it’s blue. Local folks and tourists love it and the local government wants it replaced (to say they dislike it is understating it). It is aging and becoming unreliable and costly to maintain. I am enchanted with it on several levels. First, it has artistic charm, and then it has artistic un-necessary embellishments (the iron fish). It is cool to watch it open and close by going up in two halves. The bridge connects two sections of Canal Park that both have visit worthiness. It is functional and adds greatly to the ambiance of the area in which it “resides.”  At night, which few stay around to see, it is a grand view of reflections of both light and buildings. Sometimes glassy reflections of returning small sailboats and fishing boats. This is where the harbor tours dock and depart, creating tens of thousands of bridge users to come and enjoy.



Old Dutch Harbor


Carbon graphite pencil on drawing paper 12″x18.” Original sketch rendered in 2005.  Dutch – Holland Harbor, circa 1500s.

This is a drawing of the early Dutch harbor with windmills (one of three images).  It is not a historically accurate image, but a contrived image of my own imagination. It is about how the Middle Ages formation of Holland (c.1400s-1500s) was challenged first by Spain, then France.  The early dikes were little more than mud piled up and re-enforced with wooden stakes and grass.
Rocks and boulders, as could be found, were used for more critical elements as gates and bridges.  A series of floodgates controlled the flow of ocean tides, allowing traffic into the town and shutting out the high tide as needed.  These mounds made the first sites for windmills to pump out the seawater and make dry land to farm.  The mounds were called “polders.”  There was a confluence of three main rivers draining out of Europe and access for shipping made this location a prime piece of mud. This did not go unnoticed by the major sea powers of France and Spain.  The quiet Dutch harbor would grow to become the greatest seaport in the world, now known as Amsterdam.  The windmills also gave rise to the industrial power that made Holland prosper as well.

The first image in this set shows the arrival of the French armada. (see “French Armada Arrives in Old Holland Harbor” below).

The second image (see “Ice Bound Ships,” this section) shows how the second attempt ended in almost the same strange occurrence of a flash freeze.

Seagull In Joyful Flight

Pen and Ink on illustration board 8″x10″ Rapidograph Tech Pen.

Graceful seagull in flight; they are a joy to watch and both fun and funny characters to sit and observe. Catching them with a pencil sketch and later converting to pen and ink works best. Grabbing photo research helps, but there is nothing like watching and sketching to get the feeling of how much they enjoy flying. Makes you want to stretch your arms out and try. If you watch the children watching the birds, they mimic their flight with out stretched arms and share their popcorn to encourage the joy. Canal Park in Duluth, Minnesota – one of the best places to see both children at play and birds at work.


French Armada Arrives in Old Holland Harbor

Carbon graphite pencil on drawing paper 12″x18″ Original sketch rendered in 2005.  Dutch or Holland Harbor circa 1500s.

This drawing was done for a video (one of three images) about how the Middle Ages formation of Holland was challenged first by Spain, then France. The French ships were sailing into the harbor and were stopped short by a flash freeze storm. In their first attempt to conquer the Dutch, they awaited a morning thaw, but the Dutch citizens went out on the ice the night before they were to attack and set the entire French fleet on fire.

The second image (see Ice Bound Ships, this section) shows how the second attempt ended in almost the same strange occurence of a flash freeze.


© John Michael Cook

Sail Boat Regatta

36-wednesday sailors Study  6″x8″  (Aquarell water graphite pencil on watercolor paper) I love these pencils – they are so fun to use. Draw and add water with a small brush and shade as you go.

Duluth, Minnesota at Lake Superior – study sketches. Sailing boats are always moving and a bit of a distance away so you have to plein air grab what you can or photograph them. I prefer to just find a bench or rock and give it a try. Later these boats may become a studio painting, or maybe not. The Aquarell pencil allows great range in shading and drawing on site (plein air).

The Aquarell pencil also gives a uniform look to sketches over time, with consistent shading values.


Ice Bound Ships

ice ships-1  Good ole #2 pencil on drawing paper 11″x17″  ( 2009) Original drawing. 

The image was a study sketch for a video story. It turned out well enough to use without further rendering and was one of three. I will post the other two when I find them.

The story was about the French Navy attacking the Dutch ports. Their ships, carried horses, weapons and men enough to lay siege to the ports. A strange cold freeze came across the harbor the night before the attack and every ship became icebound in the great harbor, so they unloaded the horses and men to attack, but as suddenly as the freeze came, warm streams of water beneath the ice caused it to melt; with heavy armor and weapons, the horses, men and weapons all fell through the unstable ice and the men drowned. (This was their second failure at the campaign).



© John Michael Cook

Endion Station

endion station

Endion Station, located in Canal Park, Duluth, MN.

On site sketch (2005), rendered in graphite on illustration board 8″x10.” Some tonal work was done with the Aquarell water pencil

The Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Endion Depot is a historic railroad depot in Duluth, Minnesota.   Built in 1899 for passengers and freight. It was formerly located at South Street and 15th Avenue East. The Interstate 35 extension in 1985, necessitated moving the building; it was relocated to Canal Park.  It features fine brick and stone architectural detailing and craftsmanship. The building is designed with projecting gables that form a transept. Its architect was I. Vernon Hill. The stone came from the Kettle River quarries near Sandstone, Minnesota.