Monday, November 06, 2017

A Bit of Success

I had a bit of success this past week and wanted to share it here.  Two of my paintings were juried into the Grace Center's annual juried art exhibition.  They're very different paintings, although they are both figurative paintings about real people.  

Cinderella's Seamstress
Oil on canvas, 48"x48" 


Saddle Up
Oil on canvas, 50"x40"

I went to the opening reception on Saturday night and was blown away when both of them won awards.  Saddle Up got an Honorable Mention while Cinderella's Seamstress was awarded Best of Show!  Absolutely amazing.  There is a lot of really good work in the show, so I was happy just to be in it, but to have both pieces recognized like that is something out of this world.

I had a great time talking with some of the other artists as well as other art professionals.  One woman had a beautiful collage in the show that had so much to say in addition to being so wonderfully made.  We had a short conversation but I'm hoping to talk with her in more depth sometime soon as I'd love to have some insight into the way she puts her pieces together.  Something tells me that her basic process is not that different from mine, but the medium and end results are so very different.

The show will be up until the first week of January.  If you're in the Mills River area, I recommend stopping by to see it!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Painting a Wedding Reception

This past Saturday night, I was the live painter at the wedding reception in Charlotte for two lovely people.  Yes, I painted.  Live.  At the reception.  And I have to say: it was a blast!

I've posted on here before about being a live event painter.  This time, I thought I'd share some thoughts about how I go about it and what the experience is like.  I was contacted a while back by the couple who had a general idea about what they wanted.  We talked on the phone about some of the different options, along with the pros and cons of each, and decided that we would focus on the couple's First Dance.  This is my favorite subject for an artwork as it allows for greater creativity in composition and subjects.  I coordinated with their wedding planner, the venue manager, and the photographer to ensure that we were all on the same sheet of music.  The venue manager had a few specific requirements that were quickly taken care of and we were ready to go.

On Thursday, I put my painting rig together and got it ready to load into the car.  There's quite a bit of stuff needed, and I've made up a checklist to make sure nothing gets left behind.  There's the easel, canvases (two: one with a cool tone and one with a warm tone), paints, brushes, palette, rags, medium, and solvent, of course.  I need an easel-mounted LED lamp to ensure there's enough light to paint by, which also requires an extension cord, which also requires gaffer's tape (not duct tape) to prevent tripping.  Then there's an industrial mat to protect the hotel's expensive carpet.  I also have my camera and ancient MacBook so I can photograph important things (like the first dance) and then work from the photos later.  Trash bags, baby wipes, brush soap, lots of business cards and flyers, a copy of the contract and other important details, scissors, and a few other odds and ends.  All of it needs a rolling toolchest (thanks, Lowe's) to haul it around.

On Saturday afternoon, I drove down to Charlotte.  I checked into my hotel, changed clothes, and headed out to the Marriott City Center.  I only went to one wrong floor before finding the right location, then quickly set up my stuff.  The Marriott staff was extremely helpful and went out of their way to make sure I had what I needed.  They'd never worked with a live wedding painter before, so my rig and I got a lot of attention.  The wedding planner, Lauren Kelley, owner of Kelley Event + Design, and her staff, had all the details well under control.  The DJ was Mike with Split Second Sound, and he turned out to be an outstanding MC and DJ - he had that place moving all night long.  And I enjoyed working with the photographers of Capture Me Candid - they were very creative and easy to work with. 

Once we were set, I started painting.  My goal was to have something on the canvas before the guests started coming into the room.  That meant I had to decide on the composition and get it and the newlyweds roughed in before they even arrived.  Not a problem, really: a few small sketches to try out some options and a workable composition presented itself.  And I was off and running.



To say that the guests were intrigued by the idea of a live artist is an understatement.  None had ever seen anything like it at a wedding, and only one had even heard of the idea.  People came by the easel continually all night long, asking questions and keeping an eye on how it developed.  I had a great time talking with all of them.  This was a great crowd, really enthusiastic, and with some sharp questions and observations.

The painting itself developed over about five hours into a very rough first draft.  I decided to put the couple over towards the right side with the crowd circling behind them and to the left.  Actually, the last time I was at a reception, everybody was sitting during the first dance, and I'd planned on something similar, but this crowd was on their feet, and that necessitated a few changes!  I also included the parents of the groom and the mother of the bride.  My goal for the first night was to establish the lights and darks, keep the brushwork lively, and capture the spirit of the evening.  Here's how the painting looked at the end of the night:


The painting is now back in the studio to be brought up to a much higher level of finish.  Today I worked on correcting the perspective (it was way off, but that's to be expected when you're winging it) and developing the walls and ceiling.  Then it's on to the figures: first the couple, then the parents (not to the same level of detail) and then the rest of the crowd.  I estimate it will be a 2-4 week process.

So stay tuned - I'll post the finished version here as well!


Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Workshop on Drawing Portraits



I ran another of my Portrait Drawing Workshops this past weekend.  I've done this one several times before and we've always had a good time.  This class was no exception.  It's a 2-day workshop that goes for about 4 hours in the afternoon.  We don't hire models as we already have enough in the room already.  I have a format that seems to work pretty well.  And I use an unexpected book as a primary reference.  Each of these statements needs a bit of explanation.

These workshops go for no more than four hours because I've found that my students tend to hit the wall at that point.  At three hours, they're still going strong; at four, their eyes start glassing over and the enthusiasm takes a marked downward turn.  So rather than flog a dead horse, I wrap things up while there's still life left in them.  A couple of weeks ago, Robert Hagan ran a workshop in my studio that went from 9-5 for three days with one hour off for lunch.  I saw that the students came close to the saturation mark about the time we broke for lunch.  The break restored our enthusiasm and we wrapped up in the afternoon before we ran out of steam altogether.  So four hours seems to be the maximum amount of time to keep people cooped up and focused on something before they need a break.

I run my workshops in the afternoon.  The reason is simple: I don't like to get up early in the morning!  I did that for many years and don't want to do it again if there's any way around it.  And since I'm the one setting the schedule for my own workshops, there's definitely a way around it.

My portrait workshops don't use hired models.  Instead, all of the students model for each other.  This exposes them to a wide variety of differences in features.  They all have different eyes, noses, mouths, chins, hair (including a lack of), head structures, proportions, and so on.  I shift them around so they don't draw the same individual twice in a row.  And they all get to experience being a model for a bunch of artists and having their features analyzed in a class discussion.  So far, everybody has had a good sense of humor about it. 

For the format of the workshop, I start with a discussion of the basic structure of the head.  I don't break out a skull and have them draw it as that approach never really did much for me.  Instead, I show them a way to quickly build an armature for the head, a quickly sketched basic structure that they could stretch, compress, turn, and arrange as needed.  Then we look at all the various features: eyes, nose, and so forth, and talk about how they're formed and what to look for in each individual.  We also talk about proportions: the relationships between all the different features, some ways to analyze them, and getting them down on paper.  And then we draw each other, one at a time.  These are generally quick drawings, about 15 minutes to draw and then maybe 10 minutes or so to do a group critique.  This is a portrait DRAWING workshop, after all, so they should be drawing as much as possible.

As for my primary reference book, it isn't one about drawing portraits at all, at least not in the traditional sense.  It's The Mad Art of Caricature! A Serious Guide to Drawing Funny Faces, by Tom Richmond.  Yes, my portrait reference is a book about caricatures.  Tom Richmond is one of the best in the world in this field.  You look at one of his figures and you know instantly who it is.  In caricature, you have to identify what makes an individual face unique and then exaggerate it so it's (a) recognizable and (b) funny.  In portraiture, you have to identify what makes an individual face unique and then render it at least somewhat realistically so it's recognizable.  The actions are very similar.  Richmond's book does a much better job at describing everything that goes into capturing the essence of an individual than any fine-art portrait drawing book I've ever seen.  I found my copy at my local Barnes & Noble, but you can get it at Amazon too (of course).

So we had a successful workshop.  I was really and truly impressed by how far the students came in just two days.  Everybody, and I mean everybody, showed improvements in their abilities to see the differences in features and to accurately capture the features in pencil on paper.  It really felt good to see that.  One of the students even asked if I could do this workshop once a month!  Umm, no, but I do give it about two or three times a year.  Maybe I'll do one that's a bit more advanced next time, or focus more on the "drawing" aspect rather than the "seeing".  

Monday, October 09, 2017

A Workshop with Robert Hagan


Last week, my studio was the site of a workshop by Australian artist Robert Hagan.  As you can see from the photo (taken on Day 1), we had a full house of students to soak up whatever this popular artist could teach.  I took the workshop, too, and learned a lot while having a good time.

So how did this come about?  Last summer, I saw a posting on a local artist board, looking for a place that could host the workshop.  I didn't know anything about Robert, but looked him up and discovered that he has a very different style of painting from mine.  And he travels around the world giving these workshops.  So the combination of learning some very different painting techniques while seeing how a pro runs a workshop was too much to pass up.  I volunteered my studio as the location and we took it from there.  It required a good bit of coordination to get everything lined up, but we did it, and Wednesday morning we kicked off the workshop.

Robert is quite the personality.  He is a largely self-taught painter focusing on popular subjects such as people on the beach, cowboys, horses, cattle drives, and similar themes.  Things that I just don't paint.  And as a self-taught artist, he has a very different way of putting paint on canvas.  Many of the things he did are variations on traditional techniques, such as scumbling, but his approach and tools were not at all traditional.  I found it to be quite liberating.  In fact, I have a commission coming up in a couple of weeks and had been wondering how I was going to make it livelier than my usual working style.  Now I have a pretty good idea of ways that I can loosen this commission up.

The other aspect that I wanted to focus on was how he ran the workshop.  I run art workshops several times a year and am still figuring out how to make them effective and fun.  Robert certainly hit it on both counts.  He had us all working from photos so that everybody was making the same paintings.  It was very interesting to see how each student developed their own images.  He's very energetic and personable, too.  No big or sensitive ego.  He's good at what he does, knows it, and wants to share his skills with the students.  He spent a lot of time one-on-one with each one of us, making sure we understood what we were doing.  Very effective and enjoyable.

Robert worked our tails off, too.  We started at 9 am and continued, with a lunch break, until 5 pm each day.  Which meant that I had to be up at 6 am every day in order to get the studio open shortly after 8 for all the early birds.  At the end of the day, the last people trickled out around 6 or later.  Long days.  Now, I am NOT a morning person.  I spent many years in the Navy getting up at 5:30 or 6 and I just don't do it anymore unless it's absolutely necessary.  Not only that, but I was on my feet all day.  I can't paint sitting down.  So three long days of standing wore me out.

At the end, I'd achieved my goals: I'd learned some new techniques and learned a lot about how to run a good workshop.  And we all had a good time.  It took me two days to get my studio back to normal and I just finished today.  So tomorrow, I can start playing with new paintings and try some of these techniques.  Lookin' forward to it!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Muscatatuck

My last post was about the sorry state of affairs regarding the surface Navy, with a particular focus on the non-existent training of new surface warfare officers.  This post is about a bright spot in training.  Last week, I went to the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center to train another group of civilians who are headed to Afghanistan for a year.  (Muscatatuck, by the way, is pronounced "mus-CAT-a-tuck").  This is something I've been very fortunate to be involved with since my return from Kandahar five years ago.  I've written about this training several times and you can click on the "Muscatatuck" label on the right for photos of the place and comments about previous classes.

There was an interesting twist to this group of students.  Of the seven in my group, two are heading out to support our goals in Syria.  They won't spend their entire tours in Syria; rather, they'll be based in one of the neighboring countries and will go into Syria when and as needed.  Both of these individuals have tremendous experience.  Both were a lot of fun to work with as well.  Neither came in with the attitude of "I've been there, you don't have anything to tell me" - no, they came to learn.

One of the key things that I try to stress with students is working as a team.  No single member has all the answers, and success in each of these training scenarios requires all the team members to be present, in the game, and ready to jump in with the appropriate question, answer, or suggestion at any moment.  The Lone Rangers will fail downrange.  Fortunately, with this group, there were no super egos.  Everybody pulled together.  The two with the most experience did something even better: they deliberately played supporting roles, rather than leading roles.  This gave the students with less real-world experience the chance to be the team leaders.  As one who was in that situation six years ago, learning by doing is the best way to internalize the lessons.

So my team did a super job.  The mistakes that were made were due to breakdowns in communication by those outside the team, and they learned from the experiences.  The last scenario is the most complex of all and the young lady serving as team leader was the quietest and most reserved of the group.  But she knocked it out of the park.  I couldn't have been more proud.

So to those who complain about "government bureacrats" being lazy, I say stuff it.  You haven't seen them do what I've seen them do.  And to those seven who are, as I write this, on their way to war zones, I say well done, work hard, and come home safe!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Navy Operations

There have been a spate of incidents lately with Navy ships, including two instances of destroyers colliding with merchant ships resulting in the deaths of 17 sailors.  As a former Surface Warfare Officer, I take a personal interest in things like this and looked into it.  What I found was appalling.  Junior offices aren't getting the training they need and the ships are being run way too hard with no downtime for training and maintenance.  I got so pissed off that I could (literally) not see straight.  I calmed down today enough to write my useless Senators and Congressman.  The problems with the Navy are directly attributable to Congressional malfeasance with regards to the Defense budget.  Rather than repeat myself, here's what I wrote to them:

There have been several incidents over the past several months of Navy ships running aground, colliding with civilian ships, or having other accidents.  As a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer, this is of grave concern to me.  Several articles in professional military journals have noted that this spate of incidents can be traced to three things: poor training for surface warfare officers, extremely high operational tempo, and inadequate time for maintenance and upkeep.  All three have their roots in inadequate funding, something that Congress can, and must, fix.

When I was a junior officer, I went through months of training, including 16 weeks in the Surface Warfare Officer School (SWOS).  Here, we received intensive training on maritime rules of the road, ship driving, engineering, navigation, supply procedures, preventive maintenance, and much much more.  We spent considerable time in simulators, including ship driving and damage control.  This class was critical to making me functional when I reported to my ship.  However, that school no longer exists.  It was closed down in 2003 due to budget cuts.  Instead, junior officers were given a stack of CDs and told to go through them after they report to their ships.  So for the past 14 years, the Navy has been sending untrained officers to run billion-dollar surface ships.  At the same time, the officers have to run their divisions, take care of their people, stand watch, carry out their collateral duties, and earn their qualifications.  This is a recipe for disaster.  Would you give a stack of CD’s to a young college graduate and tell him to learn how to fly commercial airliners on the job?  Essentially, that’s what the Navy surface warfare officers have had to do for the past 14 years.

This has been compounded by staffing issues.  For decades, the Navy has worked on ship designs to minimize the size of the crews.  This approach assumes that all personnel are perfectly qualified to do their jobs from Day 1.  As we’ve seen, that is not the case.  The situation is made worse by not even having the personnel to fill all the billets. 

The second issue is operational tempo.  My first ship was homeported in Japan.  We were underway 75% of the time.  Since then, the number of ships has dropped, but the number of ship-days deployed has remained the same.  That means that all ships are being run harder than ever.  That leads directly to the third issue: lack of maintenance.  Navy warships are extremely complex machines.  They are routinely operated in manners that put high levels of stress on all their systems.  Keeping them fully operational requires a lot of time pierside to carry out preventive maintenance and fix the things that wear out or break.  Our ships are not getting that time pierside.  Instead, the under-manned and under-trained sailors and officers are expected to keep the ships operating with baling wire and bubblegum.  When they’re not trying to learn the systems, that is, because they weren’t trained on the systems in the first place.

And this has been going on for FOURTEEN YEARS.  When most Navy careers end soon after 20 years, this means that a whole generation of Navy surface officers have lacked the training to effectively do their jobs.  They have to learn on the go.  Which means that they learn maybe 20% of what they really need to know.

You, sir, as a Senator, bear responsibility for this state of affairs.  Despite years of warnings by senior leaders in the Navy and other services, you have failed to provide adequate budgets for training, operations, and maintenance.  You have failed to eliminate sequestration and that has severely limited the military’s ability to adjust to limited resources.  At the same time, you have stood by and allowed our operational requirements to remain the same while reducing the resources to accomplish them.

Our military can no longer do more with less.  We can do more if you provide the resources.  If you won’t, then we have to do less.  Or more of our sailors will be killed.

The sailors who died on the John S. McCain and the Fitzgerald weren't killed by their Commanding Officers or by the officers on watch, or even by an enemy like the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, or North Korea.  They were killed by senior Navy officers who allowed this to happen, and by Congressmen and Senators who failed to provide adequate funds and resources.  There is so much blame, and so many people responsible.  Unfortunately, probably none of them will be held accountable.  Instead, the CO of the ships will take the fall, while the flag officers and Congressmen who cut the resources will continue on their merry way.

You, sir, should end sequestration and provide an adequate budget for our fleet sailors.  Failure to act on your part will kill more sailors.  It’s as simple as that.

Your constituent,
William E. Rohde, CDR, USN (Ret)
Mars Hill, NC

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Latest Artworks

I haven't posted any new artwork on here in quite a while, have I?  Okay, time to play catch-up.  I've been working on several different things.

I've got a new wedding painting on my easel right now that I'm close to finishing up.  No, it's not ready for prime time yet, so you can't see it, but at least you know it's there and it has been sucking up a good bit of studio time lately.

I've also got a double-portrait commission pretty much done.  The one who commissioned it is going to come to the studio soon to give it the thumbs-up or thumbs-down.  Once I get a thumbs-up, you'll see it here.  Again, it's something that has been taking up a good bit of studio time.

I've done several more new pieces in my charcoal and pastel series.  Several focus on Astrid, a lovely young lady:

 Astrid #1

 Astrid #2

 Astrid #3

 Astrid #4

 Astrid #5

Astrid #6

I see some of these as more successful than others.  My favorites are #1 and #4.  I'd like to hear what you think - leave a note a tell me!

We had a young man sit for our Wednesday night group a couple of weeks ago as a portrait model.  Nicholas has very distinctive features and was an excellent model, as well as being a really fascinating subject of study.  Here's how his portrait turned out:

Nicholas

The next week, we had a new model, Jazmin.  I was pretty happy with her head and face at the end of the session, but didn't like the way everything below her neck turned out.  So the next day, I wiped out the body and reworked it entirely.  This second try turned out much better:

Jazmin

So there you have it: most of my artworks over the past many weeks.  There were a bunch of other attempts in addition to these, but they were failures and consigned to the trash bin.  My failure rate seems to hover around 50% - that is, half of the things I start wind up looking pretty bad, at least to my eyes.  Of the ones that are not failures, maybe half are okay, some are not bad, and a very few are pretty good.  Many years ago, one art student told me that he never had failures.  I told him he wasn't trying hard enough!