Thursday, December 06, 2018

Apryl #3

Apryl #3
Charcoal and pastel on toned paper

Here's my newest piece in the charcoal and pastel series that I've been doing for a couple of years now.  I'm pretty happy with it.  Apryl is a very lively young woman, very animated and a great life model.  I've done two previous artworks of her.  Both times, she took interesting poses and held them like a rock.  That's great for figure studies, but there's one drawback.  No model can hold a true facial expression for more than a moment, no matter how good they are.

Want to test it?  Great!  Get a mirror and give yourself a big smile.  No, no, a REAL smile, one that you mean.  Nope, try again.  Okay, getting better.  Got it yet?  Okay, now hold that for 20 minutes.  Don't move, now!

Yeah, right.  Many people don't even like to smile for the camera, and that's just for a second or two.

The issue with facial expressions is that they are reflections of our inner state of mind, which is constantly changing.  When you're posing for an artist, you can hold your body in a position for quite a while, but your mind is going off somewhere else.  As one guy who sat for the painter Lucien Freud said, posing is a cross between zen meditation and a trip to the barber.  I've found that models' faces will settle in to a neutral or blank expression, one that will naturally hold itself over a long period of time.  Sometimes you can see flickers of expression cross their faces as some train of thought is amusing, frustrating, or whatever, but mostly it's just blank.

So how do I do expressions?  Photography.  I'll have a camera out as I talk with the model and will shoot a lot of photos.  Then I'll use the photos as references to build the artwork.  I don't copy the photo, though, but will use the images to see the details of how somebody's face shows expression.

This image came from my last life session with Apryl.  Her expression during the pose was, as all are, pretty blank.  But she's certainly not blank, she's smart, funny, and very expressive.  So during a break, I got out my camera and took a bunch of photos as we talked.  Then we went back to the pose. Now, several weeks later, I was able to go back, look at the photos, and start something new based on them.

Originally, this was a full-figure image of her sitting cross-legged.  I had a rough block-in and decided that it wasn't good enough.  For me, the attraction was in her face, and the small paper didn't allow a full-figure with sufficient room to develop her face.  So I rubbed out the figure, although you can still see a few traces of it.  I started over, looking at just the head and upper body.  The first stage was a rough block-in with vine charcoal.  Then I wiped down most of the vine and hit it with willow charcoal.  Why wipe down the vine?  It seems to fill the pores in the paper with slick particles and the heavier charcoals and pastels don't want to stick.  So I wipe a lot of the vine off, leaving enough to guide me along.

My next stage with Apryl was to use the willow charcoal to develop the features.  But I developed the features too much: there was so much detail in the face that the image lost some of the magic.  I got frustrated and hit it with a kneaded eraser.  That took a lot of over-development out and what was left was streaky.  But the streakiness was cool, so I re-developed the face, but only lightly and not nearly with as much detail.  Then came a light application of pastels to add color, first to the lighted areas, and later to some (not all) of the shadows.  Usually, I focus on the eyes, but this time, I focused on her smile, which was the important element in her expression.  There was a lot of experimentation, lots of rub-outs and erasures, and some happy accidents.  Finally, there was the image.

So, yes, I'm very happy with this one. 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Last Wedding Painting of 2018

I completed the last wedding painting of the year just a couple of days ago.  The next day, Klaire and Drew came by the studio to pick it up, and I had one of those moments that swells your heart.  The first time a couple sees their painting in real life is magic.  In this case it was a high-pitched "OHHHmygaaawwwwdddd", complete with eyes wide and hands to face.  Yep, I think I nailed it.

The last time they had seen their painting was at their reception.  I was packing up and they were about to head out the door for the sparkler run, but they came over to get one last look at it.  They already loved it, even though I told them it was just a rough block-in.  Here's how it looked then:

As a block-in, this is barely satisfactory.  It establishes the basic composition and the couple's pose, but that's about it.  The pose is roughed-in, the wedding party is just hinted at, and the crowd is nonexistent at this point.  Time to get to work in the studio.

Over the next few weeks, I reworked every square inch of the canvas multiple times.  Drew and Klaire were developed, the crowd added and changed, the wedding party developed, both sets of parents were included, the forest and arbor behind them were brought up to spec, and the two ferns on pedestals developed.  And here's how it turned out:

Quite a change, isn't it?  I feel pretty good about the end result.  Apparently, so do they!

My next booking isn't until well into spring, so now I have a bit of a hiatus from wedding paintings.  There are a lot of other works that I've had in mind for a long time, but haven't been able to get to them, so over the next few months they'll be tackled, one at a time.

If you'd like to know more about my wedding paintings and the whole process, check out the Asheville Event Paintings site.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Hell in Paradise

Our son, Rick, and his family (wife Julie and son Jackson, aka Jax) live in Paradise, California.  That is, they did until last Thursday.  Their home was one of the thousands that was destroyed in the fire that also destroyed about 90% of the town.

They're lucky: they're safe and they have a nice place to stay for the time being.  A growing number of people didn't make it out at all (76 as I write this, with over 1,000 still missing).  Many of the survivors are living in tents or shelters.  It's a brutal situation.

So what happened with them?  Well, they had been watching the fire for a few days.  It was on the other side of a ridge, so it needed to be watched, but wasn't an imminent threat.  On Thursday morning, there was smoke in the air, but no sense of danger.  Jax went to school and Rick and Julie went their respective ways to work.

A couple of hours later, Jax called Rick at work.  Fire was approaching the school.  It was in the trees nearby and the kids were being evacuated, and Rick needed to come NOW to get him out.  Rick hightailed it over there and retrieved Jax.  They tried to get up to their house to get their dog, Sugar Ray, and whatever else they could.  The way was blocked: police wouldn't let them get anywhere near the area as the fire was already up there and moving way too fast.  They drove to Chico, about 15 miles away, where Julie had been working.  Her boss has a big house and they invited Rick and the family to stay with them.

The next day, Rick and Julie were able to get into their neighborhood, using a little subterfuge since only emergency workers were allowed in.  Their house was gone; in fact, it was still burning underfoot. The only thing standing was the chimney.  Worse, their dog Sugar Ray died in the fire.  Julie's mother lived on the other side of town.  She and Julie's sister had made it out as well, so they were safe, but Rick and Julie went to check on their house.  It was gone, too.  So was almost all of Paradise.

Since then, it's been a matter of regrouping, finding out what they have to do and what their options are, and discussing what they're going to do in the future.  Right now, there's not much they can do.  Rick still has a job of managing operations for Waste Management - a job that will be very important in the near future, I think.  The fire is still burning and people are not yet allowed back to their houses ... or at least, where their houses once stood.  Jax needs to be in school.  Julie's job is still safe since the fire hasn't gotten to Chico.  So they're figuring out what needs to be done first, then they'll work on the long-term plan.

In the meantime, Rick and Julie have been overwhelmed by the support from friends and strangers alike.  Here's what Rick had to say about it on Facebook:

Woke up this morning with an incredibly full heart, here’s why… Since this tragic fire, we have more people in our lives than prior. We have completely new friends. And while our relationship LITERALLY rose from the ashes… They are happy/healthy relationships that will continue to develop for the rest of my days. To be quite honest; if it weren’t for this fire, I would not have these people in my life. 
I have “new” old friends. These people have always been there. We go through life and tend to drift away every now and again. The term “Life sometimes gets in the way.“ describes this group of friends for me. Here’s what I can tell you about this group… They have been nothing short of spectacular. And while my little family is doing well, make no mistake, we are starting to run with our new lives a little bit more each day. It is comforting to know these people are running with us. Often times; they are leading the way! 

If you know anything about me, you know I pride myself on doing and being more for my friends. For me, it is all about relationships. I fear, I could never be more than my friends have been for my family over the last week. I WILL TRY!

This kinda tells me that they're going to be all right.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

An iMac and the Mojave Update

"What did you do to the computer?"  That question from my wife was the first indication that we had a problem.

We have an iMac that's two years old and had been running well.  The previous day, we had a notification from Apple that we should update to the new OS, called Mojave.  Earlier updates hadn't been much of a problem, so that evening, I started the update.  Several hours later, when we were calling it a night, I checked and the progress bar showed about 75%.  Slow, but these updates were slow sometimes, so no problem.

The next morning, though, it was still at 75%.  No progress at all over 10 or so hours.  I did a bit of research on my old Dell and there were recommendations on restarting the process.  So I shut the iMac down and restarted it.  And discovered major, major issues.  Boot time was about 15 minutes.  Once booted, it didn't recognize the keyboard and mouse for a long time.  When it finally did, the response time to a mouse click or keyboard entry could be 30 seconds or more.  I rebooted and it was the same.  So I started looking at how to dump the Mojave update and revert to the previous operating system and quickly discovered that it was going to be beyond my skill level.  I shut the computer down, unplugged it, and hauled it off to Charlotte Street Computers.  This is Asheville's best Mac store and repair shop and we've had super service out of them before.

Even our technician at Charlotte Street had problems with our computer.  First, he verified that our hardware was all working correctly.  Then he tried the usual assortment of tricks and fixes, but nothing worked.  The next step was to duplicate all our data, wipe the drive, reformat, and do a fresh install of either High Sierra (the previous OS) or Mojave.  I decided on Mojave, since it'll have to be done sooner or later, anyway, so why not have a pro do it?  Except this fresh install of Mojave didn't work, either.  It was still incredibly slow and acted up.  More research by the tech indicated that Mojave seems to have been designed for computers with solid-state drives instead of hard drives.  Hard drives are spinning discs and, while they operate extremely fast, they can only do one thing at a time.  Mojave wants to the processors to access the drive multiple times simultaneously.  No problem for a solid-state drive, but impossible for hard drives.

So I decided to upgrade to a solid-state drive.  Our tech did the installation, ran some tests that showed it was running as designed, then migrated all our data back onto the new drive.  While he was at it, he took our old drive and mounted it in an external case to use as our backup drive.  Great!

The only remaining issue seemed to be that all our passwords were gone.  I'd have to re-set our computer and application passwords, and we'd have to re-set all our internet passwords when we visited various sites.  A bit of an annoyance, but not a problem.

So I took the computer home and, over the course of a couple of hours, discovered that there were till two problems.  One was that my mail application didn't want to work at all.  It did for Janis's account and for the tech's, but not mine.  The other was that the computer didn't see the ethernet port anymore.  Wifi worked, but not the ethernet.  Back to Charlotte Street.  Our now-harried tech fixed the mail problem (a known issue with Mac upgrades), but couldn't for the life of him figure out why the ethernet port wasn't working.  So he gave us a Thunderbolt-to-ethernet connection (Thunderbolt is another port on Macs, apparently; I have no idea what it's all about).  I picked up the computer again yesterday and set it up again at home.  Knock on wood, everything seems to be just fine now.

According to our tech, this Mojave update has been fraught with problems.  It was really bad when first released a couple of months ago and has gradually gotten better, but it is still problematic, as we just proved.  This was NOT a well-designed Apple update.  They released it too early and didn't think some things through.  The hard drive issue, for example.  Apple's poor development work wound up costing me about $350, five days, and a lot of heartburn.  So for all the Mac users out there, think twice before jumping on the Mojave update.  Wait several more months before trying it, and be prepared to take your computer to a pro if it crashes.  So far, I haven't seen anything that jumps out at me as a major step forward from the older OS, so I can't say this was all worth it.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

More Wedding Paintings

Wow, it's been almost two months since my last post.  That's not good!  I've had a lot of stuff happening and wanted to write about it, but just didn't.  No excuses, that's just what happened.  So it's time to do some catch-up here on a lot of topics.  For today's post, we'll talk about three completed wedding paintings and one that's in progress.

I was happy to be chosen to create the wedding paintings for four couples in late summer and fall.  The first of these was for Nil and Aveni, a wonderful couple from the Durham area.  They had a wedding based on traditional Hindu customs, but modified a bit for America.  For one thing, it was only one afternoon - I understand that Hindu wedding ceremonies can go for days.  In Indian tradition, the groom travels in a procession from his village to his bride's.  That doesn't work so well in an American urban setting, so instead, the procession went around the large building where the wedding took place.  It was led by Batala Durham, a Brazilian samba reggae drum band (that's part of the Hindu tradition, right?), and to say they were lively is an understatement.  They had entire procession of several hundred participants (and me) dancing all the way around the building.  However, they didn't have somebody in the nearby residential area dancing and the cops showed up.  Any time you have the cops called on your celebration for making too much noise, you know you're doing it right!  The wedding itself was beautiful.  I painted a moment at the very end of the ceremony that, I thought, perfectly captured their feelings for each other - and it was a huge hit for them both.

Nil and Aveni

The next painting was an outdoor ceremony on a ridge outside of Hendersonville, North Carolina.  It was held shortly before sunset with beautiful colors in the sky.  Taylor and John are very close with their families and wanted the painting to show that.  So we decided to include all of the immediate families: their parents and brothers and sisters.  Getting good likenesses, with lots of life in them, for so many people, is quite a challenge.  Taylor and John, though, loved the way it turned out.

Taylor and John

The third painting wasn't a wedding, it was a vow renewal.  Juli (the owner of Wedding Inspirations Bridal Boutique in Asheville) and Jeff had been married for 32 years.  The ceremony was held at Jeff's surprise birthday party, and to top it off, it was a surprise vow renewal.  I won't go into the story of how you can have a surprise vow renewal here, but it's enough to say that, as told by Juli, it was both hilarious and deeply touching.  I had free rein in choosing the moment to paint, and to heighten the feeling of love between the two, the painting only included them.  And here's how it turned out:

Juli and Jeff

Yesterday, I started a new painting for Klaire and Drew.  Klaire had a very definite idea that she wanted the painting to focus on a moment at the end of the ceremony when they were showered with roses.  That sounded great, but as the couple was coming down the aisle at the end of the ceremony, they stopped a couple of times for impromptu kisses.  I changed the painting's focus right then and there.  Fortunately, once they saw how it was developing, both Klaire and Drew loved the concept.  This painting is still at the very early block-in stage.  It's going to take 2-4 more weeks to get it up to the standards that you see in the other paintings.  But it WILL get there and I will post it here when done.  So here's the painting, still at the ugly stage:

Drew and Klaire (rough block-in)

So that's what's been happening with the wedding painting side of my studio operations.  The painting of Drew and Klaire is the last on my list until April, so over the winter, you'll see more of my charcoal and pastel figures, along with some small oils and maybe even one or two large artworks.  And I hope to be a little better at keeping this blog up to date.

More information on wedding paintings:
Asheville Event Paintings
Asheville Event Paintings Facebook page

Monday, August 27, 2018

A New Job

I just started a new part-time position as the director of Weizenblatt Gallery for Mars Hill University. MHU is a private college right here in the town I live in, about 15 miles or so north of Asheville.  The gallery hosts about ten shows a year.  Last week, I spent a lot of time hanging my first show there: the biennial Faculty Show.  It took way too long, of course, because I'm still learning the ropes, where the tools are, what they expect to see in the gallery, what to do with the student work-study people, who to talk to about publicity, and so on.  Tomorrow, I have to put together the plan for the reception on Wednesday.  Once the reception is over, I gotta do the planning for the next show so that thing go smoother.

Some people wonder why I agreed to do this.  After all, in addition to my studio activities, I still work  as a proposal writer for small firms trying to get federal contracts.  And I'm on the board of a small Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) focused on the Kurdish region of Iraq.  And I've been working with the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), which is a volunteer organization that mentors small businesses that are trying to get started, or grow, or whatever.  At the same time, I have a lot of "life" stuff to do: chores, walk the dog, mow the yard, fix this or that, you know the drill - lots of things that just eat up time.  I needed one more activity like I needed a hole in the head.

But this gives me an opportunity to work with the Art Department students.  I really enjoy working with the young ones just starting out: build their capabilities some, give them confidence that they can do it, show that there's a helluva lot more to art than they can comprehend right now, and help them learn how to find their voice.  I love seeing the flash of sudden insight, especially when it's something that I know will stay with them and not be forgotten in two weeks.

So to make time for the gallery, I'm cutting back on my SCORE functions and one of the tasks associated with proposal writing.  My focus is going to be more on art and art-related functions going forward.  I'm still figuring out what that means.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Living with an Old Dog

My little Soozzee turned 15 years old last month.  She's been with us since she was a tiny pup.  To say that she owns my heart is both accurate and an understatement.  She's the sweetest little dog that was ever born.  Yes, I know, yours is too, but I'm absolutely certain that Soozzee is the queen.

But she's getting old and I'm acutely aware that her time with us is limited.  Over the past year, especially, her age is dragging her down.  Her walks are a bit shorter these days and much slower than they were a year ago.  Her hearing is pretty much gone.  She's totally blind in one eye and almost blind in the other.  She bumps into things around the house.  Her hair has gone from thick and honey-colored to thin and white.  She has old-dog skin bumps, bad skin flakes, and dry eye in both eyes.  Often when she stands in one place, one or more of her legs shake.  The dog formerly known as "Piglet" has to be hand-fed.  She's gone from a hefty 20 pounds to a thinner 16.8 and may not be done yet.  She used to chase The Light (a laser pointer) around the house every single evening.  Now, I'm not sure she can see it anymore, and she only does about a half lap around the house anyway.  She has always been a world-class nap-taker, but her nap times have increased to where she's only awake maybe two or three hours a day, spread over a 12-hour period.

Still, Soozzee is hanging in there.  She still has control of her bowels, thank God, so unlike some other older dogs, she doesn't need diapers.  When she hits her favorite field on her afternoon walk, she still likes to run.  True, what once was one long run is now a series of short and slow runs broken up with rest stops, but she runs.  She likes to go for her daily ride in the car.  She still pounces on The Light when she can see it.  She can rattle the windows with her snoring.  Occasionally we'll get a good tail wag, and every once in a while, the dog that rarely gave us slurps during her whole life will give us one.

I was an emotional wreck when we had to put her sister Indy down shortly after Christmas.  I know I'm going to be an even worse wreck when Soozzee goes.  It may not be that much longer.  But I'm going to treasure every moment I have with this little dog.