Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Radio Interview

Last week, I was interviewed by Marilyn Ball for her Speaking of Travel show on WZGM 1350 radio.  I'd never been interviewed live before and was a bit nervous.  Some of you have had that experience: suddenly a microphone is right there in front of you and you're speaking to God knows how many people, and all you can think of is "...uuuhhhh ...".

Marilyn, though, was a great host.  She quickly put me at ease and it felt like just the two of us sitting around shooting the breeze.  Only with a couple of microphones between us and an eagle-eyed producer watching the clock.  In Speaking of Travel, Marilyn talks to people about their experiences traveling around the world.  She asked to interview me because I'd been an artist, then gone off to Iraq and later Afghanistan, and come back to be an artist again.  I mean, doesn't everybody do that?  No?  Okay, so I'm a bit odd.  Perfect material for an interview subject.

The interview aired on the radio this afternoon, and the podcast became available here.  It's 20 minutes long.  Have a listen!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Looking at Artists: Steve Huston

I love it when I find an artist who knocks my socks off.  Today I found just such an artist: Steve Huston.  This image of one of his paintings-in-progress showed up on one of my friends' Facebook pages today:

Haul (in progress)
Oil on canvas
© 2014 Steve Huston

The vibrancy and strength of this work-in-progress is really impressive.  You can feel the weight that this guy is putting on the line, and feel the push in his legs.  Every line is correct, yet every line is vigorously done so that each has strength and character of its own.  

Once I got over the immediate visual impact, I looked at how he might have done this.  I believe that he toned the canvas with a muted yellow.  Hard to tell from a jpeg image, which almost certainly looks very different on my computer than it does in person, but he might have used yellow ochre and/or orange with a good bit of white to mute it.  Then he let it dry completely.  Next was to rub a muted red wash over the whole thing (maybe a terra rosa toned down with a green?).  The torso was then drawn by wiping out the highlights, and the jeans and shoes drawn with a brush and a very dark, almost black, mixture.  The torso, head, and hair got some additional paint added to establish solidity and color.  So now I'm going to give this approach a try.

Then I looked up Steve's web page, starting with his paintings.  Turns out that almost all of his paintings have this sort of strength.  His subjects are frequently working men, like construction laborers, heavily muscled in a working-man way (as opposed to bodybuilders with their exaggerated physiques).  Others are club fighters.  A few are females.  All have great energy and presence.  

In addition to his web page, Steve also has a Facebook page.  Go take a look and see for yourself.  This guy's good.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Learning How to Paint ... Again

Back in early December, I wrote about starting a new series of paintings about survivors.  This new series is kicking my butt.  As I mentioned then, at least some of the paintings require a very different way of painting than my normal style.  That style is kinda quiet and descriptive, and lets the subject matter carry the story.  That approach doesn't work here.  My survivors are people who've been through some really bad, often violent, situations.  You may not know it if you ran into them on the street - they're regular people doing regular things, but it underlies who they are today.  So painting them in a regular style completely misses the thing that they've survived.

I've been working on some oil studies: small-scale paintings of the compositions of the first two subjects in this series.  The point was to see what worked and what didn't.  My basic compositions worked well, with just some minor tweaks.  But how the paint was applied was all wrong.  It was tentative, careful, and way over-worked.  The paint itself gave no indication of the depth of the underlying story.

And while I was at it, I realized that my color-mixing, color-choosing, and basic painting skills seem to have gone downhill.  I've been too busy lately with my consulting business and it shows.

How to fix that?  Well, I've talked with other artists about their processes, particularly some who work in a manner that I think is more appropriate to these stories.  I've tried to get some idea of how they work, to see what can be applied to my series.  And I'm copying some other paintings, trying to get the flow of the paint, and feel it right down in my muscles and not just in my head.  Painting is something that you need to internalize to where it's almost automatic, so you can think about the important things and let the thoughts and feelings flow through your arm and through the paintbrush onto the canvas without interruption.

Last year, I got DVD of an alla prima portrait demonstration from Robert Liberace, an exceptionally talented artist.  I reviewed the DVD and wound up copying (more or less) his demo as a way to understand his color choices and to loosen up my own paint handling.  Here's what I came up with:

No, I'm not claiming this is great art, it's a copy of somebody else's work.  But this exercise was really useful as a learning tool.  There's another artist that I've been looking at and I'll copy one of his in the next day or two.  Meanwhile, tonight I went to an artist talk at UNCA and came away with some other ideas on what I can do to help get the effects needed.

I'm frustrated that I've been trying to get this series started for months now, and haven't even put a brush to the real canvas yet.  But there's no sense in doing that until I have a good idea as to how to proceed.  Patience, grasshopper, patience.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Life Drawing Again

Last night, I went to a life drawing session at David Lawter's studio in Asheville.  David's Monday night sessions are unique in this area.  All the poses in this 2-hour session are short.  Really short.  We start with 1-minute poses then go to 2 minutes, and end with 5 minutes.  Most other sessions around here start with a 5-minute pose as a "quick" warm-up.

I find these short poses to be a heckuva lot of fun.  They're a challenge: you have to get it right, right away, because there is no going back.  Before you're ready, the buzzer has buzzed and the model is on to a new pose.  Deal with it!

Our model was Amy.  This young lady is a real live-wire.  She looks like Marissa Tomei and is bubbly, energetic, creative, and so much fun to work with.  These short poses really suit her.  She squirms around until she's contorted into some really difficult position, and then holds it like a rock.  The short poses let her get into incredible positions that are really impossible for anything longer than five minutes.  So the combination of short poses and Amy's creativity meant that we had two hours of some really challenging drawing.

So here are a few pages from my sketchbook:

Can't wait for next week!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Lost in Translation

Janis was going through some old memorabilia and found a lot of stuff we'd completely forgotten about.  One of them was an article that I'd written for my last Navy command's newsletter.  I was stationed at the Naval Security Group Activity in Misawa, Japan, in 1998.  And yes, that was my official photo - don't you just love the Harry Potter glasses?  And that stern look.  What a faker!

Most officers tried to write "inspirational" op-ed pieces that nobody ever read.  I just said to hell with it and wrote about whatever caught my fancy.  This particular piece was about how both the Japanese and Americans butchered each other's languages.  Here 'tis:


One of the neat things about serving overseas is that we get to murder somebody else's language and they, in turn, get to murder ours.  Both sides seem to do a pretty good job of it, much to their mutual amusement.

When I first arrived in Misawa, I was entranced by the names of the cars.  Where else but Japan could you find a real Bongo Wagon?  For those of us of "a certain age" (that means us old folks), bongos conjure up visions of half-trashed VW Vans with flowers painted all over them.  Another great name was the Toyota Super Casual.  Not just regular ol' laid-back casual, mind you; we're talking comatose here!  For me, the overall winner was the Nissan that featured "Viscous LSD".  Where's DEA when you need them?

Car names were only the beginning.  As I wandered around off base, I noticed more and more interesting phrases in the most unlikely places.  T-shirts and the backs of jackets seem to be especially creative.  One individual wore a jacket emblazoned with the proud logo of the Pony Tail Growing-Up Club.  A rakish-looking guy in the Misawa airport had a jacket which proclaimed "Motorcycle racing is a dangerous sport.  Requires great skill and courage.  Every one should enjoy it."  Yep, let's get Grandma out there on a high-powered Kawasaki and let 'er rip!

Sometimes the Japanese don't seem to be 100% sure of what they're selling.  In Yokosuka I ran across a trendy little store called the Boutique Something.  Another time, right near the New Sanno Hotel in Tokyo, I spotted the No Concept Shop.  I've heard of truth in advertising, but this takes honesty to a whole new extreme.

Food items can get very interesting.  You know how sales people will set up a little demo table in a department store and give out free samples?  I stopped at one of these once and the young lady spent five minutes assuring me that her samples of "Calpis" weren't what they sounded like.  And as if getting used to eating raw fish isn't challenging enough, there's a restaurant out in town that features "live curry".  No, thanks; if it ain't dead, I ain't eatin' it.  However, most restaurants here in Japan seem to subscribe to the motto that I saw in one: "We make happy time".  Yes, they do.

As entertaining as their fractured English is to us, our mangled attempts at foreign languages are, by and large, much worse.  I recall, back in my ensign days, sitting under (yes, under) a table in the Yokosuka O'Club joyfully singing along in four-part disharmony a song I later discovered to mean "wait a minute please, please, please, wait a minute please, is that right?"  No wonder the Japanese cleaning ladies (who were trying to get us to leave as it was well past closing time) seemed to think we were nuts.  It sounded a lot better then, after six or eight beers, than it ever has since.  Not that I've gotten any better with age.  Last summer I had to make a short speech in Gonohe and, to show my respects, I tried to give it in Japanese.  Hah!  My speech had only one joke but they started laughing as soon as I opened my mouth.  I'm still not sure if I advanced intercultural relations or gave them a serious setback.

In all these mis-translations of each other's languages, I've noticed some common trends.  Americans are more action-oriented in their phrases ("Just Do It"), while the Japanese are more passive ("Experience your outdoor life").  I guess this goes back to each other's cultures.  Americans will ride a roller coaster until they puke.  Japanese will sit in a Zen rock garden and watch bonsai grow.  Both will go home thinking there's no better way to spend a day.

And for each of them, they're absolutely right.