Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Road Trip

I just got back from a road trip for combined personal and business matters.  I enjoy being on the road, but it's also good to be home again.

Janis and I went up to northern Baltimore first to visit family.  I have a 97-year-old aunt up there, along with a cousin, her son, and his family.  We hadn't all been together in quite a few years, so it was good to see everybody again.

The big reason we went at this time was my aunt.  She's still in good physical condition and living in an assisted living facility.  She gets around really well with a walker, which she thinks she doesn't need.  She's definitely not bed-ridden.  And she can carry on a conversation with you all day long.  It may not always be fact-based, but she's a full participant.  For example, she told us about how the man in the apartment below hers didn't like it when she walked around in her room.  The problem is that she lives in a one-story building.  But if you just go with the flow, she's right there with you.  Kinda/sorta.  We took her out to lunch one day and dinner another and she had a great time. 

Catching up with the cousin and other family members was really good, too.  Spent lots of time talking, getting to know the two small kids, checking out modifications to the house, that sort of thing.  Janis and my cousin went to Nordstrom's one day, a treat for J since there aren't any within a couple hundred miles of home.

I went over to the Baltimore Museum of Art one day to get my art fix.  Spent all my time looking at their collection of paintings from old masters like Titian, Raphael, Rembrandt, and van Dyck, to Matisse and Picasso.  There's a painting by Rembrandt of his son that I really enjoyed.  It was in a room full of formal portraits that were all perfectly finished, so perfectly that there wasn't a whole lot of life in them.  Rembrandt's portrait of his son was very casual.  He was sitting in an awkward position with his head tilted and a slight smile on his face.  You could see where Rembrandt tried three different positions for his thumb, but never really resolved it.  As I was looking at the face, something was a bit off.  When heads are tilted, artists have a natural inclination to try to straighten things out.  I certainly do.  So when looking at a tilted head, we'll draw the head at an angle, but the eyes will be level with the canvas or paper.  Same the nose, only over a little bit.  The mouth, too: level with the canvas/paper, not with the tilt of the head.  I do it all the time and it drives me nuts when I realize what I'm doing.  So I'm looking at Rembrandt's painting, and see that he painted the nose straight up and down, not tilted like the head.  What a revelation: the greatest portrait painter of all time can screw up just like I do!  And here's the painting to show what I'm talking about.  Click on the image to see it larger.

At the end of our visit, Janis flew back to Asheville and I headed south.  I spent the night with old friends in Annapolis.  The next day, I drove down to Richmond, Virginia, to get ready to do a painting at a wedding.  That afternoon, I visited the Gaines Mill Battlefield Park.  One of my great-great-grandfathers fought there in the Civil War and I was able to find the area in which his unit operated.  He was a brave (and lucky) man to have gotten through that battle unscathed.  On Saturday morning, I visited the Petersburg National Battlefield.  A different great-great-grandfather participated in the defense of the city during the Union siege.  Nobody has a very clear understanding of where his unit was stationed, since they moved around a good bit, so I wasn't able to say "he fought here".  But I did get a much better understanding of what he endured.  It was hell.

The wedding went really well.  The bride was SUPER excited about having me create her wedding painting.  I had at least a dozen people tell me variations of "she told me she's getting married and she's having a wedding painter at the reception!"  Wow, no pressure there, huh?  But all went well.

So I'm back home and getting back in the swing of things.  Got the Alfa out of the garage again and it was happy.  Got the wedding painting going in the studio.  Got a lot of catch-up paperwork to do.  Life is good!

Thursday, August 01, 2019


During my recent effort to inventory my artworks, I rediscovered a bunch of old charcoal drawings.  They had been stacked up years ago and left to get moved, smudged, and eventually ruined.  Some of them, I immediately tore up and threw away.  But some others weren't too bad.  I wondered if they could be reworked with pastel into "keepers".  So I gave it a shot.

And learned something interesting.  My way of working in charcoal and pastel lately has been to do a rough sketch in charcoal and then do most of the development with pastel.  It's an impatient method that assumes the black-and-white structure of the drawing is solid.  If it is, great.  If not, then making necessary changes is very difficult.  A lot of my works have gone into the trash because the architecture of the drawing and the accuracy of the likenesses weren't strong.  Adding color on top of that just gilded a pig.

By contrast, these old figure drawings were already fully-formed.  They're all done with vine charcoal with white highlights on toned Canson paper.  Vine charcoal is very easy to work with: it lays down a gray line or area and is very easy to erase and correct.  I had already worked out the composition, structure, and likenesses with all these drawings and they were good enough at one time for me to keep them.  So all they needed was some pastel to bring out the color.

Almost all of them came out well.  One was totally unsuccessful and is now in the trash can, but four look pretty good.  Here they are:

I took the lessons learned from this approach and applied them at our weekly life session last night.  Rather than dive into the pastel at an early stage, I worked for most of the session on the charcoal drawing, then only used the pastel during the last 45 minutes or so.  It looked pretty good when I left the studio last night.  Now I need to see it with fresh eyes before deciding whether it's a keeper or not.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Photographing Artworks

The subject of photographing artworks popped up this week in my discussions with other artists.  I thought it would be good to put down my procedures and see if anybody else was doing things in a similar manner, or had other ideas.

When I say "photographing artworks", I mean (for me) paintings, drawings, and charcoal/pastel works.  So, 2D stuff.  Good photos are important for documenting your work, entering shows, and approaching galleries.  Lots of professional artists take their completed artworks to professional photographers to get high-quality images.  Since I'm a cheapskate and more of a do-it-yourselfer, I do my own photography.  They may not be as high-quality as a pro will give you, but they do the job for me.

My equipment is fairly basic: a decent digital SLR camera (mine's a Canon T3i, several years old now but does fine), a photographer's gray card, an easel with a piece of white tape, and my trusty old (circa 2008) Apple iMac.  The software is the old iPhoto that came with the computer, and Photoshop Elements.  I use iPhoto as the storage manager for all my studio photos, and Photoshop Elements to do the minor tweaking needed to make the image files correct.

I shoot my photos outside, in the shade.  The light there is very even, so there are no hot spots on the artwork.  For works that are on paper, I tape them to a panel with artist tape, which is basically white drafting tape that is pH-neutral.  For works on panels or canvas, I put them on an easel that has a piece of that artist tape adjacent to the painting.  So what's with the white artist tape?  Well, it gives me a reference in adjusting the color and lighting.  More on that in a minute.

Now that the artwork is ready, it's time to set up the camera.  The better your setup, the better your camera's photo, and the better your camera's photo the better the ultimate result will be.  As mentioned, I use a digital SLR camera with all sorts of adjustments.  Yes, it has a lot of automatic features, too, but I've found that I can get consistently better results by carefully controlling the setup and exposure manually.

First, I set the white balance to "shade" or, if I'm lazy, to "automatic".  That will get the color balance close to correct.  Then I set the ISO, which is basically the speed at which the camera receives and processes light.  A slow ISO gives smoother grain and more detail.  A high ISO (like 1600) is really grainy, fuzzy, and with colors that only have a vague reference to reality.  Even a moderate ISO (like 400) is noticeably less sharp and color-correct.  Typically, I set my ISO at 100.

Next, I set the exposure, which means adjusting the f-stop and shutter speed.  I hold my photographic gray card in front of the artwork and take a reading through the lens of the camera.  Setting the f-stop and shutter speed is a trade-off as they directly affect each other.  Generally, I go for a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second, which allows me to hold the camera in my hands instead of using a tripod.  Then I set the f-stop to get the proper exposure.

Does all this fiddling with the camera sound like overkill?  Well, it's necessary.  Light from different sources can vary tremendously in color.  Human eyes automatically compensate, so we typically don't notice.  An incandescent bulb gives a yellow light, many old fluorescents give a greenish light, and LED's can provide a variety of colors (go to a Home Depot or Lowes and look at the examples in their lighting section).  Blue skies provide a blue color.  So by setting the white balance to "shade", I'm telling the camera to adjust for a bluish light.  In other words, dial back the blue, dude.

Regarding exposures, digital cameras look at the amount of light they see coming through the lens and then adjust their automatic settings so that the light averages out to a medium gray.  If my artwork is dark or light, that will throw the automatic settings off.  The light artworks will come out too dark and the dark ones too light.  So by using the photo gray card and manually adjusting the exposure, the camera will get an image that is closer to being correct.

Okay, now for the actual photo.  As indicated earlier, I don't like to use a tripod because it takes a long time to get it adjusted right.  I center the artwork in the camera's viewfinder and then adjust my body position up, down, left, and right so that the artwork's top, bottom, and sides are parallel to, and close to, the top, bottom, and sides of the viewfinder edges.  Snap!  Then I may make slight adjustments to my position, or to the exposure, and take a few more snaps.  There's no penalty with digital images.

Here's an example, shot in the parking lot at my studio.  Yes, the lot has a slant, which is why the bricks aren't level, but they're not important - the painting is.  You can see the tape just above the canvas, and you can see that the artwork needs to be rotated clockwise just slightly.

Great, now I have images in my camera.  Now to edit them so that they can be useful.

I plug the camera into my ancient iMac, open up iPhoto, and download the images.  A quick look will show which image seems best, so then I'll open up that image in Photoshop Elements.  The first step is to color-correct.  I point at the white artist tape and hit the "remove color cast" selection.  That tells the computer that the white tape is supposed to be white, so if it sees other colors (like blue from the sky), then dial back that color over the whole image until the tape reads as "white".  Then I adjust the exposure balance.  I adjust the highlights so that the white is white without being blown out, and the black is black without losing any detail.  It's easier than it sounds here.  And I adjust the midrange if necessary.

Now it's time to crop out all the non-art stuff: the bricks on the wall behind the easel, the artist tape, all that stuff around the edges.  To do this, I first rotate the image as needed.  If I did a decent job outside, then it may require 1/4 to 1/2 degree rotation left or right.  Then I use the crop tool to set the boundaries, hit the button, and there we are: one new art image.

Sounds ridiculously complicated, doesn't it?  It's not.  I can do the whole thing in less than five minutes, from walking out the door with the easel to looking at the finished image on the computer screen.  Basically:
- Set up the easel, artwork, and tape.
- Set the ISO, white balance, and manual exposure.
- Grab the photo gray and set the exposure.
- Take the photo.
- Take everything back to the studio.
- Plug the camera in and download the photos.
- Choose the best photo and make the adjustments to color and lighting, then rotate and crop it.
- Done.

One question that comes up more and more is, can you use your phone to take the photos instead of a DSLR?  Sure you can.  My iPhone takes pretty damn good pictures, including some of the artwork photos on my website.  The images won't be quite as sharp because the lens isn't nearly as good, the images will have fewer pixels, and they'll come out of the phone at a lower resolution.  But for websites, Facebook, and Instagram, they'll do just fine.

Okay, this turned out to be ridiculously long, much longer than I thought it would.  A 5-minute task takes a lotta words to describe, doesn't it?  I hope this helps some artists in taking your own photos and saving a few bucks.

Friday, July 12, 2019


Inventory.  Boy, that sounds exciting, huh?  Yeah, baby, there's nothing like curling up with a good spreadsheet or database and checking things off to really make your day exciting!

So, yeah, I've been doing an inventory of what's in my studio.  I'm not really sure how or why it got started, but the next thing I knew, I had the inventory on my computer and was trying to match entries to the artworks stacked around the room.  And it wasn't going all that well.  Here's a painting on the list, but where is it?  And there's a painting against the wall, but is it even on the inventory?  Sheesh.

I've been keeping an inventory using a spreadsheet (Apple's Numbers, if you want to be precise) for years.  I add new works to it, or update entries, whenever it occurs to me.  But I haven't really gone through and matched entries to artworks in, well, forever.  Not a good thing to do if you're in business.  So I got serious and spent quite a bit of time over the past four or five days trying to get everything as accurate as possible.  That included making labels for all the artworks and getting them stuck on all the right works.  I'm reasonably sure that everything in my studio is now labeled correctly and that the list of artworks on the computer is pretty accurate.  But not 100% positive.

So what did I learn?  Well, I've felt confident enough to sign my name to about 400 artworks and consider them "keepers", either by me or someone else.  The earliest is from 1973 and the most recent was signed yesterday.  Of these, I've actually sold 49, or 12%.  I've destroyed or painted over 62 (15%) of them, so for whatever reason, I decided that they really weren't keepers.  Note that more of my paintings have died than have been sold.  And about 23 more have been given away or donated.  So I still have about 250 on the shelves and racks in the studio.

Oh, and that's only the paintings and charcoal/pastel works.  It doesn't include the etchings and photographs.  I've got a lot of those, too.

My spreadsheet has a lot of information, including the artwork's title, inventory number, medium, size, pricing information, status (in the studio, destroyed, etc), exhibitions (if any), and notes.  A gallery owner told me that I should have everything in a special database program for artists, rather than a spreadsheet.  The program allows images to be attached to each record, which makes it a helluva lot easier to match artwork with data.  I haven't gotten around to doing that yet.  A Google search for artist inventory software shows that there are some at the freebie level, some that want $10-$80 a month, all the way up to a one-time fee of nearly $2,000 for a permanent license.  I can tell you, most of those are definitely out.  I'm a dedicated cheapskate.  I may just build my own database in Microsoft Access.

If I ever get around to it, that is.

Friday, July 05, 2019

So How Did They Turn Out?

My last post about Works In Progress showed three wedding paintings that were in various stages of development, and mentioned a fourth that was nowhere near ready to be seen.  They're all done and shipped off to their new owners now.  Here's how they turned out:

John and Janie

Kate and Ben

Lyndsie and Michael

Meghan and Bill

Four very different weddings, four very different paintings.  Three focused on the first dance, but I can tell you, they didn't look that way!  In two of them, the dances actually took place inside, but I moved them outside.  One of those was moved because it was POURING rain, but that shouldn't happen on somebody's wedding, so I made it a sunny day.  None of the families and friends were really standing around like they appear.  I used a ton of photos to rearrange people and things so that they better reflected the experience of the events.  These four couples gave me plenty of artistic license to arrange things as I felt best.  They really trusted me, and that trust is a great thing for an artist to have.

I have a bit of a break before my next event in August.  I'll be working on several studio projects that have been hanging while these were on the easels.  You might see some of them in the coming weeks.  Or, if they don't work out, maybe not.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

"-Isms" and Art

I was listening to a podcast today in which four artists were talking about art.  Not so much about their art, but rather, the bigger art world.  They talked about modernism, post-modernism, post-post modernism, photo realism, abstraction, surrealism, representationalism, and a lot of other "isms" that have come and gone.  And they talked about where their art fit into not just these "isms" but also the meta-picture - and by that they meant the bigger world of art in which all these isms were specific factions.  And they talked about what it meant to be working in all/any of these -isms in a time in which all can be considered equally valid.

After a while, I got pissed off.  These guys were talking about making and doing art like political analysts talk about politics.  Everything has to fit into some faction or another, and there can't be any overlap.  So you choose your big faction - say, realism versus abstraction - then you decide which sub faction and sub-sub-faction you want to work in, all the while keeping in mind the Big Picture of where your art fits in (or not) with everything else being produced today or over the course of all eternity, and what statement you're making by working in your particular style.


I couldn't care less about factions.  I have friends who create beautiful and loose landscapes, others who make wild abstractions, and others who make small figurative sculptures.  I like their work because the artists are good at expressing themselves in their chosen media.  I look at the work and see, not just paint on canvas, but something of the artists themselves.  Richard's work is completely different from Genie's, and both are worlds apart from Margaret's.  But each one is working in a unique way that they developed in order to see their worlds and make their own statements.  They are working in ways that they HAVE to work, because nothing else will do it for them.

And that's what I do.  I make art about people, and I want to tell their stories on paper or canvas.  That's what I seem to be called to do.  And Richard and Genie and Margaret are all called to do different things.  We can't help ourselves - we're doing what we have to do.

But these guys in the podcast were talking about art as if they were choosing a style of art to make in order to be "relevant" to the art world.  That's art-making as art-world ladder climbing.  It's not art as personal expression.

Years ago, I saw an exhibition of student art at one of the country's premier art colleges.  I saw a lot of stuff that was clearly intended to be "artier" than the next guy.  I saw lots of personal styles and lots of high-quality execution, but not a lot of personal expression.  A similar exhibition at my alma mater, UNC Asheville, showed artworks that were sometimes crude in concept or technique, but also expressed raw feeling.  Give me that kind of work any day.  Keep your "isms".

Saturday, June 08, 2019


When I was young, I thought ceremonies were a waste of time.  "Just do it and get it over with."  Mention of an upcoming ceremony would prompt some serious eye-rolls.  Who has time for that?

After being in the Navy for a bit, though, I began to see ceremonies in a new light.  The military has a lot of them: awards, promotion, retirement, change of command, you name it.  These events weren't just something to get through as fast as possible, they were major milestones in people's lives and careers.  Ceremonies put a marker on the occasion and recognized its importance.  They put a dividing line on the "before" (say, when somebody was an Ensign) and "after" (when they were a Lieutenant jg).  At that moment, somebody's life changed.  And ceremonies put a public face on it.

So ceremonies had a value in themselves.  But some ceremonies really meant something, while others were just pro forma events.  The difference lay in how the ceremony was conducted.  When those carrying out the event knew what they were doing, and really meant what they were saying, ceremonies could be surprisingly powerful.  When they were just ticking off boxes, because "that's the way it's done", then they could be a waste of time.

I remember one retirement ceremony that followed all the accepted protocols.  Say this, present that, salute, say another thing, because that's in the script.  The individual went off to life as a retired Navy officer and we went back to work.  It had all the emotional impact of a Geico commercial.  A few weeks later, we had another retirement ceremony.  Same basic script, only this time, the officer conducting the ceremony and the retiree knew what each element in the script was all about, how it was relevant in this particular case, and they conveyed that to all of us in attendance.  It was incredibly powerful.  And it totally changed the way that I conducted military ceremonies for the rest of my career.

Fast forward to today and I find myself in the wedding ceremony business.  I'm seeing the same concepts here that I did in the Navy.  In some weddings, the couple, officiant, planners, and others follow a rote script.  They do this, that, and the other thing because "that's the way it's done", not because it has meaning to the couple.  It's just something to get through.  Tick enough boxes and boom, you're married.  Another Geico commercial.  Let's go eat.

I feel sorry for those who are just ticking the boxes.  They seem to be outside the event, watching it, rather than immersing themselves in a major change-of-life moment.  Are we doing the First Dance correctly?  Do I have any new emails on my phone?  Is the caterer skimping on the roast beef?  The DJ wasn't supposed to play that song.  Who's on the dance floor and who's sitting it out?

But those that really put a lot of thought into what they're doing, and why they're doing it, have some extremely moving ceremonies.  The officiant says things that apply directly to the bride and groom.  The bride and groom say things to each other that reach deeply into their relationship.  The bride may wear a piece of jewelry that belonged to her much-loved grandmother.  The father-daughter and mother-son dances aren't just something on the agenda, they mark a permanent change in the relationship between people who still love each other very much.  For those of us who are bearing witness, these moments can bring tears to your eyes.

For those who are planning a wedding, or any major life-event ceremony, put some thought into what you're doing.  Just do the things that mean something to you.  And throw yourself into it.  You don't get that many chances for a major celebration.  Enjoy it!

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Works In Progress

Four weeks.  Four wedding paintings.  That's the spring wedding rush in this studio.  At the moment, three of the paintings are underway and the fourth will start this weekend.

As mentioned in my last post, the first of these paintings didn't start very well.  The concept was good, but my execution wasn't.  While waiting for the first dance, I had started putting in the outdoor environment, with the idea of putting the bride, groom, and others in later.  That method didn't really fit with the way my brain works and I ran into all sorts of issues once the people started going in.  So the next day in the studio, I wiped it out and started over.  This let me get the important parts of the painting - namely, the couple and family members - positioned where they made the most compositional sense.  That painting is now nearly finished and here's how it looks right now (click on the images to enlarge):

The second painting got off to a great start.  It was a surprise for the bride and groom - they wanted an artist but the bride's mom said "nope, too expensive, not in the budget", while at the same time already having me lined up to do just that.  I love surprises like that!  We decided that the subject of the painting would be the return walk down the aisle at the end of the ceremony.  And the bride and groom gave us the perfect setup.  So when they spotted me painting away at the reception, they were over the moon.  This was one of those paintings where everything was working from the get-go, which made it loads of fun.  No wiping it out in the studio the next day!  Instead, I've made some progress on it and here's how it stands right now:

Last weekend's painting required a road trip to Atlanta.  I am NOT a fan of driving in Atlanta.  So I hit the road way early and took the scenic route down through Sylva and Franklin, rather than driving interstates all the way.  Got to Atlanta and ran into seven lanes of traffic slowed to a 5 mph crawl because an 18-wheeler was parked on the side of the road.  Yep, it wasn't blocking anything.  Sheesh. But I'm glad I gave myself plenty of time.  And this painting was a Special Case.  The couple had booked another artist, but she backed out with just a few weeks to go.  So in order to uphold the honor of wedding painters everywhere, I took on the job.  The couple wanted the subject to be the first dance.  To liven up the composition and color, we decided to place them outside in the courtyard, which was the bride's favorite part of the facility anyway.  So here's how the third painting stands right now:

So one painting is almost done, two are in about the same level of completion, and a fourth starts Saturday.  I'm spending a lot of time in the studio and really having a good time.

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Wedding Season Has Begun!

My 2019 wedding season kicked off yesterday.  I was the live event artist at the wedding of a lovely couple who got married at the Dennis Vineyards near Albemarle, North Caroline, which is a bit east of Charlotte.  It was a lot of fun to get back into the swing of the wedding painting thing again.

When the bride and I were planning what to put on canvas, she was torn.  She wanted it to show the first dance, but she also wanted to see the beautiful vineyards.  Well, this is a painting, and I can put anything I want anywhere I want.  So our idea was to show the first dance outside, on the lawn, with the vineyards in the background.  Good plan.

All went normally for me for a while.  I arrived early, talked with the event planner and venue manager, got set up, met the bride and groom, and started taking reference photos of everything.  I continued taking photos all during the ceremony.  Since the ceremony was outside, this gave me an indication of the direction and color of the light, how any breezes affected hair and dresses, and some idea of how the people looked in the landscape.  After the ceremony, I tagged along with the photographer and videographer as they worked with the newly-married couple and got some really good references.  Then we moved inside and I shot a ton more photos during the first dance.  Then it was time to get to work on the painting.

My approach was to do a very rough block-in of the landscape, then put the various figures into it.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  Well, I took it too far.  When I started putting figures into the landscape, the landscape had a lot to say about where the figures went, which wasn't necessarily where I wanted them to be.  Not only that, but I had to wipe out the landscape underpainting (which was still very wet) to paint the figures in.  And the brushstrokes for my figures picked up the remnants of the green paint and tinted everything.  To top it all off, I thought my figure drawing was for crap.  Sheesh.

Fortunately, the couple and guests were quite impressed by what I managed to get done in a fairly short amount of time.  I had a great time talking with many people, from the 4-year-old flower girl to an 80-something gent.

Back in the studio today, I plopped the painting on my easel and studied it.  I decided that the basic idea and composition were fine, but execution was sub-par.  So a lot of thinner and some scrubbing with a stiff brush removed most of the still-wet paint.  Next was to block in the dancing couple, and that went much better than the first effort.  Then I did a good bit of thinking and planning on how to put in the rest of the key figures, and how to get the landscape to support the composition.

Result?  A much improved structure in which to paint the people, while showing relationships, emotions, and activity.  Lesson learned: don't paint the background first!  Indicate the setting, but only roughly.  Then block in the key people.  THEN develop the painting all over.

So NO, you can't see it right now.  I'll show a work-in-progress when it's a bit further along. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A New Toy

I've liked sports cars almost all my life.  I've had a few, too: '70 Opel GT, '69 Alfa Romeo Spider, '80 Triumph TR7, '68 Triumph GT6+, '76 MG Midget, and an '85 Porsche 944.  And I had a '91 Taurus SHO, which was the factory hotrod version with a screaming Yamaha engine and a 5-speed manual transmission.  The last of the sports cars was the 944, which we sold in about 2001.  I've had small trucks and a Volvo ever since.

But the sports car bug never left.  I have subscriptions to a couple of car magazines that kept the fire going, and periodically I'd look at eBay, Craigslist, or Bring A Trailer, just to see what was there.  The fire really got stoked last year when one of my magazines started a series on a '71 Alfa Romeo Spider that they bought and began fixing up.  I've always had a soft spot for the Spiders.  I think they're one of the most beautiful production cars ever made, with sleek and elegant lines.  So most of my eBay, Craigslist, and Bring A Trailer perusals focused on Alfas.  Just to, y'know, see what's out there.  That's all.

Last year, a Spider popped up on Bring A Trailer and it was right here in the Asheville area.  It sounded pretty good, so, y'know, just to see what's out there, I connected with the guy to check it out.  Well, his definition of "pretty good" and mine weren't the same.  The Alfa was completely worn out.  The paint was faded, top was shot, steering vague, oil pressure near zero, it smoked, interior needed to be replaced, wires hanging down from the dash, you get the picture.  I didn't bid.  It wound up selling for about $9,500, and needed that much more work in order to be a $10,000 car.

A couple of weeks ago, I just happened to be on eBay (not looking for anything, I swear) and there was a really nice '87 Alfa Spider.  From the photos, it looked like it had been well cared for: the paint was in good shape, advertised with no rust (a BIG issue with Alfas), had the original top with a clear rear window, and supposedly ran well.  The seller's writeup said all the right things that an Alfa owner would recognize and it looked to me like he was (a) honest and (b) really knew what he was talking about.  I thought, dang, that's nice, it's gonna go for big bucks.  The opening bid was really low at $5250, and I expected it would sell for at least double that.

As the week went on, nobody bid.  Nobody.  Finally it was an hour before the auction was due to end and there were still no bids.  My stress level went off the scale - should I bid on it?  Yes? No? Yes?  Finally Janis said, look, you know you want it, just buy the damn thing.  So I waited until the last minute, in case there were other goobers like me watching, and threw in my bid for the opening amount.

I won the auction.

So now I own a 1987 Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce (pronounced "vel-OH-chee").  As it turned out, the seller was a fantastic guy who gave me what he knew of the history of the car.  He had only put maybe 300 miles on it during 8 years of ownership, and kept it in his garage, where it was usually blocked in by his family's other cars.  There was a good bit of recent work that fixed some common Alfa problems.  He and I hit it off really well - we both saw ourselves as caretakers of the Alfa.  Nobody's a "caretaker" of a Toyota.

I arranged to have the car shipped from Annapolis, Maryland, here to Mars Hill, North Carolina.  The car arrived late Friday afternoon.  I spent the weekend fiddling with the car and going through all the spares, accessories, parts, manuals, and other items that the previous owner included.  On Monday, I got the car licensed and put the tags on.  On Tuesday, it got a new set of tires, since the old ones were around 12 years old.  Then I went ripping up and down some of the winding back country roads around my home.  Just to test it out, you know.

Impressions?  This is a really nice survivor.  It's certainly not perfect, but it has been driven, maintained, and lived with by owners who took good care of it.  It's a very physical car to drive.  By that, I mean that it does not have power steering, so it takes a lot of effort to crank the wheel.  It has a manual transmission that, in typical Alfa fashion, has synchronizers that quit working in probably the first year.  It's loud, it vibrates, it's immediately responsive to every steering/throttle/brake input, and it demands that you PAY ATTENTION to what you're doing.  But if you do that, damn, it is such a sweet car!

That drive exposed a few things that need to be addressed.  But then, I expected no less.  None of the issues are serious and I can take care of all of them but one - I gotta have a shop replace the rear wheel bearings.  Other than that, the car is eager to go play on these back roads.

I needed a car like this like a hole in the head.  But boy, I really LOVE this car!

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Studio Projects

I've got a whole bunch of projects going on in the studio right now.  They keep lining up in the queue and piling up faster than I can get 'em done.  It's frustrating in that there's so much that I want to do, but it's also exciting, in that I already have enough to keep me busy full-time for months.  And that's without new projects that are going to crop up.  So here's a look at what I've got going.

First off, I have a double-portrait commission.  A wonderful couple from Greensboro recently got married and wanted an artwork to commemorate the occasion.  What we decided on was a charcoal and pastel portrait of the two of them together.  I got with them for a photo session, figured out which photos told the story the best, and got started.  Double portraits are usually tricky.  The first figure usually goes in without too much trouble, but the second will kick my butt.  That's because I have to match the size, lighting, and technique to the first figure.  So in addition to getting a good likeness and bringing life to the image, there are these other issues that have to be considered.  It can be frustrating, but it's also fun.

I'm doing a series of portraits of a wedding planner.  Mary Bell is one of the very best wedding planners I've worked with.  She's on top of every detail about any event, keeping vendors like me in line, and making sure everything goes off like clockwork, all while making it easy and stressless for the couples and guests.  I had Mary in the studio recently for a photo session.  Two charcoal and pastel artworks are now done.  The first image is in line with my series of figurative works: high-contrast lights and darks, very dramatic.  The second is more like a portrait, with the value contrasts dialed back and better lighting on her face.  Here are the two images for comparison.  You can click on the images to see larger versions.

Mary #1

Mary #2

Another new figure series is in the queue.  Jazmin, one of the regular models for my Wednesday night life sessions, came to the studio for a photo session a while back.  Jazmin is a lively young lady, very spirited, a bit of a show-off (in a good way), and a natural in front of a camera.  There are a lot of images that are just screaming to get caught on paper or canvas.  I haven't done one from these photos yet, but here's one from one of her life sessions last year.

Jazmin #4

Meanwhile, as I've noted in previous posts, I've been looking at the artwork of Nick Alm for quite some time.  The way he puts multi-figure compositions together is pretty incredible.  They are based on a strong abstract composition that underlies the whole canvas, and the figures are placed so that they comprise the structure and tell the story.  Here's one example:

Nick Alm: "Bacchanal"

Here you can see that the figures in white form an upside-down triangle.  The figures on the right merge into one large dark shape, while on the left, the wall, chair, man's trousers, and shadows all blend into another single dark shape.  The girl in the center is set off by her long dark hair and the detail in her face and figure.  This is only one example - Google "Nick Alm" and you'll see dozens of examples.

I wanted to try to put some of his approach into practice and see how it works for me.  I have several thousand photos of weddings and receptions, so I raided my stash for reference images and am putting together a test painting.  Here's what it looked like a week ago:

This was okay, but there were some serious issues.  One, I used Alm's muted palette of largely black, white, and grays.  That works in paintings of a bunch of people sitting around cafes getting drunk, but doesn't work in a celebratory situation like a wedding.  It needed to feel lighter and happier - it needed bright colors.  Two, although the three bridesmaids were facing the viewer, none of the men were.  In fact, three had their backs to us.  In a painting that's meant to memorialize an event, you want to memorialize the people who were there, so you need to see their faces.  So I made some changes.  Here's how it looks now:

Obviously, I blew up the reception hall and moved everybody outside.  Were they really outside?  Who cares?  It's a much more cheerful picture.  I reversed the guy on the right, changed the guy he was talking to into a grandmother, and revised the figures on the left.  Much better.  Now I need to add some more figures: at least one, maybe two, around the guy sitting on the left, and another sitting on the right.  But what I've learned is that I can take Alm's approach of creating a large abstract composition, featuring large areas of light and color, make them into people, and the painting will work.

This still has a VERY long way to go, but it's been an interesting trip so far.  I've been learning a lot about composition and tying things together - all lessons that I can carry into this year's crop of wedding paintings.

In addition to all this, I've been keeping my Wednesday night life group going.  It's not always successful for me.  I had a string of three weeks in a row where my works were not just substandard, they were pretty bad:

And we had a beautiful model that night.  Sheesh.  Since then, though, things have been going better.

So that's what's going on in the studio right now.  Lots of stuff to do and I'm excited about digging into all of it even more over the next few months!

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Losing a Dog

Our little Soozzee has left us.  As I've described in several recent posts, she was suffering from a variety of ailments: deaf, blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, Addison's disease, arthritis, bladder stones, a thyroid condition, a skin condition, and worst of all, dementia.  Since my post last month, the dementia took more and more of a toll.  She got lost in the house pretty much all the time. She used to bark when she wanted us to get her down from the bed, but she stopped doing that.  We think she probably just forgot about barking.  Her inner GPS (the primary subject of my last post) got significantly worse.  She just seemed lost all the time.  She had often had trouble standing up and would stumble more on her walks.

Soozzee still had her happy moments, though.  She enjoyed parts of her walk: she'd stop and sniff at anything, even if she didn't know which way to go.  If we got out "the light" in the evening (a laser light that she has chased around the house since she was a little pup), she'd still pounce on it, but only for a minute and then she'd forget it was there.  And she liked to have some reassuring pettings.

But it was clear that she wasn't going to last long.  And on Saturday, April 6, that day came.  We did the morning walk and she kept going off the wrong way.  After getting back in the house, she wandered around lost, and while walking down the hall, she pooped without breaking stride.  The poor girl would never, ever, have pooped in her own house if she was at all aware.  The fact that she didn't know enough to control her own body was our signal that she was, to all intents and purposes, gone.

We called our vet, the Animal Hospital at Reems Creek, and made an appointment.  The people there have taken wonderful care of our dogs for almost 15 years and were almost as torn up about it as we were.  So just after noon last Saturday, they gave little Soozzee the injection and she passed away in my arms.

Good God, I wanted to die.

We're trying now to adjust to life post-dogs and, damn, it's hard.  For years, our lives have been largely structured around Soozzee and her sister Indy, who passed away a bit over a year ago.  At 9 am, it was time to wake up the dogs (yes, you read that right) and take 'em on their morning walk, then give 'em their meds.  Around noon, it was a ride in the car to take care of errands.  Around 4-5 pm, it was their evening walk and then dinner.  At about 7 pm, it was play time, usually with "the light".  Around 11 pm, one last time outside to do their business, take their evening meds, and off to bed.

Now, I'll be thinking "oh, it's 4 pm, gotta take Soozzee on her walk .... uh, damn ..."  It's a great big emptiness where Soozzee and her sister used to be.  Janis and I don't quite know how to fill it.  We'll get there, but it's going to take a while.  I still tear up over Indy's passing and that was well over a year ago, so it'll probably take at least another year or so to get over Soozzee.

I've been asked several times if we're going to get another dog.  No, we won't.  For one, it's unfair to any dog to be asked to fill in the hole left by another.  For another, there are things that we want to do, mainly travel, that were difficult or impossible with two dogs that were special needs.  And we just need to figure out life as empty-nesters.

Ever since I started writing this blog, there have been occasional posts about our two sweet Shih Tzus.  This is probably the final one.

Goodbye, little Soozzee.  You have my heart forever.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

A Dog, Dementia, and Directions

I've posted before about my dog.  She's a sweet little Shih Tzu who's going on 16 years old.  For the past year or so, dementia has gradually been taking hold in her little brain.  She's not gone, not yet, but the dementia is slowly taking her capabilities.  One of them is her sense of direction.

Now, Soozzee has never been much of an outdoor dog.  She's always been a bed potato.  That's like a couch potato, only her happy place is our bed.  Walks are not something she looks forward to.  From middle-age on, she got more and more resistant to heading out.  Dragging her along on her leash wasn't fun for either of us.  So we got a dog stroller.  I put her in the stroller for the outbound trip, take her out to the farthest point, put her on the ground, and she will trot, or even run, back home.  And it got to where she seems to enjoy the outbound trip.  She'll stand there, looking forward, sniffing the air, taking it all in.  Then at some point she'll say "enough", and turn around in the stroller and start pawing at the back.  Time to head home, Dad.

Lately, though, dementia seems to be hitting her internal GPS.  After a stop to do her business, or just sniff, or whatever, she'll forget which way is home.  She'll look both ways and then head out in the wrong direction.  I'll turn her around, and she'll say "nope, home is THIS way", and head off in the wrong direction again.  This will happen over and over.  "C'mon, Soozzee, home is THAT way."  "No, Dad, it's THIS way."  "Soozzee, it's THAT way."  "No, THIS way."  Aaarrggh.

But I found a trick.  I put her back in the stroller and turn her around a couple of spins one way, then a spin the other way.  That seems to hit the reboot button on her inner GPS.  Then I head away from home for maybe 10-15 feet.  That's like the outbound leg for her, so when I put her down again, she heads off in the correct direction.  At a trot, tail up, heading for home.

Does it work all the time?  No.  But it usually does.  And sometimes I have to do it two or three times on a walk.  But a Dad's gotta do what a Dad's gotta do.

It's sad to see her slowly going downhill.  Her diminished capabilities mean that our social lives are very limited - we rarely get to go out to dinner, don't go to movies together anymore, and don't take trips.  Soozzee gets really stressed when she's left alone in the house now, and somebody has to be around to watch her when she wanders, or be there to give her her meds, or take her on the walks.  Sometimes she's a pain in the butt, sometimes she's funny, and sometimes she's frustrating.  But this old dog has earned every bit of consideration we can give her.  And I'm just happy she's still with us.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Different Meanings in Artworks

Ever noticed that different people see different things in artworks?  One person will look at a painting and see something very peaceful, while the next person will wonder what demons are eating at the artist.  What's worse is when a critic writes a review that pontificates on the artwork's meaning and you've got no clue where this critic, who supposedly is enlightened, comes up with that interpretation.  And the worst thing is when said critic says that his/her meaning is the only one there is, leaving you and your very different interpretation out in the cold.

The truth is that we all come to an artwork with our own biases, likes, dislikes, viewpoints, personal histories, experiences, random mood of the day, and all the other baggage that goes along with being human.  So we all will react differently to the same piece of art.  While it's true that some people will be able to make more educated guesses at what the artist might have meant, or some people may be able to better identify which artworks are of higher quality than others, it's still true that each individual's experience of an artwork is unique to them.  As an artist, I can't control how you respond to something I painted.  I can only do my best to put my own intentions on canvas.  After that, the artwork is on its own, and you will see what you will see.

This hit home to me many years ago.  I was a continuing-education student at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore.  This was a place where even the continuing-ed students were very serious about their work.  Our painting instructor gave us an assignment of doing a still life at home.  Sounds pretty simple, right?  So I went home and got to work.  My approach was to put a bunch of stuff into a pile and start re-arranging, tossing things out, and simplifying, until I got to something that was visually interesting.  Then I slung some paint.  Here's the result:

I was a Navy officer at the time, so that was my cover ("hat" in civilianese).  The teddy bear was mine from when I was one or two years old.  I liked the fact that there was a strong black/white contrast with interesting yellow shapes, all very harsh compared to the soft texture and color of the teddy bear.  Mission accomplished - there was the homework still life painting.

In the next class, the instructor had us critique each other's work.  When they got to mine, nobody said a word about the "strong black/white contrast with interesting yellow shapes, all very harsh compared to the soft texture and color of the teddy bear."  Instead, I heard a backstory about how the father had gone off to war and left a child at home, and the father wasn't coming back and the child was going to grow up without a dad, and this was one of the saddest paintings ever made.

Say what?

I could see that trying to explain what I'd been thinking about when putting the painting together didn't matter one iota to the people looking at it.  They created a much more interesting story than I ever could, and who am I to mess with that?  Since then, I don't worry too much about what others might see in a work.  In fact, when I do an artist talk, I try to get the audience to tell me what they see in the work.  Depending on the responses, they may never hear my own thoughts.  The only time it concerns me is when the predominate opinions are way off the mark from my own intention, which means my execution didn't match my intention.  I've learned a lot about my own works from hearing what people say about them.

Going back to the sample painting above, I eventually decided that the choice of the hat and teddy bear were not random and not just about colors and textures.  The teddy bear was the very young innocent me, while the hat was the grown-up me, and I was saying something about both of them being present at the same time.  I gave the painting the title "Now and Then".

So when you look at some of my artwork, don't ask me what I was trying to say.  Tell me what you see in the painting.  That's much more interesting.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

More New Works

I've been fairly productive in the studio this month.  I've been able to do quite a few charcoal and pastel works, both from life and from a photo session with Natalie.  I've also done a couple of oil paintings, started work on an experimental oil painting, had a photo session with another model, and this afternoon had a photo session for a commissioned portrait.  That's a lotta studio activity!

I'm not going to snow you under with a whole bunch of artworks all at once.  So to start with, here are five charcoal and pastel works of Natalie.  She's a wonderful model - a tiny young woman, beautiful, fairly reserved, but with a wild child buried inside.  She has worked with my Wednesday night life group quite a few times.  I've found life sessions to be invaluable - a critical exercise for anybody who calls themselves a figurative artist.  But one thing that life sessions can't do, at least not in a single 2-hour session, is probe much below the surface.  The model gets in a position and then holds it.  All facial expression goes away.  Don't believe me?  Try to hold a smile or frown or whatever for more than a few seconds.  It doesn't work.  Besides that, if you try, it comes across as false.

That's where photo sessions can be valuable.  Photos can capture momentary facial expressions or body positions that can't be held for more than a fraction of a second.  That's where a lot of personality is really revealed.  So, to try to capture some of Natalie's spirit, we did a photo session in the studio late last fall.  Here are several artworks resulting from that session as well as one Wednesday night life session.

Natalie #4
 I love the hand positions in this one.  She was just turning around, not even trying to pose, and there was some of her natural elegance.  In the artwork, I played up the elegance and simplified a few things to keep the focus on the pose and hands.

Natalie #5
 The reference photo had a good bit to recommend it: an interesting composition between her torso and arm, and the heavy shadows, particularly covering her eyes, gave her a mysterious air.  So that's what I worked with.  The charcoal and pastel dust trickled down the paper and I decided to leave it.  Hey, this is an artwork, not a photo!

Natalie #6
 Natalie is a lively young lady and I wanted to try to capture that aspect of her as well.  Smiles and laughter can be very hard.  That was certainly true here: getting the right balance of likeness and spirit kicked my butt.  But I think it got there.

 Natalie #7
This was another butt-kicker.  For one, it was done on black Canson paper.  This was the first time I'd used a black, and it required some different thinking.  All my other works have been on Canson papers with a mid-value tone.  With those, I could go both lighter and darker.  With black paper, you can only go lighter.  And black paper has NO depth.  I quickly learned that it required a pastel treatment over the whole surface to give it any kind of life at all.  And the pose turned out to be a problem.  In the original reference, she was sitting on a stool, but that didn't look right, so I wiped it out and decided to have her standing.  The upper torso, shoulders, and upper arms worked okay, but the first attempt at a face failed.  So I decapitated the poor girl (NOT REALLY) and replaced it with a head from another image.  And the hands came from a different photo session with another model entirely.  But in the end, it works.

Natalie #8
This one didn't come from the photo session, it was done during our Wednesday night life session a few weeks ago.  This pose was a challenge: visually, she's upside down and foreshortened.  And the light was coming from over my left shoulder, so there was almost nothing in the way of shadow to help give depth.  All of which made this one kinda fun.  I did 90% of it that night, then worked on her face and arms the next day.

Not everything is a winner, though.  There was one image of Natalie that I worked on, off and on, for weeks.  It finally went into the trash.  Sometimes you just gotta recognize when a composition isn't going to work and move on.

There are quite a few other artworks that I've done and would like to talk about, but will save that for the next post.  Oh, and all of these are available, if you'd like to have one for your own collection.  Just sayin' ...  

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Choosing Exhibitions for Universities

In a previous post, I wrote about some of the things I've learned while installing exhibitions in a university art gallery.  Right now, we're going through the process of selecting the final exhibition for the 2019-2020 school year, and I thought it would be a good time to talk about what goes into these selections.

The key driver, for me, is diversity. The art world is made up of art in all media, including many that typically aren't considered art media.  It consists of drawing, painting, printmaking (and all that is just in my own studio), encaustic, graffiti, woodworking, pottery, sculpture, metal, glass, installations, quilts, fabric, found objects, photography, and all the different types of mixed media that you can possibly imagine and more.  And that's just in media.  In concept and execution, there are many more.  Painting alone has representational, photorealism, abstract, impressionist, expressionist, drip, and various movements within and combining those types.  So there are a ton of different types of art.  And many students in a university have never been in an art gallery (I've heard that several times just this past fall), so our job is to expose them to a wide variety of different art forms.

The exhibitions this year are doing just that.  We've had a faculty show, an exhibition of works that combine 2D imagery with 3D furniture, and a set of raw paintings followed by a very precise exhibition of 125 instant photographs.  The students seem to have gotten a lot out of the variety that has been presented.

As a painter, it's easy for me to name a dozen other painters who would be great to have in our gallery.  But that doesn't do right by the students, faculty, staff, and local residents who are our "customers", if you will use that term.  So I've been reaching out beyond my norms to identify other types of exhibitions.

So over the next 18 months, we're going to have quite a variety.  One show will be by convicts in a prison's art therapy program.  We're having a show of art by Madison County public school students.  We'll have a very energetic abstract painter, followed by a classically-trained painter whose subject matter ties in with the University's Bascom Lamar Lunsford festival of Appalachian music.  There's a photographer who creates edgy, large-scale works.  We'll have a group show of potters working here in the county.  There will be an exhibition of sculptures by several individuals who will be teaching workshops on campus.  And we'll wind up the season with an exhibition of student work, followed by an exhibition of work by our seniors.

Commercial galleries find their own unique niche and then fill it with art that they believe they can sell.  That's a great thing for artists, but it doesn't answer all of a community's needs.  A university isn't worried about selling, its mission is to educate, and it does that with variety.  And meeting that mission is forcing THIS painter out of his comfort zone!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

New Artworks

With the end of the wedding season and a quiet period in my day-job business, I've been able to spend some more time in the studio lately.  I've been working primarily with the charcoal and pastel series and thought I'd share some, with their stories, here.



I met James and Rachel late last fall.  Without getting into specifics, James has had some experiences that few of us have ever had and none of us ever want.  He's a very intense man who feels deeply and expresses himself honestly.  Rachel is his wife.  She is his rock.  She's a beautiful woman through and through and, from my experience, very upbeat, outgoing, and positive.  They are two halves of one being.  Soon after meeting them, I knew I had to do their portraits.  Both came out, I think, pretty well, and will be on their way to James and Rachel very soon.

Every now and then I'll bring one of my models into the studio for a photo session.  We'll go for about an hour and take a ton of pictures.  These sessions are really about getting the models to show parts of their personalities that don't come out in a crowded life session.  I don't direct, no "do this, do that" - instead, it's about encouraging them to be themselves.  Last fall, I did such a session with Natalie, one of our regular models.  She's a lovely young woman with alabaster skin tones that are so hard to get right, and a reserved manner that hides a bit of a vamp.  Over the past week or so, I've done three of her:

Natalie #3 

 Natalie #4

Natalie #5

These were a lot of fun to do.  My goal was to capture some of the playfulness that sometimes bubbles out, while keeping the mystery that's hiding behind her reserved demeanor.  There was one other artwork of her, one that began in a life session but never hit the "keeper" criteria.  I tried reworking it and it failed.  So it's destroyed.  But these turned out well, especially, to my mind, #5.

I've got another project going in the studio as well, a painting.  I'll cover that one in another post.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Creating an Art Exhibition

Last fall, I added a new job to my hodge-podge collection of activities.  I became the Director for the Weizenblatt Art Gallery at Mars Hill University.  "Director" is a kinda grandiose title, but the duties entail making sure the exhibits are put up, taken down, and advertised in various media, and that the receptions happen on schedule.  It's not rocket science.  It has provided quite a bit of insight into all the little things that make an exhibit a success, as well as how schools choose their shows.

The first exhibit this past fall was the biannual Faculty Exhibit.  Trying to corral a group of artists into delivering their work to a specific place by a specific time can be challenging.  Fortunately, this group of faculty members were pretty good about it.  Even better, they left the layout and installation of their works to me, the new guy, that some of them hadn't even met yet.  Now I'm of the opinion that the installation of a show is an artwork in itself.  You want each piece to have some breathing room around it, you want each to show itself to its best, and you want it to flow well from one piece, and one artist, to the next.  And that's whether the viewers are moving right to left or left to right.

(Note: you can click on the images to enlarge them).

I decided to group each artist's pieces together, first and foremost.  Then they were positioned so that there was some kind of a connection to the adjacent artist's work: similar colors, similar subject matter, similar size, whatever was "similar".  I spent quite a bit of time leaning stuff up against all the walls and then adjusting their order and spacing.  Once it felt right, I hung them.  For the pottery, I hauled out a bunch of pedestals and put them all together in the center of one of the two rooms.  This created a kinda free-form sculpture to hold all the pieces, helping to focus attention on them and allow the eye to move from one to the next.  It also provided a bit of protection: when pedestals are scattered around the room, people can/will bump into them and knock them over.  In the photo above, there are figurative photos on the left, leading to my figurative charcoal/pastel pieces, along with the "pottery island" in the center of the room.

The next show was very different.  We had Randy Shull, who has been a professional artist for a few decades now and is very experienced in showing his work.  As I said before, I think the installation is an artwork itself, and nobody knows the work better than the artist.  So I let them decide what goes where, while my role is to provide tools and other assistance to help them build the show they want.  Randy was super easy to work with: very easygoing, very professional, and well prepared.  His show was a mix of combined painting/furniture/sculpture pieces (yes, all three aspects in one work) as well as mixed-media pieces.  Here's how the opening looked:

You can kinda see here how Randy followed the same concepts: the colors in the small orange piece on the left were reflected in the large wall hanging/floor-furniture piece next to it, whose blues were picked up in the three small pieces to its right, and so on around the room.

The third show was very different.  David Hopes is a very intuitive painter, building his paintings organically.  He's also a poet, playwright, actor, and singer - an all-around Renaissance man.  David brought his intuitive sense to his installation: "if it feels right, do it".  So there was none of the careful measuring and adherence to gallery norms in this installation.  For example, most galleries will hang paintings using a 60" standard, meaning the center of the work is usually placed at a height of 60 inches.  Not David.  Some works were placed close together, some hung in places we've never hung a work before (for example, on the 6" wide end of the dividing wall), and there was one 15-ft wall that had nothing on it.  It was very free-form.  But for all that, the feeling of the installation seemed to match the feeling from the paintings.  I had some reservations, but decided to hold off until I saw how it looked.  It definitely provoked some discussion, but in all, I think letting David hang his own paintings without interference was the right call.

This week, we hung a new show.  Jay Kranyik is a photographer working with Polaroid and Fuji "instant" cameras and film.  These are small images, very intimate, with a unique sense of color.  Jay's subject is primarily urban landscapes: geometric arrangements in primary colors.  All of his 125 images were mounted on 8"x8" mats.  Jay was extremely careful about accurate positioning of every one of his images, down to the half inch.  It was the polar opposite of working with David, but then, Jay's photos are the polar opposite of David's paintings.  We had a bit of a conundrum in deciding how to hang the works on the walls, since there were no wires on the backs.  Our first thought was to use L-pins to clip them to the walls, but we couldn't find 500 pins in time.  (Yes, with 125 artworks and 4 pins/artwork, that's a lotta pins).  In the end, we went unconventional: we used roofing nails.  These nails have wide heads that overlap the artworks to pin them to the wall.  They're also a helluva lot cheaper than the L-pins.  We then set up a pedestal to show visitors his old Polaroid camera and newer Fuji camera.  For college kids, this may be the first time they've seen something other than digital!

So those are some of my experiences in managing a university art gallery.  There are a lot more aspects to it, like getting to talk with the college students, running receptions, planning exhibitions for the coming year, and handling publicity.  I'll get to some of those in future posts.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Living With an Old Dog, Part 2

Yes, it's been a month since my last post.  Life has gotten in the way, of course: a big day-job project, Christmas, New Year's, and a thousand other things.  One of those things is our dog, Soozzee.

You may remember a previous post from August of last year.  Soozzee had just turned 15.  She was pretty much deaf, was blind in one eye and almost blind in the other, and had a variety of ailments.  All that is still true, of course.  She's had Addison's disease for over a decade - an ailment that is deadly if not treated, but if treated (a pill a day and a shot every 4 weeks), is almost invisible.  She has dry-eye in both eyes, requiring medication twice a day.  She has a thyroid condition, requiring another pill a day.  She needs a Pepcid a day to keep her stomach settled.  She has two skin conditions: one that results in "old-dog bumps" all over her back, and another that results in skin flakes that need to be scraped down with a tick comb periodically.  She has two big stones in her bladder and possibly more forming in her kidney.  The vet doesn't want to cut the stones out due to her age, so Soozzee lives with them.  And because they seem to give her a good bit of pain every now and then, we give her some Gabapentin to help ease it.  Yeah, we spend a lot of money on the little girl every month.  And there's no Medicare for elderly dogs.

Since my last post, Soozzee's case of doggie dementia has gotten a bit worse.  I think it's exacerbated by not being able to see or hear much of anything anymore.  She gets lost in the house, or will sit or stand and just stare off into space.  She gets "the wanders" in the afternoon: around 2:30, she wakes up from her post-lunch nap and just ... wanders.  All over the house.  Bumps into things and stops.  Gets stuck behind a door.  Really, she needs one of us to keep an eye on her to make sure she doesn't get into too much of a problem.  Which means that one of us is wandering along with her, or nearby.  And she gets really, really spooked if we go off somewhere and leave her at home alone.

This dementia development has really put a damper on our out-of-the-house activities, both work and social.  Either Soozzee goes with us, or one of us stays home with her.  So: going out to a movie and dinner in Asheville?  Umm, nope, can't leave the Sooz for more than an hour.  A day trip somewhere?  Probably not, and only if we can take her along.  Fortunately, we can leave her in the parked car for a while since she doesn't freak out like she does if we leave her home - she seems to understand that we gotta come back to the car at some point.

When I go to the studio, Soozzee often goes with me.  But she doesn't just curl up on the couch and take a nap the whole time.  Nope, she'll go down for about an hour to maybe an hour and a half.  Then she wakes up and ... yep, she wanders.  I keep the doors to the outside closed, but she goes everywhere and, of course, it totally wrecks my concentration.  So I'll give up after a bit and head home, usually with a stop up at the church so she can do her happy run.

And that's the coolest thing.  Here she is, 15 1/2 years old, running across the grass like a puppy.  She can't see where she's going so I have to steer her, but she still gets that happy-dog smile.

There have been a few times over the past six months where I've thought she finally started her last downward spiral.  Each time, she's bounced back within a few days.  I'm so very, very thankful.  Yes, living with a dementia patient is hard, whether they have two legs or four.  But I'm happy to put up with it.  When she plants her butt up against my hip at night and starts snoring, it's all worthwhile.