Sunday, February 20, 2022

End of a Local Era

 My barber has closed his shop.  It's the end of a 63-year era here in my little town.  It's an example of what's happening everywhere.

I've been going to Tim's shop for about 20 years.  He ran a one-man barbershop that his father established 63 years ago.  It was very much a Norman Rockwell place.  It was a small storefront in a 100-year-old string of buildings on Main Street in Mars Hill.  There was a barber pole out front, of course, and the "Mars Hill Barbershop" was hand-painted on the front window.  Inside, there were two barber chairs, although one of them hadn't been used in all the time I went there, and looked like it hadn't been used for a few decades prior to that.  His German Shepherd was the welcoming committee and receptionist.  If you got on the dog's good side, you were good forever, and everybody got on the dog's good side as long as you liked dogs.  

Tim knew everybody in a 10-mile radius.  He'd grown up in Mars Hill and worked alongside his father in the shop until the older man retired.  Tim took it over and made no changes whatsoever.  Well, except that might have been when it went from a 2-chair operation to a 1-chair.  Tim is very funny and very personable.  If you want to know what's going on in the neighborhood, you went to get a haircut at Tim's.  You'd sit in the ancient waiting chairs, along with however many other guys were there, and joined in the conversation.  Everybody pitched in.  It might be about the mystery construction project down by the interstate, or Jimmy Smith's herd of cows needing haybales, or Frank's parents in the local nursing home (an X-rated and hilarious discussion if there ever was one).  There was no sitting there and reading magazines, even though there were plenty, all from ten years ago.  

But the number of people going to Tim's has been slowly dropping for years.  Older guys died off and fewer younger ones came.  Almost all the college boys went to styling salons down in Weaverville or Asheville.  Tim got a part-time job at a big-box store to help pay the bills.  As the barber business slowed, he increased his hours at the big-box.  And this year, when the rent went up significantly, he threw in the towel and retired.  And 63 years of barbering in Mars Hill came to an end.

I knew it was coming, but last week I went in to get a haircut and the store wasn't there anymore.  Everything inside was gone, along with the barber pole and bench outside.  A sign on the window announced the closure.  It was so sad to see.  So I made an appointment at a place down in Weaverville.  It's a franchise operation, brightly lit, lots of chairs and ladies cutting hair.  Everybody waiting was staring at their phones and nobody was talking.  Well, I was, anyway, once I got in the chair, and the lady cutting my hair seemed to be glad to have somebody to talk to.  And, of course, it was a decent haircut at a decent price.

So another old neighborly business is gone, replaced by an anonymous franchise operation.  Progress?  No.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

Car Stuff

 Now for something completely different ...

Last September, while driving on the interstate, we ran over a piece of metal.  It banged up the passenger door pretty badly and ripped several pieces of trim off the side.  Fortunately, there was no structural damage and we could continue to drive the car with no problems.  Unfortunately, parts and shipping availability meant that it was five months before the shop had everything they needed to do the repairs.  We dropped the car off last week and picked up a rental. I thought we got lucky: they had a Mini Cooper on the lot.  Very cool!  I'd never driven one before.  I signed the papers and off I went.

I hated it.

As it turns out, Minis have the most unintuitive and annoying controls you can imagine.  Things you'd expect to be manual are electrical, and things you'd expect to be electrical are manual.  The shift lever doesn't operate the way any other shift lever does.  The infotainment system requires multiple button punches just to get beyond the "don't operate this while you're driving" alerts.  Brakes are grabby.  The engine shuts down when the car is stopped, then starts up again as soon as you put your foot on the gas, meaning there's a slight delay between your foot and actual movement, which could be critical in squeezing into traffic.  The "fasten your seatbelt" alarm is particularly annoying.  The door has a tinny sound when it's pulled closed.  

This was a Mini Cooper Countryman, which meant it was like a Mini that ballooned in size.  It's way bigger than a Mini should be.  It's much taller than my Mazda 3 and is more like a mid-sized Subaru.  It's a Massive Mini.  It even feels top-heavy in corners.  It just feels ... wrong.  It's not mini at all.

The good points?  It handles like a go kart and is a gas miser.  

I might have liked a real Mini, especially one with a stick shift, and one that didn't shut off the engine at stoplights.  I might've been able to put up with all the other annoyances.  But all together, no.  My Mazda is an infinitely better car.  And the next time I need a rental, I'll go for anything else.

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

First Wedding Painting of 2022


My new year started off with a bang, studio-wise.  I had my first wedding of the year on New Year's Day.  This was an older couple who got married at the Diana venue on the Biltmore Estate.  They're quite a lovely couple.  He is very distinguished and she reminds me of Dolly Parton, in a very good way: small, voluptuous, big blonde hair, and a very definite (and very positive) personality.  They're quite a lot of fun to be around.  

New Year's Day around here is pretty iffy, but we lucked out with temperatures in the upper 60's, of all things.  The bride, though, liked the idea of snow on the ground, and since this is a painting and not a photograph, that's no problem at all.  The most important thing that they wanted me to capture was the connection between them.  And I think I did.  It's hard to see on the small image here, but if you click on it, it will show you a larger version.

One thing that I did NOT do this time was paint at the reception.  There wasn't a "reception" per se, rather a dinner for about 20 people in the Private Dining Room at the Inn on Biltmore.  With the omicron covid variant spreading like wildfire, I did not feel comfortable being in a small room with a lot of unmasked people.  Instead, I offered a small price reduction to the couple since they and their guests wouldn't be able to see the painting get started, to which they readily agreed. 

And it was a good thing, too.  This painting had a couple of false starts.  Getting the sizes and proportions right was, for some reason, difficult.  My first block-in had the couple too small, so I had to rework them the next day.  Then there were a lot of little technical issues, the kind that most people would never see but would bug the hell out of me.  They're fixed now.  Actually, I'm very happy with the way this one turned out.  The couple will be back in town soon to retrieve it personally.

Now I'm working on a large and complicated painting for my upcoming solo exhibition.  I think the painting is pretty well started.  Now I have to go over every square inch and bring it up to a high level of finish.  That'll take a while and will be the subject of my next post.

Friday, December 31, 2021

End of the Year Review

 Well, if you're reading this, you and I managed to survive 2021.  Don't know about you, but I'm more or less intact.  It wasn't all that bad of a year, frankly.  I've had worse.  All four years of the Trump presidency, for example.  

I have several things I do to keep myself busy.  I'm an artist doing both commissioned paintings as well as my own stuff.  I manage the art gallery for Mars Hill University.  And I write proposals for firms seeking federal contracts.  Quick recaps, starting with the last:

This was not a busy year in the proposal-writing field.  It started with a big effort for a company I've worked with off and on, in several different roles, for over ten years.  We submitted an outstanding proposal that I'm proud to have been a part of.  Of course, it's now hung up in protests that may or may not be resolved in the next six months.  Since then, this line of work has been very quiet.  I've done a few very small proposals, some of which have been successful, but it has not taken a significant bit of my time.

The university's art gallery has continued to be a fun sideline.  We've had several really great exhibitions this year.  Covid has meant that we can't have receptions, which is annoying, but the quality of the shows was generally high.  I had an unfortunate experience with one artist who cancelled out of her show TWO DAYS before we were supposed to hang it.  Long story there, but frankly, I was relieved, and we had somebody else who stepped up and mounted a good show in her place.  Right now, I'm planning the schedule for the 2022-23 school year.  I'm watching out for any of the red flags that our problem child this year showed.

The studio has been my primary source of activity this year.  I completed 24 oil paintings, of which nine were weddings, one was another commission, and 14 were my own works.  Some of those were done for an upcoming exhibition, some were experiments, and I have no idea where a few of them came from.  I also did nine charcoal and pastel figurative works, of which two were commissioned portraits.  I really enjoy working in charcoal and pastel, but spent more time in oils this year.  

Speaking of charcoal and pastel figurative works, I have some of them in an art gallery now.  The Mars Landing Galleries is a brand-new fine art gallery here in Mars Hill.  The owner, Miryam Rojas, has created a really good gallery with a lot of very strong work, despite including my pieces.  I'm really happy to be included in this stable of great artists.

One thing I have not been able to do is re-start my life drawing sessions.  I was considering it a couple of times, but both times the covid infection rate suddenly shot up.  No sense taking chances.  

Just over the last few weeks, I've been playing around with photography.  I came across a photographer working in black and white who does really stunning figurative work.  My studio computer has thousands of reference photos taken from model sessions, weddings, landscapes, and lots of other subjects.  So I've been searching through them for those that have some kind of potential, stripping the color out, cropping, and playing with the lighting.  It has been a lot of fun and I've gotten some cool images.  Here's one:

So what's up for the new year?  Well, the wedding painting business is still going strong.  I'm fully booked for 2022 with nine commissions.  The first one is tomorrow: a New Year's Day event at the Biltmore.  It's very small, the ceremony will be outside, and I am not going to be at the reception, so it looks pretty safe.  The next wedding will be in May.  Fingers crossed, covid won't be as rampant as now.  

I have a solo exhibition set for August at the Pink Dog in Asheville.  The theme of the show is a cautionary tale of what might be in our future if we don't get our collective acts together politically, economically, ecologically, and socially.  Yeah, it's a bit of a "Debbie Downer" topic, but so what.  

So at the end of a pretty stressful year, I'm happy to still be here and ready for whatever comes next.  I hope you are, too.

Sunday, December 05, 2021

End of the 2021 Wedding Season

 My 2021 wedding season is over.  I've finished three paintings in the past few weeks.  Two have been delivered and the third will go out tomorrow. They weren't finished in the order started, though, due to one start-over and one paint-drying issue.  So here they are in the order started.

A couple of posts ago, I showed an image of a blank canvas.  This was a painting that I started at the event and then scrubbed out the next day in the studio.  That happens occasionally.  So here's how the painting eventually turned out (click on the images to see a larger version):

The couple wanted their first dance and their dogs.  This was a Biltmore wedding and reception, so they were under a huge clear tent.  When I started this one over, I flipped it to a vertical orientation, stripped the tent architecture down to something more visually attractive, eliminated all the distracting furniture and people, and brought in their three dogs.  This turned out very different from most of my paintings.  It was delivered to them last week.

The second painting was one started at The Ridge, which is in the mountains northwest of Asheville.  Heck, it's northwest of Marshall, so it's way out there.  This couple was more specific: they wanted the first dance, with the doors open, looking out at the mountains, under the chandelier.  This one felt good, right from the beginning.  As with the Biltmore painting, I simplified the room's architecture to keep the attention focused on the couple and the things that were important to them.  

Oil paints dry at different rates.  Some, like burnt umber, dry overnight.  Whites are the worst and that was the case here: some of the whites took way over a week to get dry to the touch.  This is the painting that's going out tomorrow.

The final painting of the year was started at the Asheville Country Club.  I'd never been there before and it turned out to be a really nice venue.  On the other hand, I have created a painting for the bride before.  She's a real joy to work with: enthusiastic, great sense of humor, and knows what she wants.  In this case, she wanted the first dance, both families, the fall colors seen through the windows, and the chandelier and twinkle lights.  

This was another painting that was working right from the get-go.  Things fell into place quickly and I was very happy with it by the end of the night.  There was a guest table right next to me and it turns out that one of the ladies was taking and posting photos of the painting development the whole evening.  Before he left, one of the guys said "we had the best seats in the house!".  Love getting comments like that.  This couple came to the studio yesterday to pick up their painting.  I was going to get a photo of them but we got to talking and I totally forgot.

So now there's a break before the next wedding painting.  I'll be working on some paintings for an exhibition at Pink Dog Creative in Asheville in a few months.  I've got a lot of work to do!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

What Kinda Deer Is That?


We had an unusual visitor to the back yard yesterday.  This is a young male whitetail deer with very unusual coloring.  It's called a piebald - no idea where that name came from, but there ya go.  Very rare, a bit more common (supposedly) than pure albino.  We're hoping the guy keeps coming around.

Sunday, November 07, 2021

Not Every Wedding Painting Goes Smoothly

 As the title of this post says, not every wedding painting goes smoothly.  A couple of weeks ago, I started a new painting at a reception.  Lots of people came by and loved the painting, took lots of photos that are presumably posted in Instagram, Facebook, and who knows what other social media platforms.  I had nothing but positive comments.  And the next day in the studio, I wiped it all off.  

The first start just didn't feel right.  It didn't feel balanced and it didn't feel connected to the couple.  Continuing with it is like like trying to make a wrecked car look showroom fresh.  So I started over from scratch.  The requirements: they wanted it to show the first dance, and they wanted their dogs in it.  

After a good bit of work, it's done, and here's what it looks like now:

 This is quite a bit different from both the first try and from almost all the other wedding paintings I've done.  For one, it's in a vertical (portrait) orientation, rather than my usual horizontal (landscape) setup.  The architecture is greatly simplified: in reality, it was a tent with a white support structure covered with clear plastic, while mine has half the number of supports.  I cleared out all the furniture since it didn't add anything, changed the color of the carpet from blue to warm brown, and eliminated other people to keep the focus on the couple.  The hanging flowers were there, I just re-positioned them because that's what painters can do.  The dogs, of course, were not really in the tent, but they're the couple's "children" so they're an important part.

So this one is done.  I started a new painting last night (Saturday).  This one felt pretty good from the very beginning.  This one also is showing just the couple.  Here's how it looked at the end of the reception:

When the bride breaks down in tears when she sees the painting at the end of the reception, it usually means either (a) she loves it, (b) she hates it, or (c) she's drunk.  In this case, she loved it.  I love it when people react so strongly to one of my paintings!  This, of course, has a long way to go and I'll post the completed painting after they approve it.