Thursday, November 30, 2023

What's Your Process?

 "What's your process?  Will you finish it tonight?  Is it done?  Did you watch Bob Ross?"  These are just some of the questions I normally get at a wedding or other event.  (Answers: (a) Got 15 minutes?  (b) No.  (c) No.  (d) No.). No two artists are the same.  We've each developed a way of working that fits our style, standards, and personalities.  Mine is very different from almost all the other event artists that I know of.

Most wedding artists work in acrylic on either canvas or panel.  They want to travel light, finish the painting that night, and give it to the couple at the end of the reception.  So you'll see them bringing just an easel, canvas, and a light, taking pictures on their cell phones, and completing it (or almost) by the end of the evening.  Some work in watercolor and they also have minimal gear, work fast, and finish that night.  

I don't know how they do it.  Some of those artists are phenomenally good and can get beautiful results, including good likenesses and life, in one session.  But there's no way that I can get the level of finish I want in just one evening.  It normally takes me two to four weeks of additional work in the studio to get it to that level.  

I start by talking with the couple about what they want their painting to show.  Most of them want either the recessional as the world's newest married couple, the first dance, or just the two of them.  There are variations: the kiss at the end of the ceremony, including their dogs, a big grouping of both families, or a dance outside, for example.  So I need to get a feel for who they are as people to determine what they really want, which may or may not be what they thought they wanted.

Next, I coordinate with the wedding planner, venue manager, and photographer.  I work closely with all three to ensure that I get the access and support I need while also ensuring they have the information needed to do their jobs.  

On the Big Day, I'll arrive a couple of hours early to start work.  I'll set up my easel, light, table, rolling toolbox, and laptop.  Here's a standard setup:

Then I'll break out my camera (a real camera, not a phone) and start shooting.  I'll take a ton of photos of everything that may conceivably be needed: flowers, the ceremony area (for ceremony and recessionals) or reception area (for First Dances), decorations, and surrounding environment.  I'll tag along with the photographer for the pre-ceremony photos and the post-ceremony photos to ensure I have lots of the couple plus everybody else that may be in the painting.  Usually, I'll take between 200-400 photos.  These are NOT photographer-quality images - they're strictly references that I may or may not use in the painting.  I don't stage my photos - I try to capture the unguarded moments in between, which is a big difference.

First Dances take a bit of planning.  It's usually dark by then and I don't like to rely on a flash.  So I'll coordinate with the photographer to do a faux-first dance during the pre-ceremony photo session so I can at least get an idea of what they're going to do, along with some decent reference shots.  Then I'll still take some shots during the real First Dance.

Once I feel that I have enough photos, I'll load them into my laptop.  I usually have an idea of what the composition will be like, so I'll do a very rough sketch and then a quick look through the photos for some initial references to get started.  Then it's time to start slinging paint.  The first 10-15 minutes are the most important in the whole process.  This sets the general composition, the placement of the figures, and the color scheme.  If I get this wrong, then I'll have to scrub it out and start over.  That happens about once a year.  Everything in this first rough-in will change: the figures will be revised larger or smaller, or moved slightly one way or the other, people will be added or deleted, and I'll do a lot of inventing.  Just because something is there in real life doesn't mean it will be in the painting, and vice versa.  It's a painting, after all, not a photograph!

Then, for the rest of the night, I paint.  I try to get a decent indication of the couple,  including some indication of their connection, but I don't try for a good likeness.  I'll revise the setting, adjust colors, add things in, find photos that offer better images of faces or postures, and just develop as much as I can.  And I talk with people.  Most people have never seen an artist at work before and are very curious.  Lots of them will say "I don't want to bother you!" but I tell them that's why I'm here.  Most of the painting will be done in the studio, but at the event, I'm an art ambassador.  If kids are there, I'll often give them a brush and let them put something in.  It may go away later, but it doesn't matter, they get to contribute.  

The best is when the bride and groom come by to check on things and the bride breaks into tears.  That makes my night.

At the end of the evening, I pack up and take the painting back to the studio for much more work.  That's where the quality comes from.  It may take all afternoon to get a couple of faces, or the likenesses may come together in five minutes.  You just can't predict it.  When it's almost done, I send them a good image and get their feedback.  They'll often have a couple of small things that I managed to miss, which is exactly why I do this.  Then, when they approve it, I deliver it, whether in-person or through UPS/FedEx.

So that's my process.  I'll talk more about what goes into a painting in a future post.  

Monday, November 20, 2023

A Year of Painting Weddings

Photo courtesy of Jill at Realities Photography

Over the past year, I've done a lot of very different weddings and created some very different paintings of them.  "A lot" is relative, of course: I normally limit myself to about nine per year, while other artists may do 50-70 per year.  I just can't do that and produce the quality of work that I want.  

Part of that is due to the fact that I'm slow.  Go on Instagram or YouTube and you'll see videos of artists cranking out a painting in 60 seconds flat.  Okay, they're sped up, but you get the drift.  There's a reason you don't see me doing videos like that - they'd be an hour long and show only a small bit of development.  Another reason is that I want to know the couple in the painting.  I need to know who they are, see them interact with each other, their family, and friends, how they carry themselves, and so on.  The more I know, the more that comes through in the painting.  Don't know how that happens, but it does.  And I can't get to know them if I'm doing a lot of paintings.  They would get lost in the shuffle.

Since my last post of a wedding painting, I've completed 14 paintings, with two more in progress.  Some of those are among the very best to come out of my studio.   No, I won't tell you which ones.  You decide for yourself.  Some of the things I've seen, experienced, and noticed over the past year and a half are:

- More couples want their dogs included.  As a dog lover, I'm happy to include the furry family.  One of the paintings in progress has a beautiful German Shepherd with a floppy ear. 

- The subjects have been equally divided between the first dance, the end of the ceremony, and just the couple.  There's no single style that dominates because every couple is different.  

- One of this year's events wasn't a wedding, but rather a dinner for a business event.  Sounds boring?  No, it wasn't - I had some great conversations with some very interesting people.  And it's going to be presented as a gift to a really great couple who didn't know it was coming.

- Most have been set outside, regardless of whether it was of the ceremony, first dance, or just the couple.  That brings an occasional challenge with weather.  It can be a beautiful day, it can be Noah's flood, it can be hot and muggy, or cold and very, very wet.  Fortunately, most of the outdoors events had good weather.  

- Kids!  They're a lot of fun.  At a recent reception, a 6-year-old girl at the table next to me saw what I was doing and turned her chair, and her brother's, around to watch.  Never mind that speeches were being made, first dances and parent dances were being danced, and cakes were being cut, all of which were the focus of attention for everybody else.  Nope, she wanted to watch me painting.  If she'd been tall enough, I'd have given her a brush and let her "help".  (Yes, she could have stood on a chair; no, I didn't want to go there.)

There's more, but you get the idea.  Weddings are fun.  Wedding paintings are a challenge, but very rewarding for me to do.  The couples trust me to capture one of the most important days in their lives.  The paintings are very meaningful to them from day one - they're a treasure forever, not just entertainment at the reception.  And that floats my boat.

Sunday, October 02, 2022

Artificial Intelligence and Art

 Over the past couple of months, I've seen a lot of artists on Twitter experimenting with AI and art.  This is a very fast-developing thing right now.  There have been multiple online software programs launched that do it in a similar fashion: you type in a few words or a phrase and the AI returns two or three images.  One AI image was given an award in the Digital Image category in a recent juried exhibition, which caused a stink among many artists.  So what's it all about?

The primary AI generators, at least the ones that I've seen images from most often, are DALL-E, Stable Diffusion, and MidJourney.  There are many many others.  Results can be stunning.  I see a lot that look like sci-fi landscapes or urbanscapes: impossible architecture, cities floating in the sky, barren horizons, Star Wars-like figures, or a single figure silhouetted against an ominous sky.  Others seem like Old Masters paintings that have been bumped up to 11.  Many are extremely realistic, others less so.  Here are a few examples: 

The Exorcist, by Lorenzo

Returnlessness, by Reimers

Busy, by Alex MJ

When I compared AI images to oil paintings, I thought that they had some really interesting aspects.  They made good use of composition.  See how the padre is highlighted by the arch, or how the single figure in Returnlessness is offset to one side and balanced by the light pole.  They can be highly detailed, far more than the typical oil painting is taken (Returnlessness again), or they can suggest details without actually portraying them (Busy).  All the AI images I've seen have been representational - that is, they show recognizable things: people, buildings, light poles, and so on.  None of it has been abstract, although they certainly make use of good abstract principles.  

I tried out a couple of programs, but got really awful results.  And I didn't like the process.  It felt like pulling the lever on a slot machine over and over, only instead of a money, you might get a nice image.  There was nothing of "me" in it.

It seemed to me (and still seems, come to think of it) that AI is good for a "Wow" effect, like great eye candy.  But what keeps bugging me is that it's machine made.  It can't have soul, but it can simulate it, sometimes well.  

Having said that, I have found one artist who is doing really good work with AI.  Francien Krieg, a Dutch artist, is the exception that proves the rule.  She has been doing a series of oil paintings using herself and old women as her subjects.  Earlier this year, she started playing with AI and she seems to have figured out how to get it to do images that are very similar to her oil paintings.  Here's an example:

Heat, by Francien Krieg

Francien is the only one I have seen who is able to give her AI images character, depth, and most importantly, heart.  You really should check out her website and compare her physical paintings to her AI work.  

As for me, I will stick with physical artworks.  But I like seeing what other artists are creating with AI.  Many of the NFTs that I've been collecting are AI-generated.  In fact. all of the ones in this post are NFTs that I've bought.  So, yeah, I think there's a place for AI art.  Just not in my studio.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Solo Exhibition!

My new solo exhibition opened Friday.  The show is titled "What May Be" and consists of twelve paintings that explore the theme of what might be in our future if we don't get our collective acts together.  Doesn't sound like a cheerful romp, does it?  Well, as is typical of my shows, it isn't.  (Previous such collections: "Old Times", about aging; "Bush League", a political satire series about the Bush administration; and "Meditation on War", about the effects of war on people and nations).  

Here's the artist statement: 

"News reports today can be frightening.  Wars rage across the globe.  The world’s population is exploding at the same time that climate change threatens our ability to produce food.  Social media and news sources stoke anger and violence on the local, national, and international scales.  At a time when cooperation is more in need than ever before, it is in very short supply. 

I was asked once whether I was an optimist or a pessimist.  My answer was that I am a short-term optimist and a long-term pessimist.  We have an amazing ability to muddle through in the short term, but the long-term trends are ominous.  That’s what underlies all these paintings.  However, I was surprised  at the hope that came out during the making of some of these paintings.  Maybe I’m more optimistic than I thought.

These paintings are arranged in a rough timeline.  At one end of the gallery is the present and at the other is some possible future.  The future may or may not happen as these creations suggest.  Nobody knows.  But one thing is certain: we all will have a hand in how it develops."

The Mountain XPress, the local Asheville paper, ran an article on it in this week's edition.  They got the general gist of it right even though some of the facts are a bit off.  You can read the article here.  If you want to see the paintings, they're on my website. 

The reception was Friday night and was lots of fun.  Many friends showed up, some of whom I hadn't seen in years.  Met some interesting people as well.  

The show will be up until September 25th.  If you're in Asheville, swing by Pink Dog Creative at 348 Depot Street, in the River Arts District, and go through the show.  And let me know what you think.

Monday, August 01, 2022

Gabe and Lynnea's Painting


I just completed a painting for a wonderful couple.  Gabe and Lynnea were married out near Santa Fe, New Mexico.  They chose a rather spectacular location in a state park.  They're both very laid-back and not at all concerned with traditional weddings, as you can probably tell from their outfits.  The ceremony was scheduled for 2 pm, but everybody was having a great time chatting and socializing, so they didn't get around to it until closer to 3.  Did I say they were laid back?  

This was a different process for me.  I didn't take any art supplies out to Santa Fe because I didn't set up and paint there.  I took my camera and worked with their photographer prior to and during the wedding to get several hundred shots.  Then I came home to North Carolina to create the artwork.  And I did something very different from my previous efforts.  Instead of painting the surrounding environment, or friends and family, or both, I stripped it down to just the two of them.  And I think it worked.  To me, it captures their love on that day, which is what it's all about.  No distractions, nothing else, just the two of them.

Congratulations to Gabe and Lynnea!

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Blockchains and Crypto and NFTs, Oh My!

I mentioned in my last post that I've been playing in the NFT world and learning lots of new stuff.  Thought I'd share some of what I've learned here.  It's an incredibly complex and ever-changing rabbit-warren of technology, community, written and unwritten rules, and potential.

We'll start with blockchains because that's what underlies all of this.  A blockchain is essentially a system that verifies that something else exists and belongs to somebody.  Think of it like a ledger.  You enter the information that you own some digital asset (a photo, a music file, some crypto currency, whatever).  It's recorded in an encrypted block of data.  If you transfer the digital asset to somebody else, the "ledger" creates another encrypted block of data that records who now has it, what date and time the transfer occurred, and some other information.  The first and second blocks of data are now "chained" together.  Their information is stored in the cloud on computers around the world.  Neither block can ever be altered except by adding additional blocks because altering them would require altering vast amounts of information on vast numbers of dispersed computers simultaneously.  So blockchains are incredibly secure.

The first workable blockchain was Bitcoin, created in 2009.  Since then, there have been something like 3,000 different blockchains created.  Some have taken off, like Ethereum, as they targeted specific niches, while most others haven't.  

One of the major concerns about blockchains is their environmental impact.  Bitcoin, Ethereum, and most others use the "proof of work" (POW) verification system.  I have no idea how that works, but this system requires huge amounts of energy to operate.  To create a single NFT (we'll get into that in a bit) can require as much energy as running a typical American household for over two weeks.  There are, literally, entire coal-fired power plants whose output is used exclusively for blockchain operations.  That sucks.  In response, a newer type of verification system, the "proof of stake" (POS) system, was created.  It uses an tiny fraction of the energy that POW systems do.  The Tezos blockchain uses the POS system and says it uses 1/200,000,000th the energy of Bitcoin.  All this energy has to be paid for by the users and can be expensive.  As a comparison, it can cost about $70 to create an NFT on the Ethereum chain.  It cost me about 15 cents on the Tezos chain.  That reflects a huge reduction in energy useage.

So blockchains give us a way to verify ownership.  Crypto currency gives us a medium of exchange.  Each blockchain has its own crypto currency.  Bitcoin, of course, is the oldest.  For traditional artists, the most common blockchains and crypto are the Ethereum chain (using Ether) and Tezos (using Tez).  They are not interoperable: you can't use Tezos on the Ethereum chain.  They're comparable to existing currencies: you go to Japan, you use yen; you go to France, you use euros, and you can't use euros in Japan.  You can exchange them, though, just like you do with national currencies.  

Lots of attention is being paid to the volatility of crypto currencies, and with good reason.  Just recently, the values of almost all crypto currencies collapsed.  Bitcoin dropped by about 70%, for example.  Why?  Lots of reasons, but primarily it's due to the state of the world economy and the fact that crypto currencies are naturally more susceptible to mood changes.  I think that a lot of people bought crypto as an "investment", like stocks, especially over the last couple of years when everything was going up up up.  Well, they can go down down down, too.  Volatility doesn't necessarily mean the chains are bad, just that it's a new technology and people are still figuring them out.

Okay, now that we have blockchains and crypto currencies, what about NFTs?  NFTs are basically some kind of digital file that is attached to the blockchain.  It can be anything: a jpeg, mpeg, PDF, whatever you want.  You take the file, "mint" it by creating a record of it and attaching it to the blockchain, and now you have an NFT.  You can trade it or sell it as you wish.  If you have some crypto, you can buy somebody else's NFT.  I have taken several of my artworks and made NFTs of them.  The first was Natalie #5.  I took my best-quality digital photo, went on the site, minted 15 copies of it, and listed them on my page on the website.  Since then, I've minted other artworks, sold some, and bought some.  There's some really good NFT art out there.

So why would you pay good crypto for something that is essentially a jpeg image that you could copy/paste for free?  Because you can be sure that it came directly from the artist and is exactly the way they wanted it to look.  And it has the bonus of being "signed" by the artist.  You can pick up a New York Yankees ballcap for $5, but a Yankees ballcap signed by Derick Jeter may set you back $50.  It's a collectible, which is pretty much the same concept.

Going forward, I think NFTs will be a big part of business operations, but it won't happen for a while.  Right now, there are artists playing around with the concept, and some businesses are buying and selling using crypto currencies, but there's nothing large scale.  A big reason is that the whole system is so difficult to learn, and convoluted, that relatively few people want to spend the time and effort to learn it.  But eventually, the tech geeks will figure out ways to make it as easy and simple as using a credit card.  And when that happens, you'll see NFTs everywhere.  Car titles, concert tickets, receipts for new refrigerators, your Amazon orders, all that and much much more could eventually be done with NFTs.  In the meantime, I'll play around with NFTs of artworks and watch how it all develops.

Thursday, June 02, 2022


 So it's been a bit over 3 months since I posted anything.  My legions of fans (all 1 of you) have requested that I get my butt in gear and spill the beans on what's been going on.  It's been very busy, of course (isn't it always??) and my excuse is ... I'm lazy.

Okay.  Quick rundown:

In March, we went down to Florida to visit some friends.  We liked it so much we decided to move there, especially since a house in our neighborhood had just sold for a ridiculous amount of money.  So we contacted a realtor here to sell and another there to buy, started some fix-up, and really got into it.  When we were finally able to put some reliable numbers down, we didn't like what we saw.  Down there was nice, but it wasn't nice enough to double or triple our mortgage payment.  So we decided we like it right here just fine, thank you very much.  Actually, I was really happy with that decision, since there was absolutely NO art scene down there.

Right after that, we went up to DC.  Our grandson was going there on a school trip.  Since he lives in California, we don't see them very much, so we jumped on the opportunity to see him, even if it was just for short periods in between his museum visits.  When we were two hours out of DC, we got a call from his dad, saying he couldn't go on the trip because they didn't get his covid vaccination done in time.  Well, whose fault was that?  So we continued to DC, saw some friends, visited the National Museum of Art, and had a great time.  It reinforced our intention to never, ever, EVER live in a big city again.

As usual, our allergies kicked in high gear this spring.  Nose running, feeling crappy, must be covid, right?  Well, covid doesn't last THAT long.  Things have settled down now for a while.

I was asked to do a live painting for the Asheville Art Museum fundraising gala.  This was a no-brainer: get in front of the high-rolling art supporters in Asheville and show what I can do.  I brought in Maya White, another live wedding artist, to be my model and focal point for the painting.  We had a great time, talked with a lot of people, gave out some cards, and created a very loose and lively painting to be auctioned off at the end of the night.  All was good until the auction started.  Since this was an art museum, they were auctioning off a lot of stunningly good works that had been donated by top regional art galleries.  It started with a classical portrait that would knock your socks off, continued through beautifully done abstracts, glass sculpture that belonged on display in a museum, rare lithographs by big-name artists, and much more.  I kept looking at those works, then back at my painting, which looked by comparison to be sloppy, unfocused, and unresolved.  I wanted to just crawl under a rock.  However, it was well received and sold for more than I thought it would to a couple that was ecstatic to have it.  Would I do it again?  Yes, but I'd pick a simpler composition that I could bring to a much higher level of finish.

I just finished a wedding painting for a wonderful couple.  Unfortunately, it was pouring on their Big Day and it was supposed to be an outdoor wedding.  But they rolled with the punch, the venue did a great job with Plan B, and the painting shows them on a bright sunny day, like it should have been.  When the bride bursts out in tears every time she comes by the easel to check on progress, you know you're on the right track.

Looking forward, I have a solo show coming up in August at the Pink Dog Collective in Asheville.  I'm really excited about this.  It will have some older paintings, but a lot that have never been shown outside my studio, including two that aren't done yet.  

And I've been looking into NFTs and crypto currency lately.  Lots to say there, so I'll save it for another post.