Sunday, August 29, 2010

Studio Stuff

Ugandan Guard
Oil on panel, 16"x12"

I've been working in the studio this week on three projects. One is the series of paintings based on my experiences in Iraq. I've decided to do more of the small 16"x12" portraits, the newest of which is shown above. They're enjoyable to do, but they're also very meaningful. In my Old Times series of paintings, half were narrative paintings (paintings with some sort of story behind them) and half were portraits. I found that the two types complemented each other. The narratives told stories or explored concepts about aging while the portraits gave you real people who were living the stories. In this series, I started doing the small portraits as a way to get back into the painting rhythm again, but have really liked this growing collection. So this week I got ten more panels. I also painted over a couple of the small paintings I've done since returning to the studio. They really weren't any good and I want to use the panels for more portraits. I feel like I'm on an interesting path with my paintings now and it's a good feeling.

Another project that I've got going is the preparation of a series of new intaglio prints for a show at Bella Vista Gallery in November. It's been a few years since I pulled any prints. The process is very technical and very different from painting. Instead of working in large areas of color, I'm working with lines on a small metal plate. The subject matter is very different, too: Asheville scenes instead of war stories. I've got two drypoint plates pretty much ready to go, I think ... won't know for certain until I pull the first prints. There will be some etchings as well and I've got a couple of plates ready. For the past couple of days, I've been studying James McNeill Whistler's intaglio prints to help me get my thought processes oriented. To me, Whistler's prints are magic, beautifully done and very evocative. Hopefully, some tiny portion of those characteristics will transfer into my plates.

The third project involves art classes. Over the years, I've occasionally had people ask me if I teach. The answer has always been "no", since I never saw much demand for it. Recently, however, I've had quite a few people asking. So I'm putting together a Painting 101 course that will provide a foundation in oil painting, including oil paint, brushes, canvases and panels, safety, color theory, composition, various kinds of paint application techniques, and so on. It'll be a 6-week course right here in my studio, and cost will be $150, with students providing their own materials. It'll probably go from early October to mid November. Anybody out there interested?

In late September, two sets of studios here in the River Arts District are going to have Open House Weekend. I'll be a part of that here in the Cotton Mill Studios building, along with five of our artists; the others are in the Curve Studios just up the road. The dates are Friday, Sep 24th, through Sunday, Sep 26th, from 11-5 each day. Additionally, there will be "twilight hours" on Friday from 5-8 pm. I'm probably going to spend that weekend pulling the prints for the intaglio show at Bella Vista. If you're in Asheville that weekend, come on out and visit!

And now, if you'll excuse me, I have two little dogs that are telling me that I've been ignoring them long enough and that I'm in for some serious playtime.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New Painting

This gent was a guard at the Crossed Swords monument one day. Although he didn't speak English and we didn't speak Arabic, he was intent on showing us around the place, making sure that we knew where Saddam had stood and that we got good pictures. He was a very proud man who had certainly lived a rough life. In this painting, I focused on the stress that he continues to endure in his life.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Old Family Photos

In my last post, I talked about having my sister and niece visit us for a few days. Among the many things we talked about was our collection of old family photos. I have a lot of them, including several hundred slides. I told Robin that I'd scan some of the more significant photos and send them to her. She's going to get them all eventually so they can be passed down to her kids, but the electronic scans will do for now.

I've completed scans of maybe four dozen or so photos. Some of 'em were of our family back in the mid-60's, when I was roughly 11-12 years old. I was quite the little geek and you won't see those pictures. But I thought I'd share a few of the older ones.

These are my mother's parents. The picture must've been taken around 1925 when they were married. I remember them both as very gentle and loving people. He looks like quite the rake in this photo, though, doesn't he? Kinda like Jerry Lee Lewis. Trust me: he was nothing like Jerry, and that's a good thing.

This is a good one: my father's grandparents George and Phebe (left) and parents Skipper and Harriet (right). I believe this was taken in 1942, right around George and Phebe's 50th wedding anniversary. Skipper and Harriet also reached their 50th anniversary many years later. My father and mother celebrated their 40th anniversary before my mother passed away. I got my name from Skipper: he was the captain of a tugboat out of New York City, running tows up and down the east coast.

Here's my father, the handsome guy on the right. He was a Navy pilot in World War II in the Pacific. He flew the PB4Y Privateer, which was a modified version of the B-24 used for long-range maritime patrol. After the war ended, he was sent to Peleliu to do air-sea rescue operations. That's where this photo was probably taken.

Here's my mom at about age 15, a young girl in a small town in northern Mississippi. A few years later, she cut her hair short and wore it that way the rest of her life. Many years later, when I was in college, I grew my hair long. It looked remarkably like hers.

And here's my favorite: my parents at their wedding in 1951. They are a very good-looking couple, aren't they? They were married in a church in my mother's home town.

I've got all these old photos because I've been working on our family genealogy for many years. When I started the history, I was mostly interested in how far back I could trace it. But I wasn't too careful about keeping records, and eventually when I started getting conflicting information, I had no way to compare data sources. So I put it away for a while. Years later, I started over, and this time I documented the heck out of it. I also had a different focus. Instead of just trying to see how far back I could go, I wanted to learn more about who my ancestors were and what kind of lives they led. Why, for instance, did a number of them leave Amsterdam in the 1600's and head to what is now New York? At the time, Amsterdam was the wealthiest city in Europe, while the New World was about as developed as Borneo. The answer was that my ancestors were Protestants and Amsterdam was part of the Spanish empire. The Spanish Inquisition was then in full and very brutal force. The choice, for my ancestors, was to stay and possibly be killed, or leave and possibly live.

Don't worry, I'm not going to give you all the details of my family history. My point is that it's a very interesting study. History, as taught in schools, is often dull and boring. But when you're reading about your own ancestors, it's different. I'm a product of my mother and father. My character was developed under their guidance. My parents' characters were developed by their parents and the events of their lives. And so on. So, by studying my family history, I get an insight into who I am. And all the photos I've been scanning just add that much more to the story.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Family Visit

My lovely niece Holly and wonderful sister Robin visited us this past week. I hadn't seen them in over two years, and it had been about seven years since they last visited us here in North Carolina. We had a wonderful time. Janis and I get to play tour guide when friends and family come to visit and this time was no exception. On Wednesday, we took them to my studio and then to Biltmore Village, where the girls shopped and we all ate at the Corner Cafe. This was one of the places that President Obama went when he was on vacation here in April, and it was excellent. The waiter assured us (wink wink) that, yes, we were sitting at the very same table where the President and Michelle sat.

On Thursday, we took them to lunch at the Grove Park Inn. We ate at the Sunset Terrace, their outdoor facility overlooking the golf course and Asheville. It was a perfect day for it, too, and the food (as always) was fabulous. Then we went downtown, where the girls shopped some more (hey, they're girls, they're supposed to shop).

On Friday, I took Robin and Holly up to Sam's Gap, on the NC/Tennessee border, to get a look at our spectacular mountains. Then we went to the Biltmore House. I hadn't been in two or three years and it was quite fun. They're always changing the tour routes through the house as new rooms are restored and old ones closed off for maintenance. After the house tour, we had lunch in the Stable Cafe, then went down to explore the gardens. A pretty perfect day, all in all.

We weren't always going/doing/eating, though, even though that's what my writeup seems to suggest. We spent a good bit of time just chilling here at the house. Robin and Holly are good chillers. They're both into knitting (Holly has an Etsy shop and a knitting blog that are both quite popular). Holly even knit a new shoulder bag for Janis while she was here - quite beautiful and Janis is ecstatic. What amazed me was that she could knit, talk, surf Facebook, and watch TV all at the same time. I have trouble doing one thing at a time; she could do at least four without breaking a sweat.

So it was great to catch up with them again. Family is important, and two years is too long to go between visits.

Since they left on Saturday, we've been getting back to normal. I went back to the studio today to get some work done. I wound up spending a couple of hours cleaning. When visitors are in my studio, they often say things like "oh, I'd love to live and work in a place like this!" Well, fantasy is one thing, reality another. Yes, it's a great studio, but there's one aspect that's annoying:


Spiders, specifically. One of my windows is right under an outside light and it is a magnet for spiders. The window was covered with cobwebs, dead bugs, and dozens of live spiders. Here's what the window sill looked like when I started:

Ugh. When was the last time you had to take a Shop Vac to your walls? And if you did, when was the last time you sucked up a spider big enough to rattle all the way into the bag? So after a couple hours work, the walls and windows were pretty clean and my Shop Vac bag is now a combination Superfund toxic waste site and spider sanctuary.

Tomorrow I'll try to get the creative juices flowing. Well, maybe dripping a little bit. But you gotta start somewhere.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lotsa This'n'That

The title of this post pretty much sums up my life in the week since the Star Wars mural was completed. I've had to mow the yard (twice), get some plumbing work done, take the car in for minor maintenance (twice), do various clean-up/fix-up projects around the house, take the dogs to the vet, and a variety of other things, some of which I'll talk about here. Most of this is the minor nitnoid stuff of daily life. I've been in the studio for a grand total of about 15 minutes. But that's the way life goes.

One of the things I had to do was a little publicity work. As a self-employed artist, I need to keep putting my name out there and let people know what I'm doing. Tooting my own horn is not my favorite activity, but like mowing the yard, it's gotta get done. So with the mural completed, I had to post notices on Facebook and LinkedIn, then on this blog, then on my web site, and finally (yesterday) in my semi-irregular studio newsletter. All of these forums seem to have very different audiences with only a little overlap. So if you've read about the mural in several places now, sorry; but my monthly publicity blitz is over and you won't have to endure it any more.

Late last week, I learned about a British street artist who's been causing a bit of a stir in the art world for a few years. He's known as Banksy, a nom-de-guerre since much of his work is considered graffiti.I found Banksy to have a sharp sense of social commentary, brilliant wit, and a very well-developed technical style. If you've never seen his work, take a look at his web site or do a Google/Bing search for his images.

On Saturday, I took a workshop on building stretcher frames and stretching canvas. Sounds exciting, huh? It's the kind of thing that only a small minority of painters would love. But I enjoyed it. I am always trying to improve my professional skills, and while my stretchers and canvases fall into the "pretty good" category, I wanted to get them to the "full professional" level. The instructor was Frank Lombardo, a painter who works out of the Marshall High studios near here. Frank is a talented and skilled artist who graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art and subsequently studied in Florence and also with the painter Odd Nerdrum. Frank knows his stuff and I came away from the workshop with a whole new approach to building my canvases.

Janis and I have watched a few movies this week. One was Green Zone, in which Matt Damon plays an Army warrant officer in Baghdad in 2003. Think of it as Jason Bourne in Baghdad - it's about as exciting (very) and about as realistic (NOT!) as the Bourne series of movies. However, some of the settings were extremely well done, particularly the scenes in and around the Republican Palace. It was almost as if they filmed it right there. We also watched Men In Black again; it was just as funny this time as it was so many years ago. And we tried to watch Whip It, a young girl's coming-of-age-with-a-Roller-Derby-team story, but it was pretty boring and we bailed out about halfway through.

Today we're doing the final preparations for a family visit. My sister and niece will be here for a few days. I haven't seen them in over two years and it's been even longer since Janis has. We're very excited about their visit. We've got a couple of things in mind for them and will be busy for the next few days. One of the fun things about family visits is that we get to play tour guide and see a lot of the sights that we don't normally see. You know how it is: when you live near something really neat, like the Biltmore House, you think "oh, I can see that any time" and consequently you never go. So we'll be tourists for a few days and then it'll be back to normal. I gotta hit the studio sometime!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The "Star Wars" Mural

After almost a month of work, the "Star Wars" mural is finished. I spent almost three weeks researching, doing layouts, making the full-size drawings, and gathering all the necessary stuff. Last week I spent five days in Annapolis, painting the mural on the wall. Here are some pictures of the result.

This is the entire wall, all 13'x14' of it.

This is the left side, with Chewbacca, Yoda, and Han Solo.

Here's the right side, with Luke, Obi-Wan Kenobi, R2D2, and C3PO.

A detail shot of the Millennium Falcon.

And my favorite part, the light-saber duel between Darth Vader and Luke.

The visit to Annapolis wasn't all work. Tim and Caprice are old friends and fabulous hosts and we spent a lot of time just having fun together. We also got to see Konrad and Mary Beth and their boys. All of us lived on the same cul-de-sac in Maryland about 15 years ago and have seen each other only sporadically since then. So we had a lot of catching up to do.

And there was the end of an era. I sold our Land Rover to my cousin Logan. We've had the Rover for ten years and 157,000 miles. It's a great car and is in great shape, but it needed an owner ... how shall I put this ... who has a full-time paying job. A Land Rover is not the car you need if you're a self-employed artist. So it's goodbye to the Land Rover. It'll do Logan very well.

Now it's time to get back to normal. As if I have any idea what that is ...