Sunday, December 20, 2015


I try to stay away from politics on here.  This morning, though, a friend sent me a note about last night's political debate.  Here's what I replied:

I can't bring myself to watch these debates.  I'm for Bernie - he's consistently been discussing things that I think are important, and in ways that I think need to be said.  And he's not named Clinton.  Hillary's a political machine and O'Malley is in the peanut gallery.  But the Democrats, at least, are having civil discussions about substantive issues, which is more than can be said for the ongoing train wreck that is the Republican party.  

The Republican party is just destroying itself.  While that's good for Democrats, it's bad for the country.  We need responsible, civil discussion about the issues, with creative ideas, from the conservatives.  I know that there are some smart people with good ideas in the Republican party, but they're being run over by the lunatics.  Maybe the party needs to split in two, with the Tea Party wing in one and the moderates in another.  That would diminish Republican chances for winning national elections in the short term but would marginalize the freaks and provide a way forward for those who think governing is more important than posturing.

To me, it's pretty clear: the Democrats will nominate Hillary and she'll beat the pants off whichever fringe candidate is sent up by the Republicans.  The Senate might go back to the Dems while the House will stay Republican.  Hillary will prove to be a reasonably competent President but will be viciously hated by the right wing, so much so that the anti-Obama hate speech of the past seven years will seem like a kumbaya sing-along.  And their hatred might prevent them from coming up with a viable candidate to run against Hillary in 2020.  

The legacy:
Eight years of half the country hating Bill Clinton ...
Eight years of half the country hating George Bush ...
Eight years of half the country hating Barack Obama ...
Four to eight years of half the country hating Hillary Clinton.

I'm tired of all this hate.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Looking Ahead

The end of the year is one of the times when I take stock of where I am, where I want to go, and how to get there.  (The other times are the other 364 days of the year ...).  As we approach the end of 2015, I've been thinking about the balance in my life between the studio, my consulting business, and responsibilities around the family and home.  Now I don't see my family and home responsibilities changing, so any re-balancing will have to come between the studio and consulting business.  And what I'm looking at doing is taking time away from the consulting biz and spending it in on studio business instead.

This is a kinda big deal.  My consulting business has been doing pretty well for the past three years.  I've got a few clients that have routed a good bit of work to me.  It's been fairly lucrative and has paid for my studio activities.  The cost, though, has been in the lack of studio time.  I've written about this before - it's the primary reason the painting Cinderella's Seamstress took six months to complete, for example.  This lack of time, and lack of day-to-day continuity, has resulted in a scattershot approach to studio activities.  The balance has been good financially but less than productive creatively.

Changing circumstances are making this a time to reconsider that balance.  Looking ahead, I see that changes at one of my clients means that I'm not going to be doing nearly as much work for them.  So I will have to do a lot of marketing and outreach in order to develop new clients to keep the same income level.  My heart's not really into doing that.  I enjoy the work - it's interesting, challenging, and always something different - but it's not my calling.  Meanwhile, the economy in general is picking up and many artists I know are seeing increases in sales, teaching, and related activities.  If I have to do a lot of marketing and outreach anyway, I'd rather do it for my studio business.

To that end, I've been doing a bit of work already.  My online presence is growing.  I've had an Etsy gallery for a while that features drawings and other small works.  Recently I added a gallery on Saatchi Art.  This one has larger paintings.  I've added a sales section on my website that has both artworks and workshops.  And I've established a presence on Instagram (search for @skiprohde).  In addition, I've reanimated my newsletters and my life drawing sessions.  

Going forward, I'm looking to do more art workshops.  My first is scheduled for January 9 & 10.  This is a portrait drawing class that will be held in my studio.  Details about the class are on my website and you can sign up there as well.  I plan on doing many more throughout the year, with a goal of at least one per month.  They'll cover a variety of topics.  I don't know what they are yet as that will depend on what people tell me they want to learn.  What would you want to cover in an art workshop?

I've got other goals for the new year as well: more juried, solo, and group shows as well as more gallery representation.  It's ambitious.  I'll be the first to tell you that I'm not very good at marketing, but I have to get better at it, one way or another, so that's where I'm headed.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Figure Studies and Re-Working

I've been working on some figure studies lately.  They've started in the life drawing and painting sessions that I'm holding in my studio.  This one was a straightforward exercise at first:

This is actually just a detail of the initial night's work - I'm not showing the parts I messed up!  Subsequently, we had the model come in for another couple of hours and I was able to make some improvements on the figure.  After that session was over, I started making some other changes as well.  I'll post the completed painting when it's done.

Last week, we had a new model, James.  He has a very interesting face, so I did a portrait of him:

Oil on panel, 16"x12"

This was largely completed in one 2-hour session.  I came back to it the next day to make a couple of very minor corrections and sign it.  I'm really happy with the way it turned out.

One other project that was on my easel this past week was reworking an old painting from my political satire series.  I did it ten years ago as a comment on the immigration debate.  With all the current flap regarding Donald Trump and his infamous wall ("a beautiful wall ... it'll be huuuuuuge"), my old painting needed just a few tweaks to make it current again.  So I pulled it out and started painting.  And then I stopped.  Why?  Well, to do good satire, I have to get really angry and then stay in that angry stage.  I was certainly angry, but I really don't enjoy it.  Also, the end result is very time-sensitive: wait a few weeks or months and the subject is overtaken by other flaps (scandal, another shooting, the budget, you name it).  So all the anger and all the work that goes into a satirical painting is old news in a very short time.  Not worth it.  I've got better things to do.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Reality Is Stranger Than Fiction

Yes, we've all heard that reality is stranger than fiction.  It just hit home again today.  Ten years ago, I made "Pleasantville", a satirical painting about the American obsession with guns.  Here 'tis:

Most people understood that it was satire.  There were a few who didn't, though.  That always seems to happen with satire.

Today, though, I've been one-upped.  A GOP lawmaker in Nevada, Michele Fiore, posted her family's Christmas card on Facebook.  Here it is:

Yep, every one of them, except the infants, are toting some pretty serious hardware.  Even the 5-year-old in the middle.  Because nothing says "Christmas" quite like a high-powered arsenal.

Underneath the photo, she wrote: "It's up to Americans to protect America.  We're just you're ordinary American family."  Umm, no, Michele, you're not.

I posted this on both my personal and studio Facebook accounts a little while ago.  My personal account is only open to my friends, most of whom are pretty reasonable (there ARE exceptions!).  The studio account, though, is open to the public, and some of them have left very ... interesting ... remarks.  Take a look.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Studio Developments

I've got quite a few things going on in the studio these days.  Unfortunately, I don't have enough time in the studio to get 'em all done!  I'm making progress, though.

My "Faces of Afghanistan" drawings are on exhibit in Mars Hill University's Weizenblatt Gallery through Dec 11.  It's a nice, intimate gallery.  We had a good opening reception and I gave a talk to an art history class about Afghanistan and art in a combat zone.

This past week, I finished a commissioned painting.  It turned out pretty well.  I can't post a picture of it here because it's a Christmas present.  Maybe in another month ...

Beyond that, I have several paintings in progress or in the queue.  One is a portrait that I just can't get to work.  It's a good painting, just not of that specific individual!  I'll keep trying for a bit, but might have to start fresh.

There's a landscape painting that's been staring at me for about two months now, telling me to finish it up.  I kinda like it so far, but maybe not enough to dive back into it.  Doing a good job with this painting means that I have to get my head back into the same place it was when I had the initial vision and started slinging paint.  I might have moved on.  If so, then I'll slap some oil gesso over it and have a clean panel for something else.

Ten years ago, I did a series of political satire paintings.  Almost all have been on the shelf since then.  Political paintings are very much tied to a specific time period, and most of them are no longer applicable.  Recently, though, the subject matter of one of them has come back to the fore.  So I've pulled it off the shelf and am re-working it to make it current and to make it a better painting.  Political satire, though, is not a pleasant topic for me.  I have to get really pissed off about something to come up with the satirical angle, and I don't like being pissed off all the time, which is one of the reasons I quit doing it ten years ago.

This fall, I've been doing open life painting sessions.  We're having a mix of models: male, female, clothed, and nude.  Here's one of the most recent results.  These are fun sessions - we've got a good group of artists who come and work, and all the models have been interesting to work with.  I need to get one of them to come back soon.  I changed a few things after the session and need to finish it up, and I have an idea for another painting.

Lastly, I will be mentoring a young high school student over the next few months.  She's got the talent and, apparently, the drive to be a good artist.  My mission will be to help her find her way.  I love doing this sort of thing - working with young art students really charges my batteries.

So that's what's going on in the studio.  Except none of it is happening today - this is Thanksgiving, so I'm hanging out around the house with Janis.  We're having a great time doing not much of anything.  I hope you and yours are having a great Thanksgiving today as well!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

"Thank You For Your Service"

"Thank you for your service."  I get a lot of that these days.  Frankly, I don't know how to respond.  Why thank me for my service?  I didn't do it for you or anybody else.  I did it for very selfish reasons.  I joined the Navy because it offered exotic places like Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, as well as surface ships, submarines, and airplanes.  Any one of those things was better than any other job available when I was graduating college, like being an assistant manager in a Pampers plant in southeast Missouri.  It wasn't altruism that brought me into the Navy, it was the prospect of seeing and doing some really neat stuff.

I stayed in the Navy because they kept giving me cool things to do and great people to do them with.  I got to drive ships and lead teams of really sharp people.  I went to some amazing places (Japan, Korea, Philippines, Kenya, Singapore, San Diego, Australia, Hawaii, Panama, Washington DC, Honduras, Norway, England, Scotland, Belgium, Bahrain, Italy, Dubai, the Netherlands, Germany, Diego Garcia, Bosnia, and Guantanamo Bay, to name a few).  I was put in charge of a cutting-edge technology development program where we literally were inventing the technology as we went along.  I led and managed two overseas field sites.  I went to sea on a battleship and, during a gunnery exercise, watched a 16" shell as it flew for miles toward the target on the beach.  I went to sea on submarines four times.  I managed a set of operations during one brief war (Desert Storm).  I met my wife.  I worked with some of the sharpest, wittiest, most capable, and most driven people in the world.  Later, several years after retiring from the Navy, I got to work in Iraq with the reconstruction effort, and then in Afghanistan to help build their governance capability.  In all of this, we had a mission, a purpose, something that was much bigger than just making a buck.  Cool stuff, all of it.

And people thank me for this?

I have to admit, I have been extremely lucky.  I wasn't drafted to fight a brutal war, even though the draft was still ongoing at the time (I had a high draft number).  I've never personally been shot at, that I know of, and never been in a firefight.  I did lose a couple of friends to an IED in Iraq and a sailor to a motorcycle accident, but those aren't things you thank somebody for.  No, I just had a wonderful career doing fascinating things with great people.  I couldn't have asked for more.

There are many, many others who have not had the same experience.  The ones who have visible or invisible wounds, both from combat and everyday operations.  The ones who lost their families because they were gone all the time.  Many service members paid a really high price for their service, and those are the ones you should legitimately thank.  Not me.

So when people say "Thank you for your service", I'm thinking that they should be saying something like, "how the hell do I get some of that action?"  I know how to respond to that question.

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Online Updates, Improvements, and Messing Around

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on improving my online studio presence.  A good online capability is crucial for successful marketing these days.  I gotta admit, I am the world's worst salesman and marketer.  I will talk somebody out of a sale.  Salesmanship is just something I never, ever, got the hang of.

But it was time to take a look at what I had and how it could be improved.  I had several things going already that were kinda/sorta okay: the web site, the studio Facebook page, this blog, and an Etsy site.  Each required some attention and there needed to be some additions.

The web site came first.  It was just okay as it was.  The home page was up to date but didn't have a whole lot of information and wasn't laid out well.  The individual pages for different series of paintings were not visually compelling.  There was no information about purchasing or commissioning anything.  All that needed some work, so I took advantage of Weebly's capabilities,  templates, and drag-and-drop features to spruce things up a bit.  The home page now has a LOT of information about recent and upcoming events, along with links to other places where my work can be seen.  And it makes much better use of the available real estate on a computer screen.  I also tweaked the pages for the different artworks series so they are more visually interesting.  Finally, I added a section devoted to purchasing art.  This included a page with links to Etsy and Saatchi, as well as a page where art could be purchased directly.  All the marketing experts say that if you don't make it easy to buy, people never will.  I've certainly proved that over the years, so it's time to try a new approach.  So take a look and let me know what you think.

The studio Facebook page was pretty good.  There are a lot of images on there and it's updated several times a week.  That's good.  But it still didn't have a large reach, especially considering it's been active for several years now.  So I tried an advertising campaign and it actually worked out pretty well.  I need to go back and take a look at the campaign, figure out lessons learned, and do another one.

Etsy isn't that great a site for visual artists.  It's a crafts-oriented site where the average sale is under $20.  That may work well for crafters who do a lot of inexpensive stuff, but not for visual artists whose work often entails many many hours of labor.  Despite that, there are some really good visual artists on Etsy.   Don't believe me?  Check out the list I put together on figurative artists.  I've got about 30-40 small works listed there, like figure drawings, quick oil sketches, photos, that sort of thing.  I've had a few sales.  You really have to market Etsy hard to get any traffic since there are thousands of others on there, and with the low price points, it's hard to justify.  Still, I'm there, and I'm going to push it a bit through the end of the year and then re-evaluate.  There are a few other artist sites that may be better for me.

One of the biggest of those is Saatchi Art.  I used to have a page there many years ago, but never pushed it and never had any traffic.  It eventually went into hibernation.  An American company bought Saatchi Art Online in 2014 and has aggressively expanded its capabilities and growth since then.  So I reactivated my account and built a new page.  There are just a few paintings on there now and more will be added.  One of the neat things about Saatchi is that they will also do open-edition giclees from the photos we provide.  Pretty cool.

I've been doing a newsletter for a number of years.  They come out aperiodically, just a few a year.  Email marketing gurus say that newsletters should come out much more often.  I don't want to spam people with too much information, and occasionally there's not much to say for a long time.  But that's an excuse.  I decided to step it up and send out a newsletter at the beginning of each month.  I sent one at the beginning of October and another yesterday, so I've got a string of two going!  The newest took some work as it was significantly revised to be more inclusive and informative.  If you're interested in getting these newsletters, go to my web page and you can sign up on the Home page.  Or send me a note and I'll add you.

Instagram is another site that I finally joined.  I'm using it strictly to promote my studio biz.  I post once a day (max) and have been very slowly building up my number of followers.  If you're interested, look me up: @skiprohde.  And follow me.  I can say a lot more about Instagram, but that will be a separate post.

So that's what I've been doing to improve my online presence.  It's taking a lot of work.  Once things get started, though, they get easier to update.  Got any thoughts on what else I should be doing?  Or about what each of these sites needs in order to be improved?  Let me know, I'm looking for advice.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cinderella's Seamstress

Cinderella's Seamstress
Oil on canvas, 48"x48"

A couple of days ago, I finished my newest large painting, "Cinderella's Seamstress".  This one is about the backstory in everything that's beautiful.  Those beautiful things don't just appear by magic: they require a lot of dedicated, hard work by some creative individual.  Often, the work is done alone in a small shop or studio that's a far cry from the glamorous scene that it's meant for.

I've written about this painting in earlier posts.  I started sketching the initial ideas back in April and the basic idea was quickly settled.  Then I had the model come to my studio.  She really is a seamstress, quite good, very accomplished, and a helluva hard worker.  I asked her to come in her working clothes.  She did and brought along with a few accessories.  The leather tool pouch, for example, is what she wears, and it's stuffed with sewing supplies, scissors, and other tools.  Her grandfather was a carpenter and this was his tool pouch back then, so she has this great reminder of her family tradition of making things.

Amy came ready to work.  She brought along her manikin and used a scrap scarf from my studio to whip up a "dress", tacked stuff up on the wall behind her, and we did a lot of studies of her interacting with the manikin.  Oddly enough, the pose I finally decided on was only about the third or fourth one she did.  Although we did a bunch after that, none of them had quite the energy that I was looking for.  So her pose and the position of the manikin were locked in right at the beginning.

Almost everything else, though, changed, and not just in the details.  I had been looking at one of my favorite painters, Jerome Witkin, for inspiration on how to put this narrative painting together.  I couldn't make it work.  Witkin's paintings have an intensity that just didn't fit with my approach.  My paintings are generally quiet and fairly contemplative, so I started looking at another favorite artist whose paintings are also quiet and contemplative: Johannes Vermeer.  I studied his paintings, looking at how he arranged his people in the room, his use of large spaces and small, busy areas, the lines leading the eye around the painting, color of light on the wall, and so on.

Analyzing Vermeer's artworks to see how they work is one thing.  Trying to put those principles to work in a new painting is something else.  I went through many different compositions.  The window was originally on the right, but that put the light onto the seamstress and backlit the dress, and that wasn't right.  An ironing board was at various times behind, to the right, to the left, and in front of the seamstress and dress - sometimes as a visual device to connect the woman and manikin, other times as a visual barrier to establish distance.  A large poster was briefly on the wall.  The window was once more prominent, but it implied that you could look outside, which was not what I wanted the viewer to do, so now it's just barely indicated to provide a logical source of light.  The director's chair came in as a way to help guide the eye around the painting.  The "dress" she made in our first session didn't really work, so I found a photo of one that did, then bought some shiny blue fabric and mocked up the dress on the manikin.  And on and on.

When working on a complex composition like this, I will do sketches of everything - the seamstress, manikin, director's chair, and so on - then cut them out and move them around on a large sheet of paper to figure out how they need to relate to each other.  I'll draw some things in several different sizes as things come forward, backward, or turn.  Once I get something that works, I'll do a value study of the whole thing to look at the arrangements of lights and darks, then move things around again as necessary.  If it passes that test, then I'll transfer the composition to gessoed paper and do a color study.  The first several color studies resulted in me going back to square one and reworking the composition from scratch.  But finally the composition that you see above came together.

The next step was to prepare the canvas.  I built the frame and stretched the canvas.  It's polyester, more or less the same stuff used in sails, so it's extremely durable, much tighter than cotton or linen, and won't rot or mildew.  It's the same material that museums use to re-line old master paintings when they're restored.  I gessoed the canvas and then toned it with a coating of cool gray.  To transfer the composition, I drew grids on the final drawing, drew equivalent grids on the canvas, and copied the major outlines.  And then it was time to paint.  I built it up gradually, in multiple layers.  There was a good bit of adjusting going on - the director's chair turned out to be too large, so I had to shrink it quite a bit, for example, but mostly it was minor detail stuff.  The painting took a couple of months because this is a good-sized canvas and I wanted to take my time and do it as well as I possibly could.

And there it is.  Finally.  Done.  I feel pretty good about the way it turned out and am looking for exhibition opportunities for it.  And I'm already thinking about my next painting.  Haven't started the sketches yet, but there are a few ideas floating around ...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Landscape Painting

Clouds over the French Broad River
Oil on canvas, 30"x40"

For the past few weeks, I've been working on paintings for the upcoming exhibit, "Of Time and the River".  It's a fundraiser for RiverLink, which is a non-profit in Asheville that has been working for years to clean up the French Broad River.  They've done a great job: the river is much much cleaner than it has been since this was Cherokee territory.  Now there are river rafters, kayakers, and parks and greenways all through the Asheville area.  All this takes money.  Artists are happy to help, since the river is a great source of inspiration for artworks.  Another thing in RiverLink's favor is that they treat artists as professionals.  Rather than asking us to give them stuff that they can auction off at ridiculously low prices, they partner with us very much like galleries do.  And as a result, they get much better artworks that are worth higher prices.  Win-win-win.  I'm going to have seven works in this event.  Six are paintings and one is an etching.  Several of the paintings were done specifically for this show, including the one above, which I just finished and signed today.

This painting was really tough.  I wanted to get the rich glow of light in the clouds right at sunset.  So in July and early August, when the clouds really pile up in late afternoon, I made several trips to local spots where I could get a good view of both the clouds and the land and river below, right at sunset.  I took my sketchbook and my camera, making lots of notes about color variations, cloud shapes, reflections, the way the land looked, and so on.  And I took a couple hundred photos.  Sunset is such an amazing thing: it creeps up on you slowly over 45 minutes or so, and then wham, the light and shadows change so fast over about 10 minutes, and then it's over.

The next step was to do a lot of color studies to try out different ideas and compositions.  As the saying goes, the best way to get a good idea is to get lots of ideas.  Most of them wound up in the trash, and the initial study using the idea of clouds reflected in the water looked nothing like this.  But trial and lots of error finally came up with the basic composition you see above.

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, I started in on this canvas and immediately ran into issues that hadn't been clear on the small studies.  One was that the cloud kept growing until it was this huge monster.  Oddly, the bigger the cloud, the less remarkable it was.  The technical reason was that the yellow and orange cloud dominated so much of the canvas that it was no longer a focal point.  By shrinking it, it became a warm center of interest in a large cool-colored canvas.  A second problem was color.  When dealing with clouds, you're dealing with almost pure color.  It's not muddied like paint is.  So to get that pure color, I was using my purest paints.  That lead to over-saturation.  The blues were BLUE, the purples were PURPLE, the greens GREEN, and so on.  It was hideous.  I had to mute the cool colors somehow without muddying them up, while leaving the warm colors in the clouds strong.  I tried layering colors, and that worked in the clouds but not in the sky and purple clouds.  So then I tried using the purest complementary colors to tone things down.  For you non-painters, that means mixing a bit of orange into the blue for the sky.  Blue and orange are on opposite sides of the color wheel, so as you add orange to blue, it becomes less BLUE and more muted.  At some point, though, it becomes gray and then a muted orange, so you have to walk that fine line of mixing.  So, bottom line, I spent a lot of time working on the blues and purples, toning them down enough so that the yellows, oranges, and reds in the clouds really popped.  I'm not convinced that I hit it right.  It still looks over-saturated (especially in this photo), but it's as good as I can make it now.

The process, though, was both very challenging and a lot of fun.  You might not have thought "fun" if you heard me cussing at it, but once things started happening, it really was fun.  I want to do more paintings of clouds, and the river, and reflections on the water.  Each one of those subjects has a lot of subtleties that I had to deal with in this painting, and they're going to need many more paintings before I can begin to understand them.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Success Story

In the early summer of 1996, I was in Sarajevo as part of the NATO peacekeeping forces.  I was at the headquarters and we had pretty much free rein to go around the city.  Actually, we were encouraged to.  Our boss believed that we were there to bring the peace, and that meant doing peaceful things, like going out to restaurants, shopping, and talking with locals.

One of the places I went was the library.  Before the war, this was a big, beautiful building that held irreplaceable documents, books, and artifacts dating back about a thousand years.  But sometime during the war, Serbian forces surrounding the city heard that military forces were using the library's basement, so they shelled the building and set fire to it and everything inside.  A group of us visited it one day and went inside.  It wasn't safe, of course - the building could have collapsed at almost any time.  Years later, I made this painting of the scened from just inside the front door:

Over the years, I've wondered what happened to that building.  I heard that they were trying to restore it, but hadn't heard anything else.  Until today.  Bosnia has completed the restoration of the old library and it is now reopened.  Here is what the library looks like now, from the same viewpoint:

Fantastic.  Just fantastic.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Truthiness in the Republican Debate

You don't listen to a debate of Presidential wannabe's and expect to hear a lot of the truth.  As the old joke goes, "How do you know when a politician is lying?  When he's talking!"  And debates these days are more about macho posturing than honest, substantive discussion.

So last night was the Republican presidential debate.  I didn't watch it as driving nails into my forehead would be less painful.  Political junkies suffered through it, though.  One of the more interesting junkies is Politifact, which fact-checks everybody's statements.  They published a report today that showed the number of statements each candidate made in six categories: True, Mostly True, Half True, Mostly False, False, and Pants on Fire.  It was interesting to go through their data.

Being a bit of a geek, I decided to do an analysis of each candidate's answers and find out how they scored on the truthiness continuum.  For each "True" statement, they got 5 points; for each "Mostly True" they got 4 points, and so on, with 0 points awarded for a "Pants On Fire" answer.  Then I added up their points and divided by the number of statements they made.  The result was an average score of how true their statements were.  Here are the results:

Bobby Jindal: 3.44 (ie: about midway between "Mostly True" and "Half True")
John Kasich: 3.28
Jeb Bush: 3.26
Rand Paul: 3.07
Chris Christie: 3.01
Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham: 3.00 (this is the "Half True" level)
Mike Huckabee: 2.65
Scott Walker: 2.62
Carly Fiorina: 2.55
Rick Santorum: 2.34
Ted Cruz: 2.11 (this is about the "Mostly False" level)
Ben Carson: 1.57
Donald Trump: 1.54 (halfway between the "False" and "Mostly False" levels)

Very interesting.  Remember, this is only a measure of how true their statements are.  It doesn't consider whether they actually believe the nonsense coming out of their mouths.  And it doesn't consider a lot of other things that have to be taken into account in choosing our next Supreme Leader.  All it indicates is how true their statements might be at any given moment.

I find it very interesting that three of the top four candidates in the current polls are at the bottom of the truthiness scale.  What they're saying is mostly false, but the Republican base loves them for it.  What can you expect from people who watch Fox News?  They're raised on falsehood, and seem to know quality falsehood when they hear it.

Another interesting thing is that Bobby Jindal is at the top of the list, but he made very few statements (9).  I thought that maybe keeping your mouth shut would be a good way to score well, but then, Ben Carson made even fewer statements (7) and scored only a tick better than the biggest liar, Donald Trump.

So there you have it.  According to Politifact, about half the Republican field scores in the "Half True" or better side, while the other half don't, and three of those are in the "Mostly False" or worse category.  Including most of the leaders.

It will be interesting to do the same analysis for the Democratic candidates, if the national party ever lets them have a debate.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Plein Air Painting

With fall setting in, we have a window of really nice weather, perfect for going outdoors and painting onsite.  Today, I went out to the French Broad River.  This river runs through western North Carolina and into Tennessee, eventually flowing into the Tennessee River and then the Mississippi.  Here in Madison County, the river flows through the Appalachian Mountains, and it can get pretty spectacular.

If you're wondering how a river can cross the mountains, it's because the French Broad is one of the oldest rivers in the world.  It was here before the Appalachians were created 300 million years ago.  When the mountains grew, the river was already cutting its way through them.  That's one hell of an old river.

I went scouting yesterday to find some potential painting locations.  I found quite a few, actually - turnouts along the road where I could get down to the riverside.  Today, I left the dogs at home, loaded up the truck with my painting gear, and headed out to the first one on my list.  It's a gravel turnout only big enough for one car, with a very steep climb down the bank.  At the bottom, there's a flat area where people have built a fire pit and apparently had a couple of parties.  I set up my easel looking downstream and went to work.  After about an hour or so, I had one painting that turned out okay.

Then I turned the easel around so I was looking upstream and painted another.  It turned out okay as well.

I didn't sign either painting.  I need a bit of distance from them to do an impartial evaluation and modify as necessary.  That may happen tomorrow.  Or later - I may go to another spot on the river tomorrow instead!  Gotta take advantage of the great weather while you can, y'know?

Sunday, September 13, 2015


I recently set up an Instagram account for the studio.  Yes, I'm late to the party, but I'm not an early adopter of anything.  Hell, I still paint, by hand, with oil paints and brushes made from hog's hair.  That was trendy maybe 600 years ago.  Meanwhile, Instagram has only been around for five years.  I've still got another 595 years to go!

I started looking at Instagram after hearing an interesting discussion of it on a podcast.  (Podcast - that's so ... 2000's ...).  Instagram sounded like a great way to find new artists and to get my own work in front of new eyes.  So I jumped in last month, got an account, and starting poking and posting.  Not too much - one post a day is my max.  I found quite a few artists on there that I knew already.  Then I found out about this thing called "hashtags".  That opened the door.  I looked at what other artists were using for hashtags, poked those tags into a search, and started finding a lot of really good stuff.  And a lot of crap.  But hey, that goes with the territory when you're wandering around in a non-curated environment.  (And in a curated environment, too, unless you choose your curator carefully).  Then I started applying appropriate hashtags to my own postings and people started finding me.  Cool!

I'm still trying to figure out what works best for me.  Initially, I posted completed and signed artworks from a variety of series: paintings, life drawings, the "Faces of Afghanistan", and so on.  I've also added a few other things: shots of my palette (who's interested in that?  other artists) and detail snaps of works in progress, for example.  And I'm playing around, seeing what happens if I edit an older post, stuff like that.  So far, I have not yet crashed Instagram.

This system seems like a complement to my web page, studio Facebook page, and blog.  Instagram gets an image out to a wide audience quickly.  My studio's Facebook page is a running collection of artworks, interesting posts that I've found somewhere, and random comments.  My web page is like my professional portfolio.  Think of it as me with a jacket and tie, with a resume and business cards handy.  And this blog is a way for me to record things that I may find interesting and that only three people in the world will actually read.

So if you're interested in seeing my Instagram posts, you can find me at @skiprohde.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Automotive Deep Clean

I'm in the middle of doing a deep clean on my truck.  This is something I do about once a year for each of my vehicles.  It's a long, hard, pain-in-the-ass procedure, but it helps keep the cars looking good.  I got started doing this over 20 years ago and now it's a habit.  Sometimes I have to wonder if there's something everybody else knows that I don't, because in the 15 years we've been in this neighborhood, I've only seen a neighbor washing his car once, and he didn't even bother to wax it.  No, most people just run their cars through the local car wash and hit the "wax" button, if anything, and that's enough for them.

Not for me.  My cars gotta last, and that means they gotta look good and run well.  A good wax job will help the paint last longer, and painting a car is expensive.  You can buy a helluva lot of wax for the price of one paint job.  Since I'm a cheapskate, I figure it's worth my while to spend a little bit of money on the right stuff and then spend the hours necessary to do a decent job.

So what's involved in an automotive deep clean?  For me, five long steps.  First is a good wash.  Then there's the cleaning.  Then the polishing,  Then the wax.  Finally, the ancillary stuff: windows, windshield, tires, and interior.

The first step is a good wash.  You can do this at your coin-operated car wash, but I always do it in my own driveway with a hose and a bucket of automotive-spec cleaner.  That way, I go over the whole car and get a good idea of what needs attention.  

But this only gets the surface dirt.  It doesn't get the bugs off the front, doesn't get the tar and tree sap off the sides, nor the water burns off the top and hood.  If you run your hand over the finish, you'll feel lots of little bumps.  All that stuff should come off.  To do this, I use an abrasive cleaner that I get from an automotive paint store.  It's not as abrasive as rubbing compound, but it does have some grit to it.  Professional detailers will use this stuff with a high-speed buffer, but I don't.  It's too easy to burn through the paint.  Instead, I use a small terrycloth towel and go over all the paint by hand.  Rub it on like wax, and rub the tar and tree sap and other imperfections until they go away, and then buff the surface with another terrycloth towel.  I do this on the chrome as well.  At the end, it should be squeaky clean.  What you've just done is remove all the old wax, tar, and everything else from the surface of the paint.  

The next step is to polish it.  Many people think wax makes the car shiny, but it doesn't really.  The shine comes from a very smooth paint surface.  However, the surface of a car that's been on the road for a while isn't really smooth.  It's actually got high and low spots, tiny abrasions, and other nearly invisible imperfections.  That's why it squeaks when it's squeaky clean.  When we use a polishing compound, it is specially made to fill those tiny imperfections, so when it's buffed down, the surface of the paint is as smooth as it can be.  Again, the pros use buffers, but I use terrycloth towels to apply the polishing compound by hand and then buff it down.  I only do this on the paint, not the chrome.  At the end, the surface is very smooth and not squeaky at all.

The next stage is the wax.  This is really to provide a protective coating for the paint surface.  Use a carnauba paste wax and apply it with a damp application pad, then buff it down with yet another terrycloth towel.  I wax the windows (not the windshield) and the chrome as well - all that stuff is shiny and needs something to keep the bugs and tar from sticking.  

Finally, there's the other stuff.  I scrub down the tires and wheels to get rid of all that brake dust.  If the tires have raised white letters, I'll go over them with a scrubber.  Then the tires get a spray-on tire treatment that makes them a shiny black.  The shine doesn't last long, but the treatment puts some silicone on the tires to protect them from the sun and weather.  As for the windshield, I use Rain-X.  It makes rain bead up and run off, to the point where you don't need the wipers on the highway.  Wax does, too, but Rain-X lasts longer under the wipers.  On the interior, I wipe it down with Armor All cleaner, but not the "protectant" as it leaves a slick silicone feel that, to me, is just slimy.

And there you have it.  Way too much work (maybe 8 hours total per car), but it keeps my cars looking pretty good.

Monday, August 24, 2015

A Missed Opportunity

Back in June, an opportunity for a commission came up.  I won't say who it was with, except that it was a large organization with a lot of money.  They put out the word that they wanted seven large artworks, two of them 48"x60" and five of them 36"x54".  In addition, they wanted very specific themes for each artwork.  And they were actually going to pay for them.  What an unusual concept!  I could relate very well to their subject and themes.  So after a bit of a back-and-forth with the contact, I submitted a proposal in early July.  They were on a tight timeline and had said they'd make their decision by the middle of the month.

Which came and went with no word.  More weeks passed.  Still no word, even after I sent them notes.  It got to the point where I couldn't have completed the paintings in the time remaining, anyway, so I wrote it off.  But then they contacted me, asking about purchasing one of the paintings that I had submitted as a sample of my work.  Okay, well, if I can't get the commission, then maybe I can at least sell them one of my existing paintings.  So I gave them a discounted price for the painting, plus my costs for framing and shipping.  As it turned out, they only had enough in their budget for the framing, shipping, and my cost of materials, but then asked if I would do it anyway.


Something like this is really frustrating for me as an artist.  First, it's obvious that they didn't do any homework before advertising that they wanted seven very large paintings with specific sizes, subjects, and themes.  A little bit of research, even just ten minutes on Google, would have given them something of an idea of the cost.  Had they talked with a couple of artists, they might have had an even better idea of the cost as well as the time required.  But they didn't.  As a result, I spent a lot of time preparing a professional-quality proposal, carefully discussing how my paintings would meet their requirements, how the process would benefit their target audience, what would go into the effort, and what the cost would be.  And it's apparent that the proposal was dead in the water before I even printed it out, because the shipping costs alone for the seven paintings were twice as much as their entire budget.

The second thing that's frustrating is how little value is placed on an artist's time and effort.  This organization was typical of so many in that they willingly pay professional-level fees for architects, engineers, and even day labor.  Yet when it comes to artists, they expect us to work for minimum wage or less.  Or, as in this case, to essentially give them the artwork.  Why is that?  Is it because they don't consider art work to be real work?  If so, how do we turn that around?

When I was in the River Arts District, I participated in the semi-annual Studio Strolls, in which we opened our studios to the public.  I spent a lot of time talking with people about my paintings and how they came to be.  Most people had some appreciation for what goes into the process.  More than once, though, I had somebody say something like "Oh, it must be so relaxing to be an artist!"  Yes, ma'am, it's about as relaxing as it is to be a defense lawyer or high-stakes stock trader, except it doesn't pay as well.

Unfortunately, very few people ever see the inside of an artist's studio and understand what it takes to make art.  It's a very private process - we don't work in large bustling offices where lots of people see what we do.  And, for artists like me who make two-dimensional art (paintings, drawings, prints, and so on), the end result is a still image.  These images tend to get lost in, and significantly devalued by, our culture's constant flood of advertising, posters, TV, billboards, movies, YouTube videos, and magazines.  Everybody's got a camera, and anybody can take a picture to WalMart and have it printed out at any size they want for next to nothing.  For many, a print from a cellphone snapshot and a painting from an artist's studio aren't fundamentally different - they're a nice design of colors and shapes in a particular spot on the wall.  So there's no need to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for a painting when Little Ronnie's photo can be printed at Target for just a few bucks.

I want to make it clear that I'm not complaining.  I'm frustrated, yes, but about the larger issue of the value of an artist's work in our current culture.  I don't see that changing any time soon.  Still, I learned a few things during this event.  For one, now I have a good structure for a proposal the next time an opportunity comes up.  There are a couple of things that I would do differently in future proposals as well.  And the next time somebody wants to talk about having me do an art project, I'll make sure we have an understanding of the ballpark range for the costs before I spend a lot of time putting together a proposal.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Landscape Follow-Up

In yesterday's post, I wrote about some lessons learned from looking at landscape paintings by Peggy Root and figure drawings by Tamie Beldue.  Well, lessons learned are not worth a hoot if you don't put them into practice.  So today I tried some out.  Yesterday's post had an image of a crappy landscape that I did in Florida a while back.  Here 'tis:

Butler Beach Marsh

And here is today's effort:

Butler Beach Marsh, the Remix

I think this one is much better.  Instead of trying to depict too much, I made the marsh grasses into areas of greens with soft edges.  I also pumped up the value contrasts in the water and made the reflections better, both of the sky and grasses.  And the treelines in the distance are bluer.  The composition is no better, but that was intentional: I wanted to see the effect that this very different painting approach would have on the image.  So the lesson learned is one that all the good landscape instructors have been telling me forever: get the big shapes, don't try to paint everything, and mind your edges.

I'm a slow learner ...

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Looking at Artists: Peggy Root and Tamie Beldue

We visited the Blue Spiral 1 art gallery in Asheville today.  It's Asheville's largest gallery and represents a great variety of artists and crafters.  You can tell that they have standards because they don't represent me!  The current exhibition shows new work from a few of their stock artists.  Two of them really caught my eye: Peggy Root, a landscape painter, and Tamie Beldue, a figurative artist.

As discussed in a number of earlier posts, I've been doing a lot more landscapes over the past couple of years.  And I've been largely frustrated and disappointed with my results.  My paintings wind up being overly literal and too specific, with colors that are either too intense or too muted, and values that are either too dark or too light.  The result is too often a clash of things vying for attention rather than a harmonious image where everything pulls together.  So when I see somebody who can really paint a good landscape, I look at how they handle particular passages and compare that to how I might have blundered through it.  And as I saw today, Peggy is a really good painter, and I learned quite a bit just from looking at her works.

Marshes Connecticut
Oil on canvas
Artist: Peggy Root

Here's a sample of her work.  To start with, she has an eye for good composition.  The distant hill and the treeline is in the upper third of the painting, the stream is in the left third, reflecting the trees and sky.  The marsh is a mid-value, muted green area that sets off the dark and light areas.  There is a nice, natural balance to the arrangement.  Everything fits together and contributes to the mood.

Speaking of mood, all of Peggy's paintings that I saw had strong emotional depth to them.  Too many landscape paintings by other artists look like snapshots with all the depth of a Twitter tweet, but Peggy's show real feeling.  It's like she's saying "I was here, and it was beautiful, and I want to share that joy with you."  That's not an easy thing to say with paint.

One of the things that I noticed with her work is that she builds them up in layers.  For example, a tree may start with an ultramarine blue block-in, then have a layer of muted dark green, then a lighter warmer green, and a stronger yellow-green in the lightest areas.  These layers will usually not have hard edges - they'll be blended or scumbled to suggest foliage rather than define it.  That's one area where I typically fall down: I try to define too much.  Compare her painting of marshes (above) to mine (below):

Butler Beach Marsh
Oil on panel, 9"x12"

Peggy's is calm and contemplative, with strong composition, excellent use of light/dark, and colors that naturally go together.  In mine, I got sucked into trying to depicting every weed and matching colors as accurately and literally as possible.  It would have been much better to paint the greens as areas of broken color rather than tons and tons of vertical strokes.  And I should have done better in selecting and painting my lights and darks - the reflected light on the water, for example, should be much brighter than it is.  But that's the way I saw it at the time, so that's what I put down.  And so you see what I mean between Peggy's suggesting and my defining.  

 I saw that Peggy teaches workshops occasionally.  I'm going to try to take one.  You, meanwhile, should go to her website and take a look.  Or, better, go to Blue Spiral or one of her other galleries and see them in person.  They're so much better in real life.

The other artist that made an impression on me was Tamie Beldue.  Tamie teaches drawing at UNC Asheville.  She came long after I'd already graduated, but I've talked with her a time or two.  Blue Spiral is currently featuring a number of large mixed-media drawings, mostly graphite with watercolor, pastel, and encaustic.  Here's one that's typical:

Portrait on a Porch Swing
Graphite, watercolor, and encaustic, 52"x35"
Artist: Tamie Beldue

What I liked about Tamie's work, besides the fact that she can really draw, is her use of soft and lost edges.  She uses sharp edges, strong value contrasts, and colors to draw the eye, with reduced contrasts, soft and lost edges, and muted colors (if used) to suggest the structures in other areas of the work.  In this example, the young woman's eyes are the darkest and sharpest part of the work and are the primary focus.  The secondary focus is on the junction of the hands, and here the values and sharpness are almost, but not quite, as pronounced as around the eyes.  The shirt is depicted to some extent, enough to indicate what she's wearing, but as your eye moves away from her eyes, there's less and less detail, to the point where in some places there's pretty much nothing.  If you don't think it works, imagine this drawing with all the details of the shirt, bench, jeans, and wall included.  It doesn't work, does it?  But how many artists do you know that would include all that stuff?  Most, I imagine.

Like Peggy, Tamie is very good at establishing an emotional connection in her work.  Her figures are real people.  The process of drawing them from life is long, meaning that quiet will necessarily be an important part of the image.  Tamie manages to find the quiet part of her subject's personality and capture that in the image.  I can appreciate that.  In my own figurative drawings, I try to get something of the subject's personality on paper.  I draw in a much more rapid and sketchy manner than Tamie, and that works for me.  But one thing I can take from Tamie and try to apply in my own work is a greater use of soft and lost edges.

So.  Blue Spiral has a good show up right now.  Go see Peggy and Tamie's work.  If you can't make it, at least go online to the Blue Spiral website, or to those of Peggy and Tamie.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Demsteader Follow-Up

In my last post, I wrote about Mark Demsteader and his approach to drawing and painting the figure.  I thought I'd try it out.  So I picked out a drawing from an old session with a model to copy and compare, and gave it a go.  Here's the result:

Both drawings are on the same paper (a light cream Mi-Teintes) and are done with vine charcoal.  The one on the left is descriptive and tentative.  The one on the right is bold and expressive.  I'm not Demsteader, so my drawings are clearly not his.

Oddly enough, I don't know that I could do something like the one on the right in one of our normal life drawing sessions.  When I'm working from the model, it's an exploratory session, a "get to know you" time.  I'm trying to get the model's physical appearance as well as personality captured on paper.  It is, by definition, tentative.  How is her head shaped?  Where do the shadows fall?  Is she strong-willed, bubbly, bored?  How does that show in her face and posture?  This particular model is a confident young woman and I think it comes through in the drawing.

There's nothing tentative about the approach on the right.  The marks are slammed in with confidence.  It's more of an expressive, "I know what I'm doing" approach.  It says more about the artist than the model.  I might be able to do something like this from life if I know the model well and have done enough drawings to know what I want to put the focus on.

Demsteader doesn't do most of his drawings from life.  He works from photos.  I noted that in the articles about him and now I understand it.  When working from photos, there's a greater distance between artist and model.  Rather than working with a living, breathing human being, you're working with an image.  It's easier to be expressive with an image when you're not thinking about the impression that the human presence has.

I noticed that my original drawing, as tentative as it is, has a lot of Kelly's personality.  The new drawing does not.  I can look at it and see that it was not drawn from life.  This figure is a more generic "young woman" and not "Kelly".  For some artists, that's the way they work.  The figures they draw and paint are actors to be manipulated to express whatever the artist wants to express.  For me, it's important that the figures that I draw and paint are specific individuals.  It's more about what I see in them than it is about how I'm using them to express something else.

So what's the bottom line?  I think I have a new tool in my artist toolbox: a different, more bold and dynamic way to draw the figure.  But I need to learn more about how to use it from life and to say something about the individual I'm working with.  It's a challenge.  Sounds like fun!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Looking at Artists: Mark Demsteader

This morning, one of my contacts on Facebook posted a painting by Mark Demsteader.  It's a really stunning image of a woman in a blue dress.  The woman's figure is painted minimally and fairly realistically, but the dress is really a pile of paint.  It's at least two layers, probably more, of thick impasto, dragged across the canvas from a painting knife.  The juxtaposition of the smooth figure and roughly-painted dress is beautiful.

Erin in Blue
Oil on canvas, 52"x39"
Artist: Mark Demsteader

So I found Mark's web page and had a look.  I was really impressed by the work.  Mark's drawings and paintings are beautiful.  Most of them feature a young woman in a thin dress.  They are in a strong, direct light that throws heavy shadows across their faces.  Often their eyes are completely, or almost completely, in shadow, giving them a very mysterious air.  Mark almost always focuses on the head and a very limited bit of the body - maybe just the neck or shoulders, while the rest of the figure is indicated only in very rough strokes.

You might call his approach formulaic.  Usually, when all the works from an artist are done the same way, I get bored after about the third one.  I don't get bored with Demsteader's.  They're too good.

Back in 2011, Demsteader did a series of artworks with Emma Watson (the actress from the Harry Potter movies) as the subject.  It was a collaboration, and an interesting one.  You can read about it, and see some of the images from the series, in this Vogue (UK) article.  Watson contacted Demsteader about doing an artwork of her, then Demsteader came up with the idea of doing many artworks and auctioning them off to benefit the charity of her choice.  What a wonderful thing for both of them to do.

Demsteader works in a way that I can relate to.  The model doesn't need much in the way of makeup or nice outfits.  He sets up a single large light to create strong lights and darks and then simplifies the features and clothing.  Here's an example of one of his drawings:

Study for Siren
Pastel and collage, 46"x32"
Artist: Mark Demsteader

Fantastic, isn't it?  I see a lot of things that I want to try.  First, simplify, simplify, simplify.  I tend to get caught up in getting everything recorded as accurately as possible.  That's descriptive, not expressive.  Focus on the important bits (usually the head and face), let things further away be just roughly indicated, and exaggerate value changes.  Mark's values here are black, paper white, and a medium gray.  That's three values.  When I draw, I often try to do too many.  Simplify!

Second, keep the drawing accurate.  I do that already, as much as I can, but need to focus on it.  The young lady's face in the drawing above is extremely accurate, which lets the mark-making be more expressive.  Her shoulder and arm are reduced to just the very basic contour lines, but they work because they're in exactly the right place.  The fact that they're stripped-down only emphasize the expressiveness of the marks around the face, and they work because the face is accurately drawn.  It all has to work together.

Third, in a painting, try the concept of a carefully-rendered figure with an outfit indicated by roughly scumbled paint, from a painting knife if possible.  I'm not going to try to create more "Mark Demsteader" paintings, but just want to see what I can learn out of this exercise.  (Come to think of it, I have some abandoned figure paintings in the studio already (what artist doesn't?) and can try this when I get to the studio tomorrow.

I found an interesting series of photos of one of Mark's demos of a portrait drawing.  It's really interesting to see how he develops the figure.  He doesn't just put a mark down and leave it - he builds on it through multiple layers.  Take a look - you can save the photo and enlarge it on your computer screen if you want.  You'll have to figure out for yourself what he's doing at each stage since there was no narrative to accompany it.

So I'm adding Mark Demsteader to my personal list of really cool artists.  If you like what you've seen here, then visit his site, or Google his name and look at all the images.  There's a ton of stuff online and I was really blown away by it.  I really love finding a great artist that I've never heard of before!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Still Alice

Last night, we watched the movie Still Alice.  In this movie, Julianne Moore is Dr. Alice Howland, a highly respected professor at Columbia who comes down with early-onset Alzheimer's at age 50.  Particularly for someone to whom the intellect is everything, this disease is brutal, as it slowly takes away the memories that defined their capabilities.  The film follows the disease's progression as, step by step, one thing after another is taken away from her.  And it examines, to some extent, the impact of the disease on family members.  Alec Baldwin is her husband, who is supportive but also has to watch out for his own career, since he is now the sole breadwinner.  Her children, played by Kate Bosworth, Hunter Parrish, and Kristin Stewart, have to figure out their own roles in their mother's life, as well as her changing role in theirs.

Julianne Moore won an Academy Award for her role, and it was well deserved.  She really became Alice Howland.  Her gradual transformation from a leading expert in linguistics to somebody who had nothing but a vague idea of who she was, was powerful, unsettling, and not pretty.  A really tremendous performance.

For many of us, the fear of getting Alzheimer's, or something like it, is a reality, especially as we grow older.  Both of my grandmothers, one of my aunts, and my mother-in-law had dementia.  Whether they had Alzheimer's or something else, I don't know, but it doesn't really matter.  It was frightening: they could very easily get out of the house one day and disappear.  It happens all the time - we see Amber Alerts nearly every week here in western North Carolina for just that sort of thing.  Or they could run up tens of thousands of dollars of in bills if an unscrupulous salesperson hits them at the wrong time (something like this happened with my aunt).  If not that, then the bills for adequate care can bankrupt a family.  In the movie, Moore and her husband were pretty affluent and had good insurance, so the story could focus on the disease and its impact.  Money was a concern but not a driving factor.  For most of us, being able to pay for adequate care will be critical concerns.

I've left the age of 60 in the rear-view mirror and the prospect of dementia is now a constant low-level bogeyman.  I'm more forgetful now, but it seems (so far) to be just normal.  Fortunately, the men in my family have all retained their mental facilities to the end.  That's good news for me, but I'm only one half of my household.

Young people watch horror movies for a gratuitous scare.  Still Alice is a horror story for older folks, with the added twist of being a real threat.  Still, it was worth watching.  There is life with Alzheimer's.  You just appreciate it a lot more.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

To The Beach

My wife is a San Diego girl.  She grew up with the beaches not far away.  Well, here in the Asheville area, the beaches are very far away.  So to keep the peace, every now and then we head off to someplace that's on the ocean.  We went to St. Augustine, Florida, last fall and really liked it.  So we decided to return to the same little beach house.  And we invited the son, daughter-in-law, and grandson to share the experience.  

Lots of heat.  Family in close quarters.  Sounds like a recipe for a nuclear explosion, doesn't it?

Actually, we all had a lot of fun.  We were together when we wanted to be, we wandered off on our lonesome when we wanted (except the grandson), we ate too well, got too much sun, rode bikes, went shopping, did some sight-seeing, and generally had a good time.  Vacations are supposed to be like that, and this one was.

It almost didn't turn out that way.  The day before we were to leave, our car got a flat tire.  I was out running errands and came out to find the right rear corner sagging to the ground.  Fortunately, we were taking the truck to the beach, rather than the car, so it wasn't a calamity, just a real PITA that I didn't need at the moment.  I changed the wheel right there in the grocery store parking lot and went home to load up the truck.

Then, while getting stuff packed in, the garage door somehow got activated and caught on the truck, then automatically reversed, there was this horrible screech, and the garage door was jammed up and wrenched crooked.  Oh, great!  Something was obviously destroyed in a very expensive way.  So out came the toolbox.  Pretty soon I found that nothing was broken, but that one of the cables supporting the door had come off the pulley.  So with a bit of pulling and prodding, along with a massive dose of cussing, we eventually got the wire back where it was supposed to be.  Whew - disaster averted!

We were afraid that we were having bad karma and that it might carry over to the trip.  Fortunately, it didn't.  The drive to St. Augustine is long (almost 9 hours, with stops every couple of hours to stretch our legs).  We had no trouble going down or coming home.  Our truck ran like a train all day.  Good stuff.  

I was able to go off and do some painting in St. Augustine.  The most interesting places for me were over on the Matanzas River, which is the inland waterway.  Here are three from that area:

Butler Beach Inlet
Oil on linen panel, 9"x12" 

Fort Matanzas
Oil on linen panel, 9"x12" 

Oil on linen panel, 9"x12" 

These were fun little landscapes to do.  I started a portrait of my daughter in law as well.  It needs a lot of work in the studio before anybody will ever see it again, though.

We've been back for a few days and are playing catch-up.  Had to get a new tire for the car, mowed most of the lawn (amazing how weeds can grow so tall with no rain), J has gotten a lot of weeding done, I'm finding out what happened with work, had to replace the lenses in my glasses, gave the dogs their baths, had to take two watches to the repair shop ... you know, the usual stuff.  Getting back to normal.  Gotta get into the studio here pretty soon, though - there are things that need to get painted.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Carolina's Got Art!

Years ago, the Fayetteville Museum of Art had an annual competition for artists from North and South Carolina.  I was fortunate to be juried in several times, and to win awards a couple of times.  Unfortunately, the museum didn't survive the economic downturn of the late "aughts" and had to close.  This year, the Elder Gallery in Charlotte stepped up with a replacement: the "Carolina's Got Art!" competition and exhibit.  One of my paintings, "Returning to Base", was selected for the show.  Last night was the opening, and I went down to Charlotte to take a look.

The Elder Art Gallery is very large, at least for a gallery.  They had a number of sponsors who helped provide the funding to make this show first-rate.  Artwork filled the walls, stood on pedestals, and filled nearly every available space.  I wouldn't say it was salon-style (in which artwork covers every inch of wall space, both vertically and horizontally), because it wasn't, but there was a lot of work.  And what I saw was very, very good.

As you can see, there was quite a turnout for the opening last night.  Seemed like anybody who was anybody in the Charlotte art scene was there.  I saw a lot of artists there as well, which was good.  My painting is way back in one of the nooks, as far back as is possible to go, but what the heck, it's on a gallery wall, so I'm happy.  I saw a number of people taking their time in looking at it.

I also ran into somebody that I hadn't seen in over 16 years.  Julie and her husband were stationed with us in Misawa, Japan, in the late '90's during my last tour in the Navy.  It was good to see her again and spend some time catching up.

Other than Julie, I didn't know a soul there, so I went walking around the gallery, looking at all the art.  There are a lot of really good artists in North and South Carolina and it was great to see such a wide range of styles, subject matter, and visions.  Here are some that caught my eye.

Mark Poteat had one of his "Factory Series" paintings in the show.  It was a really interesting abstraction based on factory shapes: architecture, pipes, cranes, and so on.  He's an art instructor at Western Piedmont Community College.  No web site that I could find, but there are some images on the web.

I'm a sucker for good figurative work, and Pamela Freeman is good.  She had a small, quiet painting of two women in conversation.  Her figures are abstracted a bit, which made them more universal in nature, rather than identifiable people.  And I really liked her paint handling: confident, subtle, nuanced, and beautifully done.

Robert Maniscalco is a portrait artist in Charleston.  He submitted a beautiful painting of an older woman, very strong, well-structured, and well-painted.

John Stennett is an Asheville-based artist.  He had a large, abstract, very atmospheric piece.  Although I'm not an abstract painter, I can greatly appreciate when an abstract is well done.  This one had a calm, quiet, and intriguing presence.

Tyrone Geter's large drawing was, for me, the strongest piece in the show.  It was a mixed-media drawing in charcoal on torn paper, assembled into a striking composition.  Tyrone is really, really good at this.  His figures had immense internal strength and depth.  The torn paper can be a gimmick in other hands, but here it both hid and revealed, which added significantly to the work.  Check out his web site, particularly his drawings, and go see the works in person if you can.

Landscape paintings can be so ... what, overdone, common, bland?  Everybody does them.  However, I was drawn to Joy Moser's landscape.  Really strong and well done, it pulled me in.  And she lives in Weaverville, so I can check out her work around here.

Jeremy Russell is a friend of mine.  He and I studied art at UNCA at the same time.  Jeremy's work spills over with more energy and vibrancy than can possibly be expressed in one sitting.  He had a moderate-sized abstract work that dominated the wall on which it was hung.  And I got a kick out of it: if you know Jeremy, that picture was essentially a self-portrait.

I met the owner of the gallery, Larry Elder.  Very nice guy, very personable.  He and his gallery did a bang-up job with this exhibition.  I'm glad to be a small part of it.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Rules

I got to spend some time today leading a drawing class at the Warrior's Canvas and Veterans Art Center in Johnson City, TN.  This was my second time leading the class and, like the first time, it was a lot of fun.  The students, all vets from all services, were enthusiastic, game for whatever I threw at them, and highly irreverent.  Everybody in the room was fair game for pointed but good-natured abuse, including me.  I'm looking forward to the next class already.

The Warrior's Canvas is not your typical gallery and art center.  Most art centers seem to cater to hobbyists and are about as edgy as a beach ball.  The kind of place that your Aunt Zelma would think was "nice".  The Canvas, though, was created by and for veterans and their families - people who have been through quite a few wringers in life, have heard every kind of BS you can think of and many more you can't, and who developed appropriate coping skills.  Like the irreverence that I mentioned earlier.

I noticed the Center's rules today, posted on a chalkboard.  A normal art center might have rules that say something like "Please be considerate.  Please remove your trash.  Please do not bring animals into the studio."  Rules that Aunt Zelma would understand.  They don't apply at the Canvas.  Not only were there two dogs present and occasionally participating in the class, the rules were geared toward a very different audience.  Here, then, are the
Rules of the Canvas:
- Keep it positive.  If you are negative, you will be removed forcibly to the curb.
- Clean up after yourself.  I am not your mother.
- You have trust and respect until you Bravo Foxtrot us, then you will see my war face!  (Editor's note: don't ask what "Bravo Foxtrot" means.)

Aunt Zelma would not approve of the tone, she'd be horrified at the idea of actually shooting arrows inside, and she'd faint if she knew what Bravo Foxtrot meant.  But veterans?  Vets would read the Rules, nod, say something like "Fuckin' A", and get to work.  And probably go outside to shoot the arrows.  But not always.

There's an understanding that vets have with each other that comes from shared and similar experiences.  We rib each other unmercifully, cut each other a good bit of slack, and jump to each other's aid when needed.  David Shields and Jason Sabbides, the two vets who created the Warrior's Canvas, have built a remarkable veterans' center in Johnson City.  I'm very proud and humbled to be able to participate in this project.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

In the Studio

Time for an update on my studio work, isn't it?  A while back, I wrote about a painting in progress.  One of my models also makes her own line of clothes.  This new painting is about her creative process of turning random bits of cloth into a wearable work of art.

Initially, I was looking at one of my favorite artists, Jerome Witkin, for inspiration on how to put this painting together.  Witkin is a fabulous story-teller and you really can't go wrong in borrowing ideas from a master like him.  So I started working on ideas for the composition.  For a painting of this type, my routine is to do a lot of drawings, cut them apart, recombine them in different ways, take things out, and add things in, until something starts to happen.  This one had maybe 15 different drawings, and parts of drawings, taped together to create one image.  Then I put tracing paper over it, traced the lines to create a smooth version, and then filled in more details.  Here's what it looked like:

The next step is to do a color study.  I transferred the drawing to a 20"x16" panel and painted it in oil.  Here's the first stage, a warm grisaille; I later went over it with brighter colors:

As soon as it was done, I realized that this particular composition wasn't going to work.  It looked too jammed-in, the light was coming from the wrong direction, the workbench wasn't the right height, the ironing board in the background was too confusing, and the stuff in the foreground was just clutter.  Further, it was too literal - there was nothing to suggest the larger theme of creativity.  I had to come up with something different.

Although Witkin is one of my favorite artists of all time, I have a hard time using him as an inspiration.  Witkin's works are beautiful little stage settings.  "Stage" is the applicable word as most of his works are constructions within the very small area of his canvas, just like stage settings are constructions within a very small area in an auditorium.  I have a hard time with that idea, for some reason, and my efforts to create a stage setting looked like a high school effort, when what I'm shooting for is something more natural.

So I shifted the source of my inspiration from Witkin to Vermeer.  Vermeer's works are probably much closer to my nature.  They're quiet (Witkin's most decidedly are not), carefully constructed, narrative, and take place in a natural interior setting.  They also have a strong metaphorical character, as well, which is often only apparent after considerable study.  So after another session with the drawing paper, scissors, and tape, here's the compositional study that I came up with:

 The light is coming from the left side and shining on the dress.  The young lady's face is in shadow - this painting is not about her as a person, but about the idea of the hard work of creating something, so her particular identity is not important.  The workbench is now an appropriate height and the ironing board is now in the foreground, providing a bit of a visual block between the viewer and the dress.  Then I worked it up into a color study on gessoed paper:

This version made me realize that the composition needs even more work.  It still has a bit of a jammed-in feeling.  So I extended the painting to the left and down (I taped another piece of gessoed paper on the bottom).  This had the effect of pushing the viewer back a bit and giving the seamstress a little more breathing room.  I can also use the window and light/shadow to define her work area and frame the composition.  I've also increased the light/dark differences so make it have a bit more of a dramatic presence.  This would make more sense if I had a photo of the current version, but I don't right now, so use your imagination!

But there's still a lot to be done.  I need to decide what's going to be on the wall.  I have a few ideas, none of which have really grabbed me as the "right" one.  There are some things I need to do around the window.  The fabric on the workbench isn't right yet.

But it's getting there.  Meanwhile, I have a 48"x48" canvas stretched and primed and ready to go.  I'm looking forward to getting to work on it!