Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Vacation

 We've been on vacation for the past couple of weeks.  One of J's friends from way way back came out to visit and we all three went up to Cape Cod.  None of us had ever been there and it was on J's bucket list.  We drove up in two long days in the car.  We'd rented a house in West Yarmouth, which is near Hyannis on the southern side of the Cape.  Mostly, we wandered and let unexpected discoveries guide our actions.  That's how we wound up on a long scenic drive that led us first to Brax Landing (an outstanding restaurant) and then on to Provincetown, out at the northern end of the Cape.  Another day, we discovered Main Street in Hyannis where J and her friend browsed all the shops.  We found another outstanding restaurant there, the Anejo, a Mexican place under a 250-year-old beech tree.  We also went out to Martha's Vineyard for an enjoyable afternoon of wandering around aimlessly.  Then it was two days of driving to get home.  

Now it's time to play catch-up.  I have a wedding painting in process, an art exhibition at Mars Hill University to swap out, a yard to mow, a writeup to get done, and three potential painting clients to talk with.  Time to get busy.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

End of an Era

 Yesterday, the last US military plane with the last load of military members and Afghan civilians left Kabul.  Our mission there is officially done after 20 years.  So why am I so down?  I think it's because leaving was the right thing to do, but it was done in the worst possible way.

As I stated in a previous posting, we were propping up a government that was doomed to fail no matter what we did.  The Afghan government was a kleptocracy that did not have much support from its people, who were ambivalent about it at best.  Despite all the assistance, training, and funding that we and the international community provided, we couldn't get it to do the right thing.  

Individual people, both within and outside the government, were wonderful.  Brave women stood up to advance the cause of women.  The Afghan Army and police forces took unbelievable losses in their fight against the Taliban and individual soldiers were as brave and effective as any US soldier.  I saw that myself in Kandahar.  There were people inside the government doing their best to do what was right: provide services, root out corruption, and make Afghanistan a better place.  Local leaders, despite being uneducated, could negotiate contracts as well as any Fortune 500 executive.  

But there was no leadership glue to hold the country together.  The Taliban, however, had a mission and thousands of loyal adherents. After Trump signed the withdrawal agreement, it was only a matter of time.  Everybody knew it.  The speed of the government's collapse, though, took everybody by surprise.  In my last post on this topic, the "experts" were thinking it would take 90 days.  I said it would be less than 30.  In reality, it was about 48 hours.  

The US military response was truly amazing.  From nothing, our military created a humanitarian airlift that pulled over 123,000 people out of the country in just over two weeks.  It was ugly in the beginning, but our troops quickly stood up an efficient, effective, multi-national effort.  

Parts of the State Department did a fantastic job as well.  All those Afghan evacuees had to go somewhere, and the State Department found nations in the region and elsewhere that agreed to take them.  That's not a small accomplishment.  

Other parts of this story are really ugly.  The ISIS-K attack on the airport that killed 13 of our troops and 170 Afghans, as well as wounding over 200 more, was the low point.  Another low point is the State Department's handling of the Special Immigrant Visas for those Afghans who worked with us over the past 20 years.  As I've said for years, the State Department never wanted to do SIVs and slow-rolled them from the outset.  The rationale was that rewarding capable Afghans for their service by bringing them out of Afghanistan undermined the mission.  Essentially, we were showing that we had no faith that the Afghan government would succeed.  I understand that rationale, but don't like it.  And by continuing to slow-roll visa processing even after Trump signed the withdrawal agreement, the State Department consular service left thousands of people to fend for themselves.  I'd like to take the whole State Department Consular Service, dump them in Kandahar, and let them find their own way home.

Today there's a photo making the rounds on Facebook of a bunch of military working dogs who were left in their cages at the Kabul airport.  Leaving our dogs in the airport is horrifying.  But I wouldn't want to be the individual who had to make that decision.  You've got one last plane, so do you take a bunch of Afghan women and children, or dogs?  There's no room for both.  It's a bad decision, either way.

So now we're out.  The Taliban has what they wanted: control of the country.  Now it's their turn to run it.  I don't think the Taliban will be quite as brutal as before.  Afghanistan is a "Go Fund Me" country that survives on international donations, which will be hard to come by if they don't pay at least some attention to international norms.  Well, that's the hope, anyway.  The Taliban will do what they damn well please.  And one of the things they'll have to deal with is ISIS-K.  Good luck with that.

Was it worth it?  Was it worth 20 years, thousands of lives, trillions of dollars?  Damned if I know.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Working with Models

I recently completed this portrait of Emma, a wonderful model that I’ve worked with before. 


I sent an image of it to her.  Emma loved it and posted it on Instagram.  One of her friends responded with this note: “Whoever created this portrait hasn’t looked into your kindness and lightness. I hope I get to paint an oil painting of you and show who I know you to be.”

Emma responded: “I'd love for us to art together with paint and canvas, I'd be very interested to see what what part of me you capture. This one comes from a series, where the artist gave me free range to go through different sides of me from harsh to soft, this one was from a tough edgy section of our session :). It’s been fun watching artists witness my many sides and then their interpreting of that through their art medium, so beautiful.”

The first note was not wrong.  She only saw one artwork and Emma has an infinite range of sides that I would like to try to capture.  Not only that, but Emma would probably show the commenter some different sides that she didn’t show me.  So I would love to see what this commenter would come up with.  

Emma’s response shows that she totally understands the relationship between model and artist.  It’s a collaboration.  She does her thing, I run with it, and maybe something really cool comes out of our efforts.  Very much like two musicians getting together, feeding off each other, and trying to make some new music.

These two notes - the initial comment and Emma’s response - actually get to the very essence of my work with all the various models I’ve had in my studio.  Basically, I’m a figurative artist.  I draw and paint real people.  

Some artists - most, actually - use images of people to tell stories or to convey thoughts, ideas, or emotions through figurative images.  In these artworks, the figures are really actors in a visual play.  Their real-life personal identity is immaterial.  Take Norman Rockwell’s paintings, for example.  He used his friends and neighbors to tell stories for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.  The mailman in a painting wasn’t really a mailman, he was chosen because he looked like the right character for Rockwell’s idea.  

I do this sort of thing, too, when I want to tell a story.  But a lot of the time, I’m doing an artwork to try to capture something of the specific individual in front of me.  He or she is not a generic figure, or just a slab of meat to draw, it’s Troy or Amy or Emma or James, a specific individual with a thousand different aspects to their personhood.  

I’ve had a lot of models come to my studio for photo sessions.  My guidance to them is very minimal.  Really, I just want them to be themselves.  Almost all of them quickly turned it into a play session: dancing, moving, lounging, “Vogue”ing, picking up props, changing clothes, removing clothes, putting clothes back on, talking with their hands, crawling over furniture, cranking up the music, whatever came naturally to them.  I encourage them and keep my camera going.  My goal is to let them be free to show me whatever side of their personalities they feel comfortable showing.  

These sessions typically reveal a lot about the model’s personality, often aspects that I hadn’t anticipated.  In one session, the model took a lot of poses that expressed both physical and mental strength.  A different model showed a very calm, grounded, earthy character.  A third showed her vulnerable and awkward side.  And one male was a combination of George Carlin and Robin Williams.  If I had them back for a second time, would they show me the same aspects again?  Maybe.  If they had a session with a different artist, would they show different aspects?  Almost certainly.  

So back to that initial comment about seeing Emma’s “kindness and lightness”.  I have actually seen that in her and thought it would come out in the session.  I went back over the photos and, surprisingly, it rarely did.  She was in a different mindset that day, a bit of a Vogue model, medieval witch-spirit, lawyer ballerina (now there’s a combination for you), and a variety of other characters.  It was lots of fun and I have a tremendous amount of material to work with.  But she was mostly edgy that day.  Might have to get her back for another session specifically for the kindness and loving aspects.  

One final note.  I really love my models.  All of them, male and female.  They let me see a bit of who they are, knowing that I’m going to make artworks that show other people what I see.  To them, I say thank you for your trust and openness.



Thursday, August 12, 2021

Terror in Afghanistan

 Over the past couple of weeks, the Taliban has been on a roll, seizing more and more territory from the Afghan government.  They have almost all the provincial capitols now.  Today, Herat and Ghazni fell and Kandahar is falling.  The civilian population is in a panic.  Those that can, are fleeing to Kabul, but that may just be delaying the inevitable.  The US Embassy is sending almost everybody home as fast as possible.  They're not calling it an "emergency evacuation" yet, but that's what it really is.  They're moving diplomatic operations to a US-controlled area at the Kabul airport.  And the Pentagon is bringing in 3,000 troops to ensure the safety of the evacuation.  I saw a report that many diplomats expect Kabul to fall within 90 days.  Personally, I think it will be much quicker, probably not even a month.

I'm of two minds about this.  On the one hand, we've been propping up the government for twenty years now.  We screwed up early on when we took our eye off the Afghan ball and decided it would be great to invade Iraq.  The Taliban saw that we weren't really all that interested in Afghanistan and decided to get their band back together.  Meanwhile, anyone in any Afghan position of power used it to enrich themselves as much as possible.  Graft was built into the system.  If there's one thing the Afghans learned, it was to grab as much as possible when you could because you never knew when the Americans' largesse would end.

They had a reason to feel that way.  Bush and Obama didn't really seem to know what they wanted.  They'd engage and ramp up, then announce they were ramping down and would soon be out, only to ramp up again.  Those of us who went there did our best to try to make it work.  However, when I left in 2012, I was not optimistic.  A government built on graft was not a good bet for longevity.  Still, we poured a lot of money and a lot of effort into giving the Afghan government the tools we believed were necessary in a modern world.  The one thing we couldn't give them was a sense of mission, a common purpose.  And the government we propped up didn't have that.

The Taliban did.  As other insurgent operations over the centuries have proven (see U.S. War of Independence, Viet Nam, and the Cuban Revolution, for examples), a few guys with substandard weapons and a commitment to a cause can beat established powers.  So when Donald Trump announced that we were pulling out for good, and damn the consequences, the Taliban saw their opening.  Although negotiations continued, the announcement that we weren't going to play anymore signaled the Taliban to just wait us out.  Then Biden confirmed the pullout.  So the Taliban stepped up their game and now they're on a deadly roll.  The government we have propped up for 20 years was never strong enough to hold their own, would never be strong enough, and this result was inevitable.

So: on the one hand, if this was inevitable, it's time to cut our losses and let the inevitable happen, right?  We can't impose our way of government on another country if it's not a good fit.  It's an Afghan problem and can only be solved by Afghans.

Then there's the other hand.  The Taliban is as brutal, inhumane, animalistic, and criminal as any pariah regime that has ever existed.  They're even more brutal than the Nazis.  Beheadings, rape, kidnapping, and destruction of lives and property are the standard way of doing business.  People are dying, right now, as I write this, and probably as you read this.  

I have a friend who is an Afghan.  He served with the Special Forces and Navy SEALS as an interpreter in some brutal fights.  He earned a Special Immigrant Visa and came to the United States, then earned a Masters degree from Georgetown University.  He went to Afghanistan earlier this year to get married, then returned to the US to work and begin the paperwork to bring his bride.  She, his family, and her family are in Herat.  And Herat was just taken by the Taliban today.

That's the "other hand": the personal cost that our pullout is inflicting on real people.  Right now.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

And Another Wedding Painting

I know, you must be getting tired of seeing me post all these wedding paintings.  Well, here's my fifth one of the year.  This was a surprise for the couple, from the aunt of the bride.  Surprises are always fun and this was no exception.  The location was the Twickenham House, located in northern North Carolina.  There's an overlook on a cliff with a spectacular view over a wide valley to the mountains on the far side.  The couple really wanted that view and I was happy to oblige.

I worked with some real professionals that made everything work so well.  Leigh Harrow, who managed the event for Twickenham House, ensured that everything went off on schedule and she did it with the brightest smile and cheeriest manner you can possibly imagine.  I took a lot of photos right alongside Matt of Matt Ray Photography and he was a total pro and very easy to work with.  And Elyse and Dustin of Serrano Film Company, who did the videos, were just the same.  Great crew and I would love to work right alongside any and all of them again.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Two Wedding Paintings

 Two more wedding paintings are done.  Yes, I've been on quite a roll lately.  Here they are:

Kelly and Drew

Ashley and Ralph


And I have another wedding to go to tomorrow!


Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Another Wedding Painting Completed

 I've finished up the second wedding painting of the year.  This was for a Hindu wedding.  I love doing those: they're long and VERY lively, lots of great food, lots of interaction with curious guests, and (best of all for an artist) lots and lots of COLOR. Some paintings come together quickly, while others can be a fight.  This one came together pretty quickly.  It seemed like my brushes knew what they were doing and put down the right strokes of the right colors most of the time.  I love it when that happens!  So here's how it turned out:

The painting has been delivered to the client.  Now I'm working on the third and fourth paintings of the year.  Busy times - I like it!


Saturday, June 26, 2021

New Art Gallery

 There's a new art gallery opening up in, of all places, Mars Hill, NC, right here where I live.  Miryam Rojas, the owner, saw an opportunity.  There was a large building in town that was sitting empty.  It was originally built as a roller rink, then served as a factory and an antique mall, among other things.  It featured a large open space, beautiful wood floors (well, beautiful after 70 years of crud was sanded off), plenty of parking, and an untapped location in an area teeming with artists.  She thought that what this area needed was an art gallery.  And she is making it happen.

Miryam contacted me several months ago as she was getting the ball rolling.  Since I'm the director of the Mars Hill University Art Gallery, she thought I might have a few ideas.  We got together a few times to talk over ideas and possibilities.  She also asked me to be one of the gallery's stable of artists and I was more than happy to join.  Then she put it all into action.  This evening, she held a soft opening for artists and media.  I walked in and was immediately blown away.  Just to the right, as soon as you walk in the door, is a long wall of rough-cut wood, and seven of my artworks are hanging there.  


There are some really, really good artists here already and more soon.  Mars Landing Gallery's grand opening will be Saturday, July 10, from noon to 7 pm.  If you're in the area, I recommend coming by.  The gallery is the big purple building right behind the library.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Wedding Painters: Dressing for an Event

 Wedding season is in high gear.  Right now in the studio, I have one painting that's approved and waiting to be picked up, one painting that's waiting for the couple to comment or approve it, and one painting that's about midway through the process.  And this afternoon, I've got another ceremony and reception to go to.  Busy times!

I get questions from other artists about various aspects of being a wedding painter.  How much to charge?  What equipment do I need?  Oil or acrylic?  Complete it in one night or over a period of weeks?  To each of those questions, my usual answer is "it depends".  It depends mostly on the individual artist and their own preferences.  One item that depends less on personal preferences is, what to wear?  I'm thinking of that because I'm about to start getting dressed for the event, so thought I'd share some comments.

As a wedding painter, I'm a vendor providing a service at a high-profile ceremony for one of the most important events in the couple's lives.  That means to dress up, to respect the nature of the event, but not so much that I draw attention to myself.  Most of the people working at such events wear black shirts and either long black pants or (women) long black skirts.  The reason is that the workers should be respectful, wear something that doesn't restrict movements, and at the same time be invisible.  Black clothing, for worker bees, says "you don't see me".  This is the same reason that the wait staff in many upscale restaurants wear black.  It's not to be trendy, it's to be invisible.

 As a live event painter, there are two events where I'm busy: the ceremony and the reception.

For the ceremony, I'll be busy shooting a lot of photos in and around the crowd.  So I'll wear black pants, shirt, and shoes to minimize my visibility to the guests.  Be real: will they really see me?  Yes.  Will their eyes skim right over me?  Also yes.  That's the point.

The reception is different.  I'm there, at the easel, painting away.  I'm part of the entertainment and I want people to come up and talk to me.  I don't want to be invisible.  So I'll typically wear black pants, a white shirt, and a colorful tie, with a black apron over it so I don't have to buy new black pants, white shirt, and colorful tie for every wedding.  

Most of the wedding vendors that I work with follow similar clothing protocols.  One wedding planner that I've worked with several times has some very elegant long black dresses.  She's dressed up, but if she has to do an emergency tuck on the bride's dress in the middle of the ceremony, she's not out of place.  On the other hand, one photographer showed up in cargo shorts, a sloppy gray T-shirt with a an unbuttoned and very faded short-sleeve shirt over it, and ragged running shoes.  Not cool.

So for those considering becoming wedding artists, give a lot of thought to what you wear.  And the next time you're at some kind of ceremony, look at what the workers are wearing.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Wedding Paintings Again

 I've done two live weddings this year.  It's good to be back in action again!  One painting is completed and approved by the couple, while the other painting is still underway in the studio.  To give you an idea of how far these wedding paintings develop, here's how the first one looked at the end of the reception: 

Not a bad start.  No features in the faces, no detail anywhere, just suggestions of the figures and their environment. And here's how it turned out:


Quite a difference!  Every square inch has been reworked, some multiple times.  I'm happy with the way it turned out.  Most importantly, they're happy with it. 




Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Beginning To Look Like Normal

 Wow, over a month since my last post.  Been a busy time.  Highlights:

I did my first in-person wedding in over a year and a half.  Since the couple and most of the guests were doctors, and therefore vaccinated, I felt pretty safe.  It was a beautiful event at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville.  The painting is almost done and I'll share it here soon.  Just trying to finish up a couple of tweaks.

At the same time, I was asked to help with preparing a proposal for a federal contract.  It was supposed to be a very easy one, with most of the work already done.  Oh, hell, no.  It turned out to be anything but.  So I've been spending way more time on it than I really had available.  Fortunately, everybody involved has really kicked in with their contributions, drafts, reviews, Zoom meetings, and more reviews.  Now it's a really strong proposal.  I think my part is done and I can get back to studio work.

This past weekend, I did my second live wedding event.  This was quite a bit different from the first one.  This was a Hindu wedding, which is always a very BIG affair, both in time and attendees.  Due to pandemic considerations, the guest list was trimmed from about 1,000 down to about 400.  So I wore my mask.  It was quite a fun event and I have a decent start to the painting in the studio.  I'll post images when it's done.

And I have another wedding coming up in two weeks.  I gotta get these first two done and out of the studio soon! 

Over the past couple of weeks, I'm seeing a big change in mask-wearing, COVID protocols, and people's attitudes.  More people are acting as if the pandemic is a thing of the past.  It's not.  So even though I'm vaccinated, I'm still being careful.  If I don't have to go into a place with lots of people, I don't; if I have to enter, I wear a mask and try to stay away from others.  You can get just as dead now from the disease as you could have six months ago and I don't want it to be me.

Monday, April 26, 2021

We Went to a Restaurant!!

 We went to a restaurant for dinner last night!  First time in well over a year that we've done that.  Says a lot about the world's situation when we can get excited about going to a restaurant, doesn't it?  Well, it was a special occasion (a birthday), we've had our shots, our neighbors have had their shots, and we went to P F Chang's in Biltmore Square.  We chose it since it's one of our favorites and also because we figured a chain like this one would take covid precautions seriously.  

And it was fabulous!  The food was outstanding, the drinks perfectly made, the service was great, and all the staff definitely took all the right precautions.  We asked for, and got, a booth in the bar, where traffic was pretty non-existent.  Even out in the dining room, there was plenty of room between tables.  We ate too much and had a wonderful time.  

 There's light at the end of the tunnel.  And life is good.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

New Artworks

 I haven't posted about artworks here in quite some time, have I?  Well, I've been busy making new works, but you don't want to see most of it.  Or, rather, I don't want ANYbody to see most of it.

Much of my work over the past year has been an experiment of some sort or another.  It was about time for me to do something that was less an experiment and more of a "just me" approach.  This was the result.  I used a much looser approach than in other recent works, letting the brush strokes pile up.  So on one hand it's a young woman, on another it's a mood, and on another it's all about paint.  After all the other types of styles I've tried recently, it was like coming home again.  Except I really haven't named this one yet ... maybe "Muse"?  It's small, 12x12, oil on panel.

Here's one of the earlier experiments:

I carefully developed this one in a drawing, gridded it up onto an 18x24 canvas, and worked up the image.  And wasn't quite happy with it.  It seemed a bit dead, or overworked.  Maybe I was too careful in both the drawing and painting.  So I took another 18x24 canvas and painted it again:

This was done very differently.  I didn't grid up anything: just grabbed a brush, loaded it with paint, and started blocking it in, then refining it as the image developed.  Hard to see in this photo, but the brushwork is livelier and looser and the painting as a whole has a spark to it that the first one doesn't have.  Why?  Maybe because it was less about "getting it right" and more about "letting it live".  So I'm happy with #2, but #1 has a date with a can of oil primer so I can have a blank canvas again.

I just signed the newest painting yesterday:

"Missing Model", oil on canvas, 24"x30".  Pretty much sums up a figurative artist's life for the past year, doesn't it?  

So what's next?  Well, I have two ideas ready to go.  Will get started on one of them tomorrow.  And in two weeks, I'll be working on another wedding painting again.  Can't wait!




Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Technology Pains

 The past month-plus has seen us have an inordinate number of problems with the wonders of technology.  Some are just maintenance items that have come due, other items just wore out, some are broken, and others are new-to-us and require an apparently steep and very long learning curve.  And they're all happening at once.

To start with, two of my dental crowns decided to call it quits at the same time.  They were probably 15-20 years old, so I can't really blame 'em.  But going to a dentist during this time of Covid raises the anxiety level.  We didn't have a warm'n'fuzzy feeling for our dentist's Covid precautions, so we hadn't been since the crisis started, and we really didn't want to risk it now.  So we found another dentist who advertised his Covid precautions.  I was very happy with the results.  Not only was the dentist and all the staff VERY careful about procedures, but he replaced both crowns in one visit.  No waiting for a week or two for new crowns to be made somewhere, then shipped back, and requiring a second visit to be put on.  Nope, it was all done in one trip.  It cost out the wazoo, and insurance didn't even cover a quarter of it, but overall, it came out well.

At about the same time, our lawnmower decided it had mowed its last yard.  The repair place said that fixing it would cost about the same as a new one.  Easy decision, but the timing was awful.  Along with the crowns, that was a very expensive month.

Immediately afterward, both of our cars were due for regular maintenance.  You know, oil changes and tire rotations.  And the tires on one of them were about worn out.  Great: now we gotta get a set of four expensive tires.

In the good news department, our neighborhood is getting fiber optic internet connections.  Yay!  We can dump the lousy DSL lines from Frontier!  The team came yesterday to do the hookup.  Took them quite a while since our house had some yard and house layout issues that made it difficult, but they got it done.  While they were doing it, our old DSL connection crashed again.  Goodbye, DSL, and good riddance.  So last night, I was busy switching all our computers and phones and stuff over to the new system.  Much mo' better.  

A fiber optic connection means we can finally join The Wonderful World of Streaming.  That was my chore today: getting and installing a streaming device, signing up for YouTube TV, and shutting off and removing the decrepit old Dish Network system.  It's all more or less done, but it was a slog, and there's still some stuff that needs to be done.

And today we discovered that our landline is down hard.  Maybe the installation crew cut through the line yesterday?  Whatever - a technician is coming out tomorrow.  I had other things planned, but inoperative phone lines don't care.

The next step is to figure out how to use the new system.  We knew how to use the Dish system and how to find the things we wanted to watch.  Now, it's not so easy.  It's gonna take us quite a while to get it arranged where we can find things, and also to get familiar with navigating the system.  Don't forget, both of us grew up in households with black & white TV's that could only get three or four channels, and you actually had to get up off the couch and walk across the room to CHANGE THE CHANNEL BY HAND.  And you haven't lived unless you've spent hours adjusting the rabbit ear antenna to reduce the amount of snow on the screen!  Figuring out how to find the shows we want from the 4.9 million available is gonna tax our old brains.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Podcasts and Catch-Up

 This has been a busy three weeks.  We got our second Covid shots (yay!) and have been dealing with a lot of other pop-up issues that have taken a lot of time.  I'm still working in the studio, finishing up a double portrait for a friend and working on a new painting of my own.  I'm going to have some paintings in a veterans' invitational art exhibit in St. Augustine in July, which is really cool.  More info on that later.

Do you listen to podcasts?  I do.  When I'm on the road, even if it's just a run to Asheville about 20 minutes away, I've usually got one playing.  Most of mine, with two exceptions, are about art, history, or the military.  Here's what's on my phone:

For art podcasts:

- John Dalton's "Gently Does It".  John interviews artists, with occasional gallery owners or others involved in the art world.  He generally talks to figurative artists, meaning those whose work is about people.  I've found a lot of very impressive and inspiring artists to follow.  John talks to them about what motivates them, their background, technical aspects of their work, you name it.  A lot of the experimentation that I've been doing over the past year originates in these interviews.  I'll hear something that the artists do that I will then try out in the studio, or I'll see some really cool work and try to reverse-engineer what they did and how they did it.  If you're a figurative artist, this is a must-listen.

- Antrese Wood's "Savvy Painter".  Take everything I just said about John and repeat it here.  Antrese has a warm and engaging personality that really brings out the best in her interview subjects.  Where John has more figurative artists from around the world, Antrese has a few more American artists in a slightly wider range of genres.  If you're a painter, this is a must-listen.

- Michael Faith's "Art Affairs".  This is a relatively new addition to my podcast library.  Michael is another good interviewer.  His focus leans toward young emerging artists, and there's not as much technical discussion as John or Antrese will do, but that's fine. 

History podcasts:

- Mike Duncan's "Revolutions".  I've been a fan of Mike's for several years now.  He did a very long series on "The History of Rome", from before its founding until the end of the western empire.  Then he launched into the "Revolutions" series, which looks at a variety of western-world revolutions: the English, American, French, South American, Haitian, and now Russian events.  Mike has a polished, professional, engaging, and humorous style that keeps it all interesting.  You know the phrase, "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it"?  Well, it's clear that we know a lot about history, but we repeat it anyway.  I heard about things throughout the Roman series as well as every Revolutions event that are being repeated, in slightly different ways, today.  That's not always a good feeling.  Highly recommend Mike's podcasts.

- The Leakey Foundation's "Origin Stories".  This series explores the foundations of humanity, what it means to be "human", where we came from, and how millions of years of development are still evident today.  There are interviews, recorded lectures, and other very professionally-done presentations.  There have been episodes on what is being learned from a 13-million-year-old pre-human fossil, a single cave in Spain that has over a million years worth of fossils, Denisovans, and a fascinating Carl Sagan presentation.

- The BBC's "In Our Time".  This one has been going on for over a decade.  The host, Melvyn, gathers a few experts in a particular subject together and they'll have a lively discussion about it.  You might hear one about Marcus Aurelius one time, China's Cultural Revolution another, as well as episodes about Thomas Jefferson, the Zong Massacre, coffee, or W H Auden.  It has a huge range of subjects.  Great stuff.

Military podcasts:

- The US Naval Institute's "Proceedings".  I've been out of the Navy for over 20 years now, but I'm still very interested in what's happening in "my" branch of the service.  I just found this one recently, so I'm kinda binge-listening to get familiar with today's issues.  For example, I listened to one that discussed Desert Shield/Storm and its lessons learned, then another on what China learned from our experiences in Desert Storm and how these findings have influenced the development of their strategy.  Hint: it's not good for us.  The podcast covers pretty much the entire range of Navy activities, so if you're interested in maritime operations, there's something here for you.

- John Spencer's "Urban Warfare Project".  This one is hosted by the Army's West Point academy.  Where the Navy's "Proceedings" covers the entire Navy, this one focuses on a particular segment of Army operations.  As a guy who spent time in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and spent time with Army soldiers involved in house-to-house combat operations, this is of particular interest to me.  Urban warfare is a very tough subject.

Other podcasts:

- Kristi Piehl's "Flip Your Script".  I first learned of this podcast when they contacted me to do an interview.  And I've become a fan.  Kristi is an excellent interviewer.  She talks to people who have seriously changed the direction of their lives.  In my case, it was from a Navy officer to an artist.  Some of her subjects changed their lives very deliberately, while others had a change forced on them by life circumstances.  In every case, these are compelling and often inspirational stories.

- Holly Priestley's "Deliberate Living".  Holly could be a subject for Kristi to consider.  Holly left her day job two years ago, moved into a Ford Econoline van with her dog, and has been living on the road ever since.  She has traveled all over the western United States, generally going north in warmer times and south in cooler times.  She is definitely not homeless, she did this by choice.  Holly's podcasts include interviews with others who are fellow "rubber tramps" in vans or RVs, presentations on how she has rigged her van and makes a living on the road, and loads of other topics.  Full disclosure: Holly is my niece.

So there you have it: my podcast list.  There were quite a few others that have been on my phone over the years but have fallen off for various reasons.  Some just ended, others got boring, and some didn't live up to my expectations.  These, though, are the winners.  Check 'em out!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Development of a New Work

 I finished up a new painting yesterday and already have another underway on the easel.  Thought I'd share the development process here.  Loyal readers of this blog (all two of you) know that I've been doing a lot of experimentation during the 'ronavirus lockdown of the past year.  I've done multi-figure compositions, single-figures, loose painting styles, tight styles, approaches modeled after various artists, and lots of other stuff.  Most wound up in the trash can.  Some of it seemed to work.  

One thing that seems to work best with me is a single-figure composition.  I seem to be at my best, both in the creative process and the finished artwork, when I focus on trying to get the inner character of one individual.   Once there are two or more people, the artwork isn't about them as individuals, it's about the relationships between them.  And when there are a lot of people, it isn't about the relationships (there are too many), it's about some bigger story.  And I just don't seem to be able to create a compelling "bigger story", at least in my own estimation.

Recently, I've tried some different approaches based on observations of other artists' work.  One thing that resonated with me was "simplify".  Simplify the composition, simplify the subject, simplify everything.  Get back to my roots, something like the charcoal and pastel figures I've been doing for the past few years.  So that was the goal in this piece.  Troy (oil on canvas, 24x18).  

First was a simple line block-in to place the figure on the canvas.

Now to check out the large light and dark masses.  I already had the idea that the figure would be darkest at the shoulders and lighter and less detailed further down.

Put in the first layer of the background.  Used a very light neutral warm color.  And had the first round of getting the face to look light it might be human ...

More refinement of the face, body, and arms.  All of this was done in one day.  Now it needs to sit for a week or so to dry.  Anything sooner will lift this first level of paint off the canvas.

So a week later, I went back and worked the background.  It's still a light neutral warm, but it's got more colors in it, and there's a very slight gradation top to bottom.  Next, I brought the face and arm up to a finished level.  Came back the next day and scumbled Van Dyke Brown (which is really Ivory Black plus a bit of Burnt Sienna) over the T-shirt and body, then worked all the edges to get them the way they should be.  A few other tweaks, and I'm calling it done.




Monday, February 22, 2021

... And Still More Experimentation

 After finishing up my last post about the Undertakers II painting, I discovered another interesting artist.  I listen to three different podcasts where artists are interviewed, and one of them talked with Jennifer Anderson.  Her approach sounded remarkably like what I try to do, so I looked up her work.  And it was a "wow".  Very strong technically, compositionally, and emotionally.  She was doing in oil paint something very similar to what I had been doing in charcoal and pastel over the past few years, and what I had tried and failed to do in oil.  These are single figures or faces that carry so much of the sitter's character.  Here's a sample, titled Fragile

Here we have a single figure, extremely well painted.  The chair she's sitting on has been reduced to just a few lines, and her environment has been reduced to a barely-modulated flat surface.  This helps focus attention on the figure.  The background has a very slight gradation, enough to tell you that it wasn't ignored.  And the figure has been pushed over to one side.  The fact that it runs off the canvas to the top, left, and bottom results in those edges being fully engaged in the composition.  The large flat gray space to the right becomes important in its own right, and there is a strong diagonal running from upper right to lower left that gives it a dynamic tension.  All together, this composition speaks to me of the young woman's inner thoughts: probably not idyllic, somewhat unsettled, but being seriously considered.

 Here's a comparable piece of my charcoal/pastel series, Astrid #1:

 

This was done in one of our weekly life sessions.  Single female figure, flat background, deliberately not "finished".  It has some of the same characteristics of Jennifer's work, but not all.  The figure is pushed to the side to create some room in front of her face, but not to the extent of Jennifer's work.  In most of my artworks in this series, though, the figure is centered on the page.  I discovered that this positioning doesn't really engage the rest of the surrounding space.  It's just ... space.  In Astrid #1, the empty space is more important conceptually.  It's not something I ever thought about, it just was.  Now I know to think about it.  Another issue is that the background here is flat and untouched.  In many works in the series, it comes across as unfinished or unaddressed.  This was something I wrestled with and never really came to a satisfactory conclusion.

So after looking at Anne Magill's work (see my last post) and Jennifer Anderson's figures, I tried some lessons learned in new paintings.  My intentions: simplify, engage the whole space, simplify, single figure, pay attention to edges, some areas developed while others are flat, and simplify.  Here's the first effort, Natalie:

And the second, Emma

So ... success?  I think I'm onto something that I can really sink my teeth into.  What do you think?


Monday, January 25, 2021

More Experimentation

 This time of Covid is giving me plenty of time to experiment with new techniques and approaches in painting, play with new ideas, and generally try stuff that I often don't get to try.  I just had an experiment that, I think, gave me some new tools for my artistic toolbox.  Here's what happened.

I've been working on my family history for many decades now.  Last year, I was sorting through some old photos and came across this one from about 1920: 

The two on the left are my grandparents.  They were apparently clowning around with their friends somewhere over the Hudson River.  What really grabbed my attention, though, was the guy on the right.  In the photo, he's laughing, but with just a tiny change to his expression, he could be crying out.  Remember the Nazi in the movie "Raiders of the Lost Ark", the guy whose face melted at the end?  Yeah, this guy in the photo kinda looks like him.  So I thought it would be fun to take this old photo and see if I could make it creepy.  I took a swing at it last year and this was the result:

I titled it "The Undertakers".  I thought the end result was pretty "meh", but didn't really know why.  So I shrugged my shoulders and went on with other experiments.  

Recently, I was looking at the work of a really interesting painter, Anne Magill.  Her paintings are often dark, with a very limited range of colors.  Here's a sample:

I was looking at her artwork and asking myself what feelings they evoked in me, and one of the responses was "mystery".  And then I remembered that mystery was one of the feelings I was trying to get out of "The Undertakers".  So I pulled it off the shelf, set it up on an easel, and compared it to Magill's paintings.  And I realized that, in my painting, I told the viewer way too much.  Too much detail in the faces.  Too much light.  Too much color.  Too much other stuff: cracks in the rock, trees, people.  It didn't give the viewer room to create a story of their own.  So I pulled out another canvas the same size as the first one and transferred the same composition over to the new canvas.  Then I went to work: simplifying the composition (one of the figures and all the trees are gone), reducing the details, reducing the range of colors, and trying to keep the attention focused where I wanted it.  It took a couple of weeks, but I called it done and here it is:

This version is much better than the first one.  I don't know that I'd call it a winner, but I certainly learned a lot from it.  There are several things that I'd do differently if I had to do it again.  Maybe I'll go back over it in a week or two and make some more changes.  But it's definitely closer to my original intention than the first painting.  I'm working on another project right now that uses many of the same ideas, but in a very different way.  We'll see how that one comes out.  Meanwhile, I'm pretty happy to have a new tool in my studio toolbox!




Saturday, January 23, 2021

Thoughts on the Second Impeachment

 There's lots of discussion (mostly one-way venting) about Trump's second impeachment. Do it now, do it in two weeks, don't do it, and everything in between. I'm in the "do it much later" camp. I'm basing that on my own experience.

Back in the spring of 1996, I was working on the staff of the Commander of the Peace Implementation Forces (IFOR) in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. We (the US and NATO) had pretty much forced all sides to stop fighting and start talking. They'd been through several years of brutal warfare and all sides still wanted revenge on the others. I accidentally crashed a lunch meeting one time with Bosniacs, Serbs, and NATO, and you could cut the tension with a knife. But at least they were talking.

Two of the Serbians that everybody in the world wanted arrested were Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic (we called them "K&M"). They were wanted for genocide and murdering thousands of Bosniaks. There was a constant drumbeat from the US, Europe, Asia, the UN, everywhere, that NATO should arrest K&M and bring them to justice. "No justice, no peace" - sound familiar? But to the Serbians, both men were heroes.

Admiral Smith refused to go after K&M. His mantra to all of us on the staff was "We're here to establish the peace and stop the killing. We're going to do that. We can bring K&M to justice later."

One day a minor Serbian general took a wrong turn and drove into a NATO checkpoint. They arrested him, which was what our Rules of Engagement required. You would not believe the uproar. The whole peace process came within a hair of falling apart - and this was over a minor "general" who was really more like a glorified militia leader. It took all the negotiating expertise of Admiral Smith, NATO, and the UN, to convince the Serbs to continue the ceasefire and continue the talks. And all this over a minor general who wasn't even well known among the Serbs, much less a hero. Imagine what would have happened if we had snatched K&M at that time. The peace process would have been over, war would have immediately resumed, and thousands more would have died.

Karadzic was arrested twelve years later and the Serbs had no problem sending him to the Hague for war crimes. Mladic was arrested by the Serbs themselves three years later and also sent off to the Hague. Both were convicted and are serving life sentences.

As for Bosnia, it is still taking a lot of work, and there is still a lot of distrust between the factions, but they're working together and haven't resumed fighting. Admiral Smith was right: peace first, justice later.

So I think the situation with Trump is somewhat similar: a dangerous instigator with a rabid fan base, but he's no longer in power. Biden stressed "unity". Let's build unity, get the government functional again, and take care of the country first. Trump's justice can wait. For once, it's not all about him.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

A New Wedding Painting

 

I recently finished the only wedding painting started in 2020.  All my plans for the year collapsed in March, along with everybody else's, when the lockdowns began.  Some of my clients rescheduled their weddings to 2021.  Some of them went ahead with their scheduled 2020 weddings, and for those, I canceled out.  Weddings are superspreader events and I didn't want to have anyone superspread to me.  Frankly, I was very surprised at the number of events that were held.  I had more inquiries for wedding paintings in 2020 than I had in any year before.  And I said no to all of them.  That is, until I got a note from Jessica.  She asked if I'd be interested in a virtual wedding.  A what?

Yes, that was right: a virtual wedding.  Their plan was to have an event where they, the officiant, the photographer, and the venue manager were the only ones onsite.  Everybody else, all family members and friends, were to be on Zoom.  Including me.  Well, there's a new idea.

So that's what we did.  On the Big Day, I was in my studio, working on creating their wedding painting, just like I would have been if I'd been at the event.  I had my iPhone set up on a tripod to record the painting's development and share it on Zoom.  Everybody watched what I was doing until the ceremony started, then again for a bit after the ceremony, First Dance, and online toasts.  Very cool!

A day or two later in the studio, I decided that my initial composition was crap.  So I got out my Painter's Emergency Repair Kit (a jar of white oil primer), painted over everything, and started from scratch.  Essentially, I zoomed way in, making them and the fireplace much larger and cropping out all the irrelevant sky, trees, and lawn.  Much mo' better.  I worked up the composition in drawings, transferred it to the canvas, and went to work.  The result is what you see here.

Since I wasn't physically onsite, I had to rely on some photographic resources.  The Old Edwards Inn provided me with some photos of the location.   And Jeff and Jessica's photographer, Abby Byrd, allowed me to use some of her photos as reference.  Without those two, this painting couldn't have happened.  Many many thanks to those two!

I'm really happy with the way this one turned out.  And, best of all, so are Jeff and Jessica.