Thursday, March 31, 2011

How To Cheat

     I wouldn’t say I was a “master” cheater in my school days.  First of all, there is no reason to cheat if you’re not in class.  My truancy problem was much more significant than my cheating problem.  This was due to my unique ability to pen my father’s signature better than he does!  So now we have forgery combined with truancy. 
It was a perfect little storm for a 7th-grader who was absolutely terrified of anything having to do with Math.  Thank you, Mrs. Bernal, for your exemplary teaching methods.  If that’s the truth sounding like a grudge … I’m just sayin’.
     So here’s the one cheating episode I can remember.  The class?  World Geography.  The assignment?  Name every freaking country in the world!!!  The Solution? Carry a flair pen with the answers written with a #000 rapidograph pen and rolled up and stored in the back of the pen.  By cutting the ink-filled fiber insert in half, and then cramming a piece of #2 pencil eraser between that and your piece of paper with the answers, you can create a workable space for every country you’re never going to visit, care about, or see on a test again.  Boom! Winning!
     So, is it possible to cheat in watercolor?  Well, for those wacky European Traditionalists, all you have to do is use Ivory Black or White paint.  That alone will send them skyward.  I really get tired of these elitist snobs. 
     Hell, if you want to paint your watercolors with flower pollen and water, be my guest.  But don’t keep setting up your rules for me to live by.  Here’s the deal.  I will use any reasonable means necessary to create the image of my painting that is in my head. 
     I don’t want to go all Zen on you, here, but I visualize my finished painting in my head.  The tough part is getting there.  Making the jump from the painting in my head to the painting on my paper is where I sometimes use other methods and materials to reach my goal.
     So what are some of these “Cheater” tactics?  Nothing terribly exciting, and I have advised you on some of them in previous posts.  I think you should have them all loaded as part of your ammunition, and be adept at incorporating these materials and techniques into your work:
1.   Gouache – I keep a set of transparent watercolor and a complete set of gouache on my palette most of the time.  I am not too proud to bump my color intensity or darks with gouache, if I feel it is needed.  If you try it, you will be a fan.
2.   Masking Fluid - I am not a fan of masking and I try to avoid it, if at all possible.  But there are times when I must use it to get to the picture in my head.
3.   Ox Gall - This solution makes your paint flow with less surface tension.  If you need atmospheric effects, it can be deadly.
4.   Gum Arabic – This reduces blooming on wet-into-wet washes.  Have you ever had to do one of those 22 x 30 washes that you want to look uniform?  Don’t go crazy with this solution, but it has its place.
5.   Table salt - Need mottling and texture on leather?  This is a good place to start.  Experiment before you move to your good work.
6.   Watercolor pencils and Prismacolors – Sometimes I need to bump a highlight or just add a bit of reflected light.  These work beautifully.
     So, now you know my stable of “Cheater’s Tools”.  Here are some others you may wish to consider:  oil-painting palette knives; razor blade scratches in my paper; squirt bottles and spritzer bottles; crow quill pens loaded with watercolor or gouache.  Also check into Nita Engle’s stamping method.  She is a master at “cheating”.  And she does kick-ass paintings!
     I know I’m missing some of my techniques, but I just want to tell you not to be limited by your materials.  The fabulous painter Oleg Stavrowsky once said one of his favorite paint application tools was the heel of an old shoe.  If it’s good enough for him…. The only limitations on painting are the ones you put on yourself.  Good luck…..cheater!  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

What's Up With All The Bitch-Biting?

     I’m going to make a statement that you might find surprising, and here it is:  

As a group, artists can be amazing.  People will stand for hours watching us do painting magic.  On the opposite hand, as a group, artists can be among the nastiest, intolerant, opinionated bunch of whiners you’ve ever seen.

     I’ve been to several shows this year where the congregation of art minds was truly inspiring and uplifting.  The Coors Show in Denver this last January is a good case in point.  Fellow artists Gil Dellinger, G. Russell Case, Joel Ostlind and David Griffin are the epitome of class and positive input.  These artists help each problem-solve, and stand as examples of artists I choose to surround myself with.
     However, other negative opinions can rule the day.  Here are a few of the criticisms I often hear about my work and that drive me crazy:

1.    Paints too loose or paints too tight
2.    Paints too realistic or too impressionistic
3.    Watercolor has less value
4.    Works of art on paper or behind glass are less desirable
5.    This work of art is too western or too contemporary
6.    These paintings don’t say anything
7.    This work is too “Wyeth” or too (insert any Master painter)
8.    He has a limited subject --- all he paints is cowboys
9.    He paints too thin ..... he paints too thick
10.  He glazes everything or it's too palette-knife impasto

     I could do two more pages of art gripes that you can hear at any given minute at any given art show.  Don’t get caught in this negative wave of opinion.  Politely move on, and find safety among other artists of like mind.
     You won’t find this spiteful commentary among collectors.  They are more succinct.  They either like it or don’t, based on subject and quality.  Only artists get specific and nasty. 
     It is time we stop all this “throwing of hate darts” and start working to help and support each other’s efforts.  I know our past indicates this won’t be the case.  I don’t know if our fragile egos are the root of this problem or if it’s just that we’ve invested so much of ourselves in our work and process that we must skewer all other attempts at paint on canvas. 
     I just plan to paint what I enjoy----paint it at the highest quality I can and speak as positive as I can about my fellow artists and acquaintances.  Sometimes part of being a professional is keeping your mouth shut and opinion to yourself.
     I won’t be steam-rolled by anyone, and make no mistake…..I will stand up for myself.  But we can keep it professional, even if we disagree.  I enjoy throwing artistic curveballs as much as the next artist/guy, and I refused to be boxed in artistically.  So for those critics who say “all he paints is western art or cowboys”, check out my painting foray from yesterday.
The Fallen

     I can hear it now…..”I can’t believe he painted a dead bird” ….. “It’s too much like Chardin” ….. “That teacup is so feminine”……

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It Happens In The Fire!

I would venture that most of you don’t know that I made a short foray into the craft of knife making.  To this day, I still yearn to bloody my hands with this grueling but satisfying craft.  After making a serviceable and sellable knife, I realized it was going to be a long and cutthroat climb to any kind of meager subsistence.
     However, some of my best life lessons were learned during this time period.  The most impressionable knowledge I gained would, ironically, parallel the task of tempering.  Let me explain:  once a blade is fashioned and the edge ground, it is placed in a forge or heat-treating oven and hardened so that it can best perform its task.  Steel, in its earliest stage is annealed (or at its most malleable, soft stage).  This is the point at which it can be formed into a tool for cutting.
     But until it is baptized by fire and tempered, it remains useless as a cutting tool.  This holds true for us as artists, as well.  The tempering or fire stage is the most difficult to surmount, but until we walk through the artistic fire, I submit that we will remain at an elementary level.
The Good Life
     So how do we progress?  One word --- PERSISTENCE!  I remember my first real jump into the fire.  I had captured an astounding photo I knew was the basis for a spectacular painting.  The problem was that my skill level wasn’t up to the task.  I painted the image and failed; redrew it again; and again, I failed.  I redrew and attempted the painting 13 times!  No wonder 13 is my lucky number.  
     For two weeks I put the full court press on this painting.  I never really got frustrated with my effort because with every attempt I was making headway; solving problems and creating a painting better than the last effort.  When it was all done I realized my tenacious persistence was a great ally.  My advice?  When it isn’t working, press on into the fire!

Thursday, March 10, 2011


     Today I want to introduce you to a good man and a good friend.  His name is Mark Kirkpatrick.  I first met Mark through my friend Maurice Chambers (you might remember him from a previous post).  Mark grew up wanting nothing more than the freedom of the cowboy life.  To hear Mark’s deep, soft-spoken voice is always a refreshing respite from the noise of the world.   The highway and this crazy art lifestyle keep us apart for long spells, but real friendships can pick up easily from the last conversation. 
     Mark has many passions and interests.  I remember when he got a hankering for a Sharps rifle and two months later, he’s toting a big 45-70 Buffalo gun everywhere he goes.  He’s not a man of many guns, but heed the old sayings of Ruark, the famous African hunter, (some attribute it to Elmer Keith), “Beware the man with one gun…. Chances are he knows how to use it.”  Mark certainly falls into this category.  I damn sure don’t want him shooting at me!
     Many shared adventures come to mind when I think of Mark.  Once, we were horseback in Deep South Texas, hunting hogs with his dogs.  We eased over a hilltop to discover three large boars at a feeder and decided to mount a full-on charge.  The dogs took off and we followed close behind.  That is, until Mark’s old mustang, Sugar, started bucking, and dumped me into a strategically placed pile of rocks.  
Born 100 Years Too Late
     I remember a cowboy trip to Willard, New Mexico.  Mark had really wanted to get out of Texas for a bit and an invite from Shawn Goemmer was all we needed.  Mark fit right in with the Arizona and New Mexico crews.  He has a natural gift as a peacemaker, and a calming spirit.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve always liked painting him.  Mark and Maurice were my first cowboy subjects.   Any success I’ve encountered in this career started with their inspiration and their encouragement.
     Mark’s passions these days still revolve around his love of the freedom of being a cowboy, and his latest appetite for bobcats  and mountain lions.  All his free time is spent following the bawl of good cat dogs.  Big Cats or Lions, it makes no difference.  Mark, like the painting in my coffee table book so aptly describes, was born 100 years too late.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

If You Can't Jump The Train -- Float The River!

     In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about jumping trains as a kid, and how this concept can be applied, metaphorically, to your art career.  I explained how taking some chances could work in your favor.
Shoal Creek after a flood
     This week I’m going to tell you about another childhood adventure.  If you live in Central Texas, you may remember the 1981 Memorial Day Flood, when North Austin received over 10 inches of rain in less than 4 hours.  Shoal Creek ran from its normal 90 gallons per minute, to 6 million gallons per minute.  This was a definite anomaly. 
     Shoal Creek was where I grew up, and to my delight, that creek flooded often.  My best friend, Greg, and me would spend every waking hour knee-deep in this “Wonderland for boys”.  Slingshots, pocketknives and packets of Red Man, with a good pair of Creek shoes, were the tools of the trade.  That whole summer was like a coming-of-age movie.
     One of my best days on the Creek was spent floating in a tube from the bridge at Greenlawn Parkway to the bridge at Koenig Lane.  As the crow flies, this was probably less than 4 miles, but to a kid riding a flooded creek in a tube, it seemed like a Snake River run.  A 2-inch rain above Austin would run the narrow limestone-based creek fast enough to burn adrenaline.
My pals were just like the boys in "Stand By Me"
     So me, Greg, and any other daredevils in the neighborhood would meet at Greenlawn Parkway with our tubes, and enter the swollen creek.  An older brother of a kid down the street had a Buick Electra and would pick us up at the end of the 4-mile run and drive the gang, plus tubes, back to our starting point for another run. 
     It never occurred to us that this was in any way dangerous.   There were no concerns or fears of floating tree stumps or broken glass---and definitely no life jackets!  I can remember floating the creek several times and I knew it was something my parents (especially my mom) would not approve of, but I was determined to enjoy the ride, no matter the risks.
     So how does this equate to our art careers?  I was thinking about this art path I’ve chosen.  So often I am taken down stream artistically, with no idea of what’s coming next.  For me, it’s one of the rewards of being an artist.  So much of what comes along requires getting in the tube with no idea of what’s ahead.  At some point, we must gather up our tools and skills and head down stream . . . . Get the adrenaline flowing!
     There are times when we know what’s coming, and a plan can be put in place.  But so much of embracing an artistic career is engaging in the fluidity of this path.  Art, by its very nature, is organic from conception to execution.  By that, I mean it is a natural process, and an entity all its own.  It’s humbling to realize that your body of work will out-live you.
     Being an artist is its’ own reward.  So beware of the white noise (and the nay-sayers) that will try to steer you off your path.  The economy, the recession, bills and the pitfalls of business can all cause cracks of doubt to creep in, but stay focused on your craft and step in to your Creek shoes.  You’ll find it can be one helluva ride!