Friday, September 30, 2011

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

     Pam and I just spent two long, hard days of driving from Pray, Montana to our doorstep in South Texas.  We were invited to participate in the Buffalo Bill Museum Art Auction, and spent the last 10 days in beautiful Cody, participating in the Auction & Sale, before traveling to spend a few days with good friends in Montana.  On the trip home I was reminiscing about some of the adventures and experiences that have come our way during the 16 years of this art journey.
     Sixteen-hour days of driving gives one lots of time to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly of one’s career….hence the name of this blog.  Let’s begin with the "Good".
Artist John Potter
     After the Artist Preview event at the Buffalo Bill Show last Thursday evening, Pam and I were invited to attend dinner with a couple of artists and their wives, and the Director of the Art Show.  At dinner, I met, for the first time, a fantastic Native American artist named John Potter.  I felt an instant connection to John; we were both Illustrators at one point in our early careers.  In fact, the other artist in attendance and my good friend, Mikel Donahue, also has an Illustration background.
     Along with our wives and hosts, we had some great round table discussions about the Economy, Art, and our careers.  But the most moving part of the night was John’s prayer before we began dinner.  I believe John is member of the Sioux tribe, and his words (though I could not understand them) were moving and heartfelt.  This wickedly funny, and creatively sarcastic man momentarily transformed us as a group.  Reverence is the best word to describe the spirit of the moment.  Heated and passionate discussions about Politics, the Economy, and Art followed, but that Native American prayer set the mood for the evening.  It transformed us and bound us together.  It definitely represents the "Good" in my reflections.
"Rosebud Repose" by John Potter

     As I continued to drive and Pam dozed, I happened to pass a sign for Highway 40 to Vegas.  I was instantly transported to my early Art Career days with a fellow artist named Red.  Red was the first friend I met in my first year of participating at Cowboy Christmas during the National Finals Rodeo.  We were the first group of artists to participate in the tent at Cashman Field the year the show outgrew the main facility.  A 100-yard long tent was set up in the parking lot to accommodate the extra artists added to the show.  And Red and I were the first wave of new exhibitors to show in the parking lot in the tent. (This is before the show grew so large that it is now housed in the Las Vegas Convention Center).
     Anyhow, Red and I hit it off and we set out to conquer Vegas.  Actually, he set out to do Vegas.  I was mostly in charge of logistics.  I was the guy behind Red, telling him such and such wasn’t a good idea---rarely with any success.  Our first year ended spectacularly.  The last night of the show we decided we would skip the teardown crowd and the madness and chaos of 500 booths trying to load out all at once.  We would be smart and get an early dinner and break our booths down the following morning, when it would be much easier.  (I must interject that this wasn’t solely our idea---our artistic mentor Buck Taylor advised us to take this route.) 
Cowboy Christmas at NFR in Vegas
     So we hit Binion’s, in downtown Vegas, for a rare Rib-eye and short night of Black Jack.  I lost my self-designated $30 limit early, and headed for the hotel.  I knew Red would gamble to the wee hours of the morning.  I was up at 6 sharp, grabbed a quick breakfast and headed for the show tent to start my teardown.  When I topped the hill, I was shocked to see that the entire 100-yard tent was gone! Totally and completely gone!
     The only things in the entire parking lot were our two booths, with paintings still hanging.  So there is my booth with 20 original watercolors (that I had spent months painting); they are hanging exposed to the elements, theft and wayward birds.  I phone Red and verbally illustrate our predicament.  The F---ing tent is gone!
     Six minutes later, Red flies over the hilltop at breakneck speed in an old 1982 Isuzu Trooper.  We quickly tear down our booths, dodging construction workers who are loading the stacked poles of the tent.  This experience would start a long friendship that was based on clearing this hurdle with little more than a heavy layer of dew on our paintings.  This was definitely an example of the “Bad” I’ve incurred.
     I then asked Pam about the ugliest moments in our career.  We agreed that all in all, we’ve been blessed with a fantastic adventure, but there has to be an “Ugly” to finish out this blog, right?  Try this one on for size.
     We had just finished the Phippen Museum Western Art Show & Sale in Prescott, AZ and were headed for home.  We’ve made this run so many times that we know where the cleanest bathrooms are, the best gas stations, the friendliest Subways, and the safest motels.  This is a run we own.
     We know when it’s the best time to hit traffic in El Paso or Tucson and we know the back roads around Phoenix; we know this run.  One thing we didn’t know was the best place to blow a tire with no spare. 
     Iraan, Texas is in the middle of nowhere; right between Fort Stockton and Ozona, on the desert floor.  I have to qualify our location---we weren’t actually in Iraan.  We blew our tire at the Iraan exit sign.  I heard it pop and when I looked in the side mirror, the entire fender of my little Wells Cargo trailer was blown skyward by the separating belts of the tire.  The twisted mess of metal that was my fender flew about 30 feet in the air, directly at the windshield of a Lincoln Town Car behind me.  The fender missed the top of the car by what seemed inches.  The Boss Hogg driving the Lincoln never knew how close he was to eating his cigar for good.
     I backed out of my pedal and eased off the 80mph speed that was customary on I-10.  The silence at Exit 325 was deafening.  I unhooked the trailer and left Pam on the side of the road to guard it (adequately armed, I assure you) while I drove to Sheffield, Texas and the only tire shop open on Sunday. 
     I had visions of purchasing a $187 used LT205/75R15 more commonly known as a P.O.S. trailer tire.  But the tire man was looking for a Sunday friend, and let me off for $65.  We changed out the tire, hooked up, threw our dead fender in the truck bed, and headed for home.  It was definitely “Ugly”.
     So there you have it.  And I wouldn’t change a thing about any of it.  The Good Lord has definitely taught me some lessons along the way, and I am grateful for all these experiences.  And a simple moving prayer to the Great Creator sets the tone for all Life’s offerings.   

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Atmospheres & Backgrounds

     Welcome to my 200th post!  I hope I have been able to offer you insights into the world of a professional artist, and to give you valuable and useful suggestions to make your own art successful.  Thanks for sticking with me!

     One of the greatest attributes of watercolor is its’ ability to create lifelike atmospheric effects.  On a vignette this adds a realistic feel to the subject.  One of my blog friends, Shelley, has asked for some suggestions and help on her painting of a polo player. 
     I had originally planned to repaint her photo to the point where Shelley has hit the “background wall”, but I opted to use one of my photos that presents the same basic problem, and show you how I solved it.
     Here’s Shelley’s painting of the polo player.  Her questions to me were based on her uncertainty about adding the background.

Shelley's painting

    I will show my progression, without much fanfare, to get to the same point as Shelley.  I thought you might like to see the process.

     So here we are with a painting very similar to Shelley’s.  It’s a finished subject floating in a sea of white.  So where do we go from here?
     The first consideration before we ever get to this point in Shelley’s painting is to start integrating our background washes as early as possible.  Let me stress this again:  The way to integrate a background into a painting is to start early.
     My first step towards resolving my background problem is to just start the process.  I start with a wash of Burnt Umber to indicate dust being kicked up by the horse and calf.

      I let my first wash dry and prepare for another layer.  You should understand this will be a multi-layered approach of adding glazes of color to create my final effect.  

My second wash is Burnt Umber again, but I add some textural brushwork to break up the color and give it a painterly feel.
      Here’s the painting after glaze #2 of Burnt Umber is complete and dry.

     Now I add Ultramarine Blue to the background I created a basic cloud-like shape so the Burnt Umber would appear to be in front or in the foreground, in relationship to the blue.  No pre-planning was needed for this shape.  Dust clouds are rather random in nature --- keep it that way. 

     I also added a touch of Cadmium Orange around my cowboy subject.  I want an interplay of colors working together.  (If you want to study a master of cool and warm washes, get Thomas A. Daly’s book “Painting Nature’s Quiet Places.”  Daly is a master of glazing warm and cool washes to create this interplay of color).

     The details are hard to see in the photo, but I darken the shadow under the horse’s neck and add a weak wash of Cadmium Orange over the entire background.  This serves to unify the atmospheric effect and bring the total painting together.
     Shelley, I hope this helps. If you have problems with your background, don’t hesitate to contact me.  Good Luck!