Ever a story... waiting to be told

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Lot of Time For A Little Storefront

18 x 24 Work-In-Progress
I've been working on this storefront for weeks now... trying to get every little reflection and each tiny detail to look exactly right. But I'm realizing that my habit of obsessing over the individual parts can sometimes make me lose sight of what I'm trying to achieve with the overall composition. Today I'm forcing myself to move on to other areas of the drawing, with the promise that I can return later to tweak this one storefront. (Wish me luck... Maybe if I cover it up and don't peek at it...)
Graphite study - Rough Draft
The inspiration for this piece came from my many trips to the quaint, historical areas of the cities and towns that I've seen. I snap pictures of old storefronts and time-worn buildings that have seen better days. Maybe there is something within me that identifies with them. To me, they each have a unique personality and a rich history to tell. They've seen so much of humanity pass by them and through them. We don't often patronize these charming old shops and eateries in the downtown areas anymore.  So they sit idly, watching the world go by.
When I started the graphite study, I used photos from two or three different towns. It took me a long time to decide what kind of businesses I wanted to inhabit each building, and what kind of store signs I wanted to put in the windows. I'm hoping that the viewer will see his or her own favorite town in this drawing.  I want to show that the old buildings are treasures that we should be preserving and appreciating, because they reflect who we are and where we've come from as a people. I want the viewer to see the charm and nostalgia of the old downtown, but I also want to bring out a hint of melancholy, at the idea that the spirit of community pride, so prevalent in past generations, is in jeopardy of being forgotten.
Well... I've convinced myself that it's time to move on to another part of the piece... but where to next? Sidewalk, or brick upper story? I think I'll start both areas and see which one pulls me in first! 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Prints Charming

"Paintings hold the hidden memories of their maker, 
encoded in their strokes like DNA." 
(Stephen King, in Duma Key)

I am one of those people who considers the process of artmaking to be just as significant as the finished artwork. I'll even go so far as to say that, sometimes, the process that the artist goes through is even more aesthetically meaningful than the final product. As a piece transforms from a blank canvas to finished artwork, it will assume different entities, like a child growing up. Each stage is unique and can never be revisited. Once finished, the painting leaves the easel, and from then on it takes on a completely different persona. It becomes a representation of an experience, rather than the original experience. It becomes a product of the creative process, but can never reenact that initial process. We might even consider the finished painting to be merely a reproduction, in a sense, because the time, place and circumstances that it depicts no longer exist. That's something we can't do anything about... but we CAN decide whether or not to make more reproductions from that first one, and how closely they will resemble the original painting.
Every artist has their own philosophy about posting their artwork on the internet to let others see it in a smaller size, with less-than-true colors, or with less contrast or clarity. And we all have to make the decision as to whether or not we want to make and sell prints of our work. Some do, and some don't. I can see the reasoning behind both choices.
Left: Giclee print on 100% cotton Hahnemuhle photo rag paper
Right: Photocopy from Office Depot on cardstock
Last week in the gallery, I watched a couple comparing two prints of the same piece. One print was an expensive giclee on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag 100% cotton paper. The other was a photocopy on cardstock from Office Depot. I actually cringed when I saw the disparity between the two. The giclee looked exactly like the original artwork, and was never going to fade or discolor over time. The Office Depot copy, although a very nice photocopy, lacked the subtle variations in color of the original artwork, and was probably going to fade and yellow over time. I went back to the gallery the next day and stashed all the Office Depot prints in the back room where nobody could see them.
Preserving the integrity of my artwork is more important to me than being able to say I sold a great quantity of substandard prints.
I was happy with my decision... but the next problem was how to justify the high cost, when other artists could sell cheap prints for way lower prices than I could. I talked to my printer, Robin Imaging,  and asked if they had any type of Certificate of Authenticity that I might attach to the back of the prints, proving that it was of the highest archival quality and the truest reproduction of the original artwork that could ever be made.  They thought it was a good idea and called me in to show me a prototype of what they'd come up with. Each certificate verifies that the print has been approved by the artist, is an archival, high-quality giclee on the finest paper, and has the artist's name, and title of the artwork, verifying that the print has been approved by the artist. There is also a place for the artist's signature.  The certificate can be adhered to the back of the frame, or included in a sleeve with the giclee print. They also made a small card that explains the giclee process, which I can tuck into the front of the frame. I'm really excited to get them next week and use them in the gallery!
How about you? What are your own thoughts about selling prints of your work?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

West End Cincinnati (Sort of)

One more little envelope drawing...
These are factories from many different parts of Cincinnati, as well as a few that I constructed myself just because the shape seemed to work well. It's only somewhat historically accurate. I'm already smiling in anticipation of the comments I'll hear from visitors at the gallery... they will hover about eight inches from the piece, and either lift their eyeglasses up or put on their reading glasses (depending on their age) to get a clearer look. Then they will frown and try to tell me exactly where that spot is located in Cincinnati and what family relative worked there, or lived near there in the 40's. But with this drawing, the buildings are located in different parts of the city... so I'm waiting to hear what they say about that. There are so many art lover/history buffs in Cincinnati, and they sometimes don't appreciate artwork that is not 100% precisely historically accurate. On the other hand there are a lot of people who just like a pretty picture that reminds them of a time and place, and most importantly, a story or feeling that comes to their mind when they look at the piece.
On the technical aspect, I concentrated on the different types of pen strokes I used in each area. This one was easy, though, because there was no billowing flag (whew). It was mostly all straight lines, except for the trees and the water tower. I also concentrated on gradually building up the values with layer after layer of tiny pen strokes. I used only a few colored pencils for the final color washes, letting the ink do all the work in shaping the piece.
The best advice that I kept in mind was from Gary Simmon's book, when he cautioned not to accept that you've achieved your blackest black, even though you're using a black pen. The more layers you apply, the blacker it will get. Too often, we accept an overall tone of grays instead of black. 
At this point, I think I'm finished with the pen series for a while. I have several new ones to display (although I just sold one on my Etsy shop last night). 
This last little cityscape made me start itching to do another brick building scene with my colored pencils. I started a very large (18x24) drawing of just such a scene, and I'm excited to get going on those bricks with every color I can pile on. I've missed that immersion into my colored pencils and I know they've been sitting there so patiently, waiting for me... 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Update from Spring Training

My self-imposed Spring Training with the micron pen is still going strong. I've been cranking out a new envelope drawing every couple of days lately, in an effort to hone my technique with this medium, and also to replenish my inventory. I have certainly increased the number of available drawings, but I'm not satisfied with what small progress I'm making in my technique with the pen.
On the positive side, when looking at the four different flag/desk drawings that I've done for various commissions, I can see how I've become more confident with the pen. I'm using the ink to create the contours, instead of relying on the use of color to show the value changes. I'm also applying more layers, which I'd discovering is very similar to the way I would layer my colored pencil or graphite pieces. The most recent version was completed last week, and seems to be much more intense and shows more depth. So there is evidence of SOME progress, yes.
However, as you can see in both versions of the batter, I haven't even come close to achieving the smoothly blended effect that I'm after. I've read books by Claudia Nice and Gary Simmons, and I understand what I'm doing wrong, but it's so hard to change one's habits!
That first layer of ink is vitally important. I need to make smaller, more uniform marks, and then gradually build the values, layer by careful layer. I need to be careful that the edges are defined at first, but gradually let some of them blend into other areas. Each different type of mark can create a whole different effect, so if I vary them, I must have a reason for doing so, either to create a certain texture, or bring emphasis to a certain area.  Have I done all that yet? ...NO... that will be the goal for the next round of drawings. I hope I can post some positive outcomes next week!
This is my favorite from last week's efforts.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Baseball, Hotdogs, Apple Pie, and... Volkswagon?

Home Team
(I love baseball, hotdogs, apple pie... but I like my Jetta better than any Chevrolet...)
The more work that I do with the micron pen, I become more and more interested in the principles of value contrast. Not just its effectiveness in rendering forms and establishing shadows, but the way that the darks and lights connect and flow through the composition. This is something I really need to get better at. And these pen drawings are the perfect outlet for practice and experimentation. When working with pen, all the contouring and shading must be rendered with only one color: black
The restriction of using only black pen forces me to learn how to employ all those chairoscuro principles that I've read about. I'm humbly reminded that, despite all the reading one can do on the subject, the most effective techniques can only be mastered through practice, and more practice. For now, I'm going to make myself spend a few weeks with just the black pen in my hand, and see what I can learn. (Yes, I do tint the drawings with colored pencil afterward, but only with washes of solid color. I'm not relying on the color to create the shadows and highlights.)
I think these next few weeks of 'fundamentals' will help me grow as an  artist, and will carry over to my colored pencil pieces, helping me to develop some more effective artistic techniques. I guess you could call this my Spring Training.
The piece I just finished is for a commission: to draw 'anything baseball' that will match a drawing the client bought back in December. The two pieces will have different Cincinnati envelopes, but will both be in identical frames.
In keeping with my All American theme, I've already started another one!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

New Work: "Understudy"

This was one of those drawings where I dove in without having a clear plan of where I was going with it. I wasn't really happy with the graphite study I had done beforehand, but I wasn't sure why. As I started the colored pencil version, however, the story began to reveal itself. I have no doubt that the subjects in the picture were telling ME what to draw and how to draw it, so I just relaxed my control and let the story unfold. 
I started with the dancing tree on the right, the Prima Dona. I really spent a lot of time adjusting her expression to be one of concentration and dedication to the art of the dance. I wanted her to display a certain degree of pride, but not conceit. I wanted her to be imposing and memorable, but not menacing or ghoulish.  I think that drawing that tree first made me rethink the rest of the subjects. I wonder what would have happened if I'd started by drawing the human girls first... I think the story would have unfolded completely differently!
I didn't want the Prima Dona tree to be the only dancing tree, or the story would have been all about HER, rather than about the young ballerinas who had ventured into the magic forest to learn the secrets of grace and poise. 

So I changed one of the girls into a dancing tree. But I really messed up drawing her trunk of a head! She was too creepy, even for me! I took a huge leap of faith and started erasing... and erasing, and erasing... then reapplying layer upon layer of new colors... all the while crossing my fingers. Somehow, she came out okay! 
But now I had lost the vision of three girls lost in the magic forest.  I had only two girls left, and that wouldn't have the same impact. There is something strong and balanced about the number three, and I tend to subtly, almost subconsciously, incorporate that number into all my work. By coloring the girl's reddish dress with many of the same rusty hues from the trees, I had my featured three.  I didn't need the other girl coming down the path in the distance. She would have been a distraction now. 
At first I was worried about the girl's face being so stiff looking. (Her face is only two inches of area in the piece) She isn't nearly as fluid and lifelike as the two trees. BUT... that quality helps to tell the story! The girl needs to learn that grace and fluidity, and that is why she has come to the forest, to learn from the most organic of teachers, the natural beauty of nature herself. Anyway... whatever story it may or may not bring to the viewer's mind, I don't care. It was a really fun piece to create!
Now I'm moving on to a new project... I have two commissions for pen drawings to complete right away and get them sent off to the clients. And then  I want to make several more pen drawings on the Cincinnati envelopes for the show coming up in May. I've already had three requests for the flag on the desk, so there will be more flag drawings for sure! I also want to do a series of vintage baseball drawings on the old envelopes.
Hey...  are the little signs of spring starting to show up at your house? I saw a robin yesterday... so I am hopeful!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Another Day, Another Dancing Tree...

(WIP - A 12" segment of the 18x24 piece)
Dance has to unfold with the grace of a tree. 
Nothing so beautiful can be done in haste. 
Pt. Birju Maharaj
Fantasy is a reality you can dance to.
Richard Cohen 

Lots of times, we see a tree, a rock, or a cloud... and think that it resembles a particular animal or a person in a certain pose. Likewise, we often hear a piece of music, and it reminds us of the patter of raindrops, the roar of the tide, or the gentle trill of a bird's song. And when we watch someone dance, we liken their movements to the bending and swaying of trees and flowers.
I don't believe that those fanciful comparisons are the result of our imagination alone. What seems to be purely abstraction or fantasy, is simply derived from the realism of nature. The same patterns and shapes that exist in the natural world can be seen again and again in every living thing on the earth, and even in most manmade things, because we replicate those lines, colors, and forms that we find most beautiful. Our art, be it drawing, painting, music or dance, expresses those elements that we admire in the world around us.
That's what I was thinking when I first saw the tree who became my model and inspiration for this drawing. I wanted to express the idea that the arts imitate nature. Be it realism, fantasy, or abstract art... ballet, salsa, or hiphop dance... country, jazz or classical music... we find strong influences from the natural world in all the arts. I'm not sure that concept will come across in the finished drawing, however. It must just be deemed a work of imaginative fantasy, and that's okay too.
I've already strayed quite a bit from what I had planned in the rough draft. I'm thinking I need to do some major alterations to the dancing tree on the left still. There is only going to be one human in the drawing now, she'll be the focal point, as she studies the tree in awe.
I could use your help with finding a title for the piece. One that suggests the girl is learning about dancing from observing the trees around her. I'm thinking Apprentice (but that's a TV show), Understudy, Prima Donna, Lesssons, or Rehearsal...? What are some more ballet words?

"Art takes nature as its model." Aristotle

Sunday, March 2, 2014

New Finished Work!

"Mooring Lines" 9 x 12
Graphite and Colored Pencil
This is the drawing from my field book. I finally finished it this weekend while I was sitting at the gallery. 
This drawing holds special meaning for me. I grew up on the shores of Sandusky Bay, part of Lake Erie. My father has always taken excellent care of his boats and of me. By his example, he taught me to do the same with everything in my own life. 
One of things that he did to safeguard his boats during storms and rough waters, was to secure them to the moorings at night. A mooring is a steadfast weight on the bottom of the lake with a sturdy chain or rope attached. Sailors will secure their boats to the mooring at night, so the boat can float freely on the waves without bumping into anything, yet it remains securely anchored to it's place in the world.
The rope and chain in this drawing are those mooring lines that are hanging in my father's barn. They've been used often, and I remember them being there all my life. The weathered wood in the drawing is from the old dock, made of railroad ties, that juts out into the bay. The dock, too, serves as a place for securing one's boat, and keeping it close and safe.
Those mementos and memories from the home where I grew up will always serve as mooring lines for me; making me feel secure and reminding me of who I am and where I came from. Every pencil line that I draw is a mooring line, too, bringing me peace and fulfillment.
Today, on the eve of my 54th birthday I am so very grateful for those mooring lines. (There, I said it... 54... yikes) 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

How Many Pencils...

WIP - 17x19" Colored Pencil
Did you know that ONE tree can make 170,000 pencils?
It doesn't take quite that many pencils to make a tree, luckily.
This little tree-torial only takes 17 pencils.
I like to build my subjects slowly, letting them evolve layer by layer, usually working from the lighter to darker values. I started with Bronze, just barely shaping the contours and subtly defining some texture.
With slightly darker tones (Green Ochre, Sandbar) I started curving the trunk and branches to determine their direction and get them into perspective. Then I glazed over the lightest areas with Jasmin and Pale Brown Derwent. Added more layers of Bronze in some areas, then darker touches of the Green Ochre and Sandbar, until I could feel the texture emerging. At this point I was able to use the darkest tones, Espresso, Van Dyke, Black Raspberry, and Indigo, to really define the textures and contours.

When I finally had several layers of pigment and wax down, I could start to blend then around with the colorless blending pencil, working the colors into each other, and usually adding a little more of this or that color. Sometimes I will use the electric eraser to lighten an area, and then blend new colors into it. I brought in a few hints of Hazel and White as highlights. And used the Beige and Bistre Pablo pencils to define some of the lighter textured areas, where I didn't want the darkest darks. I used French Gray 10 to soften some edges, that are more distant. Then French Gray 20 and 50 to clean up the sky behind the crisper edges. This stage of blending, putting on color, removing color, putting on more color... can go on for hours, until you get to the point where it just seems right.
I won't say these two trees are completely finished yet. I'm sure there will be tweaking during the next few weeks. But for now, it's time to move on and start on some of the rocks and the pathway. When I get my confidence worked up, I'll get to the featured tree, the Prima Dona of the piece, and the ballerina girl. Those will be the fun parts!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Work: "For Which It Stands"

"For Which It Stands"
Pen and Ink on Antique Envelope
A woman called yesterday morning, saying that her boyfriend had liked one of my drawings at the gallery, and she'd like to purchase it for his birthday. As soon as she said that... I had this little niggling suspicion that it was probably one of the drawings I had just sold last week... and sure enough, it was the pen drawing of the flag and school desk.  I apologized to her and offered to draw a new version of the flag and the school desk, and she agreed. 
2013 Drawing
"I Pledge Allegiance"
Something about the idea of replicating a drawing doesn't sit well with me... it doesn't feel original or creative. I didn't want to use the same exact pose that I had used before. So I set up my little desk and flag in the basement, and arranged the folds in different ways until I liked the look of it. It was fun, and not too time-consuming (8 hours). 
When I was putting the flag away, it occurred to me that I might do a series of antique envelope drawings using the American flag. People really like those, and I like the idea of promoting a little patriotism.  I took a few reference shots of the flag in different poses. Those will be enough to get me started, but I'm envisioning that flag in many different scenes.
Then it occurred to me that I could do pen drawings when I'm out of the studio more easily than I could do graphite drawings. I wouldn't have to keep trying to sharpen the pencils with a little handheld sharpener, for one thing. So, I attached a few envelopes to the pages of my field book, and put a couple of micron pens, and a ruler into my pencil pouch. 
Interestingly, I've sold about twenty of these envelope drawings, and I've noticed that most of them are purchased as gifts for men.  I guess they are a novelty item, with a historical, patriotic mood, and maybe they serve as a small tribute to one's heritage, when they see the postmark and the postage from the past. 
But I won't be drawing any more flags for awhile, unless I'm out of the studio. Today I'm working on my colored pencil drawing, putting in the sky. 
That means.... (oh dear) ...solvents... wish me luck...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Earth's Studio

“Nature paints the best part of the picture.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

My Inspiration...
Sometimes I'll approach a new project with a particular subject that I want to draw, such as that house, or this person. Other times, however, I start with an intangible idea that I want to convey. The subjects I choose become the metaphor to help me convey that idea.  Such was the case with this drawing.
I've always been fascinated by how everything on the earth is connected and interdependent, and how the natural patterns that have existed forever are repeated and reflected in the arts.  The vibrations of the musical tones we hear, the movements of a dancer, the shapes and colors of a painting... they all emulate the systems and cycles of life on earth. Sometimes we hear or see something that appeals to us aesthetically, but we aren't sure exactly why. It might be because of the patterns we perceive there, either consciously or subconsciously. All the patterns in nature coexist with each other, and intertwine with one another, and are repeated in different ways. By being observant and reflective, we can learn more about ourselves from the examples that the earth offers to us.
That was the idea I wanted to convey. This tree became my metaphor. One of the things that draws me to bare trees is their hidden symmetry.  At first glance they seem so awkward and off-balance... but when you look more closely, there IS a definite symmetry and a profound grace to the lines of the trunk and branches. I thought it was fitting, then, that the dancers should have a lesson in grace and poise from the trees in the forest. 
“For the artist, communication with nature remains the most essential condition. The artist is human, himself nature; part of nature within natural space.” Paul Klee