Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Year in Review

Looking back on another year, the chair in front of my easel is showing a lot of wear. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs… from having the Woodson Museum add my Birds In Art painting “Shimmer” to their permanent collection, to a crippling mid-summer sales slump that had me looking for a “real” job (I know! It was really that bad). Not only was 2011 my most prolific year painting, it also ended as my best year for sales… which isn’t saying much, but it’s been a slow steady improvement from one year to the next… and that’s always encouraging.

  • The plein air workshop I attended in September taught by Jim Coe has been a springboard for my art. My color choices are more adventurous. I’m getting more comfortable working with oils. And of course, I’m loving painting outdoors! I’ll be doing more of that in 2012.

  • The fly fishing bug of my youth has bitten me once again. I’m finding the hours I spend on trout streams even more enjoyable than I did when I was a youngster. It’s also led me to some interesting and beautiful places I would have otherwise passed by.

  • Both the Southeastern Wildlife Expo and the Waterfowl Festival were sparkling successes for me. These shows give this old hermit a chance to make new friends, catch up with the old ones, and sell a painting or two. I really look forward to those events and hope to be a fixture there for the foreseeable future.

  • Many thanks to Phillepe at the Lord Nelson’s Gallery in Gettysburg for taking a chance on me. I hope this is the beginning of a long and prosperous partnership.

  • There were occasions when I found myself in out-of-the-way places with the most remarkable people. An extended road trip with master carver Larry Barth is high on that list. I also spent a morning waist-deep in a Maryland swamp, duck hunting with sculptors Paul Rhymer and Walter Matia. Nice J

  • And lastly, I’d like to thank all the folks that take a moment out of their day to occasionally read this blog. The popularity has been humbling. Hats off to you.

So as the book closes on yet another year, I file it away for happy reflection. At the same time, I scan an especially ambitious list of goals for 2012. It looks like the coming year will be a wild one! Stay tuned…

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Barred Owl Project

Here's a little tease of a fairly large painting I'm working on. The image above is a 6" square from a 12x24 composition. It's been one of those pieces that seems to have a mind of its own. I've never used this much cadmium orange in a painting before and it was a little scary to smear so much of it on the board. Still a long way to go, but I'm starting to like this one :)
Merry Christmas everyone!!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Edge of Autumn" 9x12 acrylic

A couple of years ago, I was poking around along the edge of a local stream. It was one of those walks I take with no real purpose in mind. I mentally noted the critter tracks in the stream-side mud and turned over the occasional rock to see what might be living underneath. The morning air held onto the humidity of summer, but there was just a hint of coolness… perhaps a tease leading up to the pleasant weather of fall. With no place in particular to be for the rest of the day, I stopped to sit on a log for a few minutes and take in my surroundings. Somewhat lost in the reflections and slowly drifting leaves, I was snapped back to consciousness by the clatter of deliberate footfalls on the nearby streambed cobble. Much to my delight, a young whitetail buck appeared on the far bank. His polished antlers were nearly white, sporting 7 distinct points. He was quite close when he finally noticed me sitting there and studied me intently… ready to bolt if I moved a muscle. I stayed still and avoided eye contact as he stared me down from no more than 50 feet. After a few minutes, he apparently surmised I wasn’t much of a threat and with a flick of his tail, continued upstream. As he passed through a shaft of sunlight, he paused briefly as if to watch one of the many crimson leaves slowly floating by. I was taken by the brilliant shine on his antler tines. He looked back at me to make sure I hadn’t moved, then disappeared up the wooded stream bank and out of sight.

While the buck in this painting is much larger than the 7-point I saw that morning, this painting was inspired by that early October encounter.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

"Quizzical" 6x4 acrylic

I love the way this lady cardinal cocked her head to the side. She certainly has some personality. It's good to stay fresh doing these occasional minis while I'm pushing larger paintings forward.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Talent... or Skill?

When someone tells me that I’m “talented,” I know it’s a term of admiration… though unknowingly misguided. Don’t admire my talent, for it is such a small part of what I do. Admire my dedication, skill, and sacrifice. Those are the qualities of which I’m most proud.

It starts out innocent enough. Someone at a show or exhibit will be gushing over my work, tossing complements about like rice at a wedding (no one throws rice anymore, do they?) and all but making me squirm with at having to say “thank you” so many times. Then the words come out that make my blood boil. “I wish I had your talent. This must come naturally to you.” Really? Like I eat a couple of tubes of paint for breakfast every morning and crap out finished 12x16 canvas later the same night (never mind how painful that might be. Or the fact that if it were physically possible to “shit out a painting”, the “important” galleries in London, LA, and New York would be fighting over my so-called “art.” But I digress). And I know they mean nothing hurtful by these words, so I just smile and nod hoping they don’t notice my white knuckles as I grind a fist into my leg. If they only knew the mind-boggling stack of past failures it took to get here and the paralyzing knowledge that there are many more failures to come... the years of study and frustration to achieve a level of competence where I wouldn’t throw up at the thought of showing my work in public... the amount of research and planning it takes before I ever dip a brush in paint.

I love what I do, but there is no “magic” in the process. It’s simply work. Not the kind of work you do with a wrench or shovel. I’ve done plenty of that in my time. And not unpleasant work, but a continual task of study, experimentation, evaluation, and then application of a learned knowledge. It’s a skill… not a talent. The magic happens when someone stands in front of a painting and says something like, “I’ve been there” or “I can almost smell that water.” Now that’s magic!

I don’t deny that it’s possible (maybe even necessary) talent may play a part in the stages of artistic development. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an obsession with drawing. Still, I didn’t understand much about it until I started studying the work and teachings of others who were highly skilled at the craft. To dismiss what any skilled craftsman or woman does as some whimsical gift by a higher power is an insult (though it’s almost never intended that way).

There will always be folks that disagree with me on this subject (though very few of them are professional artists), and that’s okay. I’m not really hoping to change anyone’s mind. These merely the ramblings of my own tormented mind (discussed in an earlier post). It’s fine that there is some mystery to art. It adds an element of romantic notion to what I do. But I’d much rather that romance be directed toward the finished piece than any mistaken enchantment in its creation.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Pine Run" 6x8 acrylic

I've been on a bit of a roll lately. This little landscape study came together nicely and takes me back to that overcast afternoon of trout fishing. There's nothing quite like being on a stream in October when the leaves are changing. I'll be starting another new painting this afternoon. I need to keep working while things are going so well!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

"James Creek Winter" 8x16 acrylic

When I compose winter scenes, I'm always very aware of the abstract graphic elements created by the snow. In this piece, I like the way everything seems to flow from the upper left corner of the composition to the junco and beyond. The lighter reflections and the large mass of snow in the right side of the painting comfortably direct the viewer's eye back toward the subject.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Therapy for a Tormented Mind

Not everyone's mind works this way. I'm sure of it. There are too many happy folks out there drifting along through life without a care. They can't all be putting on an act. My mind races almost constantly grinding through a seemingly random kaleidoscope of ideas and concerns. There are times, however, when I'm truly at peace. One of the reasons I love to paint is the relative calm it brings to my brain. I find that same relief on the days I spend afield... gathering reference photos, sketching field studies, or just fishing.

Early this spring, I decided to dust off my old fly tying bin and put together a few flies for the upcoming trout season. It had been 10 years or more since I last tied a fly, so I found it surprising when the skills came back so quickly. Feather and fur bound to and wrapped around a hook shank began to take on a "buggy" appearance while not really mimicking anything specific... and I was happy.

Several evenings passed as I leisurely created my tiny offerings, working on a dozen or so rather than sitting in front of the TV. I found myself looking forward to these nightly sessions and that's when I realized that it made me happy. There is a simple joy of carefully crafting something with my own hands... no matter how small or simple it may be... and those demons of daily life that swirl in my head are silent.

For now at least, my fly tying bin has gathered very little dust. As the weather turns toward winter's ice and snow, I can take comfort in knowing my tying vise will be there each evening... like an old friend.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Tall Grass

I planned this blog post to be about the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, and while it was an exhilarating experience, some things happened during and since that I need to talk about.
As the show opened, the Festival’s featured artist Don Rambadt stopped by my display to chat. Don’s knowledge of art and the skill with which he plies his trade are truly remarkable. I respect his opinion and when he had such nice things to say about my work, he nearly left me speechless.
The two days following the Festival were spent with sculptor Paul Rhymer. It was the first occasion where I’ve spent much time with Paul and it turned out to be one of those experiences that changed the way I look at the world. When Paul originally invited me to spend a couple of days with him, our plan was to simply do some duck hunting. It sounded like fun and, truth be told, I really wanted to take the opportunity to pick Paul’s brain about his art. As it turned out, the duck hunting was less than stellar, but still a lot of fun… and Paul is like a brother I never knew. We spent a considerable amount of time driving from one place to the next and it gave us a chance to talk about a lot of things… from art and business to life in general. We discussed the Birds In Art exhibit we had both attended in September and Paul quizzed me about the plein air painting workshop held after the opening weekend. I told him how much I learned in those four days, but the best part of the entire experience was the privilege of spending time with James Coe and Larry Barth each evening.
The second morning of our hunt, celebrated sculptor Walter Matia joined us in the marsh looking for wood ducks. We never fired a shot, but after breakfast Walter invited us to drop by his studio that afternoon. So we did. What a treat! I’ve admired Walter and his work for years and it was an extraordinary experience to peruse his studio and talk with him about art. I tried my best to keep my mouth shut and just listen to every word.
By the end of that day, I’d watched Paul pour several bronze castings and spent several hours helping with a huge monument sculpture of a big horn sheep that will be unveiled in Tulsa in February 2012. That evening, exhausted and happy, I sat with Paul and his wife Carolyn having pizza and drinking beer. Paul smiled at me and said, “Jim Coe, Larry Barth, Don Rambadt, and Walter Matia… you’ve been walking in some tall grass lately.”
Tall grass indeed my friend. Tall grass indeed J

Monday, November 7, 2011

Waterfowl Festival 2011

This will be my first adventure to the Easton, MD area and, of course, my first time exhibiting at the Waterfowl Festival. Most of the work is done, yet there are still some odds and ends that will cost me sleep over the next couple of days. I’m still waiting for title plates to come in that were apparently lost in transit, so those paintings have yet to be packed. Chances are slim they will get here before I leave. The inside of the truck needs cleaning… maybe tomorrow. Seven hours of driving (each way) during the peak of the whitetail rut will be a 70mph game of “dodge’em.” My state of arrival in Easton on Wednesday will likely be red-eyed-white-knuckle-teeth-grinding-coffee-induced-hyperexcitement… followed by crash-and-burn exhaustion. Nice that I’m so even-keeled, huh? J

I had planned to take 30 originals with me, but the severely limited display space (2 8x4 panels) means I can show less than half that amount. So I’ve trimmed my show inventory to 23 paintings. It’s still too many, but there are none that I really want to leave behind. The show should be great fun and there’s much to do between now and then. I better get busy!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

"Cruising Deep" 8x10 acrylic

It's been decades since I last attempted to paint a trout. I've been working with some new colors on my palette as of late and they really helped to pull this little painting together. Trout are such handsome and colorful subjects, I can't imagine not painting them more often.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Mouser" 6x8 acrylic

After spending some time painting with plein air master James Coe, I’ve been experimenting with some new techniques. The freedom to apply oil paint and manipulate it for an extended amount of time is something I really enjoyed about the plein air painting. Though I must admit, I found myself rushing to clean brushes, soften edges, etc. fearing the paint will dry… something I’m constantly aware of working with acrylics. Nonetheless, I’ve been pushing myself to work faster with my acrylics, smearing and blending edges before the paint has a chance to set. Not an easy task, but not without reward.

Monday, October 10, 2011

"Storm Patrol" 20x18 acrylic on masonite

I've been working on this one for a few weeks now and it's finally finished. "Storm Patrol" will be part of my inventory for my first visit to the Waterfowl Festival in Easton, MD starting November 10. I will have at least 25 original paintings on hand (but only room to display a fraction) and will switch out the art in my display as my mood (and hopefully sales) dictates. It's still a full month away and I'm already having some anxiety about the show. Still... it should be a blast!

Fall Fly Fishing

I decided to take a break from painting Sunday and spend the day exploring and fly fishing. Of course, it’s never really a day off. My mind is always grinding along in terms of brush and paint, but it’s not an unpleasant grind… especially on a spectacular fall day like yesterday.

The fish were plentiful, though not easy to fool. Still, I caught more than my share and found myself standing in the middle of the small stream grinning on several occasions. The day took on a leisurely pace as I wondered from one spot to the next. And when I wasn’t fishing, there was time to poke around along the stream banks and the edges of farm fields. My camera got quite a workout!By late afternoon, my mind was still fresh, but my legs had just about given up (I remember a time when my brain would give up first!). I stumbled back to the truck and managed not to fall and break anything. It was a great day afield. Now… back to the easel!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Weekend Plein Air

There is something very satisfying about these plein air studies. Maybe it's just because the plein air process is so new to me. Maybe it's because it forces me to look at my subjects in a new way helping me see things I didn't notice before. Maybe it's because it so damned difficult! Whatever the reason, I'm having quite a good time with these studies. I've noticed since I started working like this, I look at the world in terms of paint and brushwork. I like the way trees meet the sky and the leaves and branches lose themselves in soft edges. It's fun to look at something and contemplate how I'd work the problem in paint. I can alos see that this will ultimately affect my acrylic work.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

October... My Favorite Time of Year

With the month of September now shrinking in the rearview mirror, my favorite month is here! There is so much to do and see in October, I wish it could last 120 days instead of just 31. Fall colors will be at their peak soon offering outstanding opportunities to paint and gather reference photos. Fishing is prime as some trout species are showing brilliant spawning colors and runs of fall steelhead are forging upstream. Fall mushrooms are popping up everywhere with my absolute favorite, the sheephead, topping my list of fungal treasures. And lastly, the bow hunting season opens today in Pennsylvania, which means I’ll be spending a considerable amount of time afield.

I love bow hunting for whitetails. It’s just that simple. The craft of true woodsmanship is quickly becoming a lost art. Keen observation, interpretation of deer sign, and anticipating the daytime movements of a creature that is active mostly at night is not easy. Doing it precisely enough to get within easy bow-range can be downright maddening. Then there is the challenge of keeping a year’s worth of nerves and anticipation under control as the moment of truth arrives… well… as I said before. I love it!

There are other benefits to sitting very still in the October deer woods. As the threat of winter snows come with the cooling night air, animal activity reaches a fevered pitch. Coyotes and foxes pass by on their daily patrols. Turkeys cluck and yelp and they scour the forest floor for abundant fall edibles. On the really cold days, tundra swans can be heard as the first squadrons begin to head south. And not a season goes by without an owl trying to land on my leg!

Yes, my October schedule is jammed full of time in the field. So if you don’t hear from me, it’s not because I’m ignoring you. To paraphrase the late Ned Smith, there’s a sign on the studio door that reads, “Gone for the Day.”

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Good Luck Charm

The 9th Annual McKeever Nature Art Show wrapped up earlier today and it was quite a success. It was one of my better shows and I'm quite pleased with the results.
Of course, as I was setting up on Friday, the skies opened up and the rain thoroughly soaked everything outside. I feared this would keep people from attending this small show, but that was not to be. Opening night was pleasantly cool, reasonably dry, and as patrons began to browse the gallery, a barred owl lit in a small tree just outside the window. It seemed as curious about what was going on behind the panes of glass and watched us watching him.
I've heard owls can be good luck. Well, I'm inclined to agree. The owl stayed throughout the weekend and became quite a celebrity. I'm sure I won't be the only artist with an owl image in my display next year!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Returning from Birds In Art

The past eight days have been a blur. So much has happened and there has been almost no time to digest it all. Finally, with my feet up and Otis the Wonder Dog snoring happily beside me, I can take a few minutes and browse the current Birds In Art (BIA) exhibit catalogue.

Of course, the first several pages are dedicated to this year’s Master Wildlife Artist, James Coe. Jim and I have been friends for a few years now and I could not have been more pleased with his selection for Master honors. Jim’s work is the definition of what true art should be. He is an artist in every sense of the word. I was also fortunate to be able to paint with Jim during a plein air workshop he conducted after the opening weekend festivities for BIA. It was my first attempt at plein air painting and I walked away with a firm foundation for my outdoor painting future. Oh… and I also ended up with a decent painting or two J

Moving past the last of the Coe paintings and into the body the catalogue, I’m reminded of the feeling I had walking into the exhibit for the first time. Right away, I was drawn to Paul Rhymer’s barred owl sculpture, then to Chris Bacon’s “Liquidity”. Each piece seemed to hold my attention for longer than it probably should have given the finite duration of my stay. I remember being awed by Matthew Hillier’s glistening brushwork in “Beach Party.” Terry Miller pulled off yet another extraordinary composition in graphite. Larry Barth’s cuckoo carving was so elegantly lifelike it seemed to move beneath the protective glass. It’s hard to imagine an exhibit of this size having such outstanding quality without seeing it in person. There are far too many highlights to mention them all and some of the art literally gave me goose bumps.

There was a buzz in the crowd Saturday morning as some of the artists demonstrated their craft for the public. Debby Kaspari flaunted (though I don’t think that’s a word she would use) her amazing drawing skills to the delight of everyone watching. I never tire of watching her work.

Then there was “the news”. Wednesday evening, Jane Weinke and Shari Schroeder pulled me aside so they could speak to me alone. Jane informed me of the Museum’s decision to purchase my painting, “Shimmer”, for the permanent collection. Then she asked if that would be okay. I nearly fell on the floor! It was the best news I’ve heard in quite some time. It was the perfect end to a perfect trip. It will be weeks before my feet touch the ground again.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Birds in Art 2011

With the Labor Day weekend upon us, my mind is occupied with the details of an upcoming adventure. Like the last four, my 2011 September is highlighted by a journey to Wausau, Wisconsin for the opening of the Birds In Art exhibit. Unlike previous years however, I’ll be sharing the ride with 1991 Master Artist Larry Barth. I’m truly looking forward to picking Larry’s brain during the 24 hour long roundtrip. It will be a pleasant departure from my usual solitary sojourns.

Birds In Art is without question the most prestigious exhibition in the wildlife/nature art world. The fine people at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and the generous Woodson family are gracious and accommodating hosts for this extraordinary event. I’m continually amazed at how smoothly this three-day visit always goes as there must be so many logistical nightmares. Yet 70-some artists along with their guests, hundreds of patrons, and visitors that must number in the thousands all leave the museum doors with wide enthusiastic smiles.

The art is always stunning. There are more than 130 paintings and sculptures from artists at every corner of the globe thoughtfully displayed within the intimate gallery spaces. As an artist, there is a humbling sense of self-analysis while browsing these works. I remember how overwhelmed I was by the whole experience on my first visit and just how incredibly fortunate I felt to have a painting of my own included. There was a moment of “warm and fuzzy” when I first saw my painting in the Museum. It was hard to stop smiling. I also remember exactly how insignificant I felt standing next to the likes of Robert Bateman, Lars Jonnson, Carl Brenders, and Dino Paravano. It was like the world was going to open up and swallow me and no one would notice. I feel a little more like I belong in the exhibit these days, but still get more than just a little starstruck around some of the big guns.

There is an energy to this event that makes it like no other. So many talented, adventurous, hardworking, and likeminded people in one place can’t help but wind you up like a toy store top. During a rare moment of downtime, it’s easy to find yourself wandering around your hotel room with your head spinning.

Of course this year’s Birds In Art excursion has a special meaning. My friend, painter James Coe will be awarded the coveted Master Artist medal during a ceremony held in front of hundreds of distinguished guests. I’ve admired Jim’s work for years and he’s one of the true “good guys” of the art world. I can think of no one more deserving.

Jim will be teaching a 4-day plein air painting workshop immediately following our Opening Weekend festivities. I’m wildly excited about this opportunity. I’ve always wanted to delve into this method of painting and Jim is a true master. Stay tuned for images and updates once I return to PA. The road awaits…. J

Monday, August 22, 2011

My First Love...

I love to draw. Since I was a child (and way before I ever started chasing girls), I’ve always seen any scrap of paper as a potential surface to scratch out an image with a pencil. There’s something very intimate about drawing in graphite or charcoal. This intimacy is compounded when rendering the beauty of the female form. I’ve always admired the skill of those who are able to quickly and accurately capture the essence of a subject with a few well-placed lines. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to sit in on several drawing sessions with some very skilled artists. The wide range of drawing styles among my peers fascinates me. Some are able to whip out truly elegant drawings in a matter of a few minutes, quickly taking down a visual spirit and refining from that rough idea. Others are more deliberate, treating the drawing more as a painting, carefully placing each stroke in the exact correct spot before moving on to the next. Regardless of the technique, it’s something I could watch for hours on end. Drawing after all, is the prerequisite skill needed to visually convey our thoughts. Isn’t that what art is all about? Highly developed drawing skills perpetuate a great deal of freedom in an artist’s work. No longer bound by the inadequacies of less than perfect reference material, the ability to move and manipulate objects to enhance a composition allows the artist to push the creative envelop.
So now that those scraps of paper have evolved into pages in sketch journals, I’m able to see the progress in my skill. By no means a “master” of drawing, each page turned is another step forward. Another journal atop the already considerable collection shows a remarkable growth. Comparing the first and last pages of each book, most don’t even appear to be rendered by the same person! It’s the best way I know to improve my work.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

"Riverside Dames" 10x8 acrylic

I knew when I stumbled upon this scene earlier in the summer, it would eventually end up being a painting. It's just one more good excuse to go fly fishing now and then... there always seems to be great opportunity to gather reference material for my art.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Creekside" 8x6 acrylic

The last few weeks have been a struggle and my productivity has suffered. It seems as though I've done nothing but spin my wheels. So it felt good to finish this small piece last night. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come. Actually, I tried to paint as many of the leaves as possible in this piece with a single brush stroke and thought it turned out pretty well.

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Been a While!

I'm not sure why I haven't felt like posting lately. Maybe the heat and humidity are combining to drag me down a bit. Seems I've been struggling to complete anything other than a handful of quick sketches. In any case, "Shallow Crossing" is 7x5 (acrylic) and hopefully marks the end of this stretch of limited productivity. It felt good to actually finish something and sign it!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"River Rock" 8x6 acrylic

Slightly larger than the 7x5 format I've been working with recently, this is the first time I've worked with 8x6. I really like this size. Incidentally, this painting and the previous one posted on this blog are of the same stretch of Little Sandy Creek... viewed from opposite directions. Fun stuff!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Standing in Dad's Boots" 7x5 acrylic

I'm having a great time painting these small river-scapes. The title for this one is inspired by a friend whose dad spent a lot of time on this stream before he died a few years back.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Snatch the pebble from my hand, Dung Beetle

I was having a pleasant conversation with a couple of clients at a small local show when a young couple approached and said hello. The clients excused themselves and moved on browsing my display while the youthful pair took their place and began chatting me up. I knew the young lady from one of my recent workshops. She had since enrolled in the Fine Arts program at a small university and was anxious to introduce me to her boyfriend, who’d been in the same program for… well… several years. He shook my hand with what I can only describe as disinterest and avoided eye contact with me. We all made small talk for a bit and I was ready to move on to some potential new clients who had just entered the gallery when he finally looked me in the eye and offered this little gem…

“Realism is so easy. It’s really not much of a challenge. That’s why I work in abstract.”

Huh wha? Did he really just say that? Okay, I’ve dealt with know-it-alls before. He’s just testing me, so I tried to remain diplomatic.

“It’s nice that realism comes so easily for you. That doesn’t happen to be the case for me, but it’s not rocket science either. The challenge is taking realism and making it fine art. Not many seem to be able to make that connection. Since I’m working with recognizable subjects, the challenge then becomes making the painting both believable and pleasing to the eye.”

Which is pretty much my artistic philosophy in a nutshell.

“Only someone with an advanced knowledge of art and the complexities of abstraction can do what I do.”

Now he was pushing his luck.

“I’m sure your art is very nice.”

Yes, that was probably a little condescending, but I was really trying to end this conversation.

“I’m sure you don’t understand the complexities of true fine art.”

Okay, now he was just being a little prick.

“So you’re saying it takes a degree to fine art to bullshit people? Maybe it just takes a degree in bullshit. I think I understand that just fine. Enjoy your career asking people if they’d like fries with that.”

Asshole J

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Little Sandy Creek" 5x7 acrylic

I love painting river scenes. It's always nice when all the bushwhacking it takes to get to some of these places pays off with a painting like this... never mind the fly rod that always seems to make the trip

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Prep Work

It's funny... when I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was catch and draw fish... especially trout! I even did a few trout paintings way back then and sold every one of them without much effort. And honestly, they weren't very good. Hmmmm...

A renewed interest in fly fishing and all that goes with it has started the wheels turning and I'm considering a series of trout/fly fishing paintings over the next couple of years. There is a fair amount of good fishing art out there, but not a lot. One of my goals with this endeavor is to create a very genuine window into the fish's world... often attempted, but rarely with much success (including past efforts by yours truly). One of the most challenging aspects to this type of painting is realistic and lifelike fins. The fish's fins are propulsion and stabilizing devices, so they are constantly moving. They have a fluid and transparent look not easy to convey with pencil or paint. Many times fish paintings seem to have a flat lifeless look and I think most of that is due to poorly painted fins (and using taxidermy specimens as reference material). Several dozen "fin drawings" are likely in my immediate future. So the prep work begins. I've been very fortunate to have a close friend with a very nice underwater camera she takes scuba diving. After borrowing the camera and shooting a few hundred images, my view of how things actually look in the water has been fine tuned a bit. A lot of drawing will be a priority before any actual paintings begin to take shape. Sketch books will be bursting at the bindings with trout drawings as the composition process gets underway. I also need to shoot a few hundred more images to better understand the "aquatic" look I have in mind for these works. And that means I'm going to have to spend more time fly fishing. Well shoot!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Cure for Cynical Asshole Syndrome

I finally found out what is wrong with me. Last Wednesday night while watching South Park (yes… I watch South Park), the cartoon doctor on my TV diagnosed Stan with Cynical Asshole Syndrome (CAS). I laughed so hard I woke up the dog! I thought Hey… I’ve got that! And all this time I thought I was just a realist. Apparently, CAS gets worse with age and there is no known cure… until today.

I left the house a little before 6AM with a cup of coffee and navigated the short 15 minute drive through the early morning fog. The turnout by the stream was deserted, as it usually is this time of year and I sat on the back bumper of the truck to slip on my waders. The air was cool and damp and the mosquitoes began their attack immediately. A quick shot of bug spray would keep them from biting for a while. The black flies would be out later in the day, and while the spray keeps them from feeding on my flesh, it does nothing to prevent them from crawling under my glasses and leaping into my eyes. It’s just one of the hazards of a summer day afield.

I walked alone (as sufferers of CAS often do) along the footpath toward the sound of rushing water. At the stream's edge, I stopped by a large pool to string up my fly rod. The sun was up enough for me to see a few trout feeding lazily in the current, but the fog kept any more light than that from filtering through the tall pines. Most of the pool was guarded by the hulk of a fallen tree, in the water for so long only the largest branches were still attached. It was all but unfishable as I’d so clumsily learned the week before. A trout slashed at a tiny mayfly along the far bank, taunting me from the absolute safety of its woody cover. Still, I waded slowly into the pool within a rod length of several fish. Rather than cast, I dipped a tiny nymph as far upstream as I could reach and let it drift back into the tangle of limbs. I small split-shot dragged the fly to the bottom and I watched a trout confidently swim over and eat it. I set the hook and tried to horse the fish (as much as possible with a 3-pound test leader tippet) away from the sunken tree limbs. The fish would have none of it and the hook pulled loose almost as quickly as the fight began. Not a big deal. I was happy to have actually hooked a fish in that spot and knew from the beginning the chances of landing one here were slim at best. I waded out of the pool with a smile and moved on.

The fishing wasn’t exactly easy, but it wasn’t tough either. Most of the morning was spent casting nymphs to visible fish in the deeper shaded pockets of the creek. An 18” rainbow took honors as “big fish” for the day and an even bigger fish shook off shortly after being hooked, but the smallest trout was the one that made me smile the most.

Western Pennsylvania isn’t exactly known for water quality and habitat management. Let’s face it… mining, logging, industry, and urbanization have all taken their toll on a landscape that 150 years ago would’ve made Aldo Leopold gasp with admiration. When I was a boy, many of these local streams still had a fair population wild brook trout and an occasional wild brown too. We’d crawl on our hands and knees through the underbrush and plop a minnow into the water anyplace we could find room. The fish were tiny, but made up for the lack of size with their shear colorful brilliance. The wild innocence with which these fish would fight over our offerings did not go unnoticed, so even in my bloodthirsty youth, I let all but a few of the fish go.

More than a quarter century has past since my days of minnow-plunking exuberance. Surely these tiny aquatic jewels have passed by the wayside. Ah, but not so fast my friend. This day, as I gently unhooked a perfect 5” wild brook trout, the world around me looked its absolute brightest… and so was the grin on my face.

The outing was full of similar personal highlights. A great-horned owl watched me intently from a streamside pine before silently winging off down the creek. A young whitetail buck sporting small velvet-covered antlers stepped into the shallows 30 yards below me and drank from the stream. Once he noticed me standing there, he cautiously made his way around the bend and out of sight. As I was unhooking a nice trout and slipping it back into the water, I was overcome with the sweet smell of Mojitos. Mojitos?! It must’ve been a sensory blast from my bartending past and I soon realized I was standing in a small patch of wild mint. A glorious day, indeed!

It dawned on my as I picked my way through the briars walking back to the truck… my CAS is triggered by American popular culture and those loud, outrageous, idiotic things most others (so I'm told) seem to find entertaining (excluding of course, South Park). The further removed I am from all that mind-numbing noise, the better I feel.

Now, take two Mojitos and call me in the morning J

Friday, June 10, 2011

More on Drawing

There's something very intimate about drawing. It allows me to explore my subjects and models in a way I don't often experience with paint and brush. Before I begin a painting (especially a major piece), I often work out a dozen or more of these quick graphite studies. That way, I understand potential problems and can often mitigate them before painting myself into a proverbial corner.
That being said, I probably draw more for the shear joy of it than any other reason. It's just plain fun! I've always admired those who can accurately convey a thought, concept, or image with sure-handed strokes of a pencil. Even the most elegant graphite drawings still have an earthy, almost primal feel to them. Still, I find the quick studies found in artists' private sketchbooks most appealing. The drawings not meant to be a "finished product," but to serve as a visual note taking process... those are the ones I never tire of seeing.
All you young artists out there... NEVER STOP DRAWING! There is absolutely no substitute for good drawing skills and it's easy to spot those lacking in this department.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Stubble and Snow" 6x4 acrylic

On days like today when the air temperature is over 90°F, sometimes it helps to work on a snow scene. I can mentally put myself in that cold January day. It also helps to have a good air conditioner in the studio!

"Sunny Lucifer" 6x4 acrylic

I really enjoy working on these small studies. I seem to learn a lot when I get to work so quickly. I wanted to capture the glow of the sun as it beams through the Lucifer blossoms. Reds are always a challenge for me when painting with acrylics.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A Trout Trifecta

I don’t fish on weekends. I don’t like crowds that seem to find their way to western Pennsylvania’s outdoor recreation areas, so I usually stay at the studio and work… except for today.

There’s been so much rain and flooding this spring, the streams have rarely been near fishable levels. With almost no rain for the past few days, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I was up with the sun and out the door with a cup of coffee and a new fly rod I’d been dying to give a workout. When I got to the stream, I took my time. It had been a while since I last fished for trout (other than steelhead) and I really wasn’t sure what to expect. I had my camera gear along, so if nothing else, I could shoot some reference photos for a painting or two.

The water was very clear, but there was still a decent amount of flow. I scanned the small creek looking for anything “fishy” and it wasn’t long before I spotted the give-away shadow of a trout close to the rock covered bottom. Then along the far bank, another sipped a fly from the surface film. So the fish were there. I just needed to figure out how I was going to catch one. This small run was protected on every side with low hanging tree limbs and a mesh washed in deadfalls. All great trout cover, but not so good for knocking the rust off your fly casting. After a few clumsy attempts with a small dry fly, I managed to keep from losing any flies, but still spooked every fish in the area. It was time to move upstream a bit and try my luck in a place where every cast wouldn’t be such a challenge.

Just around the next bend, a riffle cut in close to the far bank forming deep cut. Exposed roots protected the holding water like long fingers reaching down toward the bottom. The cast would be easy enough, but keeping the fly out of the roots during the drift would be a challenge. I clipped off the dry fly and selected a small bead-head nymph. This was a little more into my comfort zone and I felt a little better even as I tied it to my tippet. With all the snags, there was no way to get my fly into the prime holding water. My only hope was to get the fly close and hope to coax a trout from the cover. Of course, my first cast was woefully short as I chickened out and pulled back from the snarl of roots. My next was only slightly better, but before the fly got halfway down, a trout charged out of the roots and ate it. HA! As I played the trout away from its tangled lair, I caught myself laughing out loud and had to look over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching. As luck would have it, I never saw another fisherman all that morning. A rare Saturday indeed!

In most places, the trout were visible and site fishing was possible. In others, I had to watch my leader carefully to detect a strike. Numerous rainbows and brightly color browns fell victim to my tiny fly. The last trout I caught was a healthy brookie, completing my “Trout Trifecta” and capping a perfect morning. As I hiked back to the truck at noon, I wondered if I’d be able to quit grinning long enough to eat lunch J