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

Thursday, June 2, 2011

James Coe Plein Air Workshop

Last week I booked a spot in James Coe's September 11-14 workshop. If you're not familiar with Jim's work... you should be! Please check out this link http://jamescoe.com/ He will be awarded the Master Artist medal at the Woodson Art Museum this year during the Birds In Art opening weekend. Not only is Jim an outstanding painter (one of my absolute favorites!!!), but he's also a great person... one of the true "good guys" of the art world.

If you're an artist looking for a way to take your painting skill to the next level, I highly recommend participating in this workshop. The instruction will be based on "plein air" painting... a skill Jim is quite well known for... and will give participants a chance to experience some of central Wisconsin's outdoor charm. There will be time at the end of the workshop to browse the prestigious Birds In Art exhibit, as well. If you don't come away from this experience brimming with inspiration, well... there may be no hope for you!

For more information, download the workshop brochure here.