Friday, November 24, 2017

two hundred eighty-nine

This beautiful home is a blank canvas.
It was a tossup between a squid and a peacock.  But before which animal was decided, I had to answer the question as to whether or not I would paint a mural on Sara's house.  "Hell yeah," I said.  And with that we started thinking about the upcoming project for a private dwelling in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta, GA.

This beautiful taped paper is a blank canvas.
Man, peacock with the eyes and the colors and the feathers or the three hearted squid with undulating tentacles possibly wrapping the house.  Such a tossup here.  Maybe both?  They both have beaks.  Peaquid.  Squeecock.  Erm, we decided on the peacock, because it reminds me more of Sara; her colorful life; and the mythological reference to Hera and Argus and 100 eyes - a majestic symbol of our friendship.  Oh and her old bungalow seemed to be painted just right for the addition of a colorful bird.

This beautiful design is the accepted version.
A couple of preliminary roughs were sent and accepted prior to traveling to ATL.  Time was of the essence -- winter weather would soon be upon us.  So if a mural was to be painted, the Fates would need to be kind, and allow us to arrive at a satisfactory design quickly.  The bulk of the design happened while I was down in Atlanta.   I arrived on a Monday morning.  We worked on the design pretty much everyday until Wednesday at 11am.  There were breaks in there somewhere to take in the nearby graffiti; enjoy the trampoline with her family during the Thanksgiving Break; and share a bottle of Four Saints Brewing Company's "Helping Hand Of Ginger Imperial Wit" beer.

Nothing like a little bit of pressure to derive the design -- we got the green light late Wednesday morning, procured the supplies, and started painting on Wednesday afternoon.  Drawing to scale the 32nds and 64ths of inches was the most time consuming.  I gave others a headache just watching me.
This beautiful team paints the (left) canvas.

These beautiful rusted cans inspect the front left canvas.
The rest is a blur.  A colorful blur of smiles, community help, and flying paint.  We started cutting in the large sections on the old wooden clapboard siding.  But let me back up a step -- Sara worked from home this week.  She had already pressure washed the house for the upcoming mural.  She made and received all sorts of business calls (she sets up local restaurants with food supplies -- a busy time during Thanksgiving Week).  As a co-parent she also hosted her children and neighborhood children throughout the week.  She also hosted said artist and his design meetings -- providing constant coffee, food, Dark-N-Stormys, and feedback.  Sara also put together a Thanksgiving meal for 15.  See what I mean by the goddess Hera reference?  And all fortified with laughter, grace, power, and elegance.  Yes, she made it look easy - and it was quite inspiring. 

The beautiful team assembles on turkey carving day.
Next thing I knew it was Wednesday evening.  The sun was about to set.  Work lights appeared and illuminated.  A space heater was ignited.  While stretched out on a ladder she hollered at me from the ground, "support is on the way."  Several more brushes got wet as I met neighborhood friends here to be part of the magic.  Painting a mural is one thing.  Painting a mural on clapboard, in the dark, and creatively directing others for the first time - is another matter.  Oh but the reassurance came from the patron.  "Les, you are so good at figuring things out on the fly and using all the resources available to you."  That's coming from the co-parenting, high volume salesperson, who parks in the middle of a chaotic train depot parking lot, because she can -- and then directs traffic to not only get her car out of the jam -- but others as well -- and looks absolutely, naturally fabulous while doing it.  Mad-situational-can-do-high-functioning-woman.

The beautiful almost-completely visible canvas.
They say the finished painting is but merely the residue of the creative process.  I'd like to cite this experience as a reference to this concept.  Yes, the mural is pretty cool.  It integrates vibrant imagery and color into the existing structure.  Image and house now coexist  and the viewer has to walk about the outside of the house to experience the entire mural.  But the process -- 50 hours of designing and redesigning during the week of the painting and previous R&D from within the local library.  And then all that magic during those hours of painting -- neighborhood folk stopping by on their walk to inquire.  Catching a glimpse of a car slowing down to take a better look.  The ethereal passing 'oohs and aahs.'  The folks at the paint store getting jazzed when they hear about the project and one employee's discovery that her children play with Sara's.  Constant feel good music from Sam Cooke, Leon Bridges, and Alabama Shakes  while painting with others.  Catching up with dear friends, and making new ones.  Sharing brush techniques with others from 20 years of painting and learning about new ways to paint too.  And finally, hearing from my patron how happy she is to know that she will walk up to this house and see the residue of these experiences.  Every. Day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

two hundred eighty-eight

One of the practice sketches

“What you got under the tarp, Pete?”

"-- a 1967 Chevrolet Impala Coupe.  It's my first car."  We peer underneath and I get a whiff of something good: great American auto art.

“Lemme draw it,” I say.  He replies that he’s got one better than that, and shoves a heavy, metal, super detailed, to-scale smaller version of the same model year.  Also an SS, 427 cubic inch, eight cylinder.  It's not better.  It's not his first car -- the one with loads of stories and emotion, and in that beautiful Marina Blue body color.  But that life sized car will not share any stories if it posed for me.  It would not fit in my studio either.  

This is a side project for me.  Draw a car from life.  True, it's a model car, but tasks like this help me stay tuned up.  Life drawing is great practice.  The artist must use his/her facilities to transform a three dimensional object into a two dimensional drawing.  That's easy, right?  You'd be surprised how many artists don't do that.  They may make tight renderings, but they're not always using life drawing skills.

The final approach begins with a pencil sketch
Check this out: look down the street sometime.  Close one eye and look at a fixed scene. Then alternate closing and opening the opposite eye.  You see slightly two different scenes.  Objects slightly shift from the left to the right eye.  Open your two eyes together and you get stereo vision.  And when you draw from life, you are translating that stereo vision into a pencil drawing that's in two dimensions.  That's what a camera does when you take a picture (you close one eye to make a photo, right?).  So, artists who work from a photo often are using the camera as a tool to transcribe the 3D data into 2D.  And artists have been doing this with the camera obscura and other pinhole-type devices since, heck, forever.

But for me, it's fundamentals -- practice: draw from life.  No cameras.  No rulers.  Yeah -- the power of observation.  It takes longer, but by studying form one has a better understanding of form.  Took me several months to create the 12" x 14" Impala drawing.  That's not because it was that technically demanding.  It was practice.  I did it in my spare time.  And I worked on the rendering when I felt the desire to work on a tight little drawing -- certainly not the approach the big gun artists employ.  Or do they?  Dunno.  

laying in the white marker
I drew the car several times: in profile; three-quarters; with pencil; and with ink pen.  The goal here is to get a more firm understanding of the object.  How many sections compose the grille face?  How are the circular wheels distorted into ovals in perspective?  What is the most favorable position of the car to feature the chrome and high contrast, and dark tires & undercarriage in the most dynamic way?  See, a photograph where all that is already sussed out is much, much easier to work from than actually learning the form and composing the drawing.  However, as a professional visual communicator I feel I must have a firm grasp on the comprehension of the individual components of an object in order to tell a visual story -- or at the very least be able to create an illustration full of competent strokes from practice, practice, practice.  A jazz musician is not improvising a solo if he is reading notes.  A jazz musician is unable to give a solo if she doesn't know what the chords are or what notes are in the chords.  Practice, practice, practice.

the final artwork with sun ray smiles
For the final rendering I chose a toned, neutral gray paper.  I also set a goal to use a black india ink felt pen and white acrylic marker.  Why?  It is important to me for this exercise to re-acquaint myself with mid-tones (paper), highlights (white acrylic), and dark tones (the black pen) and make them all play nice in a dynamic way.  Its a technique challenge to self.  Along the way I also want the drawing to not look 'labored'.  And with marker, the stroke must be crisp with each pass or it looks labored -- like you don't know exactly where to put the stroke -- like the artist is searching.  (Hence all the aforementioned practice drawings.  I gotta know that form.)  But, yes, working from a photograph would be much easier -- boring, and less creative, but easier.

Towards the end of the final drawing, the marks become fewer between the minutes.  The strokes begin to carry more weight.  Less is more, more is less.  And then there were a couple of times I'd make a stroke and then walk away for an hour or so -- or even over night.  Sure, it may sound a bit fussy -- but that's how you keep from overworking an image.

When Pete, the owner of Absolute Automotive Garage in Asheboro saw the finished drawing, he asked to put it up on display in the waiting room of his shop.  And so it was placed not far from a gorgeous coffee table book celebrating the muscle car art of Chevrolet.  And yes, my drawing isn't perfect.  It is an honest impression of my desire to render and take down the clean lines, bits of highlight, and large angles of a great American art - and glad to see this illustration is among friends.             

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

two hundred eighty-six

Each Four Saints Brewing Company's Art Wall Artist gets to design his/her own merchandise.  Limited edition merchandise.  For sale.  And each artist will be paid a portion of the profits (if any).  I am not the gambling type - but this is the risk I pitched to FSBC as part of the Art Wall Project.  The brewery owners, Joel and Andrew accepted.  The five artists who were selected for the year and a half long project also accepted.  Now it's about designing support merch to go with each artist's main project - that 11 foot wall in the taproom.  Each artist was selected based on the strength of their proposal to design an original artwork to be installed & on exhibit for three months in the taproom.  They also had those merch items to design.

A variety of art forward products emerged.  Every artist went with the limited edition Art Wall t-shirt.  Each design was innovative -- and FSBC sold out of almost each shirt.  Some of the other art products included a custom beer stein, full color stickers, posters, and then it was my turn.

Thanks, The Wearhouse for the tight shirts!
First off, the t-shirt.  My Art Wall Project featured an image of a man who is being supported by others for the first time.  He has angel wings made of others' hands.  The title of that 10ft monolith is "Helping Hands Give You Wings."  Read more about it in post 284.  That large artwork originated as the anchor piece for a series called "Looking Up."  Each painting from that series explored how we use what we have to go forward in life.  Read more about that series in post 259.   For the Art Wall Project the initial sketch found in my sketchbook served as the forthcoming t-shirt design.  It is rough, raw, and exists as flowing, linear pen marks.

A significant element of this Art Wall Project was to incorporate the community into comprehending the components of the creators' art process.  I took that to heart.  Hell, I proposed that element in the first place.  And so with the Les III t-shirt design the taproom guests could witness the alpha and the omega of the creative process: the initial spark of inspiration now on a t-shirt, and the big ole motif on a 10ft canvas.  It's not important that the viewer draws the connection between the two on their own.  There's a story bridging the two for those in the know to offer to those coming in for a beverage and (possibly) a creative massage (and message).  I guess it kinda leans into that conceptual, performative art realm - but it's backed by the hey-isn't-visual-art-supposed-to-communicate-visually notion that I favor and adore.  The backstory.  It must have worked -- the majority of the t-shirts sold in the first week.  FSBC ordered more.  They sold too.  Maybe it was good design?  Home court advantage? 

My hands tingle just thinking about all the fresh ginger.
As for the second merch design, I asked if I could wet my whistle with beer.  I proposed collaborating with the head brewer, Andrew Deming to create a special beer.  Furthermore, that limited edition beer would be available in special 32 oz. growlers.  And I'd like to further offer a creative connection with the community by drawing one-of-a-kind images on each bottle.  In the taproom.  During business hours.  Wish granted.

Andrew and I made a pilgrimage to Greensboro to purchase 13 pounds of fresh ginger root.  We worked together in the brewhouse and brewed the 30 gallon batch on a small custom system - after peeling all the ginger, of course (thanks, Mark!).  Andrew showed me how to place the live yeast cultures into the batch along with all the other tasks that roll into the beer making process.  We ended up with an imperial ginger wit.  The official name is "A Helping Hand Of Ginger Wit" and it tops out at 8.5 alcohol by volume. 

The deadline for the the various elements to this rather unique project kept getting pushed back.  We were charting our own course and many folks were helping with the process - including label designers, label printers, and the NC ABC Board.  This was but one small project on everybody's full to-do list.  The six month delay helped though -- it provided me more time to work out the kinks of creating a stable mark making process on slick, cold/condensate-able, glass bottles.  And allowed me to create the 50 unique drawings at a bit more enjoyable pace in the taproom and thus encourage people to watch on, ask questions, and contribute to that creative community involvement element.

Progress of the process.  Image by Katherine Hagen
For instance Wayne, a FSBC taproom regular stood over my shoulder one evening and watched me draw on several of the bottles .  It was about Oktoberfest time.  He mentioned he'd buy a bottle of the ginger beer if I'd customize the bottle figure - make him wear lederhosen and fashion him with a Tyrolean hat.  Done.  Sold.  And then Wayne began to share with taproom patrons about his art experience.  Others did as well - one guy, Eddie asked if he could buy a specific numbered bottled for his wife's upcoming birthday.  Yes.  Dr. David asked if I'd draw an image of his daughter on a bottle.  Yes.  Lou wanted a guy wearing goggles and an old aviator's leather hat.  The stories go on.  I hoped they were shared over the bottles of beer art too.  Makes me a bit cheery.