Thursday, September 29, 2011

Creative renewal = classical realism (part 1)

Another unfinished painting, a self-portrait using the sight-size method.   I'm not sure why I didn't finish... I think the model stopped showing up.

I’ve shared an interest in realistic painting and cartooning since I was a boy, growing up in Troy, Ohio.  My career has taken me in both directions but usually in the direction of cartooning with a bit of added realism.  Every once in a while I get a feeling of discontent, wanting to paint but having a full schedule of commercial work ahead of me.  There have been times when I just have to take a break from my illustration assignments to look for a creative boost. 

That’s what happened nearly 20 years ago.  I was looking through my American Artist and the Artist’s magazines for some inspiration.  I could always count on finding excellent articles featuring some really talented painters on the pages of those magazines.  One artist that caught my attention was Richard Lack, a painter in Minnesota.  I started reading about the classical realism group of artists and the atelier system of art training.  I eventually called Mr. Lack on the phone and spoke to him about his work and asked if there were any of his students in the Ohio area.  He was very helpful and gave me a name of a former student, living in the Cincinnati area. 

Carl Samson is an immensely talented painter and I lived a few hours drive away from his studio.  I called Carl and spent a day picking his brain about classical realism, the traditions of painting and looking at some of his excellent artwork.  He was conducting a weekend workshop as an introduction to drawing from the cast, portrait painting (using the sight-size method) and landscape painting, plein-air.  I signed up for the workshop and found that Samson was an excellent teacher, sharing a wealth of information and history as he demonstrated each direction.  I was inspired, to say the least.

I returned to Columbus and set up a still life in my basement.  Using the sight-size method, I started to paint.  I would work on the still life between illustration assignments. Unfortunately, the tomatoes that I used in my still life began to age and change color during the process.  I guess fruit and vegetables aren’t the best thing to paint if you can’t do it quickly. It was a mess and I had to improvise to complete the painting.

Still life with (aging) tomatoes.

Next, I set up my French easel on the bank of the Scioto River, just south of the O’Shaughnessy Reservoir, in Dublin, Ohio.  I spent a few hours on the rocky edge of the Scioto River, capturing a view looking up-stream.  I was having a great time, really focused on the process.  I didn’t notice the water rising until it was surrounding my easel with my paint box nearly floating, next to my feet.  It seems that the O’Shaughnessy dam had been opened for some reason and the rocky, river edge was disappearing under the rising water.  I’m sure that Carl would have come prepared with waders and finished the painting, partly submerged.  Anyway, I have an unfinished river painting from that experience.

Landscape with dam water rising (from the O'Shaughnessy Reservoir, just up river).

Through the years, I’ve used some of what I learned from Carl Samson and others painters, in my illustration art.  I’ll write about that next time.

I think every artist needs a creative boost, once in a while.  I enjoy creating art for illustrations but wish I had more time to pursue painting, without deadlines, art direction and having to consider a commercial format.  That’s my goal.  Balance.

Check out Carl’s work…

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I am really excited about my newest book, Acoustic Rooster and His Barnyard Band by Kwame Alexander (published by Sleeping Bear Press).  It's a project that allowed me to combine my art, a music theme and humor... it doesn't get any better than that!

Kwame put together a great little story with some very funny characters, including: Duck Ellington, Bee Holiday, Thelonious Monkey, Ella Finchgerald and Mules Davis. He also included a glossary at the end of the book that describes the actual Jazz musicians that inspired the book characters and other jazz vocabulary.

As I researched each Jazz character, I found that all of them had something I could use in my art that would tie the book character to the actual Jazz great. Thelonious Monk wore some pretty cool hats and I added one of them to my monkey character.  Some photos showed Duke Ellington wearing a top hat and playing a light colored piano, so I used that information when designing "Duck".  Miles Davis wore sunglasses in a lot of photos that I found,  so "Mules" sported some jazzy sunglasses. Each one wore something that I could include in my artwork to reflect the actual Jazz character.

The paintings were created with oil paints on Bristol board. I started with a pencil drawing, then a burnt umber acrylic underpainting, followed by a complete coating of acrylic gloss medium to seal the paper from the oils. After that, several layers of oil paint were added to complete the image. Lastly, a final clear coat of Liquin was applied to create a more uniform paint surface.

The Rooster hits the bookshelves this month so check him out!

Here are two really great videos from Kwame... very funny stuff!!