Saturday, May 19, 2018

Wedding Landscape

In my last post, I mentioned that I was going to do a small watercolor at a wedding near Cashiers, NC.  That turned into an interesting experience.  Cashiers is in a spectacularly beautiful region high in the mountains of southeast North Carolina.  The area is filled with golf courses, vacation homes, and seasonal businesses.  The couple getting married had asked me to do a small watercolor of the setting for their wedding.  It wasn't to include the bride, groom, or other wedding participants.  I told them that I could do a plein air landscape and have it matted for them during the reception.

Once I arrived at the site, I saw why they wanted the location.  It's a place called Lonesome Valley, which I learned is the largest box canyon east of the Mississippi.  The valley floor was lush with the early-spring light greens of the trees, while the canyon walls to the northeast were sheer granite walls hundreds of feet high.  Wow!  I set up in a place where the wedding guests could come by to see what I was doing, while still giving me a clear view of the valley and the granite walls.  When I started, it was a beautiful day.

That changed.  The wedding was scheduled for 5 pm, but at 4:30 some thick clouds rolled in.  I checked the weather radar and, of course, there was a single cell of rain coming right towards us.  Just before 5, it opened up.

I took down my easel and quickly relocated to the shelter of the reception hall to finish up the artwork.  The rain eased up and the ceremony went off a half hour late.  Not too bad, considering.  The bride, groom, and guests all seemed to love the artwork ... at least, I had lots of questions and compliments on it.  So here's the finished work:

The good people at Lonesome Valley said that they welcome artists to come paint the valley.  I'm not a landscape artist, but this is definitely a place I'd like to go back to and paint!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Wedding Season

The spring wedding season is on us and I've been busy.  On Saturday, April 21st, I went to Cary, NC (outside Raleigh) to do a live wedding painting for a wonderful young couple.  A week later, I was in Pilot Mountain, NC (north of Winston-Salem) to do another live wedding painting, this time for the owner of the venue.  The next weekend, I was at the Biltmore, here in Asheville, to do a live painting of the first dance at the reception for another young couple.  This coming Saturday, I'll be doing a small watercolor at a reception near Cashiers, in southwest North Carolina.

That's a lot of painting!

So, are the first three done yet?  No.  The first one is very near completion.  I'm making small changes to bring the overall finish up to where I'm comfortable with signing it.  Two or three days of work and I think it'll be done.  The second painting is about midway there, but it has a long way to go.  The third is still at the starting line: it has a rough block-in done at the reception, but that's it.

Every painting is different.  It has its own personality, it has its own things it wants to say, and it comes together in its own unique way.  The first of these paintings has been very cooperative from the get-go.  It has a very formal structure and things naturally fell into place.  It seems like my job has been to make sure all the details are executed properly.  The second painting is a bit more exuberant and lively.  I feel like it needs some guidance and creative suggestions to bring out the best in it, but it really wants to come to life.  The third?  It's been fighting me since the first marks on paper, even before the paint.  Everything has been a struggle: the composition, perspective, placement of the bride and groom, the lighting, the selection of photos to use for their poses, color, everything.  However, by the end of the reception, the painting started to come together, and I have a plan for how I want it to develop.  But since paintings are living things, and this one seems to have a rather independent mind, it may go in an entirely different way.  We'll see.

And NO, you can't see any progress photos.  Sometimes making a painting is like making sausage: the process is ugly but the end result is delicious.

So I'm off to the studio to sling some paint.  I'll post photos of the completed paintings when they're done.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Back in Court ... as an Artist, NOT Defendant!

I got to do another courtroom artist gig with WLOS on Friday.  Wanda Greene is the former County Manager for Buncombe County, NC.  She and her son Michael have been under investigation by the FBI for misappropriation of county funds, and on Friday, they were arraigned in federal court.  The case is a Big Deal in these parts and a great many people have been following it closely.

WLOS called me early in the week to ask if I was available.  Courtroom sessions are fun, so I made myself available, and hooked up with the reporters (Aaron Adelson and Lauren Brigman) and cameramen outside the building Friday morning.  They professionally ambushed the two defendants as they arrived with their attorneys.  A bit later, we went into the building to get situated in the courtroom.

When I arrived, another case was wrapping up.  Seating was almost non-existent, so I stood for a few minutes trying to decide what to do.  Then the judge basically told me to sit down, and the only place available was right next to Wanda Greene.  Her attorney came in a couple of minutes later and sat on the other side of me.  So there I was, drawing materials in my lap, sitting right between the defendant and her attorney!  Awwwkkwaaaaarddd!

Then the first case was over and we all repositioned ourselves.  I wound up in one of the seats in the jury box.  It was great for getting drawings of Wanda, her attorney, and the judge, but Michael was on the far side of them and all I could see was the top of his head.  Time to get to work!

As it turned out, I had more than enough time to get the drawings done.  The judge is a very methodical guy and is known for reading every bit of an indictment.  This time, reading every bit meant reading every item that Wanda and Michael (allegedly) purchased with county funds.  Every item.  Every item on a list 38 pages long.




It took an hour and 45 minutes.

Wanda and Michael (allegedly) didn't spend the money on big-ticket items.  It read like anybody's shopping lists for a period of many years: pizza, a Far Side book, paper towels, lingerie from Walmart, a couple of iPhones, some thumb drives, and so on.  You'd think that if somebody was going to risk their careers by embezzling, they'd go for the gold: Cartier wristwatches, Mercedes cars, trips to Monte Carlo, things like that.  Nope.  Walmart stuff.

So here are the drawings that I produced for WLOS:

The Judge

Wanda Greene and her attorney

Michael Greene

 In Court

Don't know if I'll be called back when the trial actually begins.  We'll see.  The saga continues ...

Sunday, April 08, 2018


Artists, do you ever go back and revise an earlier artwork?  I will, on occasion.  I just did it today, which is what brings it to mind.  Sometimes it results in a better work.  More often, though, the revision totally fails and it winds up in the trash can.  Today, I think it worked.

One of my charcoal and pastel figure drawings was bugging me.  We had Amy model for one of our Wednesday night life sessions back in December, and my scribbles that night seemed to be kinda/sorta working.  The next day, I did some touchup and called it complete.  It's been tacked to the studio wall since then, alongside other works that I liked.

Except it kept bugging me.  Here's how it looked:

The shoulders were too square, the torso too long, and the color pretty weak, and I didn't like the way the color faded out.  But I had other things on my plate and they took priority.

So, today, I had time to work on it.  A couple of years ago, Amy and I did a photo shoot in the studio. I found a couple of photos from that session that could, with some changes, be used as references to possibly fix this work.  Or ruin it altogether.  Either way, I considered it to be substandard, so it needed to change or be tossed.  I worked on it a couple of hours and here's how it looks now:

This revision works much better.  The shoulders feel more natural, the color is richer, the torso is shorter, and it just feels stronger all the way around.  I'm much happier with it.  What do you think?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Completing a Wedding Painting

In a previous post, I wrote about the start of the wedding painting for Jason and Sarah.  I had a lot of fun that day, both at the ceremony and then at the reception.  The interaction with the couple and their guests was great, the ceremony and location were beautiful, and the reception was PARTAYYY!!  So here's how the painting looked at the end of the reception (click on it for a larger image):

Not too bad for just a few hours worth of work.  But notice: Jason's head is too big, the bride's mother on the left is turned away from us so that we only see the back of her head, and the rest of the people in the painting are only roughly defined.  This needs a lot of work before I would put my signature on it.

To answer your question, yes, I work from photographs.  This couple wanted a painting of the moment they started back down the aisle at the end of the ceremony.  (I have since learned that the proper term for that is the "recessional").  But that doesn't mean that I take one or two quick snaps and that's it.  No, I took a bunch before the guests started arriving, getting in the mountains in the distance, the flowers, the petals on the ground, the guests as they were arriving, then many of each of the party as they entered, including the bride and groom.  I took a bunch of the overall crowd as they were standing and sitting.  I took some wide shots and some closeups from both sides of the setup.  As the key moment approached, the wedding photographer and I positioned ourselves at the end of the aisle and shot almost non-stop as Jason and Sarah turned and walked down the aisle.  In all, I shot over 220 photos.  Then I headed down to the reception venue to get started on the painting.

Over the next three weeks, I used over 20 of those photos to develop the painting.  I used four different ones for Sarah, two for Jason, one or two each for the bride's and groom's mothers, one or two each for each of the bridesmaids and grooms' men, two for the flowers, two for the petals, and a couple for the distant mountains.  And a few more, here and there, for specific details.  Those photos came from everywhere in the collection.  That's why I take a lot of reference photos: you never know which ones will be important when you're in front of the easel.

So here's how the painting turned out:

It came a long way from the first night, didn't it?  Just about every square inch has been re-painted, sometimes multiple times.  Jason came in pretty quickly.  Sarah gave me fits.  I didn't like that Jason was looking at her while she was looking out at the viewer, so I turned her head towards him.  The first try didn't work, so I scrubbed it out and tried a different angle.  That one worked better, but it took a while to get it from "some anonymous blonde woman" to "Sarah".  I turned Sarah's mom ninety degrees so we could get her face and expression and brought Jason's mom up to a good level of finish.  Normally, I don't worry too much about getting likenesses for the rest of the people, but this time, all the figures became recognizable pretty quickly.  Then it was a matter of going around, tightening up the details, correcting colors and values, all while trying to keep the lively brushwork and avoid over-working it.  When it was close, I sent Sarah and Jason a photo and asked for input.  They recommended some changes to make it look more like Sarah, and when I sent them the second proof photo, they said I nailed it.

So right now, the painting is in the studio.  I've been letting it dry for a few days.  It'll head out to Jason and Sarah early next week.  And then it's on to the next challenge ...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Crowdsourcing Titles

I'll be the first to tell you that I am terrible at coming up with titles for artworks.  Just look at my current series of charcoal and pastel works.  They have titles like "Amy #14", "Troy #3", and "Jennifer #6".  Almost as bad are my landscape paintings: "French Broad River Rapids".  Not much there to inspire your curiosity, is there?  I have, on occasion, come up with some pretty good titles, but by and large, I don't.  Most titles are a descriptive word or two, and that's it.

Recently, I completed a new painting and could not come up with a decent title to save my soul.  Calling it "Astrid #1" just seemed wrong.  So I decided to ask the world for recommendations.  And the world responded.  Here's the painting:

So what would YOU title it?

I got lots of suggestions.  Most of them were about as bad as my own ideas. "Weary Woman", "Lost in Thought", "The Striped Chair", "Contemplating the Dreams".  None of them came close to the idea of the young woman that I had in my head while this painting was in progress.

After this had been going a while, somebody piped in with the question, "what did you decide?"  I thought about that for a while and finally decided that was the painting's title.  "What Did You Decide?"  It's perfect.  This young lady is looking directly at the viewer, so there's some kind of interaction ongoing.  From the pose, she's at ease: no woman would adopt such an unselfconscious position with somebody she didn't know.  And the question could go either way: she could be asking it of the viewer (you), or you could be asking it of her.  Whichever version you prefer, it reinforces the direct communication with her that is apparent from the pose and gaze.  Perfect.

Actually, many of the best titles for my paintings have come from other people.


This painting is an update, of sorts, of Michelangelo's Pieta.  I was stuck on that title until I asked the owner of the gallery where it was exhibited, and without a second's hesitation, she said "Lament".

Saddle Up

My initial thought was to title this one with the man's name.  Real original, huh?  But I asked him what he thought and he immediately said "Saddle Up".  That was what the Marine sergeants in Viet Nam said when it was time for the squad to move out.  "Saddle up, ladies!".


I had finished this satirical painting and was casting about for a name.  An artist friend took one look and suggested "Pleasantville".  Perfect match.

Okay, now for one of the very few examples of a title that I came up with, all by myself, that I think is pretty good:

You Don't Understand

That's part of the theme of the painting, obviously, but a descriptive title wouldn't cut it.  Speaking from personal experience here, the deployed guy doesn't understand everything that the wife/girlfriend has to deal with while he's gone, and she has no clue as to what he has to see and do every day.  And you, the viewer, don't understand what they're going through, either.

So, artists: how do you title your artworks?  Have you tried crowdsourcing ideas for titles, and if you have, how did it turn out?

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Jason & Sarah Wedding Painting: It's A Start

On Saturday, I started another wedding painting.  This was for Jason and Sarah, a wonderful couple who wanted a painting of their ceremony.  More specifically, Sarah wanted a painting of the moment they started back down the aisle as a newly married couple.  This young lady had a very clear idea about the artwork that she plans on keeping for her entire life!

The wedding was held at The Ridge, which is an outdoor venue in Madison County, northwest of Asheville.  This is a spectacular location in the North Carolina mountains.  I gotta say, I was skeptical of the choice.  I mean, early March in this area is still winter.  But we were lucky: clear skies, slight wind, and temperatures in the low 50's - chilly but not cold.  I went out for a reconnaissance mission a couple of weeks in advance so I'd know where it was and to start thinking about how to compose the painting.  I also ran a recon mission to The Venue in downtown Asheville, where the reception would be.  The managers and staff there were great to work with and we quickly determined where I would set up and paint during the reception.

On the Big Day, I loaded up all my stuff at the studio and headed down to The Venue to set up.  Then it was back to the studio for a quick change to wedding-appropriate clothes before driving out to The Ridge.  I hooked up with the other staff and event people and got ready for the ceremony.  I had my camera with me to take a ton of reference photos to paint from later.  The ceremony itself went fairly quickly (fortunately so, since the temperature was starting to drop) and was quite beautiful.  So how many reference photos do I need to make one painting?  In this case, 228.  You can never have too many references.

The moment the ceremony was over, I hightailed it back to The Venue to get started.  The first thing to do was to go through the photos and identify the ones I wanted to use.  I found one primary and a couple of alternates for Sarah, and one primary and a couple of alternates for Jason.  The primaries were the ones that had the figures in the most expressive positions, while the alternates had specific details that I wanted to use.  Sarah and Jason's primary photos were different, but they were taken only a second or so apart - things change fast when the subjects are moving!  In addition to these reference photos, I wound up using quite a few others for various elements: the sky, distant ridge lines, flowers, bridesmaids, grooms' men, and so on.

So once the reference photos were selected, it was a matter of putting something together on canvas.  I approached this in pretty much the same way that I approach any alla prima painting: find the focus, go for the big shapes, and get some feeling or expression in it from the beginning.  Leave the details alone.  The difference between a studio painting and a live wedding painting, though, is that I'm doing all this with 150 people coming by to see how it's progressing!  That may sound stressful, but it's actually a lot of fun.  This was a very lively crowd and they had great responses and inputs.  And, as I heard later, I was all over SnapChat, with everybody snapping photos and posting them.

I painted all throughout the reception until it ended and everybody was shoo'd out the door.  Then it was time to pack up and take everything back to the studio.  I went in to the studio on Sunday to put everything away and get a clear look at the painting.  Actually, I think it was a good start.  So here 'tis:

If you click on the image, you'll see a larger version of it.

Now I have two to four weeks of work ahead of me.  I'll refine Sarah and Jason quite a bit.  Jason's head needs to shrink, for example.  The trick is going to be in developing the painting while not losing the liveliness of the brushstrokes and getting bogged down in detail.

I want to give some credit to some amazing professionals.  Mary of Mary Bell Events was the wedding planner.  This young lady was ORGANIZED.  As an old Navy guy, I really appreciate good organization, especially for something as complex and important as making sure a wedding and reception are successful.  Mary made sure this one went off like clockwork.  Trust me, that doesn't always happen.  I can't recommend Mary highly enough.  

The Ridge and The Venue, both owned and operated by Marta Santamaria, also did a great job.  They were very easy to work with and very professional in everything they did.  And they seemed to enjoy the wedding and reception almost as much as the guests.

Rachael of Rachael McIntosh Photography did a great job photographing everybody and everything while remaining low-key.  She and two other photographers were everywhere.  They knew how to work with the subject to draw out their unique personalities, while ensuring they, themselves, were never themselves a center of interest.  Take a look at Rachael's website - they take some beautiful pictures.  I'm really looking forward to seeing the ones from this wedding!

The band that played at the reception Cashmere, was amazing.  They played from 7 - 11 pm straight.  No breaks, and they were ROCKING the whole time.  I was bouncing along to them and I wasn't even in the same room!  They are definitely a high-energy band that knows how to get people off their chairs and onto their feet.

So, yes, I had a great time this past weekend.  And I'm going to be spending a lotta time in the studio over the next few weeks to get this painting done.  Stay tuned for updates and images!