Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Anatomy of a Still Life

Nearly three months ago, I wrote about a painting that I was starting in which I used three old friends as subjects. The still life is now finished and I would like to introduce it through the photos taken during the creative process.

* * *

First, I set up the still life scene from which I would paint. A stack of old Hardy Boys books was used as part of the stage for my little friends. Those published in the 1950’s and 60’s had bright blue and red covers, but because I felt this would distract from the main subjects, I chose a set of older, solid tan-colored editions.

* * *

Starting with a rough pencil sketch, I began to paint, first laying in the basic color scheme of the background and the bench that the characters sit on. Keeping the rule in mind about painting fat over lean (thinned paints used first, thicker paints last), I filled in the largest areas with color.

* * *

Next, several small areas were started, identifying the main shapes and determining some core colors.

Oil paintings usually require multiple drying periods because of the time it takes for the paint to dry, enabling appropriate layers to be built up. I work from top to bottom, left to right, and background to foreground in my approach.

* * *

I continued to build detail in the car, the book colors, the train, and to add a smile to the process, I painted Andy’s hair and face.

* * *

More detail was put in the car and I added the book titles – some had to be repainted when I laid the back of my hand in the wet paint! Andy’s thinning hair and faded, worn button eyes were then completed.

* * *

Andy had been sitting around in his shorts long enough. It was time for him to finish getting dressed, so I used the next session to paint the stripes on his leggings and the pattern in his shirt. Additional shadows and colors were added everywhere.

* * *

The final steps required adding the smallest of details – the emergence of chipped paint, deeper shadows where needed, stitching, water stains, discoloring of fabric, and the appearance of loving play with each.

* * *

I'm pleased with the final result. It's the first still life I've ever "commissioned" for myself.

"Toot Toot, Quack, Quack, Dolly" will hang, with pride, in our home. It was a fun piece to do and brought back many good memories of my childhood. My hope is that, someday, one of my children will want it hanging in his or her home.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Napalm in the morning

There is a memorable scene in the 1979 movie, Apocalypse Now, when Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall) stands near a blast area in Vietnam, with his hands on his hips, and states, “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

I had a similar encounter this weekend. I wasn’t surrounded by soldiers, and I didn’t have helicopters flying overhead, but my experience was equally satisfying as I stood with my hands on my hips and thought, “I love the smell of turpentine in the morning.”

No, I wasn’t sniffing it to get a high, although I probably could have if I’d tried. It is simply one of the familiar and friendly (to me) smells that I experience when I am doing some serious oil painting. Because I’ve lately been working with pen and ink or acrylics, which have water-based chemistries, I have not enjoyed the familiar fragrance of my trusty turpentine for awhile. Even though oil paints have eco-friendly companions – turpenoid, various mixing gels and safer alternatives – I still prefer some of the older and “smellier” mediums.

This got me thinking about other activities and related smells. I’m sure there are many parallels to my experience. Cabinetmakers or carpenters must have a sense of appreciation for the wood that they work with as they cut or plane a board, creating the sweet fragrance of cedar or pine. While working in the kitchen, a cook or chef will inevitably create multiple, tantalizing aromas. Outdoorsmen surely take pleasure in the seasonal scents associated with their gear or clothing, and the distinct smell of the ice shack or tent as each is opened up every year. The list goes on and on. Think about it. Smells that cannot, and must not, be separated from their source often become an integral part of the experience. Leatherwork, auto repair, a doctor’s office, the florist, grandma’s house, a swim meet, the local tavern. Even the pungent odors emanating from a boys’ high school locker room. All of these smells are important to make us feel alive, and aware, and to help us be able to appreciate the full impact of an activity.

How amazing is this sense of smell that we’ve been given! How much less interesting would our lives be if we weren’t able to breathe in deeply, and even with our eyes shut, know where we are and what is going on around us? My dog’s intense sense of smell always amazes me, as he sniffs around our backyard and locates an underground mole tunnel or a half-inch, long-dead frog hidden among the river rock. None of us would ever want to be that nosy, but it illustrates how amazing the schnoz really is.

So, in the spirit of interactive blogativity (Thank you, Dana, for the term!), I invite and would like everyone reading this post to comment. Give us some examples of your favorite and/or most hated smells. Communicate to the world that you are paying attention!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

And I thought only my family was reading this…

Others are reading too, apparently, because last night a total stranger left a comment on my blog: “You are SO hot!”


I am hot, but I don’t need others to state the obvious(!), so I’ve now enabled “comment moderation” on my blog. The process of leaving a comment won't be much different for you, except that it won’t immediately be published; I will first have to review each comment for spam.

Just for the record, I really enjoy and appreciate your comments, and thank those of you who have been so supportive of this endeavor. Please, keep it up!

How do I leave a comment, you ask? At the end of each post, look for the “comments” link. Clicking on it will open the comment posting page. On the right hand side of the page is the space for you to enter your comment. Directly below that, you’ll need to type in the word verification. (That's required to prove you're a real person, and not an auto-spammer.) Beneath that are the identity options: 1) Your Blogger display name; 2) Open ID; 3) Name/URL; 4) Anonymous. Unless you are a blogger and have a Google or OpenID identity, you’ll want to use options 3 or 4. You will, most likely, want to take credit for your comment (unless you are the aforementioned "hot" poster!) so click on “Name/URL” and type in your name; the URL (your website) section is optional. After that, you can preview or directly post your comment. Voilá! As soon as Bill, Speedy, Al, or me gets a chance to review comments, you’re published!

Another change is the addition of a subscription link. From there, you’ll be able to get Vignettes delivered via email or news reader each time there’s a new post. Look for it in the right hand column of the main page. Your contact information is secure, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

I’m planning on sending an email this week, announcing my blog to a larger audience of friends and business associates. Welcome, new readers!

On a related topic, my website makeover is so close to launch I can almost touch/taste/feel/smell it! My “webmaster” has to work out a few issues with Internet Explorer 6 viewing, and then we’ll be set to go. I’ll keep you posted.

That's all for now. I should probably brush up on my French and hit the gym - have to maintain my image, you know! ;-)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Packratosis misdiagnosis

I am a pack rat!

You know what they say about people with an addiction? The first step towards healing is admitting you have a problem. Well, there you go, I admitted it!

Maybe I should join a support group. I can just picture me, as I rise from my metal folding chair at a meeting of PRA (Pack Rats Anonymous). I look around the room at fellow rats and say to them, “Hi, my name is Dennis, and I am a pack rat.” The group responds somberly in unison, “Hiiiiii Dennis.”

It is hereditary, you know. My mother kept lots of things she acquired, most certainly if it had anything to do with family. Over the last several years of her life she handed down many of those items, including my first tooth lost, first pair of shoes, a lock of hair from my first haircut, artwork and report cards. She kept other nostalgic items as well: travel brochures from a 1934 trip out west; newspaper clippings, some dating back to the 1940’s; a menu from a railroad dining car; and possibly every greeting card she was ever given. No wonder I can’t help myself!

I am afraid, however, that I have taken Packratosis to a new level. I hang on to stuff, whether it has family connection or not. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a hoarder; our house is not overflowing with junk. And I do recycle. It’s just that, in addition to the sentimental stuff, I keep anything that I foresee a possible use for, and I cannot tolerate wastefulness. If an appliance stops working but it has a good cord and the screws aren’t rusty, I keep those. If the motor works, I keep it. If I replace an old tool with a new upgrade, do you think I throw the old one away? No, of course not, I might need it some day! I have nuts and bolts, and switches and resistors, and wire and brackets, and…oh my…that’s just the stuff I’ve got in my workshop! When the kids finished high school or college and dumped their used notebooks, I dug them out of our recycling bin to see if there were usable pages. Indeed, there were. I must have 20 spiral notebooks with at least 30 clean pages each; they work great for my business or shop notes.

It was just a couple months ago, when I spent hours cleaning my studio, that I was able to admit to myself that I may have a problem. There’s nothing wrong with keeping family items like pictures the kids drew when they were young. It’s fun to view old photos, look at the plaster hand casts our children made in elementary school, and even reminisce over my old Cub Scout patches. But should I still have 32 baby food jars, collected when our babies were eating from them? My intent was to use them for mixing paint, but for Pete’s sake, the kids are in their twenties now and I still haven’t used the jars!

On the good side, my Packratosis is often legitimized when there’s a need to repair an appliance or “jerry-rig” something to extend its life. It is quite satisfying when I am able to scavenge through my stuff and come up with just the right doodad to do the job. I will then approach my wife with a smug look on my face and show her how I was able to find a use for that funny-looking clip or caster that came off the clothes dryer we discarded in 1989.

These days, in terms of our environment, we’re hearing a lot about “being green,” “carbon footprint,” and “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Reduce, reuse, recycle? I’ve been doing that my whole life! Now that I think about it, I’m not going to refer to myself as a pack rat any longer. Instead, I’ll henceforth be known as a Forward Thinking Individual. Who knew?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Great Commission

Eastertide seems an appropriate time to introduce, or reintroduce you to one of my paintings.

One Sunday morning a few years back, in early fall, we were driving south on Highway 61 near Maplewood Mall, when I spotted an old, vine-covered telephone pole. I was, at first, attracted by the color of the leaves, and the intricate network of wires and cables. But, almost immediately, it occurred to me that the shape resembled a cross and that the vine, colored by the crisp autumn air, was blood red. The leaves seemed to drip from its branches. I was moved, and turned the car around at the next intersection so that I could take a picture of the scene. A painting was formulating in my mind.

Back at home some weeks later, as I developed the composition for the painting, I prayed for inspiration and guidance to do a piece that would be a successful work and would give glory to God. This is the result.

It is filled with hidden meaning. Three telephone poles depict the crosses at Calvary, those of Jesus and of the 2 robbers hung and crucified on either side of him. The red leaves, dripping from the vine, are symbolic of the blood of the crucified Christ. The dark and rocky foreground suggests the sins of mankind, left at the foot of the cross; the storm clouds give way to blue skies, symbolizing redemption. The birds are purple martins, their royal color reminding us that Christ is King. There are eleven birds, representing the remaining apostles (after Judas, filled with remorse for betraying Jesus, committed suicide). Following the resurrection, they are sent out into the world by Jesus to make disciples of all nations. That act, noted in the book of Matthew, is known as The Great Commission.

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:16-20

Have a blessed and memorable Easter,

[Editor's note: The Great Commission is available as a giclee print.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Star Power

And so, as was foretold generations ago, a new celestial body has formed in the heavens. A convergence of stars from a far off galaxy has blended with the edges of our own Milky Way, creating a unique shape that speaks volumes with its late night, long and low glow.

The influence of this charming form is compelling. Its imagined sounds are at once both soulful and enlightened. It brings a combination of joy and puzzlement to those who are able to find it in the eastern sky. It causes alternating concern and whimsy. No other known constellation has, or ever will, force mankind to look inward, take itself less serious, develop deep laughter and allow a true clown like behavior to color our lives.

With awe-inspiring giggles and glee, may I present…

Puppis Dachsicorn Minor

Happy April Fools' Day,