Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nothing beats studying an Original

The Moon at the Window. Watercolor, approx. 5" x 7", private collection. I painted this little window scene about 15 years ago. It's influence? Read on:

I once had the opportunity of studying a very old watercolor by J. Riley Wilmer. (All I can find regarding this amazing artist is that he was British, and worked in both watercolor and oil.) The owner kindly let me take it home for a few days to examine it as well as photograph it before it was framed.

I learned so much from that study! I could hold the painting at different angles to view the brushstroke textures, use a magnifying glass to pore over the layering of the colors, and take notes as well as photos.  It was an amazing experience that doesn't happen very often. Well, I guess that was the only time it happened for me. 
The painting is below:

 Dick Whittington in London, by J. Riley Wilmer. Watercolor, 1924.

I worked at understanding his technique, and while I don't pretend to come close to his genius, I'm able to at least have an honest go at it, which just isn't possible from looking at a photo in a book, or a painting behind glass in a museum.

Detail of the aforementioned painting. Look at that water!

The colorful design at the hem of Dick's cloak is thick watercolor--some of it seemingly painted right from the tube with no dilution. Yeah, I know he looks like a 20's flapper, but who knows that Dick Whittington didn't?
And yeah, I wish I still had that painting in my hands.

Next post: More Little Guy sketches.
Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A progression of faces

Just completed a commissioned Saint Francis, and am working on another--this time it's on a pretty large panel!  Details of those are at the end of this post..

Out of curiosity I looked for all the paintings I've ever done of this particular saint. Their faces are in chronological order as I painted them (at least the ones I could find).

1. The face to the left is a detail of St. Francis of Assisi. (Oil on panel, 9" x 12"). One of my first paintings of him--and he got a sort of  petulant expression.

2. This face is a detail of another Saint Francis of Assisi. (Oil on panel, 9" x 12", private collection.) I think this was done second--it was awhile ago.

3. St. Francis and the Birds (detail). Acrylic on panel, 5" x 7".
A rather jolly version.

4. St. Francis and the Worried Bird (detail). Acrylic on canvas, 4" x 12", private collection. Done shortly after viewing a 60's Poster show at the DAM. Some of that influence shows, I think.

5. St. Francis Preaching to the Birds (detail). Acrylic on panel, 6" x 18", private collection. This "larger" piece was the biggest painting I'd ever done up to that point. As an illustrator, I learned to keep paintings small, but now I'm expanding a bit.


6. St. Francis of Assisi (detail). Mixed media on wood tray, approx. 4" x 7", private collection. One of a set of three done using acrylic, ink, and collage.

7.  Saint Francis at Sunset (detail). Acrylic on oak wood, approx.  5" x 9", private collection. This painting was done on a piece of scrap flooring.

8. Young Saint Francis (detail). Acrylic on panel, 6" x 18", private collection. Another larger piece, picturing the saint just beginning the new life he's chosen. Francis is usually pictured in middle age in holy card images, but I wanted to do something a bit different.

Saint Francis Consoling the Blue Bird (detail). Acrylic on canvas,
4" x 12", private collection. A recent, very fun commission. 

Saint Francis and the Cranky Birds (detail). Acrylic on door panel, 11" x 43". This is in-progress, but close to being done. I've had a blast with this one. Roaming the alleys paid off with a very old door, the panels of which popped out and provided me with a few new surfaces. This version is a tall and thin St. Francis, kind of whimsical. I may post the entire painting when it's completed. This painting is helping me prepare for a recent 30" x 84" commission of a different saint.

Saint Francis has been a great subject for lots of versions. I hope he hasn't minded.

As always, thanks very much for reading!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Not-Quite-Symmetry and Face Fixation

 This detail is from an oil done almost a decade ago. Looking through pics of my old work tends to jump-start my creativity, I guess by reminding me of my many fixations. In this case there are three moon faces (sorry, those on the gold coins are not easy to see) plus the two profiles. (Please check out previous post: http://tomsarmo.blogspot.com/2012/02/clock-and-face-mania.html)

The Headache Remedy Discussion (complete painting). Oil on panel, 8" x 10", private collection.
This painting reminded me of my consistent revisiting of symmetry (or near-symmetry). For me and lots of people, perfect symmetry sometimes equals death-provoking boredom, but with the addition of slight variations within the symmetrical design, the boredom vanishes and pure excitement ensues.

There are too many influences to mention here, but the primary was the book below--full of Maurice Sendak's set design prelims for the Nutcracker ballet:

The book is out of print now, but if you can grab hold of a copy you will not regret it. It is a phenomenal work, and filled with playful and still-fresh designs. 
Sendak is the Master.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sketches and Sir Barrie--A Stuffed Guy

 Had no business doing it, but I goofed off quite a bit last week, sketching and slopping up my sketchbook with watercolor. This medieval fellow marks an attempt at a return to the type of art I used to do all the time. But you really can't go home again, as they say.

 Back in the day, when I was heavily influenced by the old masters of illustration--Edmund Dulac and Heath Robinson to name a few; and contemporary masters-- Alan Lee and Brian Froud  for certain, 
my sketchbook was filled with careful sketches of little fellows like the one above--mostly dressed in medieval clothing. A great link to images by the first three aforementioned artists is
http://www.bpib.com/index.html Just click on "Illustrators" at the top of that page. Brian Froud's work can be seen at http://www.worldoffroud.com

 Nowadays, my sketching is much less careful, and much simplified. This pencil sketch came from the messy one at the top of this post, and was a prelim for the stuffed goblin-fellow below.

 Sir Barrie.  Mixed media on cloth (in this case, acrylic, muslin, cotton print cloth, and embroidery thread), approx. 3" x 12".

All this playing around is really just my way of relaxing before hitting the studio for some new painting commissions and an upcoming show. More about all that later, as I am very excited to share the details.

Until then, as always, thanks for the interest!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Young Saint Francis

 Saint Francis is usually shown as an older fellow with a short but full beard, but I get very weary of the standard Holy Card images of saints. This face appeared in some of my sketchbook drawings of Saint Francis, so I went with it for the latest painting. I used red as the main under-painting, and a fairly pure blue for shadows. It's hard to see in this photo, but he does have a very faint stubble-beard.

 Young Saint Francis. Acrylic on cradled wood panel, 6" x 18", private collection. This painting was completed to be part of Magis Night's 2012 fundraising auction for Arrupe Jesuit High School.

I've wanted unconventional, lively color and textural brush strokes for my recent paintings of Saint Francis of Assisi, because he seems to have been an unconventional, colorful, and lively individual. In this case I shot for a very fresh, quick-sketched look at the bottom and outsides of the painting, resolving into a slightly more detailed--but still loosely painted--face. Had a lot of fun with this painting, and hope the enjoyment shows.

Thank you for checking this out. Peace!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Angel and the Bluebird

 Was talking with a friend about the colors of the 1960s, and the pink and turquoise of my mom's kitchen came to mind.  The resurgence of interest in retro color schemes has given birth to interesting variations; one of which is below:

 This one, a tiny detail from a recent poster, uses tomato-ish red instead of pink, plus turquoise and the chartreuse that became popular around 1969-1970. My friend hates this combination because of the red, but I was challenged to try the pink and turquoise my mom loved--with the chartreuse as an accent--in a painting.

 Had been working over a new angel painting in my head, and in the sketchbook.  This is one of several little sketches (approx. 1/2 inch by 3 inches) done in ballpoint pen. Not sure from where the final face came, but I knew a generic-looking angel was not going to be satisfactory.
I wasn't really true to the color scheme in my head or even my initial idea, but this work (like many) took on a life of its own during the process. The complete painting follows:

The Angel and the Bluebird. Acrylic on canvas, 4" x 12". Private collection.
A bit surprised by the Arts and Crafts/woodcut  look of the artwork--maybe my recent experiments with linocutting have leaked into my subconscious.
The initial under-paint was a bright magenta, which can be seen in flecks. There's also quite a bit of chartreuse layered over that, but the evening-pink sky dictated a cooling of the yellow greens and a warm-up of the highlights.

Thanks for looking this over--your comments and your visits are always appreciated!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Art of Chris Evitts

When I first saw the sketches of Chris Evitts, it felt like finding an abandoned building full of rooms to explore--exciting, but intimidating as well. Of course, after checking them out, I scrambled for the chance to view more, and also found his paintings. They are different than his sketches, but I can't say which I like more.  

No problem, because they're all remarkable!  Works that seem ancient, but totally fresh--sinister, yet darkly humorous.

I admit to visiting his works over and over, on a regular basis. They dig themselves into the brain, and push me to question the stories, analyze the technique, and envy the mastery.

 Little figures, creepy birds, peculiar visages with unique expressions--works that startle me every time!

Sometimes they are pleasingly violent, sometimes funny--and they are always haunting.

Chris talks about the sketches and paintings separately: The sketches, he says, start with a mark on the paper. In his own words:  "Each piece is intended to be a spontaneous, unpremeditated, finished entity."

He draws constantly, always having 6 or 7 sketchbooks in progress.
 As far as tools, he isn't fussy--any pen that writes will do, with the exception of Sharpies, which he finds clumsy.  Evitts will use a variety of implements, from Conte to ink. For him, sketches don't directly end in paintings, but he says they help his paintings evolve more quickly.

Chris paints almost exclusively in oils, and in his own words: "Painting is a completely different experience for me. Each painting lives a hundred lives until it is complete and put to rest.  They can take 15 years until I am really happy with them: the hope is that they have a strange beauty,

 ...have depth of colour, and most importantly have a reality of their own.  I paint mostly smallish, occasionally I produce large works, but I find it very taxing due to my process of re-attacking the painting."

"I'd rather produce 20 small works with a certain resonance, than a few large, less successful paintings." 

When asked about influences, he said: "I am pretty prolific, so (influences) can be as grand as Goya and as mundane as the pause button on my pvr.  Every figurative artist should own a pvr."

 One example of Evitts' recent explorations with gesso and india ink--

and his latest sketches on ceramics--mugs being the best sellers. From this pic, it's pretty easy to see why.

Trust you find this art as fantastic as I do. Enjoy more of Chris Evitts' work at:

And as always, thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 4, 2012


 Gauges and clocks push creative buttons in me. I hunt for them and would fill my house, but sometimes I collect with my camera instead.

Old, key-wound clocks have a spirit in them, and run--or decide not to--according to that spirit.  The fellow who fixed the larger one in the center believes that all old clocks are haunted, and has lots of ghost stories concerning the clocks he's run across in his career. 

This particular clock's veneer is splitting, the face is stained and rubbed away, and most of the finish is gone, but I love it for all that. It wouldn't run regularly, even after being cleaned and serviced. The repairman told me to take any other wooden, key-wound clocks out of the room and it would probably work fine "because sometimes old clocks don't like competition". He was right--this one's been running fine since I took his advice.

 I am fairly sure that my clock-and-face mania began with seeing Captain Kangaroo's clock. As a little kid, I didn't care much for the Captain, but wanted the clock very badly.

I hunt for old faces too. 
A broken chunk of old chair-back found in an antique mall.

 A cast iron match-holder-face.

 An old plaster moon-face given to me by a friend.
 If it's old, has a face, and is vaguely clock-like, I will collect it.

When I find a useless, unrepairable clock case, it's fun to give it new life and a goofy face. Wish I could put old mechanical works inside, but the quartz movements are at least predictable. And someone gets to live with a miniature version of Captain Kangaroo's clock.

Thanks for the visit!
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