May 16, 2010

A tall order

“Corner of Columbia and Franklin”
7 x 10" watercolor

This painting is full proof that art is a place where an artist can totally escape him/herself. If this were not true, my height phobias would have kept me from the edge of Top of the Hill, a restaurant on the third floor of the corner of Columbia and Franklin Streets in Chapel Hill, NC. See below a more down-to-earth view I’ve done of this popular landmark restaurant.

I can thank some of my undergraduate design classes that taught me always to explore alternate perspectives and views of an object or scene. And I can thank my waitperson at Top of the Hill for supplying me with the napkin and drink that identifies where I was sitting. I’d asked him if there were a signature beer brand he could bring me to better identify the restaurant. He explained that there is, but that it doesn’t come in a bottle. So then, he came up with this, an even better idea.

“Top of the Hill”
6 x 9" watercolor

May 15, 2010

A commission

“Home of Bell Leadership”
9 x 12" watercolor vignette

I love it when I run across a customer who appreciates my style, and when they don’t ask me to “make it just a little bit tighter”. I can do tight, but I prefer not to, especially with houses. Architectural renderings, for the most part, do not excite me.

The house you see in the painting acts as headquarters for Bell Leadership Institute. Here was my process. First, lots of photos to decide the best view of the house; secondly, a wet base coat, and lastly, the calligraphic line treatment that pretty well distinguishes my paintings from those of someone else.

My customer’s wife and one of his colleagues approached when I was in between the base coat and the line treatment. Introductions were made, and they left, until the colleague came out five minutes later and asked me for my own personal safety, if I would move. “No way!” was what I felt like saying. Instead, I explained to her that moving would mean I’d have to start all over, that I take many more safety risks than what was presented here, that I carry pepper spray on my key chain, and that I’d be glad to sign a waiver. She got the point.

Below you see my first attempt. Not happy with it, I started over, deciding to make a vignette of the scene. The final painting will lend itself nicely to note cards, should the company decide to do them.

“214 West Cameron Avenue”
7 x 10" watercolor

May 14, 2010

Show me the painting

“Julian’s 2010”
7 10" watercolor

Have I mentioned I have a couple of private students? That’s a fact. When one of them recently showed up for his lesson with a single peony (not for me, but to paint), we had a little discussion. Too often, we artists are painting things, not paintings. I consider this illustration. I’m guilty of this too. This painting, for instance, I consider a fine illustration of Julian’s, home of preppy in Chapel Hill, but I don’t feel it makes a great painting. We should not let subject matter drive us. We should be driven by composition. I could write a book on this. In a similar vein, we don’t ask who wrote a classical music score; we ask who composed it.

There is, however, a market for illustration. Sometimes painting a storefront dead-on is about the only way to paint it. Again, this is when we are driven by subject matter. Composition is the first thing I take into consideration when I’ve decided what it is I’m going to paint. I try always to have my camera with me when I go out for plein air sessions. I take many photos, from many angles, and review them before I begin to paint. The playback mode offered by digital cameras is an excellent way to view one’s options. The strongest compositions can often be so unexpected.

In a nutshell, I’d rather viewers say, “What a wonderful painting!” than say “What a wonderful painting of Julian’s!”

May 13, 2010

Lillie again

“Mz. Pratt”
7 x 10" watercolor

If you’re an artist or photographer, it is important to know that the image of a person, their home, or business belongs to that person or enterprise. Advertisers have release forms that they use that authorize them to reproduce the images, even of the professional models that they hire. I was in advertising long enough to be aware of this.

Please know that, partially because I painted Lillie from life, not from a photo, and have shown her the greeting cards that I am doing, that she is fully aware that I am using her image. And the profit I am drawing may benefit my name, but the revenue is going fully to Lillie. I am told she is very grateful, and I might add she seemed at the time proud that someone might want to paint her.

Always try and get permission from a person or from the owner of a property when you set about to photograph or paint them/it. I have twice been denied permission. The first time, from a barbecue place in Greenville, North Carolina. Sometime before, another artist had reproduced images of the popular place without knowledge of the law or, I might add, common courtesy. Another time that I was denied doing a painting or taking a photo was by a basket weaver in Charleston, SC. The African American basket weavers there have a cultural background in which, I’ve been told, it is against their religion to have their images portrayed. We all need to respect other peoples’ traditions and requests.

A good rule of thumb, WHEN IN DOUBT, ASK. If you plan to reproduce the image, it’s an excellent idea to have a release signed.

May 12, 2010

Here comes Lillie

“Help support the flower lady”
7.5 x 9.5" watercolor

When I set out over the Easter weekend to paint Lillie Pratt, the last of the flower ladies* on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, I took with me eleven note cards with her image on them that I'd planned to give to her to sell on the street. When I soon realized that she would probably not hold out to get a fair amount of payment for the cards, I came up with a better idea.

The owner of University Florist & Gift Shop (in close proximity on Franklin Street), Mr. Charles House, has kindly agreed to sell the cards on Lillie’s behalf. Not only that, he is now carrying an entire line of Chapel Hill-themed cards featuring paintings I’ve done of the area, primarily on Franklin Street.

I find it a not-so-good use of my time to print greeting cards. However, for the exposure it gives me in a new area, I think it may be worthwhile. It’s official now that in the spring of 2011, I’ll be having a show of my watercolors on the University of North Carolina campus in the student-run gallery at Carolina Union.

* See the story about Lillie Pratt and the Franklin Street watercolors on my web blog at Hot Off the Easel.

May 8, 2010

Scearce & Ketner

“Scearce & Ketner”
Watercolor diptych, 9 x 13.75"

Several weeks ago on a painting excursion in Swansboro, NC, I stumbled onto an amazing painter by the name of Jack Ketner.* It was a rainy day, too wet to paint en plein air, and so one of the local shop owners introduced me to Jack when we both happened into her pottery shop. Not a well publicized painter, but an incredibly gifted one, Jack is a popular vocalist/songwriter, a musician who plays just about anything with stings. I can attest to his musical talent, as recently Scearce & Ketner performed at The Flying Shamrock, a local pub in Goldsboro, the NC town where I live. First thing I asked Jack when he announced he was coming, “Can I bring my paints?” Those who have watched me paint musicians, including Jack now, know that I paint to the music. When a song comes to an end, my painting most often comes to an end. I used to dance; now I paint.

* See Jack’s outrageously fantastic art (I call it Satirical Surrealism) at

May 6, 2010

Crook’s Corner

“Springtime at Crook’s
7 x 10" watercolor

Relative to the number of new paintings I’ve done, I am way too far behind on my blog postings. Now that I’m back to my home studio (as opposed to God’s studio) I’ll begin posting work every day until I’m up to date.

Here we are at Crook’s Corner, so named after a woman that was murdered here in the 40’s. Talk about living (dying) up to your name! And even fishier, she ran a fish market! If you want to read the full scoop on Crook’s notorious background, click here. The well-publicized restaurant has become one of Chapel Hill’s [NC] most popular eateries. Shrimp and grits may have been invented here. It’s a dish I highly recommend if you’re fortunate enough to visit the place. Be sure in summer to eat alfresco in the charming patio garden.

And dang! I thought yesterday that I had surely sold this painting. That just goes to prove how much we artists know about our own work. Maybe I’ll hear something today.