Monday, September 30, 2013

Gold Star Program 2013

Last week I participated in another Gold Star program sponsored by the Auxiliary of the VFW. They honored 18 Blue Star families and two Gold Star families. Army Chief Warrant Office James Groves III was near the end of his final tour of duty. Retirement was less than a year away when he was killed in Afghanistan on March 16, 2013.

I prepared a talk for the program which I will share here, along with an image of the painting I did. This is the eight Gold Star portrait I have painted and they are not easy to do.

I don’t paint the Gold Star Portraits to glorify war. We all hate war, but at the same time we realize someone has to take on the responsibility of defending our country and keeping us safe. I paint the portraits to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice. They are some of the more difficult paintings I do because there is so much emotion attached to them. The Gold Star paintings are presented to the mother of a soldier who was killed while serving on active duty. I’m not sure how many of you are familiar with oil paintings, but an oil painting can last a long time. We know our museums are filled with them. Photographs fade over time, but there are oil paintings that were done a thousand years ago and still look as fresh as the day they were painted. I like to think that maybe this portrait of James will survive even his own children. Perhaps a hundred years from now one of James’ great, great grandsons will have this painting hanging in his home and he will have an opportunity to tell HIS grandchildren about his great-grandfather James,-- the hero. I mean you never know what’s going to happen to the painting when it leaves your hands but I can easily imagine this scenario.

I ask the family for pictures when I am ready to start the painting and I ask for some background about the soldier, so that I can make the portrait a little personal. I like to put in some stuff that tells the viewer a little bit about the subject: What he enjoyed doing, things he loved etc.. Sometimes I get good pictures and other times not. I was lucky this time--James’s mother, Leslie, emailed me some excellent pictures and she shared some great stuff about James.

James had a lot of interests. His mom told me loved to cook and he was always trying new recipes. What he really loved was spending time with his family more than anything else. He was a huge Michigan football fan. When you live around here it seems like you love Michigan or you love Ohio State. James was in the “Go Blue” category, so I decided to incorporate a little of that love into his portrait. Leslie told me he owned a Harley Davidson motorcycle that was his ‘pride and joy’ and that he was also looking forward to inheriting his grandfather’s 1949 Harley one day. I thought I could work that in somehow too. James enjoyed life, that was obvious from the pictures his mom sent.

The very first picture I opened up in Leslie’s email cracked me up. It was a picture of James clowning around and wearing some Mickey Mouse ears on his head. That told me something about James right away. He was someone who loved to have fun. You don’t put on Mickey Mouse ears and pose for a picture if you’re worried about looking silly. Other things he loved----James was a marathon runner who ran 3 or 4 Disney Marathons and he ran the Savannah Marathon and the Marine Marathon in Washington DC too. I loved seeing the picture of James with his two boys. They are so handsome and they look so much like him. James was an animal lover too and he especially loved Great Danes. My son owns a Great Dane and I know how wonderful these dogs are. I think my favorite picture though, was the one of James in his camouflage gear and helmet, sitting down in what looks like a helicopter or some combat zone. And he is reading a magazine—and the name of the magazine is The Disney Insider Club – for MEMBERS ONLY. To me this photo is such a contradiction. Here’s a tough soldier guy in a combat zone—and what is he doing? He’s reading his Disney magazine. So I realized serous James was about his love for all things Mickey and I knew I had to find a way to incorporate that into his portrait too!

Leslie sent one picture of James and his wife, Katie, sitting in a tree together and she told me this was her favorite so I used it as the basis for my portrait. Painting a piece like this is never easy. The loved one is gone and you know that the portrait will occupy a place of honor in someone’s home. You want it to be perfect. So there is pressure here to make it GOOD! I hope my painting honors James and comforts his mom when she looks at it. If it does, it’s a successful piece.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Fall in the Country

It was a beautiful early fall morning and I finally had some free time on my hands. The kitchen is done for the most part. There is still some painting and moving and sorting of 'stuff' but we are looking at the finish line. All the things that seemed to weigh down my calendar this year have happened and I fell as if a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I took a ride to my friend Sue's house. She has seven acres just outside of Delta and a very nice barn, some pastures and even a creek. It is my go-to place when I want to paint something quickly. There will always be a nice scene waiting for me.

Sue wasn't even up when I arrived but soon her two pit-bulls, Jake and Diva, came trotting out to greet me.

I am NOT a country girl. Sue told me there was a steer in one pasture and some donkeys in the other. I really wanted some pictures of the donkeys so I lifted the fence line and walked into the steer's corral. OMG! It was huge. I had not been expecting something so big and black and 'friendly'. I stayed out of his way and took some pictures of the donkeys and slowly backed away and went under the fence again.

"You know that's a bull," Sue remarked as she walked down the path, sipping her morning coffee. A steer is a bull? Is a bull a steer? I was confused. I thought all steers were neutered. Apparently not. I am NOT a country girl. Before I exited his arena I took some nice close-ups of the steer's head, and he had almost seemed to be smiling. Maybe he was laughing at me too.

9" x 12"
oil on linen

Saturday, September 21, 2013

I Buy Pottery

I buy pottery with the intention to use it in still life paintings. That's how I justify the purchases. Most of it is acquired at art fairs or on eBay. Some of the pottery I get on eBay does not arrive in the condition it left the seller's house in. I wish people were more careful when they pack fragile items. I have shipped over 500 paintings via the Postal Service and NOT ONE has been damaged, thanks to the generous use of BUBBLE WRAP. Bubble wrap creates a cushion of air between your object and the box. I use two layers of the stuff. Unfortunately the person who wrapped my pottery last week did not and I found pieces of shattered ceramic in my box when I opened it yesterday.

Oh well, I am digressing. Here is a pot I bought at a local gallery that represents myself and other artists. It is beautiful. The two pears HAD to be painted because they were picked from our very own dwarf pear tree. It's only three years old and I really did not expect fruit so I had to record this for posterity.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Not Going As Planned

This painting started out as a routine plein air. Not that plein air painting is EVER routine. It's not. It is difficult and demanding and that's why sometimes I fail. This painting was one of those. I got it home and I started scraping it off. That's when I realized that I truly liked what the scraped image looked like. I decided to add a horse. I scraped the horse. Pretty soon I had a painting that looked like it had been done int he pouring rain or else when the artist was in the middle of a migraine.

I do like it though.

9" x 12" oil on linen

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Girl's Best Friend

A girl's best friend is NOT diamonds. It's her dog. I painted this for my son who will give it to his friend- the model. The photo had really nice light and shadow and even though it was a very low-resolution cell phone picture it is possible to get a lot of information from this kind of picture. The lack of detail encourages an artist to "lose" the detail, which is usually a good thing for a painting. This allows you to keep the focus on what's important. Here it's the girl and her companion. Her 'best friend.'

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Painting at the Williams County Fair

A friend and I painted at the Williams County Fair this week. I was attracted to the colorful concession stands and the angles of the grandstand. I added the people later at home because there were too many people to think about putting them in when I painted. Fair food, petting goats and painting out side made for a great day.
9" x 12" Coles Cotton Candy

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Colleen from our Portrait Group

Colleen posed for the Hyter Group yesterday. She wore a black blouse but I am not that fond of black so I changed the color to a violet. A great model who held her pose well and didn't complain. I have located my pastels so I decided to use them! The day was perfect except for the opera music playing loudly in the back of the room. Oh well.... can't have everything I guess.

14" x 18"
Pastel on Canson paper

Friday, September 06, 2013

The Caretaker's House at 577 Foundation in Perrysburg, Ohio

I spent an afternoon painting with friends at the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg, Ohio last week. This is the caretaker's house, where they hold meetings and luncheons. Another wonderful day to paint. This summer has been a wonderful season to paint outdoors.

11" x 14"
Oil on canvas

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Kunkle Horse Barn

 9" x 12" oil on linen

It was a perfect afternoon to paint and my friend and I had permission to paint on a farm in Kunkle, Ohio. We wanted to take pictures of goats and Brenda Baker has 8 or 9 of them in her pasture. Unfortunately, one of the "kids" took a liking to me and my painting gear. Here he is investigating my suitcase. Later he jumped up to have a look at my palette and got cadmium yellow light all over his foot. Then he walked around, ate some grass and ended up with paint all over his mouth! I tried to clean him up with a baby wipe but it didn't do much good. He had the paint all over my pant legs by then and I decided to make the best of it and try to ignore him. However, I seemed to be dealing with a drunken 50 lb. puppy who had no concept of what the word "no" means. "Billy" would forget about me for awhile and munch his grass, then suddenly he would look up and spot me again. "Maaa?" He would cry as he galloped toward me and I braced myself and my easel for his enthusiastic greeting. It was quite an experience. I was surprised that my painting turned out as well as it did with all the external elements I dealt with that day.