Monday, November 22, 2010

So much going on!

The holidays are descending fast and furious. Way too much to do and already not enough time. Well, things are just that way here as well. The drive of the majority of my work is aimed towards the solo show in January. It is my goal to show as many people as I possibly can what I am doing and where I see my artwork going. As a result, production and promotion have all been in high gear. Press releases heading out all last week, painting and framing. All this while still weaving in the smaller paying jobs that keep things going. Good news is that there has been a positive response for the show so far. A couple of magazines have expressed interest and hopefully that will turn into more.

One other great feeling from this past week is to see our Model Monday Events really starting to take shape and become what we had hoped it would be. The goal was simple. Find people who would be willing to sit for a free portrait and then invite other artists to come and join us with their paints and pencils. It has turned out to be a lively, artistic event that has brought together old friends and created new friends. It has quite simply grown into what both Erin and I had hoped it would. We are looking forward to many more Monday night Model nights at the SAART Gallery. Please come on down and join us from 6-8pm.

On the bench in the studio is a brand new razor painting however with this one I am breaking down the complete project as I go. With any luck, I will get this how-to published for everyone to see. If all works out, it will coincide with the opening of the show and that would simply be over the top. Thanks for checking in and I’ll talk to you all next week!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tools of the Trade

Coast Guard Dog Tag paining in progress

Righpen 213c

It’s pretty interesting how the style of painting and the materials that we choose to paint with really ends up governing how our studio runs. This recent string of miniature paintings and the effect that it had on my workspace is a great example of that. First, thanks to the generosity of the folks at Createx Colors, I have had the opportunity to use their Wicked Paint line in my monthly Intro to Airbrush classes and then throughout my studio. The paint is an ultra-high performance, multi-surface airbrush paint that comes in two pigment grinds. One line for more opaque coverage and one for more detailed airbrushing. The spray characteristics of both lines have proven to work well through my Richpen 213 airbrush.

Watercolor and Liner brushes
In these recent small paintings, I have been incorporating more and more traditional brush work. What I have found was that for my style of painting, my liner and watercolor brushes have worked the best. These colors are intended to be used through an airbrush so the dry time on the paint is lightning fast. Dry times like this are not always conducive with paint brush work. To counter this, I have used the Wicked Reducer mixed with a Retarder that is from the Createx Colors line. This has slowed the dry time enough to pull the lines and details I need from the paint.

One of the things that I have enjoyed about this paint is that once it is dry, it cannot be reactivated unlike Gouache, Watercolors or Urethanes. This makes it possible to add washes of color with a paint brush and not affect the layers below. This is important when it comes to blurring airbrush and paint brush strokes together for a more seamless painting.

The airbrush that is used with these paintings was also determined by the paint. Out of the bottle, these paints are vibrant and fairly heavy viscosity. Even with the reducer, they tend to hold a thickness that allows the slightly larger .3mm nozzle of the 213 to excel. Atomization of color through this brush allows me more control than my smaller .2mm airbrushes.

Frankenstein's Lab

My workspace itself has also transformed with all these micro paintings. Proper lighting has always been the goal however now it has become paramount. Low light makes painting these kinds of details impossible. As a result, I have built two rails for my drafting table that can be slid in and out. The clip on goose neck lamps can now be positioned anywhere on the surface of the drafting table. These prototypes were made out of scrap wood yet they have proven to work well so now I will make them out of better wood and even add small storage spaces on them for commonly used tools.

Finally the framing of these small paintings have again determined a change in my workspace. Because of the paintings unique size and shape, I ended up working with my father to design a custom frame for them. My brother in law is fantastic with woodworking and made the first four prototypes which worked out perfectly. With the plans for the show in January and 10 new paintings looming, I made the decision to start collecting the tools to make the frames here as well to take the burden off him a little.
With all these adjustments in place, things have started to move together smoothly. Given that there are still several small paintings that need to be started and finished before the show in January…..smooth it just what I need right now!

Thanks for checking in this week!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Big Show

"Oakhill Eagles" - 2010 - Waterborne on board - 4"x4"

Well, it has been interesting being sidelined by such a potent cold. However, the really nice thing about working in the same place that you live are the opportunities to get a few things done here and there despite something like a cold slowing you down. This week has been an exercise in painting in the windows of feeling ok.

"Semper Fidelis" - 2010 - Waterborne on Steel - 1.13"x2"
My sister Katie is involved with an auction/fundraiser in November and I was able to finish up the painting that I planned on donating to the event. While the cold kept me from being productive enough to finish the two paintings that were on the bench for this week, at least this one got done being on the tighter timeline of the two. The other painting on the bench was the fourth painting in the dog tag series of paintings. These dog tag paintings have really taken on a life of their own which is great to see. The series of five paintings will be the feature paintings at my first solo show planned for January 16th.

"Army Strong" - 2010 - Waterborne on Steel - 1.13"x2"
My work currently hangs at the SAART gallery in Stoughton, Massachusetts which is a co-op gallery made up of the work of twelve talented artists. As a co-op gallery we all share the responsibilities of running the gallery. This involves everything from running the gallery during operating hours to creating and organizing events. Members like Erin Crowley have set up open figure drawing nights, other members have organized charity events like Elaine Ostrander’s open house to benefit the Massachusetts State Police K-9 program.

In one of our recent member meetings we had begun to talk about putting together shows to feature our artists. They were looking for a volunteer to kick it off and I gladly accepted. Having a solo show is really extremely important for an artist. It is that time when all the new work can be brought together and shown at once. While there is always a lot of planning and preparation for a solo show, it is by far worth the experience.

"Strong to Save" - 2010 - Waterborne on Steel - 1.13"x2"
Since I have been producing a lot on very small paintings recently, I decided that the show coming up would be a great opportunity to feature them all. In addition to that, the show would be a great opportunity to raise some money for a good cause. My good friend Ken Taylor had mentioned that he had some blank dog tags at his shop that I could have and they became the perfect substrate for the donation paintings. These five paintings, representing the different branches of the military would raise money for the US Wounded Soldiers Foundation.

So the rush now is to get them all finished by mid November so they can be featured in all of the press releases. Once the press releases are out, I will be able to focus on finishing all the remaining paintings for the show. The goal is to hit twenty new paintings.

For tonight though, I have decided to give in to my pounding headache, stuffed sinuses and achy back and get some rest.

Thanks for checking in and I’ll talk to you next week!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ducati Blade - Part 2

Here is the second installment in the painting of the Ducati blade. From here the emphasis shifts from mostly airbrush work to a balance of work with both the airbrush and a paint brush.

In the same photocopy template method as before, I move to a mid gray color to put in all the areas on the motor and rear wheel. I work to keep this color slightly dark in case something isn’t in quite the right spot. This subtle color is easier to adjust.

Now the work starts with the paint brush. In order to keep things steady on such a small scale, I have taken some of the painting techniques that I have learned from my good friend Keith Hanson. Keith is a master pin striper and airbrush artist and over the years, I have watched and learned some great brush techniques from him. One thing that is interesting in how a pin striper works is the way that they brace their hands together to steady the lines. This was the first thing that I found I needed to adopt in order to keep the brush where I wanted it. Second, when a pin stripe is being applied, the bristles of the brush are placed on the surface and not removed until the line is done. I found this part to be a challenge coming from a more painterly, watercolor style. The results of learning this technique however yielded controlled lines no bigger than the width of a hair.

This is what the blade looks like after the edges of the red were cleaned up, the lighter gray and black details were painted in. All the photocopy template work that was done up to this point has really laid in a great road map as to where things go. As you can imagine, if a detail is off by a half a centimeter on this scale, it is off by a mile.

The same paint brush techniques are used again with a very light gray.

When I create a painting, one of my primary goals is to remove the indication of what tools were used in that work. I want the viewer to see the image, not the method. One of the best indications I have of a success here is when the viewer’s reaction is simply ‘How did you do that?’ A large part of that comes from blending different techniques. The goal is to successfully take the strengths of one tool while at the same time diminishing the weaknesses of another. Without a doubt, few tools blend color like an airbrush. That is true on any scale. From this stage in the painting, through the end, I bounce back and forth. Painting in some details with the paint brush and then softening them with the air brush. I have a set of pocket sized templates from artist Scott MacKay that work brilliantly on this scale.

Here is the blade with all the details in and ready for clear. Since this blade is metal and it is primed and painted with automotive grade primers and paint, it will receive a two part catalyzed clear coat. Since this clear is extremely tough, it will allow me to frame this without glass. This point is very important as I have found that the reflections in glass (even the museum, non glare glass) can distract from such a tiny piece.

Finally, the blade is mounted in a custom frame designed and built by both my father and brother in law. This one is officially renamed ‘1098’ for the model of the bike and is ready for the gallery.

The full effort of the studio now is to finish the five donation paintings for the show in January. Since they are such an important part of the show, the press releases that go out in mid-November needs to feature them. Currently, I have two done and should have the third done this week. Here is a quick preview of the Army and Navy tags.

Thanks very much for checking in!

Monday, October 11, 2010


A.M. Leahy

The Ducati blade is all finished and I will have the second installment of that how-to posted but I wanted to write a little bit about inspiration for this blog entry. In advance, thank you for indulging me for a moment.

"Deep Recon at Shau" 22"x28" watercolor - A.M. Leahy
I wanted to write a bit about a man that has had a profound impact on my artistic life. This person is Albert Michael Leahy. My Uncle Mick. My earliest recollections of him were always based around two things, art and education. I was this little, wide eyed kid dying to have him draw dinosaurs and airplanes the moment I saw him. I remember it as if it were yesterday. That absolutely magical moment sitting at my Grandmothers dining room table as he gave me that smile and pulled a pen from his shirt pocket to draw. Each drawing however was not just a doodle to pacify an overly excited boy. I see now that each drawing was really his opportunity to give us all a lesson in art. He would talk about composition, repetition with variation, perspective and line quality. I would watch him create these images and not even realize that he was guiding my artistic foundation. I would leave with my T-Rex drawing but more importantly, I always left with a few more tools to make my own art.

"Homecoming" 22"x28" watercolor - A.M. Leahy
As I grew and learned, I would look to him at each stage. Always being able to count on those few precious moments during his hectic visits. He would always find the time to look at what I was working on and show me what was good and where I needed to work harder. I distinctly recall being more nervous showing him my portfolio than showing my professors at my senior review in college. Even this past summer getting time to sit with him and talk about the art world, showing him my new work and getting his insights was as inspirational for me as it was for that little boy thirty years ago.

As I push hard to move forward with my art, I think of my Uncle quite a bit these days. My favorite thoughts of him however come when I am asked to draw for my kids and my nieces on their visits. I now understand that smile he had for me all those years ago.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Making of the Ducati Blade

OK, enough soap boxing, time to get down to painting. In mid January I will be having a show at the Felos Gallery of new work. The drive of the show will be mostly these miniature paintings so I thought it would be a good time to share the process of how I get these done.

The subject of this painting will be a Ducati 1098. Basically this bike is a Ferrari on two wheels. The materials that will be used on this one are Createx Wicked paints, Richpen 213 and 212 airbrushes, Pocket Grafx templates and a #1 Winsor Newton Artists’ Water Colour Sable brush. I have made the decision on this painting to angle the bike towards the front to add some tension. I also want to show the shadow on the ground to reinforce that it is in fact on the ground and not doing some wild, riderless wheel stand.

First step with any of these blades is the prep work. I grind the edge completely off to ensure there aren’t any unplanned trips to the Emergency room. Next the blade is sanded with 600 grit wet/dry paper and cleaned. From there a self etching automotive primer is used to seal the metal and make it ready for paint.

Second step is painting the background. The lighter areas are sprayed first with a mixture of Detail White, Yellow Ochre and Detail Black. The darker areas are the same colors with a higher percentage of black.

Third step is to get the area primed for the red of the body of the bike. Using photo editing software, I take the reference photo and compose and scale it down to the actual size of the painting. From there I make several copies of the image. These copies become the templates for each part. All the red areas are cut out with a #11 X-Acto blade. This first template will be used to spray the area with white. This white will act as a primer and give the red its brilliance. When working with templates this small, it is important to keep the airbrush at a 90 degree angle to the surface to avoid having the template lift up while spraying.

Once the white is in place the same procedure is used to spray in the red. For this color I used Wicked Red.

Now a new template is made of the reflected light areas on the bike. This lighter color is made up of Detail White, Red and Detail Orange.

Once again, a new template is cut for the dark areas on the bike. The color here is Detail Smoke black. It is highly reduced to give me more control as there is some freehand airbrushing done at this stage as well.

Finally another template is cut out for the white areas. Detail white is used here.

These initial steps are designed to put all the elements in their correct place. In next week’s blog I’ll show how I use a combination of traditional brush and airbrush work to tie in all the details together and make this come alive.

Thanks for checking in!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Something for Nothing

Despair - waterborne on titanium, 2.25"x4"

Think about the last time you brought your car into the shop and smiled at the mechanic and said, ‘Look, you replace my transmission for nothing and I will show everyone how good your work is and you will get a TON of business!’ How about sitting down at a fancy restaurant, eating your meal and then when the check comes say, ‘Ooohhh, that is a little more than I wanted to spend. I am sure we can work this out, the place down the street doesn’t charge as much as this. There must be a special deal for me somewhere here.’ Most people would never think of doing something like that, especially when dealing with a small business owner that clearly has everything they have invested in the company. Unfortunately as artists, especially emerging artists, it is something that we hear all the time. ‘Paint my motorcycle helmet for me. I go to all the rallies and everyone will see your work and you will get tons of people lined up!’ or ‘Give me a painting, I’ll see how it does and we will go from there.’ It is surprisingly common but what is more disheartening is that so many artists feel that this really is their best shot at getting seen. Our two most valuable assets are the work itself and our time. The manner in which we give either one of those things up needs to be treated very carefully.

Let me begin by saying that rarely (if ever) has a donated work of mine generated any more future work than a piece I was compensated for. If you want to get your work out there and be seen, there are far better ways than fulfilling someone’s empty promises. The first step is to fully understand the value of what you are producing. Look carefully at the time that you spent on the piece, the materials and overhead that was used to create it and the investment that you have made in education (time and money) to get to the point of being able to create this work. You may be surprised when it is all totaled up how valuable your art actually is. If you are having difficulty giving yourself and your art this proper credit, try treating it as if it was not created by you. Treat it as if you are being asked by another artist to estimate the value of their work.

Now that you have a clearer idea of the value of your art, you can start thinking about the way that you will be compensated for it if it leaves your possession. To give yourself the proper credit and to protect your fellow artists, you need to do everything you can to get full compensation for everything that leaves your studio. Full compensation does not always mean money either. Donating a painting to charity is a fantastic way to receive compensation. You have made a sizable donation and you receive the compensation of a great feeling that your work is helping someone. Bartering your work is another great way to make sure that you are compensated. That gives respect of time and talent to both parties. Even when you give that artwork away as a gift, don’t treat that lightly. Understand the value of what you are giving as if it was not yours to give.

It boils down to respect. You cultivate a respect for the work that you do and in turn you build respect for all other artists in your field. You help the people that interact with you to understand the true value of what all artists put into their work. The scam artists that are looking for a free ride will always be there. When you are armed with the understanding of your work’s true value though, you can then be more creative with him. ‘Hmmmmmm sounds like you come in contact with a lot of people and can really get my work shown around. That’s great. So here is what I’ll do for you. I’ll paint your helmet for full price. Then for every customer that comes in and says that they were referred to me by you, I will give you 10% of that new job.’ You will weed out the people that want to take advantage of you pretty quick.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Tying the strands together

Beautiful - Wicked Colors on Titanium 1.75"x5.25"
Each painting is the result of so many different elements coming together all at once. It starts with a simple idea. Sometimes the inspiration for that idea is born from a specific color or a story or even just a texture. Next, visual elements are drawn together, images that act as the reference for the new painting. The images that are used need to fit into the original idea for the work, however occasionally these bits of reference can also change the direction of the final piece. Several photographs can be used to create a single photographic image that did not exist before. Ultimately though, their job is to supply the details in order to tell the story. Even the substrate, paint and finish play a role in the final work.

Take for example the painting ‘Beautiful’ This painting started its life with a call for entry of an art show that featured the human form. That was the first strand in what would create this painting. Over the last few weeks I have been working on a series of paintings using titanium panels as a substrate and that became the second strand.  I had planned on painting an updated portrait of my daughter Emily and that became the third strand. Finally, samples of Wicked paint from Createx arrived to try out. This painting would be a great opportunity to use them. From there it was a matter of pulling together the photographs needed for the reference. The trick here was to get Emily’s eyes lit up by the sun. Not an easy photograph to take in that the only real way to get someone’s eyes lit up by the sun is to actually have them look up at the sun. Not very comfortable and squinting was certainly not the expression I was looking for.

Good Dram -  Createx on board 20"x24"

The answer comes in what can be done with the combination of several reference photographs. It actually happens in my work quite frequently. One painting is actually the result of grafting several different photographs together. Sometimes I leave hints of this as in ‘Good Dram’ which is made up of two different photographic references. The clear Glenfarclas bottles to the upper left and right of the green bottle in the foreground are in fact the same bottle. You see two different angles of the same bottle. Emily’s portrait offered a similar challenge and solution. I needed the pose and expression from one image and the coloring and lighting from another. Here are the two photographs that were grafted together in order to come out with the final image that you see at the top of the blog.

The creation of every painting has these threads flowing though its creation. It is what becomes the translation of the original idea. The level of challenge comes with tying all these threads together into an image that seems as if it had always existed. That is always our challenge as artists.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Painting in Miniature

Painting in Miniature

'Smoke' PPG Envirobase on razor blade

It started for me a few years ago in Norway. I was fortunately enough to be assisting Mike Learn in a class he was teaching in Skein. Mike’s airbrush, The Mojo, a custom, hand tuned airbrush was available for the students to purchase. Among the people to pick up the brush was a new student that was just learning the art. He was eager to see what his new airbrush could do so he asked me to paint something small for him during a break. Since it was an automotive airbrushing class, there were plenty of single edge razor blades that the students had been using to cut masks for their work. This tiny flat piece of metal seemed to be a perfect canvas to put the new brush through its paces. The brush worked perfectly and allowed the little blade to be covered with skulls. Here is a quick video.

From there the seed was planted with me. It became very artistically exciting to push the control boundaries of both myself and the tools. The razor blade became a great canvas for these new miniature paintings. Unlike some of the other small paintings that I am producing, there is never any doubt with the razor blades in regards to the scale of the art. ‘Rebirth’ is a painting that measures three inches by four inches yet if there is no visual reference like in this photo, it is difficult to understand how small this painting really is.

Rebirth - PPG Envirobase on board 3"x4"
So the question arises, why paint on such a small scale. There are several reasons that create excitement for me in working this small. As mentioned before, the challenge of pushing the limits of control has advantages and rewards on its own, yet I find there is more to it. The impact of these micro paintings on the viewer surpasses all but the most intense of my larger paintings. I believe that something in our human nature often causes small objects in our everyday life to demand attention from us. For example, think of how quickly we notice a shiny coin on the ground or the impact of a single jewel hanging against skin. This juxtaposition is what makes that impact. I am witnessing this same impact as someone looks at a motorcycle painted on an object as common as a razor blade. There have also been a couple of other small advantages to working this size. Paint usage drops considerably as well as the reduced cost of shipping and framing. Not bad bonuses at all.

The challenge now comes in helping people understand the value of a piece of work like this. Traditionally, the size of the painting can affect the value of the work. This requires a change in perspective in regards to looking at miniature work. These very small paintings need to almost be thought of like jewelry rather than hanging art. When thinking about the work and artistry that is involved in cutting a diamond or creating a fine watch, those aspects add to the value of these tiny objects. In addition, the rarity and quality of a precious stone or the limited number of handmade watches also increases the value of those pieces. Miniature painting needs to be thought of in the same way. It is not the substrate that determines the value of the art, rather it is what that substrate is transformed into. The value of the painting comes from the effort, skill, quality and talent that went into the creation of the artwork. The responsibility in helping the viewer understand these things falls on the artist. Fortunately, as it always is, the paintings will have a far stronger voice than my own.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The new blog!

Thanks to a great amount of help and talented designers, the new has gone live! The idea and drive for the new web site was to clean it up and create more of an online, dedicated portfolio. In addition, we were looking to create a place where media support could be readily available. Filling those goals however, left no room for some of the educational and personal aspects of the old site that I liked so much.

Enter the solution! Up in the Air. With this blog, I plan on weekly updates of the new art that is in the works, tips and tricks as well as having the opportunity to answer questions and respond to comments. The website will be the walk through the gallery of artwork and the blog will be more like a visit into the studio.

The schedule looks as if Monday updates will be the plan however, I will certianly update it more frequently if things come up.

I hope you follow along, jump in with suggestions and comments and most of all that you enjoy the content!