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!