An Anniversary!!

Here are some of the paintings and drawings that I produced over the past year.  Enjoy!

 

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RenukaBenPiyushjpeg SkyKristenBW Ryan CBWBintoo YoungGirl Pichimuni     SumiandDipenCarrie12016-03-15 14.21.262016-04-05 22.59.54

 

Photo Sep 26, 8 14 28 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 13 13 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 09 36 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 08 27 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 06 35 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 02 58 PM Photo Sep 26, 5 51 02 PM Photo Sep 25, 8 13 59 AM Photo Sep 25, 4 05 47 PM Photo Sep 23, 12 57 25 AM Photo Sep 22, 5 51 58 PM

 

 

Colorist Method & Paintings of Sons

First off: my apologies for the long delay in posting on this blog.  I’ve been busy with commissions, personal projects and life in general.  What’s more, Facebook has replaced small business websites and blogs as the primary way to reach interested parties.  My personal musings are less interesting to people than photos of my artwork!  Thus, I will keep this blog entry short.

I am attaching below several portraits that I have done in the “colorist” method.   The method comes up in conversation about artists like Hensche and Shanks, but I think that those artists had a very formal, disciplined approach that depended on artists conducting color studies in different atmospheric conditions.  The broader, colorist method is just about using very bright colors to start paintings and then using other colors to create more realistic tones and values.  The artist stays away from just dumping black and white into the painting to make works lighter or darker.  The result is a more colorful painting.

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Also, I have really enjoyed doing a couple of oil paintings of my sons!  I don’t often do oil paintings, but my knowledge of pastels has readily translated into applying color in oils.   Dhiren2016-04-24 12.47.18

Brotherhood on the Road to Recovery

 

 

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It’s probably worth explaining the meaning of this holiday card. My oldest son fractured his ankle midway through the fall soccer and baseball season. As a boy obsessed exclusively with sports, he was flattened by progressively worsening news about the injury.  When the doctors considered it a sprain, he expected to return to the field in a week or less. But his symptoms cleared any uncertainty in the x-rays: braces were replaced by casts and days of recovery time became weeks and then months.

It is not cancer or Lou Gehrig’s or the kind of nagging injury that sidelines a person forever.  My son is not Tiny Tim.  And he never explicitly complained beyond a single statement that “he was going to miss a lot of things like baseball tryouts and the soccer tournament and maybe Halloween.”  But a person doesn’t have to face death or lifelong trauma to suffer.

He insisted on attending every soccer and baseball game. At 6 am one Saturday morning, I went into his room to tell him that my wife and I didn’t have the energy to drive an hour to watch yet again other people’s kids storm around the field and score goals.  But he was already wearing his home jersey.  I watched as he folded his away jersey and tucked it into his bag, presumably intending to change jerseys if there were some kind of error, to match his teammates if only from the sideline.  His soccer ball bulged out of the back of his bag and his tin water bottle dripped fresh condensation.  The boy was prepared for battle.  How could we refuse to take him?

When halftime began in a cold fog at Muldoon fields, my son hobbled along on his crutches and stopped behind his teammates, leaning in to hear the coach’s every word of correction and guidance as if he would shed his cast and injury and jog onto the field, fired up for the second half.  But, halftime over, he sat upright on the bench, wearing fewer layers than many of the boys on the field.

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I took the above photo at a baseball game when the autumn sun began to sink into the centerfield tree line and drag the remains of the season in its wake.   It inspired the card.  But the holidays are not about loneliness.  They are a time of friendship and warmth and giving.  It seemed fit to include my younger son in the card.  It was he, after all, who carried the crutches up the steps of the bus and carried book bags and trumpet cleaning kits and fallen caps and meal trays for his brother.  Sometimes the things he carried rose well above his head.  The boys scrap and fight like most brothers.  The younger one gets the worst of it.  But I was surprised at how helpful he was during the recovery.   So I staged a photo shoot that captured what I saw daily, but never live on camera:  brother supporting brother.

Staged

Lest you think the card melodramatic, it intends to reflect more serious illnesses in the family and among friends, illnesses that are too tragic to deal with explicitly  in a holiday card but are nonetheless lightened by friendship and persistence.  Sometimes impossible and inconceivable truths are best understood through more concrete and mundane ones.  And the simple experiences of children capture the essence of the trials of adulthood.

The painting was a challenge.  It took twice as long as a typical portrait.  Figures in landscapes are tough.  Narrative work is tougher.  I debated whether to post this one on the internet.  Perhaps folks would write it off as melodrama or a sign of parental obsession or just inappropriate rubbish.  But I was moved to paint the piece for the card and hope that it moved those who received it.

It’s the desire to narrate in order to elicit emotion, whether through the face of a person or the twist in a torso or an interaction on the paper, that has driven me to paint, sometimes around the clock.  There is little that has the power to influence more than an image.  And, in the last four months of painting and drawing commissions, I have experienced people moved sometimes almost to tears in receiving portraits of their children or other loved ones.  I am grateful for having lived those experiences, having understood the power of art beyond the abstraction of classroom debate.  I am grateful to my wife and kids and friends who have urged me on in this pursuit and I have every intention of continuing as long as I am able.

Here are the preliminary sketches.

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The Quest for Respect

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Piyush Agarwal, a good friend and client, commissioned the above pastel portrait of his father, the late Dr. Agarwal (reference photo here).  The subject was revered and loved in his community where he practiced medicine and saved lives for many years.  The client was touched by the portrait.  Perhaps more importantly, his mother was touched.

This is why I paint.  This is why I draw.  If my work touches a single soul, affects his or her emotions as I had hoped for, then I have accomplished something.  If I am able to reach more souls, then so much the better.  Yes, I am asking a fair price for my work, but I’m searching for an emotional impact that goes beyond money.

The social reaction to my decision to switch careers has been remarkable.  Most people seem genuinely happy for me.  They recognize that my family enjoys considerable benefits from my peace of mind and increased availability.  Some openly say that they wish they were in the position to make a similar switch.  In the opinion of these people, I have guts.  I’ve grown a pair.

There is a minority of people, however, that is far more critical and disparaging.  To them, I am free-riding on my wife.  I am selfish and irresponsible.  I am an untrained, self-taught artist and my work is little more than the sketches of a street urchin trying to make a buck while resting over a metro grate in winter.  I am more lucky than talented, they say (though I would ask a trained artist to accurately draw a child’s head and reassess drawing that conclusion).  I should grow up and return to a real job, with real retirement benefits.  It is only a matter of time before I crawl back to the law and, regardless, my wife will divorce me.   To these people I have no guts at all.  I’m a shameless, ungrateful, selfish coward.

It is because of this minority view, the fear of it, that it took me 7 years to take serious action on switching careers.  What propelled me to make the move was an awareness that there was no better time.  Caring for a very sick relative reminded me that none of us really know when we run out of time.  Increasing family obligations were making it impossible to balance art with the law.  I recognized the sexism in feeling that a woman can’t be the primary breadwinner; realized that there is no shame in living a life that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to live.  Conservatives, in particular, would seem to swirl in hypocrisy when they say that “it takes a family not a village,” but then invoke the standards of the “village” to assess the financial viability or prestige of switching careers.  Who really knows a family’s financial stability?  Who really knows whether a child is better off living around contentment and passion than around unhappiness and purported stability? I’d rather go to the individual family, who knows its own details, than look to the formulas of the village or to the astrologers and uncertified financial planners who have arisen within this minority.

I wonder whether people would be so judgmental if I were a woman deciding to quit for better quality of life, to pursue a passion, to spend more time with kids, and care for a sick relative?  Probably not.  What if I took a job with an environmental think tank, researching the law for $ 35 K per year and receiving very few benefits?  I probably wouldn’t hear much of anything, yet the monetary risks to my family would be similar to those from pursuing a career in the arts.

As to the debate about what’s real art as opposed to poor quality art, good luck getting to the end of that one.  Go back to the beginning of time to collect all the arguments.  In my view, I’ve succeeded if I manage to move the emotions of the viewer, bring him or her back to the piece to revisit those raw emotions, and continue to expand the range and audience of my work.  Because my contentment and my family’s well being take precedence, I feel that victory is already at hand.

Mid-life crisis or the fruits of wisdom?  It almost feels indulgent to consider at length such a question.  To tell the truth, this write-up reflects the longest thought I’ve given to the question in months.  I’ve been too busy working on commissions.

Sri Lankan Tea Plucker — Silent Auction Piece

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I took the reference photo for this painting in Sri Lanka, just downhill from Nuwera Eliya.  We compensated the worker for the photo. Anyway, it’s an 18 x 24 pastel painting.  I gifted it to the Global India Fund for their event “Girl Rising.”  It promotes girls education in India.  The piece is being offered on a silent auction:  https://www.biddingforgood.com/auction/item/item.action?id=246872274.  Please click through and make a bid if you feel like it.  I asked that the starting bid be well below value so as to give more people an opportunity to support the cause.

Here’s the time-lapse video of the painting in progress.

Unusual Suspects

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Last Tuesday, I got a phone call from Gautam Gulati.  He wanted to commission 12 portraits that had to be completed and framed by Sunday.  Four full days.

Now, Gautam Gulati started and runs the Unusual, Inc., a corporation that seeks out and promotes unusual ways of doing business.  Particularly innovative innovation.  He had trained as a doctor and gotten his MD, but then layered several other degrees on top of it.  I know he had an MBA and an MPH.  He may have other, hidden degrees, but I don’t know what they are.  He had given up his corporate career to deliver talks on unusualness and manage his startup.

So a very successful man, who was used to hard work and getting things done against the odds, had called on me to do something I had not come close to doing before: drawing an average of 3 portraits a day, based on unknown and most likely minimally suitable reference photos, and without any communication with the subjects to learn their personality or tendencies or preferences.  And on top of it all, these were particularly “unusual” people:  how would I capture them without some knowledge beyond the resume?

I wondered whether Gautam thought I produced widgets; whether he thought that, for the right price, I could just up the ante and churn out more drawings.  At the same time, it dawned on me that this would be a great challenge and within my capabilities.  I had been doing portraits a long time.  I can see the planes of the face and the turn of features and the way light is hottest on the temple and most absent under the eyebrows.  I imagine these things in my dreams.  It would be fun.

So, we agreed on a fair price and he emailed me the reference photos.  I committed to the job.

The subjects looked great in the photos, but not all of the photos were good for hand drawn portraits.  They were washed out with flash or showed the kind of gleaming smiles that look great in photos but can seem static in portraits.  Working with those references would be a challenge.  It harkened back to college when, during breaks from French lit papers, I would open up a newspaper or a Sports Illustrated and sketch people in advertisements,  struggling to understand why the subject’s smirk looked great on film but like a tilted Mr. Potatohead mouth in the sketchbook.  Puzzling through that kind of problem lay ahead.

But somehow I did it.  I can’t tell you how.  I was most productive on two nights that I spent at a sick relative’s place, waiting to hear if an emergency would force me to abandon everything and attend to the matter.  The reference photos collected in haphazard piles.  They grew smeared with pencil and charcoal.  Two of the portraits took 10 hours to complete.

It helped that Gautam reviewed drafts of the drawings.  He knew the subjects and was able to provide brief critiques.  A couple of times, I started over.  There was not time to look back.  Starting over is part of the artistic process.  You have to kill your darlings, someone said.  Nothing is wasted.

On Sunday evening, I waited anxiously for a report back on how things went.  Apparently, it went well.  Photos of the framed drawings started to appear on the subject’s pages on Facebook.  One shot (attached) of all the recipients holding their portraits suggested that the subjects were pleased, something that Gautam later confirmed.

Leaving aside the selfish eagerness I had to know how the portraits were received, I was struck from photos at how engaged the audience was with the speakers during the presentations.  The slides and handouts seemed impressive.  These were people who had teased out accomplishment from unvisited corners, who had knacks and intuition.  I regretted not being there to hear them speak and to ask them questions.  They were leaders in health care, human rights, culinary arts and angel investing to name a few.  I felt small in comparison: a guy who had chucked the law to doodle.  But I do take satisfaction that the gifts that I created gave joy and pleased and will hang on walls in far off places and speak to visitors and subjects alike for many years to come.  That, in a world of ephemeral and redundant imagery, a dozen, hand drawn portraits might leave a more lasting and true impression.

Below are photos of the individual drawings along with a photo of the subjects receiving and reacting to  them.  Photo by Brooks Craft.

Photo Sep 22, 5 51 58 PM12038622_1504814676495959_8049157746850385821_o Photo Sep 25, 8 13 59 AM  Photo Sep 25, 4 05 47 PM Photo Sep 23, 12 57 25 AMPhoto Sep 26, 5 51 02 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 02 58 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 06 35 PM 2015-09-24 10.02.15 Photo Sep 26, 8 14 28 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 13 13 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 09 36 PM Photo Sep 26, 8 08 27 PM

Dimple

The subject is an 8 month old baby.  The Mom was very pleased with the result.  It’s 18″ x 24″ pastel on sanded paper (Colorful).  The black and white drawing is 8 x 10, pencil on bristol board.  I included it in the price for the pastel piece.  I did both pieces from a reference photo taken by the Mom.

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Johnny

 

The above is a drawing of Johnny Depp. Here’s a link to a clip of the drawing in progress.  Please check it out.

Hope at the Edge of the Abyss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I took some artistic license with this.  African Cichlids live in lakes, not in the deep ocean.  But I made the ecological adjustment to serve the metaphor.

This was a freehand sketch on the Surface Pro 3.   It took maybe 2 hours, done while waiting for doctor’s appointments and while trying to find sleep at 2 am.

Game of Thrones

Two characters from Game of Thrones. These pieces bring the total number of my Game of Thrones portraits to 12. Here they are: gallery of all 12 pieces. 11 are pastels, 18″ x 24″, and one is digital. Some would say I’m obsessed. It’s less that I’ve fallen in love with the show, which is very good, or that I’ve become fixated on certain actors or actresses, than that the characters have, well, so much character.

The Game of Thrones gallery is five years in the making.  Looking at it is like traveling through a maze of memories, thematically disconnected but interesting nonetheless.  I remember painting Daenerys in 2010.  It was winter and I used my first set of dark pastels, Terry Ludwig brand. The powder went everywhere in what was then my garage studio.  It clogged the baseboard heating unit and permanently discolored the cement floor.

 

Drogo was supposed to be easy but he was not.  In the end, the stripes on his shoulders came out flat.

I did the preliminary sketches of Tyrion, the dwarf, on a high speed train in Italy.  The kids were asleep on both sides of me and woke up to comment that the sketches were good but had missed the likeness.

When I started Cersei, I had a light fever.  The pastel dust did not help, nor did the struggle to get a likeness, which eluded me until the end.

Sansa Stark was one of the first paintings I did in our new house.  The basement studio wasn’t finished.  In fact, the spartan basement’s sole visitor was my oldest son, who pitched nightly into a strike zone made of masking tape on the cinder block wall.

May, 2014, I did Margeary Tyrell. (Why do GOTR characters have such hard names to spell?)  That was when my oldest son tried out for a club soccer team.  Storm clouds gathered towards the end of the tryout, which was at my wife’s former high school.  We drove back through a virtual flood and horizontal rain.  Later that night, I wrapped up the painting.  She looks a bit too much like a cat.

June, 2014, was John Snow.  I was happy with how the background blended with the strokes on the face itself.   Shortly after I finished John Snow I went with extended family to Williamsburg for Independence Day.  I had to carry my youngest son on my back for what seemed like a mile to get to and from the fireworks.  The flames in the air were spectacular.

Ygritte was autumn 2014.  I have never done so many preliminary sketches for a painting as I did for that one. Maybe five or six.  I originally thought she had a distinctive chin and forehead, but they were harder to capture than I expected.  In the end she emerged more rugged than beautiful.

Tywin was Christmas, 2014.  My two sisters and their kids came into town, some from half a world away.  We had built a ramp so that my mother could join us.  We laid down a new rug and set up a custom table in the dining room.  The tree was huge and filled with dated pictures of the boys and chipped Santas and cloth ornaments that were losing their threads.  We now approach each Christmas as if it is our last.  My mother’s illness has made life seem fragile. Tywin was on my easel when I took my relatives down to see the study.  I can see them mulling around, making comments, drifting out to play table tennis: the hollow fwapping sound of ball against paddle.  That is what I recall when I see Tywin on paper.  I can smell the chicken curry and milk rice from Christmas lunch; the fresh pine and the smoke near the fireplace.  I can hear the Carol of the Bells on repeat.  My mother cried during her speech.

Oberyn, the Red Viper of Dorne, came next.  He comes from an exotic and sultry place.  But I did the painting during the dead of winter.  There was nothing exotic about it.  There was snow a foot high in the window well.  I had the space heater on its highest setting and it drained the light bulbs and silenced the air purifier.  All my projects at work were ones that had hung around for five years or more.  Very tedious and stagnant.  The oranges and yellows that I built into the painting didn’t do much to warm the winter.  The painting feels cold.

Missandai began on a flight to Chicago, continued on the return flight, and was polished up while watching the Nats slump through April one evening after the next. One family member questioned whether I was leaning too much on the tablet instead of working with real, artist’s materials.  The implication was that I had fallen into a sort of glorified video game.  No. Digital art is real art.

And Arya.  It was time to try something different.  Children are hard to paint.  It was late spring and the weather had warmed up.  The Nats were hitting their way out of the slump; Bryce Harper was on fire.  The azaleas had turned pink and the kids missed soccer practices because of the pollen in their eyes.  Thrones was back on TV and Arya had aged since my reference photo.  But it’s tougher to accurately render a 9 year old than a brooding adolescent girl with a distinctive, short haircut.  I did it for the challenge.

There you have it.