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Artist Review I: John Howe


John at work in his Switzerland studio

John at work in his studio

I’ve never met John Howe in person, though I feel I know him, well as much as one can from emails and an internet forum.  Since I’ve been a kid John’s art has given my imaginations of Tolkien’s mythical world color, texture and light.  I remember the first Tolkien Calendar I bought back in 1988, which I still have, along with no less than a dozen others.

I would just sit and think about the worlds John depicted.  It was easy to drift off inside his pictures as I imagined what it would have been like to have seen Smaug fly over Laketown:  earth shaking roars as a conflagration of fire danced off the illuminated waters beneath him.  His translucent wings casting an amber shadow in the fading light.  Even more I imagined how anyone could make such a picture look so real, I was in awe.

I was eleven or twelve when I read the Hobbit and a junior in high school when I started reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time.  Tolkien’s books were unlike anything I had read before.  I have to thank my cousin Kevin for letting me borrow his green sleeved copy of the Hobbit, which is where all this started at.  THANKS KEVIN!  Since then, Tolkien’s writings and Howe’s art have become an integral part of my being.

A man who needs no introduction in the world of illustration; and now film, John Howe ranks as one most praiseworthy fantasy illustrators alive today.  John was born and raised in Canada and presently lives in Switzerland where he works out of his home studio.  John is a modest and most generous man who is giving of his knowledge.  We have had some very pleasant emails back and forth over the years about art.  He selflessly mentors aspiring artists through books he has published, guest speaker appearances, in email and his correspondences on the inter-webs from his website: john-howe.com.  Go visit his page, it’s full of wonderful images and good people, many whom are regulars on the art forum John hosts.

Five Reasons I admire John Howe and his art:

  1. John’s fantasy is very grounded in realism and he is one best sketch/drawers I’ve seen.
  2. His work captures fictional moments in time like no other.
  3. He possesses a mastery of light, transparency, detail, color and composition.
  4. John’s ability to work in other mediums such as ink and pencil elevate his watercolor paintings to higher levels of elegance and craftsmanship.
  5. John is a constant teacher, a kind and generous artist whose contributions to the craft have helped move fantasy art into the mainstream and inspired many to follow in his footsteps.

Meeting John for a day of art and good company is on my bucket list.

Thanks John for doing what you do.

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Marble Madness!


meI remember playing marbles back in the 70’s when I was a kid living in Michigan.  We played for “Keepsies” on occasion and I lost a few Cats Eye’s and Steely’s.  I ended up trading back for those most of the time, but it always cost me more junky marbles.

It was a different time then I guess.

My two sons didn’t  play marbles growing up, and I don’t think to many kids play these days?

Anyways between serious big wheel races, melting my army men down to slag with matches and Lysol, and just running around outside all summer I lost all my marbles.

So… I’ve been looking for some new ones for a while now.  I struck gold when I bumped into Phillip Nolley an artisan glass blower at the Columbus Art Festival a year back.  We had a nice conversations that day and I bought a few pieces from him.  I also asked if he would do me up some nice large marbles.  Boy did he come through!  I guess I should let him know his marbles are flat and in watercolor now.

Check these babies out!

Marbles

Marbles don’t paint nearly as fast as some of the other smaller

paintings I have done, so these four new 5″ x 7″ paintings took me a long time.  I got better as I went and the last one is my favorite.  There will be a large epic marble painting in my future.  :]

Marbles4 Marbles2

Marbles3 Marbles1

I have not figured out names, I’ll probably go with Marbles I-IV, yes I know very original.

OK shameless plug here:

These new originals will showcase at the Spring Bloom Arts Festival coming up Saturday March 30th at the Bloomington Interstate Center.  They will be framed and double matted @ $225.00 each.  If your tax refund is burning an art hole in your pocket, you can be the proud owner of all four original paintings for $800.00.  My last batch of 5″ x 7″ fruit paintings sold in about 45 days, so don’t sit on the fence and miss out.

Talk to you Thursday.

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A (cold) day of firsts…


My friend John Stoeckley ( http://www.stoeckley.com ) invited me to attend a Plein Air event in his hometown of Louisiana Missouri late last month.  My initial thoughts were, “I suck at Plein Air, I’ve never done it.  My watercolors are about control and planning… how could I get that kind of painting out side when the light changes by the minute?

I could not pull this kind of loose painting off on the fly.  So I told John “Yes, sure I’m interested.

So I packed my art stuff up, trying to stay as portable as possible and drove to Louisiana.  It was very cold for outdoor painting that morning. The temperature was somewhere in the mid 40’s and very windy.  It didn’t warm up anywhere close to where my hands and fingertips were not tingling until around 2:00 PM or so.  I was really stressed about producing something that would not look like some amateur slop poured onto a piece of watercolor paper.

Mississippi River, looking south from Louisiana

The plan was to stay away from water, as it has been a subject that has brought me some frustration in past paintings.  So I drove around good old downtown Louisiana for about 30 minutes,  looking for the right spot.  All this while I was worrying about starting too late and not finishing my painting on time.  I ended up on a hill overlooking the Mississippi river, which was exactly where I went first, but skipped since it was overlooking the river (water).  As I drove around the little town, I kept trying to find something that topped that location, and nothing came to me as I scanned around.

So I went back to the hill again, to have a second look.  The sun was blazing over the water, almost a white out light, it was beautiful and nothing matched the view.  So I unpacked and started painting the scene in the photo above.

At no point was I happy with my progress.  I almost called it quits a few times.  Several people came up to watch and complimented my work.  It was hard not to make up excuses to the friendly strangers, so I just smiled and thanked them.  By the end I was cold, tired and had just about enough of this plein air stuff.  I put about six hours into this picture and just could not see what anyone would like about it.  If you know me well enough, you know that I’m my own worst critic and perhaps one of the better pessimists around.  >:-]

Boy was I wrong…  At the end of the days painting there was to be an art show for all the participants.  Thankfully John has his frame shop just down the street so we framed my painting and I took it to the art show.  The painting sold for $200.00 and I also received a peoples choice ribbon.  What a great ending to a tough day painting outdoors for the first time in my life.

9″ x 12″ Watercolor or Arches 140LB.

I learned a lot that day, and I know I will be doing more plein air painting, albeit when it’s warmer out!  Painting this way really forces you to paint loose and fast and it has provided me with some counter balance to the tight representational work I normally do in my studio.  Next time I paint outdoors, I’ll be better prepared and have a better, more positive expectation for this type of work.

Doing this makes one really appreciate the masters in the craft.

Until next time…

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Summer Art


Summer has been good here at Madison Art.  I’ve not been painting as much as I like, yet the watercolor train is still moving, albeit slowly.  I finished another small painting, which sort of tops off my interest in fruits as a subject to paint.  The newest edition to my collection is “Lunch in the Sun“.

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A small little 9″ x  12″ with a lovely Glasswing butterfly.  These are beautiful creatures native to Central and South America.  And yes they have transparent wings!  It’s a shame they can’t be found around central Illinois.  If you are curious about them check out TwistedSifter for some amazing photos.

I’m ready to move on to other things.  There will always be a special place in my heart for still life paintings, and I’ll probably continue to produce them but it’s time to mix in some figurative work.  I’ve been longing to do this since I did the Pulp Fiction of Oz painting for a friend of mine.  Since then I have has some good conversations with my friend Daniel Vangeli about painting people so I’ve been exchanging some ideas with him.

My wife and I were out to dinner the other night and I was lucky to catch a father and his daughter sitting together waiting for a table.  This beautiful girl was so animated with her dad it was endearing to watch.  I looked over at Jenny and said “You know those two would make a great painting.”  She agreed and I snuck my iPhone up from around my glass of beer and snapped about ten photos of the two.  They turned out great and I am really looking forward to using these as reference for a new painting.  I can’t wait to share it.

Oh yes, I joined the PWS:  Pennsylvania Watercolor Society….

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Busy as a Bee


Well it has been many weeks since I’ve checked in here, so I’m going to cover some ground and get caught up.  Life have been hectic!  Work has been busy and frustrating over the last month or two.  Things at home seem just as busy and in between all of that I manage to squeeze in some art time.  :-\

The Raven painting got shelved… I got so irritated with the center black book that I had to stop before I killed the entire thing.  It’s been sitting facing the wall in timeout at my studio for about as long as I’ve been neglectful of my blog here.  People ask me about it, and I’ve finally got back into the mood to continue work on it.  My time will be split between The Raven and some commission work I’ve started.  I need to dig in and really get some painting done.

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Speaking of art, I was recently invited to speak about my work at the Eaton’s Studio & Gallery http://www.eatonstudiogallery.com/  Herb and his wife Pam have been most generous in giving me the floor during one of their Wednesday Gather at the Gallery meetings.  I enjoyed talking about my art and how things have evolved over the last four to five years for me.  In addition to this opportunity I was able to whip up a few small paintings for the Friends of the Arts 5th Annual fundraiser for the College of Fine Arts at Illinois State University: http://finearts.illinoisstate.edu/support/postcardart.shtml  I donated two small postcard sized watercolors:  ‘Sunglasses‘ and an untitled painting. Both are 4″ x 6″ postcard watercolors.

ImageImageI’ve come to enjoy working smaller, but it is very difficult to develop the details I savor in my larger work.  I have to truncate a lot of the subtle variations in light and color while trying to achieve the effects I love to show.  I was unable to attend the opening so I don’t know who went home with my work, I hope these little paintings find a good frame and a cozy wall or corner to reside in.  I also finished another smaller painting which is the fifth of my fruit series.  I named it “Intermingling”.  I’m pretty satisfied with these smaller pieces but its time to move on to other subjects.  I’ll probably work in more smaller paintings while I hammer away at large works I have to do.

ImageThe first quarter of 2012 has brought me a few festival and exhibition rejections.  This has been the third year I have applied to the Peoria Art Guilds Fine Art Fair. That is $105.00 in application fee’s out the window.  I won’t be applying again, enough is enough.  I don’t know what they are looking for, I wish I did.  I have friends who get into this show year after year.  I have been around long enough to know my craftsmanship and technique is just as strong, my booth shots just as clean and professional looking.   My work should speak for itself…  I didn’t make the Missouri National nor the AWS.  I missed the Transparent Watercolor Societies deadline, so I’ll still keep trying next year.  I think it’s time to send in some portrait type of work instead of the still life subjects I’ve been shopping around the watercolor society shows.  Just ahead is the IWS’s small waters exhibition, the NWS and Watercolor West’s  juried exhibitions.

“Yes John you can apply to all of these shows, you just need to produce some new work!”

Next weekend is the opening of the Illinois Watercolor Societies 28th National Watercolor Exhibition.  My painting “Made in China” was juried in.  I took a little road trip up to The Next Picture Show Gallery in Dixon IL last Sunday to drop it off.  I got a sneak peak of the other paintings and I must say I am pretty impressed.  I have a few favorites I think are going to pull in some awards.  I’ll be in good company for sure.

The SpringBloom Art Festival came and went.  It was in a new venue this year.  It is a small local indoor show I like to attend because it gets me back into the festival mindset.  I re-learn how to put up my erector set of a tent up while I get insights on improving and tweaking my presentation for later shows in the year.  I am thankful for the help my wife Jenny gives me every show.

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Without her and some muscle from Ed and the other kids, setting up and tearing down would be an ordeal.  My festival agenda is spotty at the moment.  I am on a few wait lists and may get moved onto another.  I hope things pan out so I can attend my hometown outdoor festival and perhaps the 4th Street Festival in Bloomington Indiana.  I was close to the wait list in Columbus this year but I’m getting short on time and unless they call soon, I won’t make it there in June.  Time will tell.

By next post, I hope to have finished a new large commission and have resolved the challenges with The Raven.  More to come!

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Moving Targets


We are well into 2012 already and I’ve had to shift gears and make some adjustments art wise.  The first batch of show applications went out and came back with nothing to report other than try again next year.  I just don’t think still life holds much value to jurors in comparison to other subjects.  I’m going to give ‘Made in China‘ one more shot at the IWS National, which I have to submit to today.  After that I think I’m going to shelf the idea of entering my still life work into national competitions.  In order to counterbalance this I have begun to focus more on commissions that I’ve needed to get started on.

Locally I seem to be getting more traction with my art.  I was invited to speak at another artists’ gallery and show some of my work there.  The city of Normal has a new large construction going up and they have invited local artists to submit work for the building.  I put in three pieces for my submission and hopefully something will come of that.

Speaking of submissions, my son Ed has some art talent and entered a local amateur art show through his high school art class and was juried in.  The show opens today with the awards ceremony at the McLean County Art Center.  I remember several years ago applying to this show myself.  I’m looking forward to going today and it makes me proud to see my son get into his first show.  Maybe he will continue with art and get many years of enjoyment from it.  I’ll have some photos of this for my next post.

Where the pigment meets the paper has been frustrating me lately.  I started this full sheet painting of another still life focused on an Edgar Alan Poe theme of books, glass a skull and a yes a raven.

I drew some inspiration from the 16th and 17th century Vanitas styled European paintings.  I’ve ran into some technical challenges and ended up scrubbing and lifting out a book that turned out pretty awful after the first attempt.  The problem I’ve had is the golden/yellow light hitting the black spine of the book.  There are several swiftly graded value transitions that I just over worked trying to get the look right.  The book lettering didn’t turn out well either so I ended up taping it off and sponge scrubbing the paint up.  The paper is slightly eroded but workable.  I decided to just simplify the book and make it entirely black without lettering.  Mentally I’ve checked out of this painting and I decided to pull it off the table and start other work.  I sat stagnant staring at it for hours and hours wondering if I should just start over, or not.  For now I’m done with it but I do plan on getting back to it at some point.  It is perhaps one of the more difficult paintings I’ve attempted.  The subject matter of this painting has a wide variety of surfaces, textures, patterns and shapes to deal with collectively and I may have bit off more than I could chew.

Time will tell, for now, it’s on to a surreal landscape commission.

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Past Present & Future


Fourteen blog posts in 2011. Not bad I guess, but not good either:

New Resolutions:  1/5/2011
First Salvos:  1/20/2011
Losing Momentum:  3/1/2011
The Good the Bad & The Disappointments:  3/31/2011
Paying to Play:  4/15/2011
Small Watercolors, Small Steps:  4/18/2011
A Little Art Exhibit:  5/3/2011
Reading the Signs:  5/25/2011
Picking up the Pieces:  6/11/2011
Art that is Personal:  6/29/2011
A Short Break:  8/12/2011
Making Time:  8/26/2011
Art Galleries are they worth it?  10/19/2011.

I just skimmed over everything I wrote from 2011.  Looking back I have to say it was a tough and expensive art year for me.  My festivals were hit and miss, mainly miss.  The exhibitions, contests and shows I applied to were mostly filled with rejections.  I managed to complete twelve original paintings of which seven sold.  I made it into the TWSA National and won a Juror’s Choice award at the McLean County Art Center’s first local watercolor exhibition.  I even found an artist roommate to share the studio space with which has helped on costs.

Towards the tale end of 2011, I started teaching watercolor classes at the McLean County Art Center and also began individual lessons at my art studio.  I have always thrived on learning from other artists and it has been nice to give back and teach others what I know about painting.  It sort of feels like I’ve come full circle in some respects.  I’m still clawing for success and validation with my work but whether that manifests itself now, later or never doesn’t really matter.  It is the journey that is important right?

What will this year bring?  An end to the Mayan calendar for sure!  Other than that, probably more of the same, but maybe there will be a show or two I get into this time, or an exhibition I’ve been hoping for.  Maybe I will be able to paint thirteen paintings this year and post more on this blog without letting almost ninety days go by without a word.

I want to thank those of you who I have interacted with over the last year.  To my seven followers, you have my sincere thanks.  I will always look up to Crystal Cook’s Blog for inspiration, she rocks the blog scene and does a great job of conveying the good artists message.  Dan Vangeli, you’re the man and we are overdue for a phone call.  May your 2012 be even sweeter than 2011 was for you.  Many thanks to two of my mainstay supporters, Mr. Jackson and Mr. Stoeckley.  You both have been great sounding boards for me over the years and I appreciate it.  I also want to shout out to Doug at the MCAC, thanks for doing what you do and looking out for me this last year.  I want to express my gratitude to Natalie and Bekah at The Pod for entertaining my son on his weekly visits and for selling my art!  Last but surely not least, I want to thank my family for putting up with the trials, tribulations and moments of success I’ve experienced and shared since this all started.

Ok, let’s roll.

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