portrait commission of two cats

A Creative Life, animals in art, art commission, art techniques, cat portrait, Cats in art, fine art, Fine Art Commission, handmade papers, visual story

This time of year most of my art commissions are gifts and are top secret. No blogging about them. Well this time a couple asked me to create a double portrait of their two cats and since it’s a gift to themselves they’ve let me blog about it! (Happy Holidays to all of us!) Here’s how it went:

In September Sue and Dean asked me via Caplan Art Designs, my Portland gallery, to create a double portrait of their two cats.  They were pretty sure they wanted it to be 12 inches by 18 inches and on handmade paper to be framed.

A time to meet to discuss the commission was arranged and my wife, Judy, and I went to dinner at Sue and Dean’s house.  I brought an example of the 100% cotton handmade paper that I’d use at the size they’d requested and a few other sizes just in case. I also brought my camera, a note pad and an extra pen.

After we’d been there a short while the cats came out. So did my camera. As the cats got used to me, and over the evening, I took over 41 photos of them. Here are two of the photos I took.

I asked questions of the humans about the cats favorite places, toys and habits. I asked questions about the humans favorite places, drinks and memories. On my note pad I wrote down the answers. Where possible I photographed the answers .  For example on of my questions was: “What drink do you reach for most often when you want to relax? And what kind of glass do you have it in?” Here was the answer:

Drink

Generally we just talked about one thing and another. You know, dinner party talk. I asked questions, kept my ears open, and my notepad ready for recording things that might be relevant to the commission. I like to include in any pet portrait elements from the humans’ lives: favorite objects, drinks, food, anything that sparks pleasant memories. Helpfully, Sue and Dean both volunteered lots of information about themselves such as a favorite artwork that was meaningful to them.

backgoundart

They told of past travels that were particularly memorable. Famous people they’d met in Hawaii.  All kinds of things were talked about and without interrupting flow I asked  more questions  and made as many notes as I could. Without being too obvious I also looked around their house noting colors and patterns, writing those notes down too.  This is what I call the “data dump” phase of a commission. At this point I have no idea what information will be relevant for the final artwork.

We relaxed into the evening; just talking, having a very yummy dinner with a good wine. Slowly as Sue and Dean talked I began to get ideas…  The cats got comfortable too and began doing their “normal” behavior.

Ollie likes to sit in a basket that holds magazines. Tony likes to sit on the couch and watch Nature on television.  The cats behavior prompted me to ask which human had the magazine subscriptions (Sue did) and what magazines were favorites. Dean has worked in technological fields…so technological advances (including TV) were discussed..

Later in the evening I floated a general portrait concept: Ollie reading magazines and Tony watching TV…perhaps the basket Ollie likes so much could become a “table” in the artwork, perhaps…   They both seemed to like my concept direction. They verified the size of artwork they wanted. I said I’d send them, via the gallery, a sketch for their approval before I began the finished artwork. We enjoyed a bit more conversation (and wine) – I glanced at my notes and racked my brain to make sure I had all the data I needed – and then we said our good-nights.

In the driveway pulling away from their house about 9:30pm I texted the gallery owner with the gist of what size artwork Sue and Dean wanted etc. Then my wife, Judy, and I discussed the evening in the car as we drove home. I still had my note pad out and was writing notes in the moving car by flashlight. (Judy was driving.)

Occasionally it had happened during the evening that I was talking with Sue in one room while Judy was in another room talking with Dean. So Judy filled me in on what I’d missed.  At this point I am still in “data dump” mode. I have a rough direction for my design. But the details are very fuzzy. (Over the many years I’ve done special commissions this kind of uncertainty is normal and I trust it as a part of the process.)

The next day I went over my notes and began making 4 x 6 inch size thumbnail sketches.  Over several weeks I did this; going over my notes and photos, drawing possible poses of the cats, possible objects, considering composition and colors. I also showed my sketches to Judy discussing the possibilities. At one point Judy said that they had both talked of Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Hawaii enough that she was sure that they were important. I agreed and adjusted my drawings so that a reference to those travels was emphasized. Slowly an idea began to come together in the small thumbnail size anyway.  What works visually at a small size doesn’t always work at a larger size but it’s a place to start.

On my easel I put the 12 x 18 inch handmade paper. Then I covered that with tracing paper and drew a grid (you can see it in the photo below). Then I put tracing paper over the grid and drew one of the thumbnail ideas to that scale.  Then another tracing paper was put over that and that drawing tweaked…. And so it went, with multiple tracing paper overlays and re-draws, for a week or more. Tweak, tweak, tweak, until I had something I felt good about.  The “good drawing” I sent to the gallery and to Sue and Dean for their approval. Here is what I sent:

MorehouseCommPreApprove72

They approved the drawing! Yippee! I did a happy dance and then I got serious about colors.

Upon arriving home after the dinner with Sue and Dean I had gotten out one of my interior design color swatch books. Flipping through the pages I found a couple of color spreads that I felt had the “vibe” of Sue and Dean’s house. I showed the pages to Judy to get her input.  With those interior design book pages as a rough guide along with my photographs taken inside their house I began mixing colors and making color notes.  I used my thumbnail drawings to play with color schemes too, painting blobs of color here or there. Anyway, here’s a photo of the interior design book page as well as a few pages of my sketchbook color notes. I did 6 pages of color notes but this one photo will give you the idea.

ColorPaletteBlends

As I decided on the colors I made pencil notes on the approved to-scale drawing where the colors would go. You can see some of this in the photo above.

Then I began on the finished artwork.  The actual painting took about 10 days start to finish. As I say often – the sketching/drawing/planning is where the bulk of creation happens.  I transferred the approved sketch/drawing to the handmade paper I intended to use for the finished artwork.  Then I began to make tiny adjustments to the drawing directly onto the handmade paper in prep for painting. I also discovered gaps in my visual data base.

For example I realized that I didn’t know what the back of a vintage TV set looked like. Not well enough to paint it in detail anyway. Fortunately there are some vintage shops where I live – so a few visits downtown with my sketchbook and the problem was solved!

I also realized that I had an opportunity to make a portrait of Sue and Dean on the front cover of the “magazine” that Ollie, the cat, would be reading in the finished artwork. So I asked for, and got, a picture of the couple that I could use as a reference photo.  From the photo I did several pencil drawings on tracing paper to design the magazine cover and to get the humans to look like themselves. I drew until I had a cover design and human portrait that worked. Here it is:

MagCover

Once I had the magazine “cover” drawing ready (drawn to the scale needed in the artwork) I transferred it to the appropriate spot on the handmade paper.  At another point I realized that I could include the stain glass windows I’d seen in their house as part of the “back cover” of the magazine. But I hadn’t gotten photos of the window when we visited for dinner. And neither Judy nor I could remember the exact details of the windows. So I contacted Amy at the Caplan Art design gallery and she helped fill in the missing data! Whew!

Here’s what the finished artwork “Ollie and Tony” looks like. I’ve photographed it as it was on my easel when I finished it, so you can see the four deckled edges of the handmade paper.  I used acrylic, gouache, watercolor and ink.

OllieAndTonywithdeckles72

I sent the photo of the finished art to Amy the gallery owner to let her know it was done.  Then I spray varnished the piece with a removable varnish that has UV protection in it.

When that was dry I contacted Amy and arranged for a time to deliver it to the gallery.  The date was set and the varnish dry so I slipped the artwork into an archival plastic sleeve and into a cardboard portfolio to protect the artwork from being bent on its travels between my studio and the gallery or between the gallery and the framer.  (It rains in the Pacific Northwest – so artwork needs all the protection it can get.)

We delivered the artwork to the gallery and as a nice surprise Sue and Dean were there!  Here we all are looking at the artwork and talking about it:

artdelivery

Amy will take the artwork to the professional framer the gallery works with and have the art floated on a neutral mat, with spacers so the artwork won’t touch the glass.  It will be given a simple black frame.

What a fun project!! I love getting to make highly personal and meaningful visual stories like this! Thank you!! And thank you, Sue and Dean, for letting me share it on my blog!

Happy Holidays Everyone!!

 

still a character

A Creative Life, animals in art, art techniques, cat portrait, Cats in art, dog portrait, Dogs in Art, fine art, food in art, Narrative Art, story, visual story

Here are a few of the artworks I’ve recently sent to Joseph Gierek Fine Art (www.gierek.com) for the upcoming Holiday Art Show.  I’m sure you’ll notice my “still life” object practice work now combined with characters. Yes, I’m trying to make every element count toward the visual story. You know, like a writer tries to make every word count.

shipping art to joseph gierek fine art

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, business of art, fine art

Been busy packing and shipping an art exhibit’s worth of my artwork to Joseph Gierek Fine Art (link here).  I’m feeling like Santa and the elves in the North Pole workshop. I’ve made the artwork, I’ve carefully sandwiched each artwork between thick sheets of cardboard then delicately wrapped everything in bubble-wrap with love.  Now to load it onto the sleigh…

And off you go my precious… may you bring cheer and laughter to all.

MyArtToGierek72

I really mint it

A Creative Life, artistic inspirations, fine art, food for thought, small things, still life, story, visual story

Typically I paint food and drinks from my memory and imagination. Sort of.  I take my sketchbook along and draw from life what I’m eating or drinking. But when I get paints out in my studio to do a “real” fine art piece I’m winging it from my sketchbook-aided memories of the food flavors and presentation.  Recently I’ve done something different.

I’ve been working from “live” models in my studio. Here are my models as they came from the store:

StudioModels72

Clancy’s art studio “models”.

You see, I’ve been thinking of that moment during a nice dinner out, when the waiter brings you some after dinner mints, and you sit with your friends munching them and gentling into the rest of the evening.  But I can eat mints pretty quickly. (Mint is one of my favorite flavors) And in such a situation I’m usually focused on the conversation. So have I ever really looked at a mint? I mean really looked?

I bought some mint candies as art models for the serious artistic meditation thereof. And while I did look at (and eat) them I still ended up somewhat “winging it” when creating these paintings:

I think as paintings they worked out okay. While I tried some different colors (the purple, the teal and the orange) I feel I conveyed the minty goodness of the candies. I also think I managed to imply a story in each of them, at least an implication of people eating the mints.

At any rate I have really looked a mint now. Really looked.

olive hue

A Creative Life, artistic inspirations, Dogs in Art, fine art, handmade books, sketchbook, small things, still life

Olives are one of the many ways adults know they are loved. Grapes too. But I’ve been thinking about olives. Olives to eat. Olives in Dirty Martini’s. And how if you say “olive hue” it sounds a lot like “I love you”.

Olives have to be picked from the olive trees carefully – then preserved and processed – lots of work is done just so we can enjoy them. In all of their salty, brine-y, yummy glory. There. I feel loved. Don’t you?

Anyway here’s artwork I did recently while these thoughts ran around my brain (brine?) jar:

InSearchOfTheHolyGrail72

In Search Of The Holy Grail – by Clancy – 7 x 5 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

Allegedly you can grow olives here in the Pacific Northwest. There is at least one local bar that serves drinks with “Local Oregon Olives”. (Note to self: Explore this more.)

Speaking of drinks – one of my favorites is the “Dirty Martini”. With extra olives of course.  Here’s a drawing I did of my currently favored recipe:

P15

Sketchbook page from “Time Tavern” – you can see the full book here: https://www.sketchbookproject.com/library/20467

Happy weekend!

candy can

A Creative Life, artistic inspirations, comfort food, fine art, food in art, still life, Uncategorized

Dr. Bob Hoke had a little musical ditty he’d sing during our visits*: “Oh the candy man is made out of tin / It’s just the kind of world we’re in / so begin, begin, begin…”.

I took this to mean that we don’t have to wait for “perfect” conditions to exist before we begin something. I also interpreted the phrase “the candy man is made out of tin” to mean that the dispenser of candy wasn’t a perfect person – they were just doing their best to sweeten up the ordinary day.

Then I remembered the kids song “Candy Man” and searched for the lyrics to freshen my memory. (Full lyrics here: https://kidsongs.com/lyrics/candy-man.html/ )

And then I wondered about the origins of peppermint candies… (here’s a link: https://www.leaf.tv/articles/what-is-the-history-of-peppermint-candy/ )

All of those thoughts were in my mind as I worked on a new painting, now finished and titled “Enjoymints”.  I was reaching for an idea of the magic-ness of the very ordinary, an ethereal sense of mixing the mundane with love and making the world taste good.

Enjoymints72

“Enjoymints” by Clancy – 5 x 7 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

*Dr. Bob Hoke and I were visiting about the illustrations he wanted me to do – that eventually became the book “Dr. Bob’s Emotional Repair Program First Aid Kit”.

opening story stuff

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, Cats in art, fine art, public art, still life, Sustainable creativity

I find that with each art exhibit I learn more about my own work. Last night, during the opening party for “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs, I had multiple questions about my art techniques – in addition to conversations about the content within my artwork. As a result I realized that I’m an ancient art technique nerd. Many of my works in this exhibit utilize art techniques originating in the 19th century and earlier. I didn’t consciously set out to use so many old techniques – handmade paper, paper dying, and gouache to name a few – they just suited my content as I created it. Several different people commented that they thought my use of old techniques made my work “ethereal”.

Wow! New thoughts to think – and thank you to all of my fans for that! Thank you for all the stimulating conversations!

Quite a crowd ebbed and flowed throughout the evening. Here’s a photo from one of the moments. I’m wearing a red shirt.

What a fun evening!  Now, back to the studio to make more art!

on seeing story stuff

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, artistic inspirations, fine art, still life, visual story

Beauty and wisdom are all around us if we’re attuned to look for them. Like a mystery story detective looking for clues we train our eyes to “see” what is there. This is partially a function of he way our brains work. We see what we expect to see. How broad or narrow that expectation is affects what we will see. It’s all too easy to “see” only to-do lists and drudgery in daily life.  It’s too easy to “see” beauty only in dramatic once-in-a-lifetime vacation places. Yet our view can be broadened so we can see beauty in the fruit at the local market – and find wisdom on our coffee cup.

I see my job as an artist as a practice of seeing beauty in ordinary places and things; of telling the stories of the beauty and the wisdom I find. To help others to see the beauty too.

Beauty and wisdom can be too easily ignored, lost and forgotten – and when that happens life can seem dull and drudgery filled.  This is why we need to constantly train our eyes and minds to look around our mundane lives and see the beauty, the wisdom. It takes repeated practice. It takes detective work.

Dr. Bob Hoke (the psychiatrist I illustrated a book for) had a phrase for this phenomenon of the mind “When the student is ready the teacher will appear. And sometimes the teacher has been there all along waiting patiently for the student to become ready, to notice and remember to notice again the next day.”

Here are some beautiful ordinary things I remembered to see – and what I thought about them:

LifesABowlOfCherriesStemsPitsAndAll72

“Life’s a bowl of cherries, stems pits and all” – by Clancy – 8 x 10 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

Life’s A Bowl Of Cherries, Stems, Pits and All – At the farmer’s market during Rainier Cherry season I saw a father teaching his very young son how to pull a stem off, chew the cherry, extract the pit and put the stim and pit into a cup. it reminded me of how we have to be taught how to deal with the adversities in life, how to cope with the pits, how to focus on and remember to enjoy the good things.

CoffeeCity72

“Coffee City” – by Clancy – 5 x 7 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

Coffee City – I’ve been thinking of how much our lives are reflected in the objects we own, save, give away or dispose of – and the many mundane moments out of which a life is made. Perhaps choosing carefully what we focus on, choosing what encourages our “better angels”, choosing what becomes mundane is what makes for a good life.  These thoughts began when I was having coffee in one of my downtown coffee shops, staring at the highly polished surface of the ceramic coffee cup which reflected the surrounding city-scape. It was an ordinary moment that elevated my spirit. So I made this painting in order to remember.

You can see more art examples from this exhibit in my recent posts here and here.

More info about my upcoming art opening is available on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/2217205128523609/

True confessions: since the opening party is tomorrow night I am having a bit of the “will anyone come?” jitters. No matter that I’ve been having one person exhibits for many years, many times a year, or that all events have for the most part been well attended – even knowing all of that as opening night nears I get a little nervous. (“Will anyone else see….?”)  The exhibits matter to me. They’re risky on many levels. That’s part of the exhilarating fun of living the artistic life.

So, yes, I can see the beauty in my nervousness.

Mostly.

 

writing about art

A Creative Life, art exhibit, art gallery, art techniques, artistic inspirations, fine art, sketchbook, still life, story, visual story, words and pictures, writing

There was a time when I felt that writing words-in-a-row about visual art was rather like using lemon juice to describe honey. But somewhere along the way I realized that being a professional artist out in the “real world” meant I didn’t have to write as if I were in an academic university. That was a relief.  And I realized that writing about visual art was like combining multi-media or like a playwright creating a musical theatre piece about a historical event.

It’s genre bending/blending.

So I began practicing writing about my own visual art in an everyday conversational way.  When I’m coming up with my artistic ideas I write by hand what I’m thinking and feeling as I’m drawing in my sketchbooks. Later on I use that hand written data to write more formal “blurbs”, or story-clues, about what inspired each of my artworks. I say “more formal” because the blurbs are type-written, the spelling has been checked and the original hand written data has been neatened/edited/condensed.  These “blurbs” are often printed and posted near my artwork in exhibits. In my writings I largely leave off the technical points of artistic technique because the majority of the time I’m talking to the general public. (Of course if I’m asked about art techniques I’ll gladly share details!)

In Sept I’m doing a one-person exhibit titled “Story Stuff” at Caplan Art Designs (I wrote more about that in a post titled Cozy Mystery Story Stuff). Here are a few of the artworks and the “blurbs” (story-clues?) I’ve written that will be alongside the art at my exhibit:

NearForestPark72

Near Forest Park – by Clancy – 22 x 30 inches – acrylic and gouache on handmade paper

Near Forest Park – I enjoy hiking in a large forest in the middle of an urban city (Portland Or). I love it that I can pop out of the dense forest, get a coffee – or boot laces – and then resume my hike.

ANovelMorning72

“A Novel Morning” – by Clancy – 24 x 18 – acrylic and gouache on board

A Novel Morning – One of my favorite things to do is to go to Powell’s bookstore, find a new-to-me novel and then get something in the café. The “text” in this painting is re-combined and paraphrased from “Death at La Fenice” by Donna Leon.

GoodMorning72

“Good Morning” – by Clancy – 11 x 17 inches – acrylic and gouache on board

Good Morning – What constitutes a “good morning”? One of my answers is plenty of coffee and enough leisure time to work the daily newspaper’s crossword puzzle.

During my exhibits I’ll often see people reading the blurbs and then looking more closely at my artwork – and sometimes they’ll approach me and talk about the topic within one of my paintings. It seems that my “multi-media” pictures-plus-words exercise is helpful for starting conversations at least.

What are your thoughts about combining writing and visual art?

cozy mystery story stuff

A Creative Life, animals in art, art exhibit, art gallery, artistic inspirations, Cats in art, Dogs in Art, fine art, music in art, small things, still life, story, visual story

In September at Caplan Art Designs www.caplanartdesigns.com I’m doing a one-person fine art exhibit titled “Story Stuff”. And you can thank the literary genre of the “cozy mystery” for it.

You see I enjoy detective novels and movies. I particularly enjoy cozy mystery novels because I like the inherent premise in them that a regular person living an ordinary mundane sort of life can use reason and logic to resolve problems.

After reading and watching a gazillion mystery stories – I realized how often some small object; a receipt, a coffee bag, or a whiskey tumbler is the clue that solves the mystery. That thought inspired me to try telling visual stories with “just stuff”. So for this exhibit I’ve selected things from my daily life and arranged them in my imagination, along with color, light and texture, in such a way that the viewer can deduce a story; they can “read” my visual description of how things are and which things matter. The viewer becomes the story detective/character-actor.

In some of my works I’ve also invented a character-actor – a cat or a dog – who plays a more obvious part in the story. Anthropomorphic animals are a way to make it plain that the artwork is a visual story. These particular animal characters are created and chosen because their breed characteristics add elements to the tale. The viewer is still the detective – there’s just more actors on stage.

I’m merging fine art techniques, and fine art genres of “Still Life” and “Animals in Art”, with literary and mystery genre concepts. I also love food, drinks and books – they are the elements of everyday Pacific Northwest life which for me is the stuff of stories.

Here’s (ahem) a short story collection from my upcoming exhibit: