Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Cyrano de Bergerac - mixed media, 10" x 13"

With a New Year comes new possibilities and new goals. I think the tired old tradition of making resolutions, of which most will be broken or forgotten by Valentine's Day should be tossed aside. Someone I admire greatly once said "just do the best you can". With that in mind, I think I will simply choose to work hard at doing better. I'll be better at recognizing my blessings, work out harder, love my spouse more, spend better quality time with my family,  reach deeper to make my paintings better, explain concepts to my students in a more meaningful way, and be more satisfied with where I am in my journey. I figure working to simply be "better" than the year before will keep me on the right path to happiness. I wish you all much joy and prosperity in the coming year and may we all be a little bit better.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cold Day

Detail from work in progress

Morning broke here with five inches of new snow and frigid temperatures. As the east coast of the US digs out from a weekend pummeling, we feel your pain here. Our discomfort is lessened by experienced road crews that are and fully prepared to dig us out so no real delays transpired. Given the weather, I thought I'd post a detail of a piece I am just finishing up. Photoshop continues to feel more and more natural as I get more experience. I am approaching these new pieces very much like I would a real painting and I think the results are looking a lot like my painted works.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Santa Brought Art Books!

One of the best things about Christmas for me is the promise of new art books under the tree. This year was no exception and I received some beauties. Listed below in no particular order are my new treasures. I look forward to delving deeply into each of them, but for now, I will just give you an overview.

1- Color and Light- by James Gurney:
This is Gurney's follow-up book to last year's very insightful Imaginative Realism. Both books are based heavily on concepts that James profiles on his popular blog Gurney Journey. This volume examines various techniques and principles that any artist can use to better capture a realistic sense of light and color into their work.The principles are laid out in a concise yet thorough manner which allows the reader to digest each principle with a minimum of cerebral overload. This is the type of book I would have loved to have had available when I was struggling with nebulous theories of color as they were vaguely presented during my undergrad days. I wonder how many failed color schemes could have been avoided in my work if I had had a resource like this to draw upon.Even now after nearly twenty years in the business, I found myself having light bulb moments while reading through this book. I will be recommending both Gurney books to my students as must have resources.

2- The Legend of Steel Bashaw- by Petar Meseldzija
I admit I wanted this one purely for Petar's amazing paintings. It recounts a Serbian legend that Meseldzija recalls from his youth of a Young king's quest to rescue his sister and then his own love from the ruthless dragon Steel Bashaw. The sumptuous oil paintings are meticulously designed and painted with an alla prima flair that is admirable. I found myself looking closely at the details of each painting and wishing the reproductions were even larger than the 9" x 12" format. Luckily, there is a section at the back of the US edition that includes various drawings  and details of the finished paintings as well as a step by step description of Meseldzija's working methods. This one will be giving inspiration for a long time to come.

3- The Art of Maynard Dixon- By Donald Haggerty
I admit I am a sucker for Maynard Dixon books. He is one of my all time favorite western painters, a master of design and color, he breathed incredible life into his vistas of sagebrush and stone. I own several and couldn't resist asking my wife to make sure this one was under the tree as well. This volume expands upon Haggerty's previous volume on Dixon in a slightly larger format with a number of paintings that I had not seen before. I admit I have not read the text yet but based on the previous work I have read from Haggerty, I expect this to be well written and insightful as well. The best part though are the full color reproductions the are plentiful throughout the book. Already a big fan of Dixon's work, I expect this will fuel me even more to reach for expression in my landscape work that I have not yet achieved.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grand Canyon Christmas

Canyon Romance- by Greg Newbold
Oil on board, 5.25" x 5.25"

I had the opportunity this past summer to vacation on the North Rim of Grand Canyon with my wife. We had a great time together hiking and painting (at least I painted) and I gathered tons of photo reference including a bunch of shots capturing sunset lighting in the canyon. Well I took a day last week and made a little picture as a Christmas present to my sweetie to commemorate our trip. It was a pleasant and total surprise for her that she loved. The painting is rather small, but I had a randomly sized, bonus Gold River Gallery frame laying around from a previous order, so I decided to fill it. I am pleased how it turned out and I think I will also use it as a study for a larger painting.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Winter Sledding

Sledding - Acrylic on board 9" x 18"

Merry Christmas everybody! Hope this season brings you close to those you love. At the end of my picture book Winter Lullaby, two children pull the sled home to a cozy bedtime story with Dad by the fire. Each of my kids have a different perception of this painting with one thinking they are walking home with dad and another thinking  they are out with a sibling (another came later and he thinks he's with me also). It doesn't matter either way and I won't correct them. The point is that in their mind, they are coming home from the best sledding day ever to snuggle by the crackling fire sipping hot cocoa. Hope you all have time for something like that this Holiday Season and all the best for 2011!

Buy your copy of Winter Lullaby

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Christmas Shovel- oil on board 10" x 13"

So, all the shopping is done, or at least we have stopped. Presents wrapped, cards sent and cookies baked. I suppose I am finally ready for Christmas. Only one thing missing. A nice thick blanket of the white stuff. We had a nice storm over the weekend, but little by little temperatures have inched up this week and most of the snow has melted away. My youngest is hoping that forecasters are wrong and that Santa brings a fresh winter coat to hide away all the brown. I hope so too, but just in case that doesn't happen here (or that it never happens wherever you may be), here's wishing you a wonderful White Christmas!  This painting was done for a story that ran in last winter's edition of Park City Magazine. Thanks to all of you who follow and comment, It has been your present to me this year to feel like this blog is worth the time and effort. Now if I could just top 100 followers before New Years....

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Finishing Plein Air in Studio

South Lake - Oil on panel, 10" x 8"

This painting was started during my recent painting trip to California. I still consider myself a real plein air novice and consequently some of my studies really weren't up to my finished standards. A lot of plein air painting purists would cringe at the thought of reworking an on location painting in the studio, but for me the experience of beginning outdoors only heightened the process once inside.

South Lake - as painted on location
The first impression that I captured outdoors held a lot of good things to me, including the overall color sense and the overall composition, but I was not satisfied with the either the brushwork, nor the texture of certain areas. I felt like the trees in particular did not really feel like the trees I observed. I wanted to also add more depth to the shadow planes and better define some of the shapes I found in the landscape. I lightly "oiled" the entire painting and began a process of evaluating and added paint strokes in almost every area of the piece.

Brushwork detail

Some passages received just a few brushstrokes while others were nearly completely painted over. I focused on more pleasing brushstrokes, more interesting color as well as shifts in color temperature. Overall I spent somewhere around three hours reworking this piece and I am much more satisfied with the result. A collector friend of mine is buying it for a Christmas present, so I have popped it in a frame for him.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Brad Teare Alla Prima Landscape

My friend and fellow painter Brad Teare has a great blog where he posts a lot of interesting information as well as instructional videos relating to alla prima style painting called Thick Paint. In this video he shows a time lapse of an entire landscape painting. Pretty cool- check it out. Double click to see full screen.

Brad Teare's Blog
Brad Teare website

Friday, December 17, 2010

Letter to Santa

Pip's Letter to Santa - Acrylic on wooden snowflake, 6" x 6"

The flickering glow of the lantern gives off just enough light for Pip to dash off an urgent letter to Santa. The barnyard is in CHAOS! Can Santa please send some peace for Christmas. That's how my book "The Barnyard Night Before Christmas " begins. This week's Illustration Friday theme is "mail". A couple of years ago I was asked to participate in a charity auction to benefit the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. It was called Robert's Snow and was named after illustrator Grace Lin's husband Robert Mercer. At the time of it's inception, Robert was in the midst of his battle against cancer, which sadly, he lost. Each artist was given a wooden snowflake to paint in any way they chose. I based mine on the opening spread for my book where lead character Pip the mouse writes his Christmas wish to Santa. The snowflakes were approximately 6" across. They were all auctioned off online and the proceeds went for cancer research, which was close to my heart, having lost my own father to cancer during the creation of "Barnyard".

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Canyon Trail Reworked

Canyon Trail - Acrylic 11" x 14"

A couple of years ago I did a quickie job for a Christian magazine called Discipleship Journal. The article dealt with the concept of embracing adventure in your life and putting your path to that adventure in the hands of God. I initially wanted to just do a scenic trail, but the A.D. insisted that I include a hiker. Though I could see her point in the context of the article and it was the right thing for her needs, I still always felt the hiker looked like an afterthought and that it would have been a better picture without the figure.

Canyon Trail as it was printed in the magazine

Last week a collector friend of mine wanted me to dig out some pictures I might consider selling. I gave him the choice of a couple dozen and he chose this one- but only if I painted out the figure. Remembering how I had always disliked the figure anyway, I readily agreed. I spent a few hours reworking the bottom right hand quarter of the composition as well as finishing and repainting other areas that I had left because of time constraints. You'll notice many subtle changes throughout the picture such as brighter highlights and reflected lights, more subtle temperature transitions, etc as a result of this over painting.  Also, I applied added knowledge I have gained about landscape painting and I think the piece is a much stronger painting as a result. My collector was thrilled to get the reworked piece and I admit I ended up being a bit sad to see it go. That's just one of the many things I will have to deal with as I move more into gallery type sales- letting go of the original.

This topic previously on Life Needs Art

Monday, December 13, 2010

Will Terry Demo

My computer is in the shop (AACCKK!) so I'm limiting my posts this week until I get it back. Here is a video of my friend Will Terry doing his thing with Photoshop (double click to view full screen- I don't know why it's cutting off). Will painted in acrylics for years and then switched to Photoshop just in the last year or so. On Will's blog he mentions the importance of knowing your craft and having a "process" that you follow so that you are not fumbling in the dark each time you start a new piece. I completely agree that the more you know and the better you are with your traditional hand skills, the easier it is to create convincing work digitally. Too many people use the computer as a crutch or think it is some sort of magic bullet for creating great art. It is an incredible tool and has great potential and flexibility, but the real magic in great art happens because the hands and mind running the computer know how to create something special. Check out Will's blog.

Will Terry's website

Friday, December 10, 2010

I.F - Phenomenon

Sailing to Brittany - Acrylic 10" x 10"

This painting was done for a health and medical magazine to illustrate an essay about dying. The phenomenon of passing from this world to the next is inevitable, yet still unknown. I think that is why it conjures such deep feelings among people.  In the story the author described the passing of a loved one and how she imagined a peaceful sail into the sunset toward a favorite place. I wanted to convey that sense of peace as well as add a bit of a fantasy or surreal touch to it. Looking back, I still think it is a successful piece.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Midstream Mid-Process

A day's progress on the project I posted yesterday. Going well so far. I adjusted the figure on the left to make him lean more in toward the flow of water. I like it better this way. Now working on getting the value pattern working and the warm/cool color scheme going. I expect I can probably finish this one tomorrow if it doesn't take too long to do things outside before more snow flies (Christmas lights, getting the rest of the leaves up that didn't get raked before the last storm).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Midstream- preliminary pencil drawing with digital tone

Another drawing for the Boys' Life project I am working on. This scene depicts the point in the story when the two boys put aside their differences and use teamwork to cross the rushing river safely. Now on to the final rendering.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Carl Bloch: The Master's Hand

Christ in Gethsemane- by Carl Heinrich Bloch

The Museum of art at Brigham Young University is currently showcasing a once in a lifetime exhibition of paintings by Danish artist Carl Heinrich Bloch. The 19th century dutch master is best known for his religious depictions of the life of Christ.

Bloch Self Portrait

The exhibit showcases four large alterpiece paintings, of which are on loan from their respective Danish Lutheran churches as well as nearly 30 smaller works. A fifth alterpiece painting, the monumental "Christ at the Pool of Bethesda" was acquired by the museum in 2001 and has quickly become the centerpiece of the BYU collection.
Christ at the Pool of Bethesda- Carl Heinrich Bloch

The paintings are shown their own settings meant to mimic their original church surroundings and include chairs for viewers to sit and contemplate each work. I have not yet seen the exhibit but plan to attend during the Christmas break.

Having viewed the Bethesda painting on numerous occasions, I can hardly wait to soak up the details of these large works. It is always a thrill to see original paintings like these as it is so much different than seeing works reproduced in books, no matter the printing quality. The exhibit is free but tickets are being distributed in order to control crowds. The Museum has extended hours during the run of the show. If you are within reasonable driving distance of Provo, Utah, you should consider a road trip.The rest of us locals have no excuse not to see the show which runs until May 7, 2011.

Carl Bloch: The Master's Hand exhibit website
Reserve free tickets here
More about Carl Bloch here

Friday, December 3, 2010


If you look at the work I have done over the years, you'll notice how many times I have had the chance to create this type of stylized landscape. I have a lot of fun making these pictures and the stylization seems to lend a bit of a surreal feel to the scenes without removing the sense of reality that the attention to detail gives it. This painting was done for Mountain Sun Natural Juices as a wraparound background label for their tropical juice line. I also did a number of tropical fruit details that were inset into the center of the label.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Final drawing submitted for approval.

I'm working on another fiction feature for Boys' Life magazine. The story follows a young man working for a trail clearing operation in the Alaskan wilderness around 1900. The protagonist is nicknamed No-See-Um because of his slight build.

My initial thumbnail which was submitted for concept approval

I am creating three images for the story. This one shows a moment in the story when an older boy sets up a trip line to sabotage our hero while returning from the river with clean dishes. I'll post progress of this project as I go along.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

40 Illustrators and How They Work

War Bonds painting by Dean Cornwell

A recent post on James Gurney's excellent blog mentioned the good news that a new book called "Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked" By Fred Taraba is forthcoming. This prompted me to pull out my copy of the original classic from the 1940's "40 Illustrators and How They Work". The book features such legendary illustrators as N.C. Wyeth, Norman Rockwell and Dean Cornwell, but also other artists whose work is now nearly forgotten but nonetheless worthy of examination.

Cornwell's sketches for the above painting

Once again I came away impressed at the level of commitment that these artists dedicated to getting the image right. This is a skill that is sadly missing from much of contemporary illustration. Trends toward "primitive" and naive illustration aesthetics have led many artists to believe that visual research is not necessary or worse yet that it is actually preferable to skip research altogether.This mentality is obviously misguided as such investigation can only help in the depiction of a chosen subject, even allowing you to consciously depart from it more easily, should you choose. Below are a couple of examples from the book of the extensive research that went into these artist's finished work.

Sketches by Donald Teague

As they say, the finished painting never lies and the hard work is evident in the convincing nature of these paintings.This is a book I would recommend to any illustrator or classic illustration enthusiast. I purchased my copy many years ago but am pleased to find that good copies can still be had for a reasonable price.

Find 40 Illustrators and How They Work here

Addendum: Dan Zimmer of The Illustrated Press,  publisher of the upcoming "Masters of American Illustration: 41 Illustrators and How They Worked" has told me that the publication date will be announced hopefully by the end of December. It will be full color, 432 pages, hardcover with dust jacket. It will collect all the classic illustrator profiles from Fred Taraba's articles written for Step-By-Step magazine. This sounds like a must have book. I can hardly wait!

Monday, November 29, 2010

So You Want To Be An Author

Once again last week I was approached by someone who has written "the best picture book ever". Seems to happen with shocking frequency. This person was sure that they have a Caldecott winner on their hands if not at least an Amazon bestseller. If only they could get me to do some really cool illustrations, we'd be riding the cash wagon all the way to the bank. Even though it's the first book that they have ever attempted to write and that admittedly, the story isn't really finished yet and that they still need to work out the ending and... you get the picture.

The problem with this scenario is that most folks have no idea how the publishing industry works. They have no clue that 99 times out of 100, the publisher buys the manuscript from the author and then contracts with an illustrator. They have no idea that once sold, the author has very little input into what the illustrations end up looking like. They don't understand that a large portion of publishers will not accept non-agented submissions. That even agents accept only a tiny portion of all the manuscripts they see. At this point I usually dash their dreams of stardom and unbelievable wealth by suggesting that they do some homework and maybe join a writers group or go to a writing workshop. In short, Publishing is a tough game to play and the better you know the game, the better your odds of scoring. I am part of a writing group that is populated with many authors who are having great success currently in the YA fiction market and it's a treat to eavesdrop on the conversation threads. Enjoy this little instructive cartoon about the misconceptions of what it takes to be a writer. I laughed so hard I about fell out of my chair!

Thanks to Rock Canyon Writer's own Jennifer Nielsen for the video link

Friday, November 26, 2010

I.F. - Savour

Over the years I have had a chance to create many illustrations for packing clients. I did a whole series of pictures for Pilgrim's Pride chicken to be used on their Rotisserie Chicken line.The cardboard sleeves encased the plastic domes that hold each fresh deli roasted chicken.

Each package depicted a scene from a different locale to imply the flavor from that region. I ended up doing eight different flavor location scenes including Asian, Backyard Barbecue, Tuscan, Indian and this one, Mediterranean. It's always interesting to do packaging work because you have so many different elements to accommodate. This one included leaving room for type as well as the die cut shape.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gratitude- Acrylic, 11" x 14"

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.
-William Arthur Ward

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
-Aldous Huxley

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.  
-Thornton Wilder

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.  

O Lord that lends me life,
Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness.
-William Shakespeare 

We can lift ourselves and others as well when we refuse to remain in the realm of negative thought and cultivate within our hearts an attitude of gratitude. If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.
-Thomas S. Monson

Take time this weekend to be grateful for all of your blessings and the people in your life and remember those who helped shape who you are! You'll see what what you have far outweighs what you have not.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quick Draw Result

Steampunk Anglerfish Spaceship- Acrylic and metal leaf, 11" x 10"

As I mentioned last week, I participated in a fund raiser auction at the Reagan Academy in Springville, Utah last Friday night. About a dozen artists gathered to create a piece of art in a roughly two hour time frame (many thanks to artist Julie Olson for these photos). The art was then auctioned off at the end of the event. I cheated a bit and did my under painting of this Steampunk spaceship beforehand as well as creating a distressed faux leaf textured border. This one fits in with previous pieces I have done using this technique.  It's always a bit stressful to "perform" on such a time line, but I enjoy these demo sorts of events.

Me "faux" painting- I was already done by the time this was shot.

Usually I don't have to worry about it being finished at the end of the time, so I found myself working quickly to make sure that all areas of the picture maintained an equal level of "finish. I think this is good advice and a worthy challenge. I have heard it said by many artists that you should approach your work in such a way that you could stop at any moment and the picture would look "finished". In other words, don't overwork any part of the piece at the expense of another. I found myself analyzing what strokes would best describe the effect I was trying to achieve. I would have preferred another few hours, but time ran out quickly. Given more time, I would go back in and strengthen the transitions between light and shadow and make the lighting more dramatic, but hey, I had two hours. I took an extra ten minutes or so as the auction got underway to put on a few highlights and a signature and then it was sold to the highest bidder. Last year the auction raised about $8000 for the school.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pig Detective

P.I. Pig - Acrylic, 9" x 11"

Pigs aren't very smart, but I still think they are about the most lovable of barnyard creatures (Katie insists they are quite smart-see comments). I enjoy drawing and painting them when I get a chance. In my book The Barnyard Night before Christmas, the pig character actually saves the day after a few intense moments of free fall. Here' he is trying to sleuth out a solution to Santa's predicament- how to pull his sleigh when all the reindeer get sick on too much Christmas pudding. The other animal's aren't much help as they sneak up on him and pelt him with snowballs. Poor Piggy.

Christmas Shop Early!
Buy The Barnyard Night Before Christmas here
Dozens of my favorite art books available here

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Steampunk Spaceship 2

As I mentioned last post, I am working up a little piece that I can paint at a charity quick draw auction tomorrow night. I have never been particularly fast as a painter, so in order to ensure that I can finish, I know I need to get a good start beforehand. I pulled one ship from the sketch in the previous post and redrew it. I changed some of the proportions and details, like adding a smokestack. Smokestacks are totally incongruous with space travel, I know, but fun nonetheless. I then took the sketch into Photoshop and did some basic coloring. The second image is what I call my "digital under painting".

I intentionally keep the contrasts low and the values darker than normal so that I can bring up the highlights with paint. I then print this out on my 13" x 19" Epson printer, mount it on a board and paint over the top.  I do this often to save painting time as I can get certain effects like the smooth gradient in the background much faster and easier than I can physically paint it.. Some ask why I bother, why not just finish it digitally? Well, first off, I love paint. I love the tactile interaction I get while painting. I love the organic quality, I love the incidentals and "accidents",  I love the fact that there is a physical artifact left over after the process. Don't mistake my comments as a knock against digital work. I am still diligently trying to learn to paint with pixels as I believe it is a valuable skill, but there is something in keeping up with actual painting that I know will make me a better digital painter- eventually. I'll post more as this project moves along.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Steampunk Space Race

I am doing a quick draw fundraiser this Friday at the Reagan Academy Art and Basket Auction in Springville, Utah. I will have approximately two and a half hours to paint something that will then be auctioned off.Last year I did a version of a catfish, but this year I thought I'd do something with a Steampunk aesthetic. If you aren't familiar with Steampunk, it is an alternative reality interpretation of science fiction where technology never advances beyond steam power. Of course there are still all the versions of things we have now, such as vehicles and devices but just steam powered. It is a really fun look to play around with because of all the brass fittings, leather, rivets and other textures. I pulled out this drawing I had tucked away from an earlier project that was never used and figured it was time to dust it off and finish it. I'll probably do just one of the ships on Friday and complete the full paining later. I will be selling other cards and signed children's books as well, if you are in the area, drop by The event runs from 6-9 pm on Friday November 19th. The address is 1143 West Center Street in Springville.

Don Weller Part 2

Gerald Young's Gather, Rest Area- Watercolor, 20" x 16"
By Don Weller

Don Weller always wanted to paint cowboys and horses, and be a cowboy. He spent plenty of time growing up roping cows in the rodeo, but by college, he had figured out that you either inherited your Dad's ranch or you did something else. Don's father was an architect, so the whole cowboy-by-inheritance scenario was pretty much shot. Don sold his horses and trailer, gave away his saddle and moved to Los Angeles with the aforementioned portfolio full of Abstract Expressionist paintings.

Three Cows- Watercolor, 20" x 16" by Don Weller

Don worked the dual careers of graphic design and illustration for years before helping launch The Design Conference That Just Happens To Be In Park City. TDCTJHTBIPC was always known for it's mix of quality guests and skiing fun. I was privileged to attend in 1994, when C.F. Payne, Braldt Bralds, Rafal Oblinski and Jack Unruh were all guest illustrators.

Deseret Crew- Watercolor 20" x 14" by Don Weller

This annual pilgrimage to the mountains, the skiing and the wide open spaces lured Don and Cha Cha to contemplate a move. The concrete jungle of Los Angeles soon gave way to alpine views as Don and Cha Cha relocated to Park City and the prospect of returning to the saddle.

Basically Alone- Watercolor, 26" x 15.5" by Don Weller

Since summertime offered no skiing Don soon sniffed out the local horse culture and was introduced to the art of cutting horses. It would not be long before Don was riding these horses himself and competing alongside the best cutting horse riders in the West and winning a few cuts himself.

Parking Lot Near Onion Creek - Watercolor,  20" x 22" by Don Weller

Summers now find a small herd of cattle grazing in the pastures that surround the three building estate that he and Cha Cha built on his Oakley ranch. Don designed the house, the garage with studio attic, and the horse barn. The five stall barn is where Don keeps his teammates.

Dancing Cheek to Cheek- Watercolor, 17" x 20" by Don Weller

Don trains with them in their very own cutting ring where he frequently invites friends to join in the action. Cutting horse riders depend on complete cooperation from their equine partner as the subtlest of hints direct their actions. Then there is the moment when the horse takes over and separates the cow on it's own. This symbiotic relationship between horse and rider mirrors the relationship Weller feels between his riding and his art. One feeds the other and each provides a necessary component to the whole, and if all goes right, at some point the art takes on a life of it's own.

Rope Tricks Too- Watercolor, 18" x 16" by Don Weller

"A good painting does not aspire to be a photograph. A painting is a composition with things included and eliminated to enhance an idea. The elements are staged to set the scene and move the eye. And for me a good painting allows the viewer into the process. Brush strokes show" says Weller.

Careful! - Watercolor 14" x 17" by Don Weller

"I have found some tricks that help me improve the odds of success, but the most important thing for me is to spend more time planning and less time painting"  Don says. "First there is the idea. Then I try to have a pretty solid image in mind before I start, and a solid drawing before I paint. Washes are thought out carefully. Spontaneous looking strokes are practiced on another sheet before being put down on the painting."

Trio- Watercolor, 8.5" x 9" by Don Weller

Looking at Don's current work it is obvious that the years of training in design and the countless illustrations created are the foundation for his success. I am blown away by his immaculate sense of composition, the balance, the color and above all the compelling nature of the way he draws his subjects. It is not an ability to be developed overnight, or even over a decade. The reverence he lends to his craft is obvious. "The painters I respect treat painting like it was the most important job on earth. For us it is."

Down to the Colorado- Watercolor, 19" x 14" by Don Weller

In the forward to his book "Watercolor Cowboys" Don says "I have been searching my earliest memories and although I can't find a time I ever believed in Santa Claus, I'm sure I've always believed in cowboys."

I believe in cowboys too.

Like this post? Please comment, it helps me plan future posts

Don Weller Website
Part one of this interview with Don Weller

Monday, November 15, 2010

Don Weller

Cover for Communication Arts Illustration 30- by Don Weller

A few weeks ago, I saw a posting on Today's Inspiration that included the work of friend and fellow Utah based artist Don Weller. The initial posting identified the work as "unknown", but I immediately deciphered the signature as well as the style.

Don with dog Buster in the barn tack room

This prompted me to approach Don about an interview, though my request was as much an excuse to travel to rural Oakley, Utah for lunch and a visit. Don and wife Cha Cha live on a ten acre ranch property that they share with two dogs, a cat some horses and several cows. Don always liked to draw as a kid, inspired by the work of Charlie Russell and Will James. A cowboy at heart, Weller arguably stumbled into illustration as a career. Growing up in rural Washington, Don studied art Washington State and left there with a portfolio filled with Abstract  Expressionist paintings and a handful of figure drawings. This apparently was the extent of what was taught there and Don insists it was "a terrible background for someone who wants to illustrate".

Cover art for Angel Records

From Washington, Weller ended up in Los Angeles in a position doing fashion paste up for the May Co. By 1961, Don had managed to find a position at UCLA doing brochure design for the campus colleges. He says he got the job mainly because the hiring agent was being fired and wanted to saddle the college with the worst possible employee ever (remember that Expressionist portfolio?).

Westways magazine cover

Well, fellow employees Mits Kataoka and Bill Brown eventually took him under their wing and Don spent all his energy and extra hours learning the craft of graphic design while honing his own illustration skills. The brochures he was designing needed illustration and he had the luxury of complete autonomy in how to fill the visual space. At the time, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast and the rest of the Pushpin Group in New York were doing groundbreaking design that incorporated their own illustration as imagery.

Illustration for Simpson Paper Company

The logical solution for Don was to follow suit and illustrate these projects himself, which he did. The UCLA job led to more and bigger opportunities in both graphic design and illustration including work for Rexall Drug, Schick Razors, T.V. Guide, Boys' Life, Warner Brothers, Continental Airlines, Sports Illustrated, and even Time Magazine covers.

For Weller, illustration has always been about the idea and how to communicate that idea. He remembers a couple of Time Magazine projects he worked on in the early 1970's One was a cover featuring Elton John in which he was competing against fellow illustrator Wilson McLean.

Time's typical practice was to commission two illustrated and one photographic solution for each cover subject, all of which were paid for. One cover would be chosen to run unless some current event pushed the cover story aside. Wilson's version neglected to include the piano, which the editors felt was key to conveying the idea. Don's version of course had a piano, so he won the cover battle.

Later, Don was asked to do a cover featuring Bruce Springsteen, whose "Born To Run" album had just exploded on the charts. This time, Don was the one who forgot the key element, the guitar. Much to Weller's chagrin the magazine ran a version painted by Kim Whitesides which included the guitar. Time and the other news magazines would routinely leave commissioned artwork unused. One time, Don created a cover for a story on Mel Brooks' "Silent Movie". The release coincided with the 1976 Summer Olympics and was bumped in favor of teenage gymnastic darling Nadia Comenici.

By the time Don and wife Cha Cha left the congestion of Los Angeles for the mountain vistas of Park City, Utah in 1984, Don was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from the Los Angeles Society of Illustrators. Don felt that this was a bit strange if not premature since he was still going strong in both illustration and graphic design.

Logos designed by Don and Cha Cha Weller

Upon arriving in Park City, Don rediscovered his passion for horses, particularly cutting horses. I'll post an overview of the beautiful western themed work Don is currently creating tomorrow.

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Don Weller's website