Monday, April 30, 2012

Dale Nichols -Transcending Regionalism

Dale Nichols- John Comes Home for Christmas- 1937- oil on canvas
A week or so two ago I received a wonderful surprise in the mail in the form of a book sent to me by good friend and fellow artist DonWeller and his wife Cha Cha. Dale Nichols: Transcending Regionalism is a rare treat which I have been devouring since its arrival.

Dale Nichols, though much less well known than the other "Big Three" Regionalist artists, Grant Wood, John Stuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, he is no less worthy of recognition. I had previously only known his work from a single postcard (top image) that I purchased at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

While the Sun Shines-1936, 33" x 43" oil on canvas
The book is more than merely an exhibit catalog for the show of the same name  which opened at the Bone Creek Museum of Agrarian Art in David City, Nebraska, it is more of a true monograph. The exhibitions is currently on display at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama through June 10, 2012.

Dale Nichols could arguably be considered the fourth significant name included in any discussion of Regionalist American art. A native son of David City, Nebraska where he was born in July 13, 1904, Nichols studied briefly at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts before forging a successful career in illustration.

Woman's Day cover- 1947
Saturday Evening Post cover- 1941
After a ten year career in commercial work, Nichols abruptly changed gears and began a gallery career creating iconic farmscapes that were rooted to his Nebraska youth, but he never fully abandoned illustration. Though he was very prolific, Nichols never achieved the notoriety of his Regionalist cohorts, probably because his career began in earnest about a decade behind his Regionalist peers.

After the Blizzard- 1945, 30" x 40", oil on canvas
Had the Regionalist wave lasted a few years longer, Nichols would likely have been a household name along with that of American Gothic painter Grant Wood. Dale Nichols did not apologize for his nostalgic sensibilities. "I possess a profound belief that art reaches its maximum importance when it inspires those with whom it comes in contact" he explained.

Evening in the Foothills- 1940, Oil on canvas

Of his preferred subjects, he believed that in order to paint something authentically you must live it. "I paint barns and rural life, not because it may have been or is in vogue, but because my twenty years as a farmer provide me with an essential and intimate knowledge of my subject matter".

Big City News- 1940, 40" x 40", Oil on canvas
Arizona Twilight
 Nichols travels led him to live and work in places such as Alaska, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arizona and even Guatemala where he painted what he experienced. His fascination with ancient Mayan cultures even led him to be considered somewhat of an expert in that field. Dale Nichols died in Sedona, Arizona on October 19, 1995  at the age of 91.

Putting Up Ice- 1945
Platte Valley Summer- 1969, 30" x 40' oil on canvas
Nichols' paintings are in a number of museums including the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Dale Nichols- Transcending Regionalism is the first ever printed collection of the artist's work and hopefully will help set his rightful place in the Regionalist realm alongside Benton, Wood and Curry.

Buy Dale Nichols- Transcending Regionalism here

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Misty Morning - Sold

Misty Morning (Midway) 14" x 24" Oil on board.

"I accidentally sold your painting" was the message on my machine the other day. The caller was Vern Swanson, director of the Springville Museum of Art. Of course I was initially confused since I had marked the painting as NFS when dropping it off as one of my entries in the 88th Spring Salon. I called Vern and he explained the situation. A collector had wanted to buy my other entry Canyon Romance but was informed that it was already sold. I had marked Misty Morning as not for sale because I had pulled it from my gallery Williams Fine Art to enter into the show and did not want to step on any toes by selling it out from under them. So to make a long story short(ish) a couple of phone calls later, Springville worked out the commission with the gallery, the painting is sold (though it didn't even make the show)and all is well. Except then I found out that my wife really loved that painting after months of hanging in our living room. Now its gone. I guess I will have to paint another one that she can love. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Inventing Color from Black and White Reference

I did this as a demo for my Illustration 1 students to explain how I make the jump to a full color palette when working from black and white reference. I think this is a valuable exercise for any artist as it forces you to think outside of the box instead of relying on whatever colors are in your photo reference. This challenge was probably as beneficial for me as it was for the students. First, I found a photo that I had taken  at the Getty Museum of a Roman sculpture.

I liked the way the light played across the various planes of the head and the structure of his head was appealing. I knew that working from black and white would force me to think about the basics of color so I set a couple of parameters for myself. One was that I would consciously create a temperature shift from light to shadow and that regardless of the colors I chose, meaning that if the light source I defined was cool, I would paint the shadows warm and vice versa.  I would also maintain a strong value pattern from light to dark. Given these guidelines, I also wanted consciously chose colors that I do not normally work with, forcing myself to invent palettes out of my comfort zone.

The results were delightful and surprising. I found myself fully enjoying the experimentation and being excited by the way certain colors looked against others. Although in some respects the color palettes are not natural, I think they are all believable for the reasons I set as parameters from the beginning: the value patterns were maintained and the color temperature shifts from light to shadow. Each of these versions also has its own unique mood as well. This is an oversimplification of the concept of temperature shifts and they can often times be more subtle than what I did here. Creating color studies like these can be valuable in defining what you want to achieve in a particular piece. These head studies are 4" x 5.5" and I took about an hour and a half to paint each one.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Grasshopper Hunter in Spectrum 19

Just got my letter yesterday from Spectrum. Always a good thing when you get one since not getting one means you didn't get in. As always, competition was stiff  and the job arduous for jurors Peter deSeve, Dawn Rivera-Ernster, Jeremy Cranford, Scott Gustafson and John Schindehette. I am certain that the percentage of accepted entries was in the single digits, so I am proud to have a piece included in Spectrum 19: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. My entry was originally done for Boys' Life Magazine. The book will be published in November through Underwood Books.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Canyon Romance in 88th Spring Salon

Canyon Romance- 24" x 24" oil on canvas 

Yesterday I got word that my painting Canyon Romance has been accepted into the 88th Annual Springville Spring Salon. The Salon is always very competitive with nearly a thousand entries from which 251 were accepted. I am pleased and honored to be among such strong company including many of my friends and even a couple of former students. I look forward to seeing the show which opens tomorrow night, Friday April 20, 2012.

For directions to the museum, see the SMA website here

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Temptation - Preliminary Drawing

For my  senior portfolio class we had a painted final. I had everyone choose some sort of portrait  and I gave them all three pieces of reference from which to choose two. I gave a sheet of various snakes, some random mechanical parts and had them choose an element (fire, wind, water, etc.).  I decided to paint along with them and I will show more of that later. Here is the preliminary drawing I did for it. I have wanted to paint this subject for years and never have gotten around to it. I think Eve often times gets a bum rap for being the one that succumbed to temptation, but I believe it was really a conscious choice that she did not take lightly. The painting itself is a bit of an experiment and I have some process shots I will show as well. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fruit Crate Detail

Just a detail shot of a work in progress. This is for a California fruit grower and will go on their packing crates. The rows between the trees still need some work, but the trees are finished. This is about a fourth of the overall piece. I'll show the finish when I wrap it up.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Digging through the archives a few weeks back, I found this cover I did for a murder mystery set in the southwest. It was titled Death of the River Master by Allana Martin and was published by St. Martin's Press. The story conflict revolved around water rights between neighboring towns on either side of the U.S-Mexican border. Murder and conspiracy ensue. As I recall, I quite enjoyed the story. I went for a metaphorical solution involving the desert mud and a couple of bullets forming a skull. I especially like how the dry riverbed mud puzzled all together. It made the textures and patterns a lot of fun to paint. I still really like this one. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Sterling Hundley Figure Drawing Demo

I recently had the pleasure of spending the day with artist and illustrator Sterling Hundley and here is a sampling of his process as well as wisdom that I gleaned while I watched him draw.

He began drawing in Nupastel on toned paper which he prefers since it allows a push and pull of values that you don't get when working on white.  He dropped in large flat shapes in two values creating a simple light and dark arrangement.

Sterling likes to design the drawing and let the architecture of the figure dictate some of his choices. He tries not to get caught up in the face too often when drawing the figure. When that happens, he spends too much time there at the expense of the figure. He often  will purposely leave the face less defined,  insisting that it should be figure drawing, not portrait drawing. Sterling deliberately groups the values close together to create form and then softens edges and transitions to create credibility within the drawing.

At one point, he darkened down the knee  and other areas in the drawing, explaining that he needed room to pull out the highlights noting that "something can't feel light unless it is against dark". Sterling said that he hates nearly every piece of art he does at some point, insisting that "there is always an ugly phase". But he then admitted that he would rather see a confident, honest drawing than an accurate drawing.

Hundley  likes art that requires an act of participation. He noted that a frequent failure of the Atelier style of drawing instruction is that though it can produce technically accurate results, they can feel lifeless, leaving nothing for the viewer to do. He stressed the importance of learning how to manipulate the hand to give efficiency to the mark making.

When asked if he draws the positive or negative space, he replied that he does both, noting that "the negative space is as relevant as the positive space". Think of yourself as a designer, respond intuitively to the subject.

Toward the end of the drawing demo, Hundley laid forth the following  as his guiding principles:
Set up your art around the important things in life- Family/Health/Friends/Recreation/Business. Have a balance.

Build your "legend" by putting out there things that you are interested in. Build a fan base by allowing people into your creative process.
Be direct and honest - don't be afraid to show mistakes. Show your process and the decisions within your process.

If you make more good decisions than bad, you arrive at a better painting.
You are the bridge that brings the things you like together.
The only way to arrive at something personal is to inject your person into it.

You really have to work hard - the hours you put in are reflected in your work.
You can overcome deficiencies in talent through hard work.
Be exceptional at ONE thing and you can be successful; be exceptional at TWO and you can be a star.

Follow Sterling's work on his Facebook Page

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

3 Hog Night

I was approached a couple of weeks ago by a group in Emory Texas about using a piece of my artwork I had originally done for the Dueling Banjo Pigs blog and exhibit. The Lake Country Neighbors hold an annual pig roast fundraiser for their local food bank and wanted to use a piece I had done on t-shirts promoting the event.

The original piece on which I based the shirt design

I offered to design the shirt for them and this is the result. The piece in question needed a little adjustment in order for it to translate better into silk screen and I added the typography as well. I removed the textures and flattened out the colors for a cleaner design. I think it will be fun to see it on the shirts and they will even be sending me enough for my family. Fun times! I hope they send me some photos of the actual event with people wearing my design.