What Happened at Loveland’s Fire & Ice Festival

Mona Lisa public art Loveland CO

Actually, a lot happened, with lots of local sculptors and musicians, but I’m going to tell you about a community art event that I and my church, Beggars’ Gate, put on there.

If you’ve been following this blog for long, you know how troubled I am over how divided and uncivil our nation has become. I got an idea for a project that would bring diverse festival-goers together in a fun, creative process that would end in an exciting collaborative result.

With my peeps at church and the Festival organizers on board, we contacted the owner of a boarded-up building downtown. He gave us permission to beautify his blank wall. Already there was lots of trust going around.

I should mention that Fire & Ice is the city of Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival. Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal here in Loveland, Colorado.

Here’s how it worked:
We laid out a giant 13 x 15 foot grid of 12 inch squares on the wall and painted a gold frame around it. We numbered the squares 1 thru 195. On my studio floor I transferred a (secret) design to 195 wooden foot square tiles. So each tile had part of giant drawing on it. I designated how each area of each tile must be painted in order to make this work: “L” for light, “M” for medium, and “D” for dark paint. Plus a few rare tiles with white, black, and red areas.

At the festival, our small army of volunteers instructed festival-goers in the process. Some of the tiles were impossible to mess up, provided the right color values were used, so even very small children and people with disabilities could (and did!) participate.

It was crazy and fun!

Loveland Fire and Ice Festival

Unfortunately, this being our first time, there was a lot of guessing and estimating going on. We ran out of tiles and completed the image before the end of the second festival day. But Fire and Ice is a three day festival. So…one of my peeps ran out and purchased a stack of floor tiles. Another one cut some that needed cutting until we had another 100 blank squares. We contacted the building owner again for permission to attach a second mural to his wall. I worked into the wee hours to put together a (much simpler!) second design, and we were all ready for day 3 on Sunday.

A pastor friend, (who ended up hanging most of the Mona Lisa image on Saturday,) must’ve been struck with some deep thoughts while nailing up the creative expressions of nearly 200 people. What follows is what he wrote when he went home Saturday night. He read it to our little Beggars’ Gate congregation on Sunday morning. His name is John Meyer, and here are his thoughts:

The Mona Loveland

What do you see?

This community art piece is a great picture of one of the good things we believe about life.

Everyone is an individual, with different talents, different experiences, different likes. It is those differences that make this picture fun, interesting, and a bit unexpected.

But there is a bigger picture that comes together in a way that makes a beautiful whole out of all the individuality. It happened because each individual brought his or her own expression within the plan of an artist who had an intention from the beginning. It would have been nearly impossible for hundreds of individuals to make the Mona Loveland by talking among themselves. But by accepting (even without understanding) the greater plan of the artist, the unique expression of each individual created something that included everyone, and has a greater meaning and beauty that only exists because everyone came together.

We think this is a good picture of God’s plan for life. Each of us is made wonderfully unique by Him. Just as no two snowflakes are alike, and no two sets of fingerprints are alike, every person has unique and wonderful traits that are found in no other life.

But none of us are meant to be a complete picture alone. We are made for community. The Designing Artist has had a plan from the beginning to allow us to experience both our individuality and the greater good of a community living together.

It is from both living out who we are, and expressing that uniqueness within the “lines” and plan the Designing Artist has for each life, that allows us to experience the beautiful picture of human community to come together.

Our goal is to help individuals appreciate their own uniqueness, and to understand the plan of God that allows all of us to experience His good and bigger picture together!”

Beggars’ Gate Church
Loveland, Colorado
beggarsgate.com

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The finished mural: “The Sweet Heart City’s” own Mona Lisa, painted by local citizens…

I want to extend a big THANK YOU to the army of volunteers who enabled this event to happen for the community. They gave time, energy, and resources to make this event free for everyone else. ‘God bless em’ all!

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Love peace dove mural scott freeman

This is the completed second mural.

Abusing Christmas Decorations

Surely no one will be interested in reading about my family’s quirky behavior at Christmastime. But, I’m sorry…this is just funny to me.

Years ago, someone – I think it was an aunt, or maybe my mom – gave us a snowman decoration as a Christmas gift. As an oh-so-cultured and aesthetically sensitive fine artist, I thought it was kind of tacky. However, as our tolerance for tackiness necessarily goes up at Christmastime, we continued to set the decoration out each year. Also, our daughter liked it. The decoration consists of 4 pegged blocks with letters on them, with 4 little detachable, smiling, sparkly snowmen, whose little snowman rectums fit over the pegs. The letters are very limited in their scope of possibilities. There are lots of “o”s. You’re supposed to spell out words like “JOY”, “SNOW”, and “NOEL.” Like this:

Abusing Xmas decorWell, in a house full of artists, theatre people, and word freaks, I suppose it was inevitable that one day I would look over and see this:

Abusing Xmas decor-SOY…And that was all it took. (Thank you, Lee.)

Now, in the midst of all of the truly meaningful celebration that Christmas brings, we have the stupid snowman decoration. Even worse, for ten years now its place has been the bathroom, which means that no one ever gets caught messing with it. Days will go by after you’ve finally begun to ignore the latest permutation. Then as you’re drying your hands, you look over and see this:

Abusing Xmas decor-SNOOPor this:

Abusing Xmas decor-YES/NOThings started out somewhat tastefully. But as years have progressed, it’s been harder to come up with new words. After all there are only 4 blocks, and some letters repeat. (For you word freaks, there are only ten letters: S,N,J,H,O,Y,P,E,L, & W.) And they’re in a fixed position on the blocks, limiting one’s options even more. So this really does present a patron with something to think about when answering nature’s call.

Sometimes removing the snowmen from their pegs helps:

Tacky Xmas decorationsWe’ve realized it’s possible to flip some letters to increase our options. Adding an “M” probably gave us a whole season’s worth of new possibilities:

Snowman gender is a social construct (I’ll agree that gender is a social construct in the case of snowmen.)

Fun with Xmas decor!Then someone (okay…me) started adding additional bath-roomy elements. Like toilet paper:

Fun with snowmen!And shampoo:

Winter fun with toiletries!There is the occasional borrowing from other Christmas decorations:

More fun with Xmas decor!I’ve stopped bothering to warn our guests about the decoration, so I can only wonder what impression they leave with.

SONY That’s “all I got” this time. I hope this has been fascinating for everyone. Part of me would love to hear your favorite stories about tacky Christmas trappings, in the combox below.

May you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas Season!

I leave you with this simple holiday(?) message:

YOLO snowmen

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Introducing Our New Greeting Card Line…

Many of you know that I worked at Hallmark Cards for almost a decade before moving to Colorado to pursue a living as a fine art painter. Well, recently, after decades of creating original fine art and illustration, I realized I have lots of nice work sitting around in computer files, not doing me or anyone else any good. So Mollie and I have decided to make the best of this work available in the form of greeting cards, note cards, apparel, and other gifty stuff. Digital technology now makes it super easy and affordable to do this. If you’re a fan of our work, I hope you’ll go to our Zazzle page and check out what we’re offering to you.

We’re resurrecting a business name I was toying with when we first moved to Colorado – The Loveland Company. Originally I wanted to open a store in Loveland selling art, creative gifts, great local music (by locals such as Taylor & Rebecca Mesple, and Dave Beegle,) and other cool stuff. Fortunately, I realized that I really didn’t have the capital and business savvy to open a brick and mortar store. We still don’t, so we’re opening an online store. If we get a decent response, we’ll keep adding new stuff.

Why The Loveland Company?
Because:1) I love the name of our town – Loveland, Colorado, 2) I love the fact that The Loveland Company initials happen to be “TLC,” 3) My town, Loveland has developed a reputation as a great little art town. There are proportionally a ton of artists of all types living here. So how fitting to name our little art & design company after our little artsy town, 4) I love love, 5) I hate hate.

I’m timing this announcement a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day, since I’m featuring a Valentine’s Day card design. Since I’m a (possibly obsessive) storyteller, I thought I’d tell you the story behind this design. (I promise not to do this every time we add a card to the offering.)

The Time Angel
I tried to push a very different version of this idea at Hallmark, but they rejected it. Then, when I got to Loveland, I learned that the City holds a citywide contest each year to pick an official Loveland Valentine card, which is then sold all over town at local businesses and stores. At the risk of sounding like an art snob, I will say that some of these designs seemed to me to be just a wee bit amateurish. Which is fine. It’s a small town. Whatever. So one year I decided to submit my Time Angel idea, which Hallmark had rejected. You know…since I had worked as an artist for the number one greeting card company in the whole freakin’ world. I spent a couple of days creating a new watercolor painting, which I was quite happy with. I submitted the design.

The Loveland Chamber of Commerce Valentine’s-Day-Card-Picking-Committee also rejected my submission. (Sigh…)

So I later sold the little original watercolor at a studio tour, and moved on to the next thing. But I still have a great digital scan, and I still like concept. Whether ANYONE ELSE LIKES IT OR NOT!

LOVE RULES, MAN!!!

Here is the card design, blank inside, suitable for giving to anyone you love, available on Zazzle:

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A Note About Loveland’s Valentine Re-mailing Program
Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal in Loveland, because of the town name. Loveland is also known as The Sweetheart City. You may or may not be aware of Loveland’s re-mailing program, the largest of its kind in the nation. Each year more than 160,000 cards from all 50 states and over 100 nations are re-mailed through Loveland so that they can be postmarked with Loveland’s Valentine cachet. This year marks the 68th anniversary of this program.

You can have your mail stamped in Loveland by following these 2 steps:

1)     Pre-address and pre-stamp all valentines, and enclose them in a larger 1st Class envelope.

2)     These envelopes should be sent to:

Postmaster – Attention Valentines
446 E. 29th St
Loveland, CO 80538-9998

All valentines will be removed from the larger envelope at the post office, postmarked with the official Loveland Valentine’s Day cachet, and sent on their way!

To ensure delivery by Valentine’s Day 2014:
> Foreign mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 4

> U.S. destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 7

> Colorado destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 10

> Proper postage must be affixed, especially for foreign mail.

Colorado residents have the option to drop off their pre-addressed, pre-stamped valentines to local King Soopers or City Market food stores, where you can find special drop boxes for this purpose. Feb. 8 is the final day to drop off valentines at these locations to ensure on-time delivery.

Below are some examples of past Loveland cachets. They’re all designed and written by locals, as part of the annual contest.

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More Interesting Details
This year, 2014, the cachet stamp slyly references the floods that buffeted a segment of our community last fall:

From the Sweetheart City
Scenic, Safe and Strong
Comes a flood of Valentine wishes
To you, where they belong.

Here’s something else I just learned from the Loveland Chamber of Commerce website. Apparently, there is a waiting list for people who would like to be one of the 60 plus volunteers who “lovingly hand-stamp” each card with the Valentine cachet during the first two weeks in February. Check out this video. At one minute and forty-one seconds, it’s almost too long, but it’s so stinkin’ cute. Go ahead! Click here and get a glimpse of some local color! (ie: red and white.) When I saw it, it hadn’t quite gone viral yet, at 474 views…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P296xn4b70

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“Retro Family”
Here’s a card design I put on Zazzle that was yanked because I apparently violated John Wayne’s privacy/celebrity rights. (‘Sorry, John.) It’s adapted from a cover I designed for a now defunct alternative newspaper – KC Jones. I thought you’d like to see it before I give the Duke a makeover.

Thank you again for stopping by our ZAZZLE STORE (click here.) Please bookmark the link as we will be adding cool stuff periodically.

Portraiture

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I find portraiture to be a strange genre in contemporary culture. It’s not really my business as to why someone wants a portrait; if someone wants to commission me for a portrait, I’m happy to paint one. Do most people want portraits of themselves in their homes? I doubt it. A couple of times I’ve had guys wanting me to paint their girlfriends, as a gift for their girlfriends. I’ve felt obligated to ask if they had reason to believe their girlfriends would want a portrait of themselves. Do you see what I mean? Portraiture can be a tricky genre. I once saw a home where, in the master bedroom, a large portrait of the wife’s mother hung over the couple’s bed; Hmmm…I think I would hang a portrait of my mom somewhere else.

I can tell you several reasons why people might want portraiture. I’ve had several parents commission portraits of their children. (But I generally only do older children for reasons that will become clear later.) I’ve also had parents commission portraits of themselves to leave to their grown children someday, and I think this makes sense also. Some collectors simply love the human face – the psychological impact, or the personality or stories that a face might suggest. The human face is a powerful carrier of emotion. Oddly, when I first moved to Loveland, which at that time was even less racially diverse than it is now, my gallery sold 2 or 3 portraits of beautiful black women I had painted. I’m not really sure what was going on there.

A few times I’ve had the sobering honor of painting infants or children who have died, for the parents who lost them. I consider this a weighty endeavor because these parents will only have the painting, photographs, and memories by which to remember these children.

Finally, a lot of artists seem to especially enjoy a beautifully painted portrait. Portraiture is an unforgiving subject matter. If one can balance the technical aspects of good drawing, composition, values, color, edges, and paint-handling without losing the grace and sensitivity that painting a human face requires, that is something to appreciate. Over the years I’ve sold off a few unframed portrait studies to artists and students for a couple hundred bucks each, because I know they can’t afford a full price portrait, nor do they care who the subject is. They’re just interested in the art of it.

I’ve been participating in plein air festivals for several years, and I usually paint a portrait during the Quick Draw event (click here for a fun Quick Draw story.) I do this because the public seems to enjoy watching portrait painting. Despite the fact that the Quick Draw models are usually dressed in cheesy period clothing, I usually sell these, and I’ve won several awards for them.

My Approach to Portraiture

I generally only paint from live sittings when doing portraiture in oils. There are plenty of other artists out there who will do a portrait from photographs, and this is certainly logistically easier. However, I find there is an authenticity and spontaneity that results from a live sitting that is very difficult to achieve from a photo. Also, coming to my studio for a sitting creates an experience to go with the painting.

At the Kansas City Art Institute I studied primarily under a painter named Wilbur Neiwald. While my studio work has now taken a departure from Wilbur’s approach, I find his approach to be unparalleled when it comes to portraiture. Wilbur taught a fascinating direct-study painting approach that by-passed traditional aspects of art instruction such as anatomy, perspective, and color theory. In fact he believed these things can sometimes hinder a painter from seeing clearly. Even today, because of what I learned under Wilbur, when I teach a class I tell students it’s a “seeing class” as much as it is a painting class.

Boiled down to its simplest description, Wilbur taught that all we really see are color relationships. That pretty much encompasses everything else, if you think about it. So when I paint an oil portrait, I’m simply seeking to paint one color in its proper relationship to another. If I basically get down the color relationships in the size and shape as they appear in front of me, a likeness appears. It’s almost that simple.3 Portraits

The frustrated-Hallmark-artist portraits 

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“Scott Brown”
Yes, this guy worked at Hallmark. He wore black every day and rode a Harley. It was always refreshing to see him; kind of like bumping into Thor in the lingerie section of a department store.

My previous post describes my 10 years as a Hallmark greeting card illustrator and designer. For me, one of the enriching aspects about working there was that were so many great painters there. A lot of these painters ultimately desired to be full time fine artists, but many us had families to support, so we worked at Hallmark instead; because it’s notoriously difficult to make a decent living as a fine art painter. But we found outlets, and made opportunities to pursue painting “off the Hallmark grid.” One of these opportunities, open to anyone, was a Wednesday lunch hour painting group. I thought of it as the “frustrated painter group,” (not because the group was frustrating, but because our dreams of being fine artists were frustrated by the realities of life.)

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“Roxanne”
One of my favs that I will never sell. Roxanne had exotic features: amber eyes, reddish brown hair, and a lovely almond-shaped face above her willowy neck; so fun to paint! Something gelled for me in this painting.

Hallmark was a fairly cosmopolitan environment, full of interesting people. Every Wednesday we would ask someone from the company to come and sit for us for an hour. Artists could paint or draw in the medium of their choice. Every Wednesday. For a couple of years I organized the model list as a ploy to discipline myself to attend every week.

When I first joined the group, I could not paint fast enough to finish a painting in one hour. However, after regularly painting a portrait a week, over time I eventually was able to consistently get a result I was pretty happy with. For me, an hour is still too short of a time to really nail a portrait, so the time limit forced me to loosen up. There’s just no time to get picky in an hour. I came to enjoy the spontaneity that came across in these portraits.

3 more portraits

Left: ” Tracey” – I like the loose spontaneity of this one.
Middle: “Wale” – This guy was from Uganda. A writer, I think.
Right: “Cathy” – My lovely next-door-cubicle neighbor. I kinda wish I still had this one.

Loveland portraits

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“Redhead”
I lost the likeness on this one, but I like the painting.

I’ve continued to do portraits sporadically since leaving Hallmark to become a full time artist. A lot of my commissioned portraits are gone before I can have them photographed, but shown here is a sampling of portraits I’ve painted since moving to Loveland.

Come visit me and I’ll paint your portrait if you like!

I now tell people a sitting is two and a half hours long. (You get breaks, and I have good music.)

I charge extra for cosmetic improvements, though not as much as a plastic surgeon would.

I’m kidding. I don’t do cosmetic improvements. At least not on purpose.

You must be brave – sitting for a portrait is not for the faint of heart.

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“Bald Guy”
This was a demo piece done at the opening of Wild’s Art Center in Loveland

Unless otherwise noted, all portraits in this post are roughly 9 x 12 inches, and are painted in oils, from life, in a single session.

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“Self portrait” – 8 x 10 inches
This was painted from a photograph, (don’t tell anyone.) I thought a portrait in my plein air painting hat would say something about me. In this painting I wanted to try my ridiculously large brush and experiment with the paint handling.

For Father’s Day: My Favorite Dad Story

Today I share my all time favorite super-hero-dad story, a true story about my dad. Over 30 years later, I still smile every time I think about it. I hope it makes you smile as well.

First I must describe my dad because it’s an integral part of the story. Growing up I saw my dad as a pretty impressive figure. More than any other man I knew, his physique most closely resembled the Marvel Comic super-heroes that I followed. My dad was a blue-collar, union guy, working in construction as an iron-worker foreman until the day he retired. This alone impressed me. I knew he spent his days several stories above ground, welding, and carrying heavy bundles of iron across the skeletal I-beams of tall buildings. His job was physically demanding, dangerous, and cool, and I heard him say more than once how much he loved it.

Years of working high up next to the sun had turned his skin dark brown. My sister’s friend once mistook him for a black guy while sitting behind him in church. Viewed from the front, he had blue eyes, and not a hint of the usual construction-worker’s beer gut. In fact, even though my dad was a “man’s man,” I never once heard him swear, or saw him take a drink, or smoke anything. Now that I think of it, I guess I don’t even remember hearing him belch. He was generally soft-spoken, and rarely raised his voice with my mom or us kids. Nobody’s perfect, but my dad at least never gave us reason to think that he doubted his Southern Baptist beliefs.

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I think it took my dad a while to grow into being a great dad. I think initially he saw his role as simply being a great provider. My early memories of him are of a large, dark, mostly silent figure either reading the paper, or working around the house. Always on a project and mostly speaking in monosyllables. Or, at the dinner table I would watch in awe, looking up at him as he silently downed vast amounts of food and poured quart sized glasses of white milk down his brown throat. He wasn’t a jerk; he was just mysterious. But mystery is way overrated.

Sometime during my early teenage years, I realized he had undergone a transformation.

He had become totally engaged. He played Saturday morning tennis and Tuesday night volleyball with me and my siblings. He coached my sister’s softball team. But more importantly he began talking and joking around with us. He was actually pretty funny. He became a warmer and closer human being.  I could relate to him in ways that I wouldn’t have dreamed of before. For example, he was impossible to buy gifts for. What do you buy for a guy like this? Nails? Knives? Ammo? A spittoon? Lava soap? A heavy-duty razor? Meat? Well, unless he was at church he always wore a baseball cap, so one year for Father’s Day I bought him a dark blue hat with bright red plush wings on the side. Like something the Greek god Hermes might wear. I got it as a joke, assuming he would never wear it in public. But, indicative of his astounding midlife personality transformation, he did wear it. And this is part of my story.

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One summer, my dad, my brother, and I were all playing on the church softball team together. (Slow-pitch softball would be a sacrament in the Southern Baptist Church, if the SBC had sacraments.) We had a big, night game at a large, lit-up field surrounded by woods. My dad was one of the team’s best players, but on this particular night he was out of uniform, sitting in the stands because he had injured his hamstrings at work. He was wearing the blue hat with the red wings. It so happened that our team was a couple of guys short that night. The coach went into the stands to try to persuade my dad to play, because otherwise we would have to forfeit the game. But my dad could hardly walk. He agreed though. The plan was to have a pinch-runner for him, and to put him in the bottom of the batting order, so we could at least play the game out.

Eventually it came time for my dad to bat. As he hobbled out to the plate, I heard the crowd murmuring, and I saw someone pointing at dad’s legs. My dad was wearing mid-thigh-length shorts (This was the 1980’s, after all.) He didn’t realize this, but everyone could clearly see large black and blue bruises on the back of his legs. I have already mentioned how dark my dad was, but I failed to mention that this only applied to his upper body. His legs were as white as the wind-driven snow. He must’ve been in his early 50’s at this point. He was wearing a button down plaid shirt. I’ll just say that with his dark brown arms, plaid shirt, shorts and white bruised legs, and that dorky hat, this was probably not Dad’s most intimidating look.

The manly, uniformed pitcher actually turned to the outfield and waved the outfielders to move in closer. The manly, uniformed outfielders all moved in closer. I thought to myself, “Hmmm.” My dad took the first pitch. Strike one. On the second pitch my dad beat the crap out of the ball, sending it over the center fielder’s head and into the freaking woods. The whole place erupted. The other team was so pissed, throwing their hats down in the dirt and walking around in little circles with their hands on their hips. Our team was all shouting and cracking up, and the coach, laughing, just waved at my dad to walk the bases himself, since a ball hit into the woods is considered an automatic homer. I will never forget the sight of my dad literally baby-step-hobbling around the bases, taking F-O-R…E-V-E-RRRRR, which just prolonged the opposing team’s agony. And all with that goofy winged hat on, unintentionally mocking them.

As this cartoonish base-rounding formality dragged on, people in the stands were whooping it up and shouting out comments to my dad, it was all so endearingly pathetic. It was like watching a hurried, plaid penguin make its way across dry land.

Then, suddenly, just as we had all thought the utter goofiness had reached its climax, the opposing team erupted again, crazily shouting, “THROW IT! THROW IT!!!” The dazed center fielder had emerged from the woods holding the ball. Waking, as if from a dream, eventually he realized that my dad still hadn’t made it around the bases! In fact he had just rounded third. These young bucks were actually going to try to throw the cripple out at home! The center fielder sprang into action and hit the cut-off man. The cut-off man threw to home, (a bit high.) My dad and the ball arrived at home plate at the same time. But Dad had one more trick up his plaid sleeve. He executed a perfect hook slide into home, falling away from the catcher as only his toe crossed the plate. The catcher missed the tag. The umpire cried, “SAFE!” Utter pandemonium broke loose. But at this point, even the other team had to start laughing and shaking their heads, and shaking my dad’s hand.

Sometimes you just have to submit to awesomeness.

Happy Father’s Day to my awesome dad!

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The Perils of Peeving a Plein Air Painter

I ‘m not jealous of Jeff Legg. Really.

Sure, a Jeff Legg painting sells for about 12 times what a Scott Freeman painting of comparable size sells for, but I’m not jealous. It is true that Jeff bears the title of “Signature-Master-Royal-Highness-Whoop-tee-Doo-Painter,” (or something like that,) in the OPA, an organization that has never accepted any of my work in either its national or regional shows. But how could I be jealous of a guy who would do something like what I’m about to tell you?

For the past several years I’ve participated in an autumn plein air painting event in Estes Park, Colorado. Like me, Jeff is pretty much a local guy, when he’s not off winning top awards, or rolling around in the storehouse full of 100 dollar bills, which I assume he has somewhere. Jeff is not primarily a plein air painter. My guess is that he does the plein air event just for the fun of it, and to enjoy the camaraderie of little people, like myself. For a painting god, Jeff is a humble and down-to-earth guy.

At these national plein air painting festivals there is an event that bears the embarrassing name of “The Quick Draw” event. (Get it? Like a cowboy? ‘Cause a lot of these festivals happen out West?) Except that we don’t draw. We paint. Some organizers have noticed this and called their events “The Quick Paint,” which is only slightly less embarrassing, because it’s still awkward but without the clever, cowboy double entendre. But now nothing can ever be done about this because Quick Draw events are big crowd pleasers and a lot of fun, and the plein air crowd is familiar with the term. I think they should call it “The Stress Out” event.

The way it works is, all of the participating artists gather together at one location and set up their easels. Usually there are a couple of models dressed up and posed, but artists are free to paint whatever they want to. The caveat is that we can’t work from photographs, and we must all start with a bare canvas. We start when the gun goes off. (OK…the whistle, but this is theoretically the only time an actual gun could be used in the event. If they’re going to call it a Quick Draw, I think they should at least use a gun, so I’m going to say “gun.”) An hour and a half later, when the gun goes off again, we lay our brushes down, frame our completed paintings, and the work goes up for public auction. It’s all live plein air and alla prima; often impasto and sometimes contrapposto with chiaroscuro, but only rarely trompe l’ oeil. With Antipasto typically following. (This sentence exhausts my entire repertoire of pretentious French and Italian art terms.)

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Shots from a Quick Draw event in Estes Park, Colorado – from left to right:
1) Getting started 2) A view of the crowd & fellow artists 3) FOCUS! 4) This is the stage of the painting where I wonder if I should give up painting & be a greeter at Walmart 5) Nearing the end.
– photography by Carrie Eagan

Quick Draw events are actually quite fascinating if you are interested in art. Patrons can walk from artist to artist and see how different artists approach the craft of painting. Often little crowds will gather around artists as their paintings begin to take shape. It’s quite fun. It is not forbidden to feed or talk to the artists. Plein air painting is kind of my thing, and I’ve won several awards at Quick Draw events. Since I’ve done quite a bit of portrait painting, I usually paint a model because the public seems to enjoy watching a portrait take shape.

Jeff Legg, on the other hand, is known for his sumptuous still life painting. One year he brought his own blue vase and a cut cantaloupe to the Quick Draw event, and set up a small still life on a rock ledge. I thought this was a cop out, but I didn’t say anything. But one of the participating gallery owners did say something. The complaint was along the lines of, “That’s not fair because he might’ve painted that vase before.”

This was a ridiculous complaint, because all of the landscape painters had painted mountains and trees before and nobody was complaining. Apparently, Jeff quietly made a mental note. It didn’t help matters that Jeff’s painting won an award. Third place. I took second. Just sayin’. Yes, the OPA reject placed ahead of the awesome OPA Master painting god. But in all fairness I should probably mention that my starting bid was $400, and his was $2400. And he sold his. Not bad for an hour and half of work. Then he went over and tried to buy it back from the buyer because he could’ve gotten more for it in a gallery, which only further proves that Jeff Legg inhabits a different reality than do I.

After the Antipasto we all went home, Estes Park closed down, snow fell, spring came, summer went, and the next plein air event rolled around. The morning of the Quick Draw event arrived. The park in downtown Estes buzzed excitedly and filled up with art lovers. Jeff Legg arrived and set up his easel in front of a freaking bush. When the starting gun went off, Jeff stared into the bush and began to paint intently. As the hour wore on, the hushed voices of onlookers expressed puzzlement that Jeff seemed to be painting not a bush, but a turquoise vase and cantaloupe on a ledge! They stared into the bush, but there was no cantaloupe. No vase. They walked around the bush. It was like some sort of smart-alecky miracle! For me it was one of the finest moments in the history of poorly named events. I don’t think Jeff won an award that year because everyone was so confused, but more importantly, he didn’t break any rules!

I spoke with Jeff a couple of years later, trying to express how that story has made my life better. He humbly justified his actions, saying, “Well…all painting is done from memory. I just remembered what I was painting for a longer period than everyone else.” Brilliant. How could I ever be jealous of Jeff Legg?

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Painting the model during a Quick Draw event in Sedona, AZ.
– photo by Tim Poly

I regret that I have no photos of Jeff, but you can view his work at http://www.jefflegg.com (There is no charge for viewing Jeff’s work online.)

Fundamentalist Tales of Working with Nude Models

Before I went to art school, on a typical day I did not see any naked people. Or even in a typical year, for that matter. That all changed when I went to art college. Naked people were just part of the deal, and everyone was supposed to be all cool and mature about it, so I’m kind of breaking protocol here. But honestly, it’s probably inevitable that awkward moments would arise whenever you have rooms full of young students spending 3 to 6 hours a day studying adult nude models. To add to the fun, all the rules around nude-model-social-etiquette were pretty much unspoken. We were just supposed to sort of pick it up. I contend that there were unspoken rules for the models, and there were unspoken rules for the students and professors as well, all in an Art Institute environment that didn’t readily acknowledge rules or authority, which is probably why they remained unspoken.

This worked pretty well almost all of the time. No one cared or made a big deal about it. Except from time to time someone would violate the unspoken code, and awkwardness would ensue. As if Loki had snuck into the room with your grandmother and loudly pointed out that everybody was wearing clothes except for one person.

Here’s my attempt to write down the unwritten code:

Rules for Modelsthe idea is for the model to become like an inanimate still life object for study, so it’s bad form to break character and unnecessarily reveal any blatantly human qualities. Therefore:

1)     Do not talk to the students while you are naked.
2)     Do not suddenly smile or giggle for no apparent reason while you are naked. Do not turn red.
3)     Do not break down and weep while you are naked.
4)     Do not fart while you are naked.
5)     Do not suppress a fart while you are naked, (because everyone can see what you’re doing.)
6)     Do not become sexually aroused while you are naked, especially if you are male.
7)     Do not date the students or professors.

As you can see, this business of nude modeling is not as easy as it might seem at first glance.

Rules for Students & Professors – for classroom purposes, the idea is to approach the model as an inanimate still life object, yet without minimizing the model’s dignity or comfort. Therefore:

1)     Do not touch or hug the model while he/she is naked.
2)     Do not smile or giggle for no apparent reason while studying the naked model.
3)     Do not remove your clothing when the model removes his/hers.
4)     Do not be chatty with the model while he/she is naked. Never raise your voice at a naked model.
5)     Do not stare at the model while he/she is naked. (There is studying, and there is staring.)
6)     Do not walk up to the model for a closer look while he/she is naked. Do not take photographs.
7)     Do not ask the model on a date while he/she is naked. Do not date the model.

For those readers who attended Art School, I ask you, am I making these up? Have I missed anything?

Following are a few of my small adventures from hanging out with naked people:

The outspoken model: My first remembrance of nude-model-code-violation was during a painting elective class during my sophomore year. This was the day it dawned on me that if a person was very clever, and was willing to sit naked for hours in front of people, she could actually get paid to get a very expensive art education. That is apparently exactly what this particular model was doing. I remember during her breaks she would walk around the room and talk with the students about their paintings. (She did this while in her robe, so as not to violate code – RFM#1.)

One morning, while in character as the inanimate naked focal point, she did the unthinkable. I should mention that this particular cavernous studio had high brick walls, and a concrete floor, making the room an echo chamber. In the hushed environment of a painting class you could hear dredlocks growing. The instructor, Michael Walling, was quietly directing a student when a high, feminine voice echoed through the studio, contradicting him. At first no one was sure from where the voice had come. But then it became apparent that not only had the model spoken while naked, she had actually taken issue with the art professor, starkly exhibiting the full-blown human qualities of intelligence, free will, and independent thought. No one moved. Would the professor actually engage in verbal intercourse with the model while she was naked? Would the earth stop and begin rotating backwards? But this was Michael Walling. After a moment of dreadful silence, he diffused the situation with his famous tongue-in-cheek grin, saying, “Carol, (pause for effect)…models should be seen and not heard.”

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Carol – blatant violator of the unspoken code.
(from an old student sketchbook, by the author.)

The no-show model: One day I showed up at class, late as usual, and was surprised to see a female upperclassman naked on the modeling stand. She nervously made eye contact with me when I came in. The situation seemed a bit strange since she always wore clothes around campus. After a few minutes another female upperclassman passed by the doorway, froze mid-stride, and slowly backed up, looking in at the model, who apparently was a friend of hers. She poked her head in and said, in a concerned, hushed voice, (as if none of us could hear,) “What are you doing?” The model whispered back, “Heather didn’t show up, so I thought I should sit in for her.” Even more quietly the friend said, “You don’t have to do that!” I gathered that the woman modeling was the newbie student work-study model coordinator. When the model didn’t show, she felt obliged to “cover” for her. Kind of like when a waitress doesn’t show and the manager waits a few tables, only naked. This episode suggested the possibility that even cool, artsy, upperclassmen were way cooler with studying nude models than with actually being one.

The no-show instructor: If the above episode blew the cover on enlightened nonchalance, this next episode pretty much obliterated any pretense of enlightenment. This situation gave rise to possibly the most awkward and conflicted 3 hours of my art school experience. On this particular day there was some confusion about the calendar – it must’ve been right before the holidays, or something. Nobody seemed sure whether or not class was “on”, so I went, just in case. Only 3 of us showed up, along with the model. No instructor. The female student then left, leaving me and one other guy, plus the model, (whom I hadn’t seen before.) Just to connect the dots for you here, we were 2 young male students, and one young female model. She offered to proceed with class and we agreed. She self-consciously gets naked and the other guy takes over, posing her in an incredibly stupid pose – he has her face the wall with her back directly to us, with one leg up on a chair. So she can’t see us at all while we’re drawing her naked. Later, at break time, she leaves the room and he turns to me and says, (in a tacit admission that it was a stupid pose,) “I just wanted to pose her so I could get a really good look at her ass.” (Guys sometimes say things like this to each other under the assumption that we’re all one big fraternity of assholes.) I said nothing.

When the model returned, the situation was so awkward that I couldn’t figure out how to act. There was no longer any pretense of art-making going on. But she didn’t know that. I didn’t want to blow his cover in front of her because I thought it might embarrass her. At the same time I felt like he was making me a party to his assholiness. But I didn’t feel like I could leave because that would leave her alone with him, which would possibly be even more awkward for her. So I stayed and finished the class. In the comment section below, I would like to hear what you would have done in my situation.

The male model who shaved: Everything. Leaving not so much as a happy trail. We can only guess why. Perhaps he didn’t want anyone to miss anything.

The small world: One day at church, the wife of…let’s say…”a prominent leader” in the church started asking me about art school. Eventually she asked me if I ever worked with a model named Cassandra. I answered that, yes, she was probably my favorite model. The woman then revealed that Cassandra was her husband’s sister, but that he was kind of embarrassed about the whole thing. (She asked me not to tell anyone, which is why I’m speaking in generalities.) Thereafter, it was always pretty distracting for me in church because every time he’d get up front I couldn’t stop thinking, “Wow, I can really see the resemblance!” This just goes to show that if you’re ever speaking in front of a group of people, and they’re smiling at you and nodding their heads, you don’t necessarily know what they’re thinking.

The formerly unembarrassed model: Most of the models were female. There were so few male models that we could conveniently refer to them as the old guy, the black guy, and the scrawny guy.  As in, “I hope it’s not the old guy today.” (For a time the old guy was also known as the orange guy, but that’s not part of this story.) This story is about the scrawny guy. I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I have to admit that I was generally suspicious of the male models. This is because I’m a guy, and thus I’m well aware of the natural male tendency toward narcissism and exhibitionism even when no money is involved. The scrawny guy was my age, and his scrawny body was not fun or interesting to draw. Eventually, I stopped seeing him around. Models came and went, after all.

Here I must stop and explain one of my weird hobbies. During High School I had become interested in comparative cult theology. It helped me in working out my own beliefs. I actually used to drive to the St. Louis airport and hang out there, hoping to engage the donation-seeking Hare Krishna devotees in conversation. In an ironic twist they eventually started avoiding me, even as the airport commuters were avoiding them. When I got to Kansas City, I found the uptown neighborhood of the Art Institute to be cult heaven! Just across the street there was a Unitarian Church and an RLDS headquarters. Two blocks away on Main was a Scientology Church, and Unity on the Plaza was just down the street (where I once picketed.) Back toward downtown on Main there was a big New Age bookstore, and a Christian Science Church. Also, in the early 80s there were still “Moonies” out and about, with whom I had some interesting interaction. But my favorite cult was the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They actually came close to sucking me in when I was in High School, and I had done a fair amount of study around their theology.

As an art student I lived in a big old 3 story house on Warwick blvd with 6 other art students. One day the doorbell rang. I answered and was delighted to see 2 Jehovah’s Witnesses, so of course I invited them in to talk. One of them looked familiar. Suddenly it dawned on me that it was the scrawny guy! (I was unaccustomed to seeing him in a suit and tie.) When he saw that I recognized him there was that brief micro-expression of embarrassment. The lead guy began to introduce us, but I shook the scrawny guy’s hand (touching him for the first time – RFS&P #1,) and said, “Yes, we’ve met…Richard, right?” The lead guy seemed surprised that we’d met. Apparently Richard hadn’t told his mentor that he’d previously spent hours sitting around as a buck-naked focal point in front of clothed, co-ed pagans. Only a supernatural feat of willpower and compassion prevented me from grabbing one of my sketchbooks and saying, “…See? I have a ton of drawings of Richard. Would you like one?” Or, “Here’s what Richard looks like naked, in case you were wondering!” But I didn’t blow his cover, as the JWs can be a pretty legalistic bunch. It’s interesting that the ensuing conversation was the only time I’ve ever had two JWs openly disagree with each other. For my theologically bent readers, my question was, “Does the Bible teach that good works are a condition in order to be saved, or a response to having been saved? It was the scrawny guy who insisted on the former.

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From left to right: 1) The Old Guy/Orange Guy
2) Cassandra (not her real name)
3) The Scrawny Guy (not his real name)

It’s funny how perspectives can change. Despite my fundamentalist Christian upbringing, growing up I had my suspicions that naked people existed. When I reached puberty, this suspicion became a hope. Then, my Art Institute experience confirmed beyond all doubt the existence of naked people, and yet I have since come to believe that clothing is generally a good idea, making life less complicated for the most part. In fact, there are many people out there who probably ought to wear even more clothes, as a small kindness to the rest of us. I notice that many of these people shop at Walmart.  But regardless of your opinion, or where you shop, this peculiar, uniquely human convention of wearing (or not wearing) clothing helps to keep life fascinating for us all.

(For more Art Institute adventures, click here.)