“Loveland Gothic” – A New Mural

Scott Freeman Public Art

The completed mural, 12×15 ft, painted by 320 local citizens, young and old.

For the past 3 years, I and a small army of volunteers have facilitated the creation of a community mural, painted by local festival-goers, during downtown Loveland’s annual Valentine’s Day festival.

Each year we’ve spoofed an iconic fine art painting, giving each painting a Valentiney twist. This year I chose an American artist, Grant Wood, using the occasion to celebrate sibling love. Many people assume that Wood’s original painting depicts a husband and wife, though this is probably not the case. Wood never clearly defined the relationship of the characters.

The point of the mural project is to bring the community together in creating something fun, creative, and monumental. Individuals are encouraged to express their individuality on their tiles, and those tiles then each become a part of the bigger picture – a metaphor for community.

Festival-goers do not know in advance what the bigger picture will be. This is the reason I have chosen fine art imagery – these images are already well loved by the public and are hopefully something of which no one would object to being a part.

Going forward, if we are able to continue this annual project, we may have to do a better job of communicating. This year a couple of people apparently took their tiles home with them! Also there was more confusion than usual as to what paint colors to use in a given area. My apologies to those of you whose tiles I had to alter in order to make the big picture work.

All in all, I think the mural came together nicely! Thanks to the Loveland Downtown Partnership and Chamber of Commerce for their support this year. Also thanks to all the volunteers at Beggars’ Gate church for braving the cold and making this happen again.

Scott Freeman - public art

Detail showing the bear chainsaw sculpture and the Abraham Lincoln brooch.

Loveland Gothic-God is Love

You Should See This Movie…

Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel

I was pleasantly surprised recently when I went to see The Case for Christ. Grab your spouse or a friend and see it while it’s still in theaters.

As an artist who is also a follower of Jesus, I guess I’m supposed to be a movie snob, especially when it comes to “Christian movies.” I think I’m not supposed to publicly admit that I loved this movie. But I did.

The movie tells the story of atheist Lee Strobel coming to faith in Jesus. (Whoopsie. I guess I just gave away the ending. That’s part of why I didn’t have high hopes for the movie. I expected another predictable Christian film.)

But you know what? I knew how my dinnertime was going to end last night but I’m still really glad I sat down at the table.

The movie highlighted the Strobel family’s journey to faith, and the relational tension that ensued during the process. That story was believable, well-written, and well-acted. It felt like a love story to me, full of characters that I was moved to care about.

Some Things I Liked
Maybe it was just me, but the movie touched on a lot of things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I’ve been dialoguing with some atheists for several months, and the portrayal of the atheists in the film felt familiar to me. I liked that the atheist Strobel wasn’t made out to be an evil character. He deeply loved his wife and was a great dad. He had a strong moral compass and sense of justice.

I’ve been doing some reading about brain science and social psychology. I’m fascinated with how and why people change their opinions when confronted with information that challenges their worldview. (Or how they don’t, as is usually the case.) It was fascinating to watch one person’s process, knowing that it was a true story.

A big surprise was a direct reference to the “father wound” issue. I’ve been a bit obsessed with this issue for several months, and I’ve come to think that it’s widespread and profoundly important. In the near future I’ll post more on this topic specifically.

Also, an important truism for me is that biblical faith is evidential. This idea directly contradicts what “New Atheism” preaches – that faith is “belief despite the evidence.” The “New Atheists” are demonstrably wrong about what the Bible says about faith. It was nice to see a correct perspective on the screen.

Finally, on an incidental note, The Case for Christ is not a white Christian film. The story takes place in Chicago and several black characters figure prominently in the journey. We see blacks and whites working, attending church, and doing life together. This isn’t talked about; it’s just assumed, as it should be.

I don’t recall anything inappropriate for kids, but very small children might be bored with it just because it’s an adult conversation. At any rate, I say “two thumbs up”!

Speaking of kids, it you haven’t already done so, please sign up on my email list at my kids’ storybook website, RIGHT HERE!

A Tale of Two Neighbors. (And Many Dandelions.)

garden gnome-scott freemanThis morning as I was out digging dandelions in the sun, I noticed myself unconsciously making choices. It set me to thinking about human action and freedom.

I’m quite fond of the quirky little piece of downtown property where my wife and I live and raised our family. I love my wife’s garden. I love our art studio. I like our fruit trees. I like that our yard is not fenced in. And I really like that there is no Homeowners Association (HOA.) This allows me to do things like dig a pit and cook a turkey in the ground at Thanksgiving. Or to add outdoor art to my property. Our “inner city” neighborhood has a lot of cool, creatively embellished properties, and a lot of urban farming going on. Several neighbors keep chickens and bees in their backyards. These are usually among the best kept properties. I love this.

Of course there is the occasional trashy property as well, and the occasional display of poor taste. This is part of the cost of freedom. I think it is a small price to pay.

This post is a brief tale of two neighbors. It’s a story about the dynamics of living in community. (I’m pretty sure neither of my neighbors reads my blog.)

I will call my neighbor on one side, Harvey. Harvey is a middle-aged, single guy. We’re buds. We’ve talked a lot about life, God, politics, and stuff, in a dude sort of way. I like a lot of Harvey’s views, though he can be a little pugnacious. But underneath his crusty, cigar-smoking exterior, as human beings go, he’s a good man. He volunteers his time and resources to help under-privileged kids. For years he has worked with the deaf community in one capacity or another. He has purchased my art and books on several occasions. He has given us pecans from his farm in another state. I like Harvey.

A few years ago, Harvey adopted an enormous dog. A black lab, or something. I’ll call him Dogzilla. Dogzilla is clueless and friendly. I’d say he’s a little too friendly. He often escapes his pen and comes immediately into our yard, snuffling around and peeing in our garden, where we grow food that we intend to eat. Dogzilla produces enormous poop that doesn’t decompose because Harvey feeds him cheap dog food. Sometimes at night, I’ve noticed Harvey letting Dogzilla out for a potty break, while he enjoys a cigar in our shared alley. Recently, I shoveled all of Dogzilla’s petrified poop back into Harvey’s yard. I haven’t told Harvey about this yet, but if he doesn’t like it, I’m looking forward to the conversation where he explains why he has a problem with me putting his dog’s poop back into his yard.

Harvey pieced together a make-shift pen for Dogzilla. The makeshift pen is quite large and consists of five-foot sections of chain-link fencing, held up with bungee cords and stacks of cinder blocks, with a tarp thrown over part of the fence for shade. With dandelions and goat heads growing all around. It looks like crap. It’s very reminiscent of a third world slum, or a refugee camp. Of course, I have nothing against third world slum dwellers or refugees, but I don’t believe that Harvey and Dogzilla are in a crisis situation. Unless you count the dandelion crisis. But even so, that’s really a first world problem.

So that’s on one side of my house.

Then there is my neighbor on the other side. I’ll call her Betsy. She is an interior designer. Her house and yard look like a greeting card scene. She’s like Martha Stewart without the prison record. Her property has been on the annual Loveland Garden Tour. It’s like a Disney movie over there, with rabbits and birds and butterflies hopping and flitting about. When I step out of my house to go to work in my studio, if I happen to glance over to the right at Betsy’s property, I often break into song.

Betsy is also a great neighbor and a giving person. She is from an old Loveland family, and it’s fun to talk local history with her. My wife and Betsy exchange gardening plants. I have painted several paintings in her sanctuary-like backyard during plein air art competitions. (I have never asked Harvey’s permission to paint in his “yard.”) During winter, she always has her snow removal guys do part of my sidewalk. At Christmastime we exchange Christmas cookies, and hers are amazing, and ridiculously Martha Stewart-like. (Harvey does not give us cookies, but that is probably a good thing.)

That’s the other side of my house.

So, when I went out for my first springtime dandelion digging, guess where I started digging first? I headed directly to Betsy’s side of my yard. I wanted to be sure she didn’t have to wonder if I was going to get rid of the dandelions next to her property. (Her yard is dandelions-free.) She has never complained to me about my sometimes lax grounds keeping. She doesn’t have to. Because she treats her property with care, it makes me want to do the same. Not out of guilt, or shame, or keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, but out of respect and appreciation for the effort and creative care she puts in. I’ve noticed that she likes to entertain guests in her garden, and I would like to not be the jerk who ruins the sanctuary vibe that that she has going on over there. All of this is unspoken. I could completely neglect my property, and the world would keep turning, but the fact that she cares helps me to care.

Isn’t so much of life like this?

All of us struggle every day against entropy and degeneration, in every aspect of life. The physical universe is winding down. Left to itself, our environment gravitates toward disorder and decay. Civil society naturally tends toward confusion and degeneration. Even the genes in our cells are continually mutating, causing our bodies to degenerate and eventually lose function. But we fight against this. By intelligence, creativity, and work, we rebuild, restore, support, and hope. Ultimately, our only hope for salvation is an intelligent, loving, regenerative Life-Source existing outside of creation, commonly referred to as “God.” But whether or not we believe in such a God, most of us still hold onto hope. I find this bittersweet.

For me, every creative act is worth something. While even our hoping and dreaming is imperfect, every hope and dream in the face of futility testifies that we were created for life, love, and goodness. Creative acts affirm life. Caring acts make the universe make sense to our neighbor. Loving acts transcend the futility of our hopeless trajectory, in some small way. To me these things signal that there is something better to come.

I’ll close with some gardening tips from the apostle Paul:
“…whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:7-10.)

dandelion

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Watercolor Out the Wazoo!

Perchon-watercolor detail-scott freeman

In previous posts I’ve talked a bit about a crazy watercolor technique that I like to use. I was once unenthusiastic about watercolor because I generally found it to be wussy and boring. Then, when I worked at Hallmark I found some guys using watercolor in a way I had never seen it used before. Eventually I took a work shop from these guys, (Craig Lueck and Johne Richardson,) and fell in love with the medium of watercolor. I remember the first night after the workshop; I dreamt of blushes of watercolor flowing into each other.

So, over the years watercolor has become a secondary medium for me, right behind my favorite medium of oil paint. However, since the beginning of this year, I have worked almost exclusively in watercolor due to the list of projects and commissions I’ve taken on. Furthermore, I’m scheduled to teach this crazy technique this coming January (2015) in a Saturday workshop at Schissler Art Acadaemy, in downtown Loveland. So I’ve definitely got watercolor on the brain right now. (Which, I admit may have been a better title than Watercolor Out the Wazoo.)

In the course of pulling together some samples for Schissler Art Academy, I ended up going through a lot of past work, and I think it’s fun to look at as well as being fun to paint, so I thought I’d show some to you. A lot of it is available in greeting card format on our ZAZZLE SITE, and also as fine art prints by contacting me directly. I even still have a few select originals around as well, for those of you who have money to burn. (The originals are several times more expensive than prints.)

For those of you who are art nerds, I’ll say that I pretty much only use oils for my fine art. However, I use watercolor for a whole range of artistic expression, including fine art, but also for my commercial illustration, which includes my children’s storybook illustration. In fact, watercolor is almost exclusively what I use for commercial illustration, because I feel this technique presents a unique and striking look. Following is a survey of some of my favorite pieces from over the years.

 Masters copies:

The Visitation-watecolor by Scott Freeman

“The Visitation” based on a 16c painting by Mariotto Albertinelli. 6 x 8 inches. I would be willing to have prints made of this one if someone asks, because it’s one of my favs. The original is in a private collection.

Sometimes I like to take an old Master’s composition and translate it into watercolor. For me this is an act of appreciation, kind of like a musician covering a classic song. Someday maybe I’ll post the originals alongside the reinterpretations.

See a previous post on The Visitation. (left)

The Music Lesson-Scott Freeman

“The Music Lesson”
based on an 1877 painting by Frederic Leighton. 6×5.25 inches. I have prints available of this one. It’s also available as a note card on my Zazzle site.

Native American-watercolor-Freeman

“Native American Portrait”
5×7 inches. Based on a 1910 black & white photograph by Carl Moon.
  1 of a set of 3. Framed original available for $700.

Watercolor studies- Scott Freeman

Left: Study after Johannes Vermeer’s (1665) “Girl with a Pearl Earring.”
6×9 inches. I have prints available of this one.
Right: Study after Frederic Leighton’s (1864) “The Painter’s Honeymoon.”
5×5 inches. Private collection.

Plein Air Pieces:
I almost always paint in oils when I do plein air events, but occasionally I’ll do a watercolor painting. Here are a couple that I was able to photograph.

Perchon-Scott Freeman

“Horse of a Different Color”
4×6 inches. Painted at a riding stable in Estes Park, Colorado. A composite of 3 white Perchons who took turns posing for me. Original sold. No prints.

Santo-Sedona AZ-watercolor

“Santo”
Painted from a statue on the grounds of a Catholic church in Sedona, Arizona.
Framed original available for $400.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist demos:
When I teach a watercolor workshop, I generally do a demo throughout the day. Below are two that I liked enough to document.

watercolor demo-Scott Freeman

“Light and Fashion”
8×10 inches. Demo for a watercolor class.
Unframed original available for $200.

American buffalo-watercolor

“American Bison” 5×4 inches. Demo started in class and finished at home. Original sold. Available as a note card on our Zazzle site.

Children’s Book Illustration
I’ve been doing a lot of book illustration lately, especially with the recent launch of my online kids’ book company. Below are some of my favorites so far.

Mount Fuji-kids stotybooks-Freeman

“…and she flew away to Mt. Fuji in a breeze.”
Full spread from the upcoming book, The Adventures of Nathaniel and His Father’s Globe, by Beth El Kurchner.
8.5×17 inches. Original spoken for.

 

kids story books-The Cocky Rooster

Select illustrations from my newly released kids’ storybook, The Cocky Rooster.

I just found out I need to get new tires for my car in addition to several unexpected expenses. So I guess that means it’s time for a SALE.

+ I’ll sell any of the prints mentioned above, unmatted and unframed for $25 (includes shipping & handling.)
+ When I have matted prints on hand, I’ll sell them to you for $40 (regularly $60 – $80.)
+ Framed pieces are already discounted, as listed above.

My fine art giclee prints are reproduced using archival watercolor paper and inks.
I’m not set up to sell prints and art online, so please email me if you’re interested: scottnmollie@yahoo.com
I may not have to charge for shipping depending upon what you want and where you live.

For easy online purchases:
+ You can browse our Zazzle Store HERE
+ You can purchase my newly released storybook, The Cocky Rooster, HERE!

I’ll keep this sale going until my next post – (probably in a couple of weeks.) THANK YOU for your support!

Announcing My New Publishing Company

kids story books - the Cocky Rooster

Watercolor illlustration from the author’s upcoming children’s story, The Cocky Rooster.

This week I want to share with you my excitement over my new business adventure. I’m about to launch Big Picture Publishing, an online children’s storybook company. In this early stage I am the author, illustrator, designer, marketer, owner, & janitor of the company.

In 2006 I authored, illustrated, and self-published my first children’s book. Naomi’s Gift, a Christmas storybook, achieved moderate local success and won an award. However, I went into debt to produce it, and eventually got stuck from a marketing and distribution standpoint. As much as I enjoyed writing and illustrating books for kids, the industry seemed too difficult for a self-published guy like myself to break into.

Books for kids - Naomi's GiftI have since come to believe that technological advances are changing the picture, making it possible for a little fish like me to survive in the big book-publishing-pond. Because now, via the internet, you can directly access what I’m offering. My entire business will be conducted online – books will be offered both in an ebook format, and also as ink and paper books printed “on demand” by a third party.

“Hey – I have a great idea for a kid’s book!”
It’s surprising to me how many people I meet who have a kids’ book idea they would like to see published. Eventually I intend to offer books from other authors, but until everything is well underway I need to keep things simple. Since I have several books already written, some of which have been waiting for years to see the light of day, I’m beginning with these titles. Since I already have the writing, design, and illustration skill set to create a high quality children’s book, this is where I must begin.

I also look forward to eventually adding audio and interactivity to the ebooks, but this is beyond my ability and resources at this time. For now I must settle for simple, beautifully illustrated, great stories that are affordable for parents (and affordable for me to produce!)

Mission Statement
Big Picture Publishing has a specific mission and target audience:

Our mission is to help parents instill, reinforce, and normalize a biblical worldview in their children.

To clarify, this is not to say that the stories will all be “religious.” Since a biblical worldview encompasses all of life, I don’t see the point of dividing life up into religious and non-religious categories. Therefore our “non-religious” stories will always be completely in line with our mission, beliefs, and  values. Every book, whether an original new story, a Bible story, or a retelling of a public domain favorite such as the Emperor’s New Clothes, will be designed to reinforce truths and spiritual realities revealed in the Bible.

We fully intend to produce books that will engage and entertain kids, but we intend to go way beyond mere entertainment. We’re going for the heart. As a parent who loves Jesus, you know that your kids are bombarded daily by voices hostile to your worldview. Today, via electronic media, this can even happen within the sanctuary of your own home. However, one aspect of culture that you can control as a parent is the books you read to your children. Big Picture Publishing hopes to be a source you can trust.

I’ve emphasized parents here, but I want to be sure to say that if you are a grandparent, aunt, uncle, teacher, caretaker, or friend of a child under 9, please DO become a part of this community! A beautifully illustrated storybook can be a great gift idea as well – a gift that can contribute to a child’s spiritual formation.

kids story books by Big Picture Publishing

Illustration from The Cocky Rooster – Soon to be released! Sign up below to receive notification!

I have something for you
Key to the success of this endeavor will be building a list of thousands of interested parents and other lovers of children. In this initial stage I’m calling on my interested social media friends and blog followers to jump-start me by visiting my website and signing up in the blue box. Signing up does not obligate you to purchase anything – it simply makes it possible for me to notify you of quarterly new book releases.

When you sign up, I will immediately send you my free ebooklet about the importance of stories in parenting. In this ebooklet I share some ideas that inspired and energized me as a young parent years ago. In fact, these same ideas were the impetus for me to launch this project. I think you will be inspired and encouraged as well.

I thank you for your support – I am quite enthused over this project! I am honored to have the opportunity to support parents and families by providing tools that will edify their children. In a world that’s getting crazier every day, may God give you wisdom in helping the little ones you love to navigate the course of life.

Please do visit the website for more info: www.bigpicturepublishing.com  – and don’t forget to sign up to receive your free ebooklet!
(Fyi – you will not be fully subscribed until you also click on the follow-up confirmation email, as this is a permission-based list.)

kids story books-biblical worldview

A spread from The Cocky Rooster, written and illustrated by Scott Freeman: The story of a self-absorbed rooster who resents being cooped up with the hens every night.

 

The “Elusive” Project

 

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If you’re a music lover, I’d like to let you know about a project I was recently involved with.

One of the things that drew Mollie and I to the city of Loveland 13 years ago was the local musical talent. Loveland is actually better known for its sculpture and fine art, but at at the time we weren’t aware of this. We moved here for relational reasons, and our friends had connected with some world-class local musicians, specifically guitarist Dave Beegle, Keith Rosenhagen, and Taylor Mesple (pronounced MESS-play.)Musician and composer Aakash Mittal is also from Loveland for those of you who like Modern Jazz. I should hasten to add that I’m not saying that Loveland is a great place to make a living if you are an artist or musician, only that there seems to be a disproportionate number of artists, musicians, dancers, and authors for a town of this size.

Musician, singer, songwriter, and producer Taylor Mesple has just released his newest album, Elusive, for which I was privileged to create the graphic design package. Taylor is the creator of one of my all time favorite albums in the universe: Victory Land. It’s one of the most beautiful, unified, and lyrically evocative albums I’ve heard. (You should just buy it right now.) He released Victory Land shortly after we moved to Loveland in 2001, but due to some timing mishaps the album was never really marketed well. The Mesples moved to Maine for several years where Taylor did musical production and ran a music venue called The Maple Room. Fortunately for us, the Mesples eventually moved back to Loveland.

Elusive represents Taylor’s newest and best musical statement to date, after years of producing music for others. Taylor is a bit of a non-conformist in a lot of ways that I consider to be good. Inside his possibly intimidating, biker-like exterior is a sensitive dreamer that aspires to bring healing, light, and inspiration to hearts through music that is decidedly softer (at times) than a first impression might lead you to expect. There is a sense of yearning for the transcendent that pervades his music – an invitation to a journey to someplace better than where we are.

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A bit about Taylor the musician: Taylor was a child prodigy, raised in a musical family. In 1989, at age 13, he began playing keyboards with his Dad’s highly successful band, Wind Machine. The band, originally formed by Steve Mesple and Acoustic Eidelon’s Joe Scott toured until 1998. As an adult, Taylor is now an accomplished producer, session player, songwriter, and musical innovator.

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I also want to mention that Taylor’s wife, Rebecca, is an accomplished singer-songwriter. A few years ago Rebecca released an album entitled “A Simple Offering.” The album consists of simple, yet moving and unforgettable songs, and is one of my favorite albums by a female singer-songwriter. It’s definitely worth checking out. If you want my recommendation for tracks to sample, my favorites on this disc are “My Light”, “Step Into the Sun”, and her cover of Jonatha Brooke’s “Always.” Rebecca’s disc is available HERE.

For those of you within range, Taylor will be performing an “Elusive” CD release concert at the Lincoln Center in Ft. Collins, Colorado, May 6th, 2014 at 7:00pm. I spoke with Taylor recently about what he’d like to accomplish in a live concert. Rather than simply doing the typically less-excellent-concert-version of what is on the recorded disc, Taylor is interested in creating a transcendent experience for the audience. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with. You can find more information at Taylor’s new website HERE. 

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Taylor and I thought the image of a hula dancer in the snow was a great metaphor for God-renewed life in our cold, fallen world. If you’ve ever felt like we were made for a different place then perhaps you can relate.

Artwork and photography copyright 2014 by Scott Freeman

 

A Story About God & Art

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Last weekend, for our first time, Mollie and I attended the Resound conference in Boulder, Colorado. For us the experience was very rich, but I want to tell you about one incident in particular having to do with God, art, and community.

The Resound website describes the conference as a “gathering designed for worshippers, artisans, creatives, and God lovers.” As a worship conference emphasizing the arts, there were opportunities for expressive worshippers to participate in outside-of-the-box ways. Mollie and I both had artwork in the gallery, and there were people painting up front throughout worship sets the entire weekend. And lots of spontaneous dancing!

On the second night, I noticed something new.

Organizers had set up a couple of tables at a station in back, with sketch pads and art supplies, and there was a sign that said that people were welcome to create art. My heart and head were very excited about some ideas that had gelled for me that day and I really felt the urge to try to express them. In particular, that morning, a couple by the name of Tim and Laurie Thornton had vividly amplified the concept of slavery versus sonship, regarding our relationship to God. Initially I wanted to create an image from the Prodigal Son parable, but then felt compelled to do an image that would include a woman. I finally decided to do a version of a composition I had worked out last year, but had never painted.

The gospel of Luke describes an incident where Jesus heals a woman who had a sickness that had caused her to be bent over for eighteen years, unable to straighten up. I love the idea of this woman looking up, into the face of Jesus for the first time; of Him gently lifting her head.

When the music began, no one was at the art tables, so I took a seat and started sketching. The problem was, the light was so dim that I couldn’t really make out the colors of the pastels and pencils. I kept holding up pencils, squinting and comparing them. I was pretty sure I had a couple of dark browns, which was what I wanted, so I set to work. At least I could get the values (darks and lights) right. I didn’t like the smooth texture of the paper in the sketchbook, so I used the back of the sketchbook cover, which was heavier and had a pretty pronounced texture. I set to work as the first band played their worship set, and then I worked through the entire teaching.

Eventually, I started to feel a bit out of place, but I was too into my drawing to stop. A couple of moms had brought several small children to the other table to make art. This was a great idea as it gave them something fun to do; I just wondered if I should vacate my spot. A couple of kids started watching me so I asked them what they thought was going on in my picture.  (I seek the unpretentious feedback of children about my art whenever possible. I generally care less what adults think.) I whispered to a boy, pointing at the figure of Jesus, and asked, “do you think he looks angry?” He looked shocked that I would ask, and shook his head “no.” Score. Now I liked my drawing better. I made friends with a ridiculously cute little girl next to me with a smear of paint on her cheek. I finished my drawing and left it on the table, surrounded by several pieces of drying children’s art, and went off to worship for the second worship set, which eventually grew into a big party. Like a message in a bottle, my picture would now belong to someone else.

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This is a black and white rough of the drawing I made at the conference,
a painting I had conceived for Beggars’ Gate, but never executed.

 

At the end of the night I walked by the table and noticed that the picture was gone.

As everyone was packing up their stuff, a lovely young lady came up to me. She asked my name, and when I told her, she thanked me for leaving my drawing out on the table. She said that earlier that morning, during the worship time she had been praying and crying, bowed down under the weight of some things which she left unexplained to me. Then she told me that she felt like God had come to her, His daughter, and lifted up her head. Exactly like in my picture.

“…But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy mountain…” (Psalm 3:3,4.)

In her hand I recognized the front cover of the sketchbook. The house lights were now up, so I asked her if I could see the drawing as I was curious to see how the colors had come out. I had to smile at the picture she showed me. The colors I had thought were dark browns, earth tones, and black were actually vibrant purples, pinks, oranges, and magentas – colors I had eventually looked for, but simply could not find in the dim light. And had I known they were there, I would not have used them in the way that I did.

Don’t we often have to feel our way along in this dim half-light? We have to choose, so we do the best we can with what we have been given. If our lives are an offering to our heavenly Father, I’m guessing that at the end, when the houselights come up, we may all be pleasantly surprised by the colors we were working with all along.

New Watercolor Painting: “Muse”

This week I’m hoping you will do me the favor of casting a vote between two versions of the final painting I just finished for an upcoming exhibit. After finishing the first version, I wasn’t completely happy with it, so when the Loveland Museum moved our turn-in deadline back a few days, I started a second version of the same composition. This painting will be my smallest piece in the show, and also my only watercolor.

I use a crazy watercolor technique which is very fun, but darn near impossible to control, so there’s really no way to get the same result twice. I typically work on two watercolor paintings at the same time anyway, partly because working on a second one keeps me from messing with the first while successive stages are drying. Usually I’ll abandon one partway through and stay with the one I feel has the most promise. I this case, I completed them both, but am unsure as to which one I like best. I can’t exhibit them both because I only have one frame prepared.

When I started the second version of “Muse,” I was happy enough with the result that I decided to photograph some successive stages of the painting, for those interested in the process. I would summarize the process by saying that the painting is composed of successive layers of very wet glazes, so that the paint literally rolls around on the watercolor board. I’m grateful to Craig Lueck and John Richardson at Hallmark Cards, for introducing me to this technique, which made watercolor enjoyable for me.

(You can see a younger me using this technique in my 4 ½ minute watercolor video on Youtube. Simply type scott freeman watercolor in the Youtube search bar. My apologies for not yet being set up to link videos on this site.)

Here’s the first version of the painting. Mollie says I should put this one in the show:

Muse 1

Following are some stages showing the development of the second version.

Muse-stages

Below is the final result. Please let me know which painting you think should go in the show, (though I’m definitely leaning toward one of them.) Vote the first or second version. I’d be interested in your reasons if you’d care to share them:

Muse 2

The subject matter of this painting comes from one of my favorite evenings during our trip to Germany last year. After Mollie and I spent the day in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, our wonderful German hosts took us to dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. Then we went for a walk and a glass of wine at the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin’s most beautiful square, featuring domed German and French Cathedrals facing each other across the expansive plaza with the restored Konzerthaus Berlin (Berlin Concert Hall) rising up between them.

When we entered the square, the sky was beginning to turn Maxfield-Parrish-blue. The weather was still and lovely, and a street musician was playing saxophone on the square under an ornate street lamp that was just coming on. His music echoed through the square, making the moment all the more transcendent for me. To be carried away to Europe by the generosity and grace of our new international friends, and to now be in their company on such a beautiful night in one of the world’s historic cities was extraordinary. This overwhelming memory will always be with me.

Berlin-Soldier Market Platz

Street musician on Soldier Market Platz – photo by the author

On our walk to Lutter & Wegner’s Winehouse, we passed the Concert Hall with its grand stairway. Great statues framed the stairs. On one side was a lion, on the other a lioness, each mounted by a cherub playing a musical instrument. Our hosts waited patiently as I took more photos, one of which became the source for this painting. Back at our hotel, my night ended when I couldn’t sleep from excitement, and Mollie excused me to take a midnight walk in the city (recounted here.)

Scott Freeman and Mollie Walker Freeman will be presenting a two-person art exhibit themed around their Germany trip, entitled, “Zeitgeist: Paintings inspired by Germany.” The show opens with a reception at the Loveland Museum-Gallery on November 8, 2013 at 5pm, and will be on display through February 23, 2014.

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

Redhead wpblg

“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.

When I Worked at Hallmark, the Corporate Greeting Card Giant

If you have a job you hate, you will not believe what I’m about to tell you. In fact, you might not want to read this because it might make you cry.

If you are a rabble-rouser, or an anti-capitalist, anti-corporate socialist ideologue, or a controversy-seeking dirt-digger, you may be disappointed that I have nothing negative to say about anyone or anything regarding my experience at Hallmark. It will actually read more like a fairy tale.

It is true that I felt like a fish out of water in the corporate environment. As though at any moment the security people might come down to inform me that it had been discovered that I was not cut out, after all, to be in a trendy corporate environment brimming with wealth and beautiful people. But I figured, until that day came, I would make the most of my Hallmark experience. I believe that I did.

For a decade after I graduated art college (KCAI,) I struggled with trying to find the balance between making art and making a living. This balance generally seemed to include persistent inner-city poverty. I told myself that this was a self-imposed poverty; the price I had to pay to be an artist. I knew I was intelligent and responsible enough to get a job and start climbing the ladder in pursuit of the American Dream, but that was not what I wanted.

I would drive by Hallmark and sneeringly think, “You couldn’t pay me enough to work there.” But I did wonder what was going on inside of those walls. I had desperate moments when I thought about getting a job as a janitor there, kind of like Matt Damon’s character in “Good Will Hunting.” Because hey… I was a fine artist, man! I wasn’t willing to prostitute my talent to churn out pictures of bunnies and leprechauns for a paycheck!

Ha! No way!

But then, newly married and a couple of babies later I was pounding on Hallmark’s door, pleading for them to let me in. “I’LL PAINT LEPRECHAUNS! I’LL EVEN PAINT LEPRECHAUNS!” I cried.

Originally I thought I would work there for a couple of years until I paid off my (and my wife’s) considerable art school debt. But all of my preconceptions about Hallmark were wrong. Insiders didn’t call it “the Golden Handcuffs” for nothing. At the time I was there, Hallmark turned out to be the most generous, inspiring, and ridiculously creative environment that I could imagine an artist working in.

I remember getting “the tour” after I got hired. Unbelievable. I had a carpet burn on my chin when it was all over because my mouth kept falling open. Eventually I stopped asking, “Wait…you mean they’re going to pay me to do this?”

In order to maintain their position as the industry leader, Hallmark aimed at recruiting the best “creatives” in the world – artists, writers, designers, photographers, and calligraphers. To keep this creative staff energized, outside speakers from various fields were regularly brought in. As long as we stayed on top of our work, we were free to attend these presentations. I leapt at this opportunity. This was like getting paid to go to school. I heard photographers (like Keith Carter and Robert ParkeHarrison,) poets (like Pattiann Rogers,) designers (like Barry Moser,) and a multitude of other artists and creative thinkers. This alone would’ve been enough to keep me there.

HM angel

Created in the RIC when Hallmark developed a line of cards featuring angels. This pieces features “drapery glass” on the angel’s garment – a dimensional, folded glass invented by Tiffany studios, which I was excited to use for the first time.

But then there was the Rice Innovation Center. The RIC was a cavernous, skylit wing at one end of the building. It contained an artist playground area, including studios for ceramics, woodcarving, printmaking, stained glass, glass blowing, batik and fiber, an old–fashioned letterpress printer, and a workspace for mosaic projects. Artists could submit ideas for cards that required the use of any of these processes. When such ideas were approved, artists could work in the RIC and create what they needed for the card. Furthermore, productive artists would often be rewarded with 2 or 3 day workshops in the RIC in a medium of their choice. Instructors were there to train us if the medium was unfamiliar. These workshops were for “creative renewal,” as they called it, meaning no actual greeting card application was expected. In other words, you could make cool stuff and take it home. They paid us to do this.

I found all of this to be brilliant and extraordinary. I heard that there were bean counters on the business end who had difficulty justifying these expenses compared to the artists’ output. I don’t know about all of that, but I can tell you that these perks certainly built a gratitude and company loyalty in me. Needless to say, I stayed longer than two years.

I haven’t even told you about the Kearney farm.  The farm was a beautiful, sprawling property in Kearney, Missouri, about 45 minutes away from the downtown headquarters. This farm was once owned by renowned illustrator, Mark English. Hallmark bought it and fitted it out to be a place for off-site meetings; a place to get away from the city and the corporate environment. Another brilliant idea. The sensitively modernized farm house was very cool, in itself.

But then, there was the barn.

HM fishclock

Fishclock
This was actually created at a found-object workshop, but the tail pieces were left over from a blacksmithing workshop. The eye is a doorknob from our first house. The green lips came from an old toilet seat I found in the crawl space. The words are a poem written by my preschool son: Hours are big. Minutes are small. Seconds are hardly anything at all.

For me, as an artist, the Kearney farm was like a freaking piece of utopia. The barn was fitted out with creative workshop media that were not suited for the Rice Center at headquarters; workshop media like welding and blacksmithing.

Yes, I said blacksmithing. When I went to work at Hallmark as a greeting card artist, I learned freaking blacksmithing.

There were 3 forges, and an instructor who could give a crash course on safety and process so that a small group of artists could finish a project in 3 or 4 days. I couldn’t believe it. I lived for these workshops. There was something very satisfying about the art and physicality of pounding glowing, red hot metal over an anvil into something lovely. In the barn there were also 3 wood lathes for bowl-turning workshops, which I also took, and loved.

I must relate one ridiculously pleasurable story about the farm. I don’t know how my name got on this list, but I was somehow recommended to take a workshop with visiting artist, Diego Romero. Diego is a Cochiti Pueblo Native-American, who arrived at Hallmark wearing a T-shirt that said, “My heroes have always been Indians.” A contemporary ceramic artist from New Mexico, (you can google him,) he has a wonderful knowledge of traditional native ceramic techniques, combined with a modern sensitivity and a university ceramics training.

Our lucky workshop group started out in the Rice Center where Diego shared some slip glaze that he had extracted from a secret creekbed location in New Mexico. He showed us how to burnish the slip with a smooth rock. Then the next day we went to the Kearney farm to fire our pieces. Early in the morning we dug a pit, and split wood, and Diego created a completely low-tech pit kiln, by stacking the cut wood according to the knowledge that was passed down to him. Then we torched the entire thing with our pots inside, and had a little pot party. (Clay pots!) The whole experience was pure enjoyment; everything from getting to know Diego, to later digging through the ash to see the results of the firing. I will always remember this event fondly. Hallmark paid me to do this.

HM armadillo pot

Armadillo Pot
Created with Diego Romero. 3″ high.

It’s been some 13 years since I left Hallmark, and as I write this I’m still amazed at the creative experiences I had. I haven’t even told you about the trips…

Twice I was sent on week long, “blue sky” painting trips for the purpose of “creative renewal,” apparently just because my manager knew I was interested in painting. (God bless her.) The first was a week-long trip with a bunch of guys, to a cabin in the Conejos National Forest, in Colorado near the New Mexico border. Amazing. It was on this trip that painted the Colorado landscape in the open air for the first time. The experience marked me for life. It was glorious. Years later when I left Hallmark, I moved to Colorado to become a painter and plein air artist full time.

The second trip was a week-long painting trip to the Snake River in Idaho, to take a workshop with Russian expressionist, Ovanes Berberian. The trip included a visit to the Grand Tetons and the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. This trip left a big mark on my art as well, and is a story in itself. It was also a great community-building experience. Hallmark paid for everything including airfare and the considerable list of artist materials that Ovanes required.

MM parable

Parable of the Wheat and Tares
Created at a raku workshop at the Kearney farm. Based on the parable of Jesus from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.
19″ high.

I’m pretty sure that Hallmark put these remarkable practices into place when the greeting card industry was thriving, and the economy was healthier. The company prided itself in having never laid anyone off during its entire history. It had as a goal each year to be listed in Forbe’s Top 100 companies to work for. But changing demographics, shopping patterns, and technologies changed the ink and paper greeting card industry. While I was there the entire company underwent a restructuring. I honestly don’t know what it’s like to work as an artist at Hallmark now. At the time of the restructuring, when I didn’t get the new position I hoped for, I chose to leave rather than take a less creative position. My wife and I viewed this as an opportunity to pursue our postponed dream of making a living as fine artists. This is the reason we made the move to Colorado. I don’t think I would have had the courage to leave a great job, and move my family down an uncertain course if I hadn’t been downsized, so I am even thankful for getting downsized.

There is a lot that I don’t know about this first downsizing in Hallmark’s history, but I do think Hallmark lost its human face in the estimation of many. I was probably the only one fist-pumping the air when given the word that I was being let go. Mostly there was a lot of hurt, crying, and anger from a lot of people who had planned on retiring from Hallmark. I’ve heard many people say, “When one door closes, another door opens.” I don’t think that is necessarily true. My experience has been, when one door closes, sometimes you have to feel around in the dark for a hammer or pick-ax and use it to bust out a hole in the wall.”

Our options aren’t always as easy as walking through an open door.

HM cedar bowl

Cedar Bowl
Turned on the lathe at the Kearney farm. 7″ high.