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Category: Artwork by David R. Darrow (page 1 of 8)

Embarrassing Moment as an Illustrator

After several years out of the commercial art market, I was called, out of the blue, to bring my portfolio to a design studio 125 miles away. They had three large illustrations to assign, and it looked like a fair amount of work.

I was going to bid $1200 each, or $3600 for the trio. But when the art director asked me how much it would cost them, I asked in return what the budget was.

My usual tactic.

I was prepared for her to tell me something as low as $2500 which I would then try to squeeze up a bit before agreeing. I have never been good at guessing these things.

She told me “We have another illustrator whose work we like who has already bid twelve, but I really like your work, so it has to be in that ballpark.”

Trying not to sound huffy, I calmly ask, “Each? Or for the whole job?”

“No, twelve for all three.”

I paused. “These are worth at least nine, each,” I argued humbly… trying to get the work, but still retain my dignity and let her know I know this business.

Her eyebrows shot up. “Nine thousand each?!”

It was at that moment I realized I had just undersold myself to the point of glaring incompetence, and I said, “I really suck at negotiations.”

There was no recovering. I picked up my portfolio and left.

I drove 125 miles north, to my home, with a red face and my tail between my legs.

Canvas Stretcher Preparation and Shipping Crate

I’ll be starting a “boardroom portrait” soon. The finished painting — 24″ x 30″ — will hang in the Daniel Library at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. It’s a famous military college, and my client is the Citadel, honoring an alumnus of the Citadel (1963) and a local-to-me business man who personally located me and asked that I create his portrait.

The college has a history going back to before 1850, and many (maybe all) of the past presidents and a few other important alumni have had their portraits hung in the Daniel Library. Since this painting will be around for a very long time, I wanted the canvas to be sturdier than what standard stretchers would provide, and didn’t want to order the beefier stretchers online and wait for them to arrive, so here’s what I did instead.

Standard stretchers backed with 1 x 2 furring pine.

If you look closely, you can see the two layers of wood.

I started with a stock, pre-stretched canvas. The canvas is usually very generic cotton duck on ready-mades, so I removed the staples and set that canvas aside for practice paintings later. I’ll stretch Claessen’s #166 Belgian Linen over it for the final painting. Very high quality, and a wonderful weave for portraits.

Bostitch Nailer

I bought this refurb at Amazon for about $60 and it works great.

I used the existing dimensions to mark my 1 x 2 furring strips. 1 x 2 lumber in the USA is actually 3/4″ x 1.5″ and they call that “nominal.” Whatever. The ready-made canvases often have the benefit of having only one side bevelled, unlike stretcher bars that are user-assembled and have “goof-proof” double-bevelled surfaces. (The bevel is there to lift the canvas off the remaining wood, so that the artist doesn’t keep hitting it while painting, as the canvas flexes downward. It also provides airflow behind the canvas which helps preserve it from environmental problems, like mildew.) Since these pre-mades have a flat, not-bevelled back, they are appropriate for gluing and tacking on furring strips. I use a small compressor and this Bostitch 18-gauge pneumatic nailer I got at Amazon to drive 1-1/4″ brads. It requires 35-60psi pressure and shoots a variety of nail lengths from 5/8″ to 2 1/8″.

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Flipped on its face, I added a cross-bar between and in the middle of the long sides from the same furring material (battens, in the UK) and inset it slightly to reach more toward the middle of the double-thickness. Glued and nailed with a brad. This will add strength to keep the 30″ span from bowing when I tighten the canvas.

Before stretching the linen, or even beginning a painting, I build the shipping crate. Even though the subject of my painting is local, after his approval, it will be shipped some 2500+ miles away. I want it to get there safely.

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I want the crate to be sturdy but light. So I build it from 3/8″ plywood and more furring strips. The painting will sit down into the box, resting on 1 x 2s that act as spacing and a structure to which I can attach the back panel.

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The crate allows for 1/4″–3/8″ “breathing room” around the perimeter of the finished canvas. I do this all now, because I don’t want to be doing trial-fits and measuring with a finished painting! For one thing, there’s a lot of sawdust. Sawdust and fresh oil paint are not friends, in my book.

Not shown — yet — are the item I will use later to secure the painting in place for shipping. This extra breathing room is just enough for some dense, spongy padding, and the painting is held securely down with some mounts I have created for this purpose. Stay tuned, I’ll post another article with those details.

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Since the back is fixed (unlike the lid which must be easily removable), I piece it together from some leftover plywood from previous crates and reinforce the seam inside, glued and nailed with brads. A proper-size full panel would have been better, but I didn’t want to run to the hardware store, and this will do fine. Plenty strong.

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I vacuum out all the sawdust. Then I paint a coat of exterior varnish on the entire interior. I don’t want any sawdust coming loose in shipping and adhering to my finished painting — which will be naked inside this crate.

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I don’t do anything special like sanding. I’m just using it as a sealer. It’s water-based varnish and the brush cleans easily with soap and warm water — and there are no heavy fumes. Nice stuff. About $15 per quart. And no, I would never use it on an oil painting.

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It will be dry in under an hour.

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I painted the finished work over several days at my uStream Channel

You can “subscribe” to my channel on uStream.tv to be notified when I click my camera on. Or watch from the Show page on my other website: Dave the Painting Guy.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Bain De SoleilI sat down and watched a movie last night that really touched me in many ways. The Pursuit of Happyness, with Will Smith is a must-see for anyone over 12 in America. It embodies the American Dream like nothing I have seen

But this is not a review of the movie, even though it does stir up a lot of my old forgotten emotions from the time period in which it was set, 1981, when I was just beginning my career as an illustrator. One of the things that impressed me was the movie sets, with authentic period decor… starting with the Ban de Soleil tanning lotion ad in the picture above.

Ban de Soileil was the tanning lotion of choice for snobs — or at least I thought so, sitting there on the beach with my bottle of baby oil and iodine.

PSA Taxi Card - 1981I knew they had done their research when this scene flashed by. Will’s character gets into a taxi with a Dean Whitter exec, and the ad card on the roof was a pristine PSA Airlines ad.

PSA was “out of business” by 1988 when acquired by USAir, but for the seven years they used that particular airplane illustration that had been incorporated into their logo, I seethed.

See, I was a new illustrator on the San Diego scene. After a nine-month stint as an in-house illustrator with General Dynamics, Covair Division in Kearny Mesa, I got washed out in a 400-employee downsizing, and found myself treading the scary waters of the unemployment pond. Rather than stand in line for government assistance, I hit the streets with my college portfolio, first meeting with San Diego Illustrator Darrel Millsap — who became a friend, and a mentor of sorts — and then to design groups and ad agencies, always asking for more referrals.

This all brought me to the little design team of Clem and Bonnie Schwartz who hired me, that day, to do an illustration of a PSA plane flying up and over to the viewer’s right. They were preparing a 2-page, black and white spread in a newspaper campaign, and wanted to dress it up with an illustration of the plane with the signature “smile” on the front.

I took the job. It paid $750, and I needed to pay my rent.

I went down to Lindbergh Field, stood outside the fence and shot pictures of departing PSA flights with a zoom lens on my film camera, prepared an under-drawing for my final illustration, got it approved, and then received a phone call from the Schwartzes. They wanted me to “paint it in color, just in case at the last minute PSA decides to run the spread with color.” I figured that wasn’t that big of a deal, so I complied.

PSA Airlines Artwork

I painted this in 1981 for a one-time newspaper ad.
It was then used as the company logo, with no additional compensation.

They loved my finished illustration… …so much so that they took advantage of me [read: royally screwed] and told me after a month or so that they could not release my payment to me without my signing-over copyright and ownership of the original art.

Now, even though I was a little green, I knew that there were at least 3 valuable assets attached to any original work for which an illustrator should be compensated:

  1. time in creating the work of art and the associated, pre-planned usage rights for which the commission is therefore engaged,
  2. ownership of the original artwork, and
  3. copyright to the work.

Whomever owns copyright — inherently with the artist unless transferred or sold in writing — can do with it whatever they please.

But, like I said, I had rent to pay.

They told me this was just a formality, and that I had nothing to be concerned about [except that signing it was the only way to get my check], so, trusting them (did I mention green behind the ears?) I signed the agreement [which gave them copyright] and my check came a few days later.

Within a month, the illustration had been incorporated into their previously barren PSA logo, and was used in virtually all print and media advertising until their merger with USAir in 1988.

I never saw the original art again, and I never received a penny more in compensation.

Movie note: The guy at Dean Whitter that keeps asking Gardner (Will’s character) to get him some coffee is none other than Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson.

Diving Rock – Thomaston, GA

Diving Rock -- Flint River, GAby David R. Darrow
10" x 8" (25.4cm x 20.3cm)
Oil on Stretched Canvas
This painting is not framed

Unframed
$195 + $8.95 S/H
Click image for larger view.

About This Painting

In Thomaston Georgia, there is a wide, calm, clear river called the Flint River.

The day I was there, the water was easily 85°f and the daytime temperature was about the same. The air had only slightly less water in it than the Flint River, but it still looked inviting — so I took a dip.

From my vantage point, I could see kids, young and old, jumping off this rock sticking about 8 feet out of the warm water, with precarious access from the backside. If I was still a kid, I would have been all over it, non-stop.

They eventually got dragged home by their weary parents, but I stuck around to enjoy the long day and the warming light of the setting sun. It was amazingly quiet, peaceful and beautiful. ◙

Come Hither

Come Hitherby David R. Darrow 
6" x 6" (15.2cm x 15.2cm) 
Oil on Stretched Canvas 
 
SOLD
Collection of Jeanne Piorkowski,  
Newton, NJ – USA
 

About This Painting 

This lovely 1965 Chevy Impala parked in my neighborhood for just a time, her eyelids seductively begging me to paint her.

This car was a beauty. Classic lines, heavy metal, even “spats” over the rear wheels. The two sets of three, horizontally-aligned tail light lenses affixed as if to pause with a poetic ‘dot dot dot’ demanding my full attention.

It’s more than just a car.

It’s a Classic! ◙

Be A Pepper

Be A Pepperby David R. Darrow
8" x 6" (20.3cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Belgian Linen Panel
SOLD
Collection of Derek Beasley,
Lancaster, CA – USA

About This Painting

Another pepper from my garden.

I watched this little fellow grow and plump up and turn a brilliant emerald green (if you don’t know, they turn red soon after). I felt that the young plant was too weak to hold this 6″ pepper — it seemed all the watering and nutrients were going toward sustaining the pepper, so I pruned it off.

Now the plant is three times the size is was, has new flower buds which will bear fruit, and will be doing its pepper thing again, soon.

It’s so fascinating to see them take shape, change color, and reshape. Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?

Maybe you’d have to have grown up in the 70s to understand this one. ◙

Captured

Capturedby David R. Darrow
6" x 8" (15.2cm x 20.3cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Robert Marchese,
Rochester, NY – USA

About This Painting

This 6″ x 8″ painting “Captured” is the newest by San Jose, CA artist David R. Darrow. ◙

San Felipe Lake, Gilroy

San Felipe Lake, Gilroy CAby David R. Darrow
6" x 6" (15.2cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Stretched Canvas
This painting is not framed

Click here to bid on eBay
Opening Bid: 1¢
Ends: Friday, September 2, 2011)
at 6:00 PM (Pacific Time)

About This Painting

San Felipe Lake sneaks up on you. You turn a corner and Boo! there it is. It’s just a bit southeast of Gilroy proper along Pacheco Pass Rd.

Somewhat humorously, nearby this Gilroy lake is the town of Aromas — I wonder what connection there is to its next-door neighbor Gilroy being the garlic capitol of the world.

As I rounded the corner, heading south on CA SR-152 one day recently looking for scenes to paint, this came into view, and it was all I could do to pull over on the one, small turn-off and not spill my morning coffee.

This is painted more abstractly than I usually paint since I wanted to capture the airbushy blends in ‘chunks of color’ instead. ◙

Draped in Satin

As a beginning illustrator and very "wet behind the ears" in 1980 when I set out at 22 to make a living right out of art school, all I knew was "fast media" — I had only used oils in a few figure painting classes, and didn’t know the medium well. None of the instructors I had really talked much about the inherent properties of oil, drying time, block-ins, washes, etc., so Oils were a mystery to me until 2000, 20 years later, when I decided to learn them "for reals."

Old Acrylics
Click the picture for a larger view

Acrylics dry fast, so that’s what I used when doing all my time-sensitive commercial work. I did a lot of airbrush work back then, so It was an obvious choice. Still, the darks in acrylic dry a step or 2 lighter, and the lights dry a bit darker by the time the water has "flashed off" — so it was always a wait-and-see game, for me.

I decided to try a small figure painting in acrylic, using washes, glazes and scumbling to achieve an atmospheric effect. It was a bit of a trip down memory lane. For starters, some of the still-good tubes of acrylic I have are older than many of the people on my mailing list. In the picture of some tubes of mine, you can see that I dated them, sometimes, so I would know when I bought them — never thinking I would actually have them nearly 30 years later. The tube in the middle, dated 9/85 is a sure tell. But if you’re a Pasadena local, you know that the tube to the left (Modular Color) was from an old product line that was hue and value-based, sold in metal tubes, and in this case, from "Standard Brands" paint store on Orange Grove in Pasadena — that store long ago having changed hands. (The $1.03 price tag is certainly nostalgic!) That store tag means I bought it during my school years, 1977–1980. Yikes-squared!

And it still flows.

I put the near-full "Portrait Pink" tube in the picture to show how useless therefore largely-unused it is.

But I digress…

Stage 1 – The drawing in pencil and then brownish acrylic

I started with a canvas glued to 1/8" luan mahogany plywood. You can’t see it here, but the canvas has been highly textured with modeling paste, knifed– and bushed–on, coated in gesso, and sanded.

Stage 2 –  A quick, warm/neutral wash of acrylic:
Raw Umber, Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, greatly thinned with water

Stage 3 (2.5, really)  — I pat it and wipe it down quickly before it dries to get rid of
the drips and brush marks.

Stage 4 – I start re-working the darks before I completely lose my drawing,
then do another 2 or 3 washes over it.

Stage 5 — I alternate between warm and cool washes of color.

Here, a Payne’s Gray wash has been added mostly at the top. By the way, Payne’s Gray is merely a premixed Ultramarine Blue and Ivory Black — it says so right on the label.

Stage 6 — A Yellow Ocher wash has been added, plus some reworking
of the lost highlights using Titanium White Gesso and water.
Burnt Sienna is used in the shadows to keep them from going too dark, for now.

Stage 7 — Creating atmosphere with more thin washes.

Yellow Ocher and Burnt Sienna both have a slight opacity to them — they are not true transparent colors, like Ultramarine is. Therefore, they tend to lighten. This begins to create a "foggy," more unified look to the lights and darks. This also ties the cool highlights back to the color scheme.

Stage 8 — I wash in some local color and re-enforce the highlights.

I want a warm-to-cool graduated background, and I want something light behind the head to bring out the profile, so I start working the cool light on the wall. I also add the red of the drape on the chair, while reinforcing the satin white.

Close-up — A bit blurry, sorry!

Stage 9 — Oil Wash or Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Blue and Raw Umber, Turp and Linseed Oil

What???

You may object to oil paint being used in an acrylic painting since one cannot paint with both. This is mostly true. The astute among you will know that you cannot paint acrylic over oil — ever. But the reverse is not true. You can paint oil over (dried) acrylic. This is completely archival.

The really super-astute among you will realize that this last stage — where I am leaving off for now — is where I became frustrated with the way the acrylic painting was going, seeing the seemingly endless work ahead to get what I wanted, therefore I "changed horses in the middle of this stream."

Goodbye acrylic, for now. This painting has plenty of potential, and it’s only going to be realized if I enjoy painting it, so… I did what I had to do. For now, I like oils better, and I believe I can finish this faster/sooner and with greater artistic freedom in oils.

Paint Smarter™

—Dave

Step by Step of “Curl”

This painting is available now on eBay, with a 1¢ opening bid.

Today’s painting started out on a panel primed with gesso, then sanded, then painted with a medium gray, latex, flat wall-paint I got from Home Depot.

My first step, above, was to tone the panel with a bit of burnt sienna and ultramarine blue, thinned well with mineral spirits. Next step was to sketch in the proportions of the head. Working on an 8 x 10 panel, I make things a lot easier on myself by cropping my digital photo exactly as I wanted it cropped at exactly 8 x 10 proportions. This allows me to do the sketch paying attention to the shaped of the head as well as the shapes of the negative space around the head. This is painted from the image on the monitor.

Admittedly, I got a little lost right away. I started jumping around trying to "get something right" instead of focusing on connecting values and shapes. Jumping around is always my downfall. Part of the problem is that I do not realize I am doing the jumping around.

And no one was around to stop me.

Eventually, I come to my senses and do the only thing I can do to make the painting better: remove the offending parts. My general proportions were mostly right as far as placing the head on the panel, but I went awry somewhere near the mouth.

As soon as I wiped off the mouth, The Voices stopped.

Just kidding. Now they only sounded muffled.

I got the bigger shapes dropped back in; a smaller mouth, the orange of the background, the cool of the flesh in light.

Back on track, I worked on balancing the shadow values more with the light values, trying to separate the warm shadows from the cool north light on the brighter side. I also blockiin the hand, which I see as an element of the painting that is necessary for the femininity in the pose, but not important enough that I want to draw attention to it. I intend to keep it impressionistic.

Curl – 8" x 10" oil on panel, by David R. Darrow

The completed painting is a result of refocusing and starting at the top of the forehead and working my way down checking the drawing, comparing shapes, values and hues, adjusting edges and temperatures.

I try not to get discouraged when a painting goes off a bit. I don’t like that I have to spend extra time on it, but it does feel good to whip it back into shape. (This painting is available now on eBay, with a 1¢ opening bid).


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If you have a difficult time with drawing during painting, you may be interested in my Charcoal Drawing for Oil Painters video course which shows how to break down larger shapes into easier "bites," honing in to detail.

Maybe the way shadows interact with the background or light areas is an elusive challenge to you. I did a series on everything I know about Light and Shadow, called Shadow University.

Maybe it’s just flesh tones that get your brushes in a bunch. What color is Caucasian skin in blue light? What basic color mix do I use? Can I use my tube of "Flesh" color for Ethiopians? (No) You may benefit from my most popular video series "In the Flesh" (Mixing flesh tones)

Maybe you’re just baffled by color mixing… you keep ending up with muddy paintings. I can tell you why, and how to fix that, plus much, much more in my Color Theory for Painters course.

Curl

Curlby David R. Darrow
8" x 10" (20.3cm x 25.4cm)
Oil on Panel
This painting is not framed

Click here to bid on eBay
Opening Bid: 1¢
Ends: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 6:04 PM (Pacific Time)

About This Painting

One of my Beautiful Strangers™ encounters led to this painting.

Beautiful Strangers are ‘portraits of friends I have never met.’

I met Blythe in the market. She may have generated the slowest double-take on record. She was in line at the quick check-out at the grocery store, and I was on my way to the produce section and had to cut in front of her just to get by.

I smiled as I inched my cart into the space in front of her so she wouldn’t think I was just busting through. She smiled at me and back up to let me through. And the light caught her just so.

I saw a painting in my mind as I passed by her.

All the way to the bagged Baby Spinach and organic carrots, I tried to talk myself out of asking her to be in a painting of mine. Finally, I just asked myself, “Who are you kidding? How are you going to paint a face like that if you don’t ask her?”

So I did. And she agreed.

She was a natural. Every which way she turned her head she looked like another painting. She brushed her hair through her fingers and I said “Hold that… …Okay… …let go of your hair.” A single strand of her hair dropped and curled around into the light. ◙

Sonoma Roadside

Sonoma Roadsideby David R. Darrow
8" x 10" (20.3cm x 25.4cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of George Reis,
San Diego, CA – USA

About This Painting

Something happens to me when I drive through the lush, green fields of wine country. On a recent drive through Sonoma, I was taken by this scene at a glance as I drove by, so I went back to see it again — it ended up becoming a painting.

It had been a beautiful day, perfect weather, the slightest breeze. Driving with the windows down, smelling the rich earth mixed with a hint of salt air filtering in from the not-so-distant Pacific Ocean.

And now as the sun began its descent, the colors started to concentrate. The leaves, ever-so-slightly backlit, glowed a deep yellow green against the blue mountains.

I must go back.

Highway 12. Sonoma, CA. Wine Country. ◙

Hot Pants

Hot Pantsby David R. Darrow
8" x 6" (20.3cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Stretched, Washed Denim
SOLD
Collection of David Hansen,
Milwaukee, WI – USA

About This Painting

Not just a couple of peppers. These are peppers from my own vegetable garden in San Jose, CA. And not just a still life on ordinary canvas — this painting is done on my old blue jeans… unstitched, washed and archivally stretched and glued onto a birch plywood panel, then gessoed with archival-quality, clear gesso.

Peppers on pants: Hot pants! ◙

Stroll around Lucca, Italy

A Stroll In Lucca, Italyby David R. Darrow
5" x 7" (12.7cm x 17.8cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Leta Terrell,
Lake Providence, LA – USA

About This Painting

I sometimes live vicariously through the lives of strangers, which is why I have on my Beautiful Strangers™ business card “Oil portraits of friends I have never met.”

Getting to know the people who model for me is always a step into a new world.

And so it goes with clients who hire me to paint for them, as was the case with one client, recently, who wanted to gift his wife with a painting to remind her of the wonderful time they had together in a trip to Italy. I got to see his collection of snapshots and hear him talk about what memories he had of these various locations, the beauty, the moments that touched them both.

One in particular was a stroll around the section of Lucca (I believe he referred to it as Lucca Park). This walkway at the south-east of the walled city was strewn with Fall leaves and dappled sunlight, walled out on the right, and protected by a small berm on the left, seemingly endless in its forward distance.

I did this color sketch before the final, much larger painting to present to my client. He was pleased, and gave me the go-ahead for the final. ◙

Thomas James

Thomas Jamesby David R. Darrow
5" x 7" (12.7cm x 17.8cm)
Acrylic on Panel
SOLD
Collection of James Thomas,
Santa Clara, CA – USA

About This Painting

Several months ago I gave a Head Painting Demonstration for a local artists group, and chose this fascinating looking gentleman from the audience to be my model (I added some of the scraggly appearance by use of artistic license — the model is actually a very nicely-groomed fellow).

He did an excellent job, like a pro.

I took 2 snapshots of the pose, thinking I might get back to the oil painting someday (still haven’t).

And then last night I decided to drying slinging some acrylic paint around. I haven’t painted in acrylic in 3 years or so, and I wanted to try out a build-up method of scumbling and glazing.

In the end I had a decent little painting. I made up the bandanna and blue shirt to give him a cowboy look, and reversed his real name (James Thomas) because I thought Thomas James sounded more Western… probably because of Jesse. ◙

Broad Street Creek, SLO – Looking East

Creek At Broad St. – Looking East (San Luis Obispo)by David R. Darrow
6" x 8" (15.2cm x 20.3cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Jan Krynski,
Chicago, IL – USA

About This Painting

A while back I started a couple of paintings en plein air down by the creek near Broad Street in San Luis Obispo, CA. It’s downtown, north of Higuera.

I finished one of them months ago. It was the view looking west. My own mother bought that one. She said she “had to have it” since it was a place my late father and she would stop for lunch when traveling south. They moved to the South San Francisco Bay during my second semester in Art School, and though Interstate 5 running through central California is 1.25 hours faster, they always took the slower SR-101 to Southern California since it is the more beautiful route. About 3.5 hours into it, it’s great to stop in beautiful San Luis Obispo for a respite.

Now I myself am in San Jose, and when I head south to visit my kids, I take the 101 through SLO, too, and I make it a habit to stop off at this creek.

This is the second painting I started down in that creek area. This is the view looking east, and is equally beautiful. ◙

How Do I Start A Painting

Often, one of the most difficult things about creating a painting is simply getting started.

Disclaimer, for art purists: There is absolutely no substitute for improving your drawing skills by participating in critical life drawing workshops. (By ‘critical’ I mean managed by an instructor who is willing to tell you your drawing is off and how to fix it). You can usually find one in your area. Drawing from the figure or head builds your drawing skills by training your mind/eye connection to accurately judge proportions and measurements. No matter how good you get at painting, you will always be making measurements — whether or not you deviate from absolute accuracy will be a matter of skill and/or style or choice.

You may want to start a painting before your skills are top-notch. And that’s okay with me. I made a living for the first eight years of my illustration career before I began to learn to draw well from the figure. My painting improved once I learned, but for the bulk of my 17-year illustration career, I used three methods of layout: an optical projector, the grid method, or multiple tracings and transfer.

In the example above, I demonstrated to a private student how to use the grid method. I can go into this in more detail if enough people are interested, but essentially, your source material (photo, magazine image, quick sketch or cartoon, etc…) gets a grid drawn over it with equal divisions (unless you are trying to distort it, use perfect squares). Then, on your painting surface, larger or smaller, place a matching grid. It must match line for line, also with perfect squares, same number of squares. Whether the subsequent squares are larger or smaller does not matter but will make your drawing proportionately larger or smaller. You will use this to assist you in drawing accurately the contents of each square — example the left-most eye starts at the intersection of 4 across & 3 down on both the source and final.

Next, begin laying in the distinct shadow pattern. Treat it as if you have only a black marker and white paper. Get the pattern in. Just get it in. In this example, I am using a warmish mixture of Alizarin, Ultramarine Blue and Raw Umber for my darks.

You will want to paint in lighter values. Don’t. Get the shadow pattern in. In areas that are dark, but may actually be lit by the source light, make them dark anyway. You can always lighten them later. Try to connect all shadow areas to others. No islands.
My apologies for the huge reflections in the wet paint. I had set the camera up over my shoulder using window light, before there was paint on the canvas, then just reached over my shoulder to snap new shots, and did not anticipate the reflection.
After you get the shadow pattern finished, fill in the light area with an average mid-value color for the light side. Reserve your highlights for later.
Be careful not to over-model the halftones in the light pattern. Keep your lights and darks separate. Mind your cool highlights if working with north light.
Once the masses are in, then you can play with edges. Edges are to a painting what spice is to food; what music is to romance. Edges help the viewer see what you see, and guide them to what’s most important, what to spend less time looking at (the edge of the hair/background), what to know about the structure (cartilage under skin vs. soft cheeks vs. hair).
Annie in Yellow Sweater • 8″ x 10″ • Oil on Canvas Panel

by David R. Darrow

 
Collection of Larry and Kay Crain
Paint Smarter™
—Dave

Creek at Broad Street, San Luis Obispo

Creek at Broad Streetby David R. Darrow
6" x 6" (15.2cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Doris Darrow,
Sunnyvale, CA – USA

About This Painting

A few weeks ago I visited San Luis Obispo, CA for the annual plein air event. I haven’t been to SLO for decades, so it was nice to see what’s changed and what hasn’t.

The Thursday night Farmer’s Market on Higuera Street downtown beats any street party I have ever seen. With evening light speckling the streets through the trees while the smoky aroma of meat on grills fills the air, vendors display produce, various wares, creams, ointments, incense, health drinks, jewelry and so on — it’s a street-fair on steroids every week!

Just around the corner, Broad Street crosses a beautiful little creek, just a few feet south of the San Luis Obispo Art Center where the plein air festival has its gallery. This creek meanders through town, popping in and out of view, sometimes running under several blocks of downtown’s multi-story buildings betraying its centuries-old, natural history of following the path of least resistance.

One morning I parked my easel by the creek between Chorro and Broad, and began this little painting in the warm morning sun as passers by chatted or friends gathered above the creek for morning coffee and conversation at any of several establishments with balconies or patios overlooking this serene view from their manufactured vistas. ◙

I’ll Get the Wine

I'll Get The Wineby David R. Darrow
6" x 6" (15.2cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Greg Rich,
Cheyenne, WY – USA

About This Painting

On a recent trip to Santa Fe, NM, I stopped by one gallery a little ways off the well-known gallery row. Traffic must have been slow for this gallery, for they were closed that day.

The gallery has an inviting courtyard, with a patio and overgrown wildflowers everywhere. Seeing these two Adirondack chairs beckoning two lovers to sit and rest, the phrase “I’ll get the wine…” came to mind. ◙

Covered In Light

Covered in Lightby David R. Darrow
3-3/4" x 8" (9.5cm x 20.3cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Chris Opp,
Bossier City, LA – USA

About This Painting

A quick figure painting on a small, remnant canvas panel, done in a limited palette, using red, yellow, black and white. ◙

Studying Leyendecker

Lately, as I contemplate what direction I want to go next with my oil painting, I have been studying the elegance and simplicity of line and form in the work of turn-of-the-century illustrator J.C. Leyendecker [Amazon book link].

Of particular interest to me was his use of color sketches on canvas, his unique “grid-method” transfers, and exaggeration of the effects of light and shadow, in particular ‘form shadows’ or ‘core shadows.’ He always maintained a balance of cool and warm to help separate lights, too.

In one instance I found, left, he apparently painted the sketch the way he wanted it, then drew grid-lines through the still-wet oil paint to transfer the image to a another, perhaps larger canvas.

Sadly, Joe Leyendecker was very secretive about his work, taking with him to his grave his “secret medium” that allowed him to “draw fluidly with paint.” Still, a student of his images could learn a lot about composition, conservation of line, beauty of shape, simplified volumes and idealization of face and figure.

This is the newest book of many about his work, and is filled with excellent pictures. It comes highly recommended — by me — for its beautiful pictures and examples, but probably not the quality of the text. Besides the authors’ elevating Leyendecker by unnecessarily bashing my other early 20th century hero Norman Rockwell, stating opinion as fact, they assert that Rockwell definitely copied Leyendecker. How do they know something that I highly doubt? I have been studying both illustrators for nearly 40 years.

Plus I found the text to be highly speculative and overly concerned [to the point of the unmistakable stench of misplaced agenda] with the sexual preferences of this master Illustrator. — David R. Darrow

Great Book: The Art of Drew Struzan

2010 Book about Drew Struzan

There’s a wonderful book about Drew Struzan. It arrived September 24, 2010 at about 30% off at Amazon. It’s called The Art of Drew Struzan.

There are three illustrators that influenced me more than any one else in my career, besides Norman Rockwell and JC Leyendecker of the past, and I was fortunate to get to be friends with each of them, often competing for work. Steven Chorney, who did nearly every piece of art inside the TV guide for years, Drew Struzan, (he pronounces it “STROO-zn”) who was also a friend of Steve’s and who was to movie posters what Norman Rockwell and Leyendecker were to magazine covers and advertising art, and Morgan Weistling, a 19-year-old kid who at the time had a growing reputation along the lines of “he’s even better than Drew Struzan!” As much as I admire my friend Morgan’s work, Drew is a legend. From the first piece of his I ever saw and liked immediately— an Alice Cooper album cover from my high school graduation year, 1975 — to, well, everything he’s done. I would learn later that Drew was 28 years old when he did that piece of art.

Alice Cooper Album Cover – Struzan

In high school in the ’70s I came across the album cover for Alice Cooper’s Welcome To My Nightmare [his music is not my cup of tea]. The cover art was something I recognized as having beautiful design and a decorative figure reminiscent of JC Leyendecker’s paintings, whose work along with Norman Rockwell’s I was just getting acquainted with at the time.

In 1987, I was attending a “Portfolio Review” sponsored by the Society of Illustrators. Drew was to be one of the reviewers, and I had wanted to meet him for about 10 years. I’d heard stories about what a remarkable student he was when he attended Art Center, years before I did.

Since I had been making a living as an artist for the previous 7 years at that time, I did not present my portfolio for review, since it was more for students or beginning illustrators. The evening was winding down and Drew’s review station was empty so I went and introduced myself. After awkwardly telling him what a pleasure it was to meet him, and “I’m your biggest fan” and all that, he said “Well, show me what you’ve got…” gesturing to my portfolio that I had in my hand.

“Oh, no… I wasn’t here for reviews, I just… uh… I don’t really want you to see my—”

“Come on. We’re in the same business. Let’s see it,” he insisted with a smile.

I won’t bore you with the details, but he was very complimentary — and then said, “Your work lacks love.”

“Love?”

“Yes. It doesn’t look like you love doing this for a living.”

“Well, really, I don’t. It’s tedious, hard work, and I do too many all-nighters. I have a growing family to feed and I am always tired.”

He asked me how much I made in my best year, and so I told him that this was my best year so far, and I was on track to make xx dollars.” His eyes widened, and I thought he was going to scold me for complaining when I was making plenty in a tough field. Instead he said, “I make that much in a month. No wonder you don’t like your work.”

JFK by Darrow

He asked me to show him just one piece I loved, and so I showed him my illustration of John F. Kennedy, right, that I had done for the 1983 20th anniversary of the assassination, to be used for a local San Diego TV-guide-like magazine called Tuned-in.

That was a bit embarrassing, since it was a direct knock-off of the style of another favorite illustrator of mine, Richard Amsel, who’d done a slew of TV Guide covers, many of which I had collected and hung on my wall in my studio.

John Travolta by Amsel

In fact, Richard had done the first Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom poster, the series of which Drew Struzan dominated after Richard’s death in Nov. 1985 from a relatively new disease at the time, AIDS. Amsel’s final work was a cover for TV Guide with portraits of Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw. Amsel died three weeks after its completion.

Drew asked me why I loved that one. I just shrugged and told him that it was because I got it done quickly. It only took a few hours. (I never told him I only got $100 for it). He said, quite matter-of-factly, “Well, that’s no small thing. Maybe you’re not cut out for all the detailed and tedious work. I could never do what you do [referring to the rest of my portfolio’s tedious stuff].”

It had never dawned on me to choose to do work that fit my personality. I had thought it was a virtue to be thankful for work at all, and just do it.

Without missing a beat, Drew invited me to his home and studio in Lake Arrowhead, and for that day, about 3 weeks later, Drew took me under his wing, showing me dozens of originals and even a slide show he’d put together for public meetings showing his methods, start to finish. I was in Illustrator Heaven.

David R. Darrow & Drew Struzan 2009

Drew’s generosity and directness breathed hope into a 30-year-old illustrator that year. I will forever be grateful.

22 years later, I ran into Drew and his wife Dylan at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, and was delighted that he remembered my name. He had a few very nice pieces in the gallery show, including a figurative sculpture and several oil paintings.

It was great to see him again, and since then I have been enjoying his wonderful design instruction via the beautiful imagery in The Art of Drew Struzan.


Update: Since this was written, I have acquired a fantastic companion book: Drew Struzan: Oeuvre — it was about $35.

SD Memory Cards

When a sale is not a sale: be careful when buying discounted memory cards. The one shown, right, is a 16GB microSD card for $18 on sale through a popular merchant. But pay attention to the “C2” marking (yellow arrow) this is a Class 2 memory chip, and the speed with which data can be written to it is way too slow for most modern still and video cameras.

Now days, with cameras shooting 5Mpx (5 megapixels) images or bigger, and HD video writing each frame at 2.1Mpx, you need high speed memory. Buy Class 6 at least, Class 10 at best.

This “class rating” applies to full-size SD cards, MiniSD cards and MicroSD cards.

George

I got to visit my friend George yesterday. George is now officially a collector of my work, owning 2 of my paintings. George sneaked in at the last moment and snagged my John Wayne in Acrylic the other day. George is a painter, too, and he and I became acquainted in 2007 because George had found my work on eBay, looked me up and even sent me a painting of myself from a photo on a blog entry about a day I went plein air painting and my painting blew off the easel landing ‘jelly side down.’

George is one of the kindest men I have met, and in many ways his gentleness and careful choice of words, easy laughter and substantial vocabulary remind me of my own father who passed away in 2005. I would venture that If it weren’t for his knack for story telling, and his myriad stories from his career, you’d probably never guess he spent a good portion of his life as a Special Agent for NCIS (NCISA Who’s Who Story: scroll halfway down).

I delivered the painting to him and he smiled, thanked me, shook my hand and set it down on his coffee table. I had to admit to George that I could not imagine why he wanted another painting. Far from being self-effacing with that question, I was referencing George’s enormous collection of paintings, the vast majority of which are his own. He long ago ran out of wall-space in his four bedroom home, and both sides of his garage are modeified with shelves loaded with paintings, categorized and alphabetized. It’s like a library or vinyl album collection, only it’s all paintings on panels or canvas, sometimes still in frames, but mostly loose.

As we drank a glass of wine together, we talked about art, painting, his career, his fun memories of his duties an a special agent, the art of getting a confession (for much of his career he obtained more confessions from criminals than anyone else around using psychology, relationship-building and a polygraph machine — much more often than not, the polygraph was unnecessary), and of course we talked about Pearl.

He’s done between 2– and 300 paintings of his late wife Pearl among the hundreds if not thousands of paintings he’s done. Pearl was the love of his life and he is never at a loss for words describing the beauty and gentleness of the woman who preserved his heart in a career that could have stripped him of it.

"I’ve never known a more selfless person in my whole life," he sighs.

Sadly, cancer took her life 7 years ago, and George was left with a home full of memories of her and their children together — and his box of paints. He visits her grave site a couple of times a week, and talks to her, hoping she’s around somewhere to hear.

I once heard that a "real" artist is one who will spend days, weeks or months on a creative pursuit and never care if anyone ever sees the work. This is largely true of George. The vast majority of his oil paintings are in deep stacks along the walls in his studio, the garage, on the piano, and so on. He mostly does portraits and figures, and if it were not for a visit to his home, or catching his fancy as a friend to whom he’d like to give an original portrait, you’d never know otherwise that he paints. He’s doesn’t try to sell them, but for some commissions he talks about. Many people who have been blessed to know him have received a portrait from him as a gift.

Painting is what he loves to do to pass the slow-moving time and remember his friends, and especially his favorite model of all time, Pearl.

Mary

Maryby David R. Darrow
14" x 11" (35.6cm x 27.9cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of Jose Arce,
Jacksonville, IL – USA

About This Painting

Mary was a stranger to me the day I asked her if I could paint her portrait. I was struck by her wonderful multi-braided hair and dark, dark skin.

“Excuse me…” I said, interrupting her thoughts. I was going to ask her if I might possibly use her as a head model for study.

She turned and smiled a beyond-radiant smile. We talked for a bit and I explained what I do and that I’d like to paint her. I also mentioned I was being awarded a First Place at a local gallery’s juried show and invited her to the reception.

She showed up with two of her nieces, who were equally beautiful, and whom I eventually painted, too.

All three young women are originally from Kenya, and Mary is aunt to the other two. They are named Dama and Dama — they are each the first daughter in their respective families and, following tradition, are named after their maternal grandmother who is, of course, Dama. ◙

Presence

Presenceby David R. Darrow
11" x 14" (27.9cm x 35.6cm)
Oil on Belgian Linen Panel
SOLD
Collection of Delilah Smith,
Oldsmar, FL – USA

About This Painting

“She’s a ballet dancer,” my old friend suddenly pointed out. My lady friend, who has been in dance from childhood through most of her adult life, was out with me for breakfast one sunny Sunday morning at the harbor in Oceanside, CA. Erika was walking nearby with her mother.

From a short distance I was caught by something about her face. I haven’t been around dance enough to pick up what my friend did, but she told me she just knew it “because of the way she carries herself.”

I set down my fork and got up. “Let’s go find out if she is. I’d like to paint her anyway.” She has a long neck, lean frame, muscular arms and a gentle but focused, pretty face. At that moment, her hair was pulled back tight and put up in a bun.

Erika, 14 at the time, and her mother were delightful people to talk to and verified that Erika was indeed a dancer — a serious dancer, traveling the world with well-known companies. They told us that they were on vacation from their hometown in Florida and, fortunately for me, agreed to come by my studio the next day.

There is something that sets one dancer out from the rest, even though they may have similar training, athletic ability, grace and strength. What set her apart was what my old dancer-friend saw, and what I wanted to capture.

Presence. ◙

Feminine Study in 5 Values

Feminine Color Study in 5 Valuesby David R. Darrow
6" x 6" (15.2cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Denise Rich,
El Cajon, CA – USA

About This Painting

Sometimes an artist wants to see what he or she can accomplish with as few strokes as possible and still communicate to the viewer the essence of what the artist saw.

To do this four fundamentals are needed, Drawing (Proportion), Value (Light to Dark), Edges (Transitions between shapes and hues) and Color (Hue). These have been listed in the order of importance, in my opinion.

Here, I did a study using 5 values of a few hues in rapid fashion to “make notes” of the model’s face. Rendering and realism are not important here, just the placement and shape of the values. ◙

Black Man in Golden Neckshirt

Black Man in Golden Neckshirtby David R. Darrow
11" x 14" (27.9cm x 35.6cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Georgann Bourgeois,
Baton Rouge, LA – USA

About This Painting

This portrait came about several years after I last saw James, who was a student of mine when I taught at an Institute of Art in California, San Diego.

James was not only one the best students I ever had at this school, but was also a kind, well-mannered, friendly and talented, but had the most magnetic and engaging genetic gifting (good looks) I’d seen in a fellow of his particular ethnicity.

On the last day of class I asked if he might sit for some snapshots for an eventual portrait. This is a studio study from that moment in the past. ◙

Sarah A

Sarah Aby David R. Darrow
6" x 6" (15.2cm x 15.2cm)
Oil on Panel
SOLD
Collection of Dan Medcalf,
Indianapolis, IN – USA

About This Painting

This study is of one of the viewers of my internet broadcast (Dave the Painting Guy) who is an enthusiastic artist and my friend, Sarah A.

This started purely as an experiment to paint using our modern technological advances. Sarah, who lives 2500 miles from me, posed for me via a Skype video connection, and this ended up being painted from a screen-capture. I was going to try to paint her live, but was having tech-issues with the connection that day.

Sarah is a lovely young woman, gracious in personality and appearance and was a pleasure to paint. ◙

The Colors of Black

The Colors of Black - a Portraitby David R. Darrow
8" x 10" (20.3cm x 25.4cm)
Oil on Canvas Panel
SOLD
Collection of J. Arce,
Jacksonville, IL – USA

About This Painting

Ever since I was a child, I thought it was odd that they called some people black and others white, red, yellow or brown — okay, I got the “brown” reference, but it seemed to me, at that young age, that we were all some variation of brown, anyway… dark browns, light browns, pinkish browns, yellowish browns, reddish browns…

As an artist I have always been intrigued by the colors I see in a dark-skinned person’s flesh, and enjoy the particular challenge of mixing those colors. Color Theory tells me that, in its most basic elements, color is a combination of the following things: the color of the light landing on an object, the spectrum absorption of the object, and the spectral reflectance of that same object all combined with individual color perception (it’s possible others see the same color differently than I do, which theoretically makes it a different color than I see).

Color Theory says that an orange, for example, has properties that reflect the orange range (red and yellows) of the available light spectrum but absorb all the other colors, and therefore our eyes only pick up the “orange light waves” that are reflected at us.

So, from an observational standpoint, and depending on the environment, some people (their flesh tones) reflect or absorb colors of the spectrum differently than others.

Wen painting this, I observed that there were very few mixtures that included actual white pigment, and many that included blues or purples to balance the golden browns, while much of the other color was absorbed deep into shadow. ◙

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