Specializing in detailed pencil illustrations and watercolor paintings of people, pets and places. To “Consider An Original” contact willstom01@gmail.com for current pricing.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

No. 421: Where Did Our Summer Go?

Geneva-on-the-Lake, July 2018, ink and watercolor by Tom Wills, from an Amanda Davis photo

September is a funny month that cannot get comfortable with itself. A Virgo should know.

The month takes us from searing heat and stifling humidity to chilly mornings and rainy nights.
These are the days that shut off the life to leaves yet send lawns into overdrive.
People run the last gas out of their boats, pack up their campers, send the kids back to (hot then cold) schools.
On the weekends they sun themselves on patio furniture that will soon spend eight months locked in a shed.

And the fair shuts down.
Labor Day weekend or thereabouts is the last gasp for county fairs and amusement parks as their summer help heads back to classrooms.
The rides are taken down and trucked to warmer climates.
But some of the bigger, permanent ones shelter in place.

Erieview Park Ferris Wheel, built in 1956, now lives at Firehouse Winery in Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, where people can thrill to summer night rides. But those every day rides become weekend fun only in September, so get there soon.

Fascinating facts about this true Ferris Wheel can be found at the winery's web site here.  http://www.oldfirehousewinery.com/wheel.shtml

This painting is from an original photo taken there in July 2018, in the full swing of summer, by a mom who especially enjoys this place with her young daughter. She asked if I could paint it for Christmas for her girl's room. We'll try to keep it a surprise, OK?
You can follow the painting's assembly in these images. 

Clearly we got a head start on this while the sun still sets early.
I always take a week off late in September to do all of the summer chores I neglected, to clean up lingering messes and start tying things down. In between using a big brush to stain a shed and a deck, I used smaller ones and brighter colors to recreate the wheel in sunset.

Much of this piece is ink. I painted the sunset and the shoreline, then inked over it.  And then I painted over the ink with some purples and blues and browns. Lastly I added a few twinkling lights on the big wheel.

"Geneva-on-the-Lake, July 2018," as we are calling this piece, was completed on the eve of my 57th birthday. So it's a little special to me.  I can't share my cake with you here, but I will share this.
Happy fall, all.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

No. 420: Destination

No. 420, "Destination" by Tom Wills, watercolor and ink, September 2018.

Everyone is heading somewhere, most of the time. What will we do when we finally arrive? Stay, go or simply pause? Sometimes the best part of being in motion is the stillness that inevitably comes as we try to decide what comes next.

Painting as it dries, before finishing up and signing.
The five riders who parked their steel horses at the curb in this painting, "Destination," were on their way but took that pause. They stepped out of the mid- July sun to cool their throats with draft beer and warm their guts with fried Lake Erie walleye and fries, with scratch-made cole slaw.

Roaring silence.
The fat green awning keeps the old bar dark inside, where metal fans reflect their Morse code signals across the tin ceiling as they rotate.

The bikes, unfinished.
The quintet paused in their speed but probably didn't linger, which is a shame, because historic places such as Ashtabula Harbor have given many old souls their rest. How many boatmen sloshed across the floor over the years after their days or nights on Erie, ordering up a pint or a tumbler before making their way home or to some other destination?

Metal boxes, in the way.
Bridge Street is a small, magical place that isn't going anywhere fast in these blurry days. The drawbridge sees to that as it raises and lowers hourly, backing up cars and bikes. Some people get out to stretch their legs and admire the lifting mechanism and its concrete counterweight, while most just sit inside of their shiny metal boxes and bitch about their pause.

I took the cars out of this picture because they were in the way. A little guesswork went into finishing the storefronts -- I imagined their exteriors in the same way I envisioned those drinking boatmen.  A utility pole and overhead wires also got erased so nothing would stand in the way of those pastel painted buildings -- except for those five bikes.

Here come colors.
No. 420 started out in pencil, and then became a pen and ink rendering before I added the paints. The dark lines provided the structure for the colors, which I shaded to recreate the lake shore sunlight baking those bricks and scorching the pavement.

I actually painted over everything twice, to deepen the colors and make the bright spots pop.

First brushes of color.
These five buildings are but a slice of the entire harbor district, just as it is a slice of small town America. These places are a great stop along the way, wherever you are going.

Adding some details.

Right before the second washes of colors.
Farewell my friend Matthew as you begin an amazing journey.

This painting is available. Email willstom01@gmail.com for details.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

No. 415: Hartford Cycles

"Hartford Cycles" by Tom Wills, July 2018, pencil.
I am fortunate to have friends who enjoy both motorcycles and art. They’ve kept me busy in recent years drawing various big bikes — and their riders. But when they’re off the road and the wheels need some love, they favor a mechanic in Hartford, Ohio, named John Whitman. He was the first sergeant of a reserve unit that deployed to Afghanistan, I am told. It's a fair bet that if he could keep vehicles running in that heat and environment, he knows what he's doing.

Hartford Cycles isn’t a big place. It’s about six minutes up state Route 305 from my house, and I’ve surely driven past several times and never known it’s there. I’m told John works magic with both bikes and cars, and the word is getting out. He built a new garage to handle the work.
I will be visiting soon with my biker brother, who relocated from Michigan and could use a friendly wrench.

My friends got in cahoots with John’s girlfriend, Tara, on this picture. (That’s one of their big Indians on a rack for a new tire.) The idea was for me to do the job and then they’d hang it inside Hartford Cycles and see how long it took John to notice.

There is a lot of chrome on these bikes, and shiny spots on the metal, and I tried to make the drawing reflect all of that. Also interesting are the details on the tires and engine. These things are complicated!

The frame is handmade by an Amish man, I was told. It's beautiful and solid, a tribute to the craftsmanship of Ralph Arment, who engraved his name and the date on the back. I found the frame 28 years later at an estate sale.

Well, long story short,  it didn't take long for John to see the picture and figure out what went on.
You can find it over the coffee machine!

Monday, July 23, 2018

No. 412: "Bright Day"

No. 412, "Bright Day," watercolor by Tom Wills, May 2018
Photo by Emily Wills
While working on No. 412, "Bright Day," I eavesdropped on a conversation at work between two women about the importance of preserving what I’d term “generational memories.” The topic was the necessity of taking so-called “bloodline” photos of dads, brothers, sons and the like.

I chimed in and said that’s kind of why I was painting my grandson Anthony, resting atop his great-grandfather Dave.  The painting is from an older photo taken by my youngest daughter Emily. But it was requested by and for the oldest daughter, Kara. All are dots along the bloodline on my wife’s side.

The goal was creation of something warm, meaningful and lasting -- a piece to move from Kara's wall to Anthony's to his own child, I hope.

I’ve been working on my self-taught watercolor technique, learning as I go, and using more and more paint (and less pencil) and working toward greater realism (though purposefully not perfect). I’ve devised a few tricks along the way to make the highlights stand out — such as along the pants and shirt sleeve, and even the faces.

My father-in-law and I once had a very salty relationship but I have learned a few tricks from him, too. And I think he understands me better now.  One of those life lessons is keeping my mouth shut and not horning into every conversation around me.

That is, unless I can write about it.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Revisiting Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa, in a fine, hard wood, June 2018 by Tom Wills, pencil.
I will occasionally revisit the people I have previously drawn. It doesn't happen very often and the ones I can think of right off are Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Marilyn Monroe and now, Frank Zappa.  I did Miles, Duke and Frank for myself.

FZ #2 by Tom Wills, June 2018, pencil

I love Frank Zappa for his music. Gotta admit, he made me laugh a lot too. But as a composer, he was a very serious fellow -- especially in his later years, with ensembles and symphonies performing under his direction, or premiering his orchestral works all over this planet.

FZ #1, pencil sketch, October 2010,  (Revised January 2011)
In the recording studio, he was a pioneer in multitracking and digital recording plus media storage. He was among the first with film, then video. As a guitarist, he was untouchable.

"No commercial potential"
I had never gone back and changed a drawing, until I tinkered with FZ in January 2011. 
The hair bugged me, so I changed it. 
Then I changed his arms and hands. 
And nose and eyes. 
And a bit of guitar. 
Then I put him in a new frame. 

Frank was always changing and rearranging his stuff, so why not me?

"The thing I do is build things. And I have to participate in their manifestation. That’s why I had to become a band leader and a guitar player. I would have been happy to just write it and turn it over to someone else. But they don’t play it if you give it to them. I learned that when I first started to compose it."

Fast forward seven years and I've tinkered again, this time with a look at FZ in his later years, not exactly tamed but favoring crisp shirts, baggy trousers and a tie. And, still that cigarette.
This exercise also helps to illustrate how my technique has changed over the years. I work faster, but the piece is more relaxed and the detail is better.

You are what you is. You is what you am.

Two years before his 1993 death, he said this  -- which works for all of us in 2018:

One of the things that was taken out of the curriculum was civics. Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the ’60s, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government—nobody knows what’s in it. It’s one of the best kept secrets. And so, if you don’t know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don’t know what is in that document, how can you care if someone is shredding it?