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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

No. 382: The Swing of Delight

Nicholas, Alexa and Sydnie Dorma, August 2018, by Tom Wills
Two years ago, or maybe it was three, a gaggle of neighbors and relatives moved a mountain from one curb to another. It is a gargantuan Rainbow playset -- fort, slides, sandbox, picnic table and swings -- for my grandson Anthony. This huge gift came from my neighbors Joe and Christine as their kids Sydnie, Alexa and Nicholas, had outgrown it.

These things are not cheap, but I felt cheap so I promised them a picture in exchange.
But a picture never got done, because apparently they never chose one. But recently a  nice shot of their kids popped up on Facebook as they commemorated going back to school this fall.  So I removed a few cousins from the photo and, voila!

The reason this is important to me is because I thought about that picture pledge every time Anthony played on Rainbow. And he plays on it a lot, year-round. It's the first thing he asks for and the most time-occupying activity he does when he's here. He says it's the best swing ever, because it is.

Getting it here took some ingenuity.
This was Rainbow's third move. It used to be right next door, but Joe and Chris sold that house and moved just right across the street.  Professionals who built the playset moved it then. Moving it back to my house -- a homecoming of sorts -- was a strictly amateur effort.

My engineer uncle helped finagle ways to take the set apart in sections, which we dragged and pulled (using Joe's pickup truck) across the curb and up the yard to my place, where we bolted it all back together and had pizza and beer.

In the last few years I have stained the playset, and chased out and filled bee holes,  fixed the roof and shored up the sandbox. It's sturdy and will last Anthony another decade, and there's room for younger neighbor kids to play on it for years, too.

But this is Rainbow's last move. The timbers I fear can't take another migration.
And that's fine, it's happy here and we're happy to have it, and it gets a ton of use and a lot of love.
And Joe -- you were right, way back when: It is a pain in the ass to mow around.
But worth it.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

No. 381: Sand, Sun and Sea Shack

"Sand, Sun and Sea Shack" by Tom Wills, August 2017, acrylic on wood.

In Gulfport, Fla. there is a “Sign Up for Gulfport” home-naming and sign movement. There’s a Facebook page and a web site where the residents post their happy and mostly custom-made house and/or porch signs in a friendly competition. 

I will soon have two signs for sunny days real estate in Gulfport, bordering St. Petersburg and Boca Ciega Bay. The population there is about 12,000 and “Old Florida" describes the waterfront district, with small cottages and small shops and eateries.

Some visitors to the sign site are lauding the “Sand, Sun and Sea Shack” for its detail and colors. It certainly is vibrant, and the details include small, real sea shells and the homeowners’ three dachshunds lounging in the yard.

The first Tom Wills Productions sign to hit Gulfport was “The Bourbon Porch,” which you can see here.  http://tomwillsproductions.blogspot.com/2017/06/no-376-bourbon-porch.html
For this one, I took the lessons learned before and notched up the effort, using all of the acrylic paints and brushes and tricks at my disposal.

Both signs were commissioned by the same couple. Both times, I was given a simple sketch upon which to build. I generated my own sketch, and then we’d meet over lunch to fine-tune details and colors.
But as the project went along, I took a few artistic liberties.  The sky was planned to be blue with puffy white clouds.
But someone at work had brought back from Florida salt water taffy in one of those bright postcard-like boxes, emblazoned with “Florida” and a blazing sun and leaning palm trees. I liberated that skyline.

When it came to the lettering, I chose orange for “Shack” because the planned goldenrod color did not stand out enough from the beach sand.  The yellow letters are tiki-styled but in keeping with the "shack" theme I made them look like planks haphazardly nailed together.
Other than that, it’s pretty close to the original sketches. The customer wanted, and got, the coral-and-peach beach house, gecko decor on the porch, dolphins, sea birds and their fur babies (one -- a rescue -- is missing an eye, poor thing). 

I glued on the shells and sea glass, then sealed the whole thing in at least 12 costs of outdoor-quality spar varnish, so that it will withstand the elements of heat, light and humidity. It's oak, and very heavy.

I’m not really a painter and I certainly do not aspire to be a sign painter.  But I’ve now done three outdoor signs, also including Storyteller Photography.  http://tomwillsproductions.blogspot.com/2013/04/no-196-storyteller-photography.html
Each one builds upon the previous, adding layers of details and more colors. There are a lot of coats of paint here, many layers of colors — enough to generate a fun feeling of sand, sun and sea.

Monday, August 14, 2017

No. 376: The Redhead

No. 376: "Ruger" in colored pencil ... pretty much ...

I have an affinity for redheads. Go figure.  As such, I really like the way this drawing of Ruger turned out.  (Although he and I are more natural auburn.)

Even the frame matches his hair!
I was asked to draw Ruger in color, for a gift, after he crossed over that Rainbow Bridge. Colored pencil, specifically. By this point I have done hundreds of dog and cat portraits in black and white pencil, and a handful in watercolor and ink, but none in straight colored pencil.  So I said we'd give it a shot.

Just a little bit of watercolor.

But I lied, just a little. I worried that the colors would appear a little thin and a lot sketchy with just the pencils, so I watercolor washed a little brown and tan, some black, and yellow and red onto the paper before I began the pencil work. And I did tell the customer my reasoning up front, and he was cool with it.

Here he comes!

So what I delivered is 85 percent colored pencil and 15 percent watercolor. But he's all handsome.

Most of those hundreds of dog and cat portraits under my signature are for passed pets.  People choose a favorite pose and seek to keep the best memories alive.   In this picture, Ruger is no longer a young dog, but he sure as heck is a happy one.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

No. 379: Date Night

"Date Night" by Tom Wills, June 2017

They came from the hollers of West By God Virginnie to Northeast Ohio.
He was just out of the Navy and she was just out of school.
She worked in a wire factory. He made steel. And they did it for decades.

Sharp dressed.

Their work shifts didn’t always match, and that included weekends.
He was always kind of a clotheshorse, nice shoes and shirts. Still is.
She was a tomboy.
Somehow they raised two daughters, just a year apart in age.
Every once in a while they would escape, have a date night.
This one was in a big ol’ Dodge.

Drawing in the garage as the house interior was being painted.

My in-laws would have been married 53 years. Dee’n’Dave.
Sadly, she played her last inning in 2011.
He’s got new digs now, with the youngest of those daughters.
This picture hangs in his new room, over his old furniture.
He didn’t move much of his old stuff, and I thought he needed a new thing.
This one is a good memory, a keeper.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

No. 372: The Reporter

No. 372, "The Reporter" by Tom Wills, May 2017

No 372 is called "The Reporter." He is Vindicator reporter Peter H. Milliken, who will retire Friday after 36 years with the newspaper.

We gave him a little sendoff today, and our small staff signed the back of the picture. We seem to be doing these goodbye cakes more and more.

This drawing captures Pete in his zone of silence, transcribing his tapes and reviewing his notes before getting down to the business of writing. He has a protracted process and we over the years have learned to let him be.  The results have been worth it.

Those of you who know, or know of, Peter H. Milliken realize the loss of institutional knowledge given his departure from the newsroom.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No. 378: Angel of Death Victorious

"Weeping Angel" by Tom Wills, graphite, June 2017.
This one scares my grandson, and my wife hates it.  But in its gruesomeness, it’s beautiful.
It is a work of art based upon the art of others — both in sculpture and photograph.

I like to work on challenging pieces during any down time from customer orders, as they keep me in practice and provide a backlog of work that I can offer for show or sale. That’s what has led to this, “The Weeping Angel,” perhaps the most difficult image that I have ever drawn.

The real name is definitely as creepy as my illustration of Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland’s most famous piece of graveside sculpture. “The Angel of Death Victorious” stands atop the grave of Francis Haserot and his family. It was sculpted in 1924 by Herman Matzen for the family that made its name in the institutional-sized canned good business. (You can occasionally see the Northern Haserot trucks on Ohio highways.)

Matzen studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich and the Academy of Fine Arts in Berlin before immigrating to the United States. After moving first to Detroit he ultimately settled in Cleveland.

The angel holds an upside down torch, symbolizing a life extinguished. Time and the elements have streaked the bronze skin and caused the black tears of discoloration.

People make pilgrimages to the cemetery to seek the statue, which has its own Facebook community. Not necessary a pilgrimage but surely an adventure, my photographer friend Rebecca Nieminen ventured through the 285 acres to photograph the Angel and other tombs.
Storyteller Photography: Images by Rebecca, Kinsman, Ohio.
Her web site is  http://storytellerphotographyimagesbyrebecca.com/   She captured the Angel from many angles, but the one she gave me permission to draw is the most striking.

It’s the second of her photos that I have drawn or painted; the first was also winged — a much less-frightening butterfly.

The face came first, as I wanted to be sure that I could capture the tears and the stony facial expression.  But it is the wings that took the greatest time. Drawing those feathers of stained stone required several grades of pencils and lots of transitioning from light to dark.  The best way to tackle the wings, in the end, was a migraine-inducing feather by feather process.

Once I had completed Victorious, I found that the angle of the image left far too much white space. I decided to add a vague background of trees, which had the effect of making the statue pop with greater clarity into the foreground.

The frame is perhaps the most bitchin' frame ever, extra heavy and dark, with rivets and scales and veins. Sick.

We recently spent some time and money painting the rooms in our home, and relocating the art works throughout. But I’m told that this won’t be hanging in our dining room.

Still I find the angel fascinating and beautiful, in its own way, and I am very satisfied with the end result. To inquire about purchasing “Weeping Angel,” email me at willstom01@gmail.com or find me on Facebook.