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

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 will have to be extra heavy and dark, preferably metal or vintage gothic.  I have to seek one out.

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.

Friday, June 16, 2017

No. 376: The Bourbon Porch

"The Bourbon Porch" by Tom Wills, June 2017, acrylic on wood.

I'm open to collaboration -- and no one's idea is silly (even my own).
This little porch sign, "The Bourbon Porch," is on its way to a Florida beach community, where laid-back people relish their escapes from uptight types. It'll be hung on a porch where bourbon can and will be had. Simple as that.

What's on your barrel?

The sign started simply, but was not a simple project.  Good northern neighbors of two southern bourbon babes wanted to gift them with a sign for their porch. They drew up a little example of how it could look and sent it to me. Here it is:

Original demo version

Their requirements were that it had to display a whiskey barrel, two glasses and a bottle of Woodford Reserve.  We all got together at a greasy spoon eatery and I presented my sketch, which was:

My sketch, which basically became the sign.

Enthusiastically we unfurled the design in a parking lot and discussed the colors for the sign, and then off I went to buy wood and paints.  A few days later they wanted some red pavers added to the sign, and that was no problem.


The sign is small,  16'' x 20'' and not a size of wood normally carried by the relatively unfriendly and definitely not helpful people at two local lumber stores that were devoid of customers. Go figure. Luckily Menard's carries a huge assortment of woods in all sizes, for cheap, and had exactly what I needed in less than five minutes.  I enlisted my brother to saw off a few spare inches, which took about 20 seconds, and then we spent the rest of a Saturday morning looking at garden boxes and motorcycles.

Hand-painted lettering.

The first step was to sand, prime and paint the wood with a dove gray, which took a few nights and a few coats. To make the sign appear rustic, I used the rougher side of the wood and rubbed it down with watered-down black acrylic paint -- and then rubbed it off.  Instantly antiqued!

Rub on, rub off.

I then re-drew the sign design onto the wood and prepared for painting. We bought a very good set of acrylic paints and I blended some together to create the specified colors for the barrel and the bottles. I used a hint of blue for the ice cubes.  The bricks were, at first, at an angle but looked terrible.  So I wiped off that paint and went with a more geometric brick design -- a square.

Drew it twice!

All of the lettering was designed and drawn by hand.  No technology was used in this fully analog design, which is both good and bad.  The bad is that you don't get computer-crisp results that can be reproduced over and over, blah blah blah.  

Working on the lettering.

The good is that you get something truly one-of-a-kind, only yours.  A little royal blue script, and some big birch wood-looking letters, and all of their imperfections.  Splendid!

Weathered look, though brand new.

I weathered the entire design again (using the same process as when I began), then coated the entire sign with some 20 coats of spar varnish, which is a special urethane that expands and contracts with the weather -- Florida heat and humidity -- and also protects from ultraviolet rays -- Florida sun.

Letters, before distressing them.

I'm happy with my folksy little sign, and the customers are too -- happy enough to order another one, with a palm tree, a little house, three dogs, a dolphin, birds and surf.  And yes, they provided another little sketch for me.  I've taped it above my art table, and we'll meet again in that greasy spoon parking lot sometime in July.

Birch bark letters, distressed.

Until then ... Cheers!

Monday, May 22, 2017

No. 3: The Old Masters

"The Old Masters" by Tom Wills, 2010/2017
I occasionally have an opportunity to revisit my earlier works. This one, which I am now calling "The Old Masters," dates from some time in 2010 and is officially No. 3 on the books, although for a while my record-keeping was a little sloppy. (Paper records, I mean.  My vinyl is always immaculate!)

This drawing was in a homemade barn wood frame that I never really liked. Recently I was gifted with a heavy, dark and square frame that I knew right off The Old Masters would fit. While I was at it, I corrected a few things that bugged me about the drawing.

Original, unremastered version.
First, it wasn't dark enough, in its dark spaces.  So I took care of that with some extra-black lead. Second, lettering is not my strong suit so I fixed some of the words, and eliminated a few others that were a distraction.

I had worked over No. 3 so hard back in 2010 that the paper was turning into flannel, it was so rough and thin. I had to be careful with the pencil tip and the eraser.

My estimation of frame size was a little off. The drawing barely fit, having about one-eighth of an inch to spare under the mat! But I stretched it, taped it and sealed it and there are no waves. Looks much better.

There is a lot of tinkering going on these days in the music industry, what with remastering and repackaging.  Some of this really offends the purists, myself included.  But sometimes these artists who revisit their old masters actually clean them up and make them sharper. It's all groovy.

If you look in the corners of the two front album covers, you will see a label -- RWL -- for Recorded Works Limited. It's not a real record company, but a little side business that I have going here for wheeling and dealing in audio tapes, used vinyl and vintage equipment. Your Volume Dealer was just having a little fun. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

No. 371: 'Call me Elizabeth.'

No. 371, Elizabeth Taylor by Tom Wills, May 2017
"People who know me well, call me Elizabeth. I dislike Liz."

I didn’t come of age during the time when Elizabeth Taylor dominated the silver screen. I am of the later and more curious period when she hawked perfume and hung out with Michael Jackson, had small dogs and seemingly many hospital stays.

“I have a woman's body and a child's emotions.”

I watched a few of her movies when they would show up on television, notably “Cleopatra.”  That blue wrap on her was skillfully matched with her blue-violet eyes and dark double eyelashes. Sure made an impression upon young me.

“When the sun comes up, I have morals again.”

You must admit, she was beautiful, then.  I tried to capture that, working from a period publicity shot, trying to capture the curves -- the smoothness.

"You find out who your real friends are when you're involved in a scandal."

This was a difficult drawing. All of those curves, all of those gentle transitions between very dark and really light. The eyes had to be right. The lips too. And that little bit of shadow on the left side of her face.  The hair is several degrees of black, gray and white. Ripples of black, in fact.
Her face became narrower as I shaded the drawing and worked over the hair (see below).

"I don't like my voice. I don't like the way I look. I don't like the way I move. I don't like the way I act. I mean, period. So, you know, I don't like myself."

I thought about putting a background behind her, to blend better into those shadows, but in the end I kept the light. And I decided to post her now, unframed, and unfiltered. (But, oh, is she going to get a big and bold frame!)
Because she remains as bright as a star.

“I feel very adventurous. There are so many doors to be opened, and I'm not afraid to look behind them.”

Special mention must also be made to the Wallace Bonded Special Dispatch USA 251 black pencils used here. These vintage pencils date from the 1950s and 1960s and are the blackest that I have ever seen.  They are almost greasy, filling in so smoothly. I was fortunate to stumble upon a few dozen of these at an estate sale this spring. A retired draftsman had these and dozens of other brands and leads in an old tray that I purchased.

The pencils are the same vintage as Elizabeth. This was meant to happen.

“The problem with people who have no vices is that generally you can be pretty sure they're going to have some pretty annoying virtues.”

Elizabeth is for sale, naked or framed. Contact willstom01@gmail.com or through Facebook.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

No. 370: Six Pack

"Six Pack" by Tom Wills, May 2017
It's not all starlets and puppies.
Every now and then I get asked about family portraits.  And I have done several, from babies to weddings to grandmas and grandpas.

This is a new one, of six grandchildren, and I call it "Six Pack."
It's based upon one of those mall photos and, while the JCPenney shooter did a great job, we chose to relocate the smallest tyke on the right.  He was clutching a pillow to hold himself upright on a box of some sort.  Now he's all man, all tall and looking sharp in his nice plaid shirt.

We have selected a nice, long horizontal frame for this one, which we may or may not paint -- that's up to these kids' grandma.
I delivered her a six pack for her Sunday.

Now, not to take away from the extreme cuteness of these six charming children, but I thought this would be a good opportunity to recap a few other family moments that I have captured. If you are interested, contact me at willstom01@gmail.com or on Facebook.  Enjoy!