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

Monday, March 12, 2018

No. 405: The Beauty

No. 405: Virginia Marie Moss, pencil/graphite, March 2018

I work for a newspaper, and we publish a dozen or so obituaries each day. For 32 years I have wondered why families choose to run a decades-old photo of their loved one.
Now I finally get it.

Recently I was asked to draw a friend’s mother, who was 88. The photo sent to me, and printed in The Vindicator newspaper of Youngstown, was from the early 1950s, I’d guess.
The face in that photo is stunning. A perfect complexion, high cheekbones, dark eyes, lovely hair. Without knowing any background I thought she looked like a jazz singer.
Turns out, she was.

Her name was Virginia Marie (Vallinger) Moss, and she loved to sing and dance. During the late '40s to the early '50s, Virginia was a big band singer (soloist) with the Jones Hall Symphony Orchestra at Youngstown College (now Youngstown State University) and the Joe Peterson Orchestra. She also enjoyed singing at the Elms Ballroom and for troops through the USO program. She also taught ballroom dancing at the Del Castle Dance Studio.

I was told that she liked white wood. She had her husband, Victor Paul Moss, antique white all of the furniture through the years.  Upon learning this, I decided to whitewash an old and heavy frame. I sent photos to her daughter, who approved.

This is the short version of her long life, though the most important:

“Jeannie” was born June 6, 1929, in Youngstown, the daughter of Francis and Genevieve (Presby) Vallinger. She was a 1947 graduate of Wilson High School, where she was a cheerleader and a member of the National Honor Society.
Virginia worked for General Fireproofing as an executive secretary in the sales department. She later left GF to raise her family. While raising her family Virginia also worked alongside her husband, where they owned and operated C&V Wholesalers, LLC -- which remains to this day in Youngstown and North Jackson.

Victor, whom she married Aug. 27, 1955, died March 20, 2010.
She is survived by her two daughters, Paula Moss-Sander of Canfield, and Pamela Root of Berlin Center; a son, Victor Peter (Debra) Moss of North Jackson; a sister, Carol (Robert) Huck of Poland; four grandsons, Victor Patrick Moss, Conrad Sander, Ryan (Caitlin) Moss and Evan Sander; great-granddaughter Eva Leigh Moss; and several nieces and nephews.
She was also preceded in death by her parents and a sister, Pauline Kaminski.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that material tributes take the form of donations to Hospice of the Valley, 5190 Market St. Boardman, OH 44512.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

No. 404: Salt Springs Road Northbound

No. 404: Salt Springs Road Northbound, watercolor and ink, by Tom Wills, February 2018.

Trains make a lonesome sound. That's because they're so damned loud that they scare most everything else away.

These hammerheads are heading north across the Salt Springs Road railroad bridge, just off of Interstate 680 on Youngstown's West Side. They were photographed in February 2018 by my neighbor and work colleague, journalist Joe Gorman, who is unafraid of noise and bad weather.
I had been looking for something else to paint, and got his blessing to interpret his photograph in watercolors and ink.

Joe Gorman's photo, and the first wash of watercolors.

Actually these are General Electric AC4400CW diesel locomotives, among the most powerful in the world, built between 1995 and 2004.  Union Pacific had the most at 1,338 followed by CSX Transportation at 615.  This particular bridge over the Mahoning River is a CSX rail line.

India ink on the bridge, roughing in the locomotives and fog.

The painting is rather bleak because February is itself yucky. There was fog over the water, the sky was overcast and all of the water plants along the banks had gone dormant for the winter.  The big challenge with this piece was to recreate that fog over the flowing Mahoning River.
It's alive in the middle but dormant all around.

Before the final details and highlights.

As to why two locomotives from the western United States would be on another railroad's bridge in Ohio in February, there are a couple theories: They could be on loan because CSX and Union Pacific share similar power plants, and CSX may be changing its fleet.
Or, they simply could be in between places, having hauled freight here and awaiting their ticket to ride back home.

This painting is available for $220. Contact willstom01@gmail.com

Saturday, February 10, 2018

No. 402: Marilyn Karalyn

No. 402, Marilyn Karalyn, February 2018. SOLD

Here we go again. My second round with Marilyn Monroe, who seemed to favor blacks and whites -- so she's a natural for the graphites and pencils.

I am not the Marilyn obsessive, but my oldest daughter Kara Lyn definitely is. And that's why there are now two Norma Jean drawings.

No. 359, Marilyn's Big Brim, February 2017. SOLD

The first, No. 359 -- ironically from exactly a year ago today -- changed hands a few times. Kara wanted it, she got it.  A cousin wanted it, Kara sold it.  Cousin loved it but gifted it.  Recipient loved it.
But Kara had an empty spot on her wall, and maybe a little regret.  And I may have been a little upset.

So she wanted another one.
Who's she gonna call?

This one had to have a bitchier look, tighter clothes, more sass.
I set about her on  Friday night, after the worst day I'd had in years, and rounded her off on Saturday night after a fourth-of-a-bottle of Dewars.*  I was conveying the bitchiness.
I ground down three pencils to nubs with all of that black.

I call this one "Marilyn Karalyn." Because it rhymes.
And because I'm a little baked.
And you can't buy her.
Kara already did.

*Thank you, Marie, wherever you are, for mixing them strong.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

No. 401: Frankencrime (For a Quickie)

No. 401: "Frankencrime." Frank Sinatra by Tom Wills, February 2018. Pencil/graphite.
Estates are kind of particular when it comes to images of dead but lucrative stars. But they can't own a police mug shot.

This is a young Frank Sinatra, 11-27-38, staring into a flashbulb at the Bergen County Sheriff's office,  New Jersey. A lady said Frank -- not yet a star -- besmirched her reputation by climbing on for a quick ride. Twice.

 The FBI reported: "On the second and ninth days of November 1938 at the Borough of Lodi" and "under the promise of marriage" Sinatra "did then and there have sexual intercourse with the said complainant, who was then and there a single female of good repute." This, the charge stated, was "contrary and in violation of the revised statute of 1937."

At the time this was quite serious, and Frank took the rap until it came out that the woman was married and, well, you know, Frank had those damned blue eyes!

It's the eyes that make this picture, and for a while I was just going to draw young blue Frank and leave it there. But the jailhouse placard is so central to the image that I had to keep it. Oh young Frank, what was your little head thinking?

This drawing was started and completed in seven hours. Sometimes they happen easily. The eyes and the lettering took the most time.  The hair is a mess by design (because his hair is a mess in the mugshot).  I smeared the background with my palm to convey the essential grime of a county lockup.

But Frank was still cool. I don't think he even wrinkled his suit jacket.

This illustration is available. willstom01@gmail.com

Sunday, January 14, 2018

No. 398: Chuck Berry

"Chuck Berry" by Tom Wills, pencil/graphite, January 2018
It's been said that Chuck Berry wrote one song a couple hundred times.
That's not exactly so: He did pen one really shitty song, to which I was introduced as a lad by my grandpa: "My Ding-A-Ling."

When I was a little bitty boy
My grandmother bought me a cute little toy
Silver bells hanging on a string
She told me it was my ding-a-ling-a-ling, oh

Now I don't know exactly why this little Chess Records 45 rpm was tucked inside of the Roger Miller and Lawrence Welk records in the ol' Sylvania cabinet, and I can't imagine that my grandmother had anything to do with it.
I suspect he bought it for me, and my brother -- a ditty about ringing a bell, right?
Grandpas and grandsons are silly like that.

My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling
I want you to play with my ding-a-ling
My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling
I want you to play with my ding-a-ling

Just. A. Horrible. Song.  But it made Chuck a ton of cash at a time in 1972 when his star was beginning to dim. And the kids memorized it.
This song is so dumb that Chess left the big money-maker off of the excellent compilation "The Great Twenty-Eight," which indeed does hold 28 absolute gems that do not -- for the record -- all sound the same.
Perhaps Chess did not want that song to remind people of Chuck's lousy reputation as a lothario, a cheap-ass and just a weird guy.

He was a product of his time and to a large extent stayed stuck in it. After his really hot streak from 1955 to 1958, things got creepy. He spent three years in prison for taking a 14-year-old girl across state lines. When he got out there were a few more big hits into the early 1960s.  He wanted paid in cash and would pick up local bands when he toured. He was back in jail briefly in 1979 for tax evasion, And then there was that expensive 1980s business with a camera in the women's restroom of a restaurant he owned.

I do not defend his behavior but nevertheless have come to appreciate his musical legacy, as did many other performers including The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.  "Come Together" is a direct nick from "Can't Catch Me" and John Lennon paid for that with an entire album, "Rock And Roll."

And yes, I was sad when Chuck Berry died in March 2017, and I whipped out the Great Twenty-Eight (without My Ding-a-Ling), and also the sloppy-great St. Louie to Frisco to Memphis with the Steve Miller Band. (The song is called "My Tambourine" here, in its original version.)
Chuck Berry indeed did change lyrics, as well as the the direction, of rock and roll.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

No. 390: Post-It Boat

No. 390: Quintessence 2, watercolor and colored pencil, November 2017.
It's a wicked 14 degrees out there and there's a lake effect snow warning.
When this painting was conceived, however, Lake Erie reflected sunlight and recreation. Party people and weekenders were riding waves of relaxation -- not shoveling themselves out.

About those flags ... read on ...
The clients and I looked through a few photos of Quintessence, and chose none until late summer when a weekend trip to Sandusky produced this shot of the boat docked at Cedar Point. "That's the one!" I was informed.
Quintessence means "the most perfect example."

Choosing the mat before framing.
"Can you do it?"
Well, I had painted Lake Erie before: The lighthouse and the railroad bridge at Ashtabula Harbor, to name two. The water wouldn't be a problem, I reasoned. And the photo of Quintessence was nice and detailed. So I dove in.

This sketch is the backbone of the painting.
It was November when I had her finished. By then the leaves were falling and the boat, I am sure, was tarped and stored for the season.

Before the flags.
Also by that point the Ohio State Buckeyes were well into their season. And the owners of this vessel are serious Ohio State fans.

Nope. Wrong way in the wind.
To highlight that point, I was asked to add to a Buckeye banner to the boat.
And, while I was at it, the Stars and Stripes, too.
This involved some guessing: How big? What shape?  Which way would they blow in the wind?
My solution was to draw various flags on Post-It Notes, stick them to the nearly-finished painting and email them back and forth. It worked, and we settled on two choices.
You can see in the photos how we changed our minds.

Nope. Wrong choice for Ohio State banner.
By the time Quintessence, The Painting, was delivered at Christmas. the Buckeyes were ending their season and the winds over Lake Erie were burying places such as Erie, Pa. and Buffalo, N.Y. 

Yep. There it is.
It does give me a warm feeling, looking at the trees on the shore, light on the water and the sun on the wood. I've visited the lake enough and have been on enough boats to know what that feels, sounds and smells like.  I'd call it "alive."

Before the red and white paint.
Stay toasty, my friends. until you can fly your flags again in 2018. 
Happy New Year.