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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No. 3: It's A Groove

"It's A Groove," by Tom Wills, 2010
If I can pick favorites, No. 3, "It's A Groove," from 2010, would be one of them -- even though there is so much technically wrong with it that I sometimes cringe.
Even so, I like the grooves in this one.

This study in shapes and shadows is among the earliest of my work. Of my first 32 pictures, only two are not canines. I guess you could say that I made a bunch of dogs, early on.
So why does this one resonate with me?

It's because I grew up in a house full of records. We had a stereo in the rec room and I'd sit on the steps when I was 3 just to reach the thing.

I used to drag my dad to Kresge's and Trumbull Camera and Hobby to buy '45s and, rarely, expensive albums. Every year there would be more and more, and that continues today. There are mountains of vinyl here and just as much equipment. And I'm the guy who dusts it all.

Drawing this one took a long time, mostly due to inexperience.  There was a lot of learning as I went along, and there still is. I kept adding more and more piles of records to flesh out the image. It is huge.

At first this thing had a rather nasty green frame.  I had always hated the lettering so I did go back in 2015 and touch that up. I still hate the lettering. I re-framed the piece this year, putting it into a seriously proper, heavy frame and under a nice mat.  This morning I put a nice backing on it, stickered and signed it, and re-wired it.

I guess the image as a whole defines me, in large part.
If you find your groove, make it a deep one.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

No. 395: Losing A Brother

Gregg Allman by Tom Wills, pencil/graphite, December 2017
Gregg Allman was this white boy’s introduction to the blues. Such a soulful voice.  Such a graceful touch on the piano.  Such a heavy lean into that Hammond organ.
Off the top of my head, my Top Five are “Ain’t Wasting Time No More.” “Win, Lose or Draw.”  “Whipping Post.” “Queen of Hearts” and “Oncoming Traffic.”

I discovered Gregg Allman long after his brother Duane had died in 1971 in a motorcycle crash. Duane, the more well-known Allman in the early years because of his session work on the guitar, brought his little brother into the band because he needed his words and his soulfulness.
"My brother, Duane, could not sing," Gregg told the Chicago Sun-Times in 2013. "He said, 'You have to learn to do something.' So I started to sing.”

But I never thought that the sum was greater than its parts. In fact I think Gregg’s solo work holds up better than a lot of the Brothers’ stuff. It just scratches the itch deeper, for me.
I was sitting on the front porch sipping a beer this summer when word came that Gregg had died. He was 69 and had been the only living brother for 46 years.
A lot of the idiot broadcasters chose the Allman Brothers’ hit “Ramblin’ Man” to eulogize him — a song written by the guitarist Dickey Betts, whom the band had fired in 2000.

Of course all of the stories mentioned his demons after applauding his music: alcohol, drugs, Hepatitis C, liver transplant. It was cancer in that new liver that got him.
A life lived hard, for sure, lending authenticity to those lyrics.

Still, I did not rush into the house to play Allman music. I never do, when my heroes die.  It’s too soon, and it just makes me feel old.
But I knew that eventually I would draw him, as I had done many other stellar performers in music and stage who have gone to their next venue.

I played a little music as this drawing emerged, but mostly I watched online and replayed an instructive Big Interview with Dan Rather from 2015. Gregg uncorks a gorgeous reading of “Oncoming Traffic” on his home piano and seems at peace with himself, having beaten his many demons, especially the cigarettes.

"Tell me when, when is my ship gonna come in
I ain't cold, I ain't hungry, gotta little money to spend
But a man cannot live oh no, on riches alone
He needs love, friendship and a home
Without these he stands alone, oh" *

He was a boy who grew up in Daytona Beach without a father, who was killed by a hitchhiker when Allman was 2. He taught his famous older brother how to play guitar. Their mother died  in 2015 at 98, after that Rather interview.

I could have drawn Gregg Allman in his prime, with that gorgeous straight blond hair that every interviewer sought to touch, with that flashy smile and rail thin body. But instead I drew him from a video still culled from that Rather interview, when he seemed to know time was tight yet chose not to wallow in the sadnesses of his living.
It was a difficult drawing -- there's still a lot of hair, and the face shows its years.
I chose an antique frame with just enough flourish and dignity to befit a Southern musician.

"There's a great comfort in the music itself … It helps get you through the darkest times. I hope on my death bed that I'm learning a new chord or writing a new song,” Allman told The Los Angeles Times — 30 years ago.

* Janice B. Allman, Gregg L. Allman / Unichappell Music Inc., Elijah Blue Music  (Janice was the second of his six wives - she married him in 1973 and they divorced in 1975.)

This illustration is available for purchase. Contact willstom01@gmail.com

Saturday, December 2, 2017

No. 394: Pretty In Ink

No. 394: "Pretty In Ink" Emily Wills by Tom Wills
One evening, about three years ago, I dared to enter my youngest daughter's room and spied upon her looking at skin art on her PC. She had a minty Kent State University art history degree in hand but really wasn't contemplating life in a library.
"I think I'm gonna tattoo people," she pronounced.
So she learned, studied, apprenticed -- and now she does. Her Facebook page says, simply: "I tattoo people."
Hundreds of people, approaching thousands.

What's a dad to do?
She had certainly heard me grousing over the years about going to work day and night and not being in charge of my vocation, and my desire to spend more and more free time behind the drawing pad or paint kit.
So I thought, who am I to stand in the way of a dream?

This year, Emily Wills made another pronouncement: "I think I'm gonna start my own business."
So she pounded the pavement, procured the permits, had the hearings, and is doing it.

Pretty In Ink Tattoos LLC opened in November 2017 at 4248 North River Road NE in Howland Township, near Warren, Ohio. Her work number is (330) 469-5017. It's in the center of a cool little plaza with a cake bakery on one side, a gym on the other and a bistro in the back.  You can find Pretty In Ink Tattoos on Facebook, and a web site is forthcoming.

The business is set up with cozy furniture, cool woodwork and neat art and artifacts on the wall. A couple of my friends had suggested displaying my art inside of the shop, but it's not my place.  It's Emily's space, and it's her art and design.  But I didn't think she'd mind having one of mine -- of her.

So I drew No. 394, "Pretty In Ink," and put it inside of a handmade, hammered metal-painted frame. I knew that it would match the shop decor, and when I delivered it we hung it together.

So now our art has had a slight merger. If people ask, yeah, her dad did it, and you know where to find me.
And now, you know how to find her.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

No. 391: 'The Quintet' - A Canine Compilation

"The Quintet" by Tom Wills, November 2017. SOLD
I recently received a simple text message, asking: “Can you put five dogs together in a drawing?” It was followed by a flurry of iPhone pictures.

Hanging out, and over, at home.

Three weeks later, you are now looking at a drawing of five dogs that was created from 10 photos selected from among 15 shots. “The Quintet,” No. 391, is a canine compilation!

Hand-rubbed stain, oak frame.
These boys and a girl all were rescued or re-homed by a caring woman who has, over the years, networked with a handful of Mahoning Valley agencies that save pups. Over time, one by one, she has thoughtfully and carefully assembled her canine crew.

"Where's the treats?"

It hasn’t been easy and, with five "kids" there have been mishaps a-plenty. Though they are all members of the genus Canus and related on a basic level, each has a distinct personality. Clockwise from the top of the drawing are:

AKA Ralston Purina

Rawlie, or Ralston Rufferford, the first to walk through the door, 13 years ago, from Angels for Animals. http://www.angelsforanimals.org/ He is the old man who over the years has grown tolerant, or even resigned, to mom’s parade of four-legged guests. He’s pretty laid back, though kind of a whiner.

A start ...

Rawlie was a little tough to see in the photos, being at the back of the line, so I requested and was sent three more pictures, so that I could get his eyes and floppy ears right.

More details ...

Georgie, rescued from the streets. He loves only his human and is wary of everyone else. Whatever happened to this boy before finding a forever home was certainly bad.

"I love her. You, not so much."

There were two photos of George that I used, to get his antenna ears as accurate as possible.  They have flyaway hair and always seem to always be on high alert.

"What are you looking at?"

Rebel, from Legacy Dog Rescue of Ohio. http://www.ldrofohio.org/index.html This guy was half-starved when rescued but has since bulked up considerably. Some of his consumption has involved furniture, notably the couch that they are all on or around. He is described as a “doofus.”

I only needed the one picture of Rebel, who has a distinctive look. And yes, his head is that big.

"I didn't do it.  OK, I did it.  But I'm blaming the other four."

Boots, earning his place as the new guy, also from Legacy Dog Rescue of Ohio.  http://www.ldrofohio.org/index.html He’s a Puggle, a mixture of pug and beagle, a breed that retains the worst characteristics of both. Handsome boy, sweet of course, but kind of an asshole.

" ... and, I am not an asshole."

Boots needed a little extra work once I had the picture nearly finished: a nose job. Once that was fixed, he was ready to play.

The Gatekeeper

Gracie, the boss, from Northeast Ohio Lab Rescue.  http://awos.petfinder.com/shelters/OH684.html No one comes through the door without an audition with Gracie first. Keeping the crew in line is a German Shepherd thing.

"My conduct is impeccable. Mostly."

It took three photos to get Gracie’s eyes and nose right. If you look closely at the two Gracie pictures above, you can get an idea of how I combined them.  Light-colored dogs are always a challenge because they have to be dark enough to show details.
German Shepherd breeds, even mixed breeds, come across as hard asses.  But actually they are very sweet.  I have one, so I know.  It’s just that they are no-nonsense dogs, and they prefer to be the leader of the pack.


I decided to add the furniture after finishing the dogs, because they looked as if they were floating. Adding the couch gave their bodies weight and depth, and the fabric pattern (whoa!) highlights their five bodies.


This is not the first time that I have been asked to combine various images of pets or people into one. It’s always a challenge and involves a lot of sketching and tinkering — no Photoshop involved. But this one, I feel, looks natural.  The crew looks assembled and posing for the camera, in one shot, as if waiting for a treat.

(Mom ate them.)

Probably Doritos.


Happy Thanksgiving from Tom Wills Productions. Holiday orders are drawing to a close.  But for 2018, contact me at willstom01@gmail.com -- or message me on Facebook!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

No. 387: A New Look

This quick writeup is called "A New Look" for two reasons:
1. This is the third time that I have drawn the iconic Vindicator building in downtown Youngstown. Each one is slightly different.  It is the only drawing for which I will violate my "Consider An Original" standard. I won't make a print, but I may draw it again.


2. Today The Vindicator, my newspaper employer for 32 years, gives its readers an advance peek inside of the reborn building, repurposed by the Youngstown Business Incubator as part of its Tech Block downtown.

Although I do urge you to venture out and buy the newspaper, and keep all of us in business, I will share The Vindicator building's latest chapter here, to help this story along:


Vindicator No. 3. This illustration is SOLD.
The sign is staying on the building. And the sign is what draws the eye.
This drawing, No. 387, benefits from darker lead and a surer hand: I have been here before.  You may read about my first illustration of this building here:


I wrote that blog in 2013 and I'm still there, but some of those young'uns have left and been replaced by younger ones. The future is still unwritten. And I still take the stairs.

It is a beautiful building. Rough and solid, just like the people who worked inside of it. I hope its new tenants are made of strong stuff, too.  I suspect they will like the place and its cavernous spaces.

Here's how old stone face looks from the outside now:

I look over at the old building most days, fascinated by its rebirth and its new parking lot, filled with cars more expensive than mine. Something good must be going on inside, I think.
The Incubator people did an amazing job cleaning up the place. I know for a fact how deeply the ink permeated those old floors. Ink is like that, if you're a writer. A whole houseful of us will make a mess.

Two of the three Vindicator drawings were requested by former employees, both reporters who put in many years of good, hard work before moving on to other professions. Skill acquired from their Vindicator colleagues proves useful every day, I know.  Like that ink on the floorboards, it sinks in.