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, June 7, 2018

Revisiting Frank Zappa

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?

Wednesday, May 30, 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.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

No. 411: "Clip clop"

No. 411, "Clip Clop," watercolor, May 2018.

My paintings are fairly simple. They exhibit more mood than detail, which works in the case of my latest, No. 411, “Clip Clop,” a scene from April 2018 in Geauga County’s Amish landscape.

The Amish of Geauga and Trumbull counties in Ohio are deceptively simple. They are cohesive and guarded, but not necessarily frugal. It’s a pretty robust cash economy, they work hard when motivated and their businesses craftily cater to “English” like us.

Their horses and buggies seem out of place on rural highways, and maybe a little annoying in traffic.  But out in the farms and fields they are serene.  The location for this painting is a gravel path in Burton behind the Red Maple Inn. 
I’ve painted the horse before, but this spring he was out of the barn and doing his job.

No. 304, "Burton," September 2015. Purchased by Kathryn Smith Danna

There was no walking up and saying hello, and the best I could get was my wife's distant phone picture that didn’t enlarge very well. It would be a risky painting — again, more mood than detail. There would be more working by feeling, rather than seeing.

The first things done were the grass and the background.  I made color lists and guessed. The grass and path are buildups of tan, yellow, green, pine and brown.  The background, or the sky behind the trees, was created with layers of pink, purple, blue, gray, brown and white.

I next placed the buggy and the horse onto the path, using a little ink to get the side panels as dark as possible. I wanted the cart to stand out. The horse was fuzzy so I guessed a little, and used another photo of a horse in its harness to — again — get a feel for how the beast would look in motion. The orange reflector is the brightest thing on the paper!

The trees came last after some hesitation. I liked the look of the painting with just the sky background but the more I studied it, the more it looked like a dust storm. The trees are in the natural landscape and I decided to put them in the painting. As it’s April, they are still waking up from winter. They are simply black, gray and white.

There was a bit of work involved with the frame. I had three mats to choose from, but none fit the frame that I chose! And the frame needed a bit of work to achieve a rustic look. That was taken care of by rubbing in some brown acrylic paint. I ended up trimming one of the mats by half so as to not lose too much of the image, and not overwhelm the picture. I took it outside in the sunshine to check it out and snap some pictures.

This is the 14th horse painting or drawing to be completed by a guy who would never actually get on one.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

No. 410: "Ascending"

"Ashlyn's Ascending" by Tom Wills, April-May 2018 (from a vision by Renee DeVengencie)
“Ascending” is not the full name of this piece, No. 410, May 2018. It is “Ashlyn’s Ascending.”

The clouds are balancing and enveloping the drawing.

The story behind it will not be fully told by me, because it is tragic.
Suffice it to say that this piece fulfills a grandmother’s vision of seeing her granddaughter going to heaven.

Following "gramma"'s butterfly.

It’s a beautiful vision and, I am now satisfied, a beautiful drawing.
But it took a lot of coordination to get here.

This is where it all began.  Rough work sketch, many interview notes.

In fact, this is the only piece for which I’ve made a house call.
Grandma, who is my age and a childhood friend, and I sketched out the rough idea and built upon that through successive sharing of the work in progress.

On the wall at her home.

She had seen a previous drawing of Jesus that I had done, and she was adamant that I was the artist to carry out her vision.
The other drawing, No. 300, "Crown of Thorns" from July 2015, is here:

Ribbon, robe, sandals, stairs.

She clinched the deal when she bought the massive frame that she'd had in mind all along for this drawing.

Working in the morning, working at night.

I was presented with pictures of Ashlyn, a butterfly, dove, and those massive stairs — each carrying a deeply personal meaning — and asked to weave them together. These symbols represent family, history, faith and hope.

I signed this piece in the bottom right cloud. Can you see it?

The goal was a dark drawing, but not creepy, punctuated with a lot of light.  She also wanted a pretty Jesus, looking up.

A lot of lead.

This was a tearful process, which made it difficult for both of us.
What I can tell you about is how the drawing came together in various stages, in late April and early May.

Working on the black.

The illustration is unique in that it has two central elements: The stairway and the Christ.

The main elements.

The staircase was the first element to be placed upon the white poster board. It had to be carefully drawn and sized to that I could fit Ashlyn at the base, beginning her ascent. We used a photo of the little girl strolling in sandals across the grass.  I replaced her striped sun dress with a white robe, but kept the sandals. We also put her hair down and added a ribbon, like Grandma used to do. 

The drawing is completed except for the black background.

Jesus is based upon my other Jesus drawing, and the Jesus of Nazareth miniseries from 1977. But she sent me photos of a different set of thorns, which were incorporated into the crown. Also, I tried to make his wounds and bruises less obvious, because again the goal was to be uplifting, not terrifying.

Bringing him into the light.

But there’s no arguing that darkness. In fact, I joked that “Jesus gave me arthritis.” It took three passes across the paper with three grades of pencil lead to create that pitch blackness, and to hide the pencil marks.

Tying together the crown of thorns and the hair.

In fact, after two days of drawing and rubbing over that blackness, my hands would not wash clean. The graphite had gotten under my skin.

This was before we decided how the crown of thorns would look.

This is the largest piece I have done, to date.

Immense, and weighing a ton.
The framing proved very difficult because of its size. It would not fit onto the art table so the work had to be done on the well-vacuumed floor. I didn’t dare remove that huge pane of glass to clean it, so that process was a careful one.  I stashed the frame behind a bunch of pillows to keep my dogs from crashing through it.

Test fitting, prior to actual placement of piece and frame repair.
Also, the drawing was just a little too small for the mat, so I had to cut out black poster board and securely center it between the picture and the mat to fill the space. I smashed down the picture, black poster board and mat with a chunk of cardboard to keep it flat, and it worked.

Finished piece.
It was quite an expensive frame but it was old and used, so it needed some repair and touch-ups.  I was able to use putty and acrylic paints to fill in and cover up some dings and scratches.
We will need to use wall anchors to hang it.

Stairs, child and dove came first.

I thought about religion, faith, Jesus, God and the mystery of it all as the lead got into my pores. I'm not a big church-goer but I am surrounded by people who have very parochial views of organized religion. I'm not going to argue it, other than to say I've read the book -- years ago -- and it both enlightened and scared me enough to accept that there is something.

On the wall!

Grandma, though, is deeply religious and knew from the beginning where she would hang this piece. It’s central to the entrance to her home, and there are other symbols of faith throughout. People find and take comfort where they can in times of great sadness. If my work can help in that process, I am grateful.
Finishing touches on the final day of drawing, a Sunday.

I came across this on the day I finished the drawing: "Faith is not about everything turning out OK. Faith is about being OK no matter how things turn out."

Do I look relieved that the wall anchors worked well?