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

Saturday, September 9, 2017

(The) Who's Record?

A large part of art, for me, is about preservation -- the keeping of images and memories. We as humans are uniquely able to identify pictures, sounds and even scents with occurrences across our lifespans. I have always been a keeper, a collector and (some would say) a hoarder.

As you know by now, music and its preservation are a big part of my life, whether it be collecting, creating or duplicating it in one form or another. Of course nowadays music reproduction is continuing to advance: smaller, faster, and offering greater capacity. But what is missing, I feel, are those tactile things: The turning of the reel, the flipping of the vinyl, the cranking of the mechanism and the watching and waiting -- the anticipation!

Today I was gifted with sensory overload in the form of a 1919 Edison Disc Phonograph. A childhood friend and mate from my wedding party, along with my brother, helped to wrestle the brass and wood behemoth down the stairs and through the labyrinth here of records, tapes and discs. The Edison came with one 78 rpm record. I have nearly 1,000 more of these brittle acetates here for it to play.

According to the Library of Congress and its History of the Edison Disc Phonograph, the spinning began in the early 1900s as competition from Victrola led the company to abandon its music cylinders.
RCA's Victrola records were the death-knell for Edison discs. See how the arm has been replaced.
By the end of 1912, three basic models of the Edison Disc Phonograph had been designed, ranging in price from $150 to $250, and the company salesmen took them around the country. Soon after, the choice of models was extended to feature less expensive players and luxury machines in stylish wood cabinets. Prices for the discs ranged from $1.15 to $4.25, but later were changed to $1.35 to $2.25. The discs were expensive to make because of the complicated chemical processes used for them.

By 1916, demand increased for console cabinets to house the disc players. The Edison Company produced a series of period models to compete with those of the Victor Company. The designer for the cabinets was H.D . Newson from the W.A. French Furniture Company of Minneapolis. Named "The Art Models," these cabinets came in English, French, and Italian period styles, as well as Gothic styles. Prices ranged from $1,000 to $6,000. Advertising for these models made it clear that the players themselves were the same as lower-priced models; the inflated cost was for the cabinet.

By the mid-1920s, Edison had abandoned its own "vertical cut" discs. This player clearly had its original tonearm cut off, and the one in use now is a replacement from another manufacturer. This was a nod to the evolution of the phonograph record:

Sonora tonearm is not the original but plays the more common records.
By 1924, business began to sour with the advent of competition from radio. Operations were cut back, and experimentation began with long-playing records. These were introduced in October 1926 along with four new console disc phonographs. As a concession to the marketplace, attachments were also offered so that the Edison phonographs could play the laterally-cut records of competitors.

The Edison now sits next to, and towers over, its smaller and more portable competitor, the Victror gramophone. I find the Edison's sound fuller, and its tonal range more broad.  The Victor gramophone is much louder, more harsh, and tinny.

All of these advances in disc recording and manufacture occurred well before my lifetime. I grew up in the stereo age, the time of the transistor, "electronic sound" and graphic equalization. Those were heady days, racing home from the record mart with something wild and loud.

For us boys -- my brother and our buddy Tom, the wedding party-mate -- none were ever more wild and loud than The Who, or the hours we spent collecting and cranking those vinyls and making those cassette tapes. These are the records that indeed allow us to tap into the soundtracks of our lives. So I thought it was just perfect that I should give my portrait of Pete Townshend in tribute to my friend, and to the Edison and all of the history that it holds, and now joins, in my library of sound.

It all happened so quickly today that I didn't have time to put a proper backing or number tag on Pete. Off the wall he came and into Tom's SUV he went, without ceremony. I promised to make good on the finishing touches later. But it's No. 50, Tom. I keep track.

"I hope I die before I get old" -- HA!

Thursday, September 7, 2017

No. 383: Hair Metal (Megadeth)

Megadeth, by Tom Wills, September 2017. SOLD!
I own about 13,000 vinyl albums, probably 5,000 compact discs, plus several thousand tapes in all configurations. And there is no Megadeth in my library.
All I know about Megadeth is that Dave Mustaine, the main guy and guitarist, got kicked out of Metallica before that other M band made it big.
A little pecking around informs me that Megadeth (with Metallica) is responsible for making “thrash metal” a thing.
My choices in music and lyrics do not favor death, religion or politics. Unless it’s Bauhaus and sung upside-down, bat-like, by Peter Murphy. Ghoul-cool.
But Megadeth is a thing, too, with sales of 25 million worldwide, despite a revolving door of members.
The four guys in this drawing were chosen by my customer to represent the greatest lineup, in her opinion.  They are, clockwise from top, drummer Nick Menza (deceased); co-founder David Ellefson on bass (who was out for a while but is back in); Mustaine on biggest hair and ego; and Marty Friedman (now out) on guitar.
The young lady who ordered this montage sent me four photos of these guys and wondered if I could put them together, as if performing.  Eventually I figured out a way to do it, and now you can see the results.
We used the word “sick” a lot in communicating back and forth about this project, which took about three weeks.  Eventually we added “badass” to the messaging back and forth.
It is quite an involved illustration, and there is a lot of black — and a ton of hair. At the bottom the black fades to gray, as if they are rising from smoke.
I got very lucky and scored a dark and heavy, very rugged wooden frame that fits the vibe perfectly.  This thing is, really, very heavy.
When I deliver this piece I’m thinking she should hook me up with a few copies of Megadeth’s music, because I wouldn’t want to miss a thing.

P.S.: I got that CD and there's a Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK"  cover on it!  

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.