A River Runs Through It

American River near Nimbus Dam
My selected painting is based on this photo I took earlier this year.
Life can be compared to many things. For the sake of this post, let’s compare it to a river. A river has to start somewhere just like a life has to be born. A river starts as a small creek or stream and grows over time as the landscape and local resources change just as a life grows from infancy to adolescence to adulthood. The trek a river makes can be unpredictable as the landscape drives the direction and creates the depth – but a dramatic change can happen around any corner. A life can change in a split second from an outside force or from a personal choice. Well that’s what we have here…..a change. My painting journey is taking a detour from the previously planned course.

Up until two weeks ago, my focus was pointed on my dual portrait of the Joker and Doc Holiday, but that all changed when I started to surf the net. My interests were taking me towards an art society that I’m planning on joining this year (more on that in a later post). The society’s web page featured a “call to artists” section so I clicked on it thinking I could get an idea of what the members of this society participated in. To my pleasant surprise I learned that there are a few annual art competitions that are open to the public. So I jumped on the nearest one and that is what I am working on now. Sorry Joker. Sorry Doc. You will have to go on the shelf a bit longer – I have a river to paint.

The juried show is called “Painting Where the Wild Things Are” and the theme is the American River which runs through Northern California. Artists are expected to paint the river and or the animals that live in that environment. This show is also a fund raiser for the Effie Yeaw Nature Center located in Carmichael. Accepted works will be put up for sale and later for auction to raise funds for the care of the animals and the river itself. It’s a wonderful program that I believe in as the American River has always been like an extension of my backyard. I go there a few times a month to explore and to think. Every city should have this kind of natural jewel to go to. I realize how lucky I am to live near such a wonderful and inspiring place. Coming up with ideas for my submission was not a problem; deciding on a single idea to work on, however, was.

The submissions must be in by April 27th, so I don’t have much time. Given my history of painting speed, I knew that I had to start ASAP and better stay focused on it. After doing a few different concept sketches, I finally decided on my submission. My painting will feature a cloudy, wintery sky as that is my favorite time to be around the river. The river will be in the foreground and will be strong and deep. In the middle ground will be a small bridge where bicyclists will be seen riding over the bridge enjoying nature. In the foreground is the star of the painting – a black tail mule deer buck. These deer are found in many areas of the American river. Though there are many species of wildlife to choose from, I always felt that as a child, spotting a deer in the wild was like spotting a celebrity in Hollywood. I felt like the paparazzi clamoring for a closer look. So the deer will be the star here and the vantage point will be eye level with the deer so the viewer will feel like they have just happened upon a buck as he was getting a drink from the river. The deer will be large, the people will be small, the star of the scene will be nature herself.

American River Themed Painting (in progress)
After one session of work, you can see the sky is being laid in. You can see the star of the show (the deer) is sketched in and ready for paint.

I am very excited about this contest because of the theme. It’s a place that I love and something I can relate to. I have so many scenes of the American River in my mind from years of exploring that it’s like going to a Rolodex of phone numbers to call someone only my Rolodex is just mental images from the years of visiting. So far, though it’s early, the creation process has been smooth and fluid. I have no doubt that’s because I believe so strongly in what I am painting. I will continue to post updates here and on my Facebook fan page. I look forward to sharing the final results with you all very soon. How soon? Well like I said earlier, I have until April 27th, but we know oil paint needs a few days to dry so I set my own deadline of April 15th. Tax day…..bummer.

The Magic 8-ball Said What?

Magic-8-Ball-Fortune Circa Late-1960s
Magic-8-Ball-Fortune Circa Late-1960s - My sources tell me.....that I'm just a friggin' plastic ball! You're on your own kid!
You never know what life has in store for you. Will tomorrow bring you joy, riches, love – or perhaps frustration, boredom, or higher taxes? Wouldn’t it be cool if we all could walk around with a Magic 8-ball to guide us each day? Yeah that would be sweet – you roll out of bed and ask the ball if today will be a great day and if it gives you one of those “all signs point to YOU’RE SCREWED” then you can just stay in bed eating fruit newtons and watching the People’s Court. Thank you magic plastic divining ball, assembled in China, for protecting me from my destiny! Ugh, wouldn’t that be something? Hey look! There’s a flight back to reality leaving now! I better catch it!

Okay so anyways that was just my own clever little lead-in to my latest completed painting. The Taming of the Cue is a 24”x36” oil painting depicts a lively night at a pool hall. We see dancing and other folks enjoying some billiards but the focus is the table in the foreground. Here we find two ladies are engaged in a heated game of 8-ball and one girl is clearly dominating the other. Upon a quick examination of the expressions you would guess that the girl on the left is winning and is gloating over a near-victory. But wait a moment, look at the configuration of the solids and stripes on the table and tell me what you see. Well, there is only one solid left on the table before the winning player can go for the 8-ball so that’s normal, but….. oh. I see. The 8-ball is close to the pocket while the 3-ball is hugging it. That is a big problem because when you go for that 3-ball you are risking knocking in that 8-ball and losing the game. Ah so that’s why the girl on the right looks unhappy – she isn’t losing; she’s winning! She’s winning but she’s stuck uh, ahem, ” behind the 8-ball” because she can’t really go after that 3-ball. Well the smug-looking lady, who is so confident for being in such a poor state, has a good reason to smile. I wonder how you would approach that next shot.

'The Taming of the Cue' - Copyright 2012 Ryan G. Williams
'The Taming of the Cue' - Copyright 2012 Ryan G. Williams

So this painting was a gift to my cousin. He asked for anything and so I came up with this billiard scene when I saw his new house and his pool table. The selection of billiard balls was not random. I chose the 10,9,8, and 3 to have the focus in the foreground because my cousin was born in 1983. Just a simple little salute to make it more personal. If you look in the top right, you will see a neon martini glass sign. That’s a reference to another cousin’s painting (this cousin’s sister) that I did back in 2008 (The Martini Stands Alone). I figured since they’re family then why not link the paintings together some how? Also in the distant background towards the middle, you might make out a little ’39’. If you need help then click the image for a closer look. This is the 39th oil painting I have completed. It seemed like such a round number that I thought I would put it there. I thought a billiard scene, as classic as it is, would be appropriate. You know there have been some really entertaining billiard paintings over the years. Of course we all know dogs can play poker, but did you know they also play pool? Artist Cassius Marcellus Coolidge painted many scenes of dogs playing poker back in the 1920’s which we are all familiar with (I have a tie of one of them). Perhaps not as well known is Arthur Saron Sarnoff who focused on dogs, but they were shooting pool which was just as funny.

'The Hustler' Circa 1950s; Artist Arthur Sarnoff - That is some great shooting for not having thumbs.

Closer to modern times, I also love artist Chris Consani’s billiard scene depicting classic television and film stars enjoying a night on the old felt table.

"A Game of Fate" - Artist Chris Consani - Circa 1980's-90's --- This was not the original look. Elvis was not in the original.

By the way, this version of “A Game of Fate” is not the original version. Consani was forced to use Elvis as a replacement for the Three Stooges. The reason: He was popped for copyright infringement by the good folks who own the likeness rights to the stooges. That’s pretty ridiculous if you ask me. As an artist, we have to be careful of what we paint in this age of litigious larceny.

Back to my painting, which is copyright infringement free (suck it Lionel Hutz), while my scene is more down to earth, I like putting a small twist on the expressions because it’s a little test to see if you’re just looking at the painting or if you’re entering the painting. If your knee-jerk reaction to the unhappy lady is, “she must be losing” then you’re not in the painting; you’re just looking and not taking in all the facts. We must hear, or in the world of art: SEE, all the testimony before we can render a verdict. Remember, artists are creating worlds for you to enter and explore from the comfort of your own imagination. So please, take a moment, and explore.

This painting is also a visual metaphor. Yes, yes, everything in art is a metaphor isn’t it? The scene is depicting a little lesson about life if you take the time to think about it. What? You don’t have the time? You say you need to hop back on your cell phone to update your score on “Words with Friends?” Good lord, what happened to our attention spans? (Sigh) Okay, I will divulge the life lesson for you: no matter how good (or bad) things are going, your fortune can change in a heartbeat. In this case the situation is rolling along for the lady on the right and then, in the blink of an eye, she’s facing a difficult decision. What is the next step? What should she do? Good times can swing a 180 in the blink of an eye.

Real character is born of adversity. While the fates are kind to us, we put away our true nature for a rainy day. When it finally does start to pour, we put on that true persona and find out what we’re really made of and what we really believe. How appropriate the expression “behind the 8-ball” huh? Life is a game we play. We will lose more often than not, but remember that losing glorifies winning. That’s your life lesson for today.

I’ll have a video showing the painting sessions for this piece on my YouTube channel soon.

But Wait, There’s More!

In the meantime I continue to develop my Joker-Holiday painting. I’m getting close to the color stage on that one. I have been careful in how I render that scene because I really want the faces to not only bear a strong resemblance to to the characters from the movies, but I also want their emotions to really come across as genuine. That was one of my goals for 2012 after all. Speaking of goals…

I just implemented a new database system on my website to house my paintings and their associated Paypal codes. So now when you click a painting, the image expands for easy viewing and the paypal link that is appropriate for the selected painting is revealed. No more listing all painting and Paypal information on one page. That was just plain ugly and I’m glad I got rid of that. Let me know if you like the new layout.

Well one month is gone and one painting is complete. So far the fortunes of 2012 have been kind. But when will that 8-ball creep closer to the pocket? I better chalk my cue to be ready for it.

Be ready for anything
You never know what that 8-ball will say.