All posts by Ryan Williams

I am the artist and admin of this blog. I try to provide insight into my painting process, my thoughts about the current state of the art world, and links to interesting painting resources. Subscribe to Brushes and Bytes now!

Norman Rockwell: Beyond an Illustrator

Norman Rockwell's Triple Portrait
Norman Rockwell’s Triple Portrait
Earlier this month, the late and great Norman Rockwell once again made the headlines. His famous painting, “Saying Grace” sold for a record $46 million dollars. Sotheby’s Auction said the sale was the highest paid for an American Painter. Not bad for an illustrator who specialized in magazine covers huh? Wait – illustrator? Is that what we’re calling Norman Rockwell? Sorry, but that label simply won’t cut it. What about “Fine Artist?” Meh, that sounds too clinical. Okay so what was he? Yeah he drew and painted, but it’s what he actually created with those paints and brushes that elevated him above his contemporaries. Norman Rockwell had the artistic hand to go with his eyes for emotional textures.

How do you know you’re looking at a Rockwell when you see one of his works? Okay forget the signature on the bottom smart guy because I’m talking about the content itself. I had the pleasure to catch an exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento this year that featured many of Rockwell’s classics. It felt like a wheel of emotions when looking into his works. There are many artists who focus on human interaction, but what is it about a Rockwell that dismisses the other figurative artists of his day as average? They all use the same color spectrum right? I mean red is red and blue is blue correct? Is it the compositions? Yes he has strong compositions, but so do most professional artists. Alright then perhaps its beyond the technical aspects of his paintings. Perhaps the genius lies in what the paintings are saying to his viewers. Rockwell tackled some strong emotions in many of his works. Sure, any artist can blend yellow and blue to make green, but Rockwell was also a master of Levity blended with a bit of introspection. He might then glaze that layer with melancholy mixed with hope and let me tell you my friend – there is no color wheel for THAT.

Norman Rockwell's
Saying Grace by Norman Rockwell
Yeah, Rockwell went well beyond the technical grace that his canvas speaks of. He was a master of fluid brush strokes and gradation of skin tones. The average untrained eye can pick up on these gifts as soon as it gazes upon his work. If you stare at his work for just a few moments, then your mind starts to absorb the messages Rockwell was conveying. You can start to feel the characters emotions in his work. An example of this is where he manages to convey the disappointment of the umpires as they wait for the rain to stop in “The Rainout,” or the poignant moment of faith displayed in an increasingly distracted world, that pushes religion into the back row of the societal bus, as interpreted by myself in “Saying Grace.” Each of his paintings are more than a scene of life, but rather a hook of emotions for which we get caught on. Once we’re caught, we don’t struggle to get free, but rather attach some of our own memories to these scenes. Somehow we can relate to an emotion in the painting; we think back to a time when we were so disappointed or we were so bold or we were so passionate. These scenes force us to rekindle that memory of ourselves we often bury and forget about as we live in a world that keeps us preoccupied seemingly every waking moment. Rockwell’s work is fuel for the imagination and a brake from the hi-speed pace of life here in the 21st century. His work is a bit of a time machine – we look and we go back. If you have the chance, then I would highly recommend you check out a Rockwell exhibit. Look at his works carefully and see whether you aren’t taken back to a time when you felt the same emotions his characters feel in his paintings. I know, for example, when I look at “The Rainout,” I go back to when I was a kid in little league and dreaded the rain outside while in class, because I knew I was supposed to have a game that evening. I just didn’t want it to rain out my game. Ah childhood…good times.
Norman Rockwell's
The Rainout by Norman Rockwell

So what was Norman Rockwell? Artist? Illustrator? Fine Artist? Painter? Yeah sure he was all of those things, but think about what his paintings convey. He wanted to remind us to remind ourselves about where we came from and how we should learn from our past, in order to live our present, on our way to a brighter future. He wanted us to learn through observations of life captured on canvas. Don’t forget your manners, be generous to your fellow man, be truthful, and be a loving member of your family; he tells us. Norman Rockwell wasn’t just an illustrator, he was a teacher. Given the declining nature of American society today, we could use a little more education in humility and selflessness. Thanks for the lessons and the memories Norman.

Driven to Paint the Mechanic’s Apprentice

The Mechanic's Apprentice by Artist Ryan Williams
11”x14” Original Oil Painting by Ryan Williams
How many times have you been driving down the road when you suddenly hear a rattle or a pop and you think, “Crud. How much is this going to cost me in repairs?” I dread those moments because we own used cars and as the years go by it becomes harder to justify the repair costs. However, the decision-making process is rendered easy when you have a mechanic-friend who insists on performing the repairs free of charge. That was the situation for me which lead to my new painting – “The Mechanic’s Apprentice.”

I drove over to my friend Richard’s house and as he worked on my wife’s car I took notice of his old dog; Mary is her name. I had an idea for paying for working on the car. As he worked under the hood I started snapping shots of Mary in different positions. In the end, I never really got a pose that I thought would translate into a successful painting. So I used the shots as a composite for the position you see in this work.

Originally the painting was to be a simple portrait with a standard nondescript background. As I started to sketch, however, I realized I could make a light hearted scene of this sweet and gentle soul. The idea also crossed my mind that if I painted a scene that illustrated the loving relationship between Mary and her owner Richard, then the gift would have that much more meaning to Richard and his family in the years to come. Paintings of loved ones require more attention to detail and not just on a technical level, but on an emotional level as well. Since Richard loves to work in his garage with Mary walking around and investigating, the focus of the painting became the strong bond between the dog and owner. The painting still needed to primarily be a portrait of the dog so I just limited to human interaction to a single outstretched arm. I felt this simple gesture would give the viewer pause to wonder if Mary is helping of teasing Richard. In this scene you just can’t tell and I like it like that.

It’s good to have friends and its important to let them know from time to time that you appreciate all they do for you. My intention with this painting is to let Richard know I appreciate his generosity. In Episode 14 of Brushes and Bytes Video Blog I discuss this painting along with my hopes for 2014. Now give me back that wrench Mary.
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Big Ideas in Small Packages

Big Art Can Come from Small Canvases!
Big Art Can Come from Small Canvases!
Trying to flush out ideas can be frustrating. While the concept can pop into my head at any time, (at work, in bed, in the shower, in the car, etc.), I often find it difficult to develop that idea into a fully realized work. I sometimes write the idea down and then try to come up with a single sentence to describe the feelings and thoughts that I would like the painting to convey. Every piece of work that I complete means something important to me. Just painting objects that I see is usually not enough for me. I want the painting to carry emotional weight and deliver it to the viewer. The benefit of this thinking is that all of my works contain a part of my heart. The drawback of this thinking is that I only complete 4 to 6 paintings a year. Well I have completed 4 paintings to date, but would you believe I am trying to complete 3 more before the year ends? If the size of these paintings were large then I would concede that I had no chance to realize that goal, but all of these works are just 11”x14” and typically that size only takes me about 2 weeks to complete. The best part is I already have the ideas flushed out. Yep I think I’m on to something here; if I develop more small paintings then I end up with more works completed by years end. I would like to up my yearly target of paintings to 10-12 because eventually I hope to try to get some gallery representation. To get a shot at entering a gallery, I need a larger portfolio, but that is way down the road. Well I’m about to complete another painting so I will be back shortly with much more. Happy Autumn!

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Showtime! …and more

That Was a Bold Show

Hanging out at the SFAC
“My First Car” displayed at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center through October. It was given its own wall to be displayed.

Before this past Saturday, any art show or gallery I had ever attended was a chance for me to examine the approach of other artists and appreciate their style and creativity. The Bold Expressions art show, however, was more like a fancy show-and-tell exhibit. Finding myself looking to see the reactions of people who would look at my painting, I wanted to see if they smiled, frowned, or laughed – anything to get a reaction. The experience was pleasantly tense in that I really wanted to entertain people with my work, but was prepared for the indifference that I saw from a lot of people. Now this is not to say there weren’t many people stopping to look at the painting, to the contrary, there were a fair amount of people standing and leaning in to get a closeup of the art. I just found that I was more focused on the people who just walked by without considering what they glanced at and trying to figure out why my painting didn’t get their attention for at least 8 seconds. Oh I read that 8 seconds is the average time someone looks at a painting so that is now my benchmark.

I know color has a lot to do with garnering attention. After that I believe the subject is what keeps them engaged. Beyond the subject, the viewer has to be able to relate to something in the piece. I guess these people didn’t like green, they never had a wagon, and they never saw themselves pulling that wagon ever in their lives. OK, so some things you can’t control and you will simply never please nor appeal to everyone. Yeah I already knew this, but I really want to make my art as engaging as possible to the widest audience possible. I will keep pushing to entice more people to simply “look.”

The most interesting response I think I observed were two older gentlemen who didn’t like my painting. I overheard them saying they didn’t like the prospective and the layout just didn’t work for them. I stood behind them to eavesdrop and never revealed myself to them. I wasn’t disappointed nor angry. Actually I was quite happy because they actually looked at my painting for over a minute to critique it. I got the reaction I was looking for, sure it wasn’t positive, but I got their attention for well over those 8 seconds I am aiming for. They won’t buy the painting, but I’m not giving back that 1 minute of life they spent on one of my ideas either. Muhahaha…..victory is mine!

The show was great as there were plenty of people milling about – at the time I was there, about an hour, I would estimate about 60 people drifted from one piece to another. Live music filled the air as they served Wine and snack foods. There were plenty of conversations in every corner about art and the artists involved. The whole environment was a garden of creativity and appreciation. I can say for certain that I am hooked on this whole art show thing and I am already looking to get into another show somewhere in the country. I’ll keep you informed when I find a new place to hang my paintings!

A Giant Creation

Working on "The Giant Sleeps Tonight"
Working on “The Giant Sleeps Tonight”, it was great to be able to pay tribute to my favorite team of my favorite sport.

By now you have probably seen my latest painting, “The Giant Sleeps Tonight.” The still life of my favorite baseball team has received very positive reviews from family, friends, and other artists online. If you are a Giants fan or just a baseball fan, then I hope I have done the topic justice with my attempt at representing passion and drive through this small still-life painting. Check out my video for this piece as I discuss what my thoughts were when I painted it. I hope to enter this painting in a show or two as soon as it’s available for submission – it needs a couple of months to completely dry of course.

Happy Birthday to My Website!

That’s right – my website turned 3 this week! So to celebrate I decided to redesign the place to make it just a wee-bit easier to navigate. Well let’s face it – the previous design sucked. As I age, I learn what works and doesn’t work and I hope you like the new look and find it easier to make a purchase or watch a video etc. Speaking of making a purchase, the fine people at are now handling the reproductions of my work. You can now purchase an original painting or print with matting and or frame if you choose. There are also options to purchase a copy on metal, acrylic, and even an iPhone case! Please checkout my store on their site for more information.

Well it has been a busy month for me art-wise so I need a little break. Oh wait, I can’t stop! I have works to complete by the end of the year! Yikes I better get going! I have three more paintings that must be completed before year’s end. I am trying to meet my goal of completing 6 paintings this year so I better move my brush if I want to make it. Paint ya later!

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Art in Paradise

I just returned last month from a week long vacation in Hawaii. If you are thinking about getting away from it all then a trip to a small group of islands thousands of miles from mainland is a good place to start. I spent the majority of the week on the island of Maui. It’s quite a diverse landscape for such a small island. Within a 30 minute drive you can explore beaches, rainforest, desert, valleys, and mountain tops. It’s an inspiring place to be for anyone, but especially an artist.

What surprised me most about the island was the plethora of art galleries and shows that took place on a daily basis there. I walked through about a dozen galleries and public showings which introduced me to local and international artists. The great part about seeing that much art is you learn to appreciate the many styles and approaches that other painters employ. I also learned to really get into a new subject matter: surrealism. You know surrealism, it’s the only genre where raining cats and dogs could literally translate to cats and dogs falling from the sky – just don’t step in a poodle. I really developed an appreciation for Vladimir Kush. A Russian-born artist, his art has a lot to say and glancing at one of his pieces simply doesn’t do it justice. You don’t look at his art; you study it. Personally I really enjoy art that tells stories and what’s great about his art is that the stories are open-ended. You can see multiple story lines looking at his works and you may never see the story he intended because we all see the same thing from a different perspective. It’s great art from a brilliant mind.

On the same level as Kush is Victor Bregeda, another Russian-born surrealist who tells his stories in similar fashion. While strolling through a gallery in the town of Lahiana, the gallery owner informed us that Bregeda would be at the gallery that night to display and demonstrate his works. This was a fabulous opportunity to ask a few questions and get into the mind of an internationally successful artist. So after dinner that night we came back to the gallery and sure enough, there was Bregeda working on a new painting.

Victor Bregeda
Victor Bregeda – An artist who knows no sketches, but simply improvises his work.

He speaks no English, but his manager was there and he happily doubles as a translator. We were told that we were free to ask questions as he painted. So I asked a question about how long he had been working on this piece, which appeared to be nearly complete, and his response made me chuckle a bit. He said this painting was started a couple of years ago, but was put away to work on other projects. He simply lost his interest in the work and was inspired to render other ideas. This made me chuckle because I could relate, as I’m sure most artists can, that sometimes a painting just isn’t working anymore and you just want to throw it in the closet and start something else. I have that now with my unfinished Disneyland painting. That painting gets a little work every now and then but it has been on and off the easel since 2005. In my case I’m trying to overcome some technical problems that I have with it. Seeing Victor nearly complete a long delayed work motivated me to go back to my artistic skeleton in the closet and get my painting completed as well. Perhaps one day I will be able to show a completed Disneyland painting, but let’s get back to Victor.

I enjoyed watching his technical style and learned a pretty amazing fact about his approach. He revealed that he has no sketch books, performs zero sketches on canvas, and simply paints straight from imagination. He comes from a family of artists so it’s in his DNA to be a great artist, but to have that kind of visual memory is truly awesome. To even render something simple like an orange, you and I would still look at it to get the shades of orange, yellow, and red just right to suggest shape and volume. For Victor it’s just seems to stick in his mind and he plays around on canvas until he gets the effect he is after. I’m not an expert on human intelligence, but there has got to be some form of genius involved to have that kind of mental visual-spatial skill set.

He loves to blend colors on canvas and I noticed he doesn’t spend much time mixing on the palette. There was a feeling of spontaneity when I watched him paint. He was matching the color he saw in his mind to what his gifted hand was rendering on canvas. I guess you could say this was a hand to mental-eye coordinated effort.

As for Victor’s subjects, he said that he loves to hear what people THINK they see. He generally doesn’t like to reveal what his paintings actually mean. Instead he wants to keep the story open-ended because he wants to hear how other people see his work and interpret the symbolical elements. I gave him my interpretation of his latest project and he just smiled and nodded his head; to which it was then that I realized my interpretation was no where near his vision. However that is what really excited him: to hear the creation of a new story from the same painting. What a great feature of art – many stories from a single image. After spending about an hour and a half talking, Victor was pulled away by his manager to discuss one of his paintings to a potential buyer in the gallery. That painting was selling for over $20,000 so I think Victor is doing just fine as an artist.

Victor Bregeda
A painting by Victor Bregeda. The gallery owner think this painting is about a previous wife. What do you see?

What I gained from all of this was a greater appreciation for surrealism – it’s really a mind-bended exercise to create a cohesive story from surreal elements. There is so much planning that goes into telling a story in that manner and unless you’re a bit of an artistic savant, as I suspect Victor Bregeda is, then you will probably spend many hours just working on a compositional sketch before you even think of pulling out a new canvas.

I also picked up a couple of techniques for canvas mixing and for brush work. I was impressed to see that he paints with relatively cheap brushes. Tools are no substitute for talent. Victor also displays a mastery of patience and determination for which I hope to someday master.

It was a great vacation in Hawaii – when is Hawaii not a great trip? Meeting a professional artist was just a huge bonus for me. I truly value the Q&A time that I had with Victor Bregeda. If you’re down on surrealism then I encourage you to look at his work and keep an open mind, then come back to the same paintings a few days later and see if you don’t find a new story in the same scene. Even if the elements in the painting don’t interest you, you certainly have to appreciate the careful planning that went into that work. Genius takes many forms – sometimes it surreal.

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