Painting the Fog is Painting the Mystery

Fog River
Fog River (2015) by Ryan Williams
My most recent project, Fog River, had been in my head since last winter. Of all the seasons, I firmly beleive winter holds the greatest mystery. The windy nights, cloudy days, and foggy mornings seem to all hold back a secret. Fog River was painted with the intention of capturing that mystery. A lot of people hold winter to represent death in the cycle of life while spring is the rebirth. I’m not sure I hold the same viewpoint. With all of the active weather we see in winter, wind and rain etc., I equate that activity to the rapid development of a new life in the womb. I think the actual ‘death’ symbolically takes place on the last day of autumn. I mean really – when you’re dead you’re dead. Do we really think winter is about dying over and over again? No way. Winter is Mother Nature’s way of saying, “I’m expecting again.”

I guess I have a different perspective on the seasons and the cycle of life especially since I just had my first child this summer. It was a challenge to complete a painting while tending to a newborn. I ended up painting a lot in the middle of the night since I was up for the feedings and changing already. The windows for painting were very small that first month, but after a week of sneaking in short painting sessions, Fog River is what I now present. I enjoy the occassional landscape as it’s a nice reprieve from the minutia of portrait and figure painting. If you would like to purchase the original or a reproduction then please visit my store.

Up next….it’s our time down here!

Originality – Remember that?

Hasta la vista originality!
Hasta la vista originality!


There is no better time of year than now to observe the decline of original creative thought. Just plop down $11 bucks at your local movie theater and watch yet another retelling of an old story, adaptation of a fashionable book, or the 9th sequel and in already dull storyline. Yes the art of writing has died in Hollywood hasn’t it?

This past week Terminator Genisys opened up to awful reviews and even worse box office draw. I think this is actually great news. I mean how else can we give Hollywood the not-so-subtle hint that we are fed up with the same recycled crap every year? Hey as hokey as the 80’s were, it was also the last decade to feature a deluge of original screen plays. The 90’s started the recycling trend and by the 2000’s, the imaginative force that fueled the rising success stories in Hollywood died. Now in the 2010’s the summer releases have become the punchline to a really old joke. Another Terminator film where Arnold Sure-is-older’s robot has aged? Are you serious? Okay I’ll try to get past that silly concept, but now your storyline essentially erases the storyline of the previous films? Then what was it all for? The motivation was surely not an artistic one; more like a spineless let’s-play-it-safe-and-recoup-our-investment one.

Ghostbusters – what a great film. Then they made Ghostbusters 2 and said, “Uh well, we made a lot of money, but it looks like we ran out of ideas with this storyline so let’s just put this horse out to pasture. ” For 25 years the Ghostbusters Universe sat in neutral. Then came that inevitable day where the studios basically said, “Well let’s reopen that empty can and see if it refilled itself.” Well it didn’t and it never does. Do studios think they can make summer blockbusters based on people’s nostalgia? That idea will only take you so far. Yes people in their 30’s and 40’s do enjoy occasional updates to some of their favorite films of the 70’s and 80’s, but if you jam up the release schedule with recycled film after recycled film, then eventually people say, “Why am I paying $11 to see a film that I basically saw for $4 back in 1984?” That is simply bad financial planning.

From the artist standpoint this really sucks. I imagine there are 100 screenplays for every dung ball of a sequel made. I don’t want to see another Spiderman film. Actually, I really don’t want to see so many comic book based films anymore. They are essentially the same plot line with different names and different costumes. I feel sorry for the writers who are trying to get their original ideas out there, but because of the studios mixture of cowardice and greed, are blocked at every attempt to do so. We need the original thinkers. We don’t need another teenager in a cape who can save the world by popping his super charged zits.

Enough Terminator films, don’t make Ghostbusters again, wrap up the capes of these tired comic book films, and please go back to making more ‘R’ rated movies. This ‘PG-13’ crap is dulling the minds of the movie goer in America. With ‘R’ we got Beverly Hills Cop 1 and 2. With ‘PG-13’ we got Beverly Hills Cop 3. Thank goodness artists of the canvas don’t try to redo their old work and pass it off as original. Well they could, but who wants to really try to sell something that screams “has-been” or “sell out?”

Let’s go Hollywood. Bring the original art back to the big screen.

Is there anything new under the sun? Or the theater? Not this summer.
Is there anything new under the sun? Or the theater? Not this summer.

A Pinball Artist – there has to be a twist

Ryan Williams in front of a High Speed Pinball Machine
Visiting the Pinball Museum in Alameda California.

There are many things that I miss from my childhood: Wiffle ball in the front yard, watching Ducktales after school, playing Nintendo on a Friday night with my Brother while eating Little Caesar’s pizza, and going to the arcade for a few rounds of pinball. In the midst of all of these modern electronic diversions, cell phones, game consoles, the internet, I hope you can remember the timeless joy of pinball. It’s that slanted table with the silver ball bouncing off a bunch of bumpers and lights. The experience is a cacophony of sights and sounds like the click of the flippers, the vibration of the ball plunger, the flashing lights of the scoreboard, the sheen of the painted table top, and the beautiful artwork of the sparkling back glass designed to attract more players. Seriously, have you ever looked at some of these machine’s artwork? Some of these paintings are hidden gems of artistic creativity.

A pinball machine is a unique hybrid of technology and artistry. From the first machines of the early 20th century to the few machines that are still being built today, the back glass painting has always been the first and most attractive feature of the machine. The painting is basically a message to the player from the machine as to say, “Check me out! I’m exciting and unpredictable!” The most exciting part of course is the actual game play. However, I want to pay tribute to some of the most creative paintings featured on an assortment of machines.

Jokerz! Pinball Back Glass Painting

Some great glass artwork inspires players and in some cases takes them away from the arcade, bar, or bowling alley the machine sits in and teleports them to the story of the game. For me, this suspension of disbelief happens whenever I play “Jokerz!” The game is set to baroque music and features stunning visuals of a King and Queen playing cards while a gang of little jesters looks on. The music and the artwork is what makes “Jokerz!” such an exciting table. There is some subtle humor in the artwork itself. For example, notice the little jesters helping the King and Queen cheat? Also, notice how the two drinks being served are of different amounts? Perhaps the King is trying to get the Queen drunk? Yeah…nice. The painting is rendered in brilliant colors and tells a fun story making “Jokerz!” my all-time favorite machine for the music and artwork alone.

One of the most popular machines of all time is “Twilight Zone.” The back glass presents a wonderful synopsis of the old television series. Standing in the doorway to another dimension is your host Rod Serling. In the room sitting along side him are some of the iconic symbols of the most popular episodes. For me, the Talking Tina doll seated in the bottom left is the most unsettling – in a fun way. The painting sets a mood of mystery, danger, and the unknown. In short, this painting is creepy and fun!

Twlight Zone Back Glass Painting

The last pinball machine I’ll highlight is “Black Knight 2000.” I simply love the fusion of a futuristic civilization and a medieval kingdom. The Black Knight is the villain and the player must take him down. He’s quick and unpredictable (symbolized by the lighting bolt in his hands) and he will taunt you until you beat him. Red is a color of love and passion, but also of power. Having so much red in the composition suggests a feeling of aggression and conflict. You the player have a single mission: take down the evil Black Knight. If you ever see this machine then give it a shot. The action is fast, the music is pounding, and the artwork sums up the exciting experience.

Black Knight 2000 back glass painting

As a programmer by day and artist by night, I think I have figured out why the pinball machine captivates me so. It’s a junction point for science and art. There is also something special about viewing the paintings of a pinball machine. Think of the differences between viewing pinball art versus a painting in a gallery. I love viewing art in galleries, but the experience is static. The painting just sits there. In a pinball machine however, the lights behind the glass and the sounds from the speakers bring the artwork to life. The experience is more dynamic and engrossing. Much like a good book can get the reader lost in the story, a good pinball machine can capture a player for a session of thrills and heart-pounding action. You’re getting all of this fun just because a glass painting pulled you in for a closer look?

Ah the power of art.

So many pinball little time.

Steve Jobs: The Artist

Steve Jobs -  the artist.
Artists are everywhere, but not all artists live by the easel.

Three and half years ago Apple lost their co-founder and visionary Steve Jobs. Jobs was much more than a CEO. He was a shrewd business leader, a master salesman, a brilliant designer, and yes, an artist. Notice that the word inventor was not on this list. The truth of the matter is Steve Jobs, the co-founder of the most valuable company in the world (as of this post), a technology company with a cult-like following of users, was seldom ever responsible for inventing anything himself. In fact, as a programmer he stunk. As an engineer, he was lost. Open up the machine and show him the circuit board and he would never see the bits and bytes like engineers would. He would see something else. He would see the possibilities.

That brings me to the Artist in Steve Jobs. If you’re in your late thirties or older then you probably remember those early days of the personal computer. The boxes were always a dull beige-colored box with no personality. Then in 1984 the Macintosh computer arrived and everything changed. The technology inside that computer can be credited to the brilliant and devoted engineers at Apple who poured their soul into the machine they created. The engineers had to work around the demands of Jobs as the case was restricting of a more general design. While credit for the efficient technology belongs to these engineers, the design of the case itself belongs to Jobs. Jobs came up with the idea to streamline the case and integrate the monitor with the disk drive. He also liked the idea of round corners for the case. In short, Jobs love of minimalism came out in his design of the Macintosh. Years later, the iMac would go even further to shirk the old dull boxy-look of the home computer. His machines, through his artistic hands, had a personality of their own. Industrial design is indeed an art, but the public usually doesn’t see it as such because most times the money surrounding the development and the sale, plus the primary function of the product, tend to cover the artistry of what is being sold. With Apple products however, make no mistake, under Jobs the devices he churned out were works of art.

As stated earlier, Jobs loved minimalism. This love really showed in later products. Think back to the first iPod. There was a button conspicuously missing from the device: the power button. Jobs thought the inclusion of a button would disrupt the smooth styling of the case. A button would wreck the symmetrical look and feel of the iPod. Jobs and his engineers came up with the idea of simply letting the iPod go into a sleep mode when not in use. The function was, as was the case in most of Jobs products, the subordinate to the design. The result was another visual masterpiece of craftsmanship. While Jobs was no expert on circuit boards or memory chips, his hand was still involved in the board layouts. He wanted the internal screws made of a certain material, to have a certain shape, to conform with the layout of the circuitry to produce a sublime yet powerful visual design. Here is evidence to the idea of Jobs being an artist, (and he saw himself as one): inside the first shipment of Macintosh computers, a metal plate was attached to the internals of the machine which featured copies of the signatures of the Macintosh team and Jobs himself. He once said to his team, “true artists sign their works of art.”Steve Jobs' Minimalism resulted in brilliant products.

I just finished reading Jobs’ biography written by Walter Isaacson. It was a revealing look into what he liked and disliked about product design. He frequently talked about Apple living at the intersection of technology and the humanities. That thought resonates with me because my day job is writing software. At night I indulge my creative impulses with drawing and painting. Somewhere these two disciplines intersect and it’s there that I define myself. I didn’t agree with a lot of Jobs personality, the raging tantrums, the selfish motivations, but I found myself relating to his love of art and technology. Artists are everywhere. Art is everywhere. Steve Jobs was an artist of the highest degree and his art changed our perceptions of what was, and is, possible. Thank you for the inspiration Steve. Although I will always be a Windows man myself. Steve-Jobs

A Portrait of a Mother and Sons

Mother and Sons (2015) by Ryan Williams
Mother and Sons (2015) by Ryan Williams

So the first painting of the year is done. A commissioned piece of a mother and her two sons. As the I mention in the video, this was difficult as I only had a single photograph to work with. Seeing as how this was a commission and would be a gift for someone, I really had to focus on capturing the joy that is a family bond. How do you achieve this feeling in a painting? What is it about a smile that tells a story? Faces are just like books: they all tell a story.

In this video I discuss the challenges that came with working on this triple portrait. I made some mistakes, learned from them, and now take that new knowledge with me as I start yet another portrait. This one is a bit simpler in that there will be just two faces. One human and one, well, not. What is this animal? Stayed tuned.