The Grid: An Artistic Frontier

Using the grid system to scale up the photographs, this is the first stages of creating a portrait of my wife.
Using the grid system to scale up the photographs, this is the first stages of creating a portrait of my wife.
Here she comes. The rendering has commenced with soft vine charcoal and a series of fine measurements. The result thus far is a crude yet finalized composition of lines, but you can definitely see the likeness coming in. She actually sat for about 20 minutes and posed for me while I shot a video and took still photographs. I couldn’t ask her to sit for hours while I tried to figure out the right color combinations or redraw the sketch for a 10th time. Instead, I ran the video back and took still frames of the positions I liked the most and decided on that for the layout. Since I couldn’t sketch her from life, I had to sketch her from the collections of photographs and still frames. That’s when the first challenge of the project hit me: how to upscale the photographs to the 24”x36” canvas?

The canvas: an artistic frontier. I kept dreaming of a painting I thought I’d never get to see….and then, one day, I got in, er, into drawing a grid that is. Yes the grid system helps a lot when you need to scale a subject up or down by a considerable factor. So this portrait is making use of the grid system. Here is how it works: I start by overlaying a grid of 1”X 1” squares over a photograph of the main subject. The photograph has been scaled to the print size of the painting (in this case it’s 24”x36”). Then I print out the document to fit on a single piece of paper. Next, I measure out the edges of the canvas by 1 inch intervals, mark them, and then draw the grid lines connecting these marks. Now with the grid overlay on the photograph and the grid drawn on the canvas, I can simply follow the contour lines on the paper and transfer that to the canvas. For example, I look at the paper and see that the chin starts at 17” on the X-axis and runs to 24” of the y-axis. So I draw my line to match it on the canvas. Though tedious, this process produces an accurate and properly scaled result with care and patience being required at all times. That is what you are seeing here. This took about 4 hours to prepare the grid and transfer the images. Now my mind is numb with square imagery. I need some curves back in my life.

Up next is finding my color groups. I’ll have more on that in the next update.

The Next Big Thing

Toning the canvas for a nice equal value. This is my normal setup to a new painting.
Toning the canvas for a nice equal value. This is my normal setup to a new painting.

Painting? No I haven’t been painting for a month; that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on something creative. For the last 18 months I have been working intermittently on a mobile game for the Android market. The programming and the artwork are being done by me – actually the entire game is being done by me. I wrote a design document, a script, and have been creating artwork for the game. Now, is the game finished? Not even close. It’s a side hobby of mine so I don’t dedicate every free hour to it. However I do switch between painting and programming and the last 5 weeks have been about programming. The game is now in a stage of foundation. In fact, I have about completed a level framework that should be easy to replicate for all the levels I plan to create in the game. The technical challenges that remain are few. The real work is all of the artwork which remains for me to create. A rough count of the animation cells I have to draw, points to about 100 different drawings. I also have 12 full-scale backgrounds to digitally paint. This sounds like a lot but the characters and scenes are all described and laid out in my design document so there shouldn’t be any mental blocks during the painting process. Actually, I have a real hope to get this game in beta mode sometime this fall. If I can get this out there on the market then I will realize a lifelong dream of mine to release a commercial quality video game. This is all hope and conjecture for now and I’m actually putting down the keyboard for a few weeks to once again to pick up my brush. What will I be doing?

After the technical success of “The Giant Sleeps Tonight,” I was feeling confident in my observation skills. That confidence has stayed with me these four months later and so I’m going to make a renewed effort to step up my portrait skills. The biggest challenge is ahead: a portrait of my wife.

Wow.

Now there is some self-inflicted pressure huh? I mean this has to look good or else this painting will never be hung in my house. She is a wonderful woman with a beautiful face and to do it justice will require a keen eye, steady hand, a little patience, and some courage. I have been creating little sketches of the layout I want and I think I have settled on a layout I like. The plan is to highlight her passion for teaching history. This will be a waist-up, three quarter perspective, natural light portrait. The difference with this painting compared to the other portraits I have done in the past is she will model for me, in the early stages, while I sketch the main features of her face. I will also be recording her position and taking still shots of her for later reference. The objective here is to use my powers of observation to create a fully-realized likeness of her beauty. In my head, the final product is breathtaking. Of course, the final product looks great because of her natural beauty so the only way this comes out wrong is if I’m not looking closely enough. Oh boy, this is going to be a biggie.

We have to challenge ourselves in life. We cannot sit still and let our natural abilities erode into shadows of former glory. I want to become a legitimate portrait artist. To become good at something as challenging as this will require practice and a lot of it. That is why when this portrait is done, I will begin work on another portrait – my second self portrait. I’ll go into more detail on that in a future post.

And then my eyes opened to see….

Art News and Reviews

Happy New Year!
Happy New Year!

A New Video Show
Well here we are in another year. Is it really 2014? To tell you the truth, this age we all live in doesn’t really feel like the future we were promised 20 years ago. I mean where are the robots who patrol the streets and fight crime? Where are the holographic phone calls to interact with static-filled faces at? What happened to the flying cars we were told about? This is the future? Really? Meh – what a let down. Well at least we still have art in our lives. Then again, we don’t really seem to hear enough art-related news unless we go looking for it and you know, I have found a few good art-related news stories recently. These stories generally don’t make big headlines unless a classical master’s name is thrown around like Da Vinci or Rembrandt. The truth is there are some really great stories out there about new art being created, big works being sold at auction by crazed collectors, and weird off-beats artists whose work raises a lot of eyebrows. We have plenty of movie critics to inform us on the latest multimillion-dollar flop. We have a plethora of music critics who dissect the latest pop-hits and the fashion faux pas made by the singers on stage. So what about the folks who discuss the art world? You see a news story now and then, but those stories seldom dive deeper to analyze the artist, the work, and the effect on the public. We hardly hear the opinions or subjective perspectives. Why is that? Art is a part of culture – a BIG part. Is society too lazy to analyze anymore? Are we as a people simply content with journalistic fluff? I think we need some more critical analysis in this day and age.

Being that this is the start of a new year and “change” is the theme of the time, I think I’d like to try my hand at a little art news and review. Now I’m already busy with this blog so I’d prefer not to reinvent the wheel, but I’d still like to contribute from time to time some opinions and critiques on works of art and artists. Perhaps a new video series on my youTube page? Sure, I have no formal education in journalism nor investigative abilities, but it hasn’t stopped the newspaper or magazine writers either. Okay then, look for a new series coming soon to my channel. I don’t have a title yet for the show, but something will come to me during my next stint on the porcelain throne.

Productive Year and Nothing to Fear

"My First Car" 18"x36" oil on canvas - 2013 - by Ryan Williams
“My First Car” 18″x36″ oil on canvas – 2013 – by Ryan Williams

It was a heck of a year for my art. The highlight was, of course, being accepted into an art show for the first time. As an artist, you want to be reassured from time to time, by those who know you not, that your work offers an emotional response. Getting into an art show, an international one at that, is one of the best assurances to yourself that your art is working on some level. It was a great feeling to see people walk by and smile at my work in the Sacramento Fine Arts Center and that newly-found excitement drove me to complete 7 paintings this year. What that art show also did for me was give me a little more courage to branch out and evolve my painting style. I’m no longer afraid to leave my comfort zone as an artist. I want to experiment with brighter colors, deeper compositions, and larger subjects. I believe that in order to become a solid artist you must not only learn the technical skills, but master your own mental shortcomings. You must learn to control your brush strokes and your apprehension for failure. Wow, this almost sounds like a Yoda teaching technique for Jedi doesn’t it? “Control, control, you must learn control!”

The Year of the Portrait

A good portrait requires a lot of preparation and focus. Ask Homer -  he can tell you.
A good portrait can leave a lasting impression. Then again, so can a bad one. I plan on developing my portrait skills in 2014.

I am setting my sights on the face. The portrait is perhaps the biggest challenge for an artist. In landscapes, the trees and mountains don’t have to be perfect for a viewer to recognize the location. In still-life the object doesn’t require a photographic touch to convey what the object is. The average viewer will interpret the item for what it is based on color and general shape. A portrait, on the other hand, is a real challenge. Why is drawing and painting a face such a challenge? Because you can paint two eyes and a nose and a mouth, but if the proportions are off then the viewers will not recognize the person in the painting. At best they might say, “oh I see, it’s so and so…I guess.” At worst they might say, “Who is this again?” Proportions are critical and require some extra care in order to get the measurements just right. I want to sharpen my portrait skills; I want to paint in-your-face-portraits. This is a primary goal for my art in 2014. The first painting I will be tackling this year is a portrait of my wife as she teaches in the class room. Yeah, I have chosen a tough subject because if it’s off then she will certainly let me know and I’d really like to hang this up in the house someday. A happy life is a happy wife – so I better do this painting right.

Best of the year? More Shows?

My favorite work this year? That would have to be “The Giant Sleeps Tonight.” I was so happy with the composition, the color, and the rendering of light on the subject. This work was important to me because it reflects one of my passions in life: baseball. More than that though, it represents the drive to succeed and the hard work that is required. To earn something of value means to experience satisfaction that is almost as great as the achievement itself. Work hard and play hard. This painting means all of these ideas to me and I felt that I nailed this one.

"The Giant Sleeps Tonight" 11"x14" 2013 - oil on canvas by Ryan Williams
“The Giant Sleeps Tonight” 11″x14″ 2013 – oil on canvas by Ryan Williams

I’m hoping to get into another art show this year. There are a lot of shows across the country and I just need to find one that fits my work. Art shows are a great way to get your name out and create some interest in your work. If the art sells at the show then it’s frosting on the old ego cake. Ego boosts are good so my eyes and ears will be open for new opportunities.

Final Thought and Gratitude

If you learn something new then your day was a success. I have learned a lot about my style, but more than that I have learned more about myself. Painting is a therapeutic and psychological self-examination. What I have learned about myself is that I am indeed weird, but gentle too. My art is reflecting the state of my mood and outlook on life at the time of creation. The brighter colors signal my optimism, while darker colors mean that I need to by more brighter colors I guess; eh I digress.

I would like to thank the subscribers of this blog, the subscribers on my youTube channel, the subscribers on my Facebook page, and the folks who bought copies of my work in 2013. Thank you all for supporting my silly little imagination. I hope to continue to entertain you folks for many years with my art. I value your time and I truly am in awe when you spend a few moments looking at my latest creation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Here is to the new year……let’s paint the $&@! out of it!

Forget Waldo. Where’s Santa?

Wheeler as Santa. Ryan Williams Blog.
Wheeler placing himself in a Caravaggio painting.

Recognize that guy with the beard? Isn’t it fun to sometimes step away from the stress of reality and indulge your senses in the whimsical? Well the holidays ARE about joy,love, and laughter, unless all of this commercialism has voided your memory, and so I found another source of silly fun to provide some smiles this Christmas season. Are you familiar with that fat guy who wears red and only works one day a year? Well it looks like he’s going mainstream now. Yep, it looks like Santa is all about exploiting himself.

Caravaggio Painting with Santa on Ryan Williams Art Blog
Santa Invades a Caravaggio Painting

The man behind this holiday fun is Ed Wheeler. He’s an artist who has fun with photo manipulation and digital paint to recreate these classic paintings in a new light. There is no heavy analysis here – these are simply visual one-liners grabbing for that quick chuckle. Hey if you can’t at least smile at this stuff then you’re taking yourself too serious right?

I hope you enjoy this fun site and all of the pictures therein. I’ll be back after the holiday with new videos and new paintings to show. God bless us everyone.

Merry Christmas art lovers!

pier fishing art

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.