I was born in Alpena, Michigan which had a single radio station, WATZ. They played a wide variety of music--the popular songs back then (the 1940's and 1950's), bluegrass from Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers, country artists like Roy Acuff & Hank Williams, Western Swing artists like Bob Will, MIlton Brown and the Brownies, singing cowboys like Roy Rogers & Gene Autry and Swing Jazz artists like Benny Goodman and Count Basie.
Bluegrass songs often focused on tragic themes--men throwing their girlfriends into the Ohio River, miserable fathers in a drunken stupor knocking over an oil lamp, allowing their kids to be burned to death. I was fascinated by those horrifying, cautionary tales.
"Fire in Arkansas" flowed from my mandolin, a popular bluegrass instrument. I approach songwriting in several ways, sometimes with a theme in mind, sometimes playing around with words and very often playing around with my guitar until a song begins to emerge. Fire in Arkansas began with a simple mandolin riff. The melody led me to the story. I knew from the first chords that a house would be set on fire. I saw a mother standing on a porch calling out for her son. I was there, with him, hiding behind the tree. I could smell the dust as they left him behind. The dead white birch tree wasn't only camouflage, it added an element of dread to the story.
The story came to me as I played the mandolin like an actual story remembered. The kid crossed the yard and entered the shed. I could smell the oil and the gasoline and feel the heat as the sun rose in the Arkansas sky. I could have placed the story anywhere, but I liked the look and sound of the word, Arkansas.
I was the eldest son and my father took me hunting at an early age. I had mixed feelings of pride and horror when I killed rabbits and partridge, but I liked being with my father, carrying a gun, walking at his side. Movie war heroes and B-Western cowboys carried guns. This was way beyond cap pistols. Because I had hunted, it was natural to have the kid grab a shotgun.
In my first draft, I had the kid burn the house, kill the sheep and run off to hide in a farmer's field. A short time later, he was captured by the local sheriff. Or maybe his dad. It felt more true to this kid's nature to have him climb into the hayloft, in an exhausted daze after the slaughter, and fall asleep. There was no escape.
His father found him sleeping in the hayloft And killed his only son on the way to hell He sits staring at the knuckles of both hands Two murder weapons in a prison cell
I was amazed when those last two lines fell into place. They are perfect. The guards remove all weapons from prisoners, but this violent man keeps his, reminding him every day of his violent deed.
John Platania is a wonderful musician and a warm, unpretentious guy. I met him at The Clubhouse, a local recording studio many years ago. I was at the studio recording a tune with my bass player pal, Steve Bartles for a short video I was making. Since John was hanging around, I asked him to trade lead guitar licks with me on my tune. I wasn't a fan of Van Morrison, so I had no idea John was his friend and had been his guitarist in the old days. I also didn't know he'd played and/or recorded with the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Judy Collins, and Randy Newman. So, in the bliss of ignorance, I asked and John said yeah, sure. I also didn't know John was a singer until I heard him play locally. We were friends by then so I hired him to play guitar on and arrange a 3-song demo for me. A year later I hired John (at a reduced rate, thank the muses) to work up a full album of my songs. To entice him further, I funded the project, and allowed him pretty much total creative freedom. I vetoed a few things (as executive producer) and I was there throughout the entire recording and mixing process, but I tried to stay out of the way. This was John's first solo (and vocal) album and I wanted to honor that. The creation of Lucky Dog is a creative highlight in my life.
Fire in Arkansas is the only song on Lucky Dog with a bluegrass feel & features me playing mandolin--the only time I make an appearance. John handles all the guitar work on the CD. Steve is on bass, Zoe B. Zak on accordion and Brian Doherty & T Xiques on drums, along with a couple of other great musicians appearing here and there (all listed on the CD).
PS: 1 minute clips from the other songs are available on my website: Elwood's Website
For years I used the superb Strathmore Kolinsky Watercolor Brushes. I began buying them in the late 70's, when I lived in New York City and, as I recall, I got a number 7 for around $35, which was pretty expensive back then. Once in a while I'd get one with a less than stellar point but, over all, they were consistently excellent. The Strathmore Kolinsky's handle was natural, unfinished wood, without the usual lacquered finish. I found that to be a great feature--no slipping around when held. Before discovering the Strathmore, I bought mostly Winsor & Newton Series 7, using a smaller brush for details and a larger one for bigger areas. The Strathmore number 7 did it all. I could lay in a good-sized sky and, with the same brush, place color in a miniscule coat button--no problem. The Kolinsky had a long, tapered point, as sharp as a needle and the brush body would snap back after pressing down, laying a wash, effortlessly. Little did I know I was being spoiled rotten.
Seemingly, overnight, the quality dropped. Strathmore dealers said it was climate change, with shorter winters affecting the sable's coats. For a couple of years, I continued to buy them, hoping to regain the Strathmore magic, but finally I gave up--they had become mediocre tools. As far as I can tell, Strathmore no longer makes a Kolinsky. Over the past 10 or 15 years, I've been trying every watercolor sable brush I can find, inexpensive and costly brands alike. Isabey, Arches, Simmons, Langnickel--every one I tried was, at best, mediocre. Dick Blick has a line that they say is excellent, but I find them merely okay and they don't last--that is, the point begins to fray very quickly. They also sell a pretty nice Raphael Kolinsky and, though it's better than the Blick model, it also doesn't hold up & the quality is uneven.
I had high hopes when, after doing an extensive web search I discovered a highly-touted brush, the Kalish Kolinsky:
The company, run by the friendly husband and wife team, Harry and Ruth Kalish, makes brushes primarily for companies who make dentures, but this Watercolor Painting online review led me to Kalish:
A number 7 Kalish Kolinsky is only $35.00, which is a bargain for a high-quality brush. I chose the SERIES 7 FINEST KOLINSKY DESIGNER brush--supposedly a more tapered point than the Round. I have found the brush to point quite well but, sadly, it lacks snap. I was (am) very disappointed since I spent some time talking with Harry while Ruth was waiting to get online to process my credit card. He agreed that the old Strathmore Kolinsky was a great brush and assured me I'd be delighted with their Finest Kolinsky. Maybe I just got a particularly wimpy brush but, considering Harry knew my preferences, I'm in no rush to try another. Here's the reason I'm in no hurry to try another Kalish:
Located in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, Kolinsky Art Brushes sells several brands including the one I initially purchased, a Martin/F.Weber Winter Harvest Kolinsky. It sells for U.S. $44.99 plus $17.95 Express Mail shipping = $62.94 total. Another disappointment. At first. The Winter Harvest had great snap, but the tip of the brush frayed ever so slightly. I could meld it to a point, but as soon as I used it, the hair splitting returned. I contacted the company via e-mail and Elena Suslova (Customer Support) offered to send me a replacement AND a NUMBER 14 (!) Kolonok Round, which she said had the best point of all her brushes. Try them out, she said, and send back whatever you don't want. I'm not sure if Elena made this offer because she and her mates, Sergey and Vladimir are Russians or because they are Candians (or because they are a combination of both) but I was impressed.
But, a number FOURTEEN? Elena wrote: "For your detailed work Round # 14 seems the brush with a big diameter but it has a long fine point." I found that hard to believe. A freaking number 14, when a number 8 seemed to me to be oversized? The package arrived some 10 days later (it takes way too long to get stuff from our Northern neighbor, even when using Expedited Mail) and the second #7 Winter Harvest ended up being as problematic as the first. But here's the weird thing:
The big, fat number 14 is an AMAZING brush. It's a handful, but it points like a hypodermic. I can slosh my watercolor paper, filling in a HUGE SKY and then use it to paint a MITE'S EYE! And it snaps back like a mousetrap. Okay, enough bad rhyme. But I'm not kidding, it is one amazing brush. It costs a mere $72.99 U.S., an unheard of price for a humongous brush and really great price for a brush of this quality in any size.
Elena says her company continues to scout around for the perfect brush and she'll let me know if they find a number seven or eight that points like this 14. The only drawback with this big fella is that it holds a massive amount of watercolor, so I need to wipe it on a paper towel before doing details otherwise the flow is a difficult to control. In every other respect, though, this is a gem.
I've included 2 pictures of the #14. That big, fatso Hummer of a brush at the top does look unconvincing as a pointer. Trust me, the "Kolinsky Sable 1001 Round Size 14" points easily as well as a Da Vinci #3. And with this Kolonok you can lay in a stream of watercolor from New York City to Kingston, Ontario on a single refill.
In 1994, I did this interpretation of the infamous Barbie for Craig Yoe's "The Art of Barbie", which has a weird, un-Warhol Andy Warhol cover. Inside, you'll find some interesting views of the blonde American icon. If only I'd had Photoshop (or even a computer!) back then, I could have probably done a nice, crisp pic of the real McCoy pasted next to my art. That's obviously a photocopy I glued in there on my original. Kind of nice, though, all grainy like that.
PS: I checked on Amazon and you can get used copies real cheap--97 cents and up for paperback, $5.00 and up for hardcover. It's a Workman book and looks like it''s no longer in print.
1. I am busy as a bovine trying to get a batch of assignments done before next Tuesday. That's why you haven't seen much new stuff on my blog. Also why I've not responded to other Drawger's blogging. And won't be here much until around May 30th.
2. Maggie & I leave for Chicago on Tuesday, May 23rd for the National Cartoonists Society's big Reuben Weekend which happens Friday, May 26, Saturday, May 27 & Sunday, May 28. At 3:30 PM on Friday, I'll be giving a PowerPoint talk about, big surprise, Elwood H. Smith. I'm calling it "Moving Forward, Looking Back" and it's an overview of my life. I'm doing it in real time which will take 65 years. Sandwiches and soda pop will be available. I also will get to hang out with Ralph Steadman and Everett Peck, which is why I said I'd do it. Is that cool or what?
3. I'll spend my birthday flying to the Windy City, where I went to art school and lived for many years. This is a big year, the year I become a genuine Senior Citizen. So weird. Maggie just handed me my Medicare card. I guess I should ask Randy about canes and walkers & such. So weird.
Drawger Alert! Drawger Alert! Do yourself a favor and check out "3x3", a magazine dedicated entirely to Contemporary Illustration. 3x3
According to Steve Heller, who recently interviewed Charles Hively, the founder of 3x3 for AIGA, the first issue premiered in December of 2003. Man, I guess I'm more of a hermit than I thought. It was only a couple of days ago that I discovered 3x3 via the DRAWN! blog and it looks like a beauty. I haven't seen a copy in the flesh (oddly enough, the entire magazine is printed on human flesh), but I will get a copy ASAP. It may be that every other Drawgerite has seen a copy, but I'm forging ahead with this article anyhow. Illustrators and illustrator-related media need all the attention they can get.
Hively has worn many hats, including those of an Advertising Agency Art Director/Creative Director, Graphic Designer, Copywriter and Illustrator. I wrote to him for any additional information he might want to share beyond the interesting stuff in the excellent Heller interview. He wanted Drawgerites to know about the 3x3 Annual Show, which just closed for this year. They publish an annual of the best student and professional work done the previous year. Their first annual received an award in CA's Design Annual 46, and their cover featuring the art of Marcos Chin will appear in the upcoming CA Illustration Annual.
From Hively's letter:
"We're having a devil of a time getting the book on bookshelves, so this year I actually made it a special issue which is on newsstands now, same format, 6x9, 144 pages, but just added ads to this version; the annual is for sale on our web site sans ads here as well as our two previous annuals. I'd encourage every illustator to enter our show but it's a tough show and we always get some of the best judges to judge the work."
The 3x3 cover I've posted below is the upcoming issue. According to Hively, it will feature Benoît, Olaf Hajek and UK's Paul Davis. It also has a Q&A with Tomi Ungerer. 3x3 calls it their "International issue" and it'll be on newsstands in early June. Hajek did the cover and the issue will include "insightful articles", photos of Olaf and Benoît's studios and superb reproductions of their work.
You've been going about cartooning completely the WRONG WAY! You sit there, trying to draw cartoons, but it's HARD. You are often BLOCKED and can't get the drawings to turn out right and your ideas SUCK. We all know that feeling and rumor has it that the cartoonist illustrators here on Drawger have that feeling of inadequacy more than the other (more serious) artists on this blog.
Relax, Monkey is here and HELP is just around the corner.
Example 1 is a sketch my pal Elwood did a while back for the Wall Street Journal. It's pathetic. The guy can't draw hands or feet. Where's the perspective? You call those pointy things BUSHES?
See what I mean? He's wasting his time. If only Elwood would admit he needs help. Stop snickering, Buster. You, too, probably need help. Am I right? You need someone, a PRO to help you learn the TRICKS of the TRADE. You need to learn SECRETS from a MASTER. You are in luck, my friends. LOU DARVAS GUARANTEES to turn "you into a PRO!" He'll do so online, in the comfort of your own home. Within three months, you can lose your pathetic amateur status, becoming a pro in Twelve Easy Steps!
You heard me right. Elwood discovered his site a mere FIVE days ago and already I'm seeing improvement. Take a look at example 2. Now you're talking! Look at the improvement on Ronald's hands and feet. Examine the chicken's anatomy. Check out the perspective on that pizza pie!