Richard Downs
March 2012
Looking Back
"Looking Back" | Acrylic on Birch
This is a recent assignment for Steven Banks, Design Director at Los Angeles Magazine. Steve called me and some other illustrators to create the art for a special issue of essays exploring race relations in Los Angeles since the Los Angeles riots 20 years ago this month. Steve has been a big supporter of my work for the last 20 years and took notice of my recent acrylic and oil paintings and called for a painting for this special issue. Steve wanted to show a different side of my work and I was a very enthusiastic, "Right on!" 

This is an illustrated essay by writer, Erin Aubry Kaplan. Erin reflected on her childhood in 1972 while being bused to a very white school in Westchester from her home in very black South Central Los Angeles, it was a touching and unique perspective from this very successful contemporary writer.

Steve mentioned that the section opener had not been assigned yet so I took the opportunity  to create some designs that spoke to race relations in Los Angeles, I didn't get the cover so it will be fun to see who landed it! 
Thank you for the fun assignment, Steve!
"Looking Back" | Acrylic on Birch | 6x20"
Detail | I wanted to show the memory of the bus as a murky collage of figures.
Section opener designs | Uncommissioned
"Looking Back" Designs
Steve suggested that we take the sketch and stretch it across the page and include more bus windows. Good call.
I took the above idea and thought that it would look look cool to show that this person was blossoming under these challenging conditions. No go.
Secret Garden
"Secret Garden" | Acrylic and Oils on Birch panel | 41x52"
I landed this private commission after a couple had seen my,  "The 10 Senses" painting at a benefit auction for Trails & Vistas in Truckee,  California. They went on to purchase a few of my works on paper and a few months ago they contacted me and said, "We want a big painting in your style for our bedroom".  Cool!, but I had no idea what they were after. This couple is environmental, they have a fabulous Koi pond and enjoy specimen gardening.  With a bit of verbal direction I threw together some ideas to get us started and the overall response to my sketches was, "We love the Hummingbird and the Dragonfly". That was it, I worked out some redesigns and with some back and forth we agreed on the final concept and the size.

With the final drawing approved I had just finished the easy part. I designed this piece on 8x11" sheets of paper and when I enlarged it to 52" I was shocked when the Hummingbird stretched out to around 2 feet tall. This 3" designed bird was now magnified to the physical size of a young Condor. Everything at this level of scale was new to me. Wings, feathers and texture, the entire painting was a learning process and I had a blast making it for them.  I am not a traditional easel painter and I have always painted flat on a table surface like I am drawing with a brush. This piece was so big that I needed to tape foamcore bumpers on my studio cabinets to keep the sides from getting beat up during the process of rotating it around to paint different areas. My arm wasn't even long enough to hit the center and many times I found myself standing on my tippy toes trying to achieve the correct painting angle to get certain areas rendered. It was a fabulous project and it pushed every bit of my aesthetic and it also maxed out a manageable scale of work in my current 10x30' studio. I am now totally stoked to be moving into my new studio that can handle any level of scale without me backing into things and putting bumpers on my cabinets.
Detail 18x17"
Detail 15x15"
Detail 16x14"
First round of designs. I threw the kitchen sink at it to see what would stick.
Approved design

Transferring the design to the board

In progress

In progress with the sky unpainted.

"The 10 Senses" | Acrylic on Birch | 8x8"
My new studio waiting to be painted this month. Gwyn's studio is behind that back wall.

Johnny, a miniature Donkey. We get to keep Johnny for a month. He is being used to eat blackberry bushes and he seems depressed about that. I am going to get him some decent Donkey food to lift his spirits!

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