It’s all about the process

 

I love talking to artists about the motivations behind the work that they do. It is an incredible window into who they are and what is important to them. Hearing these insights however, did not always fill me with inspiration. I would often find myself intimidated as I listened to artists describe the incredible stories that motivated their work. Listening to the deep soul searching that was involved or the unshakable need to shed light on an important issue, I would often return to my workbench and look at the pretty cars that I was painting and feel bit underwhelmed about what I was saying with my work. It became apparent that my choice of subject was purely visual.  As I thought about that it was clear that these vintage and exotic cars definitely had endless stories behind them. The military paintings had very important stories behind each one as well, however those stories were not always my primary drive behind why they were chosen to be paintings. That really came to bother me. As I dug deeper though, the answer became clear. I started by asking myself what was important to me about my work. What did I really enjoy about the painting that I was doing? All the answers to these questions led back to one thing. I am intoxicated by the process. I revel in tackling technical challenges that seem impossible. My joy was not coming from the subject but rather the actual painting process. Things began to make sense for me once I really came to this realization. I often wondered why I was comfortable painting any subject matter and didn’t prefer one over the other. It was because the process came first for me, the subject was secondary.

So what did I do with this info? Well by default, adding any self realization helps us grow. Removing that faulty filter that was nagging me about my own art motivations really allowed me to hear and interact with other artists about their work and that in turn that motivates me even more. Coming to this understanding also shows me where I could improve as an artist. Now that I understand that I tend to choose my subjects from a purely visual standpoint, I could work harder to look for subjects with stories that are in need of being told to balance things out.

It will always be the process first for me but now not only can I be comfortable with that, I can also grow from it.

Posted in Commentary

Growth involves a little pain

 

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‘You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”

What an incredible quote by the ispirationalist Jim Rohn. We have so many things in our lives that seem to buffer us, demand our attention, even seem that they have control over us. Soundly the most important thing that I have learned in my short 46 years on this planet is that we may not be able to control the things that happen to us but we are always in control of what our reaction to those things are. It is what defines us, it is what reminds us of our strength and our character. Think about that for a second. You could have the worst thing in the world happen to you and no matter what that could possibly be, you have the power at that very moment to control your response.

You may have noticed that my postings of new art has been non existent as of late. Rather there have been posts about random furniture restoration projects. As of the first of August, I have found myself for the first time in many years, trying to move my studio to a new location. As anyone knows who has spent a significant amount of time in one location. Change can often create a massive amount of chaos. This chaos is something that I have taken on as a solo project. Not one of my wiser moves but it has taught me a lot. As was quoted above, what is out of my control has given me a chance to respond.

The space I am moving into is in a building in a suburb of Boston which is great, literally minutes from the amazing art communities of South Boston, it is 20 minutes from where I am living which is also great. I now have access to a spray booth which allows me to now do all my own priming and clearing. The challenge for me is that the space is in need of some freshening up. In addition, I decided to bravely take on the task of restoring all of my studio furniture as well. A noble cause yet it has pushed off my ability to get back to painting. This has had quite a negative result on my state of mind as of late. Well negative and positive I suppose. Negative in the realization of how really ingrained my desire to produce art is tied into my happiness. The positive is ……… in the realization of how ingrained my desire to produce art is tied into my happiness.

So this is the chance for me to take Mr. Rohn’s advice right about now. As my ability to paint is packed neatly into tidy moving boxes and a list of cleaning, moving and restoring tasks still standing in the way of getting back to it, I need to stick to the things I have charge over and get through it.

More crazy art is on the way! I think it is packed in that box over there……..

 

 

Posted in Commentary

The Lace How-To

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My buddy Joe Larry Mason was asking some questions about how I worked out the stockings and lace on the ‘Beantown Beauty’ air cleaner so I thought that I would pull together a quick how-to on how I got this one done.

First step is to paint in the base flesh color for the legs. I used Createx Illustration colors and the flesh color is made up with white, a touch of scarlet and touch of Burnt Sienna.

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Second step is to create the stocking color. Simply adding a touch of black to the original flesh color gets that done. I cut out a stencil of the left leg first, This will give me the chance to get the shadows in.

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Third step is to use another cut out to paint in the stocking color of the right leg.

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Fourth step is to establish the lace. I use another cut stencil to lay out the edge of the lace.

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Now, using a bit of reference material, I use a #2 pencil to sketch out the basic lace pattern. As the design nears the edge of her legs, the patters condenses.

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Now that the basic pattern is laid out I can use the watercolor brush to paint in the lace pattern.

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Using the first left leg cut out stencil, I add a touch more black to the flesh color and shade the darker areas.

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Same color for the right leg. and then I use pure white to add a soft high lights on the top of the leg and knee cap.

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Finally, I cut a new stencil for the red in her shoes and then add a simple pin stripe to tie it all together and that is how this one came together!

 

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Posted in How-to

Mors Ex Tenebris

EAA

 

The motto of the Marine All weather Attack squadron 242. Translated it means ‘Death from the Darkness’ Nothing describes the Grumman A-6 Intruder better than the Bat’s motto. This incredible attack aircraft was in service between 1963 to 1997 and was designed as a medium all weather, carrier based attack plane. On its five hardpoints, it was capable of carrying everything from 5 inch Zuni rockets to AGM-84 Harpoon missiles to B83 nuclear bombs. The Intruder’s electronics allowed operation at any time in any weather.

 

Mors Ex Tenebris 002

 

For this painting I wanted to show the A6 operational yet also give respect to its retirement after 34 years and nearly 3 million flight hours. Showing the aircraft on the lift with the waves crashing behind just seemed right. It was always ready to go. For the markings, I chose VA-75 The Sunday Punchers, the Navy’s first A-6 squadron and the last to fly the Intruder in 1997.

 

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The seed for this painting was originally sowed by my brother in law Rob. He knew that Navy aviation was a favorite of mine and that aircraft like the F/A-18 Hornet were a regular target for my paintings. As I began to do my homework in prep for this painting, I began to really understand what the A-6 had represented and what it had really brought to the table in so many of the conflicts over the last 30 years. So with that, the painting changed from the original idea of a low level bombing run to the current portrait. As with nearly all of my paintings, I find that the research side of the work is just as fulfilling as the creation of the work itself.

Posted in Paintings

Speak softly and carry a big stick. The smoke and fire step by step

Smoke and Fire How-to

 

The job came into the studio to custom paint a rifle stock. The theme and colors were left wide open. After doing some rough sketches for ideas, I ended up with smoke and fire. Rather than do the normal realistic flames, I decided to pick something that looked like a huge, explosive fire. For all my art, I am using Createx Wicked Colors, a Richpen 213c airbrush and a Winsor Newton Series 7 watercolor brush Size 0.

 

I normally post updates of paintings on facebook. As I got things started, there was a request for a step by step on the process so I started taking pictures. What I quickly found was that it was difficult to get decent pictures as I was working. The gun had a silver metallic base and the matte black paint that I was using created a washed out glare on any of the curves. By the end it was clear that a proper How-to needed to come from a flat panel painting.

 

The panel that this painting was done on is a 3×4.5 inch piece of powder coated aluminum which I masked off the edge just to give the final painting a white border.

 

 

Next step is to paint the base color. In this case I am using AutoAir aluminum base fine.

 

 

On the rifle, I masked off basically the top half of the gun to minimize overspray then cut out the basic cloud shapes. For the flat panel, I omitted that step and just started blocking in the clouds with a very dark gray made from Detail Black and Detail White. I use the High Performance reducer when airbrushing as well, The ratio completely depends on what is needed. In this case, the cloud color needs to cover the aluminum without any detail so the ratio of paint to reducer is about 2:1.

 

 

Next a light yellow is mixed using Detail White and Golden Yellow. Again the color needed to cover so the reduction is 2:1.

 

 

It was important to get the overall forms of the clouds locked in early so for that I used a light gray made up of Detail White and Detail Black. Here more control was needed so I increased the ratio of reducer. The mix here is roughly 1:2 paint to reducer.

 

 

 

Same blocking in step was next for the fire. Here the color was a deep orange made from Detail Orange and a little Crimson.

 

 

Since the edge of the smoke is on top of the fire, I decided to finish the fire first. Using the same deep orange, I swap the airbrush for a small round watercolor brush. The paintbrush for this is nothing special. The technique here is rough on the brush so I try not to use anything nice. Basically it is just pushing the paint into the areas that will eventually be dark. While I use the same deep orange as before, I use it unreduced. This gives that dry, crumbled feel.

 

 

The next step is to blend all that paint brush work. For that I go back to the airbrush and use Detail Orange. The ultimate goal is to create the desired texture. Very often that takes several techniques.

 

 

Finally, an over reduced Crimson is used to add the darkest areas. This step is also done with the airbrush.

 

 

There are two steps that are used to bring out the hottest spots in the fire. The first step is to paint in the hot spots with the paint brush. This color is a very pale mixture of Detail White and Golden Yellow.

 

 

The next step is to push the light yellow back. For this I use a highly reduced Burnt Sienna which has a great yellow cast when pushed.

 

 

Now I repeat the same two steps again to create the hottest spots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally the fire needed something to break it up. To do that, light gray is added to the top edge of the billows. This is where the fireball is the coolest. This detail really adds a lot of form to the flames and also breaks things up.

 

 

A very light gray is used here on the outer edge to add the highlight. This color is used across the light areas of all the smoke. This color is highly reduced at about 1:10 paint to reducer. This high reduction allows for very fine control and sharp details.

 

 

A deep gray is used next to tuck in the darkest areas of the smoke. Again, the reduction here is fairly high to give more control. This image shows half of the gray applied to show the contrast of the colors.

 

 

 

Here is all of the deepest gray in.

 

The paint brush is used next with a light gray to add the highlighted edge of the smoke billows. For this higher detail work, I switch to the Winsor Newton brush. This brush holds an incredible point. I also use the Regular reducer rather than the High Performance reducer. The Regular reducer keeps the paint flowing better off the traditional paint brush.

 

 

The same light gray color is used in the airbrush next to blend the edges of the highlights.

 

 

Finally Detail black is used to clean up any mistakes in the clouds. I unmask the edge and paint in the red pinstripe and this panel is now finished!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in How-to

Oh wait, let me show you….

I’d like to say that I am getting used to the blank stare that I usually get when trying to explain my work. That of course would be a lie. The one huge advantage that I have in painting so small is that I can literally have a painting on me at all times. The cards, pictures and even the web images simply don’t give the real impact that an actual painting does. I can get in depth all I want with the details on why I paint on razor blades but it isn’t until I actually show the real thing that things start to make a little sense.

That convinced me that I needed to make sure that I was prepared. At first I would carry an unframed blade painting with me but that obviously has its problems. Bucket List

First, the edges of the painting would always start to show wear. Second, it’s just plain wrong to walk around in public with razor blades in your pocket. I decided that I need a small portable frame to show off the latest unframed piece. Basically I made a small version of the frame that I have been using on all my paintings. This one however uses a magnet in the center to hold the current painting and swap them out quickly.

 

Bucket List framed

‘Bucket List’ has been in the travelling frame a lot lately. I have a regular sized frame for it but I just love having this painting with me all the time so the big frame sits empty.

So now I can get through the blank stare stage of the conversation quicker and move on to my favorite part of showing my work which is the inevitable ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ part. More on that next time!

 

Posted in Paintings

Love Letters

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‘Love Letters’

 

Music is woven as tightly as art in my life. I grew up in an a family where playing an instrument was as normal as doing homework or riding a bike. I have actually been playing drums longer than I have been airbrushing. The lines between music and visual art have always been blurred for me. Both forms of creativity share so much. As a result, it is very rare to find me painting without music playing. Music is such an important part of my creative process I can often look at a completed painting and remember the songs that were playing during its creation.

The painting ‘Love Letters’ was a direct result of that connection between art and music. Jason Mraz is a favorite of mine and his style of music seems to get a lot of play while I am working so it seemed a natural subject to paint. I wanted the image to focus on his guitar which is the Taylor NS72ce.Taylor NS72ce

 

A beautiful guitar made with Indian rosewood and Western red cedar. I also wanted to have the letter symbols that he uses in the painting as well. The letter symbols are made up of simple geometric shapes in primary colors that spell the word ‘LOVE’. To add a visual twist to the painting, I decided to make the letters look like they were made out of glass. This was the first challenge. I needed to get some reference photos to make sure that I was able to capture the light the right way. The people at the local arts and craft stores are pretty much used to my insanity so it was no surprise to see me with a basket full of glass beads, paint and floral wire. They usually don’t even ask me any more. In the end, it was bits of tempered glass and colored Sharpie markers that did the trick. The floral wire glued to the top allowed me to position the pieces for the photo.

 

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Once the reference photos were shot it really was business as usual. The background, guitar and letters were built up layer by layer. I used a small plate of titanium as the substrate because of its incredible luster and amazing archival qualities. As I was working through the painting, I made a call to Larry’s Custom Woodworking to get the frame in process. For this painting, I wanted the frame to match the actual wood of the guitar. That meant the frame would be made of solid Indian Rosewood and the backdrop would be Western red cedar. To take it even one step further, both the frame and backdrop received the same gloss finish that the guitar gets.

 

 

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Often the music in my life will inspire a painting like this one and sometimes it is the other way around. Regardless though, there will never be one without the other in my studio.

Posted in Paintings

Good days

steve banner lGreat weekend!!

Got my daughter moved back into school and realized again that she has some really great friends around her. I had three paintings hanging in this year’s Downtown Brockton Arts and Music festival. Got to see some amazingly diverse art (glad I wasn’t judging!) and met some great people. Came home and was completely motivated to paint. I also understood again how lucky and happy I have been with the people I have met. I wouldn’t change a thing.

Things that are coming:
I am just about done with side one of the True-explosion rifle. For side 2 there was a request for a how-to so I think I might use this project for the video experiment.

Still planning on running the twitter contest. The longer I think about it, the bigger it gets 🙂

New series of paintings coming up as well. Looking to change things up a bit.

So as always, thanks for checking in, keeping track and spreading the word!

Posted in Commentary

It’s the challenge that makes us better

Eb

Eb

 

Even today as I look at the painting ‘Eb’ I can feel the frustration as if it was yesterday rather than eleven years ago.

I have been fortunate to have had an incredible working relationship with the folks over at Createx Colors. They are one of the few paint companies that have always included the needs of airbrush artists in the products that they have made. Back in the early 2000’s they began looking into launching a line of paints specifically meant for fine artists and illustrators. This paint would be offered in a more traditional array of artists colors and have a lighter consistency than the main line of paint that was currently available. I got a set of the early version to try out during development. As with any new paint or airbrush, I work through an entire painting with that new product to get a really solid feel for the good and bad characteristics. This painting was to be of a saxophone from a series of reference photos I had taken a while ago but never used.

The challenge and frustration came immediately as I realized that this version of the new paint was difficult to spray. Some colors were better than others but all were difficult. Despite this, in order to really understand the line of paint and to give accurate feedback, I was going to keep going with the painting. The struggle taught me some valuable techniques for overcoming stubborn materials. Those techniques would have never been realized if I had stayed in my comfort zone. ‘Eb’ turned out to be one of those paintings that started in frustration but really became one of my favorites. It eventually went on to win the Artist’s Magazine award at the National Association of Acrylic Painters Show in Florida.

With the years of experience in manufacturing paints that Createx had and using the feedback of artists, they went on to create one of the best multi-surface, multi-discipline paints every introduced into the market. The Wicked  and Illustration paint lines are incredible and allows me to take the techniques I have learned and amplifies them. Years later, I revisited the saxophone painting idea with ‘Crosswind’ using the new paint.

Crosswind

 

 

Posted in Paintings

And sometimes things just start to come together.

Air and Steel 1.75"x3" Wicked Colors on titanium 2011

Air and Steel 1.75″x3″ Wicked Colors on titanium 2011

Thanks to the incredibly talented folks at Sandbox Designs, my new website www.stevenleahy.com is just about up and running! During the process of supplying images and copy, I have found myself reflecting on how my career has guided itself despite my best efforts to screw it up. I would have been the last one to tell you that I would be painting grains of rice and razor blades. These things might be parlor tricks to some but the miniature work has hit such a deep and resounding chord with me. I can’t help the need to paint small and now understand that it has always been in there waiting to bust out.

The painting ‘Air and Steel‘ was a piece that would not allow me to ignore it. It really became a self portraits of sorts. Since the late 80’s, the airbrush allowed me to bridge the gap between where my art was and where I really felt it was supposed to be. During the 90’s, it was an unassuming razor blade painting that changed the way that I look at all of my art. Creating a painting now that featured the two was the natural next step.

‘Air and Steel’ began as a personal study and it was really meant to only make sense to me. What blew me away was when it began to appeal to others. Especially those outside of the airbrush community. I expected my peers in the airbrush world that were used to my miniature obsession to understand yet I wasn’t prepared for the mainstream art world to take an extra look. This little painting ended up getting juried into the Cambridge Art Association’s RED show.

With that unexpected surprise, I polished my shoes and went to the opening reception, not quite sure of how things were going to go. What I found was that the things that I was passionate about in my work, translated into that work. Others saw what was important to me. It was a solid painting first, tiny second.

That was really the reaction that I hoped for. As artists, we want to be noticed for the message more than method. When the method supports the message, then things really do start to come together.

Posted in Paintings