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.
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.
As I mentioned in my last blog, it was aviation art that helped me turn the corner. That was the work that was first noticed for me. When all that happened, I decided that I needed to push that love of aviation art. There are a few big juried shows for aviation art and it was there that I would need to get my work. The massive annual fly in at Oshkosh Wisconsin is one of those shows. I faithfully entered every year and did pretty well. The core of recognized aviation artists are a close knit group and I was the definite outsider. Add to that, I used an airbrush which for a long time in many traditional art circles had been deemed as some sort of cheat.
One goal that I had (as lofty as it seemed) was to have my work printed in Flying magazine. I sent several well constructed pleas but found little success. Over time my passion for painting planes was set aside for my passion for painting cars and we bring the story to the present.
The other day, I happened to find my name linked to an issue of Flying magazine back in 2001. Clicking the link, I found that in May of that year, they did a feature on some of the paintings from that year’s show at Oshkosh. Surprisingly, the painting ‘Bath House’ was on the top of that page.
Sometimes things get checked off the Bucket List without you even knowing!
Sometimes I slow down and try to look in the mirror to take a bit of stock in this journey I have been lucky to be on. People often have memories triggered by pictures, songs and even smells. For me, I can add seeing my old artwork to that list of triggers. Looking at a piece of art that I have done in the past acts like a time machine of memories. In some cases, I can even remember the songs that were playing in the studio as I was working on them.
Hornet High and Roger Ball, Hornet have a lot of these memories for me. I did this pair of FA-18 hornet paintings in 1997. My head is still spinning with what was happening in my life back then. I had been graduated from college for six years without a whole lot of hope of having that degree earn a living, I was married and had two young children. It really was at a point where painting pictures for a living seemed like a selfish hobby. However, something happened to my work to reinforce the path that I knew I needed to be on. This pair of Hornet paintings were received very well. Better than I had really expected. Both were accepted into the EAA juried art exhibit in Oshkosh and led to my first articles in Airbrush Action and Airbrush Magazines as well as a feature in Naval Aviation News. In addition, these two paintings became my first limited edition prints. It was clear that I needed to continue pushing.
Roger Ball, Hornet
Not only did these two paintings give me a boost of hope, they also brought me into contact with so many of the heroes that make this plane as incredible as it is. I was fortunate to meet pilots, ground crew, mechanics and even designers that made this plane live and breathe. They are memories that will live with me forever.
I am intoxicated with the creative process. There is something extraordinary when an idea takes on a life of its own and really dictates its own outcome. That was certainly the case for ‘In the Club’, the painting of a 1949 Cadillac.
This painting began life while I was visiting my friend John at his antique shop, The History Room. On the wall he had displayed a number of old license plates from various states and years. My first thought was how cool it would be to tie a vintage plate into a painting. That got my head spinning with thoughts of sanding and priming a square directly on the center of the plate for the painting. That idea immediately presented several challenges such as dealing with working on the uneven surface of the raised numbers. This idea also raised the concerns of altering an actual ’49 plate. I settled on creating a painting that would sit above the plate rather than altering the vintage piece.
The painting itself usually dominates my thoughts in the early stages of the process however with this piece, I found myself wrestling with the manner in which it would be displayed. I knew that the work needed to be suspended above the plate without damaging it. The solution came in attaching the painting to a pane of glass in the middle of the frame. The pane would be invisible and not touch the plate at all. This brought me to my friend and master woodworker Larry Rancourt of Larry’s Custom Woodworking to figure out the details of this very unique frame. I described to Larry what I was trying to achieve and he immediately took the ball and ran with it. The choice of the framing wood always goes hand in hand with the painting. Knowing it would be a vintage American car as the topic, we ended up deciding on Mahogany with an inlay of Maple.
Now that the frame was under way, it was time to turn the focus on the painting itself. This was the first time that the frame construction was put before the painting itself. I had a 1949 Massachusetts plate so I needed to find a great car to go with that plate. It didn’t take long to settle on the incredible 1949 Cadillac Club Coupe. The image for this painting came from John Filiss of Serious Wheels.com. It was the perfect image in that it showed all the beauty of the car and prominently displayed it’s rear plate which I wanted to replace with my MA plate. From there it was business as usual getting the painting done.
Once the painting was finished, it was installed in the frame. One modification that was made was that the glass that the painting was mounted on needed to be tinted. The plate was visually very powerful and needed to be muted to separate it from the painting. The skill of Diamonds Window Tinting got the pane of glass perfectly tinted.
The result of all this was a painting that literally instructed me the entire way through the process. It is without a doubt where the most successful pieces come from.
I have a friend that writes the most incredible songs. The biggest reason I find them so incredible is that she has the ability (and courage) to write songs about the things that are not so bright and shiny in our lives. Her music forces us to look within ourselves at the place that gives us pain because she knows that facing it is the only way to overcome it.
It inspired me to make the same attempt with my work. To reach inside myself and tell a story with paint that my own voice did not have the courage to tell. ’19 Seconds’ is the painting that was the result. It is all about the pain and regret of not having the courage to make a connection that is really important. Regardless of the outcome of that connection, not having the courage to even try yields far more pain and regret.
I chose the old 1980’s phone to represent my youth. It sits unconnected on a teak desk that we also had in the house as I was growing up. The frame of this painting is also solid teak to echo the painting.
Finally the title for this painting comes from the 2011 movie ‘We Bought a Zoo’. In that movie, actor Matt Damon’s character describes a philosophy that he lives by. The idea is that all he need is 20 seconds of courage with anything that needs to be done. He puts aside all doubts and fears for only twenty seconds when faced with a challenge. More times than not that is all the time that is required. Since this painting examines my lack of courage in similar situations, I named it 19 seconds. I wonder if I had only found the courage for a few seconds more how different my life might have been.
There are so many incredible ways to get our voice heard these days. As artists, we work hard to make sure that it is the art that speaks the loudest yet it is always great to get the chance to offer the ‘director’s commentary’ on a painting. To give the viewer of the work the background and inspiration that helped pull the piece into reality.
Over the past few years, I have found that social media has become an excellent way to keep my work and its progress in front of people that were interested in it. Where my website is my virtual gallery, Facebook became the visit to the studio for people. Facebook gives people a chance to follow along on a day to day basis with the painting process here. Everyone now has the chance to get involved with the work individually by leaving comments and asking questions. My blog and twitter accounts did not find their place as fast as the website and Facebook did however. It involved taking a step back and looking at the big picture at the strengths of each to help find their place.
This blog is now going to be the place to get that director’s commentary on the paintings that I am producing. Eventually it will be the spot where you can come if you see a painting that strikes you and get an in depth description about how it came to be. This blog will also allow for comments and questions to get even more information on the works.
Finally the twitter account will be the place for instant updates and thoughts about the industry. Tweets will allow people to know when something new is happening on the easel. In the coming months there will be a special giveaways to help boost awareness of both this blog and of the twitter account.
On this Sunday morning though, I need to start pulling together the materials for the Twitter giveaway! Stay tuned for the details!!
Easily one of my favorite commissioned paintings to date is the painting for American Anchor. The job parameters were wide open. Boston skyline with a widow washing squeegee wiping a path clear in the image.
All I was told was that it needed to be on a razor blade. Knowing that the company was based here in Massachusetts and specialized in installing anchor systems for high rise window washing gondolas, helped to bring things together quickly. The result was the was the Boston skyline with a widow washing squeegee wiping a path clear in the image.
After finishing this painting, I found that there was still a personal need to revisit the Boston skyline as a topic. It took some time but I eventually settled on a view of Boston from the Longfellow bridge. I love this view of the city because it shows all of Back Bay including the Hatch Shell. I also decided to show the scene during the fall season to really feature everything that New England has to offer.
The painting would be my fourth industrial landscape and while some techniques were already hashed out like the development of the water from ‘Mors Ex Tennebris’ and the breakdown of the buildings from ‘Through Sabine’s Eyes’, I was still anxious to develop some of the shortcomings of those same techniques. For example, in the American Anchor painting of Boston, I tried a scratching technique that was hopefully going to allow me to get some very fine details. What I found was that the paint that I was using hand a slightly rubbery surface tension. That caused it to pull larger amounts of paint up rather than simply create thin lines. With ‘Longfellow Fall’ I was able to take that and mix in a reworkable illustration paint with my normal colors. This allowed me to incorporate the scratching technique successfully this time around.
Mors Ex Tennebris
Through Sabine’s Eyes
Each painting has to be a step forward. Even the smallest move forward compounds with the next making each painting better. There are mistakes and failures in every painting, it is what we take from those shortcomings that created the successes in future works.
The next series of paintings to come have their steps forward in the presentation more than the actual art. I truly love painting incredible cars and this new series will tie together a bit of the actual history of these cars. Stay tuned!!
Yesterday was a fantastic day. I was invited by my good friend and incredible artist Keith Hanson to share a space with him at the 3rd annual Wounded Vet’s Run at Suffolk Downs in Boston. Simply being there was a once in a life time opportunity in light of the Boston Marathon bombings. The Boston and Watertown Police were honored right along side of the Vets and it was truly a day to remember. Keith donated a custom painted POW helmet and I donated a custom painted dog tag. There were literally hundreds of other donated items on the raffle tables which also showed me that despite the acts of senseless cruelty, there are many, many more acts of kindness in this world.
So I suppose that you are wondering how Lewis and Clark fit into all of this. Well, it is always interesting to me to see the reactions that people have to my new work. However, in choosing the path of a style of art that is not understood and rarely believed, I have learned that my marketing plan needs to be as unique as the artwork itself. I tried various methods of talking to people that stopped. Some I just let browse, some I jumped right in explaining all the details and methods. One reaction that I found most common was that people assumed they were photographs. That is certainly an honor and really one of the benchmarks I set for myself when painting however, it sort of backfires when someone just passes by assuming they are photos. One very nice lady even smiled at me as she was walking by and actually said, ‘Lovely work, my husband used to be a photographer.’
So here I am this morning sort of like Lewis and Clark mulling over which direction to be taken in the dark. The marketing goals have evolved (again) to closely look at what will allow the true details of my work to speak for themselves.
My hope is that everyone is enjoying the first day of a very happy and healthy 2013.
With the New Year, it is fitting that this blog entry is about change. We are creatures of change and adaptation. This is how we grow and evolve. As a young art student, my number one fear was not being able to find my artistic voice. I was very concerned that my art would blend into the crowd and never be unique. Change is a powerful friend of the creative process. It forces us to look outside the boundaries of what we already know and it forces us to take chances. For me it was simply stumbling across the request to paint something small that changed the course of my creative path. Granted, it has not been a particularly easy path, but the voice is so loud, it cannot be ignored.
Listen to what your artistic voice is telling you. Feed it with knowledge, practice and challenges and it will reward you a hundred times over.
With that, my artistic voice is now calling me again. I’ll be posting updates of all the new paintings for 2013 on the facebook page and as always, thanks for checking in!!