Paint Slathered With Brushes On Surfaces
There is so much beauty out there. When I take in all the beauty, I have to respond. I do a lot of different things. I paint. I play trumpet. I write essays. I write poetry. I compose music.

This is my Art blog. You can look around and read my thoughts about the painting you are viewing.

I enjoy interaction, so please feel free to comment. If you like your visit here, consider joining the site.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Trane 6662x8909 DigiMarc
I had so much fun creating this painting. I purposely used Black and White photo references so that I could employ an invented color scheme. I picked a complimentary scheme of Magenta and lime green. I used these unnatural colors in the skin-tone to create mood and atmosphere. I over emphasized wrinkles in the forehead and cheeks to create an arrow pointing to the left. Coltrane was a musician who always had this forward moving momentum, I used the wrinkles to pronounce this here.

In the execution of this piece, I painted directly onto the canvas without a preliminary sketch, which is like walking the high wire without a net. I had profound spiritual encounter while doing this. I pre-saw the entire painting on the blank white canvas. I would push in a brushstroke at the folds of the ear and without measuring would lay-in the lash of the far receeding right eye. I saw the complete painting beforehand, so all it was a matter of doing was connecting all the dots, as I saw them.

As I said this was my first painting in six years. When I was painting before, I was studying out the principles of the Fibonacci or Golden Means. As I painted this I noticed the painting was falling into these compositional guidelines quite naturally.

Golden Calipers In Action
In the Photo is a Golden Means caliper that I use to measure highpoints. I built it from wood scraps. When I painted this, I didn’t use any measuring I just laid the painting in. The width of this painting is 36’’ wide. The calipers can stretch to well beyond 4 feet.

I painted this back in 1980. It marked a return to painting. I had left painting at age 14, when I discovered the trumpet. I had already been painting professionally for three or four years. The trumpet kabonged me on the head. I chased after it, with wreckless abandon for six years. Two years before, I had a brief period of time when I played 20 hours a day. I stopped going to my classes at NIU and fell asleep with horn near my lips. I woke up and started playing for the rest of the day. This wacky schedule continued for a little over a month.  Needless to say, the skill level shot through the roof. My hand, fingers, and song where completely unified without the second thought, the flinch that used to accompany. I learned things on the trumpet that would have taken years to grasp.

Hot Potatoes

I find it extremely difficult to be a cross-disciplinary artist. Music and Art are two hot potatoes, that I had to juggle. I couldn’t hold one for very long without the other becoming extremely jealous. They are like two love interests, high-demand loves that require high maintenance. This has worked at times, to deleterious effect with a negative spin for my career. It’s hard to focus when you are spread thin, I cannot do things with half passion, I have to jump all the way in, sink or swim.

A good portion of this was painted during an extended hospital stay at Beth Israel Hospital. I had two major surgeries during a six month period. I stayed for 5 of those 6 months, derailed from the trumpet. I turned back to my other love, the paint brush and canvas.

My surgeon at the hospital happened to be Billy Strayhorn’s nephew. Billy was Duke Ellington’s writing partner. He wrote much of Ellington’s library. Earl, the surgeon-nephew a former alto saxophonist who gave up playing for medical studies, met Coltrane in his youth. When I first had the painting delivered to my hospital room, Earl decided to check in on me, not aware of the painting in my room. He peaked his head in and shouted,”Coltrane!” He woke me up.

Over the years, various people that knew Trane (who died in 1967), people that I was now playing with, would see the painting and be brought to tears. Something in common to a few – they told me that the color choice for the shirt’s stripes was spot on. I had many opportunities to play with Raphael Garrett, who was on several of Trane’s later recordings. The painting acted as a link to legendary Jazz past through Raphael and another dear friend, bassist Carrol Crouch, who lived with me when times were rough. Garrett and Crouch both taught me much beyond conversation about being a person of fullness, with a passion and zest for life.

Carroll had a rough life. He did time in prison. He told me about his extended stays in solitary confinement. He resorted to nonviolent protest as a means of breaking that racism spirit around him. He wouldn’t talk or eat. For that the guards beat him, threw him into the box to break him. I’m now leaking saline as I remember these good friends.

I also remember others that have passed on, and some that are still alive. It seems I always had bassists and drummers that I really connected with. It was more than just music, they were good friends. Bassist Fred Thompson (deceased), Bassist Harrison Bankhead (alive), Robert Shy (alive), Drummer Wilbur Campbell (deceased), not to forget the pianists and other instrumentalists: Jody Christian (recently deceased), Willie Pickens (very much alive), Saxophonists Fred Anderson and Wardell Reece, (trumpeters Billy BrimField and Ameen Muhammed (who was a student of mine, but was also a close friend through hard times in my own life) and then there’s my very close friend and mentor Andy Goodrich.

I have one funny story about Andy Goodrich. I was in his band as a sideman. I occasionally employed him on my sextet gigs at places like the South Shore Jazz Festival. Andy was about 35 years my senior.

One time we played in Columbus, Ohio. Andy informed me that he had to make some trims for his budget. He told me: “ Muheeks, I’m forced to make adjustments so I can pay you decently (Whew, I’m not the trim, I still got the gig!) I will have to say that you’re a senior citizen to the airline people, so that I can get a discount. I thought about and I began to worry. I did have a bunch of premature grey, but I thought I would get into trouble with the airlines. I had to maintain all coolness and act as if they wasn’t a problem. I was a jazz musician, after all.

I stayed calm and collected until we got to the check-in line, which was very long. As we waited, I started to get noticeably worried. We made it to the baggage counter. Andy hands over the ticket paper work. I’m thinking I’ll be arrested, and thrown in jail. Say goodbye to freedom. I thought they would grill me under a spotlight with repeated questioning. For sure, I’ll have to take a lie detector test.

Nothing happens. I get my tickets and continue on to catch up to the rest of the band (They were all viejitos, a bunch of old guys). When we sat waiting at the gate, I asked Andy what happened, why there didn’t seem to be a problem. He said: “What are you talking about?” At that point, Willie Pickens starts breaking into laughter, leading the rest of the band. I walked away, red-faced, thinking of a way to get back at Andy.

Oh yeah, I’m talking about a painting. This piece is a link to history for me. I showed Ravi Coltrane (Trane’s son) a photo of the painting. He was playing in a recording studio down the hall from where I was at, in Manhattan.

I have had numerous offers to purchase this, several thousands of greenbacks, but I turn them down because I enjoy the painting so much. However, some day someone will make that ca-ching that’ll make me sing. At that point, painting and I will part company.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Kathy's Demo

For your interest, I'm posting this demo. I had a lot of fun working with Kathy. Kathy is a fellow artist and photographer. She and I both belong to the same arts group. Because of her photography background, she knows how to pose and has quite a flair at it. Look at that left pinky. When she took her position for this, it was the last of several poses. She posed, as depicted here but, at first, without extended pinky. Then she stuck out her little finger, and I said, "Hold it!" I immediately knew I had a winner of a pose.

The Drawing
Prelimanary drawing for "Kathy"
Charcoal on Mylar
24" x 18" 

This is one of a few drawings that I did of my model, Kathy. Like I stated earlier, I like this pose because of that little finger. The drawing is done in charcoal on double frosted Mylar, which I gessoed on the back side.

Mylar vs. Traditional Paper
Mylar, along with Denril and other polyester papers, is becoming my favorite substrate because of its flexibility for varied uses. Polyester paper has a shelf life that far outlives traditional paper and canvas. I use it for drawing and painting in most media, mostly for painting sketches. I can use it for almost all media. Drawing in graphite, charcoal, even silverpoint (when treated with the appropriate ground), work especially well. I use a suitable fixative to protect the drawing if I decide to continue it as a painting.

Mylar is less expensive than canvas so I can feel free to toss a drawing that isn't working out. But if the original is really a strong piece, I mount the finished work on a board with traditional cradling on the back side.

When I paint on location in a conference setting, I use the Mylar mounted onto a board. This resolves transporting issues that arise if the painting is sold. I just whip out a large mailing tube, roll the dried, unmounted work and insert it into the tube. I let the buyer take care of framing when they get back home.

Stage One
Stage one

I transfered the drawing onto canvas. I did so because I wanted the texture, feel, and bounce of stretched canvas. First, I laid in an olive toned imprimatura (an initial paint stain) to bring the white of the canvas to a middle tone. My charcoal drawing laid over the dried olive tone, has been tamed with a medium of special aged oil diluted with a tripled distilled turpentine.

The turps I use is not the horrible variety sold in hardware and art stores. That stuff has so many impurities in it because of the way it's made. It's no wonder so many are up in arms against its use. The triple distilled that I use is a different thing altogether. It is a much purer form. It even smells like pine trees (which is where it comes from). I use it and Spike Lavender for the painting process and making my mediums, but I leave brush cleaning for the mineral spirits. (By the way, those petroleum-based solvents that many "authorities" are saying are better for you because they are odorless, are far worse for your health than good, triple-distilled turpentine. They are promoted on behalf of the petro industry. Turpentine is an ingredient in many cosmetic industry products. It's also in Vick's Vapo Rub. Just thought I'd vent a little. Must be those mineral spirit fumes.)

Here I use the charcoal like I might use a french painting technique called grisaille (griz-eye), building up my darks over which I transition into paint. I build up the layers until I get the contrast I desire. Usually, I go directly into grisaille with paint, but sometimes I enjoy the immediacy and character of vine charcoal.

Stage Two
Stage Two

At this point I've switched over to an Italian technique called Verdaccio, which is an underpainting in greens. Verdaccio works really well when portraying redheads with porcelain skintones.

This method goes way back to the early years of painting (the 1400's). The concept is this: drain the blood out of the creature (by reducing skin color to green-tones) and reintroduce the blood later, as you add fleshtones. The green underlayer balances out with the reintroduced flesh color.

I see this as very biblical, because I am reminded of a bible passage that says "the life of the creature is in the blood". So I, as creator of the world within my canvas, take away the life, then resurrect it afterwards.

(Do you remember the painting shows of William Alexander, the predecessor to Bob Ross? He would always say with his dutch accent, "You are the almighty creator for this painting. If you vant red there, you FIRE it right in, on top of the Magic Vite!"

I used to cringe when I heard him talk that way, although I understood what he was trying to say. I am in no way "the almighty". I do not go for the idea that we are gods - I am a creation, not The Creator. This is the closest I ever plan on getting to the role of almighty, but with that said, we are created in His image, right? We share a desire to create. . .and license to destroy. We are patterned after the Lord who giveth and taketh away, so in our creative world we can exercise that.)

Stage Three
Stage Three

At this stage of the game with a reintroduction of flesh color. I've started to restore the blood back into the resurrected Kathy . . .and boy, is she relieved!

Stage Four
Stage Four

Here I've added an invented background based off of a few image references found on the web. I changed the composition and color of my references, to complement my ongoing color scheme. I am tweaking things to refine and unify the contrast ratio.

Contrast ratio is a ratio, (measured in value steps) established between the darkest dark and the lightest light on any object in an environment. It may be a ratio of three steps between darkest and lightest, or two or four. That ratio remains consistent with all objects under the same lighting in that environment.  When this is adhered to in a painting, the overall light treatment becomes balanced and unified. This produces atmosphere. Different types of light sources create corresponding ratios. For example, a spotlight will produce a much different spread of values than north-light entering a room on an overcast day.

Stage Five
Stage Five

I feel that the contrast ratio works ok here, but it still needs some fidgeting. I will add to this post when I resolve the painting to completion. I will adjust the area behind the treasured pinky, since she was originally painted in front of a blank wall background. Right now it is unresolved.  When  I am done that should bring some flair to the overall gestalt. If you compare this to Stages One and Three, you'll see how the background change altered the left hand treatment. Painting is an ongoing process of balancing elements within a format. When one thing is altered, other elements need adjustment.

You'll notice wooden bars attached to the top and bottom of the canvas. They are attached to separate the canvas from the top and bottom canvas tray holders. This is so I don't "pull my strokes" when I am painting. Pulled strokes happen when the canvas holders obstruct vertical strokes. These pulled strokes lose the momentum and rhythm that bring flash to a painting. Also notice the C-clamp attached to the top wooden bar. That holds the painting so that it dries properly without a cloth cover clinging to the surface. I tilt the canvas forward for the drying stage between sessions. (The cover is added at the end of the session to protect against any dust accumulation.)

This pose was the last of several, and the one that we decided to explore. Kathy is such a natural as a model (and quite a beauty as well). She instinctively knows what kind of pose to move into. I captured several photos from these modeling sessions. I am planning some silverpoint drawings based on the poses from these sessions. I will definitely use Kathy for further paintings.