Archive for June, 2010

William Stout Painting Lesson #1

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I recently finished a complex oil painting. I took digital snapshots throughout the painting process. I thought some of you might find it interesting to see how I develop and paint a picture.

The subject here is animals. I am co-curating an exhibition for the Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale. Over the last several years this little museum at the top of a hill overlooking the entire San Fernando Valley has consistently had better exhibitions than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), mostly due to the vision of their chief curator, Joan Adan. The museum is currently hosting an exhibition of Goya’s Caprichos etchings.

We needed an image to represent the exhibition, which we’ve entitled Menagerie – The Art of Animals. This exhibition will display works featuring animals by great contemporary artists as well as animal artists from the past. Some of the artists included (besides myself) are Drew Struzan, Iain McCaig, Peter Brooke, Marc Davis, Charles R. Knight, Harry Rountree, Charles Russell, Edward Detmold and Paul Bransom. The exhibition will debut on August 19. Sign up on the Museum’s mailing list for a free invitation to the opening.

This image will serve a few functions. It will be the exhibition’s catalogue cover, the invitation mailer image and the show’s billboard image. The original painting will also serve as the centerpiece of the show.

I wanted something with strong silhouettes. I am always inspired by the beautiful silhouette designs and superb storytelling abilities of children’s book creator and former Disney story man Bill Peet. The Peet print I have framed in my dining room (the long animal piece pictured in this Journal entry) is an excellent example of his fine talents (you can obtain this great print from the same place I bought it: Every Picture Tells A Story. Their website is www.everypicture.com). Even at the small size reproduced here, everything in the picture reads quite well thanks to Bill’s terrific design sense.

I always begin with thumbnail sketches. I usually like to do several, exploring different solutions to the visual problem at hand.

In this case, however, I didn’t have much time. The Museum catalogue’s designer, Randy Dahlk, needed the image ASAP. Luckily, I hit upon a concept with my first thumbnail, pictured in this entry.

The thumbnail is pretty crude, so I might have to explain what you are looking at. The image is of a chimpanzee facing the viewer. He has a canvas and easel in front of him. The back of the canvas faces the viewer. The chimp is in the act of painting what is in front of him (you, most likely). He is being watched by a variety of creatures from the past and present. Each animal has a different reaction to the chimp’s painting. I call this picture Menagerie – Everybody’s a Critic.

The words surrounding this thumbnail sketch are a list of potential animals to include in the picture.

Check back tomorrow to see which ones made the cut!

A wonderful image by the great Bill Peet

A wonderful image by the great Bill Peet

Menagerie Thumbnail

Menagerie Thumbnail

AL WILLIAMSON 1931-2010

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

After a long, grueling battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, the great Al Williamson has left us for a better, kinder world.

When I say “great”, I mean it. In Al’s case, he was triple great: a great artist, a great collector and as anyone who knew him can verify, he was also a great human being and loyal friend.

Al long had a reputation as being the nicest guy in the (comics) business (I have never, ever heard anyone utter a cross word in regards to Al; in this business, that speaks volumes about Al and how he was perceived and loved by people). I can attest that he was, as well as being generous to a fault. If he liked you (and Al liked most folks — except for businessmen and a few unscrupulous art dealers we both knew), you would almost never leave from a visit to Al’s house without his insisting you take an original strip of his (usually a Secret Agent X-9/Corrigan). And you always got to pick which strip you wanted from a stack of gorgeous originals!

Al had a phenomenal art collection. He loved to compete as a collector with his best friend Roy Krenkel. They played a constant friendly game of one-upmanship. Sometimes they would try to prank each other, claiming they had just found some fabulous old book at The Strand Bookshop, just chock full of magnificent color reproductions by one of their favorite artists. If Roy believed the tale about this imaginary collectible, then Al would begin to give it some fantastic embellishment. “…and you won’t believe how much I paid for it — FIVE BUCKS! And — it’s signed!” “Williamson — you bastard!”

I can’t recall the first work I ever saw by Al. It might have been the Edgar Rice Burroughs illustrations for Canaveral Press, collaborations with his pal Reed Crandall (whom Al helped and cared for when no one else would). It might have been his Flash Gordon comics from around the same time (mid 1960s). It might have been an old E. C. comic. Perhaps it was his work for Creepy and Eerie (most likely). Whatever it was, as soon as I saw his work I was hooked. His figures possessed an exotic grace and elegance that are still unmatched by any other comic artist.

Al loved movies and was deeply influenced by them. An expensive habit, he used to collect films in the pre-video days. He ran them at home on his 16mm projector. Al had a big movie still collection and often used the likenesses of his favorite movie stars in his comic book stories. He was especially fond of Stewart Granger, probably in part because Al looked like a handsome cross between Granger (Granger’s Scaramouche was one of Al’s favorite movies) and Bruce Dern. Al’s incandescent grin could light up a room — and often did.

Al, in turn, influenced the movies. When I first saw the end of Star Wars, I blurted out, “Those are Al Williamson guys!” Han and Luke looked as of they had stepped right out of one of Al’s E. C. science fiction stories. It was no coincidence that George Lucas chose Al to draw the Star Wars syndicated newspaper strips.

I first met Al in 1972 at the first E. C. Convention in New York City. We were instant friends upon meeting; it felt as if we’d known each other all our lives. We both loved to laugh and we were deeply passionate about the same things in life: great art, great comics, beautiful women, collecting, dinosaurs — if there was something Al loved, it was probably something I loved, too.

Al felt completely at home with guys from my generation. He truly lamented not being been born twenty years later. He felt isolated from his own group. He and his own generation did not share the same basic values. Al was a blue jeans kind of guy from a generation that wore suits. The 60s embracement of Peace and Love? That was Al. Even Al’s body type (lean) was at odds with what was attractive to most women his age (big, brawny and muscular). We took Al into our multi-cultural family with love and full acceptance. He thrived in our welcoming companionship.

Al almost immediately invited me to spend the weekend with his family out in the Norman Rockwell-like town of Calicoon. He invited legendary underground comix artist Jack Jaxon, too. I drove Jack and his girlfriend out to Al’s home where we all had a spectacular time.

I’ll never forget when I saw the Prince Valiant original on Al’s studio wall.

“Oh my god, Al!” I exclaimed. “You’ve got The Bridge!” Al beamed, knowing he owned the most famous Prince Valiant Sunday page of all time. Al always took great pleasure in sharing his incredible art collection. Any great artist I would name, Al would take out an amazing — if not perfect — example of their work and show it to me. He would always laugh at my shock.

As I mentioned, Al loved dinosaurs. It was Al who coined the term “good lizard man”. That term referred to an artist who was good at drawing dinosaurs. “Oh, Zdenek Burian, “ Al would say. “He’s a good lizard man.” We were both crazy about the work of paleoartist Charles R. Knight, the man whose paintings of dinosaurs inspired King Kong and Fantasia. Years later, I was happy to be able to give Al an original lithograph of a Brontotherium by Knight.

I organized a “Good Lizard Men World Tour” just so Al, Mark Schultz and I could get together more frequently on someone else’s dime. Al only made one or two of the conventions, however. He had fallen out of love with travel and mostly just wanted to spend time at home with his loving and devoted wife Cori.

The last time I saw Al was at the 2000 Comic-Con International that hosted the final big E. C. Reunion. Al and I used that opportunity to spend a lot of that week together. We sat together with his family at the Awards Banquet. Al was truly shocked and incredibly touched to receive a Hall of Fame Award. When I took Al aside later and privately told him that his son had tears in his eyes when Al was presented with his award, Al’s own eyes began to well up. That meant even more to Al than receiving the award.

It was at that Comic-Con that Al took me aside and confessed a fear that was beginning to dominate his thoughts.

“Bill; I’m starting to forget things.”

“Al — we’re ALL starting to forget things; we’re getting older!”

“No; I mean REALLY forget things…”

Al looked frightened. I tried to ease his mind by trying to make light of both our memories but I could see how troubled and upset he was.

Like his close friend Roy Krenkel, Al Williamson was one of the world’s greatest repositories of knowledge regarding representational art. How horribly ironic that Al would have that rare accumulation of knowledge slowly and insidiously plucked from his mind bit by bit, fact by fact, love by love. The living treasure that was Al’s memory was being looted on a daily basis by that awful disease.

I believe it was Al who introduced me to my friend Mark Schultz. Al had given Mark the official Al Williamson Seal of Approval. He had two phrases he used in this regard: “He’s one of the Good Guys!” or “You’ll love him; he’s a sweetheart!” Mark received both accolades.

Mark proved himself over and over to be worthy of Al’s assessment. Throughout the past several years Mark visited with Al nearly every month (partly to give Al’s wife Cori a much-needed break), even after Al had forgotten who Mark was. Mark and Al’s mutual friend, Steve Kammer usually came with Mark to visit Al and Cori, as well as showing up often on his own to assist Al and Cori, as did a fine network of good friends. Thank you, Mark, Steve and company, for your unflagging kindnesses and generosity toward Al and Cori.

With the passing of Roy Krenkel, Frank Frazetta and Al Williamson, it feels to me as if an era has ended. Although the three of them have left us physically, their work will continue to serve as an inspiration for legions of artists and fans of good art for many decades to come.

And as much as I love Al’s fantastic work (which I do), I feel even more privileged to have known and loved the man himself. Al Williamson was both a sweetheart and one of the Good Guys.

I’ve missed you these past several years, Al. It gives me comfort, however, to know that you are finally at peace, my friend.