Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wild Bill Killed Again, This Time On Watercolor Paper

August 25, 2016
   It pains me to admit this, but I pushed the cover concept too far on the Wild Bill painting. I had some loose, spontaneous passages going and I systematically smothered them. Here is the underpainting:

"Wild Bill Underpainting"

 Very respectable start.  Nice and loose. I followed this with a first pass on the figure and it had some nice little passages in it.

"Wild Bill First Pass"

  The gun smoke seems airy and light and the painting is alive. The problem with this one, for me, was that his face was too narrow and the smoke around his mid-section was a little odd (ending abruptly at his lapel for example) and I thought it needed work. So I took another pass at it.

"Wild Bill Second Pass"

       Expanded smoke across lapel. Decent Face. The gun is better, but I should have kept this version of his hand, because, well, I flat out ruined it:

"Wild Bill Final"

  I had a life drawing instructor at the University of Arizona who come around to see what each student was doing and he often would yell out, "Platypus hands!" when he saw egregious attempts at drawing hands too fat. I can hear Mr. Scott yelling this at this painting. For some reason the smoke seems leaden, not light and airy like it was in the under painting. Wild Bill's expression went from formidable to flat out worried. Now the title should be "Why Is Wild Bill Stressed Out?!"

The Verdict
   In the end it's the little things that killed it. The hand, the overworked face. If I had a better sketch to start with I wouldn't be wing-dinging it so much at the end. And that's what I think killed the piece.

"Show me a man who cannot bother to do little things and I'll show you a man who cannot be trusted to do big things."
—Lawrence D. Bell (no relation)

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wild Bill Advances Final

August 24, 2016
   This morning, I did something I've never done before. I rushed to finish the Wild Bill cover concept, finishing at around 9:15 and drove into work to have it scanned. As I drove and looked at it drying in the passenger seat, I began to get sick to my stomach with the realization that I had pushed it too far. My last minute swirls of smoke killed the spontenaity of the original and I decided to not scan it but wait for lunch to give it another go. During numerous meetings, I kept glancing at it, trying to figure out how to save it. Here is the mush version:

"Wild Bill Mush"

   At lunchtime, I washed out the swirls and gave it one more pass on the weak areas: left side of face, hair, sash, fingers, gun barrel and the pistol in his left hand. Finished at two and brought it back to the office.

"Wild Bill Advances"

Ended up with a different facial expression, although it more accurately portrays how Mrs. Buffalo Bill described him when they met at a dance:

 Wild Bill was a "mild-apprearing, somewhat sad-faced man," who "bent low in a courtly bow." 
—Louisa Fredericii Cody

Even A Blind Dog Finds An Acorn Once In A While

August 24, 2016
   I once had a blind dog named Apache. Loved that dog. Here we are goofing at our old house on MacKenzie in 1986. She was a bit of a ham. But, then, so am I. 

The bull horns are a nice touch. Love the look on Apache's face. In reality I lifted her up on my grandfather's saddle and she really didn't like it up there and wanted to jump down, thus the over-the- top of the glasses look, not unlike the big bad wolf talking to Little Red Riding Hood.

   Apache was a talented dog. She loved to chase a tennis ball and would drop one at my feet for hours on end. I didn't teach her to do this little game, my brother-in-law did, before he gifted me the dog and left for Kansas.

   Sometimes I would fake like I was going to throw the ball and she would jerk her head in the direction of the throw, then quickly realize I was faking and come back and if I held on to it, she would get a real wolf look and lower her head as she advanced on me. Somewhere, I've got pictures of this. Why?

   Well, I was contacted by Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top to come up with script ideas for an MTV video (they were just then taking off) and the boys had the mega-hit Eliminator album out and the record company was ready to pay big bucks to put all the hits on video. My concept was to put Apache on a dark, two-lane highway out on a lonely stretch of desert (Carefree Highway west of I-17 towards Lake Pleasant) and have her come towards the camera real slow, right on the center-line stripe, and then I would move the ball to the right and left, and she would follow the ball, but it would look like she was scoping out the desert highway, looking for prey. Then I would throw the tennis ball high and long (out of sight of the camera) and Apache would spin and run off into the darkness after the ball. Cut to the intro to "Sharp Dressed Man, " or, "She's Got Me Under Pressure." On each verse and chorus, the wolf would reappear and do variations on the head fake.

   Man, I was stoked and Apache was ready for her closeup.

   Alas, Billy and the boys hooked up with an award winning director who steered them towards Penthouse Pets at a gas station and, if memory serves me correctly, they did all right with that premise.

   Still, I think Apache as a wolf in a ZZ Top video would have been damn cool. Anyway, it sure looked cool in the storyboards in my mind.

"Once in a while even a blind dog finds an acorn."
—Old Vaquero Saying

Wild Bill Advances

August 24, 2016
   On the third phase of possible Hickok cover art. Got out on the road at six and got in a brisk walk up Morningstar. Saw some cool sunrise shot which I'll post later. Got back to studio and bailed in at seven. Did some excavation on the face. His left eye is still a tad too close to nose, need to stretch socket out to the right. Locked down forward hand and added smoke along bottom by actually removing paint with a wet paper towel. That tweak gave me a new title: 

"Wild Bill Advances Through the Smoke."

   I'm avoiding the left hand because that is a difficult angle to draw a hand holding a pistol (that's why there is such heavy smoke in that area. How convenient!)

   Knuckled down and "finished" at 8:40. Now to get dressed and go into the office and scan this sucker. It's big: 17.75 X 24 inches, which won't fit in the scanner. Robert Ray tacks it up to the wall next to his desk and shoots a photo with the True West camera, then that is downloaded into photoshop and sent to Dan The Man to see if he can make a cover out of it.

   Finished artwork to follow.

"Art is certainly not a pursuit for anyone who wants to make money. There are ever so many other ways."
—Robert Henri

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wild Bill In Progress, Part II

August 23, 2016
   Went home for lunch and put in the figure of Wild Bill in the big gun smoke prepped scene which I started this morning:

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill In Progress No. 4"
(Yes, that is a bottle of Pellegrino water, at top right.)

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill In Progress No. 4.5"

   These are not technically "whip outs" because I started this morning and did a one-hour-session, then came home for lunch and did another one-hour session. The trick now is to bring out some areas but leave the rest alone. Wish me luck.

"I would be willing to take my oath on the Bible tomorrow that I have
killed over a hundred, a long ways off."
Wild Bill, as quoted by Henry M. Stanley

"That's nothing, Wild Bill, I have killed hundreds of paintings by pushing them too far, and they were all real close."

Wild Bill In Progress

August 23, 2016
  On the hunt to finish the final for Wild Bill Hickok feature. First, I gathered all of my reference material, which included a photo session I did with the artist Jerry Crandall a decade, or so, ago. He had the rig and the outfit and I shot off a roll of film in our back yard for future reference, and here we are.

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill In Progress No. 1"

In this first phase I am just trying to nail a background of sky, ground and smoke (swirling from the barrels of his Navy Colts). I haven't even put the main figure in yet. I'm just auditioning backgrounds at the moment.

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill In Progress No. 2"

   Added more smoke and toned back the upper area. Clouds were too raw. Also hauled out the prime facial reference, which is in Joespeh Rosa's classic book, "The West of Wild Bill Hickok."

Semi-Funny Sidebar
   I brought the book home last night from the office and had several things to bring in the house, including mail, sketchbook,  paperwork from Carole, etc. For some reason I put the Rosa book on our adobe wall by the front gate and then promptly went into the house and forgot to come back out and retrieve it. Of course, it rained last night and I went out for my walk and there it was, a limp mess of stuck together paper. The good news is, I own two copies of the book, so this one is basically ruined, but I got a semi-funny story out of it.

   Ah, getting old.

   Also, did a tight sketch of the figure on tracing paper and when the paint on the background dries, I'm ready to position the main figure. Nervous. This is the moment of truth. If the figure isn't anatomically correct, everything dies and it's a very ambitious pose, with the foreshortened arm raising a pistol, with Hickok in a gunfighter stance, all very complicated.

   As to the anatomical deal, the verdict is still out (see previous sketches from yesterday's post) But, I'm hopeful. I also have a Design Review meeting in two hours so I'm under the gun (ahem).

Daily Whip Out: "Wild Bill In Progress No. 3"

   The trick will be to feather in the figure of Wild Bill but not kill the subtle gunsmoke swirling around him. Normally I would build this from the ground up with the figure already in place, but I knew the figure would intimidate me into compromising the smoke. Ideally he should be surrounded by gun smoke, with the curls and whisps of the smoke eating away at his arm and midsection. Ideally, he should appear almost ghostlike. This is working it in backwards which I gravitate towards because of my scratchboard work, but it also has its drawbacks as well. I have dodged one problem only to run into another: the gun smoke can intimidate the figure, or, I should say, intimidates me. It takes courage to dive into something like this, rather than, say, write up a blog post about having the courage.

"If you knew what a wholesome regard I have for damn liars and rascals they would be lieable to keep out of my way."
—James Butler Hickok

Cracking The Crack of Dawn

August 23, 2016
   One of the rewards of getting up before the crack of dawn, is going out on the road to catch a glimpse of the crack of dawn.

The Crack of Dawn this morning.

The crack of dawn a couple days ago.

The crack of dawn a couple days before that.

The crack of dawn last week.

The crack of dawn last November.

"The early bird gets the crack of dawn down pretty good"
—Old Kingman Saying

Monday, August 22, 2016

Hog Wild On Wild Bill

August 22, 2016
   Working on cover ideas for our big Wild Bill Hickok coverage for November. I've done a number of sketches over the past three weeks and it's time to narrow it down and get 'er done:

Daily Whip Outs: "Wild Bill Cover Roughs"

   I also did a couple quick studies of Bill's facial features:

This morning I took a crack at a background sky and the stance:

Daily Whip Out: "A Rough for The Town Tamer"

   Need to add a cowtown and railroad tracks. May not be exactly right, but I'm in a whippin' mood, and besides. . .  

"Those who laugh are always right."
—Coco Chanel

Next Level Comix

August 21, 2016
   Took another swing at the splash page opening of "The Trickster."

Daily Whip Out: "An Apache Rancheria On The Gila River, 1866"

   It's a soft opening (first two pages of the book) and it's being questioned by my teammates (Hutton and Mariotte) so we'll see. My position is: I'd rather do a movie style open, as opposed to the usual superhero comix open with the hyper-action poses. Anyway, I'm going to finish this sequence and lay it out the way I see it unfolding and then we'll all decide.

   Three of my Kingman Cowboy Cousins came out to see me on Saturday. That would be Brenda, Sharon and Casey Stockbridge. We shared some Bryan's Barbecue and home town horror stories. (there is still a plague of cattle rustlers riding the range up there)

   When we went out to the studio, Casey said, looking at a wall of my scratchboards and pen and inks, "I like all these—it looks like next level comix." Interesting take by a millennial (he's 26).

The wall above my main art desk in the studio.

Next Level Comix
   I've long aspired to execute Western stories in a graphic novel format, complete with illustrations that look like they could have been done by Russell or Remington. I realize that is a tall order, but that has always been my goal.

"Originality is nothing more than connecting familiar elements in unfamiliar ways."
—James Scott Bell (no relation)

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Scorpion Tail Sunrise Mushes Out

August 20, 2016
   Got out on Old Stage Road this morning before six. Cooler, 73 degrees out. Witnessed a big, splashy sunrise over the Continental Mountains. You can't make up these cloud formations.

Scorpion Tail Sunrise, 5:58 a.m.

   Marched up Morningstar, getting my heart rate up to 220, minus my age, getting ideas all the while, then turned around and on the way back down, noticed that the spectacular sunrise light was already mushing out:

Sunrise Mush Out, 6:07 a.m.

   By the time I got back to my studio, it was all gone. Just like life. We're born, we flicker briefly and then we flame out.

   Ah, speaking of my life's work. . . 

My art studio after a thorough cleaning and major reclamation by Curator Cal

   I have a great space to work (thanks to Cal), but now I am dealing with an ambitious schedule with multiple projects and ideas. Here are a page of my notes for one particular project:

Graphic novel notes from editor Jeff Mariotte on Mickey Free

   Struggling with several other problems. More than a few involve lack of skill (to match my ambition), others involve focus, still others involve dedication. The trick, for me, is to stop one ball, take a real good, hard look at it, and then take a nap.

"Every problem has a gift for you in its hands."
—Richard David Bach

Friday, August 19, 2016

My Twin Opponents: Underpainting And Overproducing

August 19, 2016
   I'm reworking a splash page doubletruck for the Mickey Free graphic novel. I'm trying to capture that early morning light on the banks of the Gila River. This is the underpainting, without the Apache village (see pencil marks, middle right), or the young Apache warriors-in-training taking their first gulp of water. The tone is right, but the toughest work is to add in those elements without destroying the feel. Verdict coming soon enough.

Daily Whip Out: "Underpainting for Gila River Sunrise"

   I often work on several underpaintings at the same time, especially if I have a pool of mixed paint that rings right in the sweet spot. In addition to the Mickey Free underpainting posted previously, here are two more skies in progress, aimed at a Wild Bill Hickok doubletruck I'm working on for the November issue of True West magazine.

Daily Whip Out: "Underpainting #1 for 'The Town Tamer'"

Daily Whip Out: "Underpainting #2 for 'The Town Tamer'"

   Unfortunately, these two scans do not show the subtlety of the cloud forms in the white space which actually has some very strong shape and tone. Not sure why it's not showing (disturbing, since I'm really trying to hold back on pushing the cloud shapes too far). The scans also exaggerate the blue, which is in person actually more gray.

"If you can't write your idea on the back of a business card, you don't have a clear idea."
—David Belasco

Thursday, August 18, 2016

What Me Worry? The Razz to True West Ain't Such A Big Leap

August 18, 2016
   Working on a new series of True West Moments with our designer Rebecca Edwards. She is so good at translating what I want. Here is a sneak peek at this Saturday's episode which she hand colored from one of my black and whites.

   Believe it or not, this led me to review an earlier Daily Whip Out:

Daily Whip Out: "She Stood In The Clearing"

      And, that in turn, reminded me of a certain cartoon I did in the eighties

Daily Whip Out: "The Yatahey President"

What Me Worry?
   One of the criticisms I get from time to time is this one, "I'm afraid Bob is going to turn True West into Mad Magazine." It actually has some merit because back in the 70s Dan Harshberger and I cut our teeth on the Razz Revue, a "Magazomic" as Dan The Man styled it. And, of course, we were emulating the short-lived and longed remembered National Lampoon and even today, that early influence shows up in True West. For example, Wonderful Russ used to brag that he was past president of The Wickenburg Clown Club, which wasn't true at all, but he loved saying it and claiming it because it was lunatic and funny. So sometimes when Dan is mocking up a True West cover and he doesn't have real headlines from us he will turn in covers with headlines that say "Wickenburg Clown Club Best In West." Dan also thinks this is hilarious. And speaking of the Wickenburg Clown Club and the Razz:

The Carkid Turns Into A Lizard, from "The Doperoper" in The Razz Revue, circa 1975

      In the end, True West will never be in danger of becoming the Razz, but then, the Razz is a part of who I have always been.
"A magazine always reflects the editor's ego, and the various personas of that editor follow along behind like parade floats. The more ambitious the editor, the more obvious what the parade is celebrating and where it is going."
—Terry McDonell, former editor of Esquire, Rolling Stone & Sports Illustrated, in his memoir, "The Accidental Life"