Arts in the Family: A Family of Artists Just Trying to Make a Living in the Wilds of Texas


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Murals to the Rescue

Article detailing story of the mural project that started my art career in April of 1988.

My first art job, which I'd gotten just months before I graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), was painting murals for a nonprofit group called Community Cultural Arts Organization (CCAO). They were based on the west side out the Cassiano Homes. There I was, a soon to be Bachelor of Fine Arts degree grad with little knowledge of how to apply it to the real world. I could have easily been on the fast track to the minimum wage express were it not for an opportunity that popped up, seemingly out of the blue, for art students to design and paint murals on the walls of several homes at the Menchaca Courts.

Up to that point I'd only painted on canvases that were no bigger than 18"x24" so having a wall measuring 10'x30' for me to play on blew my wee little mind. Kablooey! Thus began my career as an art bum extraordinaire. I'm still not sure how someone as green as I was at the time could have been selected for such an honor. I have a hunch ,though, I owe some debt of gratitude to a certain guardian angel named Lisa Duck, who had recently completed her Masters of Fine Arts studies at UTSA and was working with CCAO. Were it not for her I would probably never have painted a mural. Thank you Lisa.

Incidentally, that mural job also led me to develop an interest in teaching art to children, which had previously never occurred to me. Years later, I'm still teaching classes for kids that have expanded to include theater, puppet and clown classes to which I give full credit and thanks to my dear wife for introducing me to that fanciful world. Life. What a rush!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

Your faithful blogger as Stumpy out front at Ripley's Haunted Adventure in the Alamo Plaza.

Let me begin this post by stating that I am grateful for any work I can get in my field especially when the field is as narrow as it can be in my beloved city. Back in '02 things were kinda rough for a while. We'd just relocated back to San Antonio where the opportunities in the arts weren't as numerous and profitable as in Dallas. In fact, with very very very and very (I'm being generous here) few exceptions, you couldn't really make a living as an actor here. In the seven years we were away things had not improved but had actually gotten worse even though there appeared to be quite a few theaters around town.

So we fast forward to early spring of '03 and I see a newspaper want ad announcing applications were being accepted for actors at Ripley's Haunted Adventure. Wow! A steady acting job. I had no idea what it entailed or payed but I needed that job. So, like the good little actor that I was, I went down there with my headshot and acting resume for my audition and got the job. I worked inside the haunted house at first; an experience I wasn't really "digging", as those of my generation like to say. I don't enjoy scaring people. I'd spent the better part of my performing life going after the laughs so I wasn't sure how long I'd hold onto this gig from the seventh level of Hades.

Then one day I was assigned the part of "Stumpy". He's a character who sits his half body in a box about six feet off the ground and talks to passers by and customers and he was supposed to be funny too. THANK YOU! I finagled my way into being him on a regular basis thereby allowing me to keep the job while still maintaining my sanity.

One of my proudest moments as Stumpy was drawing the ire of the Alamo guards(yes, that Alamo) that patrol the site directly across my post. Apparently, I was mistaken in believing the real Alamo was being restored at the Smithsonian in D.C. while a suitable facsimile stood in its place. Live and learn. Sorry dudes.

I now had a great job with benefits, retirement and a dental plan and looked forward to a bright and profitable future. Well, not really. I kept the job for three and a half years. The work was fun but the pay was scary. But as I had often reminded myself it beat flippin' burgers though the pay was frighteningly similar.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Clown Class at Dallas Childrens Theater

Pammy covered with pie guts. The horror... the horror.

Here comes the wind up and the intended victim tenses in anticipation.

Yes, I got pied too. Mmmmm. Not yummy.

Pammy and I have done a lot of different things but one of the most enjoyable are the times we get to teach clown classes to elementary school age children. The classes would consist of clown routines, juggling, acrobatics, improvisation and watching circus videos and tons of Laurel and Hardy. We've taught the classes in San Antonio but taught the most classes while we were living in Dallas where the theater community is strong. One of our favorite places to teach at was the Dallas Childrens Theater.

The classes ran all day, five days a week for two weeks, at the end of which we would have a show where the students would perform all they'd learned. At the end of the first week,though, we always had "Pie Day" where the kids would learn the fine art of throwing and taking a pie to the face. The pies, which were made of shaving foam, were always a big hit( pun intended ) with the kids although at first they were always a little nervous about it. Once they got pied the kids couldn't wait to pie someone, mainly myself or Pammy.

We've been teaching these classes since 1992 and I have to say the kids never cease to impress us with their willingness to take on the challenge of learning new skills and on top of that, putting on a show. Kids are amazing that way.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Caterpillar Prop Chapter 2

Better late than never, I always say! Here's the caterpillar head that we've been working on. We built up a frame on the hula hoop by overlapping strips of cardboard and very stiff wire. The top photo shows the first four of eight strips to give some dimension to the face.

The next step was to glue a layer of soft foam, an inch in thickness, onto the frame work. Once that step was completed we pinned the fabric directly to the foam(as seen above) that would be the primary color for the caterpillar's skin to see how it looked so far. In our next chapter we'll be adding the features and some more colors to the face while drinking ungodly amounts of coffee and operating heavy machinery. Don't miss our next thrilling chapter of (Imagine an echoing voice saying the title.)"The Case of the Time Sucking Caterpillar " in 3D!!

Dell' Arte Mask

This is the mask Pammy made one summer in 1993 at the Dell Arte School of Physical Theatre. It's her first one. They started by making a life mask of her followed a sketch of the mask. The next step was adding clay onto the completed life mask to sculpt the features for the mask shown above. It took six layers of papier mache to finish the mask, some paint on the outside and inside and voila! The mask is finished. I'd like to show you the life mask too but I don't have a photo of it...yet. I've got to find it. As is the way with most performers you keep props and costumes in a storage unit so your house doesn't look like Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe. As soon as I locate it I'll post it. I on a mission, man!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Milagro de Monterrey Lecture

Well I did it! I stood before an audience of the best and brightest from Arnold Elementary and lived to tell the tale. I made certain I had plenty of visual aides. Kids like to look more than listen, boy howdy, and I was well prepared. I had most of the original paintings for the book, sketches, and that irresistible Ramirez charm. I spoke to them for forty five minutes then had a quick Q and A afterward before security escorted me away from my rabid pre-tween fans. Okay, they left quietly in an orderly fashion for a tour of the store while I, without any assistance or fanfare, lugged my stuff out to my station wagon then left. It was fun though and I can't wait for the next one.

I'll be posting some photos of the caterpillar prop tomorrow. It's starting to look like something. Way cool!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Illustration Lecture

Good morning to all! Quick fyi. I'll be at the San Pedro Crossing Barnes and Noble tomorrow morning at read from the Milagro de Monterrey and discuss the process of making the art for the book. My audience will be a group of gifted and talented students from Arnold Elementary so I'd better look over my thesaurus. Got to impress the little rascals or I'm dead meat!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Frank Frazetta

My alternate religious history take on the Virgen de Guadalupe. In this version she calls upon the indigenous peoples of Mexico to rise against their Spanish oppressors.

On May 10th, iconic illustrator Frank Frazetta passed away. When I was in high school I collected all the books of his collected works and looked for any book that might have his art gracing the cover. He illustrated comic books, movie posters, magazines but is best remembered for the book cover illustrations for Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan. One year at the carnival, I managed to win the a Frazetta poster for the Clint Eastwood film " The Gauntlet". I don't think I spent more money for anything that year.

He was my idol and I aspired to be like him. I was in awe of his knowledge and use of anatomy. His muscular heroes and vuloptuous women, so powerful and alive, wanted to leap right off the page. The light and color in his work seemed to have a life of it's own too and was simply stunning. I'm no Frazetta but Pammy pointed out how some of my art work clearly shows his influence and one in particular that I did a few years ago was an homage to my hero. When I think about it, the paintings I'm most proud of have plenty of Frazetta-like elements.

A famous clown giving advice to a friend on clowning, said, "Go forth and steal from the best!". By that he didn't mean to literally take someone's work and recreate it verbatim but to take what appealed the most to you, digest it, process it, and let it emerge through your own art in a natural way. For me it was the light and colors that touched me the most as well as his use of composition. So as Bill Irwin once wisely advised, go forth and steal from the best! Happy Sunday.
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