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


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Puttin' on the Mask at Le Theatre de Marionette

Pammy backstage at Le Theatre de Marionette in Dallas, Texas in 2000 with a genie mask for the marionette play Alladin and His Magic Lamp. The mask was designed and made by, you guessed it, Pammy and I.

WHASSUP!!! Raymond Banda, the lead puppeteer and a very funny guy, in the costume for the Genie minus the mask. The costume was designed and made by the multi-talented Tina Gromova.

During our time at Le Theatre de Marionette, we sometimes called upon to play characters in the show. This usually meant double, triple or quadruple duty depending on the show. Sometimes it meant you were operating a puppet on the bridge above the stage then hurrying down to raise or lower a drop or pull a prop off the stage. Sometimes you had to do all that plus going onstage, as was the case in the Alladin show, as the genie.

Even though the photo shows Raymond in the genie costume he wasn't the only one to play the part during the month-long run. That honor was shared by Raymond, Pam and myself. It's a challenge to move around backstage at a puppet theatre but even more so while wearing that kind of costume because everything is in miniature and in the dark. Not to mention the fact that the space betwen the proscenium and the bridge/flats, where the Genie sometimes entered, was better suited to three foot tall marionettes and not for full- sized humans in a billowy genie costume and mask.

Nonetheless, we persevered and finished the run, a little better off from the experience...I think. At least we were more in tune with the Force so we could puppeteer with our blaster shield down over our eyes. Cool!

Friday, July 16, 2010

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Above: My second of two rejection letters for the Ringling Brothers Barnum ad Bailey Clown College.

In 1991 my life changed in a huge way, for the better, when I walked into the old Woodlawn Theater in the early spring of that year. Up until then I was working as a freelance artist. The trouble was I was not very good commercial artist and I was simply bored with my life so I needed a change. That change turned out to be acting which was soon accompanied by clowning for which I'm most grateful for my wife's stories from her time at Clown College then the road with the Greatest Show on Earth. She taught me about acting and clowning and encouraged me to audition for Clown College when the show came to town in early July.

The first time around was shortly after I'd begun acting so I was very green and my audition had to be the worst but being naive I didn't know any better. I didn't make it in that year so I tried again the following year and again I was rejected. Between auditions I'd work at improving myself as a clown by studying the silent comedians and watching other circus clowns at work. I was also working as a clown doing everything from birthday parties to fairs.

After the second time I was more determined than ever to make it into Clown College. But on the off chance I'd get another rejection letter to add to my collection I attended three clown workshops the spring and summer of '93. The last two were the best: One was in at the Dell Arte School of Physical Theatre taught by Joan Mankin and Jeff Raz of the Pickle Family Circus and the other was at the Advanced Studies in Clowning taught by several Ringling clowns most notably Frosty Little. He taught the class on circus clowning where I learned more in one week than I thought possible. He was a great no nonsense teacher who really loved and respected the art of circus clowning. At the beginning of the week his class started with about two dozen eager students and by mid week it was down to about eight. Circus clowning is not for the weak, baby!

After all those workshops I felt I was ready for anything. July rolled around so my best friend,Chad Miller ( A very talented clown) and I both auditioned in July of 1993 at the Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio. At the end of the audition I felt like I'd nailed it. It was the best audition I ever had for anything. Now it was a matter of waiting. If you got a letter in the mail you didn't make it but if you got a phone call you'd better start packing. I was like a kid when I got the call. I don't remember the exact conversation. All I knew was that my life was about change again and would never be the same after that all thanks to a bit of stubbornness and boredom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

At the San Fernando Cathedral

A little over a year after I had graduated from college I got to paint the biggest commission I'd done up to that point in my career. Together with Alex Rubio we designed and painted five large paintings to be displayed at the San Fernando Cathedral for the The Serenata a la Virgen Morena.

We painted all day seven days a week for about a month to complete the works and towards the end it was round the clock. I recall the paint was still wet a few hours before the event. I think it was this particular commission that made my parents realize that perhaps an art career wasn't such a bad idea. I wish I'd had better luck convincing them a theater and circus career was just as good. Oh, well. You can't win them all.

Doc Ed Update

Just in case your in the neighborhood, Doc will be at the Witte museum on Tuesday, July 20th for one presentation at 2p.m. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Evolution of a Book Cover

In developing the cover art for "The Miracle of Monterrey/Milagro de Monterrey" book, we went through several versions before arriving at the final art. The sketch above is the first in the series and is a gritty and dark image.

Still keeping to the gritty theme this one is more dynamic. We needed to get a finished cover as soon as possible so it could be used to advertise the book's release and hopefully tie it in to the movie before it's release. As it turned out the film release was delayed for a couple of years and the book was released long before the film. Bummer.The movie finally opened this past April to good reviews but by then the book was surviving well on it's own.

This time around it was decided try a "cartoonier" (if that is a word) look that might appeal to a younger crowd.

We finally arrived at this composition which both the art director and author liked so the next step was to put some text to the layout.

I have to mention that the book went through almost as many titles as art. It's pretty hard to come up with a good title.

I thought I was ready to paint when it was decided to go for a vertical format so it was back to the drawing board, quite literally, for a little while longer.

This a color study with text. There's still lots more to do but at least the composition and format are set.

The latest cover with the latest title which was not chosen because it sounded too much like the "Boys from Brazil".

We arrive at the finished product with all the bells and whistles in place. The final image was done mostly in photoshop. As I'm sure is the case with a good many illustrators I wish I had a chance to repaint this one. We artist are a picky bunch. Oh well. My wife still loves me anyway.

Circus Memories

That's Pammy and I in the bottom left corner of the picture with the entire Clown Alley of the 131st Edition of the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Good morning. Happy Wednesday to all. I found this postcard of our Clown Alley from 2001 the other day while I was organizing my photo albums. I've also got a couple dozen disposable film cameras I've yet to have developed. I don't even remember what's in them. Shame on me.

When I ran across this card I thought about all the fun Pammy and I had that year. As different as the show had become from the time Pammy and I were first on the road we found that backstage things never change. Backstage pranks were still common as were all the characters one would expect to find in a circus.

There was Bello Nock, daredevil clown extraordinaire and the featured star of the show who wasn't above taking a pie in the face for his birthday as was the circus tradition,
courtesy of Pammy after an extended backstage water gun battle.Those are the memories that stick with you. Once I develop those rolls of film I any photos that are from the road that I find... but that will have to wait till payday or as soon as I can sell a painting. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Toot, Toot, Chugga, Chugga Big Red Bus

The Scholastic Publishing bookmobile inside the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center at the National Latino family Expo this past Sunday where I did my presentation on illustrating Raining Popcorn Media's "Milagro de Monterrey" book.

This bus, which is sponsored by Scholastic Publishing and staffed mostly by volunteers from the teaching community, travels around the San Antonio area two to three times a week distributing free books to school-age children.

That's me inside the bus in the middle of my presentation. The boxes that surround me are filled with the free books for the kids. They also provide a space for arts and crafts too. Amazing. It was cozy in there but the kids and grownups were great and I had my best presentation yet. I wished I had video taped it.

When I do these presentations I bring along as much eye candy for the kids to look at. It's difficult to see from the photo but I had several stacks of sketches, paintings, various versions of the cover and text portion of the book, paints, brushes and palette. Space was extremely limited so most of what I had was tucked under my chair, behind my chair and on the boxes around me. Oh, and the photos are courtesy of Art Avila, half of the big enchilada ( Lisa is the other) at Raining Popcorn. Thank you Art and Lisa for making me a part of the event.

Monday, July 12, 2010


A few years back, around 1997, I got a job at a educational television expo. I'd be posing for pictures at the Children's Television Workshop section as the Cookie Monster. I'd done work as costumed characters before and it's always a challenge especially when you can't speak and your face is covered. Of course, it is also a tad bit warm. I can't recall how I got the job. I'm pretty sure it wasn't through an agency. More than likely it was because of a word- of- mouth recommendation which have gotten us a lot of work over the years.

This job was special to me, though, because it was as close as I would get to being a puppeteer on Sesame Street( which has always been a dream) seeing as how we had no plans to live in New York. Before I went out into the performing area I was instructed to keep the spirit of the character in mind and at no time would I speak. No problem. I had a lot of fun playing the part of this lovable character that I grew up watching.
I kept my movements slow, small and simple, keeping in mind the presence of children and posed for loads of pictures.

The costume itself seemed very light and relatively comfortable. The neat thing about it was that concealed inside one hand was a control cable that operated the mouth. The folks in charge were very nice and at the end of the day I was given a Sesame Street t-shirt which I still have as a momento of that day.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday in Paradise

This afternoon I had a very enjoyable time talking to an audience of kids and adults about illustrating for the Milagro de Monterrey book. I talked and joked and got some great laughs. It was at the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center. I had a very good time but while I was there Pammy and the kids were enjoying themselves at a birthday party with loads of this kind of food of the gods (pictured above). Such is life. Drool.
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