Saturday, July 22, 2017

An Interview with Billy Manes at Watermark.

On June 30th Pam Schwartz, Dan Bradfield and I entered the Watermark offices to conduct an oral history with editor-in-chief Billy Manes about the events following the Pulse Nightclub massacre. Billy grew up in Florida and was a bit of a club kid.  He suffered much adversity and sexual abuse in his childhood. At the time, he felt that Florida is a place without history, so you have to make your own history.  In 2005 he ran for mayor, being the first openly gay candidate to do so. He felt he was the best choice to replace the then suspended Mayor Buddy Dyer specifically because he's not a politician.

He met Alan Jordan who was very different than himself and they had a long relationship. On Easter Sunday of 2012 Alan shot himself in front of Billy. Alan had HIV but didn't want to admit he was positive. Billy watched his love die in front of him. Alan's family took everything despite the long relationship, even threatening to take the ring off of Billy's finger. Billy fought them in court and won back some of his possessions. He decided to become more purposeful about these issues. There is a documentary that was filmed entitled " Billy & Alan".

As a senior writer at the Orlando Weekly, Billy found his voice as he made jokes about Tallahassee government policy which is often, "so fucking boring". Billy Manes was hired by the Watermark in 2015. As I sketched, I found the black blinds strangely ominous.

"I only remember 5AM on June 12th." Billy said. He used to work there, when it was Dante's. He was friends with the owners and staff. It wasn't "divey" at all. It was a good place to come together. At 5 AM his husband Anthony Mauss woke up. He told Billy not to look at his phone. Billy of course looked at his phone and was immediately pulled on for an MSNBC interview. Unshaven and uncombed he spoke with Tamron Hall. As he spoke, he realized that he didn't know if his friends were alive who worked at Pulse.

This was a hate crime and Billy was annoyed at any news organization that would white-wash this fact by playing up the terrorist theories. On that first morning, a mother drove by and she asked if her son was alive. Billy said he would try and find out.

After Pulse, the whole tone, everything changed. Billy suddenly found himself in a whirlwind of interviews by over 7 networks in the days following. Watermark approached the following weeks with a three step program. They did a glossy cover, a story about the psychology behind the attack and stories about the need for gun control. In the barrage of activity, he stopped caring about himself. Watermark was at every event. Billy reflected, "It is still amazing to me. You can say 49, but imagine the moms and families having to deal with probate, the law."

Our oral history interview was just an hour long. We wanted to get together for a second interview to grapple with the intricacies of the weeks following Pulse in more depth. Shortly after this interview Billy Manes said he was "let go" from Watermark on Friday, July 14th. In a Facebook post on the following Sunday Billy shared, "I was effectively let go on Friday and it wasn't easy and it wasn't psychologically easy. I wanted to give Watermark the chance to break the news. Not sure why, but it was fair enough. Best to the future editor and please keep up...the work. I'll figure something new. I always do."

Billy died of pneumonia and organ failure just after 4 p.m. on Friday, July 21, at the age of 45, surrounded by his husband Anthony Mauss, friends and family at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

The loss is a shock to me. Billy and I were both born on May 22 and he playfully reminded me of this each year via Facebook.  Having lived through so much tragedy, Billy always injected humor into every exchange. He will be deeply missed. He helped to write Orlando's history while joking about the political forces that stifle Orlando's future.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weekend Top 6 Picks for July 22nd and 23rd.

Saturday July 22, 2017
10 AM to 1 PM - Free. Empowerment Event. Art of Fitness Personal Training and Yoga, 5154 Dr Phillips Blvd, Orlando, Florida 32819. Five speakers offer the tools you need to get the life you want. From miracles to mindset, exercise to meditation, join us as we bring you serious empowerment.

7 PM to 9 PM - Free. Brewery Tour. Orlando Brewing, 1301 Atlanta Ave, Orlando, FL.

10:30 PM to Midnight - Free. Son Flamenco. Ceviche Tapas Orlando, 125 W Church St, Orlando, FL.

Sunday July 23, 2017
10 AM to Noon - Free.  Heartfulness Relaxation and Meditation Class. University, 5200 Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL 32811. The Method of Heartfulness A simple and practical way to experience the heart’s unlimited resources.

10 AM to Noon - Free. Florida Gospel Jam. Fish on Fire, 7937 Daetwyler Drive, Belle Isle, FL. Every 2nd and 4th Sunday.

10 PM to Midnight - Free (but get a coffee!) Comedy Open Mic. Austin's Coffee, 929 W Fairbanks Ave, Winter Park, FL. Come out & laugh, or give it a try yourself.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Blue Spring State Park.

For my birthday, Pam Schwartz got me two fountain pens to draw with.We also decided to take the day off, and go to Blue Spring (2100 W. French Avenue Orange City, FL 32763). She has a kayak and there are also rentals, so we explored the spring and the Saint Johns River. Pam had a waterproof bag to hold any art supplies and phones. We seem to have amazing luck seeing wildlife anytime we explore around Orlando. We kayaked down a tiny tributary that is not very accessible to normal sized boats. The prows of our kayaks split the river grass until the stream once again opened up. Beautiful white flowers were just opening up on Lilly pads.

On a more open stretch, we spotted a river otter swimming back and forth across the stream. He must have been on the hunt for fish and he didn't seem to mind our presence. He swam towards us for a closer look. Large birds were building nests in the brush and I could hear the chicks as we floated by. When we paddled into Blue Spring itself, we came across a manatee that was slowly making her way out towards the open river water. The spring water is much clearer than the river water making the manatee easy to see. She approached Pam's kayak and boop-snooted her boat to say hello. Pam got some amazing photos before the manatee decided to gently swim out to the murky river.

I had brought along my snorkel and mask and we decided to hike upstream to the source of the spring. The water is a constant 73 degrees year round. The stream is surprisingly strong. It is hard to imagine that much water gushing up from a single hole in the ground. 102 million US gallons (390,000 m3) of water flow out of Blue Spring into the St. Johns River every day. At the large watering hole at Blue Springs source, we found a large rock to sit on and I got out my new fountain pen to try out. Unknown to me, the ink was not waterproof, so when I added watercolor to the sketch, the ink bleed into each color I applied. Flesh tones quickly turned black. Rather than fight the new media, I just let it be and applied very light washes. Back at the studio later, I replaced the ink with Noodler's ink, which is waterproof, and now the pen is in constant use every day.

Swimming over the Blue Spring itself is amazing. You have to kick hard to go against the stream. I dove down to a tree trunk which had fallen over the stream below the water's surface. Water pressure in my ears kept me from going down any further, but I could see scuba divers down below me exploring the depths. I much prefer exploring above the water where pen lines and washes can capture any scene in some form or another.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Quickies at the Orlando International Fringe Festival.

Quickies was a series of four short plays presented at the Orlando International Fringe Festival at Breakthrough Theater ( 421 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park). Written by Tracy Jane Smith, the opening “Sex and a Story,” was about how how Scheherazade, meant to serve as a sex slave, kept her head through cunning, despite the fact that she could be beheaded if she displeased the prince.

In “Meet the Pets,” a boy brings his girlfriend home to his apartment for the first time.On the couch, his cat, Mr. Cuddles (Ryan Roberson) clearly owns the place, acting like British royalty. His self satisfaction is hilarious and a great contrast to the the dog who bounds around the scene with unlimited joy and enthusiasm. Daisy, the golden retriever, loves the new girl while Mr. Cuddles treats her with disdain.

In "Welcome to Intercourse" two female students find themselves stranded in Amish Country when the car engine gives out. They meet two young Amish men and despite their differences, things heat up. The final show, "Buried" is about a distraught young woman who wanders the stage with a shovel. her idea of eternal love involved digging a hole.

As a fan of Tracy Jane Smith's sensual dark humor, I hope to catch a sketch of "Jim Reaper, A Play about Life Death and other Comedies."  After twenty years of marriage, recent divorcee Blanche flirts with an oddly irresistible man named Jim at a party, while insurance-adjuster Bob tries to avoid him at all costs. Knowledgeable party-goer Doris identifies Jim as THE Jim Reaper, and the fates of his respective guests are revealed in a card game. A score of dark metaphors comes to life in this fun personification of death as a reasonable, friendly guy just doing his job.

Performances at the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Santos Dantin Theater (812 E Rollins St, Orlando, Florida 32803). 
July 28, 29, & 30
August 4, 5, & 6
Saturdays at 8 pm
Sundays at 3 pm

Tickets are $18 general admission, $15 for seniors 55+, students and military with ID. Tickets may be purchased online at or at the PRT box office at point of sale. Cash and credit card accepted; no checks please. For seating reservations only, please contact (407) 761-2683.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Guinness Presented True Sound Live at Rogue Pub.

An impromptu road trip to South Carolina ended at Rogue Pub (3076 Curry Ford Rd, Orlando, Florida 32806). True Sound is a music project based in the greater Orlando area. Drawing upon various musical influences, they have developed a unique, polished sound. The lighting in the pub was set up on the dart boards rather than the band, so the performers were dark silhouettes against the bright wall. I did what I could with the low light setting. Hayley Rose, and Ben Wozniak performed covers and several of Ben's original songs. One original was about experiencing a German park and the song was fun and lively. Another song was about settling into routines rather than seizing each day.

Ben had just been on a whirlwind road trip with his uncle John Naughton, Pam Schwartz and myself. We went as far north as Charleston on the 4 day trip, seeking out historical sites and coffee shops all along the way. In Savannah we went to the fabulous Mrs. Wilkes restaurant which serves the food Thanksgiving style in bowls that are passed around large tables that seat multiple guests family style. There were over 20 different dishes served along with fried chicken, meat loaf, collared greens, macaroni and cheese and a wide variety of vegetables. It was definitely the highlight of the trip, but we also found other restaurants that were true gems.

The final day of the road trip was a marathon sprint to be sure Ben made it to his gig at Rogue Pub. I ordered a Hefferweissen, Pam had some sour passion fruit Schnoodlepip and John had a chocolate stout that was delicious. After the band's first set, Guinness offered beers on the house, so I nursed Guinness as I completed the sketch. We had vacationed hard and I was exhausted by the end of the evening. The beers further relaxed me. Ben's brother, Josh Wozniak, joined the group for the last set, doing percussion by banging a wooden box (a cajón) he sat on. This was a fun evening and a fun way to cap off an amazing trip.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Wedding Wire Mixer.

Pam Schwartz and I went to Highland Manor, (604 East Main Street, Apopka, FL) for a Wedding Wire Mix and Mingle. The Manor is a gorgeous little spot right at the intersection of Semoran and 441.  Huge old live oaks line the drive to the property and the Victorian mansion overlooks a quiet lake. I have been doing wedding sketches the last year, and the ad on Wedding Wire has received interest from prospective brides and grooms.

Cara Goldsborough, on the events team at wire, travels the  country to do these networking events. The Wedding Wire education guru, Allen Berg who was the main speaker, gave a sales pitch speaking about reaching the client, engaging and converting them to the sale, etc. Wedding Wire has 1.5 million social media followers, 87 million visits in 2015 and a 585% increase in mobile app downloads last year alone. The main point of wedding wire is connecting vendors with the people looking for them. There are 36,987 searches in Orlando on Wedding Wire in a month. Most couples plan to spend $14,000 and end up spending $22,000 in Orlando on their special day. Most people don't know what to ask when contacting vendors so they ask about cost, which is the least productive way to begin a new business transaction from either side.

Alan advised on a pricing structure for work and told a story of a photographer who created a pricing structure that included high end package and within a week a couple had ordered that high end package. No one had ever paid that much for his services before. That got me thinking.

The food at the mixer was average with tiny sandwiches on a stick, chicken strips on a stick and plenty of butterfly shaped crackers with cheese. If this was a wedding reception caterer, I would be less than impressed. The room I sketched filled up, got loud and boisterous for about half an hour and then we were all called away to the main power point presentation. Honestly some of the tips were quite helpful as I learn how to grow my events sketch business. What I offer is unique, and I just need to connect with the right clients.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wekiva Paint Out.

At the end of February and the first week of March, 29 artists created plein air paintings at the Wekiva Island Paint Out. I went on the evening of a night paint out to watch the artists at work. Wekiva Island (1014 Miami Springs Dr, Longwood, FL 32779), has a a bar called the Tooting Otter. A band was setting up as I arrived inside the bar,  and I decided this was a perfect sketch opportunity. Plein air painter Barbara set up her easel between the bar stool I was sitting on and the stage. I sketched the room as she got the easel in place. Since she predominated the scene I included her in the sketch.

Barbara focused on a close up painting of the performers. A game of Jenga was stacked up on the table in front of Barbara. In Jenga, you have to remove a wooden block from the stack, without letting the entire structure fall down. The fiddling and guitar music added to the festive evening. Barbara was a bit distracted. I stopped sketching after the first set and I think she got more work done during the performer's second set.

I later learned that she was a bit uncomfortable with my being at the bar and sketching. She had the strange notion that I was copying her painting. I really didn't pay attention to her work in progress. My back was against the bar, so there was no opportunity to back away from her work in progress. We joked about the difficulty of working in a tight space and parted ways on decent terms. I later saw her finished painting in the wet gallery where it hung with all the other paintings completed at the paint out.

My favorite work in the wet gallery was by Elizabeth St. Hilaire who does collages instead of plein air paintings. Her pieces were mostly of palm trees executed with colorful strips of paper. seeing all the variety of work created on the one week was in itself exciting. Outside artists were doing nocturnes of the riverfront. One artist had Christmas lights wrapped all around his easel which acted as his working lights. That was a sketch opportunity, and perhaps Ill catch him at work next year.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Big Chill in South East Orlando.

I was commissioned to do a sketch at a dinner party in South East Orlando. The host had a gorgeous home in a brand new development surrounded by woods and plenty of lakes. On the table were photos of his class mates. Some of the photos must have been rather funny judging by people's reactions.Years have passed since their careers have blossomed and developed. Such a reunion always reminds me of The Big Chill. Everyone makes the most of the life they have and reminisce about the innocence lost.

I set up as soon as I arrived and sketched the table as everyone mixed and mingled. It turned out that the leather chair I was sitting in was pushed aside and was intended for the host himself at the head of the table. We switched seats when everyone settled in with their plates. It pays to always have an artist's stool on hand.

A Chihuly chandelier illuminated the entry, and a painting of a warm Mediterranean scene overlooked the table. Yellow and red roses acted as center pieces. The candles were lit just before everyone sat down. One woman insisted I sketch her good side which was the opposite side of her face if she sat where she was placed at the table. Honestly, I couldn't see her anyway once everyone was seated and eating. Just the luck of the draw. There was plenty of laughter. The host had wanted me to sketch a party quite a few months ago, but I was pulled away on another assignment. For that party he invited people by Facebook, and not many people showed up. This time around he kept the dinner party small and everyone attended. The fun in being a casual artistic observer is in wondering about everyone in attendance, writing my own scenarios in my head. Everyone was pleasant and fun and I felt honored to document an important occasion.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Weekend Top 6 Picks for July 15th and 16th.

Saturday July 15, 2017
10 AM to 4 PM - Free. Commander's Call. Museum of Military History, 5210 West Irlo Bronson Hwy, Kissimmee, FL 34746. This ongoing program is held on the 3rd Saturday of each month and is designed to appeal to families, military memorabilia collectors, history buffs, re-enactors and others interested in military history. In addition, persons interested in displaying, trading or selling their military items such as honor coins, swords, photographs, military buttons, scale model boats & planes, military art, uniforms or other equipment should register in advance by calling the museum. Re-enactors and veterans are welcome to come in uniform to add to the history and authenticity of the military experience. Non-military booths such as health care providers, home improvement, local attractions or other businesses are invited to be vendors for a minimal donation. 
INFO and Register: 407-507-3894 or to register your table space.

6 PM to Midnight - Free. Eva's Birthday Bash. BeBest Events by David Merritt The Alfond Inn Lounge, 300 E New England Ave, Winter Park, Florida 32789. Join us to toast and celebrate Ms Eva's Birthday!!
Appetizers + Happy Hour Drink menu pricing ALL NIGHT!
- Includes: $7 Stoli Premium Vodka & Bullett Bourbon, $7 William Hill Chard & $8 Cab, $6 Champagne Special!
Plus Dance to the sexiest vibes, both current and past, with DJ Joe Magic, spinnin' up awesome fun on the dance floor 9pm - close!
Complimentary Valet!   No Cover Charge or ticket required.
* Appetizers available to purchase til 10pm

8 PM to 11 Pm - Free. Guinness Presents True Sound Live. Rogue Pub, 3076 Curry Ford Road, Orlando, FL 32806.  Join us for an evening of live music with True Sound presented by Guinness! Get your chance to score some swag and sample some tasty brews while enjoying some amazing local tunes!  True Sound @truesoundorlando

Sunday July 16, 2017
10 AM to Noon - Free. Heartfulness Relaxation and Meditation Class. University, 5200 Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL 32811. The Method of Heartfulness A simple and practical way to experience the heart’s unlimited resources. 

10 AM to 4 PM - Free. Lake Eola Farmers Market. South East corner of Lake Eola Park.

Noon to 1 PM - Free. Yoga. Weekly at Lake Eola near the red gazebo.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Urban Sketching with the Elite Animation Academy Summer School students.

I had 16 students for the Elite Animation Academy Urban Sketching class last week. My thought was to bring the students to a different venue each day to sketch.With 16 students we tended to fill up any available seats. The best solution was to divide the class in half and have half the students in one venue and the other half in another. I stayed with the students at Subway, and the interns stayed with students at Planet Smoothie. The lesson for the day was largely about one point perspective. I encouraged the students to find a vanishing point at their eye level and have all the lines in the ceiling panels and floor tiles point at it. There was a mirror on the brick wall across from us and one student could see his reflection in the mirror. I explained that the vanishing point was right between his eyes in the reflection.

I sat down with each student and did a quick composition sketch so they could see how to build a sketch from the outside in. Prior to going on location we had done a series of five minute sketches that broke down the scene into 5 or 6 large shapes. Some students caught on quickly while others needed time to grasp the concept. I painted this sketch digitally the evening of the class by scanning the pencil sketch and painting behind it on a layer. A stop motion movie was created of the entire painting process and I showed that to the students to encourage them to push any sketch that they do towards being a painting by adding color. On the last day, they took their favorite sketch and added watercolor to it. It was a bit of a messy class but the students were very focused for the duration. There is something about adding color that makes a sketch become art.