Saturday, April 30, 2011

Aaron Fechter at work

The last time I saw Aaron Fechter he was working in the basement of Creative Engineering painting some latex and fiberglass on the inside of Fats Geronimo's mask. A Japanese company was considering buying one of the last "Rick-afire Explosion" animatronic bands. Aaron was reinforcing the rubber. The oppressive heat tended to weaken and in some cases even melt the rubber masks. Stacked on the wooden shelves there were large plaster molds for the characters heads and hands. The area where Aaron was working was once the painting station. Large canisters lined the wall filled with different colored paints. So work continues to keep the Rock-afire Explosion dream alive. He has also started selling animatronic kits to help people who aspire to one day build their own characters.

Aaron is still dreaming big. Perhaps he will someday invent a way to produce an alternative fuel source by harnessing the sun's energy. This factory was built from the ground up and was a huge financial success story in the early 80's. I keep thinking that this factory space is just waiting to spring alive again. All that is needed is the right application. For me the company's story mimicked the Orlando Florida Disney Feature Animation story. I was there in the idealistic days when a new studio was built and the films were all hugely successful. But with every rise came a fall and the studio was shut down. The trick is to find the next wave and ride it out. For Creative Engineering that wave may be just on the horizon.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Animatronics

In the basement of Creative Engineering, half finished animatronic figures were lined up like so many wooden soldiers. The scarecrow and tin man were nestled in among the crowd from a long lost Oz attraction. Yellow air tubes snaked in and around the aluminum inner structures. Eyes stared blankly forwards, yet the scarecrow had a mischievous and lifelike grin. Rather than mouths, the animatronics used a simple hinged plate to work the lower jaw. Everywhere I looked there was something to draw. Although the heat was oppressive I returned time and again anxious to find life in the dormant factory.

I studied one of the animatronics figures in detail noting every piston and servo so I might reconstruct its inner workings using my 3D animation program. I drew up an immense grid and hung it up behind the figure for size reference. It was so hot I had to remove my shirt. Sweat poured down my back as I worked. It felt good to be using a workshop that had sat idle for more than 20 years. I worked quickly and used the shirt to wipe my brow. Aaron came down to check on my progress. He laughed when he saw me at work and said, "That is how we work at Creative Engineering, anything to get the job done."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Rock-afire Explosion

It was a very hot day. The band members of "The Rock-afire Explosion" waited silently on the loading dock of Creative Engineering. The loading dock door was open with the hope of some cross breeze. A kinder gentler Fats sat at the keyboard. Athena, Aaron's doberman pincer checks on my progress periodically. She still got spooked if I ran across her unannounced on the factory floor. Aaron sat in the next room programming another performance for You Tube. Periodically the Rock-afire Explosion Hits the road. For instance they performed for all the artists and staff at EA sports. Aaron had talked before of the band traveling the country like any other Rock and Roll band on a tour. The problem of course that these guys are heavy and they can't walk themselves into the venue.

In the foreground of this sketch is Billy Bob and behind him is Mitsy Mozzarella. Beach Bear's elbow is barely visible be hind Billy Bob. There is Fats Geronimo on the keyboard and right behind him is a darker version of himself. Dook Leroo is on the drums. Earl was the first animatronic to ever perform as a puppeteer. The voice talents were all recorded in a sound stage in the Creative Engineering factory.

Rock-afire Explosion fans are hard core however. There is a whole subculture out there of fans who love these characters. After over 30 years in storage The Rock-afire Explosion is staging a come back. Aaron is single highhandedly keeping the dream alive. The Phoenix will rise from the ashes. His creative enterprising spirit still burns bright.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I'm Melting!

The Creative Engineering factory doesn't have air conditioning anymore. It gets sweltering hot inside in the summer. It is so hot that the rubber faces of some of the characters have started to melt. This poor moose's snout has melted away oozing down and dripping onto the TV below it. I returned many times in the heat because everywhere I looked was new and unexpected. These characters were part of a Country Bear Jubilee.

On the floor there were isolated pools of saw dust from termites that had infested the wooden beams. There were banks of 1980's computers many of them still operational. It reminded me of NASA's mission control. Yet here there was little to control, just the single band that Aaron used to program videos for You Tube. I'm not sure I fully appreciate the fan base. I never went to a Showbiz Pizza when I was a kid so some of that early magic is lost. On one of my sketching excursions I did bring a huge fan. Erika Wilhite grew up loving "Rock-afire Explosion" and she had a blast when Aaron gave her a tour of the factory.

Aaron is first and foremost an inventor. When he was young he invented an automatic pool vacuum and he sold it door to door. In 1974 when there was a gas crisis he created a small car that got 75 miles per gallon. Today he is dreaming of starting an algae farm that could possibly be used to create an alternative fuel. He feels fuel could be harvested drop by drop rather than being pumped from the earth. Although he has had reasons to be disillusioned, he still dreams big, and is eternally optimistic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Animatronic Drummers

Aaron Fechter had a dream to build a perfectly designed animatronic drummer. His animatronics research team worked on designing a fully articulated drummer in the basement of the Orlando factory tinkering with the engineering needed to make that happen. He considered bringing the Beatles back as an animatronic band. He even hired a female sculptor who created a beautiful bust of John Lennon. She grew upset one day, feeling she wasn't getting paid enough for the work she was doing. She destroyed the sculpture and left. Aaron said he tended to put each of his employees on a pedestals. He considered many of them to be geniuses. He couldn't believe that over time he had to lay them all off.

The dream for this animatronic drummer was that it could one day perform the drum solo from "Wipe Out!" Duke, the drummer for "The Rock-afire Explosion" had somewhat limited drumming capabilities. That dream was put in storage in 1983. When the factory shut down there were 80 Rock-afire shows waiting to ship. These crates remained sealed and slowly over the years they were sold off. It would cost at least $300,000 to build a show today and yet fans have been able to purchase the Explosion for much less.

Thanks to You Tube, "The Rock-afire Explosion" has been experiencing a resurgence in popularity. Fans who have the entire band assembled in their homes have started programing their own performances. Modern Rock Stars are realizing it is hip to have "The Rock-afire Explosion" as their backup band. Aaron has always admired Rock bands that have stood the test of time like the Rolling Stones. He always felt that as long as "The Rock-afire Explosion" stayed together then they could stage a come back.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Rock-afire Explosion


Stage lights flickered on and Aaron Fechter introduced us to "The Rock-afire Explosion." He was in the midst of programming all the characters moves on the computer but he showed us a run through of what he had blocked out. The Rock-afire band sprang to life. Aaron's girlfriend, Karry, fell in love with Rock-afire when she first saw the band back in the 80s. Athena, Aaron's white doberman pincer, trotted back and forth watching the show with animated interest..

The factory had cutting edge technology when they were manufacturing hundreds of animatronics to be used in Showbiz Pizza Places. At the height of the creative endeavor two hundred Showbiz Pizza Places needed this animatronic band. They were fast paced times and the factory buzzed with activity and excitement. Truckloads of animatronics went out all across the country. For a generation of kids, The Rock-afire Explosion was their first influence in music. Then the executives stepped in and said there would be no more Showbiz Pizza Places. They tried to get Aaron to sell all the rights to the characters he had created. He refused to give them the rights. In response the fur and rubber flesh was peeled off of the existing characters and a cheap rug-like replacement in the form of a mouse was slipped over the inner structure. Chuck-E-Cheese was born.

Manufacturing at Creative Engineering slowed to a crawl and then stopped all together. Around the factory tools lay where they had been placed 30 years before. I picked up a tool and could see an outline on the table where it lay because of the dust. A phalanx of computers, which seem quaint by today's standards shut down. Aaron used to say to the staff, "A byte saved is a bite earned." Each machine had just 64 Kilobytes of memory so the code had to be streamlined. In different spots around the factory there were smaller machines that look like courtroom stenography stations. He explained to me that these were called "1996 Freedom Machines." Essentially they were internet stations before there even was internet. They were used so Aaron could leave quick notes for people on the factory floor, and so they could leave notes in return. At one point 325 employees worked at Creative Engineering. By 2006 there were only three. Now Aaron works alone, keeping the characters alive by programing them to perform on You Tube.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Creative Engineering

Brad Kuhn first introduced me to Creative Engineering. The ramshackle warehouse is located just north of the bustling night club scene downtown. I parked in the loading dock area and got this sketch as I waited for Brad, his daughter Meschelle, and Darlyn Finch to arrive. When we knocked on the front door, the sun had set and it was starting to get dark. Aaron Fechter answered. A albino doberman pincher named Athena, was barking and snarling, but once Aaron pointed out that we were friends, the dog calmed down checking for scents on our shoes.

The entry showed promise since there were half painted set pieces lying around and sculptural forms receded back into the darkness of the factory. For the next hour or so Aaron took us on a tour of the facility. He had us step into an old freight elevator and warned us to watch where we stepped since some of the floor boards were not so sturdy. The lift loudly groaned as we rose up. I could see the drop below us through the crack between the floor planks and there was no ceiling to the lift so I could look up at the cables that vibrated and strained.

We later stopped at a whack-a-mole play station. It turns out that Aaron had invented whack-a-mole but the concept was stolen from him by some carnie. The moles in the game we stood near had Osama Bin Laden, Hitler and other despots as the moles. That idea never took off. By now he was using a flashlight to show us around. Mysterious dark forms would flash brightly for a moment then disappear into the darkness.

Aaron said he had to turn on an air compressor. He disappeared and we stood in the darkness waiting. Moonlight now filtered through the factory windows faintly illuminating the space. I heard the compressor fire up with a hiss and then I adjusted my eyes and saw the dark forms on the sidelines start to twitch to life. They moved with an awkward mechanical quality but the one closest to me shifted its gaze and stared right at me. It's head turned, the fur bristled, and it's eyelid raised with curiosity. Dust rose when they shook their arms and the cloud filtered our view. We were surrounded by animatronics each of them moving and stretching perhaps for the first time in thirty years...

Saturday, April 23, 2011

No Dosa for You!

Brian Feldman staged a project inspired by Taco Truck Taste Test called "Dosa Vu." It took place at the Apna Bazaar supermarket which is located who knows where, someplace way south on OBT. Around the same time, Dina Peterson was showing a friend of hers from Boston named Ian the Parliament House Sunday Piano Bar. I stopped into the bar but the place was pretty quiet and Dina and her friend hadn't arrived yet. I texted her to let her know I was going to try and get a quick sketch at Brian's event.

The Indian supermarket was impossible to find. Nestled between car dealerships, the place was set far back from the road and building numbers were impossible to see. I drove in circles and got to the place about half an hour late. I thought Brian had said it was inside an indoor flea market. I wandered the aisles of the flea market looking for Brian. There was a booth of used furniture, a booth of pillows and a huge assortment of brick-a-brack at bargain prices. There must have been 50 booths but no Indian food. Outside, I looked at the event page again on my iPhone and it said the dosa dealer was in a store NEXT to the flea market. UGH! I rounded the corner and there was Brian, his girlfriend Sultana and Angela Abrusci.

Sultana introduced me to Joe inside and ordered a dosa for me. Joe stood in front of a cabinet case full of colorful shampoos and soaps. As he prepared my food, I sat down and started sketching. The food was finished before my sketch and Brian took it to the small table outside. There was a steady stream of customers. One man walked up to Joe and started whispering to him. Later the same man stood in front of me and started asking questions. "What are you doing?" I thought to myself, "Here we go again," and said with a smile, "I'm sketching." "What kind of art is that?," he asked. I turned the sketchbook around to show him the sketch and and rattled on about illustrative journalism. He frowned at the unfinished sketch. He wasn't impressed. "Did you ask permission?" he asked. I though, "If I asked permission every time I wanted to sketch, I would never accomplish anything." What I said was, "Who should I ask?" He explained that the store was private property. We continued this power struggle for some time, as I kept looking at the details behind him and sketching. I thanked him for his interest and rushed to finish the sketch before he called the police.

With the hasty sketch finished I went outside to find Brian and his entourage. They were gone. The much anticipated dosa was gone. I suddenly felt very hungry, but didn't feel welcome back inside so I left. I drove back to the Parliament House where Dina gave me half of her sandwich from lunch. Dina and I sang Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" together into a diamond studded microphone and the crowd joined along swaying with the chorus. Now the place was packed. Later we all sang "Oh Happy Day" with our hands raised as we danced. I felt the warmth and fellowship of being among friends. Where I felt misunderstood, I now felt accepted. The dosa was forgotten.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dead Men Chase no Tail

I decided to go to Austin's Coffee (929 W. Fairbanks Avenue) to join "Sketchy Broads" for an evening of sketching. It was pouring on my drive over from work. All day there had been tornado warnings across Central Florida. I made sure my sketch books were in plastic bags and then I sprinted through the parking lot to the back door. I ordered a Yak which is a frozen coffee with caramel and chocolate. Sean Moore, Austin's owner and coffee expert, told me he had peaked over my shoulder the last time I had stopped in for a sip and a sketch. He liked what I was working on and invited me to exhibit my work on the coffee shop walls. I always get nervous when my sketchbooks leave my studio but I might take him up on the offer.

While I was waiting for my drink, Orit Reuben introduced herself. She was there to sketch as well. We both had arrived early and both of us were attending the Austin's sketch event for the first time. Sean let us know he would be moving furniture off the front stage area to get things ready. I joined Orit when she started moving chairs. Sean and I moved the Victorian looking purple couch onto the stage as a prop. Soon the models, Jenny Coyle and Lindsay Boswell, arrived. They had a hamper full of pirate costuming and props. When Jenny pulled out an old bottle of rum, an artist remarked, "That's no prop, she goes everywhere with that tharr bottle!" Everyone laughed.

As artists arrived, I added them to my sketch. I did some of the fast poses but then erased them and waited to add the pirates when they took longer poses. Orit had a concerned look on her face when she sketched. She had a large 18 by 24 pad for doing pastels but I think she needed an easel. Another artist arrived with a mini easel and he told her where she could pick one up. He did some very detailed pencil renderings of the pirates faces. I have just the one sketch to show for the evenings modeling session. As I left, I bumped into Swami Worldtraveler and he let me know about the weekly jazz sessions at Austin's every Thursday night starting at 9pm. Sounds like I have to come back for another sketch!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Reading Between the Wines

Reading between the Wines was a fundraiser for the Adult Literacy League. Sponsored by Bank of America, it was held at the Sheraton Hotel downtown across from the Bob Carr Theater. When I arrived I was given a program and a wine glass. I didn't have time to sample the wines but I placed the wine glass in a pocket of my folding stool just in case. Terry was there chatting with a client. We immediately went to a small private meeting room where Bank of America guests were given a chance to meet and greet Carl Hiaasen.

Carl was born and raised in Florida. He began his writing career as a journalist for the Miami Herald before writing his first book, "Tourist Season" in 1986. Carl's books highlight the many problems faced in Florida thanks to over development. I've read two of his books, "Stormy Weather" and "Basket Case" and they were both hilarious.

Chairs in the meeting room were arranged in groupings of six. It made it seem like there might be group assignments where we had to collaborate and write. I decided to sit on my own over by the cheese and cracker table. Carl spoke to the group directly in front of me for quite some time. Then he sat down for a quick book signing. Everyone lined up. The ten or so people in the room had each been given a copy of Carl's most recent book, "Star Island." I'll read it once Terry is finished. She loves Carl's books and happily posed for photos with him.

I started the sketch in the large hall before the audience filed in. Robyn Austin from WLOQ was the Emcee. She announced as different silent auction tables were closed out with a resonating gong. Joyce Whidden, the executive director of the Adult Literacy League, introduced a short film about what they do. Basically one in five people read at or below a sixth grade level. In Florida that number is even larger. Literacy has the power to reduce crime, unemployment and dependence on welfare. When the film stopped everyone in the room, several hundred people, stood and clapped. It was a heart warming moment that offered the hope that people do care. Perlis, the man who learned to read at the age of 42, was in the audience.

Carl Hiaasen was then interviewed by fellow journalist Bob Morris. Carl pointed out that writing and rewriting his work came easy to him because of the years writing articles for the Herald. He had deadlines for the paper and he would write even if he didn't feel like it. In the question and answer session, Terry asked why the women in his books are so much more mature than the male characters. He explained that men are rather simple creatures that usually just want one thing. The audience laughed. Carl often incorporated real life events into his books. He had found that real life stories are often too bizarre to be believed as fiction. As an example, he pointed to a horrible car accident where a mans leg was severed off. The leg was forgotten. An EMT later found it and decided to feed it to his dog. This is far to sick to be believed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Blowin' Broadway

I decided to go the dinner cabaret show titled, "Blowin' Broadway" that is put on every Monday at Mr. Sisters (5310 East Colonial Drive near 436). The place is right near where I work. I was a little intimidated by the bright pink modern building. It is right on Lake Barton and the setting sun was painting the horizon orange. There was a bright pink zebra rug at the entrance. I asked where the performance would take place and I was pointed towards the stage with a chain link fence behind it and a pink zebra named Higgins poised in the corner. The place was empty for now but I wanted to start the sketch getting the background in position. The best view was from a bar stool right next to the piano. The bar stool wobbled a bit and the foot support didn't move. This was going to be like sketching while balancing on a pogo stick, but I ordered a Carona with lime and got to work. Where I sat turned out to be a major traffic area for the sexy waitresses who brought out drink and food orders. A pleasant distraction.

Andrea Canny walked in just as I started sketching. I recognized her from the half page ad in the Orlando Weekly which had caught my eye. I politely asked if she was performing. She organizes the weekly cabaret bringing in new talent each week while also singing a show tune or two herself. I was surprised that she knew of my work. I later found out she is an artist and photographer herself. Soon there was a group of performers gathered. They began to rehearse with John DeHaas on piano.

Brenda Hamilton who is in Broadway Across America's "Wicked" was the first to rehearse. I sketched Brenda in position as she rehearsed then added color much later when she performed. She had her own pianist named Spencer Jones. John DeHaas was behind the piano for everyone else so he ended up in my sketch. After the rehearsal the place quickly filled up. I love a good show tune, so I enjoyed every performance. There are two performances between 7 and 10pm but with my sketch finished I decided to head home.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Degas Sculptures at Tampa Museum of Art

Chere Force put out an invitation for artists to join her on a field trip to see the Degas Sculptures at the Tampa Museum of Art. I knew I would want to sketch, and I considered bringing my digital tablet. I left it at home since I didn't want to catch a guards' attention. Chere and her husband Rory picked me up in their minivan and we headed west to get to the museum right as it opened. The Tampa Museum is part of a gorgeous riverside complex. There were several school buses of school children unloading as we arrived. Thankfully there is a children's museum that the screaming hoard disappeared into. Curtis Hixon Park right next to the museum is a fabulous open public park with colorful terraced gardens. Across the river shiny metallic minarets adorned a building constructed in the 1800s as a hotel and it is now part of the University of Tampa.

The Museum is a modern block of a building that is covered in a grid of circular holes punched in sheet metal. At night the building lights up like a phosphorescent sea creature thanks to thousands of light diodes. The largely empty ground floor houses the gift shop and cafe while all the art is up on the second floor. Chere explained that design allowed for any storm surge from a hurricane to only damage the empty ground floor.

I branched off and explored the Degas sculptures on my own. On the walls there were some charcoal and pastel drawings that resembled poses from some of the sculptures. Degas worked on these small wax and clay pieces to help him visualize the fluid gestures he incorporated into his paintings and drawings. They were intended as studies, not finished works of art. When Degas died, his family arranged for 22 sets of bronzes to be made from all these studies while keeping the originals intact. All of the works in the exhibit were bronzes. Cards on the walls described how Degas was influenced by the classic sculptures he studied for three years in Rome and Florence.

Once I saw all the sculptures I started to experience the gestural work by sketching. Something about the way he explored form started to make sense to me. As my lines danced in around and through his sculptures, I started seeing the viewers looking at the art in the same light. The Little Dancer stood vigil in the middle of the room. Having the opportunity to study his art in person was inspiring. As I was finishing up my sketch a museum guard approached me. He asked what medium I was using. My stomach tightened and I said, "watercolor." Thinking to myself, "It is harmless, really, it washes right out with water!" He said, "You can only use a pencil to sketch in here." I didn't argue. I just put my little kit away. I imagined the young Degas sketching sculptures in Italy and being told to stop.

In the next room was modern art. In the center of the gallery was an installation that had two windows set up in a false wall. Between and inside the windows rain was pouring down with the occasional lightning flash, and the recorded rumbling of thunder. I had to wonder if it just might leak, potentially damaging the other art in the room. It was pretty far from the Degas bronzes. They were safe from any further artistic scrutiny.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Edward James Olmos

Alan Arkin was slated to appear at the Florida Film Festival along with a screening of "The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming!" This is one of Terry's favorite films so she bought a ticket early. He was in a minor car accident which caused some damage to his inner ear so he was unable to fly.

Edward James Olmos stepped in along with a screening of "Stand and Deliver." I arrived early and a staff member was just changing the marquee sign. The long pole had a suction cup at the end along with a string which, when pulled must have created the suction. Letters stacked on the ground were lifted up one at a time and slipped into the slots, a very analog setup.

I knew the event was sold out so I was nervous that I wouldn't get in the theater. Just as I finished my sketch, the long line of people started filing into the theater. I went into the lobby with the other press and volunteers who were on stand by. As I waited, Edward entered the lobby. He warmly shook my hand and said how happy he was to be seeing the film again on the large screen.

"Stand and Deliver" was an independent film that was an instant and lasting success. It inspired and offered the hope that teachers can truly make a difference in their students lives. It offered the reassuring promise that if you believe in and trust those you teach, they become trustworthy.

After the film he sat down with Henry Maldonado for an informal interview. When Edward got on the stage, he asked the audience, "Are there any teachers out there?" I raised my hand as did a number of people in the room. He said, "You all should be making a million dollars a year." People cheered. He went on to point out that the private education system isn't working in our country. He felt a strong country should have a strong education system.

When discussing his time on "Miami Vice" he was completely honest, saying he didn't like Don Johnson and he didn't once look at the actor when filming the series. Olmos didn't like to sign contracts that were exclusive, not allowing him to pursue independent films. He hated every minute he spent on that tv series and yet that contentious attitude resulted in his becoming a character the TV viewing audience loved to hate.

Speaking about "Stand and Deliver", Olmos said he spent many hours with the teacher, Jaime Escalante, and he was struck by what an amazing man he was. He expanded the math program he started so he could take on more students. Escalante was visited by presidents and diplomats. His success over time was resented by the other teachers who felt they did not get the recognition they deserved. Because of these jelovsies he eventually had to leave the school and the students he loved. When he was on his death bed he told his wife that he wanted the names of his students placed with him in the casket.

In "Blade Runner" Olmos was the one who was making origami figures while on set, and that idea was incorporated into the film. When he was hired as Admiral Adama for "Battle Star Galactica, he at first didn't want to take the role. He had never seen the original TV series and he didn't want to be part of some cheesy science fiction show. After reading the script however he knew this was a project he had to be a part of. Written after 9/11 the scripts were dark and penetrating. At the time the show was written, blogs became prevalent for the first time. After a show aired, there would be a dynamic ongoing online discussion. The writers listened and commented themselves. Thus blogs helped generate new ideas.

His relationship with President Laura Rosling was a bitter contentious power struggle yet transformed into love. The shows theme of redemption and forgiveness resulted in his being invited to speak in the United Nations. The most important message he offered, expressed there and at the Enzian, was that there is no Latino race, there is no Caucasian race, there is no such thing as race as a cultural determinant. There is only one race and that is the human race. When Olmos got up to leave the Enzian stage he turned to the audience and shouted, "So say we all!" He shouted again and again till the whole audience joined in.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Whole New Brawl Game

I went to the Universal Skating Center, (866 South Goldenrod) to see the final Orlando Psycho City Derby Girls bouts of the season. I figured this was a prime sketching opportunity since the teams would be more likely to skate all out for their final brawl. When I entered the building I was given a wrist band with skulls on it and was told I had to wait for a minute before going out to the rink. Electrical lines and the course oval were still being duct taped down. I found myself waiting in the skaters' locker room and they were waiting as well as they laced up their skates. I desperately wanted to sketch but then the buzzer sounded and all the skaters whipped around the rink to warm up.

I walked out to the opening in the rink wall where referees were lacing up their skates. The referees were just as beautiful and quirky as the skaters, with names like Scare, Vanilla Ice Pack and Anya Knees. The first bout matched up the Bellevue Bombshells against the Arkham Assailants. As soon as the magenta and day glow green shirted skaters got on the rink, four went down in a mini brawl before they even started skating. There are rules but quite honestly I don't understand them. Basically one skater sets the pace and points are gained when another skater passes the skaters on the other team. There is plenty of body blocking and maneuvering. The announcer shouted out, "Malice in Wonderland is being followed by Cinder block!" Derby involves short spurts of fast paced action. I often watched the action and then sketched as the teams lined up for the next go around. The Arkham Assailants prevailed.

After the match, Ellen Rage lay on her back, a teammate held her head in her lap while another teammate held her hand. A referee waved a large score card to try and cool her down. She must have been suffering from heat exhaustion. She was given a bottle of water to sip. A good ten minutes passed before she could get up and with help, get off the rink. The crowd clapped when she got up. The girls were indeed skating all out.

The second bout was between the Serial Thrillers, all in black and the Sunnyland Slammers in baby blue. I moved to the sidelines behind the Serial Thrillers bench. Anita Priest with a black rose adorning her jet black banged hair coached the Serial Thrillers. Her number was 666. I began this sketch by sketching the sexy referee in the center of the rink who held a stop watch. The longest a single skating match could last was 50 seconds. Anya Knees stood with her toe pointed ballet style as she rested her weight on one skate. I really think Degas would have enjoyed sketching roller derby.

Coach Anita Priest shouted and made the hand signal for time out! Anya Knees didn't notice so she ran up to the referee indignant and furious. There was plenty of bumpin' and grindin' as the skaters jockeyed for position. At top speed, if one girl was bumped and fell, then others would go down with her. The Serial Thrillers won. Pistol Whip, Nobody's Hero, and all the women in black, formed a circle and shouted in victory. Orlando Psycho City Derby Girls are gaining momentum and are here to stay! Like artists, these girls skate for the sheer love of the sport and the roar of the crowd.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

iDignity Fundraiser at Ember


Terry told me about the iDignity fundraiser at Ember. Admission to the fundraising event was $15 which is apparently how much it costs to acquire one Florida ID. I was instructed to slip my drivers license into the lanyard I was given to wear around my neck. Everyone in the room wore their IDs with pride. I sport a full head of hair on my drivers license photo but no one noticed. I found Terry at the end of the bar. She was working the event hoping to find some promising leads. I took the seat next to her and started to sketch.

I had been introduced to the charitable work of iDinity once before by Hannah Miller. They get IDs for the underprivileged. Without an ID it is impossible to get a job so this is the first step in empowering someone. I have seen that crowds of people show up when the IDs are being processed. I hope to get out to sketch the process soon.

The woman next to Terry was talking about how she had once tried out to be a Magic dancer. She didn't approve of the process and she dropped out. The Magic were playing the New York Knicks that night. It was a home game, so there was a crowd at the Amway Center a few blocks away. After a beer and tasting the food, Terry and I decided to leave early to avoid the mad traffic congestion that would happen when the game let out.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Animated Shorts

Each year, I have to see the animated shorts at the Florida Film Festival. This year Bill Plimpton had a display of artwork from around the world used in his Global Jam. He invited artists to each tackle a scene in their own style from his Academy Award winning film Guard Dog. The invitation went out via the Internet. Bill waited an hour, no response. He waited another hour with no response. He went home depressed. The next day he was told that too many artists responded causing the server to go down. The resulting film was hilarious being even quirkier with all the different looks. Bill said the film cost him $20 to produce with animators around the world volunteering their time.

Anyway, the Animated Shorts screening was sold out. The line stretched back as far as I could see. There was a chance I might not get in, but house manager, Brian Feldman, stepped in and made sure I got a ticket. I found a seat in the very first row. Brian joked and said I should sit on the stage and sketch the audience. I was tempted but really wanted to see some animation. I leaned back and let the screen filled up every inch of my glasses. Tales of Mere Existence by Lev Yilmaz is always in the lineup and is always funny. This year he talked aimlessly about how he had imagined relationships with women in the Ukraine via Facebook. There were a few artsy shorts with no apparent story. I always get annoyed at these aimless films.

My favorite film of the night was "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore". Though it could use a shorter title, the film is magical. It basically stresses how books offer refuge bringing color and life into people's lives. The main character was modeled after Buster Keaton. One of the co-directors daughter died, and his wife became paralyzed during production of the film. Moonbot the new studio that made the film is located in Louisiana, so when Hurricane Katrina hit, it ended up becoming a major part of the story. There is something very sad about seeing peoples books in among the rubble of destruction. Several of the story and visual development artists were originally from Orlando but unfortunately I didn't know them. They asked if anyone in the audience worked at Disney Feature Animation. I started to raise my hand but stopped halfway up thinking "well, not anymore." Seeing no hands he said, "Damn Michael Eisner."

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Louder Than a Bomb

I began my evening by going to the Regal Cinemas in Winter Park. I arrived an hour and a half early in order to have some time to sketch before watching films. I walked back to the two theaters that were set aside for the Florida Film Festival. In the hallway student volunteers were waiting around between screenings. Their job was to collect tickets and hand out ballots so the audience could rate the films. While I sketched, Jeremy Seghers and a friend stopped to say hello. Jeremy told me I HAD to see Louder than a Bomb! He was adamant, and he told me I would love it. With a spirited review like that, I had to see this film. I rushed from the Regal to the Enzian theater.

Mr. Happy Man by local filmmaker Matt Morris was screened first. I met Matt, Emma Kruch and Betsy Dye in the theater lobby. Matt wanted to get in early to get a seat for his screening. The volunteers turned him away offering no VIP treatment. This offered me the chance to meet him and shake his hand. He complained that the shoe laces on his sneakers were too long. Betsy dug into her bag and pulled out a crochet needle. She kneeled down and shoved the needle under the crossed laces and then she pulled the looped ends of the knot down underneath. It was a sudden inspired solution that very well could cause a national fashion trend. Mr Happy Man was about an inspiring character, named Johnny Barnes in Bermuda, who stood at a busy intersection each morning shouting out his love and blowing kisses to everyone who drove by. People came to depend on him and were reassured by his constant presence. A sculptor did a life sized bronze statue of him to commemorate his message of love. Here was a man with a simple message we all can learn from. Life is beautiful, don't waste it being upset or stressed. Let people know you love them.

Louder than a bomb was a documentary about high school students who compete in a spoken word competition. The film followed four students from two different high schools as they prepared for the competition. Steinmetz high was located in an underprivileged section of Chicago. In their neighborhood there were few opportunities. The first year they competed in the slam, they won. They hoped to repeat that performance. Oak Park high school was in the quiet suburbs, a privileged school in comparison.

What made the film so vibrant and vital was the creative spirit and drive of the students. Nova Venerable, a young Indian girl had a father who was a substance abuser. She basically had to raise her little brother since her mom had to work multiple jobs to keep the kids away from the father. Nova had not spoken to her father in years yet her poetry about him was filled with both anger and love. She started high school angry, often fighting with other students. She said, "My life seemed to fit once I started writing." Her brother, Cody, had special needs, with a form of autism. Her poem about him was filled with the purest love and yet she feared he might forget her when she went away to college. Her poetry was so raw and honest that it would silence the audience.

Adam Gottlieb felt he had grown up privileged since his parents supported him allowing him to pursue his dream. A poem he wrote about the simple act of writing sparked with life. Every line flowed forth, a constant stream of expression, the words piling up in the rapid need to be expressed. The poem poured out of him with such force that he was short of breath. Then he paused for the longest time and said, "poet breathe now." The audience breathed with him. The audience on the screen erupted in applause as did the audience in the Enzian theater.

Because of the challenges faced by the students from Steinmetz, I found myself rooting for them. Five judges scored the poetry from one to ten points. High and low scores were removed. The final competition came down to a matter of one tenth of a point. There were tears of joy and sorrow. Nate from Steinmetz stressed that the world is bigger than a poetry slam, that the poets should not be afraid to step beyond the papers edge. All the students were learning to be inspired by people that were different than them. They were becoming true students of life. Louder than a Bomb explored the pure joy of students striving for creative expression. They left their hearts on the stage and that is inspiring, a gift to anyone who would listen! The movie audience stood and applauded. I wanted to jump and shout ready to wrestle my own need for creative expression. You need to see this film!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Florida Film Festival

I went to Italian cinema night at the Enzian. First I did a quick sketch at the bar. After picking up a free Peroni beer, I went in to see La Pivellina (The Little One). This was an Italian film with subtitles. The film opened with a stout middle aged woman with fire engine red hair searching for Hercules. She shouted the name again and again. What she found instead was a two year old girl sitting in a swing. No one else was around so she pushed the swing. Then together they looked for the little girl's mother. A note in the girl's pocket indicated that the mother had to abandon the child and she would come back for her. Not knowing what to do the redhead took the little one back to her trailer.

The willful little girl is the true star of this film. She is adorable in every scene, from imitating a babysitter's expressions to the pure delight of walking through a puddle in big rubber boots. Because she is so natural the hand held footage began to feel like a documentary. All the heartwarming drama of the scenes must have been built around letting the little one just be herself. She didn't like the redheaded woman at first and she would willfully shout, "No!" I got the feeling the older woman had never had children.

She and her husband were part of a small traveling circus. They aren't perfect characters. When Hercules, their dog finally returns he is slapped. A goat wandered into the bathroom. They break down the small circus stage, when they realize that no one had stopped to see the act all day. The little one helped by carrying a chair. She slowly and surely became part of the family. What is precious about this film is that the director let the camera linger when needed. There is one scene where the little one is falling asleep while the couple discuss what they should do with her. The camera lingered a solid minute or two as the girl's heavy eyelids flickered shut with her finger pressed to her cheek as if she wanted to keep that one eye open. Later a second note is found and they realize they will have to give up the girl up, which is heartbreaking since she had brought out the best in the both of them. If you ever get a chance to see this film, I highly recommend it.

Outside the theater, Olive Garden put out a spread of free Italian food samples. I bumped into Mary Ann deStefano, who had already seen eight films focusing mostly on the shorts. Pete Dipietro the Enzian's technical manager, invited me to sketch in the projection booth. There I met Tom Procyk who was getting ready to show Fredrico Fellini's Armacord. Tom let me know he would be splicing together the film "Breakfast at Tiffany's" while Fellini's film was being projected. The film was shipped to the Enzian divided up into a number of small reels. Tom had to splice together all the small reels making one large master reel. The whole time he cleaned the film checking for imperfections. He handled the film like a precious thread. The projector made a clattering noise. Turning he said, "That doesn't sound right." He opened a panel on the side of the projector and made adjustments. At times he has had to get creative like using a rubber band to keep the machine running until a new part was ordered. Tom started this job when he was in high school and he has been a projectionist for 13 years. It is an art form, a craft, that is quickly being lost as the film industry turns digital. Before I left he gave me a souvenir, a reference frame from "Breakfast at Tiffany's." I tucked it into a sleeve in the back of my sketchbook.

"In every art form it is the emotional content that makes the difference between mere technical skill and true art."
-Frank Thompson

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Gratefully Dead Again

I got a tip from Mark Johnson via Facebook that Further was going to have a concert at the UCF Arena. This band has many of the former Grateful Dead band members. He suggested I get to the Arena early to sketch as the bad ass aging Dead Heads gathered. Walking through the UCF campus I began to see pockets of brightly colored hippies. I walked all the way around the Arena looking for just the right cluster of individuals to sketch. A parking garage right behind the Arena had Grateful Dead music coming from an upper floor. I saw an open SUV tailgate and two grey bearded men in tie dye. I was tempted to go up but there was little light in the garage. I had to look further.

I finally decided to sit outside Tail Gaters Smokehouse. A fellow with a grey beard looked like he had just arrived on his Harley Davidson. He chewed on a tooth pic and sipped his beer. A couple exited the bar. He wore a hat with flames dancing around the rim and an amazing technicolor coat with a rainbow of dancing skeletons. She wore a vibrant rainbow colored dress and a wreath of flowers on her head. I tried to fit her in the sketch twice but she was constantly on the move posing for photos. One fellow with a Grateful Dead messenger bag kept his hand raised with one finger extended. He was probably looking to buy or sell one ticket. Tickets went for $65 to over $100. I wasn't tempted to buy. Two college girls who looked like flower children danced to the music flowing from the bar. The lyrics caught my attention, "Every picture tells a story don't it!" A backpacker wandered into the bar looking like he had just hitchhiked to the concert.

I actually went to a Grateful Dead concert when I was in high school. I didn't have a drivers license yet so I got a ride from a co-worker named George from Zip-Mailing. I was earning money at this part time job to go to college. George had worked there for years. There were some strange scents at the concert, and I remember an amazing never ending drum solo that had everyone dancing in the aisles. I remember dancing with my eyes closed just letting the tribal beat move me. George got wasted, drinking far too many beers. The drive home was terrifying. He stopped once to puke out his driver's side door. He wouldn't give up the wheel saying he was fine. I eventually did get home, grateful to be alive.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Red Fox Louge


Amanda Chadwick and Matt Simantov first introduced Terry and me to the Red Fox Lounge (110 S. Orlando Ave, Winter Park). On the night they took us to the lounge, only Mark the was there behind the keyboard. Amanda boldly insisted that I not sketch until I had a chance to see the full act with Lorna. She claims that a Saturday Night Live writer had seen the Lounge act of Mark Wayne and Lorna Lambry. This writer then wrote a series of lounge act skits build around this couple. Urban myth or fact, this lead Terry and me to return. It was Saturday night and we decided to go to the Red Fox Lounge after an open house at McRae Art Studios. The dark inviting lounge was packed, except for a small table for two right up front.

Mark and Lorna are a married couple who have been performing in the Lounge every night for over a decade. They perform Vegas style with complete control of the audience with a high dose of campy fun. It is obvious they are seasoned entertainers. The room was darkly paneled with a strange neon light beside the bar. A single spot light illuminated Lorna as she sang. A table of women was right next to us and it was obviously a birthday celebration since the birthday girl was wearing a tiara and there were balloons. Mark shouted out, "I need two of you girls to come on up here!" The women hesitated, then three of them got up and began dancing behind Lorna. They laughed and had a grand time. Mark's laser beam attention focused on me for a moment and he said, "It looks like we got someone taking notes on everything we say!" I smiled and kept sketching. Later on a break between sets he looked at the sketch, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "You are my kind of guy." An older couple sat in front of us and when Lorna sang the next song, they got up and started to swing dance. They were good! Everyone was hooting and hollering!

A guy in a red T-Shirt was asked to sit next to Lorna for one of her songs. As he got up, he shouted out, "Lorna, you are so sexy!" He sipped his drink as she sang, "Fever". Then she pulled his head down on her shoulder and she sang softly to him. Mark shouted, "Watch where you put your hands buddy!" Wendy Wallenburg and Carl Knickerbocker showed up. There was literally no place to sit but we squeezed in a couple of more chairs in the doorway. Terry and I left soon after I finished my sketch. Then Wendy and Carl snuggled around our little table. I forgot my hat on the table and only a day later, Wendy was at an event with Terry and it was returned.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Florida Film Festival Opening Night

The Opening Night party at the Enzian Theater was a $100 a ticket posh extravaganza. I arrived early and was very pleased to find a parking spot in the theater's usually overflowing parking lot. Such little things keep me happy. I stood at one of the tables in the bar area and considered doing a sketch of the Peroni Girl who would be handing out free beer all night. A guy behind me interrupted my thoughts by saying, "That is one dumb button you have on your bag." After I explained where I got the button he pressed my sternum and waited for my response. It took me a minute to realize he had seen the word "Press" on my press pass and was taking it literally. He was pressing my buttons so I decided I had to leave. I located a choice seat at the bar.

As I started to sketch, a fellow with a "Filmmaker" ID around his neck sat beside me. His name was Tony Blass and he had just flown in from LA. He was here because a film titled "The One Man Beatles", which he is marketing, is going to be screened on the final day of the Festival, Sunday April 17th at 12:30pm at the Regal Winter Park Cinemas. This film is about Emitt Rhodes, a rock star from the 60s who was a huge star at the age of 24 but he grew bitter after his recording company sued him and he disappeared off the pop cultural radar. Tony looked parched, so I grabbed a Peroni for him and myself.

Our conversation turned to a common memory of an old TV series called "Dark Shadows." I remember being ten years old and lying in bed with my mother who had just returned from a New York City hospital. Tony had actually written several books which expanded on the story of the mysterious house called Collin Wood. He went on to let me know that Tim Burton is planning to make a feature film, starring Johnny Depp, which will resurrect "Dark Shadows." Barnabus Collins may return from the dead.

I then learned that while he is here in Florida, Tony planned to start filming Venus D Lite, who he said, "Can give Madonna a run for her money." She was in Atlanta on the night of the Film Festival opening, but Tony will be driving her to Miami for two shows and then driving her back to Orlando where she will perform at Pulse at about 10pm on Saturday April 16th. He hopes the footage he shoots here in Florida will be the start of a documentary about Venus' ambitious and tireless career. I plan to sketch Venus at Pulse and then at the screening of "The One Man Beatles" the next day.

Robert Johnson, the lead singer of Everyday Ghosts stopped by the bar and got hugs from the staff of three bartenders. The last time I sketched at the Enzian he was bartending, but tonight he was going to be performing on stage. Later Beth Black showed up at the bar in her bright red volunteer's T-shirt. She is a professional violinist who also volunteers for the Maitland Symphony. Ironically her assignment for the night was to be the "runner" for the band. She was getting drinks. At the time, I thought she was the band's manager. She let me know that Everyday Ghosts had just started playing, so I rushed inside to sketch. Jeremy Meier played drums. Richerd Becker was on Bass and the lead guitarist, Austin, was the son of the band's manager, Richard "Snake" Glatt. Someone said, "There's nobody in front of the band", but then Beth started recruiting partiers around the room to get on the dance floor. Soon there was a crowd of people moving, jumping and twirling to the beat. Some wore costumes like a pink zebra hat and Viking horns. I had sipped two white wines so the second sketch of the band was done with a loose splashing abandon. The whole time I rocked and swayed lost in the musics flow. Now I need to figure out which films to see. Anyone have suggestions?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Winter Park Art Festival

My wife works for Merrill Lynch. To kick off the start of the Winter Park Art Festival, Merrill Lynch opened the Winter Park office for a kick off party. The office branch has a wide open rooftop patio that overlooks Park Avenue. More important, food and drink were on the house all night. When Terry and I arrived there were lines of people waiting for food. I started sketching immediately. Irving Radar McLean was playing steel drum music all night. He quite honestly never took a break. I caught him briefly between songs to grab his business card. He said, "You'll be makin plenty of money from that sketch you did of me". He actually hadn't seen the sketch but he had noticed me working.

Clients and prospective clients of Terry's came to the rooftop event. While she was being a social butterfly, I sketched. Looking over the rooftop ledge unfortunately didn't offer a view of the art festival itself. The show tents began one block further north. With my sketch finished, I then loaded up a plate and grabbed a beer. Terry introduced me to a local magazine art director and I was surprised to find out she knew of my work. After another beer, I relaxed enjoying the sunset as the steel drum lifted me away to a Caribbean retreat.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Big Swinging Dicks


There was something rewarding about announcing on Facebook that I was going to sketch Big Swinging Dicks. The full title of the play being produced for this year's Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival is, "Big Swinging Dick's Topless bar presents The Naked Drag Queen farting". Now that is a mouthful! I was going to a staged reading of the play. Carl Gauze, the writer and producer, had invited me to the reading which started around 7pm at Breakthrough Theater in Winter Park. Since I work in Winter Park, and I got off at 5pm, I had some time to kill prior to the reading. I went to Shipyard Brewery to wet my palette. There I bumped into Brian Sikorski at the bar. I got to learn a little about his background as an artist. There was also an older couple there who had traveled the country searching for the best micro brewery's.

I ordered a vegetarian mushroom sandwich which I washed down with several beers. I was satiated and ready to sketch. I walked several blocks over to the Breakthrough Theater. I had never been inside this theater. In the tiny entrance foyer,the cast was seated on the couch and chairs and they were doing a practice run through of the reading. There was one empty chair so I quietly sat down. Several of the actors I knew. Mike Maples was playing the part of a bigoted bar owner who had to change his world view when a drag queen starts bringing in audiences that could not be ignored. Sarah Lockhard landed the choice roll of the drag queen diva. She had the odd distinction of being a woman playing a man playing a woman. She rubbed her hands together as she read. I have seen her perform some insanely funny comedic rolls in the past. I agonized for a moment wondering if I had enough time to sketch. I decided to just jump in. The reading was laugh out loud funny.

When the first reading was finished, the director, Desmond Flynn, offered some notes. Soon people started to arrive. The Breakthrough Theater is a small intimate space. The stage set resembled a quaint 1950's living room. The second read through was just as funny as the first. This is going to be a fun Fringe show!
Show times...
5/20 FRI 9:25PM
5/22 SUN 12:00PM
5/24 TUE 6:45PM
5/28 SAT 8:25PM

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Flash 2

A second Flash Mob was planned to promote Orlando, The City Beautiful. Secret rehearsals were held at the Orlando Convention Center. I was happy there was Free parking available behind the West building. I don't sketch many Convention events because of the price of parking. There was a long walk from the back entrance first up and then down frozen escalators. I followed a man who looked to be in his 80s and when I passed him, I followed two high school girls that looked like they knew where they were going. When I entered the convention room I was stunned by the vast empty space. The rehearsal took up less than a quarter of the space. When I entered, Randy Ross was speaking with all the volunteer dancers letting them know that they had to mingle and act natural prior to this flash mob performance. The last Flash Mob at the Millenia Mall, people stood around in a circle leaving the staging area wide open. It was painfully obvious that a staged performance was about to begin. This time they planned to do it right. Linda Elchak of NAO Dance then took over the rehearsal getting two large groups formed. This was the second rehearsal so most people quickly took their places. New arrivals were instructed where to line up.

I love the music they choose for these flash mobs, it is fun to sketch to. My favorite moment in rehearsal came when a group of about 20 retirees took center stage and shook their booties to Whoop There It Is! All the younger performers cheered and whooped. The youngest performer was the nephew of Linda Stewart and he held his own keeping up with the best dancers. Enthusiasm and a lust for life has no age limit. I decided not to publish the sketch prior to the Flash to keep the performance top secret. At one point Linda said, "Don't go past the grid, you will fall into the water." At that point I assumed they would perform at Lake Eola. I had to work during the time the Flash Mob happened. In hind sight it would have been an impossible sketching situation. If you went to Spring Fiesta at Lake Eola at the right time then you got to experience a high energy treat!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

31st World Wide SketchCrawl!

Spring into Dance

I returned to Seminole State College to see "Spring into Dance" presented by Yow Dance. I requested a seat in a back row with no one near by. I didn't want the glow from my tablet to disturb any audience members. The Artistic Director, Eric Yow was seared a few rows in front of me. The performance was a collaboration between Eric's dance company and some very enthusiastic College students who were studying modern dance under Eric's supervision. There were a total of eight dance pieces. Some were so high energy, like Word Up, that I was amazed by the stamina of the dancers. The dancers wore blood splattered wedding dresses and moved with zombie like loose muscled fluidity. The stage lighting gave the dresses an eerie iridescence. This was the world premiere of this piece and the audience loved it.

In one piece the dancers interacted with a lone spotlight. They would dance close to the mysterious light with tentative trepidation. By the end of the dance they formed a human pyramid allowing one lone dancer the chance to reach up to the illuminated heights. The last piece was called Blackberry Winter. It was an inspired incessant driving piece that kept a face pace throughout. Groups moved together in unity and just as an action felt complete another group would spiral into action.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Johnny Cash Tribute at Redlight Redlight

Redlight Redlight, (745 Bennett Rd) is a hip bar that often has themed shows of local artists' work. On this night the walls were covered with Johnny Cash portraits. Plineo Pinto had several sweet watercolor caricatures that I liked. I bumped into Leslie Silvia who showed me the nasty blisters she got on her hands from a recent crewing competition. She had some nice silhouettes of Johnny Cash. American Destitution, was on stage playing Johnny Cash songs. I asked Jared Silvia how long they had been playing to try and gauge how long I had to sketch. The place was packed so I sat on the floor right in front of the stage to get my sketch.

After the set was over, I talked to one of the performers and he told me this was the first time the band members had performed together in a very long time. I still hadn't ordered a beer so I muscled up to the bar and ordered a Cony Island Mermaid. The beer was dark and strong. I settled into a corner table and started a second sketch. A movie screen was set up on the stage and Johnny played for the crowd flickering and a bit distorted. His music and the swift kick from the beer made me blue. I wondered what lively conversations were flaring up around me. My hand moved over the pages involuntarily. With my second sketch finished, I decided to get home. As I left a group of graffiti artists stopped me to say hello. I had sketched these artists at Frames Forever and Art Gallery as they worked on large mural panels. I was fading and a bit depressed from listening to Johnny Cash for several hours so I didn't socialize long. Terry was away at some conference in Texas so I could have stayed out much later. But my work was done.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Yow Dance Tech Rehearsal

I went to a Yow Dance Tech Rehearsal at Seminole State College. When I arrived scaffolding was in place on stage and the stage lights were being aimed and adjusted. The dancers had not yet arrived. The scaffold had to be moved each time a new light had to be adjusted. The process became a learning experience for the college age stage hands who took their directions from Ellen Bone, the seasoned lighting designer. She took the time to explain why certain adjustments were made and she even walked a student around to give pointers.

When the dancers arrived, the house wend dark and the only thing I could see was the glow of Ellen's laptop. I switched to drawing on my digital tablet. Apparently the headphones she was wearing didn't work since she had to shout out her sound cues to the lighting booth at the back of the theater. The dancers performed and lighting adjustments were made on the fly. Sometime the dancers had to stop and wait while the right lighting combination was found.

One of the dance numbers called "Little Boxes" made a strong statement about how children are taught to behave and conform to societies expectations. The dancers shuffled in a chain gang style line. The dance offered a great social commentary about how our suburban society expects us all to be the same. A life of ticky tacky conformity as we move from one box to the next.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

How to Look at Renaissance Art

Karen Love Blumenthal invited me to attend a fun interactive talk about how to look at Renaissance Art at the Cornell Fine Arts Museum on the Rollins College Campus. The workshop was conducted by her husband Arthur Blumenthal the Director Emeritus of the museum. He began his talk by outlining the five steps that are needed to truly look at a work of art.
1. Become fully present and put aside your opinions. Usually when we enter a gallery, we immediately say, "Oh, I like this painting or I can't stand that painting." He insisted we curb such opinions until we fully studied the art.
2. Move into the objects "Looking Space" and move around the object while looking. At this point the first impression can be stated.
3. Determine the medium used.
4. Observe and describe the art in meticulous detail offering subject matter, composition, the light source. It is important to describe the art as if no one else had ever seen it.
5. Restate or sum up the main points or total impact.
The 20 or so patrons were then split up into groups and each group was assigned a Renaissance work of art to study. One person from each group was then given the task of describing the art using the five rules of observation. It was fascinating listening to people describe the art. Each person brought their own viewpoints and background into the process. One man truly didn't like the portrait he was asked to discuss but in the end, Arthur let him know it was a rare Tintoretto portrait and probably the most valuable painting in the collection. It was good that such information did not distort the patrons' view.
Lunch served at a long table in the front gallery. The scene was reminiscent of Leonardo DaVinci's Last Supper. The man seated next to me let me know that he spends the five summer months out of each year living on an island in Maine. When we got back to the Renaissance gallery, he had to describe a complex painting of Noah's Arc. He described the chaotic collection of animals and when he backed up, he was able to see the overall flow of the piece. Arthur went on to describe the umber under painting which was allowed to show through in spots.

Renaissance came from the Italian word rinascita meaning "Rebirth." This rebirth came about as ancient Roman and Greek statues were being discovered. Michelangelo sculpted amazing forgeries early in his career. There was an astonishing confluence of artistic genius in that era. There was also powerful banking families like the Medici who appreciated and paid for art. Ahhh... Those were the days. Of course there was also the plague, inquisition and plenty of wars, but that is a small price to pay.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mediterranean Deli

If there is one thing I love, it is a juicy Gyro or stuffed grape leaves and a salad with feta cheese. The Mediteranian deli (981 West Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park) is a true New York City style hole in the wall. It doesn't look like much from the street being a tiny store front in a small strip mall just West of I-4 on Fairbanks. At the order counter there are hundreds of business cards shoved in a slot in front of the mouth watering salads and sides. I couldn't resist. I pulled out an Analog Artist Digital World card and slipped it in. The owner is very friendly often asking about friends and family while offering up a free sample as I wait. I decided I would eat light for once, maybe some humus and pita. But after tasting the club wrap I ordered the club with a side of humus. I have had the gyros before and they are amazing, stuffed so full that you have to wrestle it into your mouth. Mediterranean music is playing constantly tempting the occasional amateur belly dance. Posters from Greece try to catch some Mediterranean warmth. A sign announces, "Americas #1 Gyros" and I do believe these are the best gyros in Orlando. I stop by anytime I am on or near Fairbanks Avenue. There can be a line during the lunch time rush since anyone who has been here always returns.

Friday, April 1, 2011

LiveStrong

Patricia Charpentier informed me that she was going to participate in MD Anderson Cancer Center's new Artists-in-Residence program. Her goal will be to enrich cancer patients lives by showing them the importance of telling their life story. She asked me to go to a press conference at the hospital. Around the podium artists' works were set up on easels. Dr. Clarence Brown III MD, the President and CEO of MD Anderson, introduced Margot Knight, the CEO and President of United Arts. She spoke about how art enriches our lives. Children sing, dance and create with abandon. In many ways, creativity is as important as breathing. She introduced the five or so artists who are spearheading this brand new program. I was surprised when I saw Andrea Canny, a singer and photographer I had met just the night before at a cabaret. Cory Warren of United Arts had done tireless work to make this new program possible.

The LiveStrong grants were awarded to MD Anderson last fall. The LiveStrong organization was founded by cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. The objective being to serve people affected by cancer by empowering them to take action. The Artists-in-residence program will empower patients by becoming absorbed in their own creativity as they meet the challenges of diagnosis, treatment and survorship.