Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Art Critique

Parker Sketch has organized a monthly critique group. I haven't really gotten feedback on my work since I was in college. That is longer than I care to admit. The last session was held at the Barefoot Spa. I decided to bring a five foot panel that I had just started. All together 19 artists were slated to show their work. Seated in front of me was a woman named Loraine Del Wood. Her name was just Loraine Wood but someone told her, "Your name is so boring." From then on she included her middle name for an exotic touch. When she discovered that I worked for Disney Feature Animation in the past, she told me about her animation background. She had worked as an inker and painter at Columbia screen Gems in the early years. Hand drawn animation was transferred to a clear acetate cell and then the character was painted on the back of the cell. She had worked on many animated characters. The one that stuck in my mind was Tubby the Tuba.

She loved animation and talked to different animators to learn their craft. She was told "Women don't do animation." Her husband worked on live action films so she left animation and assisted him on such films as Some Life it Hot, The Pink Panther and West Side Story. Her art fell to the wayside and she took a 40 year break from 1964 to 2004. She showed a series of paintings she did of women wearing black wide brimmed hats.

Painter Richard Colvin showed 2 paintings. One was of John Ashcroft standing in front of a statue which was partly draped. Ashcroft later insisted the statue be properly draped. He stopped doing this sort of political art since he felt he was preaching to the choir. In one year he experienced the grief of 11 deaths of family and friends. He started doing more traditional landscapes. He experienced a mad rush of creativity, doing 30 paintings in two months.

Marla E. Artist showed a large plaster base relief which was going to be used to cover a flat screen TV. The image was divided in two so it could be separated to display the TV. She wanted to sign up on Facebook as Marla E but it didn't allow initials for a last name. Her occupation as artist was tagged on to her name. Facebook is the new Ellis Island, forcing name changes as people immigrate to the digital realm.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Mennello Christmas Tree

Angela Abrusci offered to take some high quality photos of the five foot long painting I did for Margot Knight. We agreed to meet at the Mennello Museum to take the shots. Some shots were taken as the painting leaned against a brick wall and then we layed it flat in the parking lot. It was a cloudy day which she said made for better diffuse light. Autumn Ames wasn't sure how to ship such a large painting, so I decided to ask Kim Robinson in the Museum, her advice. From the basement she found a large shipping box called a strong box. Inside was coated with foam soundproofing material. The box was just six inches shorter than what I needed for the painting. She also suggested that the panel be wrapped with glassine which would keep the foam from sticking to any paint.

Kim and Genevieve Bernard were getting ready to put up the museum's Christmas tree. The wooden tree was designed by artist Anita Lam in 2000. She called it "The Out in Aspen BB Tree." The branches were wooden dowels. They all had numbers which corresponded to the height they were placed on the trunk. Branches were collated and piled on the floor. Angela stayed to help and she snapped pictures. An old metal American flag was added to the top of the tree. It bobbed on its spring just barely clearing the water pipes.

Many of the ornaments were original works of art by local artists. The Museum put out another invitation to artists to submit ornaments for the tree this year. Genevieve went to an inner city school to participate in Career Day. She had the children make craft paper ornaments which she planned to string up on the tree. On her iPhone, Billy Holiday was singing "Nice Work if You Can Get It" as she strung the ornaments together using red yarn. Outside the giant bay windows the lake sparkled and a large colorful sculpture by John Robert Wolf moved slowly in the breeze. Kim stacked apple ornaments below the tree.

Gail Pergande stopped in to watch with her dog. Once the tree was full of ornaments, we all went out to lunch at Shakers in College Park. I hadn't finished my sketch yet so after lunch, I returned to the museum to add color washes. I was inspired by the bright colors in the Earl Cunningham paintings on the walls.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Farewell Margot Knight

Autumn Ames called and asked me to do a painting to celebrate the ten years of service Margot Knight gave to the Orlando arts community as the President of United Arts of Central Florida. There was a farewell dinner in Margot's honor at the Orlando Repertory Theater. Autumn wanted me to execute the sketch and bring the five foot panel to the party so people could lay in the first colors. Autumn was the first person to step up to the painting, and she painted in the red guitar. The party was just two hours long, so I knew the painting would not be finished that night. I spent the evening thinning down acrylic paints and offering suggestions to the people who painted. I didn't put down a single brush stroke that night. In a conversation with Mary Hill, I came up with the idea of renaming all the colors after wines. I used sharpies to add the names to the cups of color. Not everyone noticed but those that did found it fun to paint a guitar with Merlot, for example. At first it was a challenge returning to the painting after so many people had touched it. Then it became liberating as it forced me to make bold decisions.

Every aspect of this painting was pulled from my Orlando sketchbooks. Most of the people in the painting were sketched for the Mennello Museum Mural. They didn't make it onto the mural for various reasons, so I consider this painting the blooper reel. I was blessed to find that so many people came out to pose that I couldn't fit them all on the 48 foot long wall. It is good to have too many choices sometimes.

That evening Margot brought with her all the silent auction items she had never used. We were given raffle tickets. I won an evening in a Maitland police patrol car! I can't wait. What a great sketch opportunity! I was rushing around so much filling cups with color that I forgot to eat. I grabbed a plate after most everyone was gone. Margot and Autumn were sitting together. I got to see pictures of the beautiful rustic home that Margot is moving to in California. She is taking a new job at Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside California. In a list of ten things to keep in mind about the Orlando arts community, she said, "We have some of the most out-of-the-box, talented artists. And we don’t appreciate or compensate them proportionate to their talent. Artists illuminate the human condition. We don’t always like what they show us. But they take more risks in a week than most of us take in our lifetime. They deserve our respect. They deserve to be paid." She is a true artist's advocate and I wish her well in her new adventure on the Golden Coast.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Wave Awards

Terry found out about the Wave Awards ceremony happening at Mr. Sisters (5310 East Colonial Drive). I had never heard of the Wave Awards so when my class was over at 9pm I drove down to Colonial. Terry sent me a text saying parking was tight. I lucked out and found a parking spot right under the giant LED Mr. Sisters billboard. As I walked towards the club I saw Billy Manes, a journalist for the Orlando Weekly. He was carrying a plaque and he nodded to me. I seem to keep bumping into him at events around town lately. I later found out he had won an award as the favorite local writer/journalist. Inside, I said hello to Mack Dixon. He had been voted the greatest straight ally to the local LGBT community along with his wife Margo. Since I knew nothing about the awards ceremony, I asked him a few questions. The Wave Awards were awarded by Watermark, a local LGBT newspaper. There was a copy of the paper on each of the tables. I thumbed through one and it looked like a great resource for finding fun local events.

Terry and Amanda Chadwick were seated at a table out on the patio overlooking the lake. Every table had a black and white painting of a celebrity on it. I could see a large eyeball staring up at me, but I couldn't make out the face hidden behind the ketchup, plates and glasses. Airport lights flickered on the horizon. A beautiful spot, but removed from the bustle and activity inside the club. Actually the place wasn't that crowded. People were starting to leave. I grabbed a plate of crackers and cheese before it was put away. Mark Baratelli joined us. He was holding his award as the favorite local LGBT blog. His blog, thedailycity.com, also won third place as the favorite LGBT website.

Rather than focusing on the event as a whole, I decided to sketch Terry and Amanda as they had dinner in the gay club. Amanda shouted, "You're not drawing me eating chicken wings, are you!?" I erased her arms. My sketching habit seems to be a burr in the saddle, an annoyance that people tolerate. Billy Sisco arrived and hugged Mark from behind. He showed Amanda his new Windows phone and started hammering it's screen with a knife handle. As hard as he hit it, the darn thing didn't break. I snagged a few of Terry's fries but was happy enough with my root beer.

When it was time to go, Mark asked us all to pose for a celebratory photo in front of a green screen. Mark and Billy stayed behind wanting to celebrate much later into the night.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sunday Piano Bar

Amanda Chadwick invited Terry and myself to the Sunday afternoon Piano Bar at the Parliament House (41o North Orange Blossom Trail). Kelly DeWayne Richards plays every Sunday from 1:30pm until about 4:30pm. He has a huge selection of sheet music and invites audience members to come up and sing. There is an undeniable regular crowd. Most of the singers are exceptionally talented. We muscled up to the bar as our eyes adjusted to the dark room. Amanda ordered a chocolate martini and it looked so good I wanted one. From the bar stool I started sketching. Mark Baratelli enterd and everyone shouted "Mark" Cheers style. Kelly insisted Mark step up to the mic. As he got ready to sing, an audience member got up to go to the men's room. Mark glowered at him like a diva and we all laughed. He began singing an over the top emotional rendition of "I'm Not Going" from Dream Girls. His emotional heaving breaths and despondent screams made his rendition hilarious. The crowd in the tiny room roared.

Even though I was still sketching, Kelly insisted I step up to the mic to sing "Hold 0n". Kelly told the story of how I sang this at the surprise 20th anniversary party I threw for Terry. I pulled the lyrics up on my cell phone as the audience waited. With a weak internet connection, it seemed an eternity. I whispered into the mic, testing it, "This one goes out to Terry." I missed a lyric or two but by the end I was feeling good, even the high notes were effortless. I looked at Terry then I saw people in the audience swaying and singing along. By the last refrain, the room was filled with harmony. When I finished, I assume there was polite applause. When I walked back to the bar, Terry threw her arms around my neck and kissed me. Mark shouted out, "Hey! Look everybody, straight people!" I laughed. One song isn't a free pass. It is the first step on a long road.

While I was singing, some guy had taken my bar stool. I just stood next to him throwing down quick watercolor washes. He eventually left and I regained my seat. Terry got up and sang "Being Alive" from the Sondheim musical, Company. I was surprised how soft and vulnerable her voice was. We are both frightened moving forward challenging support and independence but very much alive. Amanda and I sang "Somewhere Out There." We have had to sing it every time we are at the Sunday Piano Bar. Now that Matt Simantov, Amanda's boyfriend, is living way out in Seattle, the song has taken on a special meaning for her.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Sweetheart Deals - Beth Raymer

Terry and I went to a farewell reading by Beth Raymer at the Kerouac House. Beth had been working for the past month on a novel entitled Sweetheart Deals as a writer in residence. Her first book, Lay the Favorite: A Memoir of Gambling was a huge success and it is being made into a film directed by Stephen Frears (High Fidelity, The Grifters), starring Bruce Willis, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Rebecca Hall who I assume is playing Beth. It is slated to open next year. The success of her first book meant Beth was inundated with interviews and appearances. She confided she wasn't much of a public figure and she found all the attention distracted from her continued desire to write. The Kerouac House writer in residence program came just when she needed a chance to get away and focus on her new novel.

She was charmingly nervous as she introduced her new book, speaking a mile a minute. She curled her hair with her index finger and delicately pointed her cowboy boot inward, twisting the curve of her leg. Having written a memoir, she was used to reporting facts and her new novel recreated her family dynamic when she was six years old. The story is largely about a man based on her father, a boisterous salesman who, as it turned out had a mistress. She described the mistress in loving detail, describing the diminutive qualities that attracted her father's attention. At one point he needed money so he set fire to his business. Beth consulted with local insurance agents to see if the facts of her story worked. The story is set in Florida, so Beth was glad to return to feel the humidity and see lizards dashing under foot. Vivid childhood memories surfaced. She liked to work at the kitchen table in the Kerouac House, often editing in the afternoons. Like Jack Kerouac she has lived a vibrant unconventional life. She is new to Facebook and on a dark evening she got a friend request from a mysterious Jack from beyond the grave.

Beth seemed to enjoy the sketch, although as usual the nose is a bit off. There were so many talented people in the house that evening. Kelly Medford who lives in Rome is a plein air painter who does a painting a day. Authors stood in the open kitchen doorway laughing about local characters. Patrick Greene told me about a harvest of sugar cane that would make a great, "Old Florida" sketch opportunity. Leaning against a stove, a young man in a baseball cap pulled a bright fire engine red flask from a hip pocket and the final drops were emptied into a drink.

Beth offered me some delicious fruit salad she had prepared. In the kitchen, she talked about how odd it was that so many British actors were in the movie version of her first book. The screenplay writer, DeVincentis, brought his background to the story and the director had his personal vision. It must have been hard to give up control especially when it is the story of her life. I told her how I felt I gave up my artistic identity when I worked for Disney Feature Animation, and how I'm just now rediscovering that inner voice. She raised her cup of wine and we toasted.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Musical Mondays

It was Kelly DeWayne Richard's birthday. He celebrated by playing the piano at The Abbey for Musical Mondays. I couldn't get off from work until 9pm. Terry went there around 7pm and I rushed to meet her. She was seated in a wide leather love seat in the front row. Kelly was singing a flamboyant version of the Piano Man. I sat down, the leather squeaking. Terry and I kissed and she snuggled against my chest asking me to put my arm around her since she was cold. I was hot having just walked many blocks from my parked truck. My eyes were busy composing a possible sketch. This wasn't a great angle since I couldn't see Kelly's hands on the keyboard. I felt a bit like we had just made love and I was wondering how much longer I was expected to hold still. "Relax!" I thought to myself. "Enjoy the moment, you don't always have to be sketching to be happy."

She must have read my mind because after a while she said she was going home. She had waited several hours for me to arrive and that meant a lot to me. She knew I was itching to work. I moved to the next seat over. It was still a horrible vantage point. I ended up unfolding my artist stool and leaning against the wall. The lighting in the Abbey is magnificent. As soon as I started to sketch, Kelly took a break. It was my chance to hug him and wish him happy birthday. Chris Equality Leavy took his place at the Baby Grand piano. Chris sang a moving rendition of "My Way." I sang along as did most of the people in the crowd. My heart warmed.

Later a female singer took to the stage. Kelly introduced her saying she had a wonderful voice. The mic was on the far side of the piano so I could only catch a glimpse of the top of her head and the thigh high black leather boots she wore. She sang "Someone Like You" by Adel. Her voice was astonishing. She truly sang the song with more heart and sincerity than the pop star. There was a skit on Saturday Night Live this week where women office workers played the song and they all cried together. A man entered and he cried, his mascara running. A janitor mopping the floor broke down and a window washer pressed his ear to the glass and bawled. The singer at the Abbey was Emily Heffelfinger. What a find! A true raw, heart warming talent.

The stage was soon full of cabaret singers who sang a moving patriotic medley. Voices were raised in perfect harmony. I spotted Andrea Canny, who waved. I sang along, my sketch now complete, swept along in the fervor. I basked in the warm glow of this vibrant artist community.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Medium - Performance day.

Kelly Medford, a plein air painter from Italy picked up the extra ticket I had to see The Medium. Italians love opera. I arrived early knowing I would like to start blocking in a view from the upstairs balcony. This "God's eye view" seemed appropriate for the seance scene. When I arrived, the valet was quick to take my keys. Parking would be tight since this was a private residence. Admission to this rare staging was by invite only. I had my invitation in my bag but by now everyone knew me.

I rushed up the grand staircase and got to work. I leaned against a marble pillar as I sketched. Kelly arrived and I was pleasantly surprised when she pulled out her own sketchbook. She moved a folding chair to where she was working and I decided to grab one myself. I stepped on it and used my horizontal calf as a table to steady the open sketchbook. I had a book-light but realized that I didn't need it since the afternoon sun warmed the room.

Frank McClain announced that they were going to wait a few moments for more people to arrive. Baba said something similar to her guests before the seance began in Act I. Out the top of the tall windows I could see the lake. I joked with Kelly that the delayed guests must be arriving by boat. She said, "Or they are arriving by seaplane!" Frank, seated next to me, dimmed the lights and the room grew quiet.

Monica and Toby began the act in a playful scene of fantasy. Baba interrupted their play when she entered loudly. Monica ran to her room and Toby cowered. Baba's every movement was threatening. She was larger than life. She drank heavily and when she whipped Toby, anger rose in me. Her every frustration was unleashed on that poor adopted boy. The performance flowed effortlessly. I was surprised that I finished my sketch early so I put it away and leaned forward on the railing, looking down.

Baba, played by Susan Neves was singing about the horrors she had witnessed in her life. When she sang, "Oh God, forgive my sins, I'm old.", I identified with her growing madness. "Old Black Swan" is my favorite aria from the show. First Monica, played by Shannon Jennings sang it then Baba sang it in the last act. It is a haunting melody. I was glad the sketchbook was tucked away. I let the music wash over me.

After the performance there was applause. I stood and clapped loudly. The audience below me was hidden. There was deserts and port in the parlor afterwards. The port came in the tiniest little glass stemware. The sweet liquid warmed my throat. I had to raise a pinky to drink it. I couldn't have just one. I couldn't resist swirling the alizarin crimson liquid in my cup. Unfortunately it slipped over the edges into my hand. I did that twice and then finally washed my sticky hand in the kitchen sink. I recognized many of the people in the room from the days when opera thrived in Orlando. Besides the exclusive residential productions, the show will be staged at the Orlando Repertory Theater on December 3rd at 7:30pm and December 4th at 2:30pm. You can get tickets at floperatheater.org or call 407 718-4365. Opera is back!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Medium - Dress Rehearsal

I returned to the spacious mansion in Winter Park to see the dress rehearsal for Gian Carlo Menotti's, "The Medium." Robin Stamper, the pianist asked actress Susan Neves how she felt. "I feel comfortable." she said. "I'll do the best I can at this point in time and if there is a mistake, I'll be able to fix it for Saturday's performance." Frank McClain, the director, on the other hand was nervous. There were thousands of infinite details that had to fall into place to make the performances perfect. This was to be the first run through with all the lighting and props.

Frank let me know that six people had bid on and won the chance to see the dress rehearsal at a fundraiser. When the door bell rang, Frank shouted out, "Places everyone!" The six winners entered and Frank spoke with them for a while. Kathy Miller was a warm inviting hostess offering wine and cheese. None of the women had seen an opera before. Frank let them know that they were in for a treat. Frank warned the small audience that there was one gun shot in the show and no one could be hurt. I knew as I started the sketch that I wanted to catch Shannon Jennings singing "Old Black Swan." Her performance was mesmerizing. When the seance began, I couldn't resist sketching that as well. Unfortunately Brent Reilly Turner as Mr. Gobineau is mysteriously missing from the sketch. I had already painted the black piano which made it impossible to sketch his face. The only solution was to leave his chair empty.

In the final act, Susan as Baba grabbed the gun from a dresser drawer when she was startled awake by David Grindrod as Toby. She waved the gun around as if aiming at ghosts. Several audience members flinched. The gun fired with tragic consequences. When the actors each came out to bow after the show, Susan Neves got the loudest applause. Of course with such a small audience, the applause felt polite rather than thunderous. I absolutely loved the production. Something about the intimate setting gave it added punch.

Frank gave the cast his notes. Regarding makeup, he felt Susan looked too beautiful in the final act. Susan didn't fully agree with the premise that Baba was a heavy drinker. In one scene she forgot to bring her bottle of liquor with her. She was supposed to take a heavy swig from the bottle. She added, "You didn't read clause 451A in my contract which states, 'I must be the most beautiful one 0f all'". Frank and the cast laughed. Bobbie Demme San-Filippo doing make up agreed to add darker rings under Susan's eyes. There were many more subtle staging notes but, as an audience member seeing the show for the first time, the production seemed flawless. After two years of darkness, opera is back in Orlando!

The show will be staged at the Orlando Repertory Theater on December 3rd at 7:30pm and December 4th at 2:30pm. You can get tickets at floperatheater.org or call 407 718-4365.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Medium Rehearsal

The Florida Opera Theater has come up with the brilliant idea of staging "The Medium" in a gorgeous Orlando mansion. This exclusive production was by invitation only. I drove around an upscale part of Winter Park in the evening searching for house numbers. My GPS on my cell phone showed where the mansion was but I drove up and down the street many times as I hunted. I finally went down a tiny unmarked one lane road that cut in towards a lake. At the end of the road was a large iron gateway and the number I was seeking was on a mail box. The long driveway lead to a circular turn around where the actors cars were parked. I opened a courtyard entry gate and walked toward the immense mansion. Warm light spilled out of the cut glass of the front door. Water cascaded down a series of steps of a fountain that ran the length of the walkway. I rang the doorbell and tested the knob. It was open. The entryway opened up into a vast vaulted ceiling where a large chandelier hung. The opera was being staged in this grand space. A second floor balcony looked down on the set. Folding chairs were set up around the edges of the room.

Director, Frank McCain, welcomed me. The last production I had seen him in was, "War of the Worlds". Susan Neves as "Baba" and Shannon Jennings as Monica were standing near the grand piano played by Robin Stamper. Scenes were rehearsed out of order, but for once, I knew the storyline since I had done my research when I did the illustration for the program. In one scene, Baba wanted to force Toby, played by David Grindrod, to leave. Monica defended him saying he needed them. She was instructed to grab Baba's arm in the argument. In the heat of the moment, she grabbed the wrong hand and Baba shouted in pain. This wasn't in the opera, Susan was in real pain. A previous accident had resulted in a broken clavicle and now her twisted arm had pinched a nerve. Shannon apologized and hugged her. Luckily it was a minor incident. The show must go on. In an other scene Susan had to take a swig of alcohol and she choked because she had just been singing and it went down the wrong pipe. It wasn't really alcohol.

Frank pulled a starter's pistol from out of a drawer on set. He let everyone know it wasn't real and that they wouldn't fire the caps until the next evening's rehearsal. He told Susan she should never point it towards the audience. It looked very real. In such an intimate setting, I could imagine people diving for the floor if she did. In a later scene she pointed the gun towards the puppet theater where Toby was hiding. She threatened to shoot and when she did, she said, "Pichoo, Pichooo!" In a dramatic moment of shock and horror, she dropped the gun to the floor. It burst into a dozen pieces. "Oh God! I'm so sorry!" she shouted. Once again real life drama seeped into the rehearsal. Frank and Bobbie Demme San-Filippo, the props master, struggled to put the gun back together.

Shannon was enchanting as she performed "Monica's Waltz". I knew I needed to return to sketch her as she sang "Black Swan" which was absolutely haunting and would make a great sketch. Susan Neves roll as Baba was very physical and exhausting. After a full run through she was spent. She searched for a cookie for a quick sugar rush. Samantha Barnes sang off stage as the voice of the dead. She found the best spot to sing was from was an upstairs bathroom which gave her vocals a haunted echo. Being so close to the cast as they sang and performed was exhilarating. This idea of bringing opera to intimate settings was pure genius. This promises to be a show that will make the hair stand straight up on your arms.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Medium

This is an illustration done for The Medium, an Opera written by Gian Carl Menotti. Florida Opera Theater is staging this opera in a private home here in Orlando several times this month. Terry and I used to attend the opera regularly. The Opera went bankrupt and closed shop several years ago. It is nice to see opera making its way back thanks to the grassroots efforts of Florida Opera Theater. Frank McClain is directing the production and I hope to sketch several rehearsals. Great art forms never die.

The opera is about a psychic medium, Madame Flora who is a fraud and drinks too much. She used her own daughter, Monica, to trick a woman into believing her is the woman's dead child speaking from the other side. Flora took in a mute servant boy named Toby, but she is often enraged with him. Toby and Monica are attracted to each other, which becomes evident as they play a game of dress-up together. At a second seance, Flora seems to legitimately hear voices. The experience frightens her. She blames Toby and is infuriated that he doesn't confess. As with many operas, there are tragic consequences. The fact that all the songs are in English makes the opera very accessible.

Besides the exclusive residential productions, the show will be staged at the Orlando Repertory Theater on December 3rd at 7:30pm and December 4th at 2:30pm. You can get tickets at floperatheater.org or call 407 718-4365.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

TEDx - From Passion to Fashion

Ben Hoyer got on stage at the TEDx event held at the Winter Garden Theatre. He is the founder and director of Downtown Credo, a non-profit focused on improving the quality of lives in our nations cities. He works with people to cultivate networks of meaning, impact and community. Ben's credo is that individuals who want to improve their city can make a difference. He began, "Life is worth living. I refuse to merely exist. I pursue a life of meaning and purpose, fulfillment and joy. The world is not yet as it ought to be. Neither is my city. Neither am I. Yet, I reject apathy and despair. I engage the world, my city, and myself to make an impact for good. I am not alone. I press through narcissism, isolation and self-sufficiency striving to live in authentic community." He spoke of one act of community activism that challenged him. He was picking up trash in an empty lot with some people. One person said, "This lot will be full of trash again tonight, why bother?" Ben stressed that at least they did what they could. At one trash site the refuge was wet sticky and gross. In the back of his mind he thought, "Maybe I'll let this one slip by." The volunteer with him noticed the mess and then Ben worked up the courage to tackle the messy task. Alone he might have lacked the will, but together they accomplished what needed to be done.

The Power Point on the screen is actually from a presentation by Jessi Arrington. Jessi is a co-founder of Workshop, a Brooklyn based studio that merges design and social responsibility. In a fun presentation she outlined how she keeps her creative spark alive. She LOVES color! Her favorite color is rainbow. She stressed that it is physiologically impossible to be in a bad mood wearing bright red pants. To hammer her point home, Jessi placed bags full of colorful clothing on the stage. People from the audience were invited up to take part in a rainbow celebration. Some people already wore a bright color so they were sent to the bag containing more items in that color. Soon the stage was a riot of color. Feather boas, hats, shawls, skirts were all in solid colors of the rainbow. If your color was green, you were ALL green. The parade of people marched off the stage and into the audience to a lively march. If your going to live a creative life, live loud! I realized I was dressed in drab neutral earth tones. Perhaps I could use more color in my life, but that would involve an awful lot of shopping. I also refuse to loose my brown hiking boots. Function over fashion is my credo. What an amazing day spent with people who are each making the world a better, more colorful place, each in their own way.

Friday, November 18, 2011

TEDx - Cesar Harada

Cesar Harada gave an inspiring talk about how he and his team are helping use technology to help clean oil spills. He coordinates Open_Sailing which is a group developing open-source International Ocean Station. They have developed a remote controlled sail boat which will help clean oil spills in the oceans more efficiently. The remote controlled sailing robot is called Protei. The boats entire hull flexes making it resemble a fish as it maneuvers. This sinuous motion makes the robot more efficient as it tacks, or changes course, going up wind. All of the technology being developed is open sourced making it easy for anyone to modify or improve designs from anywhere in the world.

Team members wanted to document the existing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico but authorities didn't grant them open access to view or chart the spill. In order to get detailed maps of the spill, they decided to simply float a digital camera high into the sky using a weather balloon. Thousands of digital pictures were then composited to create a detailed view of the area.

In his closing statements, Cesar pointed out that technology needs to be used to protect the earth from civilizations often destructive search for fuel. Everyone in the Winter Garden Theater stood and applauded his efforts with thunderous applause.

One of the next speakers was neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki. She has been researching how aerobic exercise improves learning, memory and cognition. She took an aerobics class and found she was fired up and felt sharp and inspired as she learned new things. She was offered to teach a class called "Can Exercise Change your Brain?", at NYU and she used the students in her research. The class exercised while shouting out positive affirming statements. There was some nervousness and giggling at first but then the students embraced the motivational exercise program. She found that a semester of increased aerobic exercise improved performance on a recognition memory task compared to a control class that did not participate in the same exercise regime during the semester. In another study, she found that an hour of aerobic exercise improved cognitive performance in college students on a number of tasks dependent on the frontal lobe. She decided to get the audience involved. She had us all pump our hands in the air to some fast energetic music while we shouted strong affirmations. Actually, I was a slug, my hands stayed on task, finishing a sketch. Even so, I was fired up and ready to learn more. Sweat then study! Keep creating, make mistakes, learn from them and grow.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

TEDx The Creative Spark

I was invited to the TEDx event held at the Winter Garden Theatre by Jenny Zoe Casey. I had seen several TED videos on YouTube so I had some idea of what to expect. I sat in the back row of the theater because I love to watch camera men at work. Tiny lights sparkled like stars on the ceiling as the house lights dimmed. I found out during the introduction that TED stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design. The Theater was jam packed with creative people from all over Central Florida. Upstairs between sessions everyone was encouraged to socialize and discuss the talks. Mark Baratelli of thedailycity.com was there along with Scottie Campbell from the Orlando Opera. Anna McCambridge and her husband Marabou Thomas said hello as we shuffled off to the next session. As I was considering a sketch, a young female artist introduced herself. She used to work at Universal as a caricature artist. We talked about art and how caricatures are often watered down in the parks so people can accept it as a likeness. She loved being able to truly exaggerate features but if a costumer said, "My nose isn't that large!" She would be in trouble. She had to walk a fine line to "nail" each sketch. It was thrilling to discuss my own sketches to an artist that shared the same challenges.

After the introductions a video was shown which I had seen before. The video featured Eric Whitachre who orchestrated a virtual choir, 2000 voices strong. What was astounding was that voices from around the globe were brought together. People have an innate need to reach out to each other. People from truly isolated places found connection to the project as well as urban dwellers. The internet is truly a new creative frontier. I was equally inspired by the way creatives from all over Central Florida gathered to share stories of their creative spark. People were connecting, sharing and inspiring each other. Creativity isn't something only found in the isolation of an artists studio. It is found in conversation and the simple human desire to share. One persons creative spark can inspire others.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lone Wolf

The next performer at the Jug-ly Art & Antics fundraiser at the Peacock Room was the Lone Wolf. He set up behind a simplified drum set with a megaphone attached to the base drum. He had a harmonica set up with a brace to hold it to his lips. A tin can hung below the harmonica perhaps for added acoustics. His voice was raspy and deep. Something about singing into a megaphone made the vocals seem bad ass. I worked quickly trying to capture him in the dim light. His drum set was bright green and he disappeared into bloody reds. His girlfriend stood directly in front of the stage checking her iPhone occasionally. He called out to her once, to help him find the slide for his guitar. He was the quintessential one man band.

Next on the line up were the Kitschy Kittens Burlesque Troupe. Suddenly the room was jam packed. A thick wide and tall gentleman stood right in front of me. Two slender women dressed in German Tyrolean dresses got on stage. They each got a beer out of a cooler and popped off the caps. They began a seductive dance to a beer song. I only caught a glimpse of the one girl when she moved to stage right. Soon frilly under garments were flying into the crowd. John Theisen kept picking them up and putting them back on stage. The girls began to sway and stagger as they sipped and danced. Before I could close my mouth and put a pencil to the page, it was over. The girls bounded off the stage, their shiny symbol shaped pasties bouncing. They gathered their garments and exited stage left. Perhaps I'll have a clean line of sight and get a sketch next time.

Another band started to set up their equipment on the small stage. They were all young college kids in stone washed cut up jeans. The Getbye was emblazoned on a drum set. I considered another sketch but decided I had enough eye candy for one night. I headed home. I had started the evening thinking I would sketch the Bloody Jug Band. I will have to catch them another night. Hopefully plenty of money was raised for a Gift for Music and the Crealde School of Art.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jug-ly Art & Antics


John Theisen from the Bloody Jug band told me about this fundraising event at the Peacock Room. When I got to the Peacock Room I was fascinated by a phosphorescent blue tree in the main bar area. It would have made a great sketch but I heard music in the back room so I headed that way. The pool room had an exhibit of jugs from all over the country. The art exhibit was inspired by Traditional JUG Bands and the Americana Movement. The jugs were on shelves and with the dim lighting it was hard to see the name plates. I lit them up with my iPhone. Some jugs were already sold as indicated by the red dots. Orlando artist Mike Siedsma had his own wall filled with fanciful face jugs.

On a table there were a dozen or so cigar box guitars for sale. The artist, Jim Mitchell, stressed that cigar box guitars have a long, rich history in American music. He handcrafts each instrument one at a time so he is always open to clients individual needs. People were encouraged to pick up the guitars and try them out. John Theisen pointed out to me that the Bloody Jug Band would be using several in performances later that evening. All Proceeds from art sold that evening went to benefit, A Gift for Music and Crealde School of Art.

GT Springer was on stage performing some lively rock and roll covers. At one point several members of the Bloody Jug Band got on stage to join in on the vocals. Someone shouted "Freebird!" As the guitar gods performed, a washtub single string joined in performing in a green spot light.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Play in a Day - Tech

Play in a Day at the Orlando Shakes, featured 20 actors, 7 writers and 7 directors. A lottery done the day before picked the creative teams for the seven plays. Each play was given a 20-30 minute tech. Tech is when the play is rehearsed in the theater so sound and lighting cues can be worked out. One of the plays referenced the set... "It looks like a children's theater show gone horribly wrong!" I sketched as the play "Out On Top" written by Kenny Babel was being rehearsed. Kenny wrote the play between 2am and 4am the night before. Elizabeth Murff as the wife, Steven Johnson and Anthony Pyatt as the sons, played family members who just lost their father. The father had died in a freak accident at the opening of LEGO Land. He had climbed a LEGO Empire State Building and fell. A Bank of America skyscraper pierced his heart. In one scene the two boys stood with their hands at their wastes as if at a urinal as they spoke about their father.

Family Road Trip which I had been sketching all day entered the theater to polish their tech. John Connon slipped up on a line and then he shouted, "I f*cked it up ya'll!" He followed with, "I wanna do art and I wanna get paid!" Both lines are classic Beth Marchall standards, delivered with her distinctive sharp southern drawl. Beth said, "I wanna be famous just so drag queens can play me. Also I wanna make tons of money so I can throw it at talented people." She walks the walk. Posing for photos with the cast, she compared tattoos with John for Kristen Wheeler behind the camera which made me happy since I had painted the makeshift tattoos on John as a lark using my portable watercolor set.

Soon the theater filled with an audience. Beth stood, "Thank you for coming to Play in a Day and what a long day it has been." Lindsay Cohen who had written "Welcome to Heaven" sat in my row. She seemed nervous since she had no idea how the audience would react, and she didn't get to see the development process. When the audience responded with thunderous applause I glanced over and saw her relax.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dress Rehearsal



David Lee the author of this play had been given the wrong theme before he started writing. Chasmin Hallyburton had told him the theme was Traditions rather than Transitions. He started writing at 2am and the final draft seems to fit the intended theme perfectly anyway. Play in a day works in strange and twisted ways.

Beth Marshall came out to the courtyard after lunch with some touristy clothing on hangers. She had a black mu-mu for John Connon who was going to play her. She gave him her necklace and he was given a big red wig and as the crowning touch, a Mickey Mouse beanie. Sarah Lockhard had a bright orange T-shirt that said, "Aqua Girl." She was given a Stitch hat with floppy alien ears and a tiny Stitch head hanging from a chord. The fact that I had worked on Lilo and Stitch when I was at Disney Feature Animation warmed my heart. Stitch is as much a pop icon as Mickey now. Being the youngest member of the cast Sarah had fun playing a spunky child. Steven Middleton had his own costume picked out. His loud Hawaiian shirt had palm trees and a bright sunset against the bright blue design.

Beth wanted John to have her tattoos so I stepped in and painted the tattoos in watercolor on his arms and feet. His right arm had an intricate spiraling ivy pattern festooned with leaves and a spade. His left arm had an owl and each foot had a tattoo. I simplified the designs since I knew they would be seen from a distance. He was a little worried at how permanent they might be but I assured him they would wash right off. Watercolor always washes off my skin easily. Clothing on the other hand...

I watched the actors rehearse again and again till the play was second nature. Sarah grew more animated and energetic with each pass. Though I heard this short play perhaps 20 to 4o times, I always found something fresh and unexpected in each performance that made me laugh. When there was a line that said, "We're traveling light, no props Missy." John looked at his non-existent cigarette with disdain. Sarah discovered the sunroof as she shouted, "I AM a seagull." Extending her wings in the wind.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Rehearsing in the Darden Courtyard

Beth Marshall was warned that 300 children were about to swarm the lobby to see the play, "Miss Nelson is Missing." Beth decided to move her cast outside. After several read throughs, Beth invited the actors to go "off book." There were a few hiccups, but the actors memorized their lines amazingly fast. John Connon pretended to smoke a cigarette. Steve Middleton had his loud tourist costume bundled up beside him. The three actors were playing parts in a family inside joke that they easily slipped into. Sarah Lockhard pointed shouting, "That one!" "No to small." John countered. "How about that one?" she screamed. "No too large." Steven replied. "That one!" "Yes that's just right." John responded. They were playing a game of eye spy as they drove into Orlando. Steve swore he saw the Aurora borealis but it was just the outlet malls.

After passing Holy Land, the cast began singing "Star of Wonder." While Beth was checking the progress on the other six plays the actors came up with the idea of inserting the "Star of Wonder" lyrics into "It's a Small World After All." This was a playful spark of genius. They decided to move like animatronics as they sang. "Star of wonder star of night. Star of royal beauty bright. I-4 west leading still proceeding. Guide us to the perfect light."

They were playing and having fun. By noon they had their lines down. Beth moved three metal chairs into the center of the courtyard and they performed the piece straight through. David Lee prefaced his play as, a small Christmas Play in homage to the days when Play in a Day was written to celebrate Halloween.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Play in a Day

Beth Marshall invited me down to the Orlando Shakes on November 3rd to experience the creative process of Play in a Day. Play in a Day kicked off the festivities for Playfest, the Harriet Lake Festival of New Plays which ran from November 3-6. When I entered the Shakes, actors were already divided into six groups and they were doing the initial read throughs of of the scripts. Play authors had been given the theme of unexpected transitions and a twist, no props allowed, the previous day. Most scripts had been written overnight right up to the moment they had been turned in at 7am. There was then a thirty minute pow wow between the writer, director and actors. Then the writers were asked to leave to avoid endless re-writes. I decided to sketch actors Sarah Lockhard, John Connon and Steve Middleton who were reading and laughing. The play was short, only about seven minutes, but it was fun. Someone in the lower lobby shouted, "I don't know what's going on, but it's funny!" Beth Marshal who had just sat down said "That is the perfect review." Rob Ward had also stopped in to read the part of Michael Wanzie. He did a hilarious, spot on impersonation.

The short play, titled, "Family Road Trip" was about a family road trip to Orlando. Sarah was the daughter riding in the back seat and John played the mom while Stephen was the dad behind the wheel. David Lee the author now lives in NYC but he had a long history at the Orlando Shakes. Beth explained the piece to the actors, "David writes for the audience, the whole thing is a poem. He's not Anton Chekhov." She asked the actors to try a read through with British accents which she didn't like, then Southern accents which worked better. When they pointed out specific Orlando venues, like the Orlando Science Center, the Orlando Rep and the Orlando Museum of Art, she asked them to loose the accent. Stephen asked for some clarification so he could better memorize the lines. Much of the dialogue centered around groupings of three.

David Lee texted Beth from NYC, "Do they like the skit?" Beth texted back, "Steven found all the deep meaning, Sarah is playing Veruka Salt and John is playing me! "When asked to describe the short play she was directing, Beth said, " It is HA-Larious!" I decided to stick with this group of actors and see how the rehearsal progressed. They would have to be ready to perform at 7pm that night.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chief's Bird Cabin

I came back from New Orleans before Terry since I had a commissioned painting I had to get started. The painting for Margot Knight, had to be drawn in such a way that I could let people lay in the establishing brush strokes at a farewell party in her honor. I had to supervise as people brushed in colorful washes. It was difficult to give up some control, but I'm finding the painting is progressing quickly as I adjust the final painting around those initial colors.

Anyway, I had to pick up Zorro, our Umbrella Cockatoo, from his vacation at the Bird Cabin. Once Zorro saw me, he started screaming bloody murder until I got him out of the cage. Then he was happy as could be, saying "Hello" sweetly and swinging and dancing. I asked if his travel carrier was around, but it wasn't. I faced the prospect of trying to drive him home without a carrier. I knew from past attempts that he would crawl up my arms onto the steering wheel and nip and shout for my undivided attention. He would cause an accident.

The woman in the shop let me borrow one of their carriers. Zorro wasn't used to it, but he went inside knowing he was homeward bound. He chewed on the container with a vengeance the whole ride home. That night I let him cuddle with me as I watched TV in bed. He liked to slip under the covers and when I lifted the covers to look at him, he would make a soft playful hissing sound. He snuggled up against my waist making clicking noises with his beak as I pet his back and under his wings. It turned out he was nibbling at my belt loop with his strong beak and almost had it shredded clean 0ff. As I watched "The Walking Dead", he was content to sit on my knee. I drew him with my digital tablet and I swear he was posing and smiling, content to have my attention.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Next Fall

l have begun a project called "LifeSketch" where individuals are interviewed by an author while I sketch. The sketch is then matted along with the person's life story making a unique present and memorable keepsake. Actor and instructor Thomas Ouellette bid on a LifeSketch at a fundraiser and he won. I had forgotten about that auction item which sold many months ago, but Thomas contacted me and invited author Mary Hill and myself to a play called "Next Fall" at the Mad Cow Theater. I asked to be seated in a back row in case I needed a book light to sketch. I arrived right after work and sketched the theater which is right down the street from Avalon Art Gallery. After I was seated, I rifled through my bag looking for my book light. It was nowhere to he found.

The Mad Cow Theater will soon be moving to Church Street so "Next Fall" would be the last show produced in the Magnolia Street address. The theater was small and intimate with the audience sitting on opposite sides of the central staging area. Next Fall was a beautifully structured play that was non linear. Thomas played Adam who didn't believe in religion yet he fell in love with Luke who was a firm believer. Adam would constantly poke fun and even denigrate his partner's beliefs. When Luke is in an auto accident, Adam finds he can not visit him in the hospital because he wasn't "family". He shouted, "I want more time!" I welled up. A young woman seated directly across from us was also in tears. Seeing her reactions often pushed me over the edge. The actor's every step and breath was deeply felt in the intimate setting. I'm glad I wasn't sketching, because it might have distracted me from the overwhelming emotional force of the play.

Luke's father was a man's man who refused to admit his son's sexuality. He loved his son however and when he collapsed in grief, it was Adam who held him, comforting him with Luke's words of faith. Perhaps Adam had a deep well of faith that he chose to ignore but tragedy brought that faith and hope to light. When the lights came back up, I had to wipe my eyes.

After a standing ovation, the actors sat center stage for a talk back. They confided that they talk about the audience backstage. We were a particularly engaged audience that laughed loudly when things were funny. They knew we might be devastated when they dropped the boom.This play, written by Geoffery Nauffts, started in a tiny theater similar to Mad Cow. Elton John went to see the play and he was so moved by the production, that he decided to invest six million dollars to bring the play to Broadway. It is success stories like this that keep some actors in this business, whose main rewards are emotional, rather than financial. So many times I am finding my mission to sketch people every day has caused me to care deeply for the people I observe. In this way, artists are blessed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Wekiva Photo Shoot

Mary agreed to pose for a photo shoot to raise awareness about breast cancer. The catch was that she would heroically have to expose her breasts. Mary and Joseph (her ex husband) agreed I could come along to sketch. The photographer, Angela Marrocco, told us to meet her where they rent canoes on the Wekiva river. I arrived first and sat back on a bench to watch a few tourists relaxing near the river drinking beers and soaking up the sun. It was a beautiful day. Joe and Mary arrived and we discussed the logistics. Since there would be four of us, we would need two canoes. The women would go in one canoe and the men in the other. Once Angela arrived, she quickly rented her canoe and she and Mary headed down to the docks.

I used the digital device on the bar to try and rent the second canoe but got lost in the multiple forms. When asked to sign my name, I did it at first with a real pen before realizing I needed to use a stylus. By the time Joe and I got to the dock, the women were already paddling down river. Joe had never been in a canoe before. We jumped in and started paddling but we discovered we were still tied to the dock. Before long, we were working as a team picking up speed.

I had only seen two canoes in the time I spent waiting for folks to arrive. When the photographer found a cove where she could shoot Mary in the canoe, there were suddenly a dozen canoes crowded in the narrow river. I tried to get close to a tree that was overhanging the river. I figured if we anchored to that, I might be able to sketch the women in the other canoe. As I struggled with branches, I saw the photographer shoot several shots of Mary who had slipped her dress top down to her waist. Dang, I didn't even get the sketchbook out yet! When Joe and I were finally secured against the tree, the women paddled back out into the river looking for another photogenic spot. I sighed and we followed.

For the next shot we all got out on dry land. There was an old worn out boardwalk set up in case of floods. Mary picked some ferns from the base of a thick tree trunk and used them to hide her face for the photo. She was a bit self conscious since she was visible to anyone paddling by in a canoe. The photographer worked quickly. I sketched as fast as I could. The photos were shot and my sketch was barely blocked in. For once I would have to finish the sketch in the studio.

Joe and I struggled to help the women launch their canoe. On the trip back, Mary was surprised by a branch and she fell back in her canoe with a thud. I'm amazed neither canoe capsized with all the activity.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Orlando Evening of Day 19

I'm working strange hours this month from 5 pm to 9pm. I decided to drive down to the Chamber of Commerce after work to see how many people were still camping out in the Occupy Orlando protest. As I approached Senator Beth Johnson Park, I saw a tall man in an overcoat and fashionable hat balling up yellow police caution tape. I asked what the police tape was for and he told me he was souvenir hunting. People aren't allowed to sleep in Orlando Parks so the protesters moved to the vacant lot across the street. Before long the police forced the protesters off the vacant lot since it was private property. The yellow tape was put up to remind protesters to stay away.

There were between 20 and 30 Occupy Orlando protesters who looked like they would be sleeping on the sidewalks that border the park that night. One guy had a hammock set up between several trees and he slumbered peacefully, an American flag tucked into the hammock rope at his head. I was told one man was sleeping on the sidewalk and he accidentally rolled onto the park's grass. He was arrested. There was a folding table set up which had kitchen supplies.

It is fine to be in the park so long as you are awake. There is however a curfew. I heard drumming and walked into the park. Political protest signs were lying in the grass. I approached the make shift drum circle and started sketching. Another fellow listened, lying on the sidewalk and resting his head on his skate board. The rhythms punctuated the night. I rocked as I sketched. The drumming was interrupted when someone walked up with his laptop open. A live streaming video showed the thousands of people gathered in Oakland, California. The fellow with the cigarette and Amish beard looked at my sketch and did a happy jig. "That is so cool." He said.

Two young college girls were seated in the grass next to me. The red headed girl had come from NYC's Occupy Wall Street to join the Orlando protest. She was upset that her boyfriend didn't join her in the protest. The other girl calmed her, explaining he was probably afraid. On November 6th eleven people were arrested in Beth Johnson park in Orlando, so the 0ccupation does have risks. On Halloween the red headed girl had to come up with a make shift costume out of the duffel bag of clothes she had brought from NYC. She told people she was Molly Ringwald and sure enough, she was a dead ringer.

I didn't talk to anyone about politics, grievances or changes that need to be made. For me, It was enough to be witnessing a peaceful national demonstration that is unprecedented. Americans are assembling, and their voices are being heard. People suddenly realize, they are not alone, they are the majority.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Angelle's Whiskey River

Terry and I had been to Whiskey River the last time we were in Louisiana. The place is a dive bar located on the edge of a swamp in Henderson. We exited off the rural road and climbed a steep dirt road up an embankment over a levee. Dust rose creating a cloud behind us. The bar was a ramshackle place with a crude dance hall built with exposed beams and plywood. Five dollars at the door got us a wrist band. The band was doing a sound check. I sat at a bar at the back of the dance hall. When I started the sketch the place was almost empty but by the time I finished the place was packed wall to wall with people. The beers flowed. When the sketch was done I decided to drop my bag of art supplies off in the rental car.

Walking back to the bar a fellow stumbled towards me. His eyes were bloodshot. He had already had too much to drink. I shook his hand as he welcomed me. "You are going to have the time of your life buddy." he said. I smiled thanked him and went inside. The band was called Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie. Terry was on the sidelines of the dance floor swaying to the Cajun beat. I tapped her on the shoulder and we made our way out on the dance floor. We couldn't help but bump into other couples. People were twirling, stomping and dipping to the beat. The accordion twisted its notes in a frenzy. A musician with a washboard on his chest scraped his spoons in quick and fluid wrist movements.

Terry and I did a dance move we learned at a folk festival once. We held hands and I twirled her keeping our grip until our arms formed a graceful knot. We then spun to untangle ourselves and we went the other way. The fellow from the parking lot was dancing up a storm. He was suddenly all balance as he gripped a girl close. These folks all knew how to dance. The plywood floor was pounding and swaying. A sign on a ceiling beam read, "No parking on the dance floor."

Terry and I danced to the point of exhaustion. She confessed that this was her favorite place in the universe. Outside the light dimmed and the silver blue green hanging moss grew dark. We ordered some food from a food truck out in the parking lot. The lady inside got every order wrong but it didn't matter I would have eaten anything. Mosquitoes the size of humming birds buzzed around us. When the music and dancing ended, we drove back towards our hotel getting lost on the rural roads.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Tropical Isle's Bayou Club

In the evening, Terry and I ventured out into the madness of Bourbon Street. I thought this place was only packed at Mardi Gras time but the craziness seems to happen every night of the week. Terry had on a nice dress and was carrying a beer in a paper cup. Some guy walked right into her and spilled her drink down the front of her dress. She screamed at him and threw the remaining beer at his back. We lowered our shoulders and stuck out our elbows whenever someone stumbled into us. Women with big butts jiggled them in open doorways inviting people in to see the live sex acts. People were tossing bead necklaces down from balconies to people who flashed some skin.

Terry knew where she wanted to go. She was looking for the one bar that played traditional Cajun music on Bourbon Street. In every bar there seemed to be live music. Cars crossing would have to crawl through the never ending crowd. We finally found the Bayou Club and were lucky enough to find a table right up front. The band, T' Canaille, was doing its sound check. The accordion player went up to the bar and had several shots to warm up. I sketched quickly through the first set. People in the audience were invited to stand in front of the band and play the washboard with spoons. Unfortunately people who went up were either drunk or they had no sense of rhythm.

When the second set started, Terry turned to me and said, "Lets dance." We danced on the tiny dance floor with several other couples until we were exhausted. Back on the street, I felt practiced now as we navigated the throngs. It was easier to dance through the insanity than to fight our way through the crowd.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The French Quarter

From our hotel in the Business District, Terry and I walked to the French Quarter in New Orleans. As soon as we crossed Canal Street we were shuttled back in time. Ornate wrought iron balconies over hung the street. The buildings were old with ancient histories. We walked past antiques shops and Terry started to feel the itch. She wanted to shop. We walked into an old shop that sold vintage muskets and pistols as well as rare coins. We had been here many years ago and Terry had bought an old Spanish piece of eight silver coin from the Atocha. She had to look at the treasure again. She asked a dealer to open a display case.

I heard music down the block. Musicians were performing in the street. Terry and I agreed that I could get a sketch while she shopped. I found a spot in the shade and sat down leaning back against a drainage pipe running down an old brownstone. The sidewalks were made from large slabs of slate. Slowly a large crowd formed listening to the music. They blocked my view so I looked up around them drawing the architecture. A woman walking in front of me collapsed in slow motion as a slate slab shifted under her feet. Her husband offered her his hand to help get her up. She refused but kept struggling to get her weight up. He grabbed her under her arm pit and pulled. She was fine, I kept sketching.

The trumpet player was thin and emaciated. He thrust his hips forward when he played arching his back as he belted out the notes. When the set was over, he came up to me to see what I was up to. He let me know that they would be playing later that evening a block away on Bourbon Street. He asked me how they sounded, and I thought they sounded great. I was still throwing down watercolor washes as the musicians packed up their instruments and left.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Spit and a Polish

After the wedding I wandered around Jackson Square. I had an hour to kill before the reception began. Artists were set up all around the square selling their work. A caricature artist waited for his next victim. I was intrigued by one artist who cut canvas into strips and burnt the edges with a blow torch. Some sort of tar or varnish was splashed on. The strips were then woven in and around the canvas stretcher. The work felt aged, ancient. There were plenty of depictions of New Orleans architecture and depictions of musicians playing. One artist drew the same musician over and over again, never deviating in pose or gesture.

I leaned against a pillar wondering which vendor I should sketch. A gentleman in a ball cap and blue jeans approached me. "You're looking sharp." he said. "But your shoes need a shine. I do good work." I looked down at my black leather loafers. They were well worn and there were several spots of blue paint that must have gotten there when I worked on the Sonesta mural. I had to agree with him. I needed a shine. "Six dollars." he quoted. I sat down and put my foot up on the wooden box. He began by scraping off the drips of paint then applied the boot polish. "Clench yo toes." he said. I curled up my toes creating a tight bridge across the top of the shoe. "White boy knows how to take orders." he joked. A black liquid shine was applied all along the sole of the shoe. He spit on the leather and rubbed it in.

A woman dropped off several pairs of shoes and her son stayed to have his shoes shined. I knew I didn't have much time but I sketched the process. Behind the shoe shine was a hot dog vendor and a psychic. I was tempted by the thought of a hot dog but I was going to a reception where there would be plenty of food. I saw the groomsmen and bridesmaids walk by and I followed them. Guests met in a hotel lobby where a small Dixieland band was playing. A woman holding a white parasol grinned as she danced. Everyone was given blue and gold bead necklaces. A police motorcycle pulled up outside the hotel. The band marched out into the street and soon we were all marching down Bourbon Street. I threw beads to some children. People shouted for beads from balconies.

The reception was amazing with people dancing as it grew dark. Everyone did a modified line dance to "Wobble Baby!" When it came time to wobble we all leaned back and shook our hips skyward, followed by a clap and change in direction. A photo booth was set up for couples to shoot silly photos for the wedding album. Terry and I staged a series of shots where she punched my face in slow motion. The grooms cake looked like a pot of crayfish. Andrew Ranck, the groom got choked up as he thanked everyone for coming. "It has been a long hard road getting to this point." He turned to his new bride, Shannon. "Can she be any more beautiful?" The father was in tears as he danced with the bride. Satchmo sang, "What a Wonderful World."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Day of the Dead

The day of the dead is a 3000 year old celebration that takes place in Mexico on November first and second. Grace Kurth offered a creative workshop in the design and art theory room at Full Sail. Participants were invited to bring...
1. A box: cigar, wine, wooden crate or any wooden or cardboard box.
2. A photograph of a loved one you wish to honor. It could be a family member, friend, special person, or a pet.
3. Mementos: tokens representative of their favorite, hobbies, music, teams, foods, movies, special trinkets, labels of their favorite drinks,
4. Glitter, beads, fabrics, buttons, any type of embellishment you might want to add.
5. Paints, markers, color pencils to paint the skulls. Glues and any hardware you might need.
6. Optional items: candles, marigolds, sunflowers, empty bottle, shawl, cloth, or other items.
I brought my usual bag of art supplies and my curiosity.

The day of the dead is not a dark macabre celebration. In Mexican culture death is considered a transitional phase not horrific or scary. It intends to celebrate the people who came before us. La Katrina born in 1913 drew cartoons which showed skeletons adorned in the trappings of wealth. The image showed that no matter how wealthy you are you will go through the phase of death. Dandy skeletons both male and female are popular images.

Grace took a trip to Janitzio, a small island where the day of the dead is celebrated. As evening fell a long line of people with candles walked up to the highest point on the island. There they built alters called ofrenda which celebrated the life of a loved one. Marigolds which represent regeneration were garlanded and used everywhere as decorations. Skulls of sugar called Calacas were ornately decorated to remind us that life is a delicious sweet indulgence. "Just when the caterpillar thought it was over, it became a butterfly." Grace quoted.

Tom Buzbee brought in many photos and documents to commemorate his Papa. His father was a diplomat with a long square beard. Bananas were perched on the center rise of the ofrenda. Tom explained that when his father was sick in his final days he took to hoarding fruit in his room. Whenever he left the room there would be a scavenger hunt to find the hidden fruit. A small raisin was found years later that was once an apple. The smell of ripe bananas brought back vivid memories. Two of his daughters helped him make the altar. Libby was hot gluing long white whiskers onto the jaw of a skeleton, a stunning tribute to her grandfather's whiskers. Avaryl had exotic skeletal tattoos on her chest and arms, a living celebration in the day of the dead tradition. She was busy decorating tiny skulls in bright colors. The room buzzed with creativity and stories of lives worth honoring.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

New Orleans Wedding

On October 22nd, Shannon Marie OBrien and Andrew Julian Ranck were married in the Saint Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Terry and I arrived a bit early so I could start sketching the church interior before the service started. Terry was nervous that I would be asked to move since family usually is in the first two rows. Stubbornly I stood my ground since I knew my view could not be obstructed by someone sitting in front of me.

A lone trumpet player stood in the balcony and his notes echoed joy. The Trumpet Voluntary filled the cathedral and everyone stood and turned to watch the bride walk down the isle. The flower girl and ring bearer followed her. They were just toddlers and there were murmurs of adoring laughter. Andrew beamed as he watched Shannon approach. All the young female attendants filled the row in front of me.

It was a very traditional Catholic wedding with prayers and New Testament readings. Vows were exchanged and the rings blessed. High above, statues of Faith, Hope and Love looked down on the young couple. Saint Peter stood holding a key with his arm reaching out. Saint Paul stood on the right holding his sword. The ceiling was a swirl of activity as the apostles surrounded Jesus who radiated beams of light. As the couple signed their marriage license at a separate altar, Ave Maria wafted up echoing off the vaulted ceiling. The music made the moment truly feel divine. There was one final blessing and then Ode to Joy played as a recessional.

Before I knew it, I was alone again in an empty Cathedral. Marriages seem like such fast paced ceremonies when you are trying to sketch them. This flurry of activity would lead to a lifetime commitment.

A familiar face stood before me admiring the Cathedral's architecture. It was Kevin Deters who worked at Disney Feature Animation in Florida at the same time I did. Kevin is now working for Disney in LA and he has directed several shorts one being "Prep & Landing" for the Company. He let me know they are working on another Prep & Landing short now. What a wild, small world. I gave him my card and explained the blog and the work I do to pass along the animation tradition at Full Sail. Kevin let me know that he has now worked longer in the LA studio than he did in Florida. I admire what he has accomplished. I wonder if he came to New Orleans when Disney premiered "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." That was an amazing party.

The priest walked up to me as I sat alone finishing my sketch. I was sure I was about to get kicked out. On the contrary, he loved the sketch and joked with me that usually the pencil snaps if someone tries to sketch him. There was another wedding happening in half an hour and he encouraged me to go right on sketching. I was getting close to finishing however, and I decided to leave as the church was emptied for the next wedding