Tales of a Traveling Airbrush

When I write up one of my more memorable masterpieces, or some of my various memories, I will post them here for you to enjoy. Comments are welcome; I'll try to reply.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wing Ding, Nashville


The painted image slowly came to life. After the delicate lateral hues and wispy strokes that made the sky real, came the mountain ranges, a series of brush strokes using a sequence of color that was part vibrant-earthy, part harmonious with the deep cherry color of the brand new Trike, and part eerie to set the stage for the characters to come. A slinking wolf silhouette became prominent on the port side of the scene. Central to the mural is a rearing horse, striking out with a foreleg, connected and obedient to his master. The full mane and tail of the equine fell in drapes that fortified and emphasized the solidity of the vertical posture used to intimidate the enemy. Soon an Indian warrior will have his arm in the air, brandishing a spear and all the accouterments of war. In the foreground will be another companion, a wolf in the darkness, caught mid stride, glancing sideways, sending a facial warning to the viewer.
At least that was my intention … this was the third day of the event: The Honda Gold Wing Road Riders Association annual “Wing Ding.” This year the gathering was in Nashville, Music City USA, Tennessee. Gold Wingers were thick at the Grand Ole Opry Convention Center, a hundred and fifty acres of hotel and entertainment complex under roof.
I pinched myself. Was I dreaming? Exactly how did this happen? As I studied the mural in progress and calculated my next move, I reviewed the events that got me here.
The vendor’s packet had arrived in the mail last winter. I had no idea where it came from. After review of the proximity and magnitude of this motorcycle event, I filled out the form and mailed it in. Later I received an acceptance letter and the vendor’s information. Several months went by, my route grew and filled around this date in July.
I arrived along with seventeen thousand Honda Gold Wing motorcycles. Letterfly was part of a stable of artists, the best in the nation, with names like ”Mountainman,” “Scarecrow,” “The BMW Boys,” “Wizard,” “TJ & the Boss,” and “Lightning.” Some of the artists had been participating in this venue for eighteen years.
Nine o’clock, opening day, reminded me of the starting gate at Churchill downs. The huge service doors opened and in filed throngs of bikes that ran almost silently. A steady stream of pinstriping projects, small pictorial images and lettering jobs kept all twelve-pinstripe artists busy until the wee hours every evening. The pace continued and this, the third day, was the final opportunity for many of our customers to get personalized artwork on their scoots until next year, so we all worked late. I never did find out who had submitted my name to participate here but I was highly complimented to be part of this talented bunch, especially when I found out that key members of the Goldwing club select and limit who participates at their annual rally.
I reviewed the current job. This customer had flown in from California to St Louis to pick up his brand new trike. After the inaugural ride to Nashville, he found Letterfly along with the other artists. Liking my style, he asked me to create something special to set his trike apart. Spontaneous old school pinstripe designs went on the front fender, faring, console, rear fenders and tour pack. The transom had a large blank area that begged for a mural and my customer had seen an example of what he liked in one of the photo books at my display. Now that I knew what he liked, I drew a pencil sketch of a special vista with an Indian theme.
I directed my attention back to the task at hand. With a fine brush, I had captured the expression, an angry menacing scowl, on the Indians face, no larger than a dime, perfectly. His headdress was fashioned from the skull of some sort of surreal saber toothed animal with teeth that framed his forehead and fangs that acted like surrogate sideburns. War feathers stood atop his headdress and other decorative elements that celebrated coupes hung around his neck and fell well past his waist. This and his war shirt were caught in the middle of an animated gesture, along with the fringe on his leather sleeves and breeches.
The time approached midnight. My partner was tired of fielding questions, setting up appointments, preparing motorcycles and writing down the particulars of the endless stream of jobs both big and small we were handling. Working frantically like this for three days, we were understandably exhausted. She had found a somewhat comfortable place to attempt to get some rest as I put the finishing touches on this, the final job for the day. I was satisfied with the minute facial details that captured the emotion of the Indian. I could now direct my attention to the final portion of the painting and that was the wolf staring at the viewer.
I paint lots of portraits of pets for my motor home customers back at Lazydays. They like how I capture the personality of Fido and FiFi in the small paintings that go on the entry doors of RV’s. My success with pet portraiture comes easily due to my sincere love for animals. The eyes are always first. They are the windows to the soul and when rendered perfectly the personality shows and makes the portrait work.
This wolf, in the foreground, in the darkness, although in a prominent forefront location, would be subtle, due to the low contrast of the dark animal in the dark foreground. The eyes would figure prominently to capture the attention of the viewer and prompt a closer look. The subtle effect of glowing eyes in the darkness was rendered delicately using a fine brush. The form of the head with alerted ears was next. The right color shapes in the right locations are what make the image visually believable. What happened after that might be due to my having painted so many portraits of pets, or because of the fatigue of the late hour, or… who knows?
The depiction of the mouth was next. Just a few tiny brush strokes would be all that was needed to suggest the teeth, the mood, and… the hour. The lure of bedtime beckoned.
Distracted and looking through droopy eyes, a tiny brushstroke was applied.
There… I have it… Or do I?
I stood up and looked at the now completed painting. I burst into laughter.
Susan was startled from her slumber. She came to see, took a moment to ponder the image, gave me a sideways glance, and burst into laughter too.
There in the midst of the emotionally taunt scene was a wolf, mouth open, tongue out, smiling, happy to be there. Certainly fitting for a schnauzer or a shiatsu but not for this road warrior. Our laughter interrupted the fatigue of the moment and provided some oxygen for our blood and energy to clear the fog and continue.
A pause was all it took to re-formulate the plan, clean the brush, add a little bit of the correct color of paint, and… viola: the scene is complete. The wolf now has an appropriate tense facial expression that suggests using caution for those that approach.
“it ain’t complete until it’s duded up with paint!”

To learn more about the artist visit Letterfly.com.