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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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Little Dogs

There is nothing better than a little dog. They are good for your soul and promote smiling. I like to get to know the dogs I paint. I am always pleased whether they come running with their tail wagging or if they have a Napoleon complex and have to yap a lot. The goal for Letterfly the artist is always the same; capture their personality with paint. Nuance makes them individual and is essential to include in their portrait. The more I see the more I can include in the painting.
These portraits serve a variety of functions whether I am putting the canine likeness on an RV entry door, a motorcycle sidecar, an auto, truck or a canvas destined to become an heirloom. The image cements the connection we have with the animals we love. Some people honor a pet that has passed on and the image becomes a work of art with immense contemplative and sentimental value. An image that suggests the wind blowing through their fur communicates to the world something fun about this member of the family. Whatever the motivation for the work of art, the task easily qualifies as a labor of love. I just wish I were half as good a guy as the many dogs I have met think I am.

Three Butterflies

Each morning at a motorcycle rally starts with a simple routine of putting out the photo books and literature for the customers and making sure my paints and brushes stand ready. Knoxville is not only home of beautiful scenic roads to tour on two-wheels, but also, this time of year, the national HOG rally is going on and Letterfly is right in the middle of everything, set up in the Knoxville Harley-Davidson parking lot.
One morning, when the opening procedure was complete and the first bike waited for some pinstripes and skulls, standing in my booth, I paused to appreciate the overall picture. I saw three butterflies traveling through the venue, mostly interacting with each other, flying a tight formation that, if tracked, the paths would have resembled woven loops, and the zigzags of a roller coaster. These three were enjoying each other. They flew right up to me and one of them landed on my hand and the other two continued flying the concentric erratic circles around their companion while she took a break.
Startled at first, I was quickly complimented to be included in the group.
“Hi you guys,” I thought as I studied the facial features and the big eyes on my little companion. Most interesting was the coiled up mouth probe she used to get the nectar from a flower. The beautiful wings had a colorful autumn colored pattern that, thanks to the opportunity for close inspection, had a dusty, pixely texture caused by the small overlapping bits of color that made up the delicate wings.
After a few moments it became apparent that my little friends liked it here and intended to stay for a while. I had one on my hand and two fluttering around but I had work to do. Reluctantly I raised my hand up to a convenient edge of a display panel to provide an alternative perch for my little friend and she took the hint but, rested and ready, resumed her flight with her escorts and as I watched, their path went over into the trees and foliage that edged the parking lot.
What a wonderful experience I thought, as I searched for some significant meaning for the episode.
As the bike rally progressed, I reunited with numerous friends from Iowa, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Georgia and other states as I created original designs and artworks on an endless stream of bikes.
Mid afternoon the next day, as I maneuvered back to the paint kit in the center of the booth, I startled a butterfly that had returned to hang around. I wondered if it could have been the same one. Now that I was aware of her presence I froze to give her space and after a moment she settled back on my kit. I telepathically addressed her and she seemed to perk up her head and acknowledge me. As I went back to creating beauty on gracefully formed painted and chromed steel, she continued her visit and stayed quite a while.
I am very fortunate to have found a path to peace. I am so grateful for the little things that occur, and for the ability to notice them. In the immediate moment I am easily able to remain immersed in the beauty around me. I credit some of the magnificent works of art for my customers as one benefit of being on this path and they, like the butterfly, in turn, take these works and their Letterfly experience to the four corners of the earth.
Pause to look around this day and perhaps you too will find and enjoy the beauty that is all around us.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Black Hills Classic

After a successful month in Montana the time was ripe to set up in South Dakota for the granddaddy of all bike rallies at Sturgis. The farewell drive from Billings took me past the Custer Battlefield, across the dusty prairie to the southeast corner of Montana where I crossed into the Black Hills. Through one of my motor home customers I had a contact, the sheriff at Keystone. With his help I had options. Kyle knew the businessmen that may have space for an artist during the rally. Kyle was on duty when I arrived in Keystone so I got a motorcycle escort to the RV Park. True to show business, when I arrived, the situation I had been anticipating had changed. Not to panic. I had arranged to rendezvous with one of my Lazydays customers to paint two eagles on their motor home. I was a week early. I had a project to work on for a few days so I got busy.
I first made the necessary parking arrangements for our RV’s and got settled before sunset. The next morning started with my walking twenty paces from the trailer to gaze up and see Mt Rushmore in the distance. A feeling of being in a special place arose within me. While I walked, the gravel sparkled in the morning light due to the mica and quartz content of the aggregate; proof of the magic. Mark and Kat arrived the following day with their big rig and once they were parked, work began. Starting with getting the area to receive the mural clean, I then masked and sanded the surface.
While I was standing on the work plank stretched between two ladders airbrushing the images, a lady saw me and yelled “Letterfly “ then ran up and gave me a hug. Startled at first, I found her face to be familiar. Her story clarified things. Laura and her husband had commissioned a mural for their motor home eight years ago. They had toured the nation and found a piece of property near here. During the summer she runs the Borglum Rushmore Museum here in Keystone and her husband takes Olde Time Wild West photos of the tourists. Each winter they find a different southerly destination. We had a great reunion and I was invited to visit the museum.
As the work progressed on Mark and Kat’s rig, the plot unfolded in regard to my participation at the upcoming bike event. The venue had been turned over to a third party who had never heard of Letterfly and the advance preparations that had been made. A state tax and a city license were needed prior to any consideration. Rather than flip-out, I just quietly trusted the celestial process and kept painting.
My favorite part of this job is getting to know the interesting and fascinating people I meet. Especially Mark and Kat. During the meals we shared and the errands they helped me with I was enlightened with stories that prompted many pictures in my mind that found me with them on many of the adventures and coincidences that lead them down the path they enjoy this very day.
Their rig is a Beaver Patriot that Mark completely designed, inside and out, including the exterior graphic paint job. Design is Marks middle name as he enjoyed a career as an architect among other creative pursuits. He personally designed the large tag-along trailer to carry two cars, a motorcycle, kayak and many other toys. The graphics on the trailer match the coach (naturally). I am complimented to be the artist he sought to add artwork to this already impressive canvas.
The fierce eagle heads that coordinate with his graphic stripes took shape and once complete, they received clear coat and the following day the area was “knocked-down” with fine grit sandpaper and buffed to resemble the glass like finish on the rest of the unit.
The owner of half of Keystone, who I had been interacting with, stopped by with some good news. He had a place at the end of the downtown boardwalk strip big enough for my booth. I could set up there the next day.
Mark and Kat left the following day for the Big Rig RV Park north of Sturgis and I moved into my rally location to get ready. As I set up on my little gravel hill I stopped to admire the view I had of the whole town. I overlooked the main street, two blocks long, and could see the highway beyond that came down the steep grade that lead to this valley community. Through Kyle I found out many interesting aspects of life in Keystone. All states have a mascot bird. Many communities have an interesting regional icon that they are proud of and flaunt. Keystone is proud of their community fragrance. The official smell of the town is “burning brakes” as many drivers, not familiar with how to drive a four-mile, six percent grade, continually heat them up and often roar through the main drag of town honking and waving, unable to stop, adding fresh aroma.
As soon as the Letterfly display of precision pinstripe designs and examples of artwork for motorcycles was set up, business began. Bikers had arrived early to take in the sights and many were out and about touring these picturesque roads. It was a few days until the rally officially started but I was already painting.
In the midst of the Black Hills Motorcycle Classic my world is rather small. The bikers enjoy riding to see the sights in a hundred mile radius and I enjoy walking. The RV is parked a hundred feet away from the display of pinstriping under the tent that doubles as a portable painting studio. Motorcycles with various amounts of art are parked every which way as I kneel to paint intricate designs on a rear fender or hover over the tank to make a mirror image design that is reminiscent of the days of hot rods and early rock and roll. Groups of bikers roar into the tourist town and take a break from the sixty-mile trip from Sturgis. They are on their way to ride past Mt Rushmore a few miles from here, but before they do, the time is right to stretch their legs and consume a beverage or two.
A few at a time, they park their bikes, walk past me and a few stop to look at what is going on. These are my customers, leather clad bikers from all four corners of the earth, all here to enjoy the spectacular scenery and interesting roads to ride.
I adopted a comfortable routine all within walking distance. Breakfast and coffee at one of the local restaurants, return and open the booth by nine, usually with a few bikes waiting for me to begin to stripe flames, create feathers, portraits of buffalo, eagles and an endless stream of insignias, statements, inscriptions and announcements.
When I did get a chance in my busy day to look up at the scenery from my booth, I would scan the town. From the elevated location at the southern end of the strip I could see it all. Keystone is a small village in rugged country, lined by rock formations that make up a craggy rim that lines a narrow valley that is at the base of the mountains with, not only Mt Rushmore, but farther west, the mammoth Crazy horse project.
Boardwalk tourist shops, neon signs, restaurants, gunfights, an old steam train and several hundred motel rooms are all compactly arranged between the terra cotta rock that rises straight up with jack pine trees grasping hold wherever they can. I am certainly blessed with the ability to live a fascinating life and see these interesting sights and use my talent wherever I go. I am grateful for this experience and look forward to meeting new and old friends in the Black Hills again next year.