Monday, November 15, 2010

Photo Shoot!

Over the weekend my good friend, Leo Wesson, professional photographer and cook extraordinaire, came over and spent the greater part of the day shooting digital images of works on paper. I'd documented some of these using my crappy digital camera, but Leo came over and took really good pictures (he is a trained professional, after all).

He'd shot art for me in the past on film - mostly 4 x 5 transparencies. This was a lot faster and easier since once we did the lighting set up, the shoot was, for the most part, just a matter of swapping one piece out for the next until we finished (the advantage of standardizing the size you work in). We probably shot close to a hundred pieces. I lost count after a while.

Once I get the digital files back from him I'll be selecting my favorites and posting them online - probably over the holidays. Among the things I'm looking at putting up are image from my portrait series, none of which have ever been exhibited.

I first met Leo some 30 years ago, when I freelanced for Pier 1 Imports where he was in house photographer, and we've worked together on a number of projects together. He is a hell of a photographer. Besides the fun of working with a long-time friend, the biggest joy in doing this was seeing some artworks I haven't looked at in 15 - 20 year in some cases.

Thanks, Leo!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In memory of Pat Sloan...

Monday I got word that my dear friend, business partner and mentor Pat Sloan passed away over the weekend.

Our lives first crossed at Pier 1 Imports, where she was my supervisor in the marketing/advertising department. We all had nicknames (I was Ralph) and for some reason, lost to my memory, she was dubbed "Patsy Bob." She possessed an infectious smile and enthusiastic approach to all challenges.

We both eventually left but stayed in touch. At the reception for one of her daughters' wedding, she said she was ready for a new challenge (this was around 1994). I said there was this new thing called the world wide web...

We positioned ourselves as web designers (back then if you knew what HTML stood for, you could call yourself a web designer), and landed Michaels Stores as our first client. We did all of our initial presentations on layout pads in marker and somehow beat out the Richards Group, probably because we had no idea how to price ourselves. Since Pat was a much better designer than I, my role morphed into that of technical support, although for some of the really heavy coding, we pulled in Matt Tomlinson, an amazingly bright TCU student.

Pat's backyard guest house office became our command headquarters. Her dog Bosley was appointed office manager. Much of what I know about project planning I learned from her. She included everything when bidding a job. 

My youngest son, Edward (in preschool at the time) loved to visit Pat because she had a never-ending supply of exotic pens she would generously give him.

The Michaels gig lasted about 5 years, during which time we were responsible for all creative and technical support on the site. We did some amazingly fun stuff: store locator, on-line greeting cards, coloring books, midi-jukeboxes, holiday games -- all long before this type of thing was common. When they finally saw the value of the site and took it in-house, they hired 47 people to do the work the 3 of us had done.

My favorite quote from those days came from something that became a bit of a in-joke. A client once asked her about some technical issue and she replied, "We can do that, can't you Ron?"

After Michaels, we worked on a variety of other small projects, but the first dot-com bubble was drawing to a close. When the bubble burst, new work got increasingly hard to find. I took a position in Bell Helicopter's eBusiness group and Pat re-focused her talents on print advertising. We continued to stay in touch, although our schedules and respective family responsibilities made those get-togethers less frequent.

The last several years of Pat's life she taught graphic design at TCU, where she was a popular lecturer. Despite ongoing health issues she never seemed to loose her sunny outlook. The academic world has lost a great source of wisdom.

Her design sense was a reflection of her personality: witty, stylish, and full of fun.

Good night, Patsy Bob. We'll miss you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Marion Butts Website

I recently finished designing and developing the Marion Butts: Lens on Dallas website for the Dallas Public Library which is now visible. The site features a gallery of over 1,800 images taken by Marion Butts, a pioneering black photojournalist, as well as a collection of lesson plans for 7th grade history teachers. The gallery portion of the site was built using the open source Gallery Project software.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Fear of bad art

In most paintings I do that are the least bit ambitious (i.e. they'll take me more than one session to complete), there is inevitably a moment when I stare at the unfinished piece and say to my self, "What on earth was I thinking?" This sense of dread is fairly paralysis-inducing, and I do well to spend more than 20 minutes at a stretch before I have to flee from the evidence of my own inadequacy as a painter.

I'm sort of to that point right now.

Although not huge, my current painting is the largest I've done in a long time, as well as being one of the more complex. While individual areas have some nice work, as a whole it feels rather clumsy and cobbled together. 

What keeps me going is knowing most of my better paintings hit this low spot where I can't stand them. It's a necessary part of the journey.

Knowing this doesn't make it any easier though.

On a side note, I'm about ready to pronounce the previous painting finished. I hope to shoot a picture this week and post it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Henry Whiddon - Rest in Peace

I got a message on the answering machine the other day that delivered the sad news that Henry Whiddon, UNT Art Professor Emeritus, had passed from this veil of tears.

Henry had been one of my professors when I was in graduate school at UNT and eventually served as my thesis advisor, as well as my mentor, role model and friend.

At the time I started graduate school, I had just finished working eight year in advertising, with the result that I had developed an unfortunate sense of emotional detachment from my work.

I did stuff I thought was clever that I didn't really care much about.

Henry was not the only one to see through this lack of involvement, but he was the one patient enough to talk about it; usually with roundabout parables and analogies that made his point with kindness and gentleness without bitch-slapping. He had a rare gift for telling you things you needed to hear, both good and not so good, but with a kindness that never left you feeling beat up or defeated. His sense of calm was infectious and much appreciated.

I called Chris Goebel, who'd left me the answering machine message and we regaled each other with our memories of Henry. Chris had been an undergraduate at Texas Wesleyan College (now University) when Henry was chairman of the Art Department. It sounds like they had the kind of freedom that comes from not being noticed.

Reading the online obituary I learned a few things I'd never known about my former teacher: he'd worked as a senior set designer for the Atlanta Municipal Summer Theater while a grad student at the University of Georgia. TWC hired him when he was only 30.

By the time I'd washed up on his academic shore he was in mid fifties (ironically, where I am now). He never lost his appreciation for the silliness of life but could, at the same time, conjure up these little life-altering suggestions. I remember once, when I'd used up my store of clever (i.e. crappy, contrived) ideas for paintings, he recommended I go find a copy of The Golden Bough by James Frazer. When you get stuck, he told me, turn to any page at random and start reading -- you're bound to find something to inspire you. I took his advice and found an idea I used for 3 years.

Now when I teach, it is his encouraging, kind and patient manner that I attempt to emulate when giving feedback to my students. I don't always succeed, but at least I know what I should be doing.

God bless you, Henry, where ever you are.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Repair job

I finally got around to doing a little painting repair this weekend.

Background: we had an old painting my wife's aunt had done many years ago. Somehow in its travels it managed to acquire an inch long tear, no doubt from something poking it. The painting wasn't valuable in a monetary sense, but it had sentimental value. I said I'd repair it.

Before going much further I consulted the source of all wisdom, my ancient copy of Ralph Mayer's Artist's Handbook of Materials and Techniques. Among the chapters is one on conservation, which includes a section on repairs. It became my road map for this project.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Ted Pillsbury : 1943 - 2010

Ted Pillsbury, longtime director of the Kimbell Art Museum passed away on Thursday of an apparent heart attack at age 66. Most in the art world would probably agree he was largely responsible for making the Kimbell into a world class museum.

Edmund P. Pillsbury, who held a doctorate in Italian Renaissance art from the Courtauld Institute of Art, served as museum director from 1980 to 1998, and was responsible for numerous important acquisitions and major exhibitions.

The Dallas Morning News website has good overview of his career as does the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. KERA has posted a video of a 1998 interview with Dr. Pillsbury.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

New painting - Porch Musicians

Just finished a painting tonight.

At least I think it's finished. Sometimes I'll look at something after it's cooled off for a few days and discover I was wrong about it being finished (or not finished). Mostly I'm tired of working on this, which is often a big factor in deciding when something is done.

To hedge my bets, I may do another version later.

I've decided my next painting is going to be a variation on the portrait of Dorothy I recently completed. I want one that doesn't look so much like a "we named this building after her" kind of portrait, if that makes any sense.

Shot with my iPhone, which is why it looks crappy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

First batch of sketchbook drawings now live

I just uploaded the first batch of sketchbook drawings to the Ralph Art Website. You'll find them under Art > Sketchbooks on the dropdown menu.

So far I've scanned over 70 pages (though not all will be sent to the website). This first lot has 27 images, listed under the categories People, Places, Stuff. The next batch will include Children, Cats and Interiors. Given what I do, that almost covers it.

Since I do these primarily for my own amusement, most of these have never been seen before.


Friday, February 19, 2010

The Sketchbooks

As if I don't have enough to distract me, I've decided to scan a bunch of my old sketchbooks/drawing pads. Part of this is for a larger project, part of it is so I can post a section on the Ralph Art Website with images from the sketchbooks. Regardless, I currently have about 25 images scanned, corrected and sized. That's probably a third of what I've got.

Of course not all are fit for public display, but there you are. The majority of them are from about 15 - 20 years ago. Below is a sample drawing, done in Glasgow in 1985 at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking risks

After numerous delays (one can always find an excuse not to paint if one wants to) I started a new painting yesterday -- this one in oils.

I got off to an encouraging start.

This is sometimes a dangerous thing, since I've found I'll often start playing it safe after a good start, for fear of screwing the thing up. Often my best pieces emerge from the ashes of a really awful one: once I've reached the point where I feel like I can't make it any worse, I'm ready to do anything. Out of that willingness to take risks comes the exceptional work.

Playing it safe almost always guarantees a mediocre result. Better to take a chance on spectacular failure.

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Mobile version of the Ralph Art Blog

I just finished and uploaded a mobile version of the Ralph Art Blog. It started out being an iPhone specific version but I've added additional simplified generic support to other devices as well. Be warned I'm continuing to tinker with it so things may change somewhat. The URL will not change.

If you are viewing with an iPhone, you can save it as a web app -- I've got an icon prepared.

To get to it, go to:


Monday, February 08, 2010

Ralph Art Website redesign now live

I finished coding the Ralph Art Website redesign over the weekend and posted it to the server this morning. If you see any errors or brokenness, please post a comment to the blog and let me know.

Some of the things I was shooting for:
  • A more simple, cleaner design -- I'd gotten tired of the big brown graphic on the left side. It made the site feel claustrophobic.
  • Cleaner code base -- the previous design's CSS had gotten a little out of hand and was rather spaghetti-like. There's more work to do on this but maintenance will be easier.
  • More mobile friendly -- the new design should play nicer with mobile devices, especially the iPhone. Previously there were numerous display issues.
  • Better integration with the Ralph Art Blog -- I'm using the Google Feeds APIs to pull content out of the blog and re-use it on the site. This makes adding new content really easy.
Still to come: the iPhone / mobile versions of the Ralph Art Blog. These will also use the Google Feeds API to build out the pages.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Coming soon: yet another facelift

It was only last fall that I gave the Ralph Art Website a facelift and I'm thinking about doing it again.

I've gotten a bit tired of the 1930's vibe that originally inspired the look -- primarily the big posterized view on the left side of the content. Initially I thought it looked sort of cool but now...not so much. It's also a big waste of space.

Some pages (primarily the home page) don't play nice with all browsers. The final factor is I want to be able to make it more mobile device friendly (currently looks like hell in my iPhone) which will entail a big cascading stylesheet revision. So it's back to the drawing board.

This time the redesign won't be quite as radical. I've decided I like the header I knocked out for the re-design of the Ralph Art Blog, so that will replace the current header. I'll also make the content area a little wider. Once I've done that I'm planning to make it so it looks better in mobile devices ("cell phones" for those of you who are not forced to use techno-buzz).

The iPhone version of the blog is close to completion (working on that this weekend) and I hope to have the main site done by next weekend.  Unless I'm inspired to paint, and then who knows.

Keeping my fingers crossed.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Portrait of Dorothy

Working on a portrait of Dorothy.

I shot a picture of her at Lilli's Bistro on Magnolia a couple of weeks ago with my phone. In the photo she had a real Georgia O'Keefe quality that I liked a lot and I decided it would make a good painting. In my mind I had this fantasy painting this would turn into.


The actual painting is not much like the one I envisioned. The fantasy painting was built out of decisive, masterly brushstrokes and thick, sculptural paint. The one I ended up with was not quite that way. Which is not to say I don't like this painting -- it just isn't the painting I expected.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches.

Painting photo shot with my iPhone, which is why it's rather a crappy reproduction.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

New: Ralph Art Design mobile view

I'm experimenting with the Ralph Art Design blog.

Here's a mobile device friendly view courtesy of Google Reader. This should work with most cellphones, including the iPhone. I'll be adding a link for this view in the site in the next several days.

Have fun!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New painting - JCM

I've worked on and off for several years on a series of portraits of eveyone I know. Just finished the latest -- one of my oldest friends from my TCU days. If you know me you'll probably know who this is, if not, I'll never tell.