Thursday, September 23, 2010

Steve's painting given as AWEE's Spirit of Volunteerism Award

Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award
"Promise" painted by Steve Atkinson

Hello Everybody,

I'm pleased to present you my latest painting titled "Promise". It's a very special painting to me, and I was excited to do it for many reasons, but I think the most important one is that it's been done to honor a very special woman by a very special organization. Arizona Women's Education and Employment, Inc (or AWEE, from now on), is doing some incredible work here in Prescott as well as Phoenix, Arizona. What do they do? Well, pretty much what their name implies. In 1981, a few trailblazing Arizona women took on the challenge of changing lives through the dignity of work for the growing number of individuals relying on welfare. AWEE has been successfully investing in women, families and local communities through life and career success planning, training and support. To date they have served and supported close to 100,000 individuals on their career journey to obtain quality employment that creates positive changes and successful beginnings for themselves and their families.
AWEE provides a number of programs and services to unemployed and underemployed men and women. Their participants may be re-entering the workforce or seeking to improve their current employment situation. But to boil it all down to the basics, their mission is all about changing lives through the dignity of work.

The image of a pioneer woman was chosen, in part, because of the can do spirit of the people of Arizona, and a strong belief in self reliance. She is standing proudly and facing into a sunrise of a new day. The wind is blowing into her face, breathing life into the scene. I chose to have her holding a child, because 70% or so of the women who are helped by AWEE are single heads of households. A staggering number, and one that reflects a breakdown in the traditional family, and the strength of the women in our society.

As I work on a painting, I have a lot of time to think about what it is I'm doing, and trying to accomplish in the piece. I'm constantly asked how I come up with the name of a painting. Well, there isn't an easy answer since it's never the same twice. But they all have one thing in common, I never force the name, and trust that it will come to me when the time is right. Since this piece was for the AWEE Spirit of Volunteerism Award, as I was painting it, I spent much time reflecting on how one person could make such a difference in the life of another. It really comes down to living up to the potential of our Humanness. The simplest things can make the biggest difference in the life of someone who is in need. The name "Promise" was an easy choice for this painting, as it can have so many meanings . It stands for the Promise we've made to each other, to be there in our time of need. The Promise of God's Love to give us strength and to see us through the good times and bad. The Promise of a Mother to her child; in teaching what needs to be taught, and the Promise to let go when the time comes. In a larger sense, it also means the Promise to accept help when it's needed and offered. And, of course, the Promise of the rewards of a life well lived.

This is the first year for the Barbara Jean Polk Spirit of Volunteerism Award, and as the name implies, the inaugural recipient is Barbara Jean Polk. Barbara's volunteer efforts are legendary in Yavapai County. She works tirelessly to make the community she lives in a better place. Since this painting was going to be awarded to her, I decided to ask her daughter Julie, who just happened to be visiting from London at the time, if she would be the model for the painting. I think she was a little reluctant at first, but she soon agreed. She fit perfectly into the pioneer dress my wife Ann had sown, and with the addition of a period apron and baby we had our models (Thanks Julie, you were GREAT!!). The setting in the painting is a pond on the Polk's ranch, with which Barbara is very familiar. So with all the elements, it is a painting that will have more meaning than just an image. It's the things that she loves, and it makes me very happy to have been able to be a small part in giving back to this incredible woman. And I join with AWEE to say, Thank you Barbara!!

First of all, Barbara is a person who has devoted more hours volunteering to her causes than most of us ever do in a work day and her volunteerism started virtually the first day she set foot in Prescott back in 1956. Her resume summarizing her volunteer activities covers 3 full pages and an array of areas concerned with children in foster care, homelessness, mental illness, infant drug exposure, child abuse, status offenders, permanency planning for abused and neglected children, Prescott Arts and Humanities, and Prescott recreational services. There is obviously not enough room for me to cover everything, so I’ll just highlight a few.

Barbara was a founding member of Catholic Social Services, now Catholic Charities, in Yavapai County in 1976, and she was instrumental in expanding the services from a small one- room office to a countywide agency with many programs for the underprivileged.

For at least 30 years, Barbara has been involved in every level of foster care from providing a home to infants, to her appointment as a charter member on both the Yavapai County and the State Foster Care Review Board where she has served since 1979. Today, Barbara volunteers as a CASA, a court appointed special advocate, for children in foster care where she advocates for the best interests of children in the court system. Barbara is a co-founding board member of the Yavapai Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and has been a Big Sister to several young girls over the years.

I have barely made a dent in recounting for you Barbara’s volunteer work and the significant impact and difference she has made in the lives of the less fortunate here in Y.C., nor have I told you about the many local, state and national awards far too numerous for me to cover. What I want to specifically mention is the uniqueness of Barbara’s model of volunteerism. I think what I have learned from Barbara's unselfish model is just how much of a difference one person can make in this world. It reminds me of that old story about a man that was walking along a beach in the early morning. As he walked he would stoop over, pick up a starfish that had been stranded on the beach by the receding tide, and toss it back into the ocean. Someone who was also walking the beach at that time asked the man, "why are you even making the effort to save these starfish, there are thousands of them on this beach alone. You surely can't think you're making a difference?" The man stooped over and picked up another starfish and tossed it back in the water. "Made a difference to that one", he said.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Bullets and Water Tanks Don't Mix

Bullets and Water Tanks Don't Mix, oil/canvas panel, ©2010

I did this painting on site, but put it away for a few days to let it dry and come back to it with a fresh eye. When I did take it out again to look at it, I felt I needed to do a few things to make it better. I simplified the trees in the background to the right. Once I set them back, the bullet riddled water tank became the star, which is as it should be. I also added a couple of prickly pears at the base of the tank.

Detail 1

Detail 2

Detail 3

This was painted at the Spider Ranch in Arizona, which is a cattle ranch about 30 minutes from where I live. The foreman and his best hand kindly offered to take me back to where they were scattering salt in preparation for the gather later this month. It's very rough country out there, and not easily gotten into. We could have gone on horseback, but the salt blocks are 50 lbs apiece on their own and we needed to take in quite a few. So, the foreman took his pickup loaded with salt, hay and dogs, the long way... roughly a three hour trip. That left Amy and myself to take the quads in, going over what can only be loosely called roads. OK, they were roads back in the 70's, but now they are more of a suggestion of a road on a lunar landscape. It took an hour and a half to get to the tank, stopping along the way to set out the salt blocks. When at the tank, we had a great lunch of beef wraps and a very cold beer. Then I was left to paint, while they went out and did their work. The tank did have holes in it from hunters who practice their marksmanship by shooting this poor defenseless tank. Hey, how hard is it to hit a huge water tank anyways? I'm just askin'. The myriad of colors on this rusty metal tank is what caught my eye. When I got done, I realized I hadn't brought my panel box with me, which protects a wet painting from smudging. Luckily, Gail offered to take it in his truck and saved me from having to wipe it. Thanks Gail and Amy for allowing me to tag along. It was a very special day for me. I was grinning for days with the memory.

Thanks for looking, Steve

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Monument Valley *UPDATE*

Where the West Was Won, 12X16, oil/linen panel

Monument Valley Backlight, 12X16, oil/linen panel

Added to the Monument Valley painting was a mounted rider who has stopped just to admire the view. Monument Valley is widely known as the backdrop to some of John Ford's classic western movies such as "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" starring John Wayne. That's why I decided to rename this painting "Where the West Was Won".


Hi Everybody,
this painting was done as a result of my trip out to Jackson, Wyoming. On the way, we drove through Monument Valley. The artist reception at Trailside Gallery was the next day, so I didn't have time to set up and paint. But I did manage to take some great photos of the area. This setting was right behind a roadside Navajo stand, where they set up and sell their arts. So much of the jewelry and pottery is beautiful, and I'm a sucker for turquoise jewelry anyways, so, I usually end up leaving with something (so does Ann, bless her heart).

As I've mentioned before, I love painting backlit subjects, and these sandstone formations are no exception. When you see rock formations in the distance, you are looking through the veil of atmosphere that is between you and it. This veil flattens out and minimizes the values and definition of such formations. It's important when you paint these, to keep your values close and remember to paint the planes you see. A vertical plane catches less light than a flat plane, so it needs to be painted darker. But if you paint this area with just one color, such as blue or grey, you will not achieve the illusion of depth. It's important to mix warms and cools in those shadows. Just as important as doing it in the lights. You just need to keep them closer. Also, there is a natural color difference in color in this type of stone. It's important to pay attention to these subtle changes. I make sure to simplify the rock formations in the distance. It's sooooo easy to get lost in the detail that you see, but don't fall for it. You'll be much better served if you pick out a few defining cracks and crevices. Keep your detail in the foreground and allow the detail to fall away as your distance increases. It's the way our eye sees, and it's the way to fool the eye into believing it's seeing depth in a two dimensional surface. If you do these things, your paintings will have the atmospheric perspective that is much more believable. And in the end, you will have a painting, not just a copy of your photograph. Use your photos for the shapes and selective detail, but never be a slave to it. Make compositional changes to make your painting better. Nobody cares if that bush or that tree was painted exactly in the place you put it. What matters is, for you to end up with the best painting you can!

Thanks for looking, Steve

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quickie from Labor Day Camping Trip

Hi Everybody,

I've been busier than a cricket in a chicken coop these last few weeks, so, taking a long Labor Day weekend camping trip with friends to Lake Powell was a welcome relief. I did manage to take 45 minutes to paint this 6X8 of Castle Rock at sunset. When you do a small study like this with an end of day light effect, you really have concentrate on simple shapes, blocking in the shadows to lock them down. Once the shadow shapes are down, don't touch them. The easiest way to fail on one of these, is to keep adjusting the quick moving shadows, trying to keep up with what you see. Put down the big puzzle piece shapes, working as fast and as accurate as you can be.

Earlier in the day we had gone out kayaking and had strong winds and white caps kick up on our way back.... we weren't sure we were going to make it back to the harbor, being the land lubbers we are. But, since I'm here writing about it, we made it. Of course, when we made it back to the marina, we couldn't help but sing the theme song to Gilligans Island..... "a three hour tour, a three hour tour".

I've been working on some larger paintings which I hope to post for you soon, and haven't been able to post some of the paintings from the recent Grand Canyon paintout, but plan on doing that one of these days. Painting the Canyon was quite the challenge for me, and I found myself failing more than I succeeded, but by the end, I was producing some work I was happy with.

So, here is a quickie to hold you over till the next post....

Castle Rock Sunset_Lake Powell, 6X8

This is a photo of Bill Cramer, one of the painters at the Outdoor Painters Society Grand Canyon paintout. Bill is a wonderful painter, even if he is a little extravagant. Here's a photo of him looking for a place to set up his easel to paint. Come to think of it, I didn't see him after he painted from this spot....hmmmmm.