“I think there are two types of writers, the Architects and the Gardeners. The Architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up.
The Gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if they planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows. And I'm much more a Gardener than an Architect.”
― George R.R. Martin
Although George was referring to his fellow writers, this quote really speaks to me as a visual artist. I am definitely a Gardener...and a garden as well. I tend to hibernate through the winter. I lie fallow. I rest and regroup. I gather inspiration, waiting for the rush of spring and summer.
Mark brought this quote to my attention a while ago. He is most definitely an architect...he has to be. Check out his blog for more about his projects & process.
Winter also allows me time and energy to work on smaller projects, and there are several in the queue. Stay tuned for more updates over the next few months!
The end of August saw three large projects completed within days of one another...
Walk & Wheel Skills Hub mural
My largest-scale commission to date was finished 4 hours before the ribbon-cutting for its location. Titled Season Cycle, this 20ft diameter mural is a painted roundabout that enhances the City of Fort Collins' Walk & Wheels Skills Hub. The Skills Hub is a "miniature city" featuring streets, bike lanes, and traffic signs. It is designed to provide a safe bicycling and walking learning environment for people of all ages and abilities.
I was commissioned to paint a colorful roundabout design to complement the Skills Hub. My design features symbols representing the four seasons encircled by nearby Spring Creek. Using thick, durable and pigment-rich traffic striping paint, I worked for 4 days straight to complete the mural on time...whew!
Rat Race transformer cabinet
Rat Race: noun, informal.
Any exhausting, usually competitive activity or routine spent trying to get ahead, especially in urban life, with little time left for leisure, contemplation, etc.
This year's transformer cabinet is right next to College Avenue, just south of Swallow Drive. It shows a pack of multi-colored rats racing around a track, while mice cheer them on from the rail. Sharp-eyed pedestrians might also be able to find a cat at the center of the racetrack (on the top of the cabinet) waiting for the race's eventual winner.
The design takes its inspiration from our society's focus of constantly being “on the go,” as well as the cabinet's location next to the busy traffic of College Avenue. My hope is that viewers will be able to find the humor (and possibly futility) in such a hectic lifestyle.
Find Yourself(ie) project
Fort Collins' Lincoln Center Gallery commissioned local artists to paint 9ft x 9ft canvases that were then used as selfie backdrops. Visitors were encouraged to pose in front of these immersive environments and take photos...selfie sticks are included!
The exhibition ran from September 1st through the 23rd and was great fun for visitors to the Lincoln Center.
The last weekend of April, I'll be opening my home studio to the public so you can see where I create much of my artwork. I'll have a bunch of affordable new paintings, drawings and digital prints, as well as my birdy sculptures and woodblock prints to buy. I'm stop #15 on the Zone B (West Old Town) map, which you can download HERE.
2017 STUDIO TOUR DETAILS:
WHEN: Friday, April 28, 4:00–9:00 p.m.
(NOTE: My studio will not be open Friday...only Saturday & Sunday!)
Saturday, April 29, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 30, 12:00–5:00 p.m.
WHERE: Bird In Hand Studio...(#15 on the map above)
1808 Orchard Place Fort Collins, CO 80521
The Studio Tour is a free, self-guided tour of artist studios throughout Fort Collins. Visitors can see art in the places where it is made, meet local artists and buy art directly from them. See everything from Painting to Pottery, Watercolor to Woodworking and more...it’s fun, educational and inspiring! For more information about the Tour please visit the webpage.
There are 48 participating studios around the city showing the work of more than 60 artists. Digital brochures are available at the link above, or you can pick up a physical copy at the Lincoln Center, Fort Collins Senior Center, Northside Aztlan Community Center, public library branches, and other locations around Fort Collins & Loveland.
Hope to see you for the 2017 Fort Collins Studio Tour Weekend!
Five years ago I started The Species Project, a drawing exercise featuring different animal species from around the world, including a bit of info about each subject. Facebook was kind enough to remind me of The Species Project's 5 year anniversary the other day, so what better time to resurrect it?
Allow me to introduce you to:
The Species Project #123
Sichuan takin (Budorcas taxicolor tibetana)
Listed as a vulnerable species, the Sichuan takin is native to Tibet and the provinces of Sichuan, Gansu and Xinjiang in the People's Republic of China. Takin inhabit the same dense bamboo forests as the better known giant panda. Sichuan takins live in these dense thickets and bamboo groves, in family groups of up to 30 individuals. Despite being large, stocky and relatively slow moving, the Sichuan takin is quite agile in maneuvering its rocky habitat with often steep and challenging slopes.
The takin was previously considered closely related to the Arctic muskox. Physical similarities have now been found to be due to convergent evolution and not through a common ancestor. DNA sequencing recently revealed various sheep are close relatives.
Although considered a national treasure of China with the highest legal protection, the Sichuan takin is threatened by ongoing poaching and habitat destruction. Due to the inaccessibility of the takin’s mountainous habitat, a reliable count of the species has not been fully undertaken, but it may have indirectly benefited from the protections accorded to the giant panda and other species.
For (semi-regular) updates, head over to my Facebook art page, Bird In Hand Studio [Ren Burke], the Species Project Tumblr blog, or my Twitter page to see the latest subject of the Species Project.
I went to college in western Pennsylvania at the small and confusingly named Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Our school was about 30 miles south of Punxsutawney, home of the illustrious Punxsutawney Phil, the most famous groundhog in America. In 1992, my friends Faith, Bill, Chris and I made a pilgrimage to this woodchuck Mecca because we were young, stupid and wanted to experience the hype first-hand, especially since it was so close. At 3:00am on February 2nd, the four of us piled into Chris's late-model sedan and hit the road fueled by uncooked Pop-Tarts, the B-52's album "Whammy" and a healthy dose of absurdity.
Punxsutawney, PA doesn't have much going for it except for a branch campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a legendary if portly rodent, so the town celebrates Groundhog Day like their life depends on it...which basically, it does. The forecasting festivities take place just outside of town at a place called Gobbler's Knob (yes, that's its name) which is a small hill in the middle of a forest. When we arrived, the place was packed with locals and visitors alike, many of them drunk and dancing to polka music. It was freezing cold, so there were multiple bonfires and even more (spiked) cider, coffee and hot cocoa concessions. Outnumbering all of this were blazingly bright lights for the multiple cameras from national news outlets, illuminating about a 1/4 mile radius with daytime brilliance (is it any wonder that Phil seems to ALWAYS see his shadow?). Our group waded into the madness with giddy anticipation.
As we waited in the cold, we overheard whispers of a celebrity (besides Phil) in our midst. Supposedly there was a movie being made about Groundhog Day staring Bill Murray. Of course they weren't actually shooting it in Punxsutawney...the town is far too homely, but the rumor being floated was that Bill Murray was somewhere in the vicinity to experience the groundhog magic first-hand. Assuming that he wouldn't rub elbows with the populace, we concentrated on staying warm until the sun came up.
When the first weak glimmers of winter light bled over the horizon, there was a ripple of activity on the stage where the (ahem) ceremony was to take place. Men in top hats started assembling around what looked like a large papier-mache' tree stump. A van pulled up to the side of the stage, for what I imagined to be another big-wig or perhaps a visiting Hollywood actor. More time passed and finally the PA system crackled to life. Cheers erupted from the crowd as the men in top hats were introduced. They were all local officials, city council members, etc. They were also a distraction. A local let us know that at that moment, there were groundhog wranglers stuffing Punxsutawney Phil into the the sad-looking model tree stump from under the stage. He also told us that only a few years before, on one of the coldest recorded Groundhog's Days, they put poor Phil into the log too early and he froze to death. The Punxsutawney Phil that we were (hopefully) about to see was one of a long line of predecessors, since the beginning of the silliness in 1887.
After the announcements, the guy with the tallest top hat shouted something unintelligible, thrust both hands into the fake stump and pulled out Punxsutawney Phil. Held aloft by the scruff of his neck, the groundhog grimaced and blinked at the bright lights and the mass of cheering insanity that surrounded him. Once the applause died down, the Grand Poobah lowered Phil close (but not too close) to his ear so that it looked like the groundhog was imparting some ancient wisdom. Nodding gravely, the man unceremoniously stuffed Phil back into the stump (and into the waiting cage of his handlers) and turned to face the crowd. Clearing his throat, he announced that Punxsutawney Phil, Great Prognosticator of Prognosticators, had indeed seen his shadow, so there would be 6 more weeks of winter. A great "Awwww!" of disappointment went up from the crowd and with that the ceremony was over.
Our party drove back to Punxsutawney, not really sure what to do next. We saw the "World's Biggest Groundhog" which was a 12 foot tall painted plywood cutout propped up against the bank, we also drove past the Punxsutawney Library, where Phil lives for most of the year in relative peace and warmth. We wanted some breakfast, so we found a parking spot and walked toward what seemed to be the only visible downtown restaurant. Passing a gift shop, we decided to get proof of our adventure.
Not surprisingly, the gift shop's inventory consisted solely of cheap crap emblazoned with images of groundhogs...oven mitts, shot glasses, giant pencils, snow globes, magnets, clocks, stuffed toys, etc...so on. As Faith & Bill wandered the aisles in shear kitsch overload, I picked-up an inoffensive notepad and went to pay at the front of the store. It was a pretty long line and as I got closer to the register, Faith bounced up to me, grinning hugely. She told me that Bill Murray had just entered the shop and was filling a basket full of souvenirs of his trip. Looking over my shoulder, I could see him on the other end of the store, a couple of assistants in tow. The next thing we know, they turned and headed for the check out, queueing up right behind us.
Faith was practically vibrating with nervous excitement as I paid for my notepad, the whole time trying to think of something clever to say. I had a notepad now, so the most logical thing would have been for me to ask for an autograph, right? Instead of following logic, I turned, smiled and nonchalantly invited Mr. Murray and his entourage to breakfast with us.
He smiled with a hint of sympathy and told us that he had already had breakfast at the very restaurant where we were headed. He strongly recommended that we have the toast, he then complimented Faith on her hat, shook our hands and turned to pay for his souvenirs.
Of course, we had the toast...it was good.
Flashback to Parts One, Two & Three...
Because I have a full-time job, the weekends are the only time I can really put some serious hours in on the cabinet. Every morning before I head out to the cabinet, I douse myself in sunscreen, make sure my iPod is charged up and pack plenty of water for my 8-ish hours on site.
With an intent gaze, I look over each horse to make sure its outlines and patterns are to my liking. Then I move on to the finishing touch...the eyes.
I always leave the eyes of my subjects for last, since it's the eyes that give the subject life and character. This habit originated after learning about a Nepalese ceremony called
"mikhā chāyekegu" (opening the eyes). Of course, I don't consider my cartoony creations sacred at all, it's just a pleasant way to signal the end of the painting process.
Because these are functioning electrical transformers, the utility department isn't really keen on the public interacting with them (aside from us artists painting them, that is). So one of the requirements is that each artist has to leave a space for the warning stickers to be prominently displayed. I usually achieve this by painting a 'signpost' where the stickers will go. That way, they become part of the painted environment.
Finally, as with all of my murals, I like to include a little surprise for anyone that is able to really look at the artwork. Those with sharp eyes will spy a purple-striped horse snacking on a lock-shaped apple and a pink polka-dotted unicorn somewhere on this cabinet.
All told, it took me about 7 weekends of working 6 - 8 hour days. During that time, I dodged thunderstorms, worked in 103° weather, got plenty of sunscreen in my eyes and had some interesting conversations with passers-by.
Once finished, the city seals the cabinet with a durable clear-coat to protect it from the elements. And yes...I get paid for my work, too.
As I mentioned earlier, after the black outlines are in, the project becomes similar to a giant paint-by-numbers without the numbers. The perceived freedom of filling in whatever colors I want isn't really there. Sometimes I actually get quite stymied while choosing each horse's color & pattern combo. Ideally, I attempt to alternate warm & cool colors, complement the surrounding color families and not repeat any adjacent pattering. It's tougher than it sounds.
Aa far as my painting technique, I do what's called 'painting to the line'. At least that's what I call it...I honestly don't know if it has an actual term. The upshot is, I fill in the color up to the outline, leaving some areas of the line thicker and some thinner.
As you can see, sometimes I go too far and obliterate the line, but fear not...I've got plenty more black paint.
Through the generous use of masking tape, I create some pretty fun patterns. Argyle, pinstripes, herringbone and plaid...it's like a each horse was designed in a textile factory!
Next up...the devil is in the details.
Looking for Part One? It's right here...
Once I've gotten the outlines figured out, I begin adding the color. There's grass that runs all along the bottom of the cabinet, so that goes in first. Putting the background color down also helps clarify the design...and points out any glaring issues. Some of these issues include, but are not limited to; missing legs, incorrect proportions, frightening confirmation, etc. Of course, most of these things are only really noticeable to me, but yeah...I notice them.
After I've worked out the bugs (a process that never really ends), the real fun begins. It's pretty much a giant paint-by-numbers, only there aren't any numbers. During the drawing phase, I wrote each horse's color & pattern on them. This written instruction is more like a suggestion rather than an unbreakable rule.
I actually make up my mind about each horse's color as I go along. I wish I could tell you that it's all about "The Artist's Eye"(TM), or some other intangible artsy-fartsy magic. The truth is that I'm a cheapskate (otherwise known as 'frugal') and I hate to waste paint. If I have some leftover color after I finish filling in a horse, I'll add a little white or yellow or blue or whatever to change the color enough that it's not obviously the same as the original color. I'll then move over to another face of the box and pick a horse somewhere in the same color family as what I have just mixed up. My method isn't artistic, it's not scientific, it's economic.
Alright, this part of my method is a bit more on the pragmatic side, but stick with me...there's gonna be some fun and artsy-fartsy magic in the next installment...stay tuned!
Since 2008, I've been painting electrical transformer cabinets as part of the City of Fort Collins Art in Public Places program. This program, in collaboration with City of Fort Collins Utilities, has been beautifying electrical boxes throughout town since 2006. The program has been growing ever since, and 164 cabinets have been painted to date.
I've been lucky enough to be commissioned to paint nine cabinets so far, and I'm currently working on the 10th, titled "Pony Express-ions". This design is inspired by 2014 being the Year of the Horse with the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital's Large Animal Clinic nearby. It also alludes to its location through the concept of travel with the MAX Bus Line and Mason Trail which run adjacent to the cabinet.
All cabinet designs begin with a sketch submitted for approval. This project began as a way to mitigate graffiti, so the idea is for the designs to be as busy and active as possible. "Pony Express-ions" handles this requirement by being as obnoxiously colorful and pattern-filled as possible...POW!
Once approved, the cabinet is primed and the hardest part (in my opinion) begins. Taking the design from the flat sketch to the three-dimensions of the cabinet is nerve-wracking. It's important to get it right...not necessarily an exact duplicate as the design on the page, but a design that works with the cabinet. As you can see from the picture above, there are A LOT of sketched lines that take me a while to draw...and then decipher.
Finally, I reach the step that I call "finding the line". I take all of those sketchy pencil lines and I decide which ones to actually follow. Fortunately, I also keep a small jar of the primer color to use as an eraser, just in case the line I find is wrong...which happens more than I'd care to admit.
Next time: COLOR!
Here it goes...
Hey, I'm finally dipping my toe into the blog pool!
Let the cyber-community celebrate the advent of yet another potential distraction from cat videos and hipster memes.
I intend this to be a place for me to write about my artwork - its inspiration and creation - as well as thoughts on artwork and life in general. I can't promise that every post will be witty and insightful...or even on a regular schedule for that matter. Thanks for joining me though, I'll make every attempt to keep this interesting for everyone involved.