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And it’s released – Opium Tales Volume I

Roman's Paul Reed Smith SE

After years and years of being a starving musician, I’ve finally released something I’m proud of. Five songs, all fully orchestrated.

I’ve been in band after band. I quit music for good in 1994 after our band literally got in a fight with ourselves on the stage. I think there may have been four or five people still in the audience at the time.

Yeah, it was that bad.

Then in 2007, I decided to get back into music. I joined a band. Then left it and started my own.

We struggled. We sounded just like everyone else.

The revelation

It came in the Summer of 2012. Our music really did sound like everyone else.

My wife brought home a video of a BBC dramatization of Beethoven’s 3rd symphony. In it, you got to see Haydn pass the torch to Beethoven. At the time, Beethoven was too revolutionary for some. But anyone with any brains knew that he was doing something revolutionary.

Beethoven
Beethoven

After watching that dramatization, I had a revelation. What am I doing? Why aren’t I really using the skill sets I had?

After all, nobody studied Classical music like I did. So, I decided to take it a step further. I’d study orchestration.

Luckily for me, almost everyone I liked has been dead for 70+ years. So all those scores and even the textbooks they studied from are public domain.

The main two references I used were Hector Berlioz’s (updated by Richard Strauss) Treatise on Instrumentation and Walter Piston’s Orchestration. Between those two textbooks and studying scores, I got all the knowledge I needed to orchestrate my own pieces.

The five songs

Of these five songs, I orchestrated all five of them. Two are dance songs. Two are straight up Classical waltzes. And I included one ballad, backed by a lovely string quartet.

Princess for the Night. I wrote this one for Roxy. She’s a great dancer, and one of my most dear friends I’ve ever had. Great listener. And of course, great model.

A real fun piece. Whereas the music sounds happy, the lyrics are quite dark.

Lizzie’s Opium Waltz. Named after 19th century supermodel Lizzie Siddal. She was the most famous of the models for the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and withered away on opium until she died in her early 30s. Dedicated to my friend Joe who advised I should take a more Classical route.

I’m in Love. I may or may not have mentioned that Allie’s getting married. She has a baby, and they’re finally going to get hitched next year. I wrote this for Allie and her soon-to-be husband (and father of their child). He’s a great guy, and I can see them together for the next fifty years. I hope they have at least one more kid. They’d be great parents. Allie’s my blonde model if you haven’t been following this blog. And of course one of my besties.

Make Me a New Heart. I’m not going to go into my personal dysfunction, but I didn’t exactly have the most functional family growing up. Good thing though is my wife and my mother got really close. When my mother died, it crushed my wife. As dysfunctional as my family was, at least I had one. My wife had no one. So my mother was the closest thing she had to a family. And this is dedicated to my wife.

One More Serenade. I love ending an album on a ballad. I wrote this one also for my wife. However, I wrote this song back in 2009. It’s finally seeing the light of day. I didn’t add the string quartet until recently. It was just band and synth.

Thanks

Too many people to give thanks to. I especially want to thank though Randy of Stout Recording Studio who produced the album and played all the drums and percussion. He’s played in everything from Jazz trios on cruise ships to 18-piece Jazz bands. I personally don’t like Jazz too much. However, I’ll be the first to admit that that genre produces damn good musicians.

I also want to thank my two singers – Sarah and Liel. Both ladies sounded superb on their respective songs.

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When in doubt, paint dancers

There’s no such thing as too many paintings of dancers. Dancing is one of the most human things we do. I’m married. But if I were single, and I met a cute girl who couldn’t dance, I’ll give her the evil words. You know them – “let’s just be friends.”

That’s right. No matter how cute she is. If she can’t dance, I’m not attracted to her. Period.

Now, if she promised to take dancing lessons and showed vast improvement, then maybe I’d give her a second chance. But dancing is such a huge thing to this particular artist at least.

I’m a damn good dancer. I took Swing lessons and Waltz lessons. I’d love to eventually take Tango lessons as I think the Tango is exceptionally sexy.

Musically, I’m all about Ballet. Swan Lake is the greatest of all ballets. But everyone already knows that.

Allie and Roxy are both damn good dancers

Yes, it’s not just because we’re close friends. They’re also very good dancers. They both move gracefully and have peaceful faces when they dance. You could tell the passion when they’re dancing. It’s real. Not forced.

Yes, I’ve already said it many times, including recently in my 3 totally random artistic musings article. But I’ll say it one more time for the people in the back.

If I’m ever going to get a third model, she has to be a good dancer. No exceptions.

I specially look for gracefulness when looking for models. No, neither Allie nor Roxy are professional models. My friend Jin was the last professional model I used. I may use a few others I know back when I was more into photography than art.

But I actually don’t like using one-offs. For my style of painting, there needs to be an emotional connection. I’m a Romantic after all.

Dance silhouettes
Dance silhouettes (painted in gouache)

What about you?

What are you passionate about? And how do you work this into your art?

I strongly believe if you paint what you’re passionate about, you’ll never ever run out of ideas.

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Speaker Girl and finally a release

OK, I’ve been meaning to get this out the door forever. One thing went wrong after another.

First, I drew up a pretty nice picture from an old live sketch of Roxy, inked it, and ruined it because I didn’t clean my watercolor brushes correctly between colors.

It happens though. The more you paint, the more mistakes you’ll make. Which is great. You don’t learn from talking. You learn from doing.

And I draw and/or paint daily. Yes. Every single day.

Even on vacation. I’ll still bring a sketchpad and just draw.

It’s because I love it. Some folks swear by meditation. More power to them.

It’s not me. I can’t imagine anything worse than getting nothing done. Meditation is sitting around for hours not doing anything. That doesn’t sound too exciting. I’m pretty sure I get all the benefits of that peace of mind thing from painting.

Anyways, after killing that painting, I decided to do it again. Because what did I just write about? If you’ve done it once, you can do it again? Damn right!

I say this shit because mindset is paramount to success. It’s hard enough to make it as an artist. You’ll definitely have the leg up if you got the right mental approach to it all.

Speaker Girl

It’s funny because this is an old concept for me. Even before my drawing was any good, I’d still draw a girl between two speakers.

This one has a fantasy cat on top of one of the speakers. I think the next one will have a baby dragon.

When you’re the artist, you get to make the rules.

Allie recently did the same pose as this one. So I’ve already prepared for a bunch of these.

I haven’t seen Roxy in weeks. Just Allie. So I’ll probably do five or six of these speaker girl paintings with Allie in the next few months.

I love the concept.

Now, if you’re wondering why I do them, during the mixes, we decide in advance where we want the instruments to go. The Sound Engineer I work with only likes three places – hard left, center, and hard right. He’s very much against the concept of partial left or partial right.

If you’re wondering what I’m talking about, I’m talking about where an instrument goes when you’re mixing the music. For instance, on your average song, you’ll have bass drum, snare drum, lead vocals, harmony vocals, and bass guitar right up the middle. You might have your violins and guitar on the left and your pianos and synthesizers on the right. Your toms and cymbals will also be on the sides.

Now that I’ve said all that, pick your favorite song. Put on headphones. And write down where you hear the different instruments. Left, center, or right? See if you can figure it out for each instrument.

Roxy as Speaker Girl
Roxy as Speaker Girl

This of course is an actual watercolor and gouache painting. Back when I did the diagrams, I’d draw a topless model in the middle of two speakers and actually write where I want the instruments. And give it to my Sound Engineer like that.

Upcoming songs

Yes, my muse is a beautiful woman. Well, most of the time. Sometimes a friend of mine.

I got five songs coming up. They’ll be available next week. Two of them, I wrote for my wife. One of them I wrote for Roxy. Another I wrote for Allie. And one I wrote for my friend Joe who encouraged me to go a more Classical direction.

I was in one failing Heavy Metal band after another. And Joe said that my Metal was OK, but my Classical was outstanding. He encouraged me to pursue that direction. So you know what? He gets a song too.

So yes, five songs coming up. They’ll be available on this site next week. Right now, the Mastering Engineer is mastering them.

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If you’ve done it once, you can do it again

Humans are complicated beings. But there are pretty much two different mindsets.

No, most people aren’t either or. They’re a percentage of each one.

You got a scarcity mindset. These people believe that if I win at something, that severely lessens your chance of being successful at it. Needless to say, these people aren’t exactly fun to be around. They won’t be happy for you when you start achieving awesome things. Rather, they’re way more prone to jealousy and bitterness.

When it comes to art, they’re the type of people who think that greatness can only happen once. Like if a musician nails a song, that’s it. He could never do it again that good. It’s perfect as it is and could never be replicated. Ever.

It’s a shitty mentality to have. I can assure you that great musicians can have epic performances of the same piece as many times as they want. Do you know why? Because for one, they’re great musicians. And for another, they never ever have scarcity mindsets.

The other type of mindset to have is the abundance mindset. They know you have unlimited opportunities for growth. If you’re awesome at something, rather than being jealous of you, I’m picking your brain. Or if I can’t get a hold of you, I might copy some of your tricks.

Applying the abundance mindset to art

I never fret that if I did something cute one time, I couldn’t replicate it. I think that’s the dumbest thing in the world to believe.

In my last article on cleaning watercolor brushes, I showed a painting I killed because I accidentally got gouache in the watercolors and Roxy ended up looking like a zombie.

Bad Roman. But you know what? Do it again!

prepping a pinup watercolor
redoing a painting I killed

Here’s the same painting redone. I just got done inking Roxy. Now, I have to draw the speakers and another kitten. Then of course erase the pencil lines before I begin to paint.

And just like this, I have the same painting.

When you have an abundance mindset, you don’t fret so much about mistakes. Imagine for instance if Tom Brady after losing a Super Bowl for his first time said “screw it! I never want to do this again.” And just quit.

He’s used to winning Super Bowls. Suddenly, he’s on the losing end of it.

He could have quit. And he’d have three less rings. (As of 2019 – they’re the favored team for this upcoming season so he might have yet another).

But love or hate the guy, either way, you have to admit he has an abundance mindset. He doesn’t have that negative scarcity mindset.

Too many artists I know, especially musicians, have scarcity mindsets. They think that if their sister band got big, then they’d have no chance. Like for some reason, their competitor succeeds so they can’t? That’s the dumbest thing in the world to think. If that’s how you think, you’re never gonna get ahead in the brutal world of art.

If you do something awesome, you need to know that since you’ve done it once, you can do it again. Change your mindset to an abundance mindset and your chances of succeeding in this industry will skyrocket.

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How to clean your watercolor brushes

I rarely use soap with my watercolor brushes. Usually with watercolors, using two jars does the trick.

I have two Kimchi jars that I use for my watercolor brushes. The first one is for the initial rinse and the second one is for the second rinse.

With plain old watercolors, water alone does the trick. Just be sure to rinse them in the jars really well.

However, I also use gouache and as much as I love gouache, it doesn’t always rinse as cleanly as watercolors do.

Exhibit A. Otherwise would have been a really cute painting of Roxy. Now, she looks like a zombie. Totally ruined a good concept. Because you know why? I used gouache for the speakers and failed to rinse the black well enough.

An example of a watercolor painting ruined by dirty brushes
An example of a watercolor painting ruined by dirty brushes

There’s no saving this watercolor painting without turning it super muddy. So, it will go in the trash. Bummer, but it happens. Yet, you really don’t want it to happen. This was the first time in my life drawing a kitten, and it turned out super cute.

Do I really have to throw this painting out? Yes.

How to clean watercolor brushes

So now that we’ve covered why you should occasionally clean your watercolor brushes, let’s now cover how to clean them. And no, I’m not getting a penny from Dawn. So I’m saying this without an endorsement.

We buy Dawn soap because it’s the type of soap scientists use to clean animals when there’s an oil spill. If it’s gentle enough to save animal lives, it’s more than likely gentle enough for your watercolor brushes.

Note that I still water it down. I pour one drop, not one squeeze, but one drop of Dawn soap into a Kimchi jar and add cool water. It suds really well.

Then I vigorously stir the brush in that water for about 30 seconds.

Afterwards, I rinse the brush really well with cool water. You want to get the soap totally out of the brush.

To test if it worked, paint with water on your watercolor journal. It should be totally clear, without any suds either.

I don’t like to clean my brushes too often. Watercolor brushes are made for water. Strong soap will ruin your brush. So will hot water.

Cleaning too many times will ruin the natural oils in your brush. It’s like when you shampoo too much. You don’t want to do that to your hair. And you don’t want to do that to your brushes.

You can always test to see if you need to clean your brushes with soap by painting with nothing but water in your watercolor journal. You’ll know right away.

Had I remembered to do this, I would have saved the painting above.

But like I promised you, I’ll never lie to you. You’ll see my greatest creations. But I’ll also show you when I’ve done something stupid so you can learn not to do that too.

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Edward Robert Hughes – Pre-Raphaelite Associate Artist

More than likely, you’ve seen some of the works of Edward Robert Hughes. Perhaps on greeting cards. My wife has a t-shirt with Midsummer Eve, painted in 1908.

Edward Robert Hughes Midsummer Eve
Edward Robert Hughes Midsummer Eve

Edward Robert Hughes (1851-1914) is the nephew of Pre-Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes. His uncle was his first mentor until he got into the Royal Academy.

At the Royal Academy, he met Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones and the two of them developed a friendship.

Hughes also was a studio assistant of William Hollman Hunt, and assisted with two of Hunt’s paintings.

Edward Robert Hughes as an artist

Hughes developed his own style. Although classified as a Pre-Raphaelite associate, some considered him either Aestheticism or Symbolism. I don’t get hung up on labels. I simply enjoy his work because of the way he painted women. Also, I love the fantasy worlds that he creates.

Edward Robert Hughes - Dream Idyll (A Valkyrie)
Edward Robert Hughes – Dream Idyll (A Valkyrie)

Personal life

His first love was the daughter of the famous novelist and poet George MacDonald. They got engaged. Unfortunately, she died before they could get married.

Years later, he married Emily Eliza Davies. The couple never had any children.

Although a fantastic artist, Hughes primarily made his money doing portraits for the upper classes.

Style

Like yours truly, Hughes specialized in watercolors. Historians classify him as a Pre-Raphaelite associate as he came after the initial seven.

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3 totally random artistic musings

The more I write, the more articles I will have just like these. They’re musings – things that inspire me. I’m quite sure they’d be useful to you as well, because it’s a good thing to share thoughts. You and I are human after all. And we’re both artists. It’s always a good thing to know how other artists think.

It’s OK to become obsessed with a color

Yellow. More specifically, yellow medium gouache. I’ve done three out of the last four paintings using this color as the primary color.

I’m about to have several paintings for sale at the local bar. And three of those paintings are using yellow medium gouache.

Why? Because I took a chance doing these gouache silhouette paintings and you know what? They work. They work big time. I love this color because it makes the black really stand out. Plus, it’s kind of a vague color. What’s in the background? The sun? Fire?

I had these gouache paints laying around collecting dust and I thought to myself “why not?” Sometimes, you just have to do things like that as an artist.

Well, now I’m going to use this color until I run out of it.

You need models who are good dancers

Well, not everyone paints humans. But I do. Specifically, beautiful women for my fantasy pinup art. If you’re new to this site, I use primarily two models – Allie (the blonde) and Roxy (the brunette). They’re both very close friends of mine and both excellent dancers.

You see, a girl who can dance can also model. Even better, a girl who can dance can do pretty much anything. Dancing is grace. Dancing shows character. Dancing shows that a woman likes living life.

I don’t like devoid personalities. I’ve worked with models in the past who may have well been good looking zombies. Because that’s as much personality as they had.

I got lucky. Neither of my current models are models. Of all the models I’ve worked with in the past before I started working with Allie and Roxy, I’m only friends with one of them.

Several of them I enjoyed their company. One of them I really wish I got to know better because she had a lot of brains and was a downright fascinating person. Another one made damn good soaps and lotions and I’m still a customer of hers.

But now that I’m a painter and not a photographer, dancing adds a whole different layer for modeling.

You want models who can dance
You want models who can dance

That image above covers the first two random artistic musings. That was the specific medium yellow gouache I was talking about. Both are of Allie, from live model sketches we’ve done recently.

Running is underrated

“What? What does that have to do with art?”

Last night, I drank way too much. We killed a bottle of Japanese whiskey (quickly becoming one of my favorite drinks) and on top of that, I split a small bottle of absinthe with two other friends.

Drinking too much though is no excuse not to get out of bed. The alarm still went off at 7AM and rather than not doing anything, I got up and ran. Yeah, I should have stretched. My calves didn’t feel too good afterwards.

However, running helped get the remaining alcohol out of my system so I could paint.

Heck, I don’t even like running. I do it because I don’t want to die. I hate doing anything cardio. I love lifting weights. But cardio? Hate it.

Running is probably best of the worst for me. So that’s why I run. It’s my favorite exercise of the exercises I hate but still have to do. If that makes any sense.

After the run, I pretty much came back to life. Stretched. Then got a lot of painting done.

I don’t like wasting days. Running salvaged this one for me.

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Making gouache bar paintings

I do two types of paintings. I do the paintings that I could sell at a bar for cheap. And I do the paintings that I either sell on this website or give to friends.

The former, I can whip out in a day. The latter, I spend a lot of time on. I’m only going to talk about the former. The latter, you can buy on this website.

I just did an article on painting gouache silhouettes. These are easy and fun to do. But they’re pop art and designed for someone at a bar to buy and put up on his or her wall. They’re by no means high art. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

They have their place

These paintings have their place. They’re aesthetically pleasing. They’re nice to look at.

They’re specifically designed for your bar patron who busts his ass all day. Either breaking his back doing physical labor or ruining his back sitting in an office all day.

He wants something nice to have up on his walls. He’s not loaded. We all know the boss man doesn’t pay him enough for how hard he works. The boss man half the time takes him for granted.

Half the time? I’m being too polite. We all know the truth.

So he’s sitting there having beers with his friends. And he sees these little paintings. No, they’re not huge. They’re little. 8″x10″. And they’re nice.

Simple gouache silhouette painting
Simple gouache silhouette painting

He thinks “this wouldn’t look bad in my kitchen.” And he looks at the price tag and it’s not too expensive. So he goes to the bartender and purchases it.

Not every painting needs to be the Mona Lisa

Most people can’t afford high art. Hey, I’m going to be quite honest with you. I’m a working class guy. Yes, I now work in an office and do white collar shit. But the real me is a man who loves America and hates people who don’t.

I used to do physical labor until I knocked up some lady. Then I was like “I need to make more money.” That’s when I went back to college and learned some additional skills.

I’m strong as fuck. I can lift everything you own up and down stairs, load it into a truck, and move it to your next home.

But I switched from brawn labor to brain labor because I needed to make more money.

Now, I’m older. The kid has grown and is out of the house. And my wife got into traveling and I got into art.

So I’m painting these types of paintings for the me thirty years ago. The guy who would bust ass five days a week, then go out for beers with his friends. And see the paintings for sale at the bar.

He’s sick of seeing nothing but bananas and oranges in a fruit bowl or sunsets over a valley. He likes beautiful women. He’s the type of guy who would have worked on airplanes during World War II so you can bet he loved those pinups on the planes. Heck, he probably would have bought beers for the guy who painted them.

Now, you see the exercise I just did here? I just described who I’m doing this art for. You now have a picture in your head of my ideal customer.

Who is your intended audience? Or do you just paint?

Note that there are no wrong answers.

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Gouache Silhouettes

So, you don’t really have an idea of what to paint. You’re sitting there, with brush and hand, and nothing is coming?

I got an idea. How about a simple silhouette with gouache?

They’re super easy to do. Pick a picture. Then only draw the outline.

Now, there’s one catch. It has to have a good outline. That’s the catch.

If all the action is happening inside the outline, it’s going to be a lousy silhouette. You need the action to happen with the outline, not the inside.

But what does that mean?

Exactly what it sounds like. If the action is happening inside the outline, you’re not going to see it because the silhouette is one strong color (almost always black) and won’t show what’s happening inside the outline.

So, most pictures are useless for silhouettes. Keep reading.

Example of a gouache silhouette painting

Here we go, using only two colors. No, not monochromatic. The idea is to only use two colors, not use variations on a color like in monochromatic painting.

gouache silhouette painting
Allie and a Unicorn

Most importantly, all the action is on the outside. Note the hair flowing, the petting of the unicorn, and the hand by the side. You see everything. You can tell everything that’s going on.

You got a bad ass female creature here. A unicorn, the most magical of all God’s creatures. And here you have a woman simply petting it. Note that she’s standing tall. She must be powerful in her own right.

The unicorn is it itself neither defensive nor submissive. Appreciating her touch. But its head up high and regal, as a unicorn is supposed to be.

Color choices

So the standard is black for the subject. But for the rest of the painting? You want something to differentiate with the black. You can do this quick matching colors test and print out the PDF before starting if you like.

The only thing that matters is that the silhouette looks good. My wife and I choose a medium yellow for this silhouette because it’s so different from the black so you can see the obvious lines.

If it looks good, you chose the right colors.

Your turn

So now for the exercise, you can either do still life or you can have an action painting like this one. Both make wonderful gouache silhouette paintings.

Just keep in mind, if you want an action painting, be sure that all the action occurs on the outside, not the inside. If on the inside, you won’t see it because you’re only working the silhouette (pure black).

Have fun with this. Actually, this was so fun to do that I think I’ll do a bunch of these!

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In watercolor, sometimes paint without a plan

Occasionally, it’s good not to have a plan. And just paint.

I bought another watercolor board. And just started drawing on it.

I had no plan whatever. I had all these images of Allie from previous live modeling practices that I had to do something with.

And, I’ve never done a unicorn in my life. Plus, being a fantasy artist for this long and never having drawn a castle? Shame!

(Memories of the Walk of Shame walk in Dubrovnik, Croatia).

So what to do? Just combine them all.

I took three of the sketches and did them all. One very big. Two very small. And added a unicorn and a castle.

Unicorn castle
My latest Fantasy Pinup art piece

So the unicorn’s a silhouette. Cheating? Who cares?

When you’re the artist, you get to make your own rules.

Now, when I actually started painting, I had no idea what I’d end up doing. I know the two girls on the hill and the unicorn will be silhouettes in front of the fading sun. So, what to do with the rest? How about we just paint randomly?

It turned out pretty nice. I chose a bunch of colors I wanted to work with. Reds and yellows and Daniel Smith Moonglow and Windsor and Newton Payne’s Gray. Why not?

I wanted black for a lot of it to make the main girl pop forward. That’s why I painted that black.

And yes, I combined watercolor and gouache. Once you’ve painted many times with both, you get to see the strengths and weaknesses of both mediums and plan accordingly.

Do you need inspiration?

So, I must ask you. Do you need inspiration for your next watercolor painting?

Well, how about take a bunch of things you’ve been meaning to paint and just start drawing them?

Maybe a rose, a unicorn, and your favorite pet who’s now living in the next world? Just start drawing them and let it flow.

That’s yet another beauty of watercolor. I let the waters do the work for me. But then again, I think I have the perfect personality for watercolor. I was made to paint watercolor. I like chaos and randomness. I love it when things don’t go accordingly exactly to plan but end up with a pleasant feeling anyways. That’s one of my favorite feelings in the world.

For the skies, I just chose the colors that fit a sunset and let the colors do their magic. Almost like the tie-dye shirt concept. Let the randomness do its work.

Did it work? Well, some folks will love it. Some will hate it. But I’m totally fine with that.

The point is, with watercolor, sometimes, you should do something more random. Feel free to take chances. I have a lot of paintings that I either threw out or gave away. It’s just like cooking though. The best cooks ruined a lot of dishes experimenting.

The same goes for watercolors.