Robert Rodriguez fineartprintsca

The art and interests of Robert Rodriguez

CIRCUS BOY

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When I was a little kid, there was a TV show called Circus Boy starring Mickey Dolenz, later of the Monkees.  He played an orphan who was adopted by the circus after his parents died in a fall during their trapeze performance.  I always dreamed of living that life, and running off to join the circus, but never expected them to actually come looking for me.  When they asked me to do the program cover and poster for 1981, it was a childhood fantasy come true.  I wound up doing 5 posters for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus over the years.  Four were the actual posters, one was used as an insert in the program to promote one of their starring acts.

They would give me loads of photos and slides to use as reference, and a list of the acts they wanted to see on the poster.  Other than that, I pretty much had complete freedom.  Now I hear that the circus will be closing in May, after 146 years of operation.  Falling attendance, high operating costs, and the loss of the elephants due to protests from animal rights groups, were the main causes.  Kids just don’t dream of running away to join the circus nowadays.  So the circus is leaving town, but what a history they leave behind.

I wish I had better images to post, but these were all I could find online, and my programs are all in storage.

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CARAN D’ACHE CRAYONS

kd-lang-grammy-copyI also used Caran d’Ache Crayons on my work.  They were a waxy crayon that went on very smoothly and opaquely if you wanted them to.  You could blend them with your fingers and they would dry to the touch and not smear after they dried.  The same company made an oil pastel, but it never seemed to really dry.  I would use them quite a bit for background textures .  One day I had finished a job, and it was  leaning up against my flat files, ready for me to flap it and ship it that night.

My 5-year-old son poked his head in my door and laughed as he squirted me with his water pistol.  I laughed too until I noticed that the overspray had hit the painting, and when I tried to dab it up, it only removed the colors where the water drops were.  At first I was furious, and wondered why these things always seem to happen within hours of deadline?  But as I dabbed at it, I realized that I could never really fix it.  So instead, I splattered more water on it and dabbed off more color.  It was a major improvement to the work, and I began to use it on many pieces from then on.

I just looked them up and they are still manufactured.  Called Caran D’ache Neocolor II Artists’ Crayons, they are water soluble.  Their strong pigmentation allows light colors to cover dark colors and vise-versa.  They are soft enough to blend with your fingertip, yet much firmer than oil pastels.  Yep, that’s the way I remember them!

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PRISMACOLOR PENCILS

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When I worked traditionally, Prismacolors were my best friends.  I would lay in the underpainting and then basically do the whole picture in Prismas.  Then I would drybrush over it using a Windsor Newton Series 7 size 3 brush with acrylic paint.  Millions and millions of tiny x’s.  And even if I was doing a painting 30″ x 40″, the x’s remained the same size.  Basically the Prismacolor would create the fine blending between the acrylic and the underpainting, without worrying about making the paint being that refined.  But the Prismas didn’t have the intensity or the punch of the acrylics, so the acrylic layer was always a necessity.

I did come up with a way to do more with the Prismas, and give them more opacity.   One night my Prismas fell into a cup of water.  They sat in there for several minutes before I noticed.  When I rescued them and tried to use them, the colors had become soft and mushy.  They went on almost like paint.  When they dried out, they were back to normal, but I had liked the softer, paint feel, so I got a cup of water and would dip my Prismas into that while I worked in order to keep them soft.  They remained very opaque, even when the color dried on my painting.

Things were great until one night, with the painting due in the morning.  I had spent a week doing the job, and I was really happy with how it was looking, so I wanted to make it extra special.  I decided it would look so much cooler if I took it out in the hallway and sprayed it with Krylon Crystal Clear.  That always made paintings look like they had a resin coating on them, like little jewels.  I was finished early, so I went out there and sprayed away.  Of course the lighting wasn’t very good in the hallway, but the painting looked beautiful all sparkly like that.  I left it out there to dry and went in to clean up so I could go home and get some sleep.

When I brought the painting into my studio to admire it, I thought my eyes were over-tired.  It seemed as if everything was blurry.  That’s when I realized that Krylon Crystal Clear dissolves Prismacolor.  If you worked in Los Angeles around that time, you might have heard me scream.  What had taken a good part of four days to accomplish, now was gone and had to be reproduced in about 5 hours, and me with no sleep.  Have you ever noticed that you can paint something the second time around so much faster than you did the first time?  Like when my computer crashes and I have forgotten to back up my work for five hours.  I can redo it in one hour.  Amazing.

So, that is what happened with my illustration for the book Radio Eyes that I was doing for Roger Carpenter and Stewart Weiner.  Still one of my favorite paintings.

DEADLINES AND ADRENALINE

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How many ex-illustrators would spend the last few hours on the last day of a job, finishing every little bit that had been overlooked, flapping the art, packaging it up for FedEx, and then the mad dash at 60 mph on surface streets to get inside the door of FedEx before 6:00?  Once in the door, your package was safe, it was assured of going out, but otherwise you would have some explaining to do the next morning.  And how many actually enjoyed the adrenaline rush?  Oh, I remember being supremely upset that I ran out of packing tape and had to change rolls while I only had fifteen minutes before I absolutely, positively, had to be in my car dealing with all the crazy drivers on the road.  Traffic lights that usually only took 2 minutes, were now on their dinner break and would be back shortly.  The panic was palpable, but when I made it and the pressure was off….oh, that was such an amazing feeling.

I don’t have that with digital work.  Since I can send the finished art in by 6:00am if necessary, the deadline panic is gone nowadays.  My life is much more easy going, but sometimes I have to admit there are things missing.  No originals, of course, and that’s too bad.  But that rush…I am not so sure if I miss it or not.

PETER PALOMBI 1975-1985

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After Peter left the studio to free-lance, his career really took off, as did his work.  I think at the studio he probably got work because of the studio, but when he left, he got work for himself.  Work where they really wanted his style.  He got into airbrush with a vengeance and brought his own sensibility to it.  Closeups of objects, where the details were so luscious that you didn’t realize it was a closeup of something as mundane as an electric plug or a telephone.  They were as sexy as the high-heeled shoes that he loved to paint.  Reflections, highlights, textures, he made them all sing.

And he was a wizard with type and borders too.  I think I probably love doing type and borders with my own work because of being around Peter and seeing that illustration was about the composition of the entire piece, not just the drawing and painting.  It was all about design as a whole.

Here are some of his most recognized illustrations that he did after leaving RWP&D, Inc.

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MY WORLD IS TURNED UPSIDE DOWN

Or edgewise at least.  I was just skimming an article for artists, explaining common mistakes fine artists make.  Things like not transporting art properly, reducing the price of their paintings to make a sale…but one thing really jumped out at me.  They were saying that you should always quote measurements as height by width.  I thought this was a really stupid article, but decided to look it up.  I found almost as many things online explaining how this was, in fact, the proper way to quote measurements for paintings.  I even found one explanation that said sheetrock is sold in 4′ x 8′ sheets because it is always hung horizontally…..?  It is 8′ tall because it is not hung that way!  Ceilings are standard at 8′, and sheetrock is that height as well.

Usually photographs are 8″ x 10″, or typing paper is 8.5″ x 11″ because they are vertical.

Okay, what is correct?  I don’t think I have ever done an illustration as a horizontal by mistake, but wouldn’t that be a nightmare?  Kind of like the Stonehenge mockup in This is Spinal Tap.

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PETER PALOMBI 1970-1975

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Rosenfeld, Wilson, Palombi and Dilts, Inc.?  Sounds like a law firm from a John Grisham novel.  But it was the name of the studio that Peter Palombi organized with two art directors and a rep, while he was still in art school.  They quickly got so busy that he dropped out of school, and I don’t know if he ever got his degree.  Who cares?  He got famous instead, and did some really amazing work.  He only stayed at the studio for about five years and left around 1974 I think.  He was well known in Los Angeles, but when he left the studio to go out on his own, he became one of the best known California illustrators of the period.  He did national advertising, Playboy Magazine illustrations, Rolling Stone Magazine covers…he was the first one I know who was able to make it work, even before FedEX, Fax machines, and computers.

I was friends with Peter in Chouinard Art Institute and we were in the same class.  In the first class we ever took, the teacher invited students to paint murals on the walls.  Peter and his roommate Pat Nagel did a mural about the Watt’s Riots that were going on at the time.  It must have been about 25 feet long by 14 feet tall in black and white and sepia.  This was the first time I realized that being the best artist in grammar school, junior high school and high school, didn’t count for much.  Everybody in the school had been the best in their previous schools, and they were just better.

When I graduated, I went to visit Peter, to see what work he was doing, and he asked me to help do a storyboard that night.  I stayed and I wound up staying for five years.  Peter was just starting, but I got to move up with him.  He had always had a way of working with Rapido-graph pens and magic markers on vellum, where you would wipe it and smear it with toilet paper.  It was mostly for comps and storyboards, but Peter was so good with it that he used it for finished art as well.

Here are some examples of finished work and comps he did with the markers.  Only the bears at lunch was a comp.  The 1920’s football player was done in dyes on vellum, and the Leyendecker style football player was oils.

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MY FIRST AIRBRUSHED ILLUSTRATION

1971-copyWhile I was still in art school, our teacher, Mike Salisbury took the class to a private screening at the United Artists Studio to see Yellow Submarine before it hit the theaters.  Four years later, while I was  working for Peter Palombi, I did my first airbrush illustration.  The images from Yellow Submarine were still floating around in my head, along with the psychedelic British illustrators of the time.  I’ve been trying to remember their names but other than Phillip Castle, I can’t remember them at all.  But I do remember that I was talking on the phone in the studio one day and started doodling.  I came up with this image that was an attempt to do something psychedelic as well as memories from my childhood in New Orleans.

The doodles were not directed at all, just stream of consciousness.  After the call I started to put them into some sort of coherent order.  The giant clown head statue at Ponchartrain Beach (the only amusement park in the city) was my inspiration.  You could climb up his collar ruff and sit on his tongue.  Being that high off the ground was a mind-bending experience for a kid in New Orleans!  And that was the start of the picture.  So, this was the result.  A sample to show that I could use an airbrush.  I can’t tell you how happy I was when the computer came along and I never had to clean another airbrush in my life.  I hated that thing!  I never became an airbrush artist, but I used it on every painting I ever did.  And I cussed at it constantly.  We did not get along.

I remember one afternoon I was so mad at it that I opened my studio window and pitched the airbrush out  over four lanes of rush-hour traffic on Western Avenue!  Of course I had to go buy a new one the very next day, but I can’t describe the satisfaction of pitching the cursed thing!  And for at least one day, I had a clean airbrush.

CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’

I did this page of boys, right around the same time I did the Cliques drawings.  I had gone to junior high school in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, and I really missed being there.  All my friends had gone on to high school where they were taking Life Drawing, Design classes, Ceramics classes,  Oil painting …while I was stuck in New Orleans with Art 1, Art 2, and Art 3.  All exactly the same except for the name.  I was so jealous.  So when I graduated, I only applied to art schools in California, and only really considered two.  Art Center and Chouinard.  My mom would only agree to Chouinard because they actually gave you a BFA degree, and I needed “something to fall back on” in case I couldn’t make it as a starving artist.  I don’t know what good my degree would have done me anyway, high school was much harder.

But I’m getting sidetracked.   These were my California dreamin’ drawings.  These guys were all California kids, doing California things.  Dressed in Pendleton shirts, wheat-colored jeans, and track shoes with three stripes on the sides.  There is even a guy with a UCLA sweatshirt on.  They are skateboarding, something you can’t do very well in New Orleans because none of the streets are in good enough shape due to the marshy ground and oak tree roots breaking up the sidewalks.  These guys are riding go-carts and mini-bikes, and playing with yo-yo’s.  I wonder why I didn’t have any guys with surfboards?

By the time I did get back out to CA, I was too busy with school to do any of these things in the drawings except basketball, and body surfing.  I never could afford a surfboard, and never learned.  Besides, by then, we were all Hippies.  Pretend Hippies anyway.  Hey, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?california-dreamin

CLIQUES IN HIGH SCHOOL

Back when I was in high school we had different cliques, but it seems that we only broke it down to two groups.  In Southern California my friends told me it was Surfers and Greasers, in New Orleans where I was at the time, it was Frats and Hoods.  These weren’t derogatory names, each group was proud of their look and style.  Since I did illustrations for the school paper, I did a cartoon of them and I was a hit with each group.  They all thought I had nailed them, and they loved it.

Frats wore button-down collar oxford cloth shirts in light blue, yellow, pink, or white, with socks to match, penny loafers, dickies sometimes, and very short, wheat colored jeans.  The jeans would be about 8″ above the ground.  The girls wore the same basic thing except for wearing khaki jumpers.  They both wore their fraternity pins, or sorority pins, and the girls wore their boyfriends class ring on a chain around their necks, like in the old Elvis Presley song.

The Hoods wore very loose, high-waisted slacks, skinny belts, and open-collar shirts, and usually sandals with socks.  They greased their hair back and did a sort of Elvis Presley thing with a pompadour and ducktails in back.  The girls were called Charmers, and wore beehive hairdos, lots of makeup, tight skirts and pointy-toed shoes.

Interestingly, the two groups had distinct ways of walking and carrying things.  Hoods slouched and carried their books high up under their armpits.  Frats carried their books down low on their hips.  Sorority girls carried smaller purses on a long strap slung over their shoulders.  Charmers carried fairly large purses with short straps, and always over their forearms.  The girls didn’t carry their books, their boyfriends carried them.

I found these pieces when I was cleaning out my house in New Orleans last year.  Flashback!