Inspiration – Kenn Neely

Over the years I’ve made quite a few posts about artists who inspire me. Today I’m putting Kenn Neely in that group.

photo 1Kenn’s work desk – beautiful chaos.

Kenn has always been a maker and tinkerer. His quirky objects take cues from natural surfaces and geometries, as well as from the likes of Alexander Calder and Paul Klee. Kenn works with scrap metal and wire, found objects which he modifies or embellishes, and a variety of wood. Kenn’s wife, Julie, is a great graphic designer who went to RISD. Their home is full of art and warmth.

photo 2A Neely-enhanced cabinet.

asdgphotoOne of the vintage objects in the Neely home. This stool is just classic.

Kenn also makes jewelry, and you can see some of that work here at his Etsy shop. I own a number of Kenn Neely originals, and he’s got some of my work hanging in his home. He’s a thoughtful, genuine man. It was a joy to sit with him and his boys yesterday and make some crafts while chatting over coffee. Good times and a real blessing.

photo 3 The melty bead art thing I made with Kenn’s young sons. It’s sitting on a purple sketchbook that Kenn gave me as a gift.

Thanks for being an Inspiration, Kenn!

Becoming the Student, #2: Glendy

Today, during a visit to some old friends of ours, I had the opportunity to draw a quick portrait sketch of a wonderful young artist named Glendy. I was also lucky enough to sit for her to draw me as well.


Portrait Sketch of Glendy, Graphite on paper, 8.5 by 11 inches. 10 minutes.

Here’s Glendy drawing me:


Originally from Guatemala, she’s got the classic, royal features of the Maya. I love that open-eyed, focused observation. It resulted in the portrait of me below. I sat about 20 minutes for this drawing. I think it’s pretty great.


I also had the chance to sketch Glendy’s younger sister, Larissa. She was a picture of pensive thoughtfulness as she sat for me. Though she couldn’t sit as long as Glendy, I think I actually captured a better likeness. Graphite on paper, 8.5 by 11 inches. 7 minutes.


I asked Glendy to give me some word of wisdom about drawing. She said that drawing people was “just fun!” When pressed for additional information she seemed defiant, as if to declare that obviously “fun” ought to be enough. I think that confidence is an amazing part of her personality. Glendy’s got the clarity of her mom and the practicality of her dad. Good traits to have. Thanks for drawing me, Glendy, and thanks for letting me draw you!

PS: One of my favorite portraits I’ve ever attempted was of Glendy’s and Larissa’s older sister, Natalie. I made this piece back in 2006. I really love it, and was glad to see it again while visiting with the family. Natalie Reading. Oil on linen on panel, 26 by 24 inches.

Screen Shot 2013-12-21 at 8.44.54 PM

Visiting The Milwaukee Art Museum with Marcus


My good friend and former student Marcus met up for a day at the Milwaukee Art Museum today. While there, we took in the wonderful and hilarious Thomas Sully exhibition that was on view. We visited old favorites, like the two Richard Diebenkorn works they own. We also enjoyed a couple new friends, like the Audubon piece below:


While taking in the Thomas Sully: Painted Performance exhibition, I decided to do a number of quick sketches. I spent between 30 seconds and two minutes on these pieces. If you click on my drawing, you’ll see what the original piece looked like.

They really reminded me of the fantastic Kyle Staver’s work. Staver, who just recently had a show at Tibor de Nagy in NYC, often uses classic themes and large, dynamic compositions in her work. She also manifests a unique sense of the shaping of forms, particularly in how she develops the figures in her paintings. Sully, though very different from Staver and far removed from her in time, also had a feeling for the strange shapes that flesh may take on. What he lost in correct anatomy (foreshortening, proportion) was gained in drama and formal structure. The strange figures he painted often loom from the surfaces in terms of their abstract shapes rather than their representational effect. In some way Sully feels like a progenitor of Staver.

Anyway, here are the sketches – click to see the originals. Enjoy!


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s Self Portrait, 1807.


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s portrait of Mary Ann Paton, 1836.


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s portrait of Major Thomas Biddle, 1832.


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s portrait of Mary Siddons Whelen, 1812.


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s portrait of Rosalie Kemble Sully as The Student, 1848.


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s portrait of John Terford David, 1813.


Sketch of Thomas Sully’s portrait of Mrs George Lingen, 1842.


All in all it was a pretty nice day.┬áHere’s one more shot of Marcus for the road…


Becoming The Student, #1: Shalonda Farrow

Starting this month I will be periodically posting a new series of portraits, beginning with the one below. The title of this series, Becoming the Student, is based on my desire to be quieter and learn from others rather than be entirely bound up in my identity as an educator. In Becoming the Student, I hope to present thoughtful, dignified portraits and use the time while creating the works as an opportunity to learn from the people who sit for me. With each post I will include some observation, quote, or other tidbit of glory that the subject shared with me.

The one below was created in 3 hours or so at a portrait workshop I conducted at The Columbia Art League yesterday. Pictured is my friend (and fellow CAL instructor) Shalonda Farrow. I was struck by how often she used the word “love” (as in: “Thank you, love” or “Do you need any of this, love?”) during the session. In speaking to her friends, she’s always intentional about communicating care and awareness. Shalonda seemed like a perfect initial entry into the Becoming the Student series. Here’s to many more. And thanks to Shalonda and the ladies at CAL!

20131208-155201.jpgShalonda, 13 by 11 inches, pastel on paper. 2013.

Digital Sketching

Following the lead of a number of the people around me (such as Matt Choberka, William Dolan, Chris Fletcher, and Alex Herzog), I’ve begun to do more sketching on tablets. I’ve been working on a Kindle Fire using SketchBook Mobile X.


Above: A sketch made from drawings and photos of a street scene in Guangzhou, China. This is an iconic tree to me, one that I walked past a dozen times, drew, took photos of, and have thought about many times since our trip in February of 2013. You can even see its foliage on Google images of the street corner where it’s located.


Above: A sketch from the sculpture Hermes and the Infant Dionysus at the Cast Collection of the University of Missouri. I love the Cast Collection and have taught my students there for all but one of my semesters of teaching here at Mizzou.


Above: A pile of the foam packaging inserts that accompany desktop Macs while in shipment. I use them as props in my Beginning Drawing and Painting setups.


Above: A post-it note sculpture that hangs in my studio at the university. One of our friends made it and I love it. I’m sure it will appear in many more drawings and paintings over the years.


Sorry I’ve not been writing much/at all recently. Sometimes it’s best to be quiet.