By: Gail Younts
I’ve always had a passion for art. I think I drew my first portrait (a side-view of my long-haired uncle wearing an earring) at age three. As a child, my dad would often play drawing games with me where he would draw a scribble of some sort and then I would find something I saw in it and then add my own details to make it into the image that I saw. This was one of my favorite activities because I realized at a young age that I could use my imagination to create new and interesting things. In high school, the art room was my refuge, a place I could explore new ideas, listen to music, be myself and just create. I knew then that I wanted to be an artist. I majored in Art in college and got a BA in Art Education. Everyone’s got to make a living and why not do it by sharing what I love with others. I’ve taught art at different levels for the last 18 years (in Colorado and Iowa) and currently teach 7th-12th grade art in two rural Iowa schools. During the summers, I teach at an Art Camp for children. I’ve always drawn and painted, and done the occasional commissioned piece, but as I was teaching and raising a family, it was always something I did when I had time for it. It was about two years ago when I was on a field trip to a gallery with my students and we were looking at a painting when my son (also one of my students) said to me, “Why don’t you do this? Why aren’t you painting and showing your art?” And I thought about those questions and it burned away in my head. Why wasn’t I doing it? There really was no reason. At that point, I changed my focus back to my passion and started painting and drawing again. It was like a fire burning inside me, a need to be doing the thing I loved and was so passionate about. My evenings and weekends have been filled with hours of making art ever since.
As an art teacher and artist in my small town community, I have painted a mural at our swimming pool, restored a ceramic tile mural and helped with a community art project involving our students to create painted boot sculptures that now hang around our town square. (I live in a tiny town in Sidney, Iowa also known as “Rodeo Town, USA”)
My Artistic Process:
It begins with a photo. I usually spend a lot of time looking at and examining photos of a particular musician before choosing one. Once I find one that feels right, I know right away what medium or format will work best, whether it’s going to be more effective in color or black and white and if it should be a painting or a drawing. When I am composing a piece, I usually work with a photo in a few different photo programs to crop, and manipulate the image to be more closely aligned with the image I have in my head. I think that the way values are rendered in a drawing tend to push a piece to be able to speak to you. I love working with a high-contrast style that shows value ranges from deep black to bright white or color combinations that create a mood conducive to the musician. They say “the devil is in the details” and I think that with my pieces, the details are what pushes the portrait to the next level and enables them to more fully capture and express the personality of the musician. In my portrait of Keith Richards, the hands are what really stand out to me. I think they really show the years of passion and music that flowed through Keith and into his guitar. In my painting, “Janis 2”, I re-created a black and white photo into a painting with colors that I feel reflect her vibrant personality laced with a darker edginess that she carries about her.
People often ask me if I listen to music by the artist I’m painting/drawing when I’m working on it, and the answer is yes, I do. Especially at the beginning of a piece, I will select songs that go with the mood I’m going for and listen to those while working on a piece. I think it helps me get in tune with the musician’s general vibe and after a while I just get lost in the music and the art just kind of comes naturally.
With a few pieces I’ve worked on, I create a 3-Dimensional relief out of masonite that I paint the portrait on. This process involves doing a contour drawing, then creating patterns for the different levels of the drawing and then cutting those pieces out of masonite and gluing them together. Then I paint the portrait over the wood. This can be challenging due to the edges of the painting being raised, but it creates a cool real-life feel when you are standing in front of it.
I know a piece is done when I can stand in front of it and “drink it in”. I get lost in how colors and values blend into one another and how textures and patterns are built up in layers that create depth and atmosphere. A painting or drawing is finished when I not only see it, but when I feel it. My motto when painting is “do it with passion or don’t do it at all”.
When I think about my art and why I paint musicians, it’s because of the passion and emotion that music creates for me. Music definitely fuels my creative process. I can’t go a day without listening to some sort of music and I’m one of those people who links everything to a song. If someone is talking to me and if part of what they are saying happens to also be some words that are lyrics to a song, I’m instantly singing it in my head or sometimes out loud to them (at which point I’m deemed “weird” by a few, mostly my students). My life memories are defined by what I was listening to at the time. I love it when a person looks at one of my pieces and they think of their favorite songs by that particular artist. It brings about memories and feelings they had when they remember those songs. I think people connect on a personal level to the piece because of that. Music moves people and I want my art to do that. When people see one of my portraits I want them to feel the personality of that artist and the general mood of their music. It opens up communication between people around the art and the music, which is a really cool thing.
I choose to paint and draw musicians that are personally meaningful to me. I’ve always really loved Pearl Jam and wanted to do a portrait of Eddie Vedder. When he sings, he is so powerfully passionate and really generates a raw emotion that just blows me away. I spent a lot of time going through photos and searching for an image that I could work with that portrayed that passion and energy. Ultimately, I ended up choosing a photo from the Unplugged session because that show just moved me. Seeing them perform “Alive” and “Black” and watching Eddie sing those songs like he was re-experiencing all that they were about and churning it out into these powerfully moving songs was an awesome experience. I wanted to capture that in my portrait of him.
Where You Can Find Me:
During the last year I have been working fervently to create an inventory of musician portraits. I launched my Facebook Art page — Gail Younts Artwork just 6 months ago and started an Instagram account. I also have work on the BBuzzArt app and can be reached by email at [email protected].
I currently have several of my paintings and drawings on display at Waubonsie Station in Tabor, Iowa. This is a small restaurant that features live music (local and national rock, blues and acoustic) each night and is the perfect atmosphere for my style of work. My pencil drawing of Jimi Hendrix was selected as “Today’s Feature” in October last year on the BBuzzArt page (a global online community for artists).
When I look back at the last year, I see the blaze of my passion for art and music in the work that I have done and I don’t see that fire going out anytime soon. I have a long list of the work I want to do and it doesn’t seem that there are enough hours in a day to paint and draw all that I wish to. I’m excited for the work to come and hope that I can get more of my art out into the public so I can share my passion for music and art with others.
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~Feature in collaboration with/produced by: Jeff Gorra