JK Rowling Portrait: Expressing Your Love for an Author With More Than Words

JK Rowling original stencil portrait

The JK Rowling Portrait isn’t the first stencil portrait I made in the early days of my Jim Public website, but it is the portrait that one of you bought most recently, so Jo is fresh on my mind. This article talks a little about why and how I made this portrait, and it is the second post of my website’s 10th anniversary celebration.

Why Draw JK Rowling?

I once created a chart called “All Art Is Abstract Art,” which I still stand by, but it is equally true that All Art Is Fan Art. Artists are inspired by things that other people make; few of us make artwork as a spontaneous activity, detached from the things that we’ve seen other people make. The history of art is largely the history of artists loving stuff that other artists made and then making new artwork as result.

I love the Harry Potter novels, and this love has abided through:

  • reading the books to myself
  • listening to the incredible audiobooks read by Jim Dale
  • reading the full series aloud to my daughter
  • reading the full series aloud to my son
  • enduring the first three films
  • either walking out of the fourth film or spending the entirety of the fourth film fantasizing about walking out
  • watching Jo’s online reputation trend steadily downward in recent years as she weighs in on things beyond the Potterverse

Rowling is still an author I greatly admire, but I’m not planning to write a book that pays homage to Rowling as Philip Pullman honored Blake, Milton and others with His Dark Materials. I opted for creating a portrait instead.

How to Make a Portrait of JK Rowling

In setting out to make an original portrait of Jo, I did not have the traditional, crucial resource at hand: JK Rowling was not around to sit for the portrait. I do not like the idea of plagiarizing someone else’s photos, so I gathered about ten photos of her from the web and started sketching. Ultimately, I created my own amalgamated image of a stylized Jo using all of these images as referents but, in the end, creating something new with pencil and paper.

JK Rowling drawing by James Hough

From Drawing to Stencil

A guiding philosophy of the Jim Public website is the mission to create high-quality, hand-made, affordable artwork that is fun for me to make. I love working with color, and I love spraying paint, so stenciling has become a core technique that I use to fulfill this mission. Stenciling is a way to make multiples (which are affordable) that are more hand-made than digital prints.

So, with a finished graphite drawing in hand, I scanned it into Photoshop and manipulated the image so that I basically had four-color separations. I then experimented with color palettes until I found four colors that looked nice together and worked with the drawing.

JK Rowling portrait stencil layers, by James Hough

From Stencil to Painting

Each color layer of the image actually needs two stencils for me to achieve 100% color coverage, so I cut out those eight stencils and registered them to an 11” x 14” piece of watercolor paper so that the image would line up as I added each layer.

After mixing my acrylic paint to the right colors and consistency, I made an initial run of ten JK Rowling Portraits with a cheap airbrush.

Conclusion

JK Rowling is probably the author whose work I’ve logged the most hours reading, even if you don’t include the audiobooks. The Harry Potter books hardly need any more endorsements, but I am still amazed at how perfectly they achieve what they set out to do: they narrate a hero’s journey with the school-setting charm, humanist ethics and inventive (but somehow not annoying) magic. I am grateful to have Rowling’s work as read-alouds for my kids, and I hope to get to read them to grandkids one day, if my own children don’t call dibs.

The JK Rowling Portrait is a limited edition, hand-made stencil painting that you can buy from the Jim Public shop.

Fuzz Dots: Abstract Art That Is Warm and Fuzzy

Fuzz Dot 1 airbrushed painting by James HoughFuzz Dot 2 airbrushed painting by James HoughFuzz Dot 3 airbrushed painting by James HoughFuzz Dot 4 airbrushed painting by James HoughFuzz Dot 5 airbrushed painting by James Hough

The Fuzz Dot paintings above are original works that I’ve unearthed for my website’s 10th anniversary. The pieces themselves are straightforward enough: they are 11″ x 14″ original airbrushed paintings on heavy watercolor paper. But even the most simple artwork can contain multitudes. There are several art ideas at play in these little works.

Why Fuzz Dots?

Non-objective painting is alive and well.

Fuzz Dot 1 airbrushed painting by James Hough

Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Picasso, Malevich and more artists from 100-150 years ago started to transform the surface of artwork from a fictional window through which you see a picture to a flat space where you see the artist play with paint. Since then, artists have had a blast reducing painting to pure color, pure shape, pure line, and so on.

What I find amazing is that this exploration of painting as a non-picture is ongoing, exciting and explosive! The Fuzz Dot paintings are just one example of pieces I’ve made that participate in the huge arena of non-objective – that is, fully abstract, with no reference in the real world – painting.

Non-objective painting can be off-putting.

Fuzz Dot 2 airbrushed painting by James Hough

As gentle a soul as Agnes Martin seems to be on camera, encountering her work out of context can be trouble. Most of her work that I’ve seen looks like straight, delicately-drawn pencil lines on a white canvas. I have come to appreciate what she has to say about beauty and the sublime through her painting, but the paintings aren’t for everyone.

Fuzz Dot paintings are one of my responses to the fact that non-objective abstract painting can be cold and uninviting. The layering of color and those blurry non-edges just evoke a coziness that I like to look at.

Layers of color are beautiful.

Fuzz Dot 3 airbrushed painting by James Hough

Much of my artwork is, in part, about enjoying the beautiful, subtle, infinite effects you get when you layer multiple colors on one another. The Renaissance period in Western Art is characterized by the invention and master of glazing: layering translucent strokes of paint on top of one another to achieve a blended, luminous effect. In order for an artist not to blaspheme by portraying Jesus, they had to invent an incredibly sensitive and gorgeous method for portraying the spirit-made-flesh, and they did it!

Each of the twelve shapes in a Fuzz Dot painting is made of at least two airbrushed layers of paint. The effect is that each fuzzy dot passes as one color while actually being several simultaneously. I just love this, and I think you might, too.

Structure and looseness are equally appealing.

Fuzz Dot 4 airbrushed painting by James Hough

Agnes Martin’s work is very meticulous and organized, while someone like Willem de Kooning painted in a style that feels much looser, even if he is constructing a careful composition in spite of the slashes and dabs of paint. Fuzz Dot paintings have a little of both: I create a careful, slightly oblique grid then freely paint the circles without stencils or even touching the paper.

Painting without stencils, in 2011 when I made these pieces, was a freeing experience, because I had been making stenciled portraits and gestural abstract paintings, and I just needed to work with color and relax.

Finally, working intuitively can pay off both for the artist and the viewer.

Fuzz Dot 5 airbrushed painting by James Hough

Beyond knowing the general placement of each dot, I never had a plan when I started one of these paintings. Through working slowly, responding to the color and size of the dots I just painted, I slowly built what felt like a balanced composition of colorful, blurry dots. Artists of all kinds know the flow state of this kind of deep work, where you are using your instincts – honed by experience and education – and simply responding to the artwork in front of you until you feel it is finished.

This way of working on instinct does not always yield a product that is user-friendly, but in this case, the Fuzz Dot paintings have been artwork that people continually enjoy looking at and talking about.

In conclusion:

I have been heartened by the reaction that viewers have when they see the Fuzz Dot paintings. They situate themselves nicely both in art history and in front of your eyes. I have experimented with how I can explore the Fuzz Dot without making unnecessary, uninspired copies, and I hope to make some and put them out there for you to see soon.

In the meantime, at the time of publishing this post, two out of the five pieces are still available, so consider adding a Fuzz Dot painting to your collection.

A Few Digital Sketches, Soon to Be Finished Paintings

Below are a few digital sketches that represent a snapshot of what has been going on in my painting studio lately. Working digitally like this has the huge benefit of offering infinite flexibility when working with colors. I also love to dig for intuitive geometric compositions in my paintings, and Adobe Illustrator is well suited to this kind of sketching. horizontal-studies This sketch should be a finished painting by now, but I keep revisiting it, tweaking the colors to try to achieve the balance of light/dark and intensity that it needs. I ended up going with the top design with the chain of small rectangles running across the diagonal. red-pink-white-blue-concept Continuing to play with the red/pink/white/blue palette and simple—bordering on obvious!—geometry. austin-commission-concept I am currently making the painting that is depicted in this digital concept photo. I created the palette after spending some time at the collectors’ land in west Texas, home of big skies, cedar, mesquite, and earth. When finished, this painting will be an important piece of the collectors’ newly remodeled home! orange-green-red-study This sketch did not make the cut for the above commission, but it has found a place in my painting queue. It uses the west Texas palette, and does some of the things with simple color, light and space that keep my eyeballs coming back to look again.

Beachfront Exhibition Layout and Photos

For my MFA thesis show at UNLV, I created a lifestyle brand called Beachfront. It was all about optimism and toothpaste packaging design. There were 5 sub-brands: Beachfront Fire, Bold, Classic, Sensitive, and Gold. I created this plan for the gallery layout of the exhibition. I am including a photo of the installation of these wall pieces and of the Judd-inspired upper gallery. James Hough, Beachfront exhibition plan, 2004 Beachfront wall installation, 2004, by Jim Public, aka James Hough Beachfront floor installation, 2004, by Jim Public, aka James Hough

A Set of Paintings from 2006

Koby Teith was a brand I created during the time that my friends and I were writing country songs as Ripper Jordan. We liked Toby Keith’s bravado and intelligence as a songwriter, so I paid homage to him by creating a logo that I think looks like it would be dandy on a steak sauce bottle. As for the artwork, the logo served as an armature around which to pile up mounds of oil paint. Methinks the tedium of masking and airbrushing was getting to me!

A Set of Paintings from 2007

It is crazy to look back on complete bodies of work that you made years back. I hadn’t thought about these paintings from 2007 for a while, then I stumbled upon them recently, deep in my hard drive. I made this group of paintings while I lived in Las Vegas. They embody the romance of the Old West that still characterizes that place.

A Dry Heat vitrine, progress shots

During the Jim Public’s Truck exhibition A Dry Heat I wished I had some visual aids while I discussed the process of making these paintings. Here, at last, are the photos I took last summer when I went back to Las Vegas and retrieved the glass vitrine, from which I had not yet removed the paintings. The water had evaporated, leaving behind the acrylic paint from the different solutions I had mixed for each painting. Click here to see the resulting artwork. Jim Public, A Dry Heat vitrine, progress shot 1 Jim Public, A Dry Heat vitrine, progress shot 2 Jim Public, A Dry Heat vitrine, progress shot 3

New Studies Coming In

110913 jim public studies september 2011

Can I just tell you how much I look forward to having a camera that doesn’t distort the edges of my rectangular artwork? It’s like my paintings have rung your doorbell and you look through the peep-hole to see a warped, circular version of an otherwise rectilinear piece of art. Someday, this nice-sized lens of my dreams will swing open that front door of yours and show you an image of the paintings that is closer to what your naked eye would see.

But cameras don’t buy themselves, nor does anything else for that matter. So the artist must make lots of stuff, exhibit it, and hoard his pennies; only then might he be able to spring for such studio equipment. And this is the time of year for making and for exhibiting! Though it’s 100 degrees today, and should be 106 tomorrow, last week was most pleasant; the cool snap allowed me to get into the Agora, my studio, give it a deep, autumn cleaning, and make some new artwork.

Just for fun, and because I’m told that people who frequent blogs like lots of pictures, here are some photos of that fine day. It didn’t break 90 degrees! As you look them over, imagine M.I.A. jamming in the background and think of the series of photos as a montage sequence in a film in which the heroes are getting down to business. That’s what it felt like. My daughter JPG was spying on me during the cleaning, so we have her to thank for all the candids.

110913 jim public studio before

Cue M.I.A.. The song I had on repeat that day was the “Paper Planes” remix from Slumdog Millionaire, with the funk beat and 80’s synth.

110913 jim public studio cleaning 1110913 jim public studio cleaning 2110913 jim public studio cleaning 3110913 jim public studio cleaning 4110913 jim public studio cleaning 5

Fade out music. I have a warm sense of accomplishment in my belly. Or that’s the Shiner. Probably both.

110913 jim public studio after