High Style on a Budget

Many moons ago I was enrolled in a class on portraiture by Don Giannatti that studied and sought inspiration from the greats in photographic portraiture. The final artist studied was William Coupon. Coupon is known for his formal painterly backdrop portraits. Being the dutiful student I turned my assignment in post haste, or rather several months late. Either way, I learned that creating a painted backdrop had to be neither difficult nor costly.

It was sheer luck that my lovely wife Cheryl spotted the lonely, plain canvas in our local thrift store. After much debate, I conceded that we could “flip” the canvas for a hefty profit. One long stern look later and I was totally convinced that it would make a great backdrop for studio portraits.

Here is a short tutorial of how we, mostly Cheryl, accomplished this feat on a pauper’s budget.

From my vantage point on the comfy, wheeled computer chair, it appeared Cheryl used a variety of paints and paint applicators. I contributed as a sort of artistic back seat driver. An often overlooked position in any creative endeavor. The whole process took about six hours over the course of three days. You know when you are done when there is mutual silence. One would hope that the aforementioned silence would be reverence for the work, but the truth is that it is far more complex. Mostly having to do with patience, trust, and general aggravation. Either way, we finished.
Phase 1 – Gray base coat painted with paintbrush
Phase 2 – Gray base coat sponge painted with a mixture of burnt umber & crimson
Phase 3 – Yellow highlights are applied.
Phase 4 – Additional layers are applied with sponges of varying shapes and sizes, spring for larger sponges, they’re much more user-friendly.
As much as I love thrift stores and thrifting, another visit to the thrift store was made without my knowledge. If you did not detect the sarcasm, I actually hate thrifting and thrift stores. The dress was hanging in the back door of the guest bathroom for longer than I care to admit before I realized it was there. Shame on me apparently, it is bright red and fabulous and highly visible every time I felt the need to empty my bladder.

Kodi, on the other hand, was more noticeable. I’m told the dress fit like a glove, but it fit like a dress to me. Or rather to her. She wore it, not me. Moving on. I had several hours to set up the lights. I spent most of that time surfing the web and contemplating the nature of the universe. When I was told that we would be ready to shoot in five minutes, I began to figure out the lighting. Given that the inspiration was William Coupon I decided to go with “Rembrandt” lighting. One key light and one fill.

The backdrop, at four feet by five, is really only big enough for head shots and tight medium shots depending on the size of your model. The dress in all its fabulousness (I’m told) would require full length shots as well. I have Thunder Grey on hand at all times because it’s awesome. I rigged the canvas up on my tri-pod and we were in business. Figuratively, in business, that is. No money was harmed in the making of this shoot.

Anyway, here is how it turned out.

Canvas: $24
Paints: $20
Sponges: $10
Brushes: On hand
Dress: $16
Total time spent: 6 hours
Total cost: $46

Keep it Moving

6:33 PM. 106 Degrees. 90 minutes.


My 15th summer of life was spent sitting on the couch watching reruns of the A-Team. A quality program, but my Mom was pretty fed up with my need for bad plots and explosions. In utter frustration she proclaimed me a sloth and I wasn’t even burning any calories. I defiantly wiggled my right index finger. There’s a calorie burned.


My Mom denies this story today. Perhaps we remember it differently, but I consider it one of those defining moments in my life. A few days later I reluctantly picked up my brothers mountain bike and rode as far as I could. One time around the block. The next day it was two.


As a defiant and lazy 15 year old I had no drive. Maybe I didn’t know what to do or didn’t want to do anything.


I keep the chain on my bikes immaculately clean. I wipe it down after every ride.  It is one of the few parts on the bike that if I break on the road will force me to walk or worse yet, call for assistance.


The chain keeps the bike in motion.


What keeps you going?
Whatever it is, take care of it, keep it clean.  It will keep you moving.

The Road

The Road

I used to be a great sleeper. Like, I could just lay down, sleep, get up. Never thought about it. Not so much now. Last night was “make-up” for the past two nights of insomnia.

My bedroom door is slamming against the jamb over and over again in a headache-inducing rhythm.

Morris is hungry. He can wait. BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG! Well, maybe not.

I pulled a thorn out of my rear tire last night. Only took two rides to get my first flat. At least I didn’t have to change it on the road, but it is depressing to discover hours after you get home.

I check the time. Cheryl has a doctor appointment in an hour. We’re never gonna make that. She reschedules and I check the temperature. It’s just past 8 am. 84 degrees. I can deal with that.

Morris fed. Coffee drank. Ablutions performed. I do another quick temperature check before heading out. 91. Great. That was fast.

No excuses.

On the Open Road

Selfie on the Open Road


I gave up on asking questions that start with “why” years ago. The answer never matters, if you get one. But if asked, I ride so I can think. There are so few distractions on the road. Even conversations are better. You don’t lose your riding mate to their iPhone while riding in traffic. Even still, I prefer to ride alone most of time.

The wind got me thinking. I can see the road, but not the wind. It pushes me. Sometimes off course. Sometimes it slows me down. Other times it gets right behind and pushes me along. Metaphorically it represents my inner turmoil. We all have it. I don’t delude myself into thinking it’s not there.

The road is the path, the goal. Where we are headed. The wind is just fuckin with you. It doesn’t know where you are going or why. It doesn’t care.

When confronted with a nasty wind, some riders put their head down and grind away. Sounds like a good plan, but it can lead to disaster, or worse. The road is a dangerous place and the number one rule of riding a bike is to keep your head up.


It was hot!


Make the wind your bitch and keep your head up!



Keepin my head up! In motion selfie.






11:30 PM, Monday, June 23. What am I doing?


It’s been a long time since I pulled on bib shorts and a jersey, too long.


So many excuses. Too fat. Out of shape. Might break carbon bits on the bike. Whatever.


Ran into Jim last night at the pharmacy refilling a prescription at 1:00 AM. Don’t ask.


Jim’s bud, Mike, an Iraq war vet was there inside the Walgreens decked out in a white kit and no helmet. He was out riding. I had seriously contemplated riding my townie-bike there myself. I drove there, but made the excuse that I would have to leave my beloved Surly outside and it might get stolen. So I drove Cheryl’s Kia. Lame. Mike found helmets uncomfortable due to a recent brain surgery. Jeez, have I become good at making up shit to not do other shit.





I feel like a stuffed sausage and probably look that way too. Yeah, it’s been a tough couple of years, but who cares. I gotta get back. I love it too much.


Cheryl says she’s proud as I walk out the door. It took me an hour to get ready.


I tell her I may be back in five minutes.


The gates to the neighborhood won’t open when I roll over the sensor. Maybe I should just…no, walk your ass over to the gate and jimmy it open with your finger. No more excuses.





This bike feels fragile as I throw a leg over. It’s almost all plastic. Carbon fiber. It feels unnervingly light after so much time away.


The chain slips. I tell myself to keep going. And I do.


I’ve ridden this exact bike thousands of miles, just years ago. It’s sort of familiar, but I’m not the same person anymore. It is exactly how I left it. Every millimeter measured and fussed over. It doesn’t feel right.


I’m going fast. Man, I miss that whizzing sound the tires make when the wind is at your back.


I am going fast. Flying. It feels great. A little scary. It’s a dark night. No moon.


Left on Liberty Lane. May as well ride my old warm up. It used to take under 20 minutes on a good day.


The road goes up and I’m outta gears. That was fast. I chug along. First hill done.


My left pinky begins to go numb. Damn. Lingering aftereffects of a prior run in with a light pickup truck.


A Super Shuttle nearly takes me out. I don’t need that again.


A familiar feeling in the thighs tells me everything is going to be OK.


Last hill for the night.


I have to weave slightly to avoid falling. Not good.


There is no relief at the top, just the realization that I have begun a long road back.




Film is NOT Dead!

Film is NOT Dead!


 24 Frames in May

I was a participant in the Project 52 Pros  in 2013, which is run by Don Giannatti. As an alumni, I still interact with the group and take part in some of the assignments. This one really caught my attention. The project was to make an image a day (or so) on film with idea of slowing down our process and treating each frame a little more carefully than is required from digital. This was a fun challenge. I have been taking pictures with film for most of my life, but only making photographs for the last three years or so. Learning to “write” with light is quite a bit more challenging than documenting a vacation or family gathering. My recent learning was all accomplished with digital. My first dslr was a Rebel T3 with the 18-55mm kit lens and before that a Sony pocket camera. I didn’t realize how far back I would have to go in order to shoot a simple roll of film. Rewind about two years, no, make that 20, err 50, oh forget it, let’s go back to the beginning. 1937, the year my Leica was made and sold. My grandfather took possession of it from his wealthy employer in the early 1950’s and it dangled around his neck every time I saw him as a kid. I didn’t think much of it at the time, other than why would it take so long to take a single picture. How many light meter readings did he need? Well, my grandpa passed away about 20 years ago and the camera changed hands and bookshelves a few times before it arrived in the mail to me about two years ago. I wanted to use it, but it seemed so daunting. It is a bottom loader and the film has to be cut a certain way so as not to damage the shutter. Problem. At some point a spring broke and the take-up spool would slip when advancing past the second frame. Off for repair. Thank you, Joe Wojcich @ Tempe Camera. This left me with time for only one practice roll. I ran a roll of Tri-X 400 without a hitch. Next up was Kodak Ektar 100 for this project. My approach with this project was to sort of bring the Leica as a sort of tag along camera. That is why my set of images has a disjointed feel, which is fine by me. About midway through the project I found myself going straight for film on many shots, leaving my dslr in the bag, not even for a test shot. My light meter is always close by, so digital test shots feel like a waste of time now. There are no less than three film cameras in my bag now. The Leica, a Canon Rebel SLR I picked up at Goodwill for $15 and an Argus 75 from the same place $4. Good times. In addition, there a couple of old Polaroid Land Cameras laying around and film from The Impossible Project in my fridge. I guess you could say I’m hooked and my grandpa’s Leica is my favorite. Huge thanks to Don for putting this project together and letting me borrow the Mamiya on the trip. That’s what really got me going!   ContactSheet--Leica-IIIa

Here are some individual photos with a little bit of post processing.


Vinyl at Rocket Resale.


Yeah, another sunset, but this one was not spectacular on digital, great on film.

Field of corn in South Chandler, AZ

A pineapple in the studio.

Waiting at the car dealership I looked up and saw this very subtle rainbow in the clouds.