An increasing area of my work is the commissioned painting. In the past, I have created images for corporations, telling a story of their mission or using the locale of their business to generate a historical (sometimes hysterical) theme. I've also sat down with people and discussed their hobbies, loves, or lives and designed a painting that describes their personal feelings.

When I met with John Graham, Professor Emeritus at the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine, and his wife, Mary Gilly, Professor at the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine, I was presented with a very fun challenge. They wanted me to come up with an image that speaks to their love of reading, and our conversation started out with a handful of their favorite books. After a few emails, I received a more extensive list of books and at one point, John and Mary suggested a painting title, "Book A Trip." About 3 a.m. the following morning, I thought: "Since books take us on adventures in our mind, I could set up a travel agency, with various modes of transportation parked out front. A book of The Grapes of Wrath could be in the back end of the Jode's truck, while a copy of Lonesome Dove could be in the back of a horse-drawn buggy. I relayed my idea to John and Mary and asked for a science fiction novel to compliment a third mode of transportation. They suggested Stranger in a Strange Land, which I could see being jetisoned out to space on a toy rocket.

I went on eBay and began my search for some period toys that would fill the bill. Here's what I found:

A great buckboard and horse (he has wheels on the bottom of his hooves).

The perfect tin rocket to shuttle its 'novel' cargo.

My idea is to have a woman who has purchased a ticket to travel on the Lonesome Dove buckboard. She will be carrying a small suitcase (above) with her on her trip.

I've gathered together a number of travel decal/stickers, where the locations refer to places instrumental in the stories of a few of the books in the painting.

As you can see, I put the stickers on the travel case.

I built a 'travel agency' from an HO scale train building supplier.

Here are some additional books in the painting. The cardboard box represents the travel agency. Since it would be costly to locate the original books (mostly 1st Edition printings), I researched the sizes of ten novels, went to the library and checked out seven books that were the exact same size. Then, I made dust jackets for each from images off the internet.

I had my wife, Carol, hold the Stranger in a Strange Land book, in an angle, looking like it is taking off. I will have to scale up the rocket to be in a better proportion to the book.

Carol's balancing the book, Lonesome Dove, in the back of the buckboard with a couple of my oil painting brushes. I will have to scale the book 'up' so it doesn't get lost in the back of the wagon.

Although I'll scale down The Grapes of Wrath on the canvas, this photo will give me the proper angle for the book to ride in the back of the pickup.

The final component to the story will be the woman traveler (Mary) and the buckboard driver (John). The driver is inspecting the ticket before he helps her aboard. I asked John and Mary to be my models in the painting. As you can see, look great!

I created this sketch to show the overall placement of each object.

I'll start the painting by rendering in all the objects that either need to be a particular color, or generically are a certain color. This will leave areas like the back wall, the ground, the building and the clothing on the man and woman which can be any color. I'll used those areas to compliment the other colors and to highlight the man and woman.

I've decided to change the color of the blue travel case so that it looks a little more dated. I've made it a tan and brown tweed model. In the photo above, you can see the reference photo of the sticker laden suitcase hanging off the side of the canvas.

Each travel sticker is painted separately, and some, like California, have lots of detail.

All the stickers are rendered and the travel case's first coat of oil is complete.

My next step will be to paint the book, "Stranger in a Strange Land" and the rocket that is carrying it out the window. You can see the photo clamped to the left edge of the canvas, and also a copy of the dust jacket attached just above the top left edge of the canvas. With all this information, it will be just a matter of time before I get this rendered onto the double primed canvas.

The first step is to paint the book...

...and then the rocket. Very high tech space shuttle.

The books behind the travel case, Doctor Zhivago, The Great Gatsby, and Gone with the Wind, are painted into place.

Here's a look at the entire canvas, which measures 32"x32".

This second stack of books rests on top of the travel agency building. Pillars of the Earth, Shogun and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone are positioned to show off some of the light that is cast their way.

The pick up truck has some great detail on it and I've made sure I captured most of it in this initial stage.

I strapped the book onto the truck and...

...the canvas has some major parts done!

I've started on the Lonesome Dove book. There's quite a lot of intricate lettering to be done.

Notice the darkened area around the front base of the book. This will help convince the viewer that the book is sitting down in the back of the buckboard where not much reflected light hits.

An overall look at the entire canvas.

I'll work on the buckboard and horse next. The red of the wheels will have all the light and shadows put in towards the end of the painting. Right now they're just knocked in with one value.

I've painted the horse darker than the actual toy so that it separates itself visually from the travel case.

The initial shadows cast by the horse, the two people and the wagon are put into place.

The ground color is put in fairly dark at this point. I will paint it lighter with the final passage of paint.

An olive green/brown color has been brushed on the back wall, outlining the window opening and bringing life to the sunlit books.

The red of the brick-topped building, with its four windows, brings a nice complimentary color to the painting.

The lower story illustrates a couple more states in the left window (Georgia for Gone with the Wind). The right window begs the public to come inside and at the same time it advertises the title of this painting.

Stage one is almost complete. I will paint the globe outside the window next.

The globe is looking good. Now onto the man and woman.

I've introduced a teal color, similar to the green on the space rocket, for the woman's dress. It will help bring the viewer's eyes to the focal point. I also rendered all the travel stickers on the travel case that she is holding. A pair of suspenders, taller boots and a belt buckle on the buckboard driver complete the scene.

Every inch of the canvas has been addressed with the first passage of thinned oil paint. After I evaluate what needs to get changed/adjusted, I'll begin the final application of 'out of the tube' thickness oil paint. This final phase will take me a month or so, and will be a more precise rendering of the objects and spaces.

My first step in the final phase is to adjust the larger areas of the painting. I've just applied a lighter value color to the ground, making it a sunnier day. This lighter value will help separate lighter values in the travel case from the ground and make all the cast shadows look darker. You can compare this photo with the one above.

The back wall, which influences how bright the light appears on many objects, has been darkened. There are subtle light reflections cast back onto the wall, like the red cast just to the left of the red building.

By introducing this very rich dark on the wall, it will allow me to darken other objects in their shadowed areas, spreading a more three dimensional feeling across the painting.

Each object needs to be looked at by itself to see how 'real' it looks, and then determine what it is that is keeping if from its reality. The travel case is a very involved thing to paint. The case itself needs darkening, (I just did that in the above photo), and now that the main surface is done, you can see how the travel decals/stickers seem to pop out. They are way too light in value and will all have to be adjusted down so they appear to be in either sun or shade. That will take a few days...

The travel stickers on the front of the case are finished. Compare them with the photo above and see how they move into the shadows like they should. The Montana and California stickers now look like they have light on them and now, the Colorado and other stickers don't compete with the light striking the main focal point (the two people). I still need to do the handle, lock, trim and stickers on the top of the travel case, so I will continue on.

The travel case is completed. This was a very labor intensive object and well worth the week and a half that it took to apply the final layer of paint.

I'll work on the upper left side of the painting, concentrating first on the rocket. All but a few details are done on the rocket, with the twine and the book next on the list.

With the rocket and Heinlein book complete and heading back to Earth, I'll work on the window with its sky and globe next.

The globe and the sky are complete, finishing the upper left corner of the painting.

The three books on top of the travel agency are detailed in the photo directly above. I've included the photo (two above) of the three books so that you can compare the differences between the first and last coat of oil paint. One of the small corrections was in the word 'SHOGUN' on the middle book. When I painted the first layer of paint, I didn't curve the lettering enough to conform with the curvature at the edge of the spine. It's a slight correction, but you can see how the 'UN' bend in the second photo.

The travel agency building is finished. The major change from the first round of paint was to darken most of it, especially the lower story. By increasing the value of the street level windows and entry door, it makes the two books on the the wagon and truck optically 'pop'. This not only highlights the books but creates more depth in the painting.

The four books that are up against the side of the travel agency were painted as a group. My original paint passage had me showing reflected light at the lower ends of the spines, but I decided that it didn't provide the contrast I wanted to help separate the background from the foreground. Now they 'sink' into the back wall a little better and along with the darker lower area of the travel agency, they create a more dramatic presence for the foreground books.

Here's a shot of the entire canvas. With the background complete, I'll move forward to the horse and buckboard.

The completed horse.

And here is the completed buckboard and book. I will wait until I get to the last area of the painting (the two people) before I paint the shadows. When the truck is finished (it and its book are next) I'll evaluate the values of all the shadows and apply them when I paint the people.

The Grapes of Wrath book is complete. I'll tackle the truck next.

With the truck finished, I'll move onto the two people and all the cast shadows.

Having to paint the travel case again, and in miniature was quite a chore. It turned out great! I always look forward to painting people and this traveler looks just as I visualized she should look when I first designed the image.

The buckboard driver is complete. This closeup shows the unfinished cast shadows which are the final step in completing the painting.

Here's a look at the finished shadows on the left of the painting and... the right side of the painting under the truck.

"Book A Trip" is finished. This image took a little longer than normal because of the extensive lettering process for each book and each travel decal. The extra time paid off with a great painting! In a week, I'll put a coat of retouch varnish on the surface to bring out all the rich darks that have dulled in the drying process. This dullness is mostly seen in the back wall. This is a normal step in finishing the painting.

Well, that week went by quickly and I've had the painting digitally captured. I've put the image above from the digital capture which was performed by my giclée printing company. I have consulted with the owners so that we can frame "Book A Trip" to compliment the painting and to fit its new home.