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A man, a guitar and a passion - Gretsch

Updated: Feb 19

A man a guitar and a passion
Steve's Gretsch Guitar

There are times in your life when you are asked to do something, you willingly say yes to and then after due consideration you realise the importance of the commission and the passion behind it.

Now I can play the guitar; well these days I can strum a few chords, the old fingers have seized up for anything other than that. But, if you want to see what this guitar played properly can do, take a look at the videos in the article from the GuitarGuitar web site link that I've included below. It includes several Youtube videos of famous musicians the first being Chet Atkins. If you are my age the name will be vaguely familiar but, apart from the name, I couldn't have told you much about him, nor his association with Gretsch.

There is an extract from the article below but for those of you who are interested I've included the link to the full article here.

Article Extract below in italic.

Gretsch make the most stylish guitars ever. That's not an opinion, it’s a fact! Their timelessly classy curves, art deco details and hot rod-inspired colours have been a lynchpin for the more aesthetically minded guitarist since forever. As we know, popular music is a visual medium as much as it is sonic, and whilst Grestch have their own famous tone that’s loved the world over, people listen with their eyes. To be a Gretsch legend, you not only have to sound awesome, you have to look iconic and you have to understand the power of a good pose as much as a well-aimed riff.

So who has played the Grestch guitar apart from Chet Atkins?

Eddie Cochran (who inspired many of the rockabillies to play it), Bo Didley, George Harrison, Malcolm Young (AC/DC), Bono (U2), Elvis Presley, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straights) need I go on?

So back to the purpose of this article - the commission. Clare, Steve's wife, asked me if I would be able to produce a charcoal portrait of her husband Steve and, I guess, a homage to the Gretsch as well. I think I understand why Steve wanted this and have me include it in his portrait. If you noticed Elvis played a Gretsch on quite a few occasions and to further the connection. Steve and Clare got married in Las Vegas in the same chapel that Elvis did. Let me also say at this point Steve is no slouch when it comes to playing guitars and has over 10 in his collection. He has also recorded a disc in Sun Studios, Memphis. It was the throw away line that Clare made to my wife that made me stop and pay attention. "It's about the guitar and Steve" she said. That gave me the idea of making the guitar in coloured pastel and everything else in charcoal. So below are the various stages that went into producing - "Steve's Gretsch"

Stage 1 - Layout

Charcoal relies on Tone and Hue in balance
Working with Tone and Hue to establish Stage 1

About 4 hours work to get to this point. Working on my favourite Frisk A3 paper.

I had started to lay out the key elements. Steve is, in the words of "The Hairy Bikers," a "cool dude" and the image that he sent me was quite striking.

I had originally wanted to leave the background clear white but the brief required me to include depth by putting a very light shade with minimal definition.

Stage 2 - Detailing and Adding Colour

Stage 2 Building the layers adding colour
Steve is emerging as is his Gretsch

Pastels and Charcoal by their nature come in bright colours. The Gretsch however has, as you will have seen, some very nice gold elements. Thankfully with a bit of blending I was able to get close to an appropriate colour for the metal work and highly glossed body.

After lunch, and looking at the artwork critically, I didn't like the amount of shadow across his face, caused by the sunlight shining in from his right. That had to be toned down.

The man the guitar the passion
The Gretsch is one cool guitar

Further work on the guitar itself proved quite difficult. Charcoal does not like to be sharpened to a point. It constantly breaks and the point lasts for about two strokes so the fret board was extremely difficult. Knowing how precise Steve is I knew that I had to get as much detail which is true to the Gretsch as I could. No poetic license allowed on this artwork.

You might be asking at this stage why we chose to produce this in charcoal and not in acrylic or watercolour?

I have to be honest I asked myself the same question on several occasions during this stage. I think though the concept that both Steve and I had, driven by the supplied image was to create a feeling of the 50's and 60's when Gretsch guitars became the iconic symbol of success and rock and blues musicians. The grey tones of the charcoal I hoped would give the artwork a smokey, spontaneous feel with a degree of serenity, The guitarist at peace with his instrument.

So here it is finished and framed ready to go. This truly was an enlightening and educational commission. When you work as closely as you do when producing an artwork like this, unconsciously you absorb .knowledge. Today I learnt a lot about the Gretsch as the article states. One of the most stylish guitars ever.

Finished artwork ready for shipping
The man the guitar the passion is ready for shipping

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