Adam Houston

American Impressionist Oil Painter

Bound for Glory

No. 122 is a larger portrait of Woody Guthrie. I tried to take the things I learned with 121 and bring that same spirit into the larger version. It’s a totally different painting but I really wanted this one to look and feel like him.

In regards to the subject– there is no way to touch what Dylan wrote, nearly 50 years ago, so here you go…

I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down
I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings

Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a-comin’ along
Seems sick an’ it’s hungry, it’s tired an’ it’s torn
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ an’ it’s hardly been born

Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know
All the things that I’m a-sayin’ an’ a-many times more
I’m a-singin’ you the song, but I can’t sing enough
’Cause there’s not many men that done the things that you’ve done

Here’s to Cisco an’ Sonny an’ Leadbelly too
An’ to all the good people that traveled with you
Here’s to the hearts and the hands of the men
That come with the dust and are gone with the wind

Woody Guthrie (Study)

No. 121 is a quick little portrait of Woody Guthrie. It’s not great but I was trying some new things and pushing out a little bit.

First off, I started painting it right onto the canvas – no sketching, measuring or anything. Just went right into it, trying paint the basic shapes and then mold it into place. Secondly, I did this one abiding by the “rules” for that Value Study on the Daily Paintworks site. The guidelines for that were to only use Burnt Sienna and also to not use white. So in order to get the lightest lights you either had be careful where you put the darker paint or remove it with a thinner or medium.
It was very frustrating to work this way but it really kept it feeling alive. So many times I reach for the white and then you end up going down this rabbit trail of course corrections. Here it was sort of a one-shot deal and it forced me to be a lot more deliberate.

Life and How to Live It

Here’s a little painting of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I think I was about 16 years old, sitting in a literature class, bored out of my mind when we were told to read Self Reliance. I got about a paragraph into it before it started to sink in and the entire world seemed to disappear.

Now, telling a 16 year old to embrace their genius and trust themselves is a little like throwing a bale of catnip to a kitten. They eat it up. But, something clicked that day. My eyes were opened and I could see the world clearly for the first time.

I owe a lot to Ralph. He coaxed what is inside of me out. He let me know it was alright not to be on the basketball team, to be an artist, to sit down when everyone else was standing up. Alright to be who I am.


Here’s the second portrait of Grant. I was irritated with how the smaller one did not really look like him so I took my time on this one and made sure it captured the essence of what I was seeing.

I don’t really know why I wanted to paint Grant. I’ve read his autobiography and the Civil War series by Shelby Foote so I felt like I got to know him in a weird way. The thing that is so remarkable about Grant is that he was designed for war. He was a failure at most of the things he tried in life except designing and executing warfare.

More than anything Grant had a will to win. He had this strange confidence but it was not rooted in pride. If anything it was the opposite of pride. A sort of unflinching commitment to rolling over what was in front of him regardless of the cost.

U.S. Grant (Study)

So, as a part of my set this year I really wanted to try and start painting people. When I got in a rut last year I did some monotone paintings to make it a little bit easier and I am trying that again.

I think I just free-handed this one after drawing it a time or two in a sketchpad. It does not really look like him but I had a great time painting it. It’s a remarkable thing to capture the essence of someone with paint and if it’s just the slightest bit off you lose it.

Second Serve

So I’m finally back to posting now. I think I needed a really long break to get some perspective and put last year into context. I’m still processing it all but I know I have a lot of painting in front of me.

No. 101 was a gift. It’s a portrait of my friend, Chuck, who had diligently led the men’s group I attend each Wednesday morning. For the last five years Chuck has been there to teach us, mentor us and put up with my garbage.

The first time we met he told me that at 30 he had a successful business, a loving wife and a little baby and asked me if that sounded familiar. It did. He then proceeded to tell me how a few bad decisions blew apart his life and left a trail of emotional wreckage he was still cleaning up. He told me to check myself and be very, very careful. Wow, nice to meet you too.

Chuck has spend probably the better part of 15 years putting his life back together after that and using his experiences to help guys like me avoid the pain he went through. He got married in January and the painting was a gift from the guys in our group. It was an honor to do it and I love the idea that with time and forgiveness we can get a second serve in life.

Early Bird

No. 79 is the last of the ones from Amelia Island for the year and features a lady hunting for shells early in the morning. I had gotten up early to try and catch the sunrise and she happened to be walking by. She was a long ways off but I was able to crop in and not look like a stalker.

This is the first real one of the year with a person in it and for good reason. It’s really hard. In your head the colors you choose to paint people are totally different from what is really there. This lady is a bright orange paired with a muddy orange/brown but that’s what was there and following it makes it look real.

Ballad of a Limping Man

Here No. 72 – It’s a painting of Matthew Ryan at the Living Room in New York. It started so good but when it came to the face I worked it, and worked it and worked it until I finally gave up. It just does not look like him and seeing as how I’ve never really painted people it was a nice experiment. I may try it again next year after some practice. We’ll see.

Eric introduced me to the music of Mr. Ryan thirteen years ago (yikes) and since then he and I have had the pleasure of sharing a beer with Matthew and even opening up for him once at Eddies Attic. His music is so freaking good that it just hurts sometimes. Dear Lover, his latest album, is one of the albums I listen too almost constantly while painting and has been a part (indirectly) of a lot of these paintings.

If you like to think I’d recommend picking it up. And read this article. And watch this. That’s where the image came from. I’ll leave you with this line from a song on that album:

The world is held together with lies and promises. Broken hearts, brand new days, for you to start all over again.