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Pairing Music and Art in Wine Country and Beyond

“Much of the show carried us away to the wine country and coast, but then there were engaging, incredible, spontaneous moments where Fort Saskatchewan came alive before us, as Brian played and Bill shared his drawings. The pairing of music and art was perfect, and the moments of live creation that revolved around our community only left the audience wanting more.”
– Elizabeth Wilkie,
Shell Theatre,
Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta 

The debut of Wine Country: A Pairing of Music and Art marks the transformation of Bill Russell from studio artist to digital storyteller on the main stage. Bill is a versatile artist who works in multiple mediums like watercolor, scratchboard and acrylic paint, as an illustrator of books and magazines, and as an abstract painter. His first collaboration with longtime friend, guitarist Brian Gore, and the music he wrote about Santa Cruz, allowed Bill to stretch his multimedia muscles into a series animated videos, an iBook, and impressionistic paintings for a CD and Postcard Pak.

With the abilities they acquired, Bill and Brian extended their collaboration from the coast to the wine country. Recognizing the uniqueness of combining art with music, Bill expanded his palette to include digital story-telling, with animated videos about the history of original of the Bale Mill in St. Helena, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Silverado Squatters honeymoon in Napa Valley, and the establishment of The Last Mission in Sonoma. Their recent debut  at the Cal Poly Performance Center features an original composition by Brian and new video by Bill about San Luis Obispo.

town10aAccessing innovative new drawing apps like Doceri and Procreate helped Bill leap from studio to site work, using the iPad as a digital sketchbook and storyboard tool. He quickly realized he could use these tools to work live from the stage. “This technology enables me to step out of the comfort of my studio and accompany Brian as a duo in live shows,” says Bill. Always one to try new technologies, Bill has made this dramatic leap from studio to stage artist in a very short time.

In their Wine Country show, Bill runs the multi-media program from stage to screen, using his iPad, laptop and video switcher to project his art in concert with Brian’s music. At first, he intended just to run static images and animated video prepared in advance. But Bill soon realized that drawing live on stage, using the iPad, would make for a vivid audience experience. “That brings it to a whole new level of challenge,” says Bill. “It’s visual improvisation.”

So now, in addition to introducing the California coast and wine country in song and image, each show includes a live digital drawing segment featuring host city themes. In the Fort Saskatchewan show, Bill drew four personalities from the town’s past and present, including their historic Fort’s founder and the town’s sheep shepherd.

mountieBill’s debut of live digital drawing at the Woodshed in Los Gatos was later turned into a video called Monarch Forest. Bill waded through the dense monarch butterfly habitats of Santa Cruz as research for this first effort.

He adds, “our goal is to include live digital drawing at every visit and event we do, then turn it into an animated video with music and other audio, which can in turn be shared with fans, friends and used in social marketing.”

Karl1bBill also creates digital drawings on site visits to California wineries, which are turned into short profiles, like this one (at left), about vintner Karl Wente, of Wente Vineyards of Livermore, California.

Every town has its interesting sights, sounds and stories, as do the creative people Bill and Brian meet before the show. This inspiration is used during the show’s live digital drawing segment.

“I love Bill’s singular reportage style in combination with my music,” says Brian. “It’s like nothing you’ll ever see!”