Tuesday, September 20, 2011

If you give a moose a cookie...

It is a dangerous thing to paint on old paintings. Most times, if they didn't get finished, I set them aside for so long that they become 'too old.' That is to say, I've learned enough about paint handling and composition that any new paint I put on it would be obviously better. This happened just recently.

My Cowboy Carrion piece, an early jewel in my collection, had a long-planned companion. About a year ago, I began painting on this guy.

I have a show coming up with my dad, and for the show, I wanted to finally get this cowboy done so I could put both of them up. According to my calculations, all I had to do was paint in the pants.

My calculations were wrong.

When you give a moose a cookie, he's going to want some milk. If you give him some milk, he'll want a napkin. So on and so forth, until he either charges you in sexual frustration to gore you with his awkward antlers, or you shoot him. The same goes for this painting. Minus the awkward antler goring. Maybe still with the sexual frustration.

I finished the pants in two hours flat. But then the rest of the painting looked faded, because I was better at painting contrast than I was a year ago. So I painted over the rest of the painting just as it was, except I darkened everything. But then asked for a damn glass of milk.

See what I did there? The first cowboy has the bullet going straight through the composition. I decided to do the same for this cowboy. But with a bullet going straight through him, his pose looked awkward with both hands in front of him. So I made his pose more awkward by breaking his arm and putting it behind him.

I was stuck between the pose I wanted him to have and the pose I had painted a year ago. At this point I could do one of two things. A: I could paint the other hand back and call it quits. B: I could paint an entirely new pose that fit with my mind picture of a better composition. I really, really wanted to be lazy and do 'A.'

But the more I stared at it, the more I knew it had to change. I wasn't about to have my most recent painting be, for all intents and purposes, a failure in my own eyes. I first tried painting part of his shoulder away, so that he looked like he was twisting. When I did that, it worked a little better. But something was off.

I pondered the problems of my painting while I ate cereal in my living room. Then it occured to me. I set down the cereal, stood up, and did my best 'getting shot in the back' impersonation. I tried to fling my arms into the same pose as the painting and react from the impact of the bullet. It was very method.

So I put both my arms out, and flung my head back. No, that wasn't right. Shoot me again, imagination. I flung both my arms out, and threw my head back. Dammit! I tried one more time, this time I was determined to make it work. I swung my body around, arms flailing, and tucked my chin like I had it in the painting. Ow. Not only was it painful to do deliberately, it was against the laws of physics if I was really being propelled by a bullet.

So I stewed and whined and acted like I wasn't going to do anything else to my painting. Then I shot reference and pretty much destroyed everything I had done up to that point.

Beautiful, I know. At this point in the game, it was more about making a new, worthy painting than it was about finishing an old one. There was no place for tentative changes here.

I worked quickly, keeping the panic at bay.

He isn't done yet, but he is finally on the road to recovery. This was one painting that really could have been thrown away. But I knew that beneath its mediocre mediocreness, a painting that I would be proud of was waiting. It took not being afraid to make big changes and having no tolerance for a product any less than the best I could come up with.

I know it looks like he is smiling and skipping, but the blood and an angle on his face that better captures his anguish should heartily quell that notion

This is essentially the same story as the Dark Pearl, with the same moral: plan ahead. Don't get 90% done and a year down the road on a painting before you figure out the solution to its woes. And also, never give a moose a freaking cookie.


Friend said...

Although it makes me sad to see anyone get shot...lol, I am amazed at your incredible ability! Fun to see your progression. Thanks for sharing!

Daniel Day-Lewis said...

You are all that is Method.

Tonstance said...

The book is If You Give a Moose a Muffin or another book is If You Give a Mouse a Cookie or If You Give a Pig a Pancake. But, I digress. If you give David a paintbrush. . . It's gonna be good.

D.R. Hovey said...

I stand corrected. I would think that mooses like cookies better, anyhow. Thanks for all the compliments! Especially you, Daniel Day-Lewis

Bernadette said...

that is looking fantastic!

O'Reilly Ink said...

Amazing. I can't paint for crap...