August 30, 2002
I have painted over a dozen images for the Butch Cassidy issue. At least three are pure dogshit, three are decent and five had a shot at being wonderful, but I either pushed it too far, or aimed too high, and missed the trajectory angle on the re-entry and shot past the earth’s atmosphere and drifted aimlessly out into the dark void of space. But I digress.
The last piece I completed was the toughest although it seemed to be the most simple in terms of concept. It’s called Dead Man’s Dinner and is a still life of an open can of sardines and a beer bottle on a wooden table. I hardly ever paint from life (although I feel great guilt about this, knowing that anyone who has ever been half-way decent at this game swears by it. But I rationalize: “I don’t have time, I’m on deadline, maybe when I have some time I’ll attack it,” but I never do!). Like so many modern illustrators I have become a slave to photography. If I’m not literally projecting a photo, I’m either tracing or using a reference photo as the only source. On this painting somehow I broke loose from that and emulated something we did way back when I was in college (University of Arizona, Fine Arts College, 1965-70, no degree). I took some scrap paper and did very quick, loose washes of the beer bottle (we called them “gesture drawings,” and I can still hear my bearded-hippie-teacher Bruce McGrew booming, “Let it flow! Let it flow!”). I wasn’t trying to get the draftsmanship of it, just the tones. Then I took the can over to the kitchen and started to open it, so I could see the sardines inside. As I was doing this, I noticed the dramatic lighting coming in thru the kitchen window and ran back over to the studio to retrieve my beer bottle (a homemade brew bottle I borrowed from Robert Ray) and sat it next to the half-open sardine can. Then I went and got my camera and shot four angles of the scene, then went and got my gouache paints and brushes and painted the still life with a cutting board as my easel, propped over the sink. The resulting image was sloppy, juicy and scary. I was out of control, but there was something original in it...
On Thursday I picked up the film and picked the best lit photo, sat down at my art desk and freehanded the scene in light pencil. And then, using all of the information and “happy accidents” I discoverd from the previous ten washes and drawings I proceeded to knock out almost exactly the scene I saw in my head when I got the original idea. Amazing.
As Abraham Lincoln put it: “If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend seven hours sharpening my axe.”
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