Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Reality Of Imagination

And now for something really different...

At the risk of sounding redundant, generally speaking, or rather to put it in broad terms; in other words, I usually get my painting ideas from what I see.  I snoop around the neighborhood and if I see something that strikes me as worthy of paint I either paint it then and there (rarely) or snap a few photos of it to use as references back in the studio (almost always).  Sometimes I have an idea before hand of what I want and actively go seek it, but mostly I let inspiration come crawling to me.

But then again, there's that ultra rare occasion where my imagination actually drives the whole painting.  This is the story of one of those times.

(Let's get this straight first off; when I say "imagination" I don't mean paintings of Amazon women on Saturn.  No, I'm sorry to say my imagination still tends to run along the mundane in that regard). 

A couple of miles from me is an old Maine farm house and barn.  I've actually done some paintings of it:

I didn't show the house in this painting.  This is it:

It's just a typical Maine farm house with an extension off the end we Mainer's refer to as an ell.  The ell is used for the storage of tools, or back in the day, wood for the kitchen wood stove.  Which, by the way, this place still had.  I had never really stuck my head in the ell, but one day when I was bored, I doodled a little sketch of what I imagined it might look like in there:

 I went back to the house a few days later to chat with the ancient old man who lived there, and whose father built the place back in '75.  As in 1875.  I wanted to see how close my imagination was to the real thing.  Close, but as I suspected-- reality always beats imagination.

I let the matter drop.  More's the pity.  That was over two years ago, and the old man has since passed on and new owners have the place.  (To their credit, they are fixing the house up.  It's painted all white with none of that rustic green trim.  The wood stove in the kitchen has been replaced by a functioning modern stove.  The admixture of furniture ranging from Victorian to Depression era has been replaced by some tasteful Ethan Allen stuff, I am sure.  In other words, it is hopelessly bland).

Last month I stumbled upon that old sketch, and for some reason, it wouldn't let me go.  Looking at it, I began to think, "What if I substitute the old guy for the chair to show the light streaming in?  And what if I had a person standing on the other side of the room?  Hey, maybe his wife.  What would she be doing?..."  And on and on.  The challenge was:  Could I turn a figment of my imagination into something totally believable?

I'm not trodding on new ground here, by the way.  The illustrators of the Golden Age of Illustration- heck-- the academic painters of the 19th Century-- did the same thing.  I mean, did Bougereau really see those Nymphs struggling with that Satyr?  The trick is in the props.  After years of hitting up antique stores, yard sales, and barn sales, I've got lots of stuff -- I mean props.

Some I used to study the properties of light.  Others I posed and drew from life.  


Where did I get the idea for old newspapers as wallpaper?  From old photos:

And what about that raggedy chimney?  From my attic...

And the door?  The woman?  The bucket and tools?  The old guy?

From stuff I've collected.  Lots and lots of stuff.  Er... props.

After I set the scene, I sat out in my garage and drew as much as I could from life.

After all that came the normal routine of color sketches, preparatory charcoal drawing, then final painting.
I know that all this begs the question-- was it all worth it?  I mean, that's a nice path you hacked through the jungle (I hear you say) but does it go anywhere?  Well.... I guess sometimes it's the journey, not the final destination that's important.  I did all this really as an experiment.  Maybe the results won't show themselves until later; But now I know what it takes to hack through that jungle.
And besides, now that I've let my imagination loose--
Can Amazon women on Saturn be far behind?

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