Monday, May 16, 2011

The Last Details

Over the course of the last several weeks as I had been working on the canvas, various ideas for details had come to mind. Some I dismissed, but others I felt were relevant. This weekend I put in close to 6 hours of painting, with my primary focus being the details. Talk about sweating the small stuff - these little details take more time to paint than the big, sweeping backgrounds.

I found comfort in working with my small brushes, my nose up close to the canvas. I was reminded of my high school art teacher, Mr. Dunow. Mr. Dunow would set up large still lives in the middle of the studio - mind you, they always featured a skull or two - and we would each find our place in the room and begin painting. I always gravitated toward my teeny tiny brushes and went straight for the details. Mr. Dunow told me it looked like I was painting with my nose.

"Work big," he encouraged me. I didn't know what that meant. So he had me construct a canvas that was over 5 feet long. The thing was huge and I had to walk all around it to apply the gesso. As soon as the gesso dried, I sat down at a corner of the painting and began painting with my teeny tiny brushes. Some things don't change.

So, with my teeny tiny brushes, I painted a kong dangling from the troublesome tree. This is a detail of notable signicance because there must be at least half-a-dozen kongs hanging from trees in Evanston. I never could throw a ball, or catch one for that matter. I learned that tossing a kong wasn't any easier.

If there was a kong hanging from a tree, there was a dog below it barking, jumping and essentially going crazy that I had thrown yet another kong into a tree. The scene would not be complete if it did not include Chipper - this is her cameo appearance in the painting.

I am not going to fool myself into thinking this looks just like the beast. That would not be doing her justice. But, it is a reasonable enough approximation of my girl. In fact, it is the best I have ever been able to render her. That's not saying much for my other attempts, but I am glad I did well enough to leave her likeness in the painting.

Another important detail presented itself when I was observing my handiwork one day. The grassy knoll in front of Eagle Creek Reservoir seemed like a very tranquil, sacred place. Sacred space figured prominently, not only at the end of Chipper's life, but also at the end of Lucy's life. Lucy, better known as "the Beagle," was Zeke's beloved pet. Several months before Lucy died, she took to sleeping in Zeke's prayer room in front of the Buddha statues. We both found it to be unusual when we first started finding her in there. When she became very ill and died, we were taken with the timing and meaning, perhaps, of her chosen sleeping spot.

Fast forward a year and a half, and we couldn't find Chipper one morning. She was not at the foot of the bed where she usually slept, or in the other bedroom where she occassionally slept. Instead, we found her in Zeke's prayer room. This happened time and again. Zeke closed the room off with a Japanese screen, and still Chipper found a way to wiggle her way into the space. The significance of this was too painful for either of us to utter, but it was understood. Chipper died shortly thereafter. Buddha appears in my painting, the last detail, because this being represents Zeke for all of his compassion and kindness, and because he - no matter what my beliefs or inclinations may be - comforted my pet in the last months of her life.

This is where I will end for today.

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