Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pets Help Lower Blood Pressure

It was my first commissioned piece of art for money in a long time. It was my first color piece in a long, long time.

The customer wanted a hummingbird and a rose. Hummingbirds don't frequent roses, but if she wanted it I would try to draw it. I had a pretty standard rose I used to doodle quite a bit, and I had been drawing little cartoon hummingbirds since eighth grade. It should be simple enough to bend those familiar forms into an acceptable design. Right?

Nature knows a hummingbird doesn't care much about a rose. They just didn't look right together. And roses are very hard to draw from the angle at which I needed to draw it to balance the composition. My flat doodle avoided what is actually an awkward angle for a rose. I had trouble even finding a photograph at the angle I needed.

The resulting rose looked okay. The bird with it looked a little stiff. They were on the same sheet of paper, but they didn't look like they went together.

When I showed the customer how it was shaping up, she said she was willing to let the rose go in favor of a more likely target for a hummingbird.

If something isn't right, start over. First I researched flowers. Morning glories grow around here and have showy blossoms hummingbirds love. But they're technically an invasive species. After searching websites and books, I settled on the dazzling Lobelia Cardinalis. It's native and a known hummingbird favorite. It's so red it's hard to look at. The blossoms are distinctive and easy to draw from several angles. We should be finished in no time.

Illustrator Wallace Tripp writes on his website that an artist has ten thousand bad drawings to get through before producing the good stuff. I'm not sure if I've passed that threshold yet. Are those just any drawings, or drawings you're trying to do well?

The hummingbird and lobelia proceeded slowly, hampered not only by my halting use of forgotten materials and the age of the pigments and brushes themselves, but by the constant attendance of curious and helpful cats. The cats absolutely must be in my workspace, preferably right in my face.

Bonnie, Basil and Daisy took turns upsetting the water dishes or walking across the table, even across the work itself. Because I would not fling them down the stairs or over the rail into the abyss above the living room, I could not completely discourage them.

Bonnie finally succeeded in flipping the contents of a water bowl into the keyboard of the open laptop three feet away from the drawing table. Most of the water fell short, but not all. I spread toilet paper across the wet keys, dangling little strips into the spaces between the rows to suck out what had gone in. The computer survived.

The drawing has been delivered. Of course I can do better. I haven't turned in a piece yet that I did not immediately or shortly believe I could have executed better. Ten thousand drawings and a change of style and ten thousand more may not cure that.

I'm going to try making watercolor brushes out of cat hair and cobwebs, seeing as I have so much of both to work with.

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