Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Creative Process Part II: Defining the Work

I spent hours trying to come up with the next award-winning painting, and finally came up with a subject: a painting to represent the story of Eos, the Greek Goddess of the Dawn. I even have a model in mind. You would think the job was half over, but I was just getting started. 

I review the six images that were in my head. They are: 1) Eos breaking open the night sky with a hammer; 2) Eos pulling open the night sky like a curtain; 3) Eos opening the night sky with a manual can opener; 4) Eos flying next to Apollo’s chariot; 5) Eos standing on a cliff looking out at the sunrise; or 6) Eos shoving the night aside like a giant block. 

I have a few rules about a painting that I need to remind myself of. The first is that the painting needs to follow the Seraphim goals. It must represent at least one of the mission statement goals, though multiples are always better: Strength, Energy, Radiance, Adventure, Passion, Hope, Inspiration and Mystery. Energy is ALWAYS important. People standing idle and staring off in the distance is great for Awkward Family Photos, but it’s not what I’m striving for. 

The second is that the painting needs to have multiple story possibilities. I consider a work to be a success if everyone has a different story than I do. Using these rules I go back down my list. 

  • Eos opening the night sky with a hammer looks pretty damned awesome in my head, and it holds strength and radiance and energy. 
  • Eos pulling open the night sky like a curtain feels the same way, though less violent. There is an advantage to this one, though: Blondie is a stage actress and director. The curtain feels more personal because of that, and like the first one shows many sides, plus I feel a little mystery.
  • Manual can opener: Do any of you even know what the hell an old-school manual can opener looks like? Behold: 

This image cracks me up, but it's not what I'm going for. Too Looney Tunes. That doesn’t mean we won’t see it again in the future, though. I'm still giggling about it.

  • Eos flying next to Apollo’s chariot is dynamic, but there aren't really multiple stories.
  • Eos looking off at the sunrise/sunset has potential at first. Blondie is a beautiful woman, and I think the viewer could get lost watching her stand in the light of a rising sun. This is a painting that sings to me. But I'm looking for adventure and energy. But this one seems amazing, so I file it away.  
  • Eos pushing the night sky away.Just dull.  

So, I’m back to the first two. Hammer or curtain? I go with my gut. The curtain just fits because of Blondie's background, so I work from that angle. I should be happy that I'v come this far, but the damned clicking starts again. 

  • What can you see through the opening curtain? 
  • How thick is the rope? Is it easy to pull?
  • Is there any astrological pattern that the stars should hold? 
  • What should Blondie be wearing? Not wearing? 
  • Should there be more landscape? Lack of landscape? 
  • Should there be an audience? 
  • What colors are represented by Eos? 
  • Do I want the stage to be recognizable? Should you see it at all? 
  • Larger than life? Smaller than life? Do we look up at her? Down at her? 
  • What do I want the viewer to FEEL?

This last is the most important question. If I can answer that, I think the other questions will fall into place. Sometimes a story or image moves you and you want to make sure the viewer feels that as well. Sometimes, though, you just have to decide. Many paintings are like that. I’m sure when Peter Paul Rubens created “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” he knew that he wanted us to be frightened for Daniel, and yet have some sense of hope, the way Daniel himself seems to. 

One the opposite end, perhaps Degas wasn’t certain how he wanted “Absinthe” to feel. He very well may have had a subject and no other original thought. But he gave us a feeling. For me, it was loneliness. The tables around the drunk woman are empty of people and anything of substance. Even the other figure in the painting doesn’t look at her. For all we know, the truth was that this place was crammed with people, the tables could have been messy, maybe the woman wasn’t as drunk as she appeared. Degas did not leave this up to interpretation. We, the viewer, are told how we should feel.

Life is no different, my friends. Sometimes there are no signs. Sometimes there is no voice in your head that tells you something must be a particular way or that you must do a particular thing for a living or that you need to make a decision in some particular manner. Sometimes, you just gotta pick a path and go with it. 

I decided to emphasize strength. Blondie has great shoulders and legs. I want to incorporate them into the painting. I want women to look at the image of Eos and, no matter what story they come up, I want them to be inspired by her strength. I want men to feel the desire to have someone like Eos pulling away their own obstacles. I wouldn’t mind of some people were intimidated by her. Strength can do that, too.

The other answers come easily, now. The rope is thick because her burden is heavy. It takes a great deal of might to pull it. Eos could be nude to show off her physique, but would that be too distracting. Still, something that reveals her physical strength, something tight or sleeveless. The landscape doesn’t matter, so don’t bother. The viewer is the only audience we need. And we should be looking up to her. 

And all of a sudden the clicking stops. The questions are answered. There are still a number of posing options, a number of clothing options, but I find that these are best determined once the model is present.  So, I go about making that happen.

To be continued...