September 15, 2011 - Endangered Species

My interpretation of the difference between illustration and fine art painting is that in illustration, you paint what others tell you to paint, and you paint what others want to see; whereas in fine art painting, you paint what you want to paint, and you paint what you want others to see. The former is objective, and the latter is subjective.

- Cheng-Khee Chee

My Very Best Client has requested another commission. He even paid in advance. I should be grateful.  But I've been whining about it instead.

Before going further, I should note that the Very Best Client - hereinafter VBC - also is my husband.  My VBC has many, many lovely qualities, but a shared taste in art is not among them.  He nurtures a wicked penchant for photorealistic wildlife paintings, while Rothko is just barely abstract enough for me.

On our last go-round, he gave me a generous work order for an American Bison. I diligently researched, value-studied, sketched, splashed, scratched, glazed, layered, and ultimately procured a Great Big Bison. (If you visited the local Michael's last fall and they were out of burnt umber, that was me. Sorry.) 

Upon viewing the near-final Great Big Bison, however, my VBC mused, "I really like him. But can you make him look . . . smarter?"

Smarter?  Um.  Many words come to mind when I think of the American Bison. Noble. Iconic. Stalwart. Mythological, even. But "smart"? Smart . . . not so much.

But the Client Hath Spoken, so I tinkered and toyed, and ultimately I produced a bison with a Disneyesque gleam in its eye. My VBC chortled with delight and promptly traipsed the painting to his office, where he proudly shows it to all and sundry. I was glad he was happy with his painting and simultaneously relieved that I would never have to do another.

No such luck. My VBC promptly commenced negotiations for a wolf. Dialogue from January 2011:

Artist:  "Now I have all these great new canvases, I should paint with them."

VBC:  "Yeah! Go get a canvas and get started. Are you stuck on what to paint?"

Artist:  "I admit, I am still looking for ideas." 
VBC:  "I have some!"

Artist:  "I know; I know you do. You want an Indian chief and a wolf."

VBC: "Yeah! A winter wolf. A wolf in the winter."

Artist: "Dearest VBC, I love wildlife but I don't like painting it.  And I'm not particularly great at it.  Do you know how much good wildlife art is out there? Scads. Tons. Heaps. From people who love doing it. Why not just buy a wolf? Support a local wildlife artist, for heaven's sake."

VBC: "But it wouldn't be YOUR wolf."

Artist: "Awww, you are sweet. You and your smart buffalo."


VBC: (quietly but undaunted) "Or a mountain goat would be fine too."

Well, I dodged both the wolf and the mountain goat bullets, but somehow I found myself agreeing this summer to paint an owl.

"A realistic owl," enthused my VBC. "And the painting should tell a story. And can you include a baby animal in there somewhere? Oh, and it has to be big, definitely not less than 36 by 36 [inches]."

Hooboy. I haven't cashed that check yet. I am seriously considering referring my Very Best Client to the preternaturally patient Donald Neff.