Everybody uses a mulligan now and then.
Admittedly, I take a bunch of them on the golf course. But I'd never taken one in the studio...until last week.
"Double Date" is a turkey piece I initially painted late in the spring three years ago. I stumbled across the scene while hunting on the last day of North Carolina's turkey season, high on a ridge typically filled with hard gobbling longbeards. That day, however, it was quiet, and I found myself hiking in search of a bird willing to work.
As I walked along a bench halfway up the mountain, I came across the scene at right and felt it was the perfect setting for a turkey piece. It had these gnarly, moss-covered logs, mature hardwoods and lush spring growth. It even had some ginseng (or "sang" for you mountain folk) growing in it. I took a break from running and gunning, exchanged my shotgun for my camera, and spent 20 minutes or so photographing the surroundings. I was so enamored with the scene, I immediately went to work on the piece in my studio the following day. I found reference for the turkeys, worked them into a composition and started pushin' paint.
I've always been a sucker for unique structure in a painting. Funky logs, rocks, stumps, etc. I feel like they give a painting some character and add interest. It's also more fun to paint. A bare forest floor covered in dead leaves just isn't that exciting. But add an odd stump that casts a unique shadow at sunrise or a large rock that breaks up the uniform profile of a ridge top, and now you've got something an artist can work with.
That's one reason I loved the logs in the original scene. So, I chose to paint a hen hopped up on one of them, with another hen in between them, and two strutting toms in the back. I also painted the scene in more of a bright, early-morning sunrise so the tailfans would be backlit (it was actually mid-morning with overcast skies when I snapped the initial reference photo). "Double Date" ended up being one of my largest pieces at 42"x24" and took me a solid 2-3 weeks to paint.
The piece worked out well enough, so I framed it up and took it to a couple of shows, but it never sold. Personally I liked it, so Kim and I hung it in our living room. At around 50"x32 framed size, it was big, and I liked how much wall space it covered.
But like most other creatives, I'm my own worst critic. The painting sat across from the chair I drink my morning coffee in, create my daily sketches in, journal in and brainstorm in. It's kind of my thinking chair. The longer "Double Date" sat in front of me, the more I picked it apart. For two years, I mused over ways to change it, to make it better. Here's what I finally decided needed changing:
1. It needed opening up in the foreground. The foreground log blocked the viewer's entry into the painting. Each piece needs some space to allow the viewer's eye to wander into the scene and give it some perspective. This foreground log, though accurate to the reference, sort of cut the viewer out of the scene, like a barrier to entry.
2. It needed new hens. I didn't really care for the hen in the top left. It was a unique pose, but probably not the best choice. I just didn't quite feel like I pulled it off.
3. There was too much green. Again, it was fairly accurate to my reference photo, as it was late in the season when I took it, but there was just too much lime-green covering the canvas.
4. The composition needed work. There were too many similar angles with nothing to counterbalance them. All the logs leaned in a similar direction, as did the background hillside. I needed to balance this out in some way.
5. It was oddly proportioned. 42"x24" is not a standard canvas size, which makes it harder to find a good frame, and I don't even know why I wanted it that long anyway. So I cropped the image down to a standard 36"x24" and found a better frame with a wider moulding.
I did like the strutters, so they stayed pretty much the same, with only a couple tweaks. I took the canvas off the old stretcher bars, re-stretched it to it's new size, laid down a darker base layer to block out some of the initial painting, then got to work on the new one. A solid three days in my studio yielded a much better result. It's a much more unified, dramatic piece that I feel conveys the magic of spring in the turkey woods.
I once heard another artist say "A painting is never done until it sells." I thought that pretty funny, and yet true. Often the process of creating art leads down numerous paths, with each painting unique in the trail that it follows to completion. Some are straight lines, some zig zag and some completely loop back on themselves, as was the case with "Double Date." It's challenging, exciting and adds to the unique story that comes with every piece of art.
"Double Date" is currently available for purchase. If you'd like to hang it on your own wall and bring this story full circle, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.