Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Clawing my way up the damn mountain

If Riverdaughter was one of the easiest paintings I've done, Holding the Pass was easily the hardest.

I began the groundwork on this painting seven and a half months ago. Seven and a half months ago! That's absurd! This is an 11"x16" painting, it should not have taken me nearly eight months to finish! But everything about it was hard, and every step of the way was an uphill battle, and for all that this is a painting I'm shocked at being capable of, I earned every damn bit of it.

My mentor on this piece, Tyler Jacobson, threw me a huge challenge when he sent me the assignment. A group of three - a group of three interacting, no less! - and a creature I had to design, and a mountain environment... this was too much, on the same level that the Elf Cleric was too much a little over a year ago, and as before I looked at the mountain I was proposing to climb and then just threw myself at it.

That worked with the Elf Cleric. Not so much this time.

It took two and a half months from getting my rough sketch approved to finish the tight drawing and the first round of revisions on it, and even considering that the IMC happened within that time period, that is absurd. Especially because it then took another month to get the last big revision done - clocking the time I took to do the drawing in at three and a half months.

And, okay, I was depressed during that time too, which is an actual valid reason for struggling with art, but that does not explain why it took another four months to paint the damn thing.

It took a month to get half of a first pass on the board. Then I picked at it for a month before hitting a solid brick wall, which didn't budge until Tyler sent a paintover my way. (note to self: value structure value structure value structure) And through it all, I was in a fury because almost nothing in the painting was happening without a bloody uphill battle - but I couldn't just give up, because even through the ugliest parts of the process I could see how good the damn painting was.

I could see it, but I didn't know how to paint it. I would catch these shining glimpses of its potential, as if cresting a wave in a storm and seeing land - and then down I would plunge again, into the awful morass of how do I even paint mountains, why are they fully a third of the entire composition.

This painting got finished because, for all that it fought tooth and claw, I fought back. Riverdaughter was about relying on the ability I had; Holding the Pass was about gaining the ability I lacked through sheer bloody-mindedness. And I'm proud that I did, because this damn painting, this source of so much frustration and more roadbumps than road, is something I can now call mine.

It is mine, and I achieved something here. I don't mean the technical aspects of the mountains or the interacting figures (though I am very proud of both of those things): I mean that I found a way to make a very not-me assignment into something that fits thematically into my body of work. That frost giant is not a monster being slain by heroes, you see - or, I hope you see. It was my goal to throw the very stereotypical setup into some grey area, if not to flip it entirely, and though it's hard to see my own work clearly I think I succeeded.

And that, boys and girls, is worth the seven and a half goddamn months it took.

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