“Jack Built”

I’m working on preliminary drawings for a painting of “The House That Jack Built” and realizing, again, how editing an art piece resembles editing a manuscript.  I’d like to say they’re neat pyramid-type processes, with a wide base (anything goes) narrowing to a point (all is set in stone), and though they do start and end like that, the middle stages are a lot messier!

I’m the one with the black thumb.  I do the weeding and the pruning.  All the plants my husband has encouraged shiver when I come out with the trowel and shears.

Editing, whether with art or writing, is like pruning the honeysuckle bush beside our garage.  Spring comes to Montana in late April, and the honeysuckle is the first to put out leaves.  After the gray winter, I’m thrilled just to see green.  I feel the same way with a new writing or art project.  “Hey!  Something’s growing again!  I wondered when that would happen!”

So I sit back and let everything sprout up and grow however it wants to.

Drawing one.

With “Jack Built,” I knew the shape I wanted—the House in the center and the characters spiraling around it.  I roughed out a thumbnail, just to see if the approach would work.  It did!  I started adding words and phrases like “This is” and “that tossed,” and arrows so the viewer knows how the rhyme unfolds.

Drawing two.

On a fresh page, I drew everything again in greater detail.  The House acquired a tin roof, a downspout, and a rain barrel.  The Cat turned its back and the Maiden’s dress gussied itself up.

The drawing, like the honeysuckle, was sending shoots out all over the place.  Exhilarating, but messy.

Several more days passed while I revised one of my middle grade novels for the thirtieth time (and still managed to trim a thousand words).  Then I returned to“Jack Built.”

With my shears.

Drawing three.

The spiral shape no longer worked.  It threw off the balance, with two bands of characters along the left side.  Despite the arrows, the direction was unclear.  I decided to arrange the characters like numbers on a clock.  I racked my brain for the geometry I supposedly learned in tenth grade.  I found lots of stuff labeled “Geometry” — like the time I was sitting in the front row twirling my pencil, and jabbed myself in the nostril, and the time I actually solved a proof on the phone with a friend and jumped around like a demented person, but none of that helped me divide a circle into ten sections.  And the Rat was going to need a much smaller wedge than the Cow, even if I did figure out how to divide everything evenly.

So I winged it.

I scrapped Bad Cow from drawing two, substituting Slightly-More-Plausible Cow.  (It’s embarrassing that I have trouble with cows.  Someone who lived in close proximity to eighty head of Angus for eighteen years should have a good idea of how the dang things are rendered, but not so).

I also deleted the “This is” phrases.  If someone with a small child bought (please, God) this painting, they could chant the rhyme while tapping each character and saying “This is.”  No need to actually spell it out and clutter things up.

I’ll edit more when I transfer “Jack Built” to the watercolor block.  I’ll move the Cow closer in.  I’ll adjust the spaces between the characters until they’re more uniform.  I’ll shrink the Cat.  Then I’ll go over everything with a sepia Prismacolor pencil and overlay it with washes of color.  I won’t reach the tip of the pyramid until I sign my name and the date.

Happy editing to you, whatever you’re working on!

Jack Built, 2013