I can always tell when my first idea for a story-painting is a flop.
I’ll be enthusiastic for a day, just because I had an idea. “Great job, Brain!” I’ll think smugly. “Here’s your ribbon for participation!”
Then the feeling wears off. I catch myself making mental grocery lists, or thinking that the lilacs out front really need pruning. Pretty soon I’m devoting studio time to clipping away. Four or five hours later, I reluctantly admit that it’s time for a new idea.
My next three custom commissioned story-paintings are for siblings—two boys and a girl. The eldest is Logan, at age 11. I was determined to stay away from anything baby-ish. I pictured Logan’s mother saying, “Hey! Let’s go hang your painting in your room!” and him feeling squirmy, because what would his friends think?
So I came up with the bad idea.
It involved a lion with a ludicrous liking for lutefisk. And some Norwegian lemmings because “lutefisk” conjures up Scandinavia, right? I dreamed about this idea for a day, picturing a Thomas Nast-ian lion smacking his lips. I even visualized the clothespins on the lemming waiters’ tiny noses…
Pretty soon, I was out in the yard with the pruning shears, squandering precious studio time. I finally had to admit it: that idea stank as badly as the entrée at the Lemming Luncheonette.
Meanwhile, I’d been combing the dictionary for Logan’s brother, Sam, and sister, Juliana. I still liked the idea of a lion, and then I chose a Sumatran tiger and a jaguar for the other two kids’ main characters.
I am an obsessive storyteller–“Mom,” one daughter asked, not so long ago, “why do you have to name everything?” (as I was watering my studio plant, Phil). Anyway, I decided to connect these three paintings in a continuing story.
Now I’m going to sleep thinking about the characters and waking up thinking about the characters…
If you come and visit me, please excuse the ragged lilacs.
I’ll get to them the next time an idea tanks.