April 26, 2014
Last November the non-profit organization, Reading is Fundamental (RIF), asked if I would donate an original piece of artwork to be auctioned off at their spring “Cat in The Hat” gala held in Washington DC.
Since RIF’s mission is to provide books for impoverished children, their annual galas are themed around legendary icons of children’s literacy. You may recall my piece for last year’s “Where the Wild Things Are” gala celebrating the work of Maurice Sendak. The theme for this year was another hero of mine, Dr. Seuss.
For these auction requests, I could simply rummage through my flat files and send over a sketch or study. Instead, I’ve used it as an opportunity to create one-of-a-kind pieces that I would not normally take the time to do. Though this year’s theme was The Cat in the Hat, I had a favorite Dr. Seuss character that I have loved since grade school. To this day, I continue to cherish – and have been longing to paint – the Lorax. In fact, I’ve been sketching the feisty spirit who “speaks for the trees” for some time. Here’s a sketch from 1999:
…and another, 10 years later, from 2009.
…with my daughter’s copy of the book, I revisited the Lorax in February and tried to put my spin on him while retaining the squat seed-sprout shape of Seuss’ original. I wanted to capture the creature’s ancient wizened face with a hint of sadness in his eyes.
Once I had the sketch down, I enlarged it (using Photoshop) and prepared it for tracing onto a 16×24″ sheet of Strathmore plate Bristol board.
…that’s when I noticed I had a li’l assistant in the studio watching every step that I did.
This was was a welcome relief as my daughter is still a bit young for the WondLa books (that I’ve been working on for the past 5 years). I was thrilled to see her genuinely interested in this project so I asked her to help me complete the finished painting. First, I taught her how to draw Truffula trees. We practiced on loose sheets of paper.
Then I handed her my Pigma brush pen and had her draw and ink the trees.
I gave her a break and finished inking the Lorax and his stump. I was thrilled at my daughter’s childlike execution of the trees. It was a chaotic, energetic line that reminded me of why I love Seuss’ art. As I pondered how to paint the image, I thought back on the process I used for the large cut-out animals I created for our local gift shop’s holiday window a couple of years back. I dug out my acrylic paints and got to work.
First I antiqued the entire image in “Unbleached Titanium”. This provided a nice base coat and it white-washed the pen line so it wasn’t as strong a contrast.
Afterwards, I continued under-painting using diluted acrylic paints. I kept the tones cool so that the warm golds and oranges would become richer when added on top.
Once I got that where I wanted, I was ready to add the local color. Once again, my assistant came to my aid. I had her paint the distinct bright base colors of the Truffula trees.
Once her colors were down, I began to build upon them and integrate her strokes into mine for the final painting.
Truth be told, there were moments where I was nervous as to what my 6 year-old might do to this piece during the stages that she helped on, but I realized I’ve totally botched up my own paintings before. Just as I’ve done in the past, I would either fix it or start over. Fortunately, I did not have to do either. She did a fantastic job.
In the end, this collaboration couldn’t have turned out better. Not only did we create this image together, I was able to show my daughter that something she and I love doing – painting pictures – can be turned into something else. In this case, the sale of our painting will provide books to those who don’t have any. I wanted her to know that having a special skill set doesn’t have to be about serving yourself alone, it can be used to help others as well.
Providing books to expand young minds is important to the next generation. Books cause us to question, find answers, be entertained and even inspire–just as I was inspired by the good doctor’s words long ago:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
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