The theme this year is AWAKEN: "Art wakes us up. Just as we’re nodding off to the repetition of daily life, a picture or song or film or story rouses us, reminds us that the world is strange and beautiful, full of mysteries and wonders. Sometimes the awakening is pleasing to our senses, sometimes jarring. Either way, we feel more alive, more aware as a result." As part of the Arts group that helps plan, set-up and run the show, I was selected to produce the signature image for the event promotional materials. I kicked around several ideas for the piece. I knew I wanted something I could paint, that was different, impressive visually, and not cliché, (like a sunrise, sleeping beauty, Rip Van Winkle, etc.) or overtly religious in nature.Then I happened across several images from the Hubble Space Telescope on a friend's FB post.
They were beautiful and mysterious, like looking into creation itself. I felt that these images lent themselves perfectly to the "awaken" theme, on an almost cosmic level. The universe "waking up".
There were many images to choose from, but I settled on one that seemed to draw the eye in a natural spiral, and also had a variety of colors in it, as well as some great contrast between the largely orange background and the intense blue of the stars.
Although the image was freely available on the internet, and I could have used the photograph itself, I felt strongly that I wanted to paint the image. I wanted it to feel more organic and personal. I gridded out an 8.5" x 11" color printout and created a scaled up corresponding grid on a 14" x 18" x.5" gessoed wooden panel.
I started with a loose underpainting in orange and burnt umber. I quickly discovered that the image that at first appeared to be very simple, was in fact, incredibly complex and unlike anything I had ever painted before. I render a lot of recognizable objects, in my paintings, people, buildings, vehicles. Things with recognizable scale, angles, orientation, and most importantly, edges.
This images was vast areas of space that were filled with nothing but dust, gas and stars.
Plus I was working in acrylic, and it was very hard to blend the colors for the soft look of gas clouds. I lamented the fact that I no longer own an airbrush. It was a lot harder than I had anticipated.
I started to add in the darker areas. If I had it to do again, I would paint the entire panel dark brown, and then add the clouds of gas over that as layers of semi-transparent washes, rather than adding in the darker areas over the orange. At one point I was so frustrated that I was ready to chuck the piece out, but I stepped away. When I came back to it, instead of feeling like I was fighting the medium, (drying too fast, not malleable enough) it felt like it was starting to work for me. I was adding layer upon layer of thin washes, for the gas, punctuated by the opaque blue and white of the stars. It became more and more complex visually. After working on it for two days, I decided I had better stop, as the image is so complex, that I could literally spend another 20 hours adding in details.
This is what I ended up with. I fell it conveys the essence of the original image, but has some more personal touches, especially in the intensity of the colors and the brushwork.
I call the piece "cosmic awakening"