When I finished the first piece on this sheet of paper, I thought maybe I’d painted myself into a corner (not just literally). My original idea for this sheet was that I would do a story about our world travels, combining words and pictures while also paying homage to great artworks of the past that did the same. I wanted each painting to flow organically into the next, but I also wanted to be sure not to only use Western artworks. This might have been too tall an order. I liked Epic, but it left me with no idea what to do next, and that soured me a little on the entire concept. But I told myself to keep going.
I was setting up my painting supplies yesterday, groaning a little at having to figure out what to paint, and I realized my high expectations had sucked all the joy out of the practice. So I told myself, “Just do whatever you want.” Really, anything is better than losing interest.
I stood there looking at Epic, enjoying the funny little figures I’d painted of Erik and me, and I thought it would be fun to make those figures roam around. I thought I could put them on a map, and then I remembered a Renaissance painting I’d grown fond of in college: Benozzo Gozzoli’s Journey of the Magi, painted around 1460 in Florence.
With Gozzoli’s painting pulled up in front of me on the laptop, I made a very rapid and basic sketch, outlining the trail and placing the figures, and then I just started painting. I did the figures first, with a very fine brush. The first set (top left) closely resembles the figures in Epic, but the next set looks a little different (and we’ve both changed our pants), and the final set (at bottom right) looks more like the figures in Gozzoli’s painting: three-quarter-view faces with some shading, more naturalistic poses.
Initially I was going to just fill in the background with rocks and trees and such, as Gozzoli did, but then I thought to put in the CN Tower since our travels started in Toronto, and the rest just went from there. Click the photo to enlarge.
There are parts of this I really like, and others I don’t like as much, but overall I’m very pleased by how this strange concept came to life. The melding of these various locations, and the blending of sea into sky into ground, lends a surreal flavor that pleases me. And the painting has joy, which I was not aiming for and therefore didn’t expect. I would wish for it to have some more technical refinement — I was working fast and sketchily, and even so, the painting took almost three hours — but perhaps that level of precision would have killed the feeling of freedom and joy.
If you’re curious what I’ve depicted (taking a bit of liberty as appropriate for my rendition), here is the list from top to bottom, following the path:
- the Toronto skyline, including the CN Tower, as viewed from Lake Ontario
- Edinburgh Castle
- Esja, the mountain you can see from Reykjavík
- the Aya Sofya, Galata Bridge, and the Beyoğlu area of Istanbul
- buildings along the Ile de la Cité in Paris, as seen from the Rive Gauche
- of course, the Tour Eiffel
I realize now that my finished painting owes as much to Grant Snider as it does to Gozzoli, and that seems perfectly appropriate. I’m still not sure where this sheet of paper is going, story-wise, since I just covered seven months of travels in one day (and without words)… but as I always say, I’ll think of something!