The One That (Almost) Got Away: Cursed Court Artist Lee Moyer's Process
Three decades ago, I wanted to level up -- to learn proper oil painting (rather than the shoddy “mixed media” efforts that had characterized my career to that point).
Happily, painter Stephen Hickman invited me to spend time working with him in his home studio.
And it was there I first painted a portrait of a “normal” human amid the excitement of intergalactic travel. It felt like a bold idea, teeming with possibilities -- I wanted to make a painting that summed up my own excitement and ambitions with real painting.
When I was done, Stephen’s wife Victoria (herself a splendid painter) looked at it and said, sardonically: “Gee. Do you think you used enough colors?”
I loved the characters -- the human with her stickered bag proclaiming ‘I LOVE EARTH', the robot porter (who got its own solo portrait in ink and colored pencil) and his aquatic clients, Lovecraft’s own giant and rugose Yithian, and especially those strange little blobby beings in the foreground -- but quickly grew to dislike the painting itself. It was not only too … Crayola box chromatic, it was badly lit, had no visual hierarchy, was too crisp (even in the distant background), and well, there were really too many other things to list.
Sure, I made an ink version for my coloring book -- but that seemed fitting considering the original might well have been an exercise at painting inside the lines.
I brought the painting out every few years to tinker with it, but it never seemed to congeal. It felt like I was too invested in it to actually succeed in fixing it.
I considered making the piece more formal and lowering the point of view (as seen in the lower left), but that changed the feeling I was shooting for (and so far failing to achieve). I wanted it to be fun and more interesting -- not more staid and less crowded.
In 2014, I made a folder called PROJECTS. Inside were the dozen or so pieces that I began but never finished -- including this that had been “finished” more than once, but never properly.
I saved 2 versions in 2014.
8 more in 2015.
2 more in 2016.
4 more in 2017.
But in 2018 -- literally 30 years after I started it -- I decided I was going to finish it.
I’ve saved 29 iterations that year.
I felt I had made progress -- The bird woman and her pet bird left the frame. Astroboy and the Shadow too. The hyper-intelligent shade of the color blue winked out, and the Martian got a proper (four-armed) suit. I removed the heroine’s glasses (the robot has them, why double down? Then, a sort of pictorial casting-call for the one-eyed Elephant general, the cloaked trio, the scaly mid-ground serpent, and the bespectacled gnome. The blobby family grew in number.
Then -- knowing I wasn’t quite finished -- I sent it off to the brilliant Todd Lockwood (a colleague, friend, and occasional collaborator) for his thoughts and suggestions.
Instead of the quick email reply I’d hoped for, he suggested we chat on Skype. This told me I wasn’t nearly as close as I’d hoped.
But I couldn’t Skype because I was sick for the better (well, worse) part of a month. And then he was traveling. And then I was traveling. And always, deadlines for things that had clients and audiences waiting for them. And that conversation with Todd never happened. Sometimes scheduling is just that way.
But I thought about what Todd might suggest -- firstly, focus. Secondly, get the perspective right. Then, taking the piece into greyscale and ensuring that it’s values could be read. I started there, and eventually built the piece back up -- paying attention to textures and details that the original version/s omitted -- the fronds on the Yithian’s head, the travel stickers, the Gnome’s luggage tag, et omnia.
And here we are.
I think I might have solved this problem at last.
But then, I’ve harbored that illusion before, so we’ll just have to see how it ages.