Years ago when I lived in Manchester, MA I drove past a field on my way to and from work that was home to a Scottish Highland bull. In the early morning fog, his vague shadowy form looked like a Medieval fantasy, and in the late afternoon sun, he glowed golden like a god. He was beautiful and majestic and I loved him. I always wanted to stop and take photos but never did, which I regret to this day. He lives only in my memory now. When I found out about a "bull" themed show in Durham, NC (also known as Bull City), I knew it was the perfect opportunity to bring him back to life.
I began the painting like any other - I found some reference material, textured the canvas, and decided on my color scheme. I anticipated painting him in warm cadmium colors, so I toned the background with a cool alizarin crimson. Then I blocked in his basic shape with a few details and highlights of color. At this point, it was late in the day and he was at a good stopping point, so I set down my brushes. Then I looked at the painting again. I loved it! That was the bull in my memory, heavy and solid, yet vague with a slight glow. But that's not a finished painting, is it? Could I call that finished? What would other people think? I needed to walk away and come back with fresh eyes in the morning.
The next morning I was still in love with the painting. I wanted to indicate his legs a bit more and add a little definition in a couple of spots but otherwise, he was what I had envisioned. Then I hesitated. My inner critic saw the opening and jumped right in. "You can't call that finished. That's unacceptable! People will either think that you don't know how to paint or that you're arrogant for putting something like that out there." I felt my chest tighten up. Well... maybe I'll start making those changes I was already planning.... But now my confidence was shaken.
"He who hesitates is lost."
- attributed to Joseph Addison
One change led to another change which led to another until a few hours later, there was no going back. The painting was in what I call the "awkward adolescent phase". After that, it took a few more days to finish. I'm happy with the way it came out and I've received a lot of compliments, but it's bittersweet. I'm disappointed that instead of trusting my muse and taking a risk, I let my fear of other people's expectations lead the way. It's a painting of a bull and I love it, but it's not "my" bull - the one in my memory.
If my art has any power, it is the power of the love and truth I put into it. If I want to make powerful art, I need to love and trust myself.
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