The doll I used for reference in this piece, was hand painted by my Grand Aunt Della, back in the 1980s. The dolls I use have either been passed down to me from family or acquired at thrift stores. I had no idea it would be so difficult to find small, all porcelain dolls at the thrift store, but I have been looking for over a year and have only found three that will work. The most recent find is a beauty with dark curls. She will definitely turn up in a painting soon.
Although this is the third painting in the Terrarium series, it is the first to showcase the doll side of the equation. I wanted this piece to really have a presence, so I stretched a 34″ x 46″ canvas and started by basically sketching the reference photo and blocking in a layer of color.
Next, I add some values and the background pattern.
Here I added a yellow/green glaze to spice things up.
The vessel was originally sitting on a table with squares that would become postage stamps underneath as a symbol of disconnected communication, and thought it would represent the loneliness I wanted to capture in this piece. The basic idea was to show that this neglected child was so alone that he befriended a beetle.
All of the doll paintings will have an insect companion. Personally, I find insects to be fascinating creatures and I have used their images in numerous paintings. Sure, I get freaked-out by the occasional spider, but I try to appreciate and respect their life and their contribution to this planet’s ecosystem. Insects are often treated as unwanted pests and instantly exterminated. The dolls represent the neglected and abused children, and although they are not “exterminated,” they are often treated as lesser beings.
I wanted the outside to be very lush and garden-like to contrast the interior’s desert-like climate.
I used the photo reference only as a starting point for the pattern. In the painting, I added blue, viney worm creatures to add movement and variation to the repetitive pattern. Even the little boy gets a pattern of yellow flowers, because I wanted every surface to be visually energized.
I have added another yellow glaze on the background. The colors had been getting a bit garish, and I wanted to unify them a little more. I also changed my mind on the table/stamp concept and went with a water garden instead.
I started playing with pattern on the glass, which was tricky, but something I want to continue to play with in other pieces. You will see there is a huge jump between this image and the next. Sometimes I get really into the piece and too distracted to document. One of the major changes you will notice is the face. I had been looking at the original doll, and brought that sorrowful look to this guy, but it just wasn’t right. At this point, my husband noted that he didn’t feel sorry for this creature and asked if that was my intention with this painting. It was, so that vacant stare had to be replaced with more personality and life. The final face perfectly captures the combination of sweetness and loneliness with a hint of madness. Well, that is what I see. Picture Ren’s voice (from Ren and Stimpy)…”Would you like to meet my best friend?”
So, at this point I had called the piece done…but the size of the piece seemed to call for something more grand and less static/repetitive. If you ask my Mother-in-Law, I should have stopped here and let it be, but I just couldn’t. Many people ask me how I know when a piece is done? That is a tough question for me to answer, because it is more about instincts than logic. When I look at a piece and I get lost in the beauty of the color, the flow of the lines and the story presented by the characters, I know it is done. When I am distracted by nagging conceptual questions, composition issues or unfinished edges, I need to do more work.
So I risked a lot by bringing the plants in the foreground. If they failed, I would have a mess and possibly a ruined painting on my hands. No pressure there! Why do I do this to myself?
The floating pods at the bottom seemed odd to me. Were they attached to the bottom of the pond or had they fallen from a tree? I decided I liked the tree concept for the pods, but once I got to this point in the painting, I hated them. They were static and dull. Oh, crap!
My thought was to encase them in a yellow blossom. Double crap! On the upper right you can see the start of the “Boo-Boo Berries” which became the solution to the pod problem or the cover-up for my “boo-boo.” As you can see in this shot, one of my cats is critiquing the painting…he gives really harsh crits.
So at this point, I was so concerned that I wouldn’t finish the painting in time for the Indianapolis show, that I completely forgot to take any additional progression shots. In the final piece, you can see I changed the berries in the water and added a reflecting pattern. Now the vessel is surrounded by the garden instead of placed in front of it, and I am quite pleased with the final results.
View the finished piece My Best Friend Signed “Kollar”