Three people made this painting: Andy Ihnatko, Roger Ebert, and me.
Roger Ebert's a household name, and I hope most of you know me by now. Andy Ihnatko writes about technology trends and innovations for the Chicago Sun-Times, and that is his connection to Roger Ebert.
I like to imagine them sitting at neighboring desks in the CS-T's cavernous, bustling newsroom; it's teeming with pretty secretaries and Jimmy Olson types. They acknowledge each other with friendly nods as they pound away on their typewriters. Over the din of rotary telephones, some young guy rushes in and yells, "STOP THE PRESSES!" etc. etc.
Anyway, earlier this year Andy reviewed Nikon's P7000 camera. He created a small Flickr album of sample photos taken when he was in Boston to show his readers what this (amazing sounding) camera could do. The photos include food, a squirrel, some architecture, and one astonishing Hopper-like interior. Scroll down to that photo's comments and you'll see what Roger had to say: "Andy, this is a still life."
Then Roger sent me a link to the photo in a message titled "This could be a watercolor." Even though I knew it would be challenging, I immediately wanted to paint it. The palette is so gorgeous: gold, silver, copper, and bronze. The zigzag composition in the foreground reminds me (and I'm sure only me) of Degas' Glass of Absinthe.
I thanked Roger and contacted Andy, asking him if I could paint a watercolor based on his photo. "By all means, do whatever you like with the photo," Andy enthused, and I took it from there.
The 24"x18" painting took about two weeks to complete. The preliminary drawing was difficult, a mixture of 98% man-made straight and curved lines and 2% apple, which I saved for last as a kind of treat. Here's the painting after a couple of days:
Painting straight lines with watercolor is no easy task, especially when the lines are boundaries of large areas. For example, the yellow tabletop is one of the largest shapes in the painting. To create a streak-free yellow, I had to wet down the entire shape with water first. While the water was still wet, I dropped in the yellow and let the water help me spread it around evenly. Adding this much moisture to watercolor paper can cause it to warp slightly and temporarily, and this can move the wet paint a bit. If you're not watching it closely, your straight boundary can shift. So I fought that from time to time.
Other tough problems included the small diamond pattern on the window near the top-center, seen above at around actual size. This painting marks the first time that I have ever used masking liquid. A sort of latex, masking liquid can be painted onto any section the artist wants to protect from paint. For the past 26 years, I have pooh-poohed the use of masking liquid, stubbornly believing that it was not sufficiently old-school to meet my needs. But in the case of this grid, I swallowed my pride and bought some.
First I painted the diamond grid with masking fluid. After it dried, I glazed a dark blue rectangle over the entire section. The masking fluid protected that dainty grid, and the blue paint flowed into the diamonds. After the blue paint dried, I brushed away the masking fluid, which had the consistency of tacky rubber cement, revealing the protected, light-colored grid. And lest you think this step was the tiniest bit easy, rest assured that the blasted window took me half of Gone With the Wind to complete, ruined my tiniest brush, and gave me a migraine later that night.
A couple of weeks ago I gave a watercolor workshop for art teachers at Eastern Illinois University, and I described watercolor this way: it's like you're taking care of a playful child--a child capable of the most disarming, beautiful, and unpredictable ideas. The child is also hyperactive, messy, and occasionally infuriating, and sometimes you really need the child to sit down and be quiet. Some people can handle a kid like that, and but most people don't have the patience and give up. I'm one of those people who didn't give up. And with the number of hard edges in this painting, that kid was in the chair for quite a while, but we had some good playtime with (to name three) the red vinyl booth, the blue chair shadow, and the glowing apple.
Which brings me to the title, Abandoned Knowledge. Most of my titles are pretty generic--I dislike cute or jokey titles--but Untitled Interior #1 or Lines and Curves didn't do much for me either. I had just about decided to go with the former when Jeff took out a pad of paper and convinced me to do some brainstorming. We concluded that someone had recently left the table without pushing their chair back in, leaving the apple. Apple = Eve = tree of knowledge. "Abandoned Knowledge," I said, and Jeff loved it. "That's the one."
Thanks to Andy Ihnatko and Roger Ebert for making this painting possible!