The Long Goodbye
When she told me it was going to “a better place,” I silently gasped . . .
At the 2014 Orange County Fair, along with a magnificent “Best of Show, Amateur Division” gold ribbon, my charcoal still life received a handsome monetary award. My winnings afforded me the ability to purchase a new, state-of-the-art, digital camera.
A year later, I returned to the Orange County Fair. With new camera in tow, I purposefully attended the day of the livestock auction. My hope was to capture photos of barnyard animals that later could be used as drawing and painting references. As I searched for interesting subjects in the barns, I came upon the affectionate interaction of a pretty young lady, Gabby, and her cute little calf, Veal Patrick Harris. I was mesmerized by the loving and comforting way the two silently communicated. I first took candid shots and then hesitantly approached the corral. Across the railing, I asked Gabby if I could use the photos for my artwork. She agreed that I could.
I asked Gabby if she had sold Veal Patrick Harris. With a smile, she said, “Yes.” Naively, innocently, I asked if it was going to a ranch. Still smiling, she said, “No. It’s going to a better place.” I silently gasped and choked back an instance of stomach-gripping, tear-jerking emotion. Without flinching, and with great difficulty, I, too, continued to smile.
Weeks later, I reviewed all the photos I had taken of Gabby and Veal Patrick Harris. I printed several to be used as my reference images. I started first a drawing and then the painting inspired by my encounter. At that time, I was attending a weekly art studio. To kick-off the painting, I used the instructor’s limited four-color underpainting palette of white, yellow ochre light, burnt sienna and ultramarine. Excluding white, the other colors represented the three primaries of red, yellow and blue. I found the palette to be very challenging and very different. Despite the challenge, I decided to commit to that palette of colors throughout the painting process. Along the way, my instructor suggested I add a bit of alizarin crimson. The crimson in the reference photo, all but invisible to me, was visible to the instructor and was important in adding dimension to the painting.
Throughout the process, I experienced frustration upon frustration and made revision upon revision trying to pull the composition, forms and colors together. Color-vision challenged, I often became discouraged with using a traditional portrait painting style and the self-imposed limited palette. I had promised Gabby a copy of the painting once finished. That voluntary commitment kept me returning to the project, over and over again, for three long years.
For 6 months, I did set the painting aside during our transition from California to Idaho. I returned to it when I found a local, weekly studio instructed by an insightful professional artist. After several more painting sessions and a sense that I was near completion, I asked the instructor for a final review. He suggested a few refinements that were very helpful. I implemented his suggestions and carefully, very carefully, applied the final strokes to “The Long Goodbye.”