Delilah the Temptress, Destroyer of Art
A strange things happens as an artist. You reach a point in the evolution of a piece when you step back and say, "That's it. I'm done. I have replicated what's in my head" and proceed to high-five yourself. Then...a little voice starts to whisper in your ear. I call her Delilah the Temptress, Destroyer of Art. She stands behind you watching and judging, judging and watching. She waits until you have reached that point of self-satisfaction and then goes in for the kill. She knows every insecurity you have about the piece and exaggerates imperfections to a point that you are compelled to act. You have now entered a new realm that is fraught with bad decisions, misplaced strokes, and the absolute frustration with your general suckiness as an artist. I have experienced this on more than one occasion, but my latest dance with this temptress reached a catastrophic level of "F--K!"
I learned about a regional art competition that occurs in Lake City, South Carolina called Artfields. It is an amazing festival in a small town that celebrates art and the artists that create them. Only 400 pieces are accepted and the competition is fierce. Upon the urging of some friends and family, I decided to develop, execute and submit a piece.
My wife gave me a tremendous idea for subject matter, to paint one of my best friend's Instagram posts. I decided to take it a step further and include some mixed media. With three months until the deadline for submissions, I set out my plan for attack. I devoted a couple hours each night after work. Once the kids were down for the night, I popped a bottle of wine (or bourbon) and sat in the kitchen working the shit out of this canvas. Like I had done this before --or something, I was on schedule. Everything was running like clockwork. Suspiciously unusual.
After months of work, the deadline was quickly approaching and my piece was about 95% complete. It was in such a state of finality that I decided to go ahead and take some pictures and submit my entry for Artfields. Announcements of accepted artists did not go out until early January. So, for the months of November to January, the painting went into hibernation awaiting its acceptance and some finishing touches (like a frame).
The deadline for announcements finally arrived. From the time I woke up that morning, I was refreshing my email on my phone every five minutes...LITERALLY. Side note: it was on that day that I realized how much junk/spam email I actually get. By early afternoon, I had pretty much given up hope and began the process to seek some closure for my impending rejection. THEN, 4:32 pm, I get a vibration on my thigh...is it a FB notification, do we have an emergency weather statement, or...did I get mail? There was in fact a new, unread email, it was from the Artfields team, and I had been accepted to the 2017 festival.
I ran upstairs and uncovered the painting to evaluate what finishing touches needed to be completed before it was to be delivered to Lake City in April. DELILAH, that bitch, had been camping out with the painting the whole time. As I evaluated my work from three months prior, she began to whisper in my ear. She identified details that I was less than enthusiastic with. This was my first juried show and this painting had to be perfect.
One of the biggest flaws was a weird texture that formed by my continual working of the canvas. I decided that the texture needed to be covered. Options at my local hardware store were limited and would not accomplish what I wanted to achieve in my head. Amazon to the rescue! But, so many different kinds of resin existed and how would I decide? By the way, did I mention that I have never worked with resin before? It was too late though. Delilah played on my insecurities and this was the only logical step to attain perfection. I selected a product that looked pretty easy to apply. Anything called "Easy Resin 1-2-3" had to be a quality product, right?
Two days go by and Prime packaging arrives at my doorstep. Being that I have never worked with this product before (did I mention that?), I took my time to properly set up my work area. I open the box of resin and there are two bottles of liquid and written instructions. Bottle A is the resin and I am supposed to mix this in a container for 2 solid minutes. At the point, I had to pour bottle B, the hardener, directly into the resin and stir for 1 minute...not a second more, not a second less. It's ready --but am I? I have one last chance to reconsider before I do something that is permanent. It's as if she guided my hand to the container of resin and poured it directly onto the painting. There was no turning back.
Everything is going well at this point. I am spreading the product over the canvas, attempting to apply one even coat. I work the product to the bottom of the painting and it is getting thinner and thinner. Shit! I shorted myself. After some frantic reading, I learned you can apply multiple layers of resin. Not a problem. Repeat Step 1: order more resin and follow the same process. Two days later and another layer of resin, the finish is like glass. Perfect! Done! That was way too easy...like Easy 1-2-3. Over the period of two weeks, the acrylic resin cures. This was plenty of time before the delivery deadline. But, little did I realize this was also the point of catastrophic failure.
T-35 days to delivery: I walk into the dining room, where I was letting the resin surface cure. When I stood it up to evaluate, I started to notice a strange yellowing in one of the clouds. I didn't paint this! It was small enough to be barely noticeable and, in some respect, looks intentional. Decision: leave the painting alone.
T-34 days to delivery: The yellow spot has grown overnight and has intensified. A new yellow streak is forming over the breast of the shirt. Decision: take no action but monitor closely.
T-33 days to delivery: By now the yellow spots are now significantly noticeable and something must be done to correct it --says Delilah. Decision: take a deep breath and paint directly onto the resin to cover the yellowing then reseal the painting.
T-21 days to delivery: I have completed the layer of painting and it looks better than the initial layer. Decision: after spending $80 in acrylic resin, decide to find a compatible sealer at the local hardware store. In retrospect, this was just a fucking stupid decision.
T-18 day to delivery: After conducting some research via Google, I found some message boards from users who had successfully poured lacquer over resin without issue. Decision: purchase lacquer from Lowe's and pour a final coat to put this to bed.
T-15 days to delivery: I prepped the painting for the lacquer application. Upon pouring the product, it easily covered the entire surface, creating a clear, glassy finish. I went inside for a few hours to let it dry. Finally, success! In returning to check on the painting, my heart stopped. In the middle of the painting lay an enormous bubble. Not an air bubble in the lacquer...no, a physical bubble protruding from the canvas, as if it were about to explode. While inspecting, I also noticed that the second layer of paint had detached itself from the resin and floated to the surface. The protruding bubble was oddly situated over the location of the original yellowing of the resin, an obvious vulnerable point on the canvas. It became apparent that I was witnessing a chemical reaction. The lacquer was attacking the resin. I grabbed the nearest sharp object and immediately performed surgery, removing the bulbous tumor from my artwork. I left this day with a competition painting that was attacking itself and had a golf ball-sized hole taunting me.
T-13 days to delivery: At this point, most people would have thrown in the towel (I'm close - very close). The lacquer is dry and I bring the painting into the house to assess the damage. This is fixable!? My immediate focus is the hole. I layer paint to build up the area and form new clouds. It is almost seamless. I might just be able to pull this off. I finish my 2nd session of touch ups and it genuinely looks even better. Decisions: Let it dry and leave it the f--k alone.
T-12 days to delivery: Optimistic. I have repaired all of the damage and I am ready to attempt sealing this bad boy so I can be done. Noting the mistake I previously made by switching products, I decided to apply another layer of lacquer over the current to hopefully prevent a second chemical reaction. It shouldn't react the same way. That layer is already down and dry, right? Here goes nothing. I pour the lacquer over the painting and I immediately get the beautiful, glassy coat I am looking for. I leave it to dry. Several hours later, I return and assess. Holy shit! Same bubble, same place. I'm done. This is over. I have less than two weeks before I have to deliver this painting and I just have exhausted all of my options. I am emotionally drained. Delilah has crippled me and sabotaged this piece.
T-11 days to delivery: The painting is now sitting in my garage in the corner, very close to being set out with the trash on Tuesday. I decide I will call Artfields and drop out of the festival. There may be time to contact someone else who wasn't selected to replace me.
T-5 days to delivery: Haven't called Artfields yet, and something strange happens. I come home from work and I am changing into some more comfortable clothes when it hits me. Out of nowhere, I just have this epiphany. I am replaying this entire comedy of errors through my head and I realize this chemical reaction started to pull the resin off the surface of the painting (the bubble). Maybe, just maybe, I can remove the layers of lacquer and resin without hurting the integrity of the painting. It's a long shot but what else have I got to lose at this point. There is only one way to test these kind of hair-brained theories: ACTION! I go straight out to the garage with knife in hand and I make a surgical-like incision into the bubble. I place the knife at my side and slide my fingers into the incision. I begin to pull in two different directions. CRAAAAAAAACCCCKKK! A giant piece releases from the painting. Underneath is left completely untouched like the previous 30 days never even happened. I had to temper my enthusiasm. Although my joy and optimism were at all-time highs, I still needed to remove all of this crap very methodically and carefully to not disturb what lay underneath. I felt like an archaeologist removing centuries of sediment and debris to uncover a lost city. I worked every inch of the painting. CRAAAACK, CRUUUNCCCHHHH. The pile of bad decisions began to build as I removed pieces. In some places, the lacquer/resin was over 1/4". I made it to the edges, took a step back and exhaled a month of frustration and exhaustion. I was back! My celebration would not last long, however, as I just realized I have 4 days to clean up this mess to deliver a competition-worthy piece. Oh shit!
The last 4 days were spent frantically cleaning and retouching areas of the painting that experienced a little damage. I was left with that same texture that bothered me 30 days ago, but this time it was different. I appreciated how raw it looked and the twisted journey the painting took to only return to its original form. Thousands of visitors swarmed Lake City and thousands of eyes viewed my painting, but none of them knew of my emotional battle and how Delilah almost prevented them from seeing it.