The story behind why this painting was done has to do with my wife Heather. She had a job a few years back that she absolutely hated. However this was during the extreme recession kicked off by the housing implosion, so she felt she had to put up with it, due to the scarcity of good paying jobs at the time. The only part of her job that she really liked was the pond she went to on her lunch break every day. This wasn't a particularly large pond, however it was home to a few dozen turtles and the occasional waterfowl. The birds came and went with the seasons, however the turtles were there with her every day. She fed them and hung out with them, and this gave her a small amount of peace during an otherwise generally miserable workday.
During this time Heather began taking pictures of her amusing lunch break friends with her cell phone. I was often amazed at the quality of the photos, and how good she made such a simple pond look in those pictures. After a while she got her first professional camera as a gift from her Aunt and the photos became even better. By the end of her time at that job she had several hundred photos of turtles, many of which are quite excellent.
While all of this was going on I was going through struggles of my own – both creative and financial. So I was very thankful to those pond friends for giving my wife some joy in her bleak workday. I was also intrigued by the photos my wife was taking, both in terms of encouraging her creative outlet, and also in terms of potential subject matter for me. So these turtles represent nothing but good things, at a time when there were not really a lot of good things happening in our lives.
After some time passed, I gathered all of the photos from the pond and began sifting through them to find a few key shots that captured the characters that I wanted to paint. After narrowing all of those photos down to a few candidates, I began the process of digitally tweaking until I had what I wanted to paint. To me this painting is a portrait, not just of that specific turtle, but all of the turtles that kept my wife company each day.
The title is “The Opportunist”, which refers to these daily events from the turtles perspective. I am sure they saw the lunchtime routine as just a chance to get a free meal, and they were often quite aggressive and competitive for the food. Many of them took the food right from her hands, and were absolutely fearless. The emotion I wanted to convey was that of excited expectation. This guy knows that good things are about to come, and he is not afraid to take a hold of that opportunity boldly. So on a more general scale, this to me is a painting that allegorically represents forward looking hope, but it also emphasizes the fact that "fortune favors the bold". The purpose is to encourage the viewer to boldly go after the opportunities for good things that may appear in life. On a more personal scale, it is also very much a tribute to all of the little guys that helped us both have a bit more joy when times were rough.
The technique I choose for this painting is Drybrush Watercolor, which is a fairly labor-intensive method of painting, very much like the way I work my Egg Temperas. The paint is applied thinly in many hatch marks with a fairly dry, small brush. The overall effect being the result of dozens of interweaving layers of transparent color. From a compositional point of view I wanted to emphasize the larger than life quality of the subject to emphasize his importance to us, and convey his personality. I also wanted a balance of a particular sense of a real place and time, blending with a sense of timelessness.
Here is a photo taken part way into working on this painting: