I’ve had the great pleasure of designing the cover art for Brian Metters’ new book: “It’s Not About The Wine! A 50 years memoir of wine WITH history, philosophy, art, travel and people”
I met Brian, otherwise referred to as “Dr. B” through our blogs 2 years ago. Since then our friendship has grown not only out of our mutual love of wine but also our numerous conversations on a wide range of topics; mostly wine, of course, but also philosophy, perception and psychology. We may not always agree, but I’ve learned a lot from his knowledge of the human brain, his approach to tasting wine, and his acute philosophical inquiry. I hope, in some small way, he could say the same about me. I’ve also been inspired by his many accomplishments in his lifetime including mountaineering in the Himalayas, education aid work in Nepal, and publishing three books. Not to mention he has been instrumental in supporting and encouraging my blog. So, when he offered me the opportunity to create some art work for his book, I was more than happy to accept.
Being commissioned to do art work for someone has come with new challenges, setbacks and revelations. I’ve gained a lot personally from the project and I hope to find more opportunities to express myself through art in the future.
Act 2: Drafting
DIM THE LIGHTS
CUE THE DOOM AND GLOOM
Having felt satisfied with my brainstorming up to this point, I sent some preliminary sketches to Brian to see if I was on the right track and choose which ideas to develop further. To my relief he was pleased, and we had a conversation about how to put these ideas together into one image for the cover. Brian emphasized that there had to be wine of course, but really IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WINE!, as the title of the book clearly states; it’s about all the experiences of culture that he had through drinking wine. So, how can you create one, cohesive image with wine, history, philosophy, art, travel and people?
Brian also came up with the idea of including caricatures of himself as chapter headings, an idea I thought would be a nice touch and something I could incorporate into the book cover. As it is a memoir, it seemed fitting that he was on the cover. And so, with some feedback and a sense of direction I started drafting the cover art and working on the caricatures as the deadline pushed ever so near.
Now, up to this point I was still full of optimism and enthusiasm, but things started to take a very serious turn, and for a while it got very dark.
It starts with the caricatures. I personally liked the quirkiness of the blind contour drawings, also because it shielded me from perfection by its abstractness. But how could I get one to dimly resemble him or, at the very least, get the drawings to resemble each other? It was a new technique for me, I would need a lot of practice before I could produce something reasonably passable. So, what is a caricature? It’s a simple drawing with some features exaggerated. But which ones? The nose, the glasses, the beard? Turns out, I’m not a caricature artist either. Back to basics, a (more or less) realistic drawing, right in my comfort zone, was the only way forward.
These few phrases don’t seem to do justice to the amount of frustration I experienced. I must have drawn a 100 different people, and none of them were “him”. The nose was too big, the eyes too small, the hands grossly deformed, the proportions of his arm distorted… I could only see the flaws in everything.
100 different faces:
Drawing portraits is notoriously difficult. People are able to recognize faces with acute accuracy. Even though I’ve never actually met Brian face-to-face, other than a video call, the photos of himself he sent were enough evidence for anyone to determine a resemblance or lack there of. However, as for the central/background image, they were just things, objects that didn’t need to be perfect replicas in order to be recognizable. What could go wrong, right?
Wrong. Perfectionism is a nasty beast. It convinces you that the only way to achieve something great is to listen to that critical voice in your head, and it must be magnanimously great or why do it at all. In fact, if it’s anything less than magnanimously great, you might as well throw it away and start over. It’s a sort of parasite of perception that only allows you to see the flaws, preventing you from ever being completely satisfied with your work. Once it had me firmly in its grasp, my work became sterile and I longed for the freedom, spontaneity and expressiveness I had before.
However, I wasn’t going to give up and I didn’t have the time to throw everything away and start from scratch. Luckily, I stumbled upon an artist who gave some excellent advice about dealing with perfectionism and procrastination. “Struthless” and his 70% rule were a great help.
Perfectionism subdued, there was another reason I wasn’t happy with my work: I didn’t see me in it. Previously I had done art for art’s sake (and for mine). I had an idea, tried it out, enjoyed doing it and trusted the process because it was enough for me to create something that wasn’t there before which was interesting to do and hopefully interesting to look at. I was much less attached to the end result which meant I was able to finish projects faster and be content with what I had done. It wasn’t always perfect, but somehow I didn’t seem to mind because it was just one of many projects I would do.
Working under the pressure of an approaching deadline with the thought of creating something, not in and of itself, but for somebody else, subject to their approval, which had to be magnanimously great put a crippling block on my creativity. I spent dark, desperate hours slaving over small details over and over again, hating everything I was doing along the way. It had all gone terribly wrong.
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn and, having gone through this and reached the other side, I think that’s very true.
TO BE CONTINUED