I’ve had a new experience with my latest blog post. I was excited about my idea‒combining the red wolf and the American Chestnut tree, two species who used to be very common here in North Carolina and are now nearly gone. It should make a nice, and meaningful, spread.
Since there are virtually no American Chestnut trees, and certainly no forests full of large specimens like there used to be, I simply searched magazines for background images or large trees and used the to completely cover the spread. Then I mostly obscured them by randomly dotting the pages with gesso and spreading it with a brayer.
I placed a drawing of a wolf’s head, and thought I might add other wolves later, perhaps among trees I’d paint in the background. I also considered adding a chestnut in its spiny husk, and American chestnut tree leaves in a sort of botanical style. In any case, my concept was a painting with recognizable elements: the wolf or wolves, trees, and perhaps leaves, nuts, and maybe even the flowers.
My next step was to begin painting the wolf, which I did in a very choppy style using a limited palette and only two brushes, a medium size flat and a small round. What I had at that point surprised me because the painting so far was a different style for me. So I left it for a few days to see what ideas would come to me for finishing it.
I came to the surprising conclusion that I wasn’t going to finish it, or, more accurately, that it was already finished. I wrote my reasoning on the spread, and here’s what I said:
“If I were to add color and detail and light and shadow to portray the richness and fullness of life, I’d have a painting of a world which used to exist here in North Carolina – an abundance of red wolves in forests populated by magnificent American Chestnut trees, in places as many as one in every four trees. In Spring, the trees were filled with cluster of white flowers so plentiful that it looked like a landscape cloaked in show. In fall, their nuts supported millions of animals. That was then, up until something over a hundred years ago. Now the wolves and the trees are nearly gone.”
If I’d finished the spread as I first envisioned it, it would be a representation of the way things used to be, before the pressures of human expansion pushed the trees and wolves to the brink of extinction. I imagined the phases the spread would go through between this start and the finish. It occurred to me that the start portrays the way things are now: forests that exist now only in the imagination, as if behind a veil, and wolves, only sketches, only represented by the tiniest wild population and small numbers in zoos.
As the spread progressed, each phase would be like going back in time until the finished piece showed the way these two species used to be.
It seemed appropriate to leave it as things are now. I titled the spread “Nearly Gone.” It makes me sad.