Julie and the Monkey

Julie and the Monkey
oil on canvas
30" x 30", 2009

The Story of the Painting of Julie and the Monkey

In 2005, Julie and I went camping at our first "music festival" together. This was a big deal for us because Julie went to several festivals a year so it was an important part of her life which she was now sharing with me and this one, Musicalia, was probably the most important since she'd being attending for over 20 years without a break. For the record, Musicalia isn't really a music festival but a big private party outside of Charlottesville held in May every year. It's pretty close to being a music festival, however, when you have several hundred people, mostly musicians, camping and partying and playing music in a field for several days.

When we arrived, the first thing we did was set up 2 chairs, a little table with a tablecloth, a vase full of irises from Julie's garden and a motion-sensitive gorilla who, when turned on, would sing "Great Balls of Fire". We then immediately opened two bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. I pulled out my compact camera for a photo op and Julie was glad to oblige by holding up her bottle and smiling from ear to ear. This became one of her favorite photos because it reminded her of what a good time we'd had and how happy and relaxed she was. She always called it the picture of her and the monkey (her term of endearment for the gorilla who actually has a name, Moogie, but we almost never use it). After seeing me do a portrait of my Grandmother based on an old snapshot, she decided that this is the picture on which I should base my portrait of her if I was to ever do one.

I'd try to politely brush the suggestion aside. The lighting was poor, she was having a bad hair day and I didn't think her expression would translate well to a portrait-size enlargement. In addition to all that, the photo was taken looking down so that a coarsely mown field filled the entire background and I had no idea how I'd try to depict that or how I could make it look interesting. Eventually, however, I figured I could make something out of it with the right cropping, a lot of artistic blurring of the background, and by borrowing a face from a different photo. Using photoshop, I tried about 8 different faces and finally settled on a picture which Lynda had taken in her back yard and had appropriately titled "Happy Julie". Since I was painting on cotton canvas and the 2nd year wedding anniversary is traditionally the cotton anniversary, this became my target.

To give myself plenty of time, I started the painting about 5 months before the occasion, after figuring out a method to hide it which wouldn't disturb the wet oil paint. I had to keep it a secret the entire time, which wasn't easy but somehow I managed. Once I forgot to put the painting away but was lucky enough to go back into my studio for something shortly before Julie got home from work and that's when I saw it sitting out in plain view where she couldn't have missed it if she had gone into the studio. Other than that it turned out not to be too difficult to keep the secret. I was only working on it about one day a week and had other paintings going which I could show Julie whenever she wanted to see what I was working on.

I finished with only a week to spare and could hardly wait until the day of the anniversary to give it to her. After Julie left for work on the morning of our anniversary, I brought it out and put it over the mantelpiece, replacing the painting of my grandmother which had been hanging there. And then I immediately took it down again and spent most of the day trying to fix all the little things wrong with it which I kept noticing every time I'd hang it up again. Although I'd continue to fix little things on it for 2 more weeks, I was able to get it good enough that day for presentation purposes. Julie's reaction when she came home and saw the painting hanging there made it all worth it!

Happy 2nd Anniversary, Julie!

December 2, 2009

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