It was topic common enough for the end of any spring semester. While recording grades for the first critique of the semester our instructor asked everyone in turn what their plans were for the coming summer:
- Karen was going to intern at a magazine in Salt Lake City.
- Dan would be taking a remedial math class during the summer term.
- Bob had scored a sweet gig doing backgrounds at an LA animation house.
- I would be flying helicopters for the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
There’s nothing quite like being surprised by someone else being totally surprised. Even though I’d been an ROTC cadet the entire time at BYU, Sarcastic Instructor1 was quite startled at the prospect of me actually raising my right arm, swearing in and becoming a second lieutenant. To be totally frank I wasn’t too sure about the decision either – bridging the gulf between creativity and controlled mayhem had been fuel for many sessions of anxious introspection during my years as a college student but I’d always figured that one of the two options would nose ahead of the other by the time I finished with school.
…at least that’s what I thought the previous summer when I’d hit creative roadblock of such magnitude that the military seemed my only viable option but in a perverse twist of fate I’d made an artistic comeback and was well on the way to building a truly magnificent portfolio. Unfortunately I still had to complete Sarcastic Instructor’s 400 level Illustration II class, and his response to my announcement about “summer employment” was a rolled-eye glance in my direction as he announced the subject for our mid-term project.
The assignment was to rework an existing lack-luster record album cover for which I was given “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” by the Incredible String Band. As I went through all the tracks on the album the group’s reedy vocals and use of medieval wood-winds backed by contemporary instruments suggested a marriage of artistic vision. I felt a combination of Patrick Woodruffe’s rich textures and trompe l’oeil effects with Jim Sharpe’s punchy linework and airbrush backgrounds would work, , but what I ended up with was a mish-mash of stylistic inconsistency. The background worked out nicely but my effort to hork Mr. Sharpe’s styles devolved into an indifferent main-figure, which Sarcastic Instructor referred to during the preliminary critique as my “quasi-comic-book style”.
I returned home in a foul mood – I had a 48-hour respite before the final critique but attending to all the details of graduation and commissioning had already put me under the gun time-wise. Starting over from scratch was not an option so I masked off the background and started to airbrush white ink over the main figure with a vague plan for re-penciling the image – and that’s when the magic happened. The notoriously fugitive Dr. Martin’s dyes I had used to color the original figure began to bleed into the white ink and in the process a wonderfully ethereal figure began to emerge from the panel.
It was so. Totally. Cool.
In a perfect world I would have gone back to the final critique to be met with effusive praise from Sarcastic Instructor but the best I got was “Well Deitrick, you pulled it off”. Six weeks later I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army. Another six months later I was flying TH-55 helicopters in basic flight training.
…and forty years later “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” occupies a place of honor on my living room wall, carefully angled away from the front window and the UV light which would permanently fade-out the Dr. Martin’s Dyes that accidently changed the painting from a disaster to a masterpiece all those years ago.
1: See 1978: Superman With A Paunch