Updated: Nov 20
You know how sometimes you start on a project, intend to go in one direction, but wind up in another? Well, that’s precisely what happened with the octopus. The octopus started as an iPad research project but became a whole new creative outlet.
I love my job, but there's one thing I’ve always hated about being an artist, and that's the long hours I spend trapped behind my desk. For as long as I can remember, the battle for time has been a struggle. How many hours have I traded away stuck at my desk, toiling over the computer? Too many, but that all began to change a few years ago when Apple finally started getting serious about mobile with the introduction of the iPad Pro. The iPad Pro seemed like the ideal solution to my problems, and the octopus was the perfect pet project. To my surprise, it became one of my most popular social posts. The octopus looked like it might be the perfect selection for my first piece of office wall art as well (Author's note: If you're joining me here for the first time, make sure to read: Part 1: Making New Art. Discovering My Love for Painting on Wood).
Creating the wall art version turned out to be much more complicated than I thought, but that’s ok. Art is a learning process. You start in one place, make discoveries along the way, and then usually wind up somewhere completely unexpected. Over time, you perfect the process, and things become streamlined. You land closer to your goal and repeat. The streamlining process comes with experience, and since this was my first in the series, I had some learning to do.
I didn’t have a projector when I started this adventure, so it was just me and my trusty pencil. I started with a chunk of 4 foot 1/8 inch plywood and sketched out my design. The challenge with this piece, however, would not be the drawing or the wood selection. It would be the cutting.
Many years ago my brother-in-law gave me a craftsman skill saw. Unfortunately, it sat in my garage, hardly used, going from one house to the next, waiting for its shining moment. Each time we moved, my wife begged me to get rid of it, but I hung onto it with the idea that I would use it to make something really cool one day.
Living the Dream
I got a little ambitious with my drawing on this piece, but when it came time to cut, the craftsman was up to the challenge. It cut beautifully, but I wanted to create something much larger, something that made a statement. While creating the octopus, I discovered that the deck and arm length kept me from achieving the size I was hoping for. I wanted to make something big, really big, like 8 feet x 4 feet big, but I had reached my size limit. So yes, I still use the craftsman for smaller projects, but when I'm making something big, really big, I turn to my trusty old black and decker handheld jigsaw. (Author's note: Now before you run out and buy a Black and Decker handheld big saw, just know this, the Black and Decker handheld big is not a high-quality precision cutter. It is a general around-the-house, weekend warrior, all-purpose cutter).
The reason I use the Black and Decker is because that's what I have, and it does fine for rough cuts, but I do plan to replace it. To boil it down, does it do the job? Technically yes. Are there better, more precise tools out there? Of course, and who knows, maybe one day one of them will sponsor me, but until that day comes along, this will have to do. For something like the Octopus I would never have attempted cuts this fine with the black and decker, it's just too big an ask.
What I realized later after all that intricate detail work is that my preference would have been to leave a little wood showing around the outside edge. As you can see, the octopus was trimmed right to the edge, which was then painted black. That’s fine, but it loses some of its character for me. It might as well just have been painted on foam core or whatever other cheap, easy-to-cut material you’ve got lying around. As I said art is a process of gradual evolution and my process has evolved with each piece.
I started my career with an airbrush, and some habits die hard. I love the slick, flawless finish of the airbrush, and since I no longer own one, I chose the next best thing, spray paint. I love the finish of this piece and although it looks like airbrush, it’s not really what I had in mind when I started painting again. I wanted people to see the artist's hand in my work. That’s why the featured pieces you may have seen on Insta and the website look slightly different. Airbrush is very slick, but it’s a pain in the ass to work with, and I wanted these projects to be fun, not a pain in the ass.
I like to work with big, bold, punchy colors and didn't want to be afraid to show my brushstrokes so I picked something I’ve always loved, gouache. I learned the secrets of gouache back in my Disney days. In this case, I selected acrylic gouache for its ultra-flat finish and durability. Hello gouache, goodbye, airbrush. It's time I finally stopped worrying about flawless, smooth transitions and focused on a more stylized look. The octopus is outlined in gouache but the body is spray paint. Chalk one up to the learning process.
Despite its many flaws, the octopus is one of my favorite pieces. It hangs right above my desk as a source of inspiration and a reminder that life is more than just sitting in front of my computer, grinding away the hours. When I look up and see that piece, I know my garage studio is always ready and waiting for the next new project.
Next up: My Quest for Mass Production and World Domination Crashes and Burns.