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The Lost Angler Fish

The angler fish was something I created based on a painting I kind of wish I had hung onto. Now don't get me wrong, there is no better feeling in the world than selling a painting to someone who loves your art but it's also bittersweet when it comes time to part with your creations. For weeks sometimes months you dump your heart and soul into these things then suddenly, poof, they're gone, off to a new home and it's onto the next thing.

Many years ago, I entered a collection into a local exhibit, never really expecting to sell anything. It was a small studio, and I was just hoping to make some new connections and maybe dip my toe into the world of fine art.

My favorite piece in the series was a fish that was slightly different from the style I usually painted. It kind of resembled an angler fish. I thought about how cool it would look in my office just over my desk. About halfway through the show, the gallery owner handed me a check.

“Cool, what’s this?” I asked.

"You just sold the fish,” he responded as he high-fived me and poured me a glass of gallery house red.

It was a nice gesture, and it was nice to have that fat check sitting in my pocket, but a small part of me was a little heartbroken and had hoped to have kept the fish. "It's totally cool", I told myself, "you can just make another," but as anybody who's ever created art know's that's simply not the way things work. For many years I vowed to recreate that fish, but sometimes things like life just get in the way. A week turns into a month, a month turns into a year, and before you know it, you move on, and it's forgotten.

Get busy painting or get busy dying

A few years ago, I finally decided to revisit the long-lost Angler fish. The only problem was I had no reference to work from. No sketch, no photos, no evidence it had ever existed. Too much time had gone by, and it was all lost. All I had was a faded memory and an urge to paint.

A blank canvas has never really been a problem for me. I hear other artists talk about the fear, but it's never really been a thing for me. I rarely suffer from creative block when I do my own stuff. For me, it’s the complete opposite problem—too many ideas, not enough canvasses, and never enough time.

I grabbed my board and started sketching from memory. Over and over, I drew, but I couldn’t quite capture the image that resided in my mind's eye… until I stopped trying, that is. At a certain point, you just have to let your tools guide you. So I put down my eraser, picked up my pencil, and followed my inner artist's instruction. It was like I was on autopilot, time dropped away, and when I was done, I had this crazy sketch. Did it look like the original? Who knows. Who cares? i decided to run wuth it.

It’s a trust issue.

Sometimes we artists get caught up in our heads and forget that the inner artist wants to create without restrictions. Sometimes that works out just fine, but most of the time, it just ends in frustration. A balance must be achieved, just the right amount of guidance mixed with the wild urge to create with reckless abandon. So I took my own advice and was suddenly free to express myself. Slowly the angler fish appeared. Once it began to take form, I knew it was just a matter of making sure the shapes and proportions were correct.

In hindsight, I might have cut this one differently. My inner artist fell too in love with the teeth and wanted them to be to focus of this piece, giving little thought to the complexity of the cutting process. "But I have the saw to do it," I told myself. It turns out I didn’t realli have the saw to do it. My scroll saw is impressive, but it has a short arm, and this was a big fish, too big for that saw. Some of the cuts I could make but many of them were impeded by the saw's arm, which meant finding another way.

Enter the Dremel.

I really love the Dremel, but cutting with that thing takes a lot of time, patience, and skill. Did I mention time? Finishing those teeth took forever; by the time I was done, I realized I had forgotten one thing. As I mentioned with the octopus piece, I wish I had let the wood quality come through. I really love this piece, and the teeth are pretty much exactly how I pictured they would be, except because the linework goes right to the edge, so the idea that this is made out of wood becomes unimportant.

Even though the finished piece didn't show any wood, this piece turned out to be an essential stepping stone. With each piece I create, I learn. And with each piece, I get closer to where I am today. The thing about art is it’s a growing process. The progression from the beginning of a series to the end is about finding your way along the journey. Each piece leads you down a particular path. Along that path, you make decisions that lead you to solutions. Some of those decisions lead you exactly where you want to go. Others become a learning process. It’s a constant balancing act, hoping your next decision won’t lead you to a place beyond recovery.

Every artist can relate to that stage, I suppose. There are always pieces that fall beyond recovery and get discarded. It is the ultimate disappointment when art fails, and that’s because art is not just an investment in time, it’s also an investment of the heart.

I guess the one reassuring part of that equation is that we learn far more through failure than perfection. So here’s to failure I hope you experience your fair share because without it, life becomes a stressful tightrope walk of mediocrity, and while I suppose it may provide a sense of security, constantly being on a tightrope feels like a terrible place to live.

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