When your art doesn’t match the idea in your head

The idea

I bought a beautiful dress from the op shop for my $15 challenge and it gave me another idea for a photo. Picture this: a figure slumps with her back against a gnarled tree trunk. A wooden staff lies across her knees, the tip glowing faintly. She looks asleep but then you notice that moss and grass that have started to grow over her. What could have happened to put her into such a deep magic sleep?

This time, I had a very specific image in my head that I wanted to create. What could go wrong?

Action

It started out a beautifully crisp, golden winter morning with wisps of mist dancing over the paddocks. I stomped out in my gumboots, climbed a few trees and took a few test shots. One tree had a perfect spot for an enchantress to sleep amongst its dappled light and knotted tree roots.

First test shot of tree in the sun.
First test shot of tree in the sun.

Fortunately for me, by the time I was ready under the trees in my dress (ok, and thermal leggings), the sun had warmed the edge off the winter crispness. Then the sun went in. After a time, so did we, while a helpfully large cloud crawled ever so slowly across the sky. I had nearly given up when the sun reappeared and I dashed outside.

Tripods aren’t built to climb trees so I enlisted some help for this shoot. My partner made the first few photos with me under a test tree, but we quickly moved to my spot amongst the roots of the perfect tree. Then we found the sun had moved so that if I sat with my back to the tree, my face was in shadow. Not good. So I lay amongst the roots instead, trying to look peacefully asleep and not uncomfortably dead with tree roots sticking me in the back.

When I got the photos onto my computer for editing, my partner had made some beautiful photos but the model’s (me!) uncomfortable expressions and awkward positions let us down. On top of that, I hadn’t thought about how the staff was always sticking near the edge of the photo, leaving no room for a glow.

Image that just didn't match the idea in my head. Bad crop, awkward expression and it feels like I'm falling off the bottom of the frame!
Image that just didn’t match the idea in my head. Bad crop, awkward expression and it feels like I’m falling off the bottom of the frame!

Nothing I did matched the picture I wanted in my head. What to do? The sun was too high to make more photos that day. Disaster!

I had a break.

I told myself I shouldn’t get so hung up on wanting to use one of the photos under the perfect tree.

I told myself I could change the story to fit how the photo turns out.

I went back to the first shots of me under the test tree.

"Untitled" by Ailene. Photograph (In progress) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
“Untitled” by Ailene. Photograph (In progress) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.

Slowly, after compositing two images together, some cropping, and the liberal use of the clone tool to stretch out the background, I had a rather nice composition. Turning the grass turquoise and adding cyan to the shadows and yellow to the highlights gave the scene the magical feel I was after. When I added the staff’s glow, I realised that by happy accident, the sun was shining from the same direction as I was holding the staff. It seems like the glow from the staff is creating the shadows. Brilliant!

"The Guardian" by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
“The Guardian” by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.

I changed her story. She is a guardian, patiently watching over the forest. I’m really happy how she turned out. Here are some details:

"The Guardian (detail)" by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
“The Guardian (detail)” by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
"The Guardian (detail)" by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
“The Guardian (detail)” by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
"The Guardian (detail)" by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.
“The Guardian (detail)” by Ailene. Digitally manipulated photograph (2014) © Ailene at Old Mountain Art.

Evolve

It’s not a new thing for me to have a picture in my head of the art I want to create, be unable to match my imagined picture and give up, disappointed. In fact, this one thing stopped me from creating art for several years.

These days, I get around it by starting with a partial idea or concept, then experimenting and playing before being happily surprised by the result. It was frustrating to know that I can still be blocked by this, but also good to know that I can work through it.

Have you ever had an amazing image in your head of something you’d love to create but were unable to paint it or draw it or sculpt it exactly the same? Well, you’re not alone. I hope this inspires you to create it anyway and feel free to change the story or the image in your head as you go!

Keep on shining bright,

Ailene

Update: I wrote this post at the start of my art journey. Check out my latest posts to see how far I've come and what I'm doing now!