I Lose at The Realism Olympics (And No One Even Notices)

Over the summer I started a whole new series of paintings. I’ve been really excited about these new pieces, and it feels like I’m going in a totally different direction. I couldn’t wait to get them going, and have all eight canvases planned and ready to go. They are pure pleasure to work on, and I have taken my time with them, allowing the work to proceed at a solid but leisurely pace.

The only thing I needed to do before I could fully immerse myself in this series was finish off another Gun painting that was nearly complete. But wouldn’t it figure: This painting—Magenta Sweet Soaker—proved to one of the most difficult and frustrating pieces I’ve ever attempted. I just couldn’t finish this painting, and the work got miserable and seemed never-ending.

Here’s the finished painting:

I took 2 original photographs of this particular gun to use as source material—one with an ingredients label across the top, and one with that label removed. The version with the label was what I originally set out to paint:

I worked on this lettering for months. I tried everything—super fine brushes, calligraphy pens, even Sharpie—and although I got close, I was never pleased with the final work. Unless I could replicate machine lettering exactly, it would distract from the overall realism of the piece. After a lot of anguish (and hand cramps), I finally threw in the towel and replaced it with the label-free version.

The fact that I couldn’t pull off this lettering and just move on to my new work was a little bit depressing, and more than a little bit annoying. I spent countless hours working on it. On two separate occasions, I even painted over it and started again from scratch. I just couldn’t get it right. It got to the point where I could barely stand the sight of that painting sitting in my studio, nagging at me like an unpaid bill.

But the fact of the matter is, if I had never written this blog post, no one would have even noticed. A few years ago I was having a conversation with another realist painter, and we were joking about how disappointed we felt when people liked our less technically-challenging pieces more than the ones we labored over. “Don’t they know we are trying to win the Realism Olympics?” he said. And that’s just the thing about so many artists (myself included)–it’s like we are in some kind of fucked-up imaginary challenge with ourselves and other artists, when DUH, GET OVER YOURSELF, no one is going to notice that shit but you. Few people care about how long it took you to get those colors right, the highlights just so, the tiny details all in place; all they care about is the finished product.

So yeah, maybe I didn’t even get bronze at the Imaginary Realism Olympics this time, but like everything else that is difficult, it was a learning opportunity. It’s good to know your technical limitations, and I certainly got a lot better at fine lines and lettering. But I suppose the most important lesson of all was that really, I needed to quit torturing myself and just wrap the damned thing up. It’s a painting. Of a squirtgun. Move on.


  1. Curtis says:

    Love that last gun!!!!! Can not wait for the next 8. What are they???
    Will be taking part in agast 13….. Hope to see you and
    Alan and you troupe. I miss you over there.

    Cheers Curtis

  2. It works much better without the lettering. I think
    subconsciously you sensed that and that is why
    you had so much trouble with the lettering. I have
    done a series of newspaper paintings and know
    how hard letters can be to paint.

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