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  • Writer's pictureMckenzie Kvalsten

Painting Ghost Crabs with Bruce Willis

It all began when I painted a crab. It was a little ghost crab with pokey eyes and spindly legs. The painting was my first Etsy listing. I was delighted when I was contacted by a lovely person in the southern US asking if I could paint two more crabs for a total set of three. She wanted a couple Carolina Blue Crabs to match the little Ghost, and I was excited to make a crab family.

I began working straight away and soon had the other two crabs about half painted. But I started to notice a problem- these new crabs weren't matching my original crab at all. The colors were slightly wrong, and the brushstrokes were too different. The crabs weren't looking like a set and the more I worked the more obvious it became. After hours of scraping and layering to no avail I was at my wits end.

carolina blue crab
The two crabs weren't looking right

So I thought back to when I painted the first crab- if I could remember all the choices I had made I could try to re-create the painting style step by step. I had accounted for the original color pallet, the dark purple ground I first laid on the canvas, and the same exact brushes. But there was one thing missing, and it was Bruce Willis.

I suddenly remembered when I was painting in my sketchbook a few weeks ago how I started out with a vibrant, colorful layout and by the end of my session it was all ochre, red, and navy. It had happened without me even realizing it because I was subconsciously responding to the very serious movie I was watching. As the movie became more and more urgent my color choices and marks reflected it like a mirror. The same color filters from the movie were transferred into my journal page. I knew my background entertainment affected my work to a degree but could it really affect it THAT much?

Eager to crack the case, I brought my laptop into the garage where I had been painting the two new crabs. When I made the original crab I was watching the Sixth Sense, so I figured if I watched it again, maybe the new crabs would take on a similar form. And do you know what? It WORKED! I put the movie on repeat and ended up watching it seven times while I painted. The secret was really in the soundtrack. With every jump scare and shrill violin up-bow my startled brush-strokes brought the crabs to life.

It all came together in the end and the collector and I were both happy with how the crabs turned out. It taught me a lot about how I can influence my work by what music or shows I have on, and this comes in handy when I need to generate inspiration. Although next time I decide to do a series I think I'll leave M. Night Shamalan out of it. Those fourteen hours of suspense will probably last me a lifetime.

carolina blue crab ghost crab mckenzie kvalsten
The finished crab family!

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