DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
TOW — Bob Matthews looked over his unfinished wall in between his kitchen bar and a handmade rock waterfall. He wanted something unique to complete it— not just a few photos or any run-of-the-mill type of thing.
This home, after all, was his creation, his own personal work of art. He needed something that complimented it, not something that simply filled up the space.
Then, it struck him.
“I wanted it to look like as if I just took a bulldozer and ran it through this wall,” he said.
While Matthews could build a house, creating this work of art wasn’t in his handy-man repertoire. So he called the Buchanan Arts and Crafts Guild down the road in Buchanan Dam to see if members knew an artist who could tackle the wall-sized mural.
They pointed him to guild member Diane Doolittle.
“I’ve been painting and putting my art on display since I was 9 years old,” she said.
She kept painting into adulthood, earning a degree in fine arts from the University of Texas. Even as she worked as a church administrator for more than 20 years in Austin, before she and her husband “retired” and settled in Kingsland a few years ago, Doolittle painted.
“I just love what painting allows me to do,” she said. “I can take something I see and then re-create it on the canvas. But as an artist, you don’t just re-create it, you bring things in, take things out, add highlights.”
While she paints on traditional-size canvases, she also mentioned to other guild members that she could do murals — the type you paint on a wall.
“This is the largest one I’ve done,” Doolittle said about the project at Matthews’ home.
So when you have a blank wall, where do you start? Doolittle thought about that on her drive to Matthews’ home. As she drove along RR 1431 to Texas 261, FM 2241 and finally FM 3014 to Tow, she took in the natural beauty of the area, hoping Matthews would let her bring that into the mural.
And he did. In fact, Matthews wanted her to use the local backdrop — including Lake Buchanan and the nearby flora and fauna — as her inspiration.
So with a wall as her canvas, her acrylics and oils nearby and a supportive homeowner who shared a vision, Doolittle went to work. She carved out at least four days to tackle the project. She started by penciling in an overview of the landscape — but not too detailed.
“I do very little pencil work. I do some guides, but then I just start,” she said. “I start with the background and then build on it.”
The mural features Lake Buchanan and bluffs overlooking the water from across the lake. The sun bursts through the clouds while still hidden behind them, showering lights on the bluffs, the lake and the trees in the foreground. Hummingbirds dance along the edges of the mural, and an eagle snags a fish from Lake Buchanan while its mate lands in a tree. A doe, a fawn and a buck recline on the grass, adding to the pastoral scene. Finally, an adult male cardinal flies up to a fence post where a juvenile cardinal waits.
“Everything in it comes from around here,” Matthews said. He pointed out two of the trees in the mural that actually grow in his yard. The birds and the deer? Well, they’re from the area as well. Doolittle added a few things such as an inlet across the lake and some of the bare rocks protruding through the tree-covered bluffs. Artists do that; they take what they see or create something of their own.
The trees and water “shimmer” a bit with the sun reflecting off them.
“It’s the highlights,” Doolittle explained. “The highlights are what brings paintings to life.”
Tackling a mural can be daunting, but Doolittle didn’t feel overwhelmed. She laid out the background and then began adding things. She would step back — because that’s how murals are meant to be seen and appreciated — take a good look and then go back to work.
“The sun was the most challenging part,” she admitted. Getting just the right look, light and texture took time. She’d often ask Matthews for his thoughts. He’d share some ideas, and she’d go back to work.
“He gave me a lot of freedom, but he didn’t want just a big orb there,” Doolittle said.
Friends of the homeowner came in while Doolittle was working on the mural. Several couldn’t wait to see the completed work, but others questioned why Matthews wanted it. After all, one said Matthews could have a photograph blown up and put there — at a much cheaper price.
Matthews, however, brushed it off.
“I wanted a piece of art there,” he said.
Working on a mural of this size isn’t quite the same as a painting on a more typical canvas.
“You never really know when you’re completely finished,” Doolittle said. “I would step back, look it over and then go add something or do something over here or there. And you keep doing that. But finally, you come to the point where you know it’s done.”
Now, all of Matthews’ friends see the reason behind him wanting a piece of art.
“They all love it,” he said. But more important, he loves it. “Are you kidding me? I love it. It’s better than I could have imagined. I had no concept of what I really wanted. But Diane, well, she took what I was thinking and came up with this. This is amazing. Everybody loves it.”
Even though Doolittle had this idea of what Matthews wanted, she couldn’t just “plan it.” Part of creating art means letting it happen.
“It’s all just an improvisation from what’s in my brain to what comes out,” Doolittle said.
In this case, it’s a work of art — a big work of art.