My love for Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Waifs began with Tim Burton’s movie “Big Eyes” about her tumultuous life. I appreciated that he didn’t paint her as totally non-complicit. Humans are complicated creatures and are never all good or all bad.
Margaret wanted to make art in a time where female artists weren’t being taken seriously. Walter waltzes in with his big personality and does what she can’t. He hits the pavement and markets the pieces, and markets himself. As a man, I’m sure it was easier for him to do so.
Once upon a time a college art professor told me that talent only goes so far. No matter how good an artist is, no one is going to come knocking on their door to buy their art. To make a living, an artist will need to sell their work and on some level sell themselves. A buyer doesn’t just want something pretty to hang on their wall. They want a story, the artist’s story.
Tim Burton did an excellent job with the film and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should! So inspired by Margaret Keane’s soulful eyes, I decided to paint a portrait of my son Judah who has big beautiful eyes. Coincidentally Margaret Keane was inspired to paint children by her daughter.
From start to finish it probably took me two years to complete — being a mom of a busy 4 year old boy and the birth of a new baby kept me busy, so I only worked on it a little at a time.
As it was nearing completion, I had a work incident (where I’m a boss) that painted me the villain. Being a mom I was used to being the bad guy, but that day, that moment, I was frustrated with my bad rap.
Was I really a bad guy? I am direct and honest… sensitive people might call this tactless. I accept that, but I never intentionally hurt people. I don’t hold grudges or seek vengeance when I feel I’ve been wronged. I move on and do my best to let it go. Time and energy are precious these days I’d rather not waste it on negativity.
As I contemplated my villain status an idea struck. I’m a fan of a good villain with a compelling backstory. As a tween I watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula at least 100 times. My heart broke for the cursed man who tragically lost the love of his life.
Already loving how my son Judah’s portrait was turning out I decided to create villains with the signature Margaret Keane big eyes. I purchased a new iPad pro and Apple Pencil which is an artist mama’s dream come true. Its compact size makes it easy to pull out here and there when I can find the time with little to no fuss.
My first Bitty Baddy was Disney’s iconic Maleficent. Still learning the iPad software she was a little rough, but I could see the potential for a series.
Second was Cruella with her two-toned hair holding a scared dalmatian puppy. As I created them I often considered their origin story. If they didn’t have one established sometimes I’d write them. I would lay in bed and wonder how life twisted them into villains.Eventually I did Donald Trump who I, as a bleeding-heart liberal democrat, consider a villain. As I worked on him I considered that to some people, he’s a hero, and wondered how much of villainy is perspective.
I did a presentation for a girl scout troop and they questioned my choice of Edward Scissorhands. They said he wasn’t a villain and while I agreed with them I pointed out that the townspeople thought he was and the movie ends with him living alone in the mansion on the hill. They weren’t convinced so I asked them if they knew who George Washington was? They did, so I asked them if they thought he was a hero. They said of course he was. I then asked them to consider how the British felt about George Washington during the revolution. To them he was a rebel who was stealing their land. To them, he was a villain. They were silent a moment so I took this opportunity to lecture them a bit about their parents who can sometimes seem like “bad guys.” When parents make decisions they have their children’s best interests at heart and sometimes that means seeming the villain and saying “no” if their child is potentially engaging in activities that could put them at risk.
To date I’ve done almost forty Bitty Baddies. I plan to participate in various Michigan Comic Cons. I make art prints, postcards, pendants and pins that I sell at the Raven Café in Port Huron, Michigan. I also have most of them available on REDBUBBLE for purchase.