Every painting has a story to tell

August 16, 2023

Recently, in the process of painting the walls of our dining room, living room, and my studio, we had to take down and then rehang the many paintings we’ve collected over the years—most of them botanical art originals. In handling them, it dawned on me that every one has a story to tell.

When you think about it, no painting just starts with a subject and ends with a frame. There’s so much more to it. There’s circumstance, purpose, and process that goes on around and into it. This means that the enjoyment of a piece lies not just in the viewing, but also in the telling.

Take a look at the paintings that surround you and I’ll bet that you’ll find the same thing—every one has at least one story to tell. Some will be happy stories, some will be sad, some will be funny, and some may bring back memories and stories of friends and artists no longer with us. To illustrate, I’d like to share the story of one of my paintings, a print of which hangs in our dining room—a light-hearted story to counter some of the doom and gloom we’re bombarded with on a daily basis nowadays.

A few years ago, I was commissioned by a Canadian company to produce a scientifically accurate study of a marijuana plant in anticipation of Canada legalizing the substance. The company in question manufactured growing equipment and wanted the painting for use in their branding. As I explained to them, there was just one problem . . . I only work from live specimens and, in this case, possession of a live specimen was still illegal.

Now, everyone knew that although possession of marijuana plants was illegal, everyone also knew that plants could be had if you knew the right people. I was new to our village in Nova Scotia at the time and certainly didn’t know the right people. I began by asking neighbours and the response was the same every time: “Why are you asking me?” they’d say while taking a step back. But one person let it be known at the village yacht club’s regular Thursday evening “burgers and beer” night that I was looking for a marijuana plant. The next week at a community barbeque, people I hadn’t yet met were saying: “So you’re the person looking for a pot plant!” It was my first startling encounter with the prodigious rural grapevine.

With the pressure of an approaching deadline and no specimen, we decided to go to the single source one might usually avoid when looking for illegal drugs—the police. We called on the fairly new and impressive Royal Canadian Mounted Police station and immediately learned another lesson about rural life—the police station closes down for lunch. When we went back after lunch a young officer laughed and said that of course he knew where to find a marijuana plant but that he wasn’t going to tell us because it was still illegal. No amount of persuasion could make him place botanical art ahead of the law.

Then I had a lucky break. A new-found friend let me know that someone working on their home renovation had a license to grow a limited number of marijuana plants for treating his epilepsy. He was willing to help me out. I soon had two excellent specimens. And then I learned another new lesson—just two live marijuana plants can make your house stink like a grow op. We had to live with it though until the painting was done as we didn’t want to leave them outside where they might be seen. I returned the plants to the source who later confessed that the construction worker didn’t need the plants back. So, instead, they dried the buds and “disposed” of them themselves. An all-around win-win conclusion.

I delivered the original painting to a happy client and that would have been the end of it except for the fact that one of the “Why are you asking me?” neighbours later wondered what I had done with the plants and offered to “get rid of them” for me.

So that’s my point . . . The framed print of a marijuana plant hanging in my dining room is not just a piece of art, it also tells a story.

Unfortunately though, while the story would have been more complete with an image of the painting, I can’t show it to you here because I sold the full copyright and therefore can only show you part of an initial rough sketch.