ANIMAL’s new feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their idea sketch next to a finished piece. This week, artist Molly Crabapple shows us an initial sketch from her medical crisis-themed painting from the Shell Game series. We love the incredible amount of detail that ends up on these canvases, each mouse face, each fat cat paw, the twisted allegorical cabaret of it all. Keep up with Molly’s progress on her Tumblr.

Business of Illness is part of my series of Shell Game paintings. It’s 6 feet by 4 feet. When I make something that big and that detailed, I start with a series of insane monkey sketches. Epic scrawl that only I can decode. I don’t even think this sketch is the roughest — I vaguely remember one where she looks like a one-eyed sexy nurse made of ooze. Once I have composition hammered out in these sketches, I do a hyper detailed 20″ x 27″ watercolour and ink drawing. This will have every line that I’ll have in the final painting, and it will be where I figure out all the actual detail of which cat pops which bubble.

The lines that I make in these rough sketches are for me. They don’t have to be pretty, or even particularly clear. They just spell out the basic lineaments of what’s going to become a pretty elaborately decorated slab of wood. They’re the equivalent of the illegible notes a novelist might scribble in his Moleskine, as opposed to the carefully constructed sentences of his finished work.

Painting the actual painting takes 3-4 weeks, 10 hours a day, during which I don’t get dressed or brush my hair and largely devolve to a feral troll state. I have five more pieces in this series to go.

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