The mad hunt for a chameleon

The mad hunt for a chameleon

As I’m sure you know, I always use a reference photo to work from when creating one of my super-realistic wildlife paintings. I never, ever use a photo without the photographer's written permission (because plagiarism is theft!).

During my search for the “little guy”, it has been necessary to search beyond the stunning portfolios of my usual go-to photographers. This is simply because of the nature of these creatures - they are shy and elusive and some are nocturnal, meaning that photos of them are rare. To make matters even more challenging, not all photos make for good paintings. This has nothing to do with how good or bad a photo is! When you think of a photo being used to create a painting, compare it to translating something from one language into another. When I think of my two languages - Afrikaans and English - it is sometimes difficult to express the same feeling or describe the same thing in both languages. Words hold connotations and emotions that may become… faded or twisted when translating. Some things are just downright impossible to translate. And that is how it is with reference photos too.

So, when I come across a photo that really, REALLY draws me in, and in my head I see the “translation” of that photo into an artwork and realise that it’s going to be fabulous, I can feel my body tingling with anticipation to get creating! This is exactly what happened when I stumbled across Tania Diekmann’s photo of a Cape Dwarf Chameleon, slowly clambering over a vibrant succulent.

The contrasting colours are just astounding! The detail in the chameleon’s scales are incredible! The little foot poised in the air creates such an amazing feeling of movement! Everything about this picture screamed, “PAINT ME!”.

I sent Tania a message on Instagram, introducing myself and my work, and expressing an interest in painting her photo. Some time went by, and I didn’t hear back from her. I wasn’t too concerned just yet - people don’t live on social media, and I still had some time before I had to start working on my next piece (I’ve set some deadlines to make sure I reach my goal of putting out a wildlife calendar before the end of the year!).

When I still hadn’t heard anything almost two weeks later, and I felt my self-inflicted deadline start to hover over me like a threatening thunder cloud, I became a little desperate…

First, like a nice normal person, I looked for alternative photos. There were a lot of beauties to choose from, but I just couldn’t get Tania’s photo out of my mind. My desperation grew. Before I could stop myself, I was scrolling through Tania’s Instagram account (in my defence - it’s a public account!), reading people’s comments on her posts, trying to judge if these people knew her personally, or if they are just random strangers saying nice things to a random stranger. In my deranged mind, I thought that if I reached out to one of them - carefully explaining the situation - they might help me get in touch with Tania (and I’m sure that’s how all stalkers try to justify their action to the police when they finally get caught doing something truly horrifying…).

But, I threw caution to the wind and sent a heartfelt plea to a complete stranger. I used words like “strange” and “intrusive”, “obsessed” and “desperate”…

The moment I hit ‘send’, I regretted it. I reread my message, considered deleting it (can you even do that on Instagram???). Then I looked at that photo again, heard the call of the Watercolour Gods, and tactfully added an extra line to the stranger: “PS. I promise I’m not a crazy person…! And I realise that’s exactly what a crazy person would say in a situation like this…”

There now, how could she possibly be creeped out by me now?!

To my great surprise and relief, the stranger replied. Tania is her mother, she will be happy to let her know I’ve reached out and she is not going to inform the police.

Not too long after, I received a response from Tania, who also thankfully found my momentary lapse into insanity endearing instead of bizarre, and gladly gave her blessing to paint her image.

And there you have it, folks. Madness persevered, and now I get to paint this incredible photo!

Watch this space

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