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Project Commentaries: I Will Uphold Thee by Elspeth Young
By Al R. Young
I Will Uphold Thee (Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Rollins)
by Elspeth Young
Today commemorates the 160th anniversary of the event this painting depicts. The two courageous young women represented in this image saved stacks of precious pages of sacred text from a bloodthirsty mob hundreds strong. In honor of the day (and with Pioneer Day coming shortly), we thought readers might enjoy just a few highlighted entries from Elspeth's extensive painting log kept during the painting process in 2011:
I had a very successful photo shoot with the models for the Book of Commandments painting. I have never had such fearless, good-natured models before. They reminded me of Helaman's stripling warriors who "performed every word of command with exactness" no matter the personal cost. In stifling heat they wore heavy costuming and bravely rolled about in the dirt with ants crawling all over them, while [still] maintaining character, dignity, and grace. The research and pre-production work on this painting has already taken six months.
20 August. I finally put my brush to the panel and began painting . . . I began by blocking-in the sky. I want it to express the mob. While they are not physically present in the painting, I felt a stormy scene would communicate [the mob's] influence and presence. While I was painting it, I realized it also reminds the viewer of the Lord's words to Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail: "Though the Heavens gather blackness . . . all these things shall give thee experience." The sky block-in went well.
8 September. I took my first assay into painting the corn field--I see that many hours will be expended in this way. I'ts quite a yellow, green, blue, ochre, white, and gray labyrinth."
9 September. This painting represents a great many "firsts" for me--today was the first time I ever painted a set-in sleeve--at least where the shoulder sleeve is visible. Small tucks and gathers are new (but exciting) terrain. Spent a great deal of time doing what I call "watching" my painting: close observation, trying to absorb what is good and what needs work. I've decided to forgo any pattern on Mary's dress, as I believe any pattern would be visually visceral. . . I've never painted a fabric which reflects so many colors!
20 September. [Continues to be] more hours of corn torture. What a fractal puzzle!
10 October. [These weeks] have been many more hours of--you guessed it--CORN. But at last, I am beginning to be able to glaze and scumble to increase contrast and space and lighting.
28 October. Today I began working on the corn in the foreground. It is amazing what it does to draw the viewer into the painting, even though (technically speaking) it actually divides the viewer from the figures. It is as though the viewer has to push his/her own way through a little corn to get to the action. I must confess I am besotted with this painting. I can't take my eyes off it!
19 November. I have been working on refining the corn to Mary's right, and redoing the bonnet laces at Mary's throat. I wasn't happy with the former positioning and so I tacked the ribbon arrangement I wanted to my easel, attached a golden reflector next to it to simulate the correct sunset lighting, and have painted from life. Edging ever closer!
24 November. I have taken pains to work on lightening Carloine's complexion with light greens, yellows, and blues. (Previously, in my painting she was favoring the coloring of a lobster.) I also pulled out the galley page facsimiles I made and worked from life to add texture to Mary's pages. I imitated the texture which naturally resulted from the models' activity [during] the photo shoot. It gives a wonderful feeling of authenticity not to have the pages white and pristine. They feel much more as though a mob handled them first.
30 November. Well, the palette is clean, the last brush has been washed, and the painting is complete. I signed it in the lower right corner, using my usual mixture of cad yellow and scarlet.