At artist Walt Spitzmiller's home in rural Redding, Conn. last week, the late afternoon sun was filtering through the white pines and flaming yellow forsythia that grows outside his studio. Inside, Spitzmiller, 41, was relaxing after nine weeks of arduous work. He had finally finished the illustrations for Ernest Hemingway's moving story of an elephant hunt (page 58), taken from the soon-to-be-published novel The Garden of Eden.
"When I got this assignment, I was jubilant, excited," says Spitzmiller. "Next, I was scared to death." Indeed, painting the legendary Hemingway and illustrating his work are not tasks for the faint of heart. Spitzmiller found himself waking up nightly at 3 a.m. and heading for the studio.
He produced a dozen portraits of the writer before settling on the ones that appear on the cover and on page 58. "I couldn't quit trying," says the artist, "until I got the mystique that the man conveys—and commands. This story is so rich and full. Hemingway truly understood the predator and the hunted."
To get into the appropriate Hemingway state of mind, Spitzmiller began by buying a bottle of Scotch ( Hemingway's favorite libation) and drinking half of it. Then Spitzmiller reread The Sun Also Rises and A.E. Hotchner's biography, Papa Hemingway.
A certain amount of interpretation was required as well. Spitzmiller assembled some 100 photographs from wildlife books and his own personal files to come up with just the right elephant for the huge beast that "covered the moon." In one painting he included a flock of marabou storks, which were not mentioned by the author but almost certainly would have been found in the country where the story takes place. Predictably in a story involving elephants, Africa and a famous writer, Spitzmiller worked big, painting on canvases as large as 3 by 4 feet. "I felt the need to expand," he says.
Of his own style, Spitzmiller says, "It's somewhat impressionistic, but I approach things in an abstract expressionist way." How's that again? Spitzmiller laughs and says, "What I do is throw down the paint and see if it works."
Seems to us that it works very well indeed.