Imaginary Paint: Lemmings with Tails

Today’s painting is based on an idea that I’ve had for a while, but only got around to painting recently. It just goes to show that writing down ideas in the moment is a good practice for me because sometimes I may have a spark of inspiration that I can’t follow up on until much later.

I got the initial idea for the painting while reading Dracula, a novel assigned to my reading group in AP English last year. I came across a part that talked about Dracula’s red glowing eyes and in my half-asleep state, I started thinking about rats with glowing red eyes. From there I was reminded of that one scene in the third Indiana Jones movie where the characters are in a corridor filled with rodents. That’s some good stuff, right?

Now you might be wondering, “Nicole, if you painted a bunch of rats then why did you name them lemmings with tails in the title?” The answer is that after I had sketched out my rough draft of the painting, I had it sitting in my room for a while; one day, my dad looked at it and said, “Is that a hoard of lemmings?”

“What’s a lemming?” I responded with much confusion, “I just drew a bunch of rats.”

“Well… lemmings are kind of like rats without tails. How could those be rats if they don’t have tails?”

What I tried to draw


What my dad thought I drew

I looked at my drawing, and it was true, I hadn’t drawn tails, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to paint them in at the end! When I explained this to my dad, he shrugged it off and jokingly said that he would only refer to my lemmings as lemmings. Upon later conversation with my dad, he told me about how lemmings commit mass suicide every couple of years to keep their population low. Because lemmings love to travel in groups, once one lemming feels like it’s getting too crowded, they jump off the cliff, and then the rest of their group follows.

After a couple of google searches, we found this to be false, simply an urban legend popularized by a Disney wildlife documentary in 1958, which categorized the legend as true and staged a scene with dozens of lemmings jumping into the ocean. After this discovery, I decided that Lemmings with Tails was an interesting name and decided to adopt it for my piece. This also makes me wonder who are the real lemmings, humans or lemmings?

Getting into technique, I used acrylics, which is my preferred type of paint because it’s easy to fix things when I mess up. It dries quickly and doesn’t make me impatient, but I can always add water or drying retarder to slow down the drying process so that I can blend things in. I also mixed in some gouache by accident (making it a mixed medium piece if you want to be technical) because I used paints my next-door neighbor gave me, which were all thrown into a ziplock bag; I thought they were all acrylic until I had already mixed in some blue gouache, but it worked out pretty well in the end.