Last winter, Bonnie bleu Cotier threw paint at "The Map of Georgetown, Spring 1985." It seemed as though the aerial painting, intended to detail every house, street, window and awning in Georgetown, would never be finished. For two years Cotier had worked on it night and day, receiving no salary for her efforts. And her sponsors -- several Georgetown merchants who supplied some of the materials for the project -- were beginning to lose faith. One even told her flat out that it wasn't worth anything, she says.
But Cotier wiped off the splatter of gray paint before it damaged the work, and went on for yet another year to complete it.
"I couldn't not do it anymore," she says. "I was under contract with all these other people the merchants that something had to hang for a year -- no matter where it hung, it still had to hang for a year."
And not to have finished, she says, would have made her feel like a quitter and a failure.
"There were tears, but she's got stamina," says her husband Damon, who not only supported the project financially, but also got hit by some of the flying paint -- accidentally, of course. "She has tremendous drive. You have to have drive to put in eight to 12 hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, to finish it. There was no way to shortcut the detail."
The 5-by-7-foot acrylic-on-wood painting was unveiled last week at Hamburger Hamlet, one of her most loyal sponsors. A laminated 4-by-6-foot reproduction with a legend noting the 28 businesses that helped her along the way is on permanent display on a wall outside the restaurant. And to help recover some of the costs, Cotier plans to sell posters of the map along with "Map of Georgetown" sweat shirts.
The project began three years ago when several merchants commissioned Cotier, an illustrator, to do a painting that would represent Georgetown's shops and businesses. One suggested something like a Metro map, with a blue line for Wisconsin Avenue, a red line for M Street and little dots marking the shops and businesses. Though Cotier liked the idea of a map, she felt a subway map wouldn't quite capture the feeling of Georgetown.
After seeing a black-and-white aerial photograph of the area, she decided that her view of Georgetown would be from the air. Before drawing a line, Cotier spent four months walking every street in Georgetown, photographing all the houses, shops and parks. She also flew over the area several times in the winter months when the trees were bare.
From the black-and-white photo, she began to draw rough sketches, making three arbitrary horizontal lines across the paper to indicate the foreground, middle and background, and then filling in the three areas with grids. At the top of the painting is Sheridan Circle and upper Wisconsin Avenue; at the bottom the Potomac River and Key Bridge. Georgetown University stretches along the left-hand border and Rock Creek Parkway along the right. Neither the perspective nor the proportion is true.
"It's way off in left field. It's definitely in fairyland, that's for sure," she says, rolling her eyes. "I squeezed in as much as I possibly could."
Georgetown, she explains, is a horizontal rectangle. But because the painting originally was to be hung in a doorway, she had to convert it to a vertical rectangle, mathematically calculating the angles of the buildings and how they would be distorted. The result is an interesting elongation of the buildings, particularly in the foreground of the work.
When she had completed the final drawing, Cotier spent a month transferring it onto the wood and then a year and a half painting it. She mixed more than 200 colors -- if the shapes of the buildings couldn't be accurate, she could at least strive for true-to-life colors.
Although most of her research for the work was done during the fall and winter months, the map depicts Georgetown in spring -- the season, Cotier says, that shows Washington at its best.
Cotier, a Washington native, says she can't recall a time when she wasn't painting. Her parents, both artists, handed her pencils and pads when she was a child. She attended private art classes as a youngster, and did commissions for private individuals as a teen-ager. When she arrived at Catholic University to study art, she says she was ahead of the other students and often bored with art classes. She switched to the University of Maryland to study textile chemistry, math and clothing design, modeling part time to earn money -- as she did the first year of the Georgetown project.
Now that it's finally over, Cotier says she isn't sure yet whether it was worth it. She says there are things to forget: The merchant who ridiculed her work without seeing it. The two months of hearings before the zoning commission, the Georgetown Fine Arts Commission and the D.C. Fine Arts Commission to get approval to hang the map. The long hours. Being broke.
But she does admit that she learned a lot about running a business, about contracts, about how to deal with lawyers and, most importantly, about patience.
"I'm just so thrilled that it's over with. Chapter closed. Next page. I know I did the best job I could have done," she says, adding emphatically that she won't do a map again.