A few years ago, I was in Cambridge and saw a museum scene in Cambridge of children relaxed and attentive on the floor of a gallery, contemplating and studying the art.
A patron asked if he could commission a new version with a similar vibe since the first one had sold this past summer. It was a familiar scene I have seen over and over again no matter where I go, a classic…students immersed in the art. So I took it on, trying to be original but capturing the fun and excitement of young students visiting the museum that had worked so well in the former painting.
I chose The National Gallery of Art this time, in Washington DC. I never have a total preconception of what I will paint. I always figure I’ll know it when I see it. I knew I wanted young children in school uniforms visiting a museum. I found lots of school groups. But not the age I wanted. So I kept looking.
When I walked up to the museum on an early weekday morning reconnaissance mission, I was pleased to see a group of children, in uniforms, sitting on the curb outside the museum. I had my potential reference, at least for poses and styling details.
I went in to the Museum, and walked through the galleries trying to decide on the art I wanted to showcase. When I walked in to the gallery with the vivid colors of Caillebotte, I made my choice, and shot several photographs of different angles.
Then for the school group. I found the children again, and took enough photos of different poses from the back so as not to identify them, to get positions and poses.
I went home to sketch and realized I still wasn’t sure about proportions in the space. So back to the Museum for an hour or two of watching children come in and out of the room to determine height and proportion in relationship to the art and room. Perspective was tough.
Finally I had it. I looked online for different uniform combinations, and decided on the blue, gray and black to compliment the colors in the art. And only then was I ready for the weeks of sketching and painting and playing with colors and shadow.
Luckily, we were all pleased with results. More often than not I try to capture models in an actual scene and then change them enough so they suit the scene. Much easier than the cut and paste method, but with perseverance, this worked out well.
“Child’s Play”, oil on linen, 24 x 30″