My son returned a trio of paintings of Indians (a trip to an Indian pow-wow was this result) that I had given him some years ago (he had decorated his home in the southwestern style). As time went on he wanted to change the décor so I got my Indians back. Inspiration hit. Now – I went on line to see if I could find any photos. I found a treasure trove of photos by Edward Curtis that the copyright had expired. These photos were taken in the late 1800’s. So! I can use them. I’m off and running. I also found more photos on a government research archive website. Whee!!
Inspiration can come from almost anything – anyone – any circumstance. Sometimes I feel I have more inspiration than time.
So, let’s explore where I want to take this new inspiration. The three paintings I “loaned” my son are focused on the color and excitement of the dancers at the pow-wow. These paintings do not do much for the faces. Now I want to take it in a different direction. The next group will focus on close up portraiture. I’m going to really look at these people, their culture and their uniqueness as a race. A look back into the past and the time that made them so interesting. This is going to be so much fun!
OK – I have the photos printed. Most of them are about 3”x 4” to about 5” x 7”. I need to translate those measurements into a standard canvas or board. I use standard sizes because it’s just easier to find frames at reasonable prices. Looking at the shapes of the photos, I’m seeing that the “Chief Sitting Bear” will work well on a 16”x 20. We’ve done this before – the glass with the taped edges, the lines marked in thirds (like a tic tack toe game) the drawing on the canvas (review Portraiture Part One). Now we will follow the steps, one by one, just like we did before. I will take each photo and do exactly the same thing.
The photos are in black and white so I’m going to have to do a lot of imagining for color. Most of my research indicates that the American Indian’s skin color is close to the Hispanic. I will also look at how other artists have handled this color. Harley Brown’s book will probably be my best bet.
All this is the prep work to do a reasonably good painting. In looking at the photos I have, I must now do a little preliminary deciding. How many paintings in this series? If I’m going to reveal culture, how to do that? Why do I want to do this series? That’s the hardest question to answer. I want to do this because I’ve seen the American Indian portrayed in so many ways, some downright silly, some in a brutal manner, some in a way that just wants to exploit them. Who are these people? I look at these pictures as a portrait artist to find the heart, maybe the soul of them. There are faces I want to explore – to try to find the person the picture portrays. As a portrait artist I find these faces interesting, fascinating. I want to explore these people and their culture. I can only ask for the Creator’s help and hope I can measure up to the challenge.
I’ve chosen 12 photos that I really like. The best way to do this is to lay out all of the photos (I have about 40 of them) and start eliminating them until you have a reasonably cohesive group – some men some – women – at least a couple of children. I found some pottery and a painted deerskin. So, the tentative number of paintings is about 15 (including the three I’ve already painted. I may paint them all or I may not. This is all very tentative.
I painted “The Lion of Judah” in the summer of 2002, which was the start of “A Missionary Journey in Africa”. I had no idea that that “start” would result in 27 paintings of the animals and people of Africa. That series is in Minneapolis, serving a mission called Agora to immigrants from Africa. So, you never know what’s in store for the paintings you do when you are inspired.
I will start with five photos. Chief Sitting Bear, another man with a buffalo headdress (horns and all!), a lake scene complete with canoe and reeds, a young woman in a beautiful buckskin dress and finally a wonderful elderly chief sitting on his horse. I will use these photos carefully and with respect toward the photographer who took them so long ago. He was trying to show these people with respect and true admiration of them and their culture. His name will go on every canvas that I paint of his work. I only hope I can do him and the work justice.