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Old 01-28-2008, 02:53 PM   #11
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Thank you, Mary Ann, Marina, Enzie and Carol! I appreciate your staunch support and very nice comments!

The family lives in London, and we were going to England on a trip to visit our daughter who was studying at Cambridge for a semester. (In fact we met Ilaria at the Tate Britain during this trip.) Originally we were going to arrange things so I would have several days to visit them, sketch the children, and take photos, but we had a scheduling conflict. The day after our arrival in London, they were flying to the U.S.! So I had only about 3 hours to accomplish everything. The circumstances were less than ideal, but I managed to sketch them while they ate lunch, then set things up while they changed into their outfits.

Their mother helped out a lot before I arrived, by sending me photos of their living room from different angles. From the photos I identified the pieces of furniture I wanted to use: the couch, the chair, the folding screen, and the coffee table. The oriental rug worked very well. We moved the furniture around at right angles to the windows, so we could catch the natural light.

I took about 100 photos. If I had been able to come back the next day, I would have taken 100 more! But after a couple of hours the children were out of sorts. The usual variety of dynamics went on between them, plus they were just plain tired of posing. Normally I never attempt to capture children in a single photo session, but I had to.

When I got back home I studied all the photos, I was looking for these things:

1) The best poses and expressions of each child
2) How these poses might work together and provide interaction
3) A composition that would break up the boy/girl stereotypes (i.e. not having the girls watching while the boys played chess)
4) A composition that would not be boys on one side, girls on the other
5) Not all the children looking at the viewer
6) but avoiding too many looking away or down, which might have weakened one side of the composition
7) One or two children "inviting" the viewer into the painting
8) Different activities on different spatial planes that crossed over a bit.
9) Head sizes relatively similar, but still creating depth

Well, I could go on and on. Needless to say, it took some thought. I first made a sketch for the clients, then a photo-montage. When these were approved, I estimated the size and got that approved. The clients were wonderful during the whole process--helpful and not trying to impose their taste. Possibly their taste was similar to begin with (I had done a portrait of the children's grandfather about ten years ago), but I appreciated having their trust.
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Old 01-28-2008, 03:03 PM   #12
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Oh, Ilaria! And to think we saw you the following day, and observed a few Sargents and many Hogarths! That may have influenced me. Thank you so much for your enthusiasm. It means a lot.

I forgot to answer the specific question about whether I took separate photos of each child. I got many group shots, which helped to document the space, though in the painting I corrected for photo distortion. (Garth helped advise me on this, and with other perspective issues, on a visit to my studio as I was struggling with the portrait.) I also took individual shots, and smaller group shots. They tended to wander in and out but I had the help of their mother and nanny, who kept getting them back in place while I snapped away. I find that the resolution on my digital images is good enough that I can use any photo of any one person and enlarge it to get all the detail I need--a huge advantage of digital photography.
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Old 01-28-2008, 05:12 PM   #13
Mary Cupp Mary Cupp is offline
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You mention the correction for some of the distortions of photography. This is what strikes me about your construction of space. It feels so natural. Could you go into a bit of detail about how you make this adjustment. It could be most instructive. Thanks.
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Old 01-28-2008, 10:21 PM   #14
Thomasin Dewhurst Thomasin Dewhurst is offline
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Really wonderful painting, Alex. So beautifully and intelligently composed. I also think the lit panel on the blue screen behind the children is a perfect compositional element - beautiful in itself, and also brilliant at bringing the whole painting together. And such lovely brushwork. I am so pleased to have seen this today. (Congratulations, too, on your recent honour at the PSOA outdoor light competition. So well deserved!)
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Old 01-29-2008, 09:46 AM   #15
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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Thank you, Mary and Thomasin!

Mary, to answer you question about photographic distortion, I tried to correct for it while taking photos by standing as far back from the group as possible. I stood about 15 feet away and crouched down slightly so I was only a little above the taller children's heads (standing). I was trying to minimize the foreshortening of their lower bodies. Still, there was a problem of the children on the couch being quite a bit smaller than the children in front of the couch. I think this was due to the fact that I had to adjust my zoom lens to a wide angle to get everyone into the group shots. The distortion was lessened when I zoomed in to more like 55 mm (old-fashioned equivalent) and focused on one or two in the group. I played with printed copies of the figures, printed at different sizes, eyeballing what I thought looked right. Garth Herrick came over to my studio to see the progress and he thought I could go farther in minimizing the difference in size. (It always helps to have another artist's eye!) I just kept going until it looked right. I then made a photo-pastiche of the children at corrected sizes, and planned my composition and canvas size from that. I hope that explains my process.

Thomasin, glad you appreciate the panel on the screen. When the children's mother sent me pictures of their living room, I was immediately enthusiastic about using the screen as a background, but I didn't want to make the panels all dark (too flat) or completely alternating (too repetitive) Picking out one panel to catch more light seemed like a good solution, also drawing attention to the action in the center of the portrait. Thank you also for mentioning the recent PSA award!
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Old 01-29-2008, 12:18 PM   #16
Enzie Shahmiri Enzie Shahmiri is offline
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It sounds like you had your work cut out for you. You did a superb job given all the constraints. Thank you for explaining the process of how you developed the painting.
Enzie Shahmiri
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Old 01-29-2008, 01:29 PM   #17
Tom Edgerton Tom Edgerton is offline
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THIS is a stunning painting...

as much for what isn't here as for what is.

My first reaction is that it blows most of children's portraiture since the Boit Children out of the water.

I appreciate your insight into the decision making process too.
"The dream drives the action."
--Thomas Berry, 1999
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Old 01-29-2008, 05:46 PM   #18
Alexandra Tyng Alexandra Tyng is offline
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You are welcome, Enzie.

Tom--thank you ! I appreciate your feelings very much. BTW, your portraits of children are among my favorites, possibly for some of the same reasons.
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Old 01-29-2008, 07:04 PM   #19
Tony Pro Tony Pro is offline
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Nice work!
Was nice to see you again at the Mancini show!
Tony Pro

"ART when really understood is the province of every human being."
-Robert Henri, The Art Spirit
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Old 01-29-2008, 08:33 PM   #20
Chris Saper Chris Saper is offline
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Dear Alex,

I am totally bowled over by this painting - it really merits so much study, and I feel that I need to go back to it many times over.

It's as complex and successful a composition as I've seen, not only pictorially, but in its narrative. There is a lively dynamic among the children, yet each child's image could stand alone as a successful portrait. I think this is VERY rare to see.

I think it is even harder to DO. There is a lot to be said for sustaining your artistic/emotional/visceral stamina throughout such a piece. You have stayed fresh through every hour (and I am sure there must have been many) without losing focus.

Thank you for posting all. It is such a pleasure to see your work.
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