From the Studio

thoughts on art and process in action from a contemporary artist

About models: the Mother face

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The impact on models on a piece is often overlooked.  The Mother’s face in this piece was very important to me, and so the right model was essential.  As I was working on this another artist in the studio commented on how good the models for this were, and so I will share my thinking.

I had a few faces in mind to reference for the Mother, but I resisted my obvious choice initially to make certain it wasn’t just a default, but  Krystyna turned out to be a perfect choice.

Both of the models I used are mutual friends, and the man (Dan) models professionally. I picked Dan for the great slender definition in his  arms and legs, his curly hair and the fact that he was smaller than Krys (who is tall and big-boned).  It made for a better suggestion of Child in relation to her.  The fact they we were all friends made it easier to get them to pose comfortably for the reference photos I wanted.  I was also fortunate to have another mutual friend who is a photographer (also named Dan).  He was able to bring in all the lighting equipment and get just the lighting conditions I wanted.  I think the best results happen with people I’m really comfortable with, and I was extra fortunate in this case.

Though I always meant to change the woman’s features somewhat to blend between several ethnicities, I wanted to start with a face that had similarities to the Madonnas painted by the Renaissance masters (which Krys had).  I also wanted to find a little bit of a genetic mish-mash to launch from.  Krys’s grandparents are from Uruguay and Poland, with great grandparents from Lebanon, Italy, Catalonia (Spain), Germany and the Ukraine.  Even still I will be darkening her skin (which is extremely pale) and referencing a few other faces as I go from here to get a more universal look.

One thing was very important to me:  I would not have used a woman who was not an actual mother for main reference. I feel that there was something in motherhood that changes your face and range of expressions like nothing else.  I remember being able to recognize a mother-face as a young child, and to distinguish mother-faces from women who worked with children a lot and loved children (which were also notable).   At the same time, I know a nurse who has an infinitely tender and compassionate face (and is also a genetic mish-mash) who I will use as a secondary reference as I continue the painting.

My own mother is a cultural anthropologist (a student of Margaret Mead) who collected images of women and children from all over the world.  I was surrounded by them as a child and they have stayed with me.  While the image is now predominantly associated with Catholicism now, I have always seen it as much more ancient and universal.

It occurred to me as I was painting yesterday that I had actually been there when Krys gave birth to her daughter, the very first birth I’ve seen.   Afterwards (in her exhaustion) she had reminded me of a picture of my own mother taken after my birth.  They had the same color and length of hair and she was holding her baby in the same pose as the picture.  So in a way this model was a more perfect choice than I consciously realized at the time.

*later note*  At the holiday Open Studio, a man walked up to my space in such a way that he saw my source photo of her face before he saw the painting.  His response to the photo was “I love her face!  She’s a mother, isn’t she?” 

Written by Mary Corey March

December 9, 2011 at 11:48 pm

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