John Singer Sargent "The Repose" Pencil Sketch

Modsterpiece: Day 1

The Modsterpiece Experiment Begins

Last Friday I commenced my half-baked scheme to get back in the swing of creating my own work. The Sunday before, I was at the National Gallery of Art in an attempt to get inspired. I was working on a painting for a friend and I just couldn’t wrap it up and finish. I needed to see some inspiration.

While I was at the NGA’s west wing, I had an epiphany. Why don’t I go back to what I did in art school and paint from great masterpieces in order to get inspired and improve my technique. I had this idea when I was surrounded by John Singer Sargent paintings. He’s always been one of my favorites, so why not start with one of his works.

Instead of using traditional paints, which are messy and require special provisions from the main office of the museum, I used my Modbook instead. For those that have never heard of a Modbook, it’s a computer tablet that is originally made from a Macbook. They rip the screen and keyboard off and substitute a Wacom pen enabled screen. It has the flexibility of an iPad, but the power of full-blown computer. The downside to the Modbook is the battery life and the weight of the machine. The program I planned on using to paint was ArtRage Pro. It’s an amazing piece of software that costs under 100 bucks!


My First Morning With the Painting
Friday was  a really dreary and overcast day which helped me stay focused on the task at hand. When I woke up that morning I didn’t have little voices in my head telling me to spend the day outside. I decided on my painting before I even made my way down to the museum. It was going to be “The Repose” from John Singer Sargent. The other painting of his were very thin without much texture. I think one of the reasons I have always responded to his work was because he wasn’t afraid to thin the oil paint to  almost just a wash of color. My painting in college were always  without texture and mostly with an exposed canvas. For some reason people think that in order to paint with oils, it has to glopped on. “The Repose” was different thought. He applied the paint more like the peers of his time — heavy handed. I thought it would be a great way to push my abilities, since this style of painting doesn’t come natural to me. I also selected this painting because it strategically has a comfy sofa directly in front of it, which will come in handy when I am sitting in that spot for hours.

I was worried about the guards giving me a hard time, but of all the museums on The Mall, the west wing of the NGA has some of the nicest guard in any museum I have ever visited. That was another reason that I thought this experience would be positive. I couldn’t imagine doing this experiment in a museum where the guards needlessly yell at the visitors or talk loudly on their cell phones. I was right in my assumption. The guards were very nice and helpful throughout the day.

Pencil sketch done in the morning session
Pencil sketch done in the morning session
Beginning the painting with color blocking
Beginning the painting with color blocking

The morning session lasted about 2 hours before I started to get hungry and my battery was also in desparate need of a charge. I was down to 24% of a charge. During those initial hours, I was able to get a decent pencil sketch down. The afternoon session only lasted a little over an hour because I wasn’t able to get a full charge back. In the afternoon I was able to begin blocking all of the color out.

Lunch and a Low Battery
When I visited the Gallery last, we ate at Merzi which is a combination of Chipotle and Indian food. It was so good I thought I would revisit, even in the rain. I was hoping for an electrical outlet at the restaurant so I could recharge the computer while I refueled, but I was out of luck. When I got back to the museum, I stood in the hallway for a little over an hour while my Modbook recharged. It wasn’t the best or most comfortable way to waste an hour. There were no seats near the outlet, so I had to stand while tourists were wondering why a man had a black bag plugged into the wall of the museum. At the end of the day, I had the brilliant idea of asking a friend to charge my computer who works in the gift shop downstairs. I wish I would have thought of it sooner!

All in all, it was an amazing experience. I enjoyed the quiet and focusing on one task. With all of the gadgets and distractions I have in my regular life, it was great to put everything on hold and just have an experience with a piece of art that I enjoy.

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