Who's This Happy Fellow?

The path to finished art takes more twists and turns than many would expect.

Take for instance one illustration in which I must depict George Washington, age 26, smiling by the light of a campfire. Setting aside concerns of my art skills getting rusty or overly challenged in general, how does one draw a young George Washington? Lit by a campfire? While smiling?

I considered several options. Finding a model who resembles him was top of the list. But the this presents other concerns, not least of which is where to find a person who looks like George Washington at age 26. Assuming I could find that person, when would we meet? Would they be paid? Would they be able to "act" (smile for the camera)?

I finally decided to spend a lot of time researching what is known about young George and then I created a bust of him which I can light and study any way I want.

To my surprise it worked well. I used a digital skull model, a facial reconstruction of 19-year-old George, photos of a friend from the UK, some Brad Pitt pictures, a mirror (me), a crash course in forensic arts, vague recollections of my college lessons (superciliary arch and zygomatic process!) and a couple pounds of Plastilene clay and came up with the maquette you see above. This will be my model for the final painting.

In the finished image George will be warmly lit from below by a campfire, seated across from his friend Wynonah. She may be sculpted as well. The full figures including costumes will be dealt with separately (more yet-to-be-discovered innovation on the way) and then the bodies will be seamlessly blended with the head models in the final artwork.

I'll have to create maquettes of other characters, and I plan to permanently cast these in plaster (time to brush up on mold making skills too). It's a lot of work but well worth it.

Best of all, my model needs no acting skills because he is permanently smiling!