This was the most nerve-racking but fastest photo shoot I’ve done so far, but I think we laughed more than most of the other shoots too. It was very straightforward in essence, just one model (Aaron again, except he’s lost twenty pounds and looks completely different compared to when he posed for the Emperor in the Empire painting) and simple lighting using the shade of natural sunlight.
In this painting the figure has to hang upside down from one foot, so figuring out how to suspend Aaron was a bit worrying, because this was actually used as a method of execution in late medieval north Italy. But people regularly hang upside down in the gym and do crunches to strengthen their stomach muscles, wearing gravity boots that strap around their ankles and can be hooked over a bar, so I borrowed a pair from my friend Antony and we explored potential places that might be high and strong enough to support Aaron’s weight. After a few false starts in locations that we didn’t like because they weren’t safe or the light was no good (stadium bleachers, trees, a swing set), we decided on an outdoor staircase railing that was the perfect height and nicely shaded, and we were in business. Aaron regularly does upside down sit ups as part of his training for waterpolo, so we were confident that he could hang for a minute or so, and I quickly shot a lot of photos while he twisted and turned. My son Ethan helped to get him unhooked and we were done.
Looking at the pictures later was very satisfying – they’ve turned out very well. I have to be thoughtful about the height of the head in the painting so that the point of view of anyone looking at the painting is in the correct place, I want to make sure that the painting will look right if it’s hung two feet above the ground. The canvas will be very tall – about twenty feet high – so I’m looking forward to painting a lot of sky, while the landscape will be fairly small, filling only the bottom of the painting. I’ll paint the figure well above the landscape to increase the sense of height in the composition. There’s going to be lots of foreshortening too.
After shooting the photos I got back to work on the foliage in the Empress painting which is looking much more substantial after a couple of days of work. Re-doing the floor has made a big difference to it, and the leaves are looking much better. I re-painted the girls’ hair and added deeper shadows to the faces and some of the bodies, but I want to rework the flesh generally once I get through the leaves. I like the idea of adding some debris to the floor to make it look more convincing. Outdoor floors usually seem to have leaves or sticks or something scattered around them here and there. Detail!