Monday, October 7, 2013

Creating Dred Scott - part 2

Putting it all together.

After approval was given to forge ahead with the paintings, I had an important decision to make.  Who would pose as Dred and Harriet Scott? If I had needed to create recurring African – American characters for a picture book, I would have selected appropriate African - American models, as I did in the past with Gwenyth Swain's Riding to Washington. The situation this time was different. I would be replacing my model’s faces with the faces of Dred and Harriet.  

Therefore, I opted to go the “easy” route, and could get away with using a pair of Anglo-Saxons – my wife and myself.  We are simply the cheapest and most accessible models I have ever used.

As Harriet Scott, my dear wife dressed in an 1830’s pattern dress she had hand-stitched a few years ago. Without this valuable piece of costuming, I would have had to modify the photos of Pat wearing a dress from a different time period, which is pretty common for me.  I rarely have all the costumes and props exactly as I need them, and end up becoming a type of tailor armed with pencil and eraser, with a stack of costume books and internet images underfoot.

 Pat as Harriet - she's chopping vegetables on a box of miniature soldiers.

I showed Pat my preliminary sketch and then we posed her standing in my cluttered studio, with light coming from two directions to simulate both window and firelight.  Thank goodness for cheap clamp-on lights from our local hardware store. Pat even sliced some small, red 19th century appropriate potatoes for me while she stood there, which we later ate prepared with green beans and her home-made pesto. Yum.

Normally I would set up the camera on a tripod with a 10 second delay on the timer, and pose for myself, but this I wanted to do it right.  I made a phone call to our dear friend and neighbor, Rebecca (artist/photographer/thrower of awesome Halloween parties), and she shot photos of me posing in the raking, morning sunlight. The folks driving past my home in South Minneapolis are becoming used to the sight of me, Pat and a host of neighbors and friends in costume, play-acting for the camera in the yard or on the sidewalk. We have never been visited by the police after one of these affairs – even when posing with guns – so I count myself lucky. 

Me as a well-fed and freshly laundered Dred Scott.

For my role as Dred Scott, I was able to get away with wearing my early 19th century clothing and  doing a few pencilled alterations. I also found it necessary to erase a few pounds from around my belly and jawline; Dred Scott would not have had access to the array of snacks that are my great weakness.

Photoshop is my friend.

The axe head and chopping block came from a photo taken at the fort.

In Photoshop I combined the pose photos with the background photos or sketches and printed out both pieces at full size on my printer. These prints will become my comprehensive sketch and also my tracing sketch.

Finally, using the only images I have found of the Scotts, I broke out my pencils, sharpies, and white paint and began to carefully draw right on top of the printed references, Dred’s face on top of mine and Harriet’s face on Pat's.  This involved shifting the position of eye sockets, noses, etc., and worked surprisingly well.  At this point I also drew some of the details of the Scott’s environments, but left much to the painting phase.

Much better!

It's quick and not very pretty, but sketches like this make my life a LOT easier.

In a few days I will post Part 3, where I talk about transferring the sketches and painting the final pieces.  Cheers!


  1. Wow! This window into the process of creating art is fascinating! I can't wait to see the end result.

    1. Thanks - I am always afraid that this may seem tedious or self-indulgent.

    2. I agree with Johnny Rosbif; the more we learn about a painting and the process that went into it, the more we can appreciate it. I got a laugh from Pat's pesto treatment. I wonder if there were any like substitutes in those times around Minnesota, from the herbs and oils obtainable from local plants. Hmm ....

    3. I am sure salt pork would have been tastier with SOME assistance.