I’m going to say it straight out — I love this whimsical watercolor.
I don’t care how long I live, how many paintings I do, or how well I ever master the medium of watercolor, this will always be one of my very favorite pieces. It makes me happy. I love looking at it. Just as I loved the weirdness of my Alien Vegetables Flying through Space, I love the casualness of this painting as well as its colors.
Obviously I made no serious attempt to copy Cassatt’s painting. That wasn’t the purpose behind this project, and this, by the way, is only the beginning of the project. I have more I plan to do, but after finishing this watercolor exercise, I was so enamored of my little piece of art that I couldn’t wait to share it.
This playful project began when I read an article in Artist magazine about Zoey Frank, an awesome artist who took the essential shapes of a famous painting — The Raft of Medusa by Thericault — and used that as inspiration for an incredible painting of her own. Her painting — a wedding scene — has nothing to do with Medusa, rafts, or the sea. It was simply the positions of the colors and figures that drew her attention.
You can read about her painting and the process here: Wedding by Zoey Frank
What does this have to do with my simple little watercolor? Well, whenever I read articles in Artist magazine, I’m inspired. I like to take each article and turn it into a “hands-on” project so that I can learn as much as possible. Just as Zoey Frank had done, I wanted to take a famous painting and… uh… well… what could I possibly do?
I could explore the shapes and colors, I decided. It sounded like a good painting project, a good learning experience. The only problem with my plan was that I had absolutely no idea how to go about it, where to begin, what steps to take.
And then I visited My Life as an Artist, Janet Weight Reed’s blog. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing that morning. She’d taken a famous painting — The Tiger Hunt by Peter Paul Rubens — and used it as a creative springboard for her watercolor work. I read and re-read her article, hungrily seizing on ideas for my own “famous work” project.
I knew at once what famous painting would become my “jumping off” point. I’ve loved Mary Cassatt’s “Child’s Bath” since I was a child. It’s been part of my personal experience of art forever.
After telling Janet of my project and getting a few encouraging words from her — thank you, Janet — I downloaded an image of Cassatt’s painting. Compared to The Raft of Medusa, and The Tiger Hunt, my choice was simple and quiet. Why had I chosen it?
Exploring the painting was the first part of my project. What is it about this painting that appeals to me? What are the essential elements of art that stand out in the scene of a mother and child?
It was the harmony and gentle rhythm about the painting that I loved most, and these are the qualities I’m now exploring through the project. But first, I wanted to re-create the feeling of this painting with my own simple line drawing. I wanted to feel the movement, the gracefulness of the shapes. I wanted to experience the innocence and intimacy of The Child’s Bath through my own drawing.
I sketched it out in a very gentle way, doing nothing more than trying to capture the essential lines in the painting. To be honest, I was shocked when I looked at my drawing. It actually — in its own unique way — resembled the painting.
For quite some time my drawing sat nearby. I continued thinking about The Child’s Bath, looking at the methods by which Cassatt created those gentle, peaceful feelings. I admired her use of color, studied the folds in the fabric, and marveled at the delicate details.
After literally “soaking it up” for a time, I finally grabbed my paints and began putting color to my drawing. I loved every brushstroke. I made mistakes — accidentally painting over the woman’s hand was one — but the mistakes didn’t matter. It was the feeling I wanted to experience, and I did.
I absolutely loved making this playful watercolor, and I absolutely love looking at it now. From here, I’ll explore these lines and colors and the mood of the painting in other ways, maybe using other media. No matter what else I might do with this project, though, I will always love this painting.