Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Big Smile Project

Dana Schutz paints people eating their arms or eating their own face. Perhaps last week I was thinking of posing for her when I ate part of my tooth for dinner. It wasn't delicious, sweet or savory. It was just a hard thing in my mouth.

But enough about my body falling apart. Let's talk about teeth.

My mother did portraits, mostly glamour shots of movies stars. Greta Garbo never sat in our kitchen posing, so I'm sure she painted from magazine photos. She also painted all the  family members. 

No one ever smiled. It's not that the family members or movie stars were sad, sullen, or sedate. My mother was afraid to paint teeth. Or anyway, she believed that teeth were really hard.

Well, they are hard when you're trying to eat them, but painting them? Why would teeth be any harder to paint than eyes or noses, or fingers.

So I put teeth to the test. I photographed John and our friends Joy and Keith at breakfast last Sunday. Then I printed out their faces and started painting. 

Joy Powell's great smile.
Here's what I learned. For me, a tooth is a hard form, solid with distinct lights and shadows. Pretty straight forward painting. Lips, however, are trickier, delicate, especially at the corners of the mouth where there are folds of inner skin. The top edge of the upper lip is soft, not a solid color distinction.

Painting smiles was the most fun I've had in ages. When I went to bed, I wanted to get back up and go look at them again.

Today I saw Dr. Gibney, my dentist. I have a new temporary tooth and a camera full of photos. In future posts I'll show my dentist's, dental hygienist's, and receptionist's smiles. Isn't this fun.

Now I want to paint close-ups of everyone I know smiling. Hmmm. This could become a series.

So here's my conclusion. When we think something is hard to do, we should at least try it. (You could apply this to other areas of life besides painting, however, I'm still not going to take up sky diving.) 

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