Yesterday I spent the day at Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, Maine, doing mural research in the photo library. It was a fascinating day looking through hundreds of vintage photographs. This kind of research is enjoyable but is also essential for this type of mural.
I need to make sure that I am getting details historically accurate. What does a schooner shipyard of the time look like. What kind of jobs are going on. All this is very important. To the right is a nice clear photo of the tugboat the Seguin. This tug was built in 1884 and towed schooners down the river for many decades. I needed a clear image of its structure so I can find how to draw it for the mural. With a clear enough series of photos I can ‘learn’ the ship and then draw it from any angle I need.
There is another aspect that, as a painter, and a story telling painter, that I find very important.
While some photos are of important events in history, a lot of the type of photos I learned from yesterday were the snapshots of the day. Just someone with a camera. In these I often look at the main event but I can also find out essential story telling details by looking a tiny corners of the photos. Someone bending to pick up a tool. A woman with a basket of bread. Little things that take time to see and decipher but that will flesh out the daily lives of the people I am trying to portray.
While posed photos of famous people may tell me what that person looked like. Other photos will tell me how people lived, worked and played.