Brett Bigbee
Portrait of two young boys standing near the water in their bathing suits

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Joe and James
Collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine

I am painstaking with my work. I usually have a strong sense of the effect I want to create and I labor to achieve it. As a result, I only finish one or two paintings a year. In the painting Joe and James, I tried to capture the connection and separateness of my two sons. They share so many qualities, but have very different personalities. James is animated and lively, and Joe is always thinking and careful. I painted them by the beach, not far from my house. I wanted the rendering of the beach to feel stripped down –”elemental. When I decide upon an image, I start making multiple sketches to explore and strengthen the composition. With Joe and James, once I was confident of the strength of the image, I focused on creating life-size drawings of each child. Next, I transferred the drawings to canvas. To do this, I traced the drawings, flipped the tracings over and re-drew my lines on the reverse side of the tracings. Then, I flipped the tracings back over onto the canvas and used a pen to go over the original lines. This process transfers the graphite onto the canvas. Renaissance artists used a similar technique. They would prick the contours of a drawing with a pin and dust powdered charcoal through the pinholes onto the recipient surface, which could be a wall or canvas. My next step in this painting was to create a monochromatic, opaque image. I used various golden hues, establishing the tonal relationships that I’d have in the final work. In a sense, I redrew and refined the image using multiple layers of paint. I then added local color to the whole image. As with the underpainting, the color is enhanced and developed using multiple layers of pigment until the painting is finished.