For the last 10 years, my school’s art teacher, Mrs. Douglass, has assigned the “furniture project” to her sophomore Drawing and Painting class. Ever since sixth grade I had been in awe of the detailed paintings the students had painted on their furniture. I still remember a detailed, gold painting of a woman by Gustav Klimt on a wooden rocking horse. One year I was so inspired that I attempted to paint the same woman on a chair, but it did not turn out as well as I had hoped because I just painted without sketching beforehand.
At the beginning of second semester Mrs. Douglass announced that we had to start looking for famous paintings and a piece of furniture or an object that we wanted to paint on. Immediately, I felt my competitive side come out and I wanted to choose the most difficult object and paintings I could handle. Our only directions were to choose an item larger than an alarm clock and smaller than a car. Mrs. Douglass also made it clear that every inch of the object must be painted with the famous paintings we chose. I had been waiting for this assignment for four-and-a-half years and I could not wait to begin.
Art is my favorite subject and I am constantly trying to find ways I can make my assignments more challenging. I wanted to choose an item that had never been done before and was very large. Since I love camping I decided to paint a tent, inside and out.
Even though I didn’t show my nerves to my family and friends, I was terrified that something would go wrong since I had never painted on nylon. I was worried that the acrylic paint might not stick or that when the light hit the surface of the tent the painting on the outside would show on the painting on the inside. But I didn’t want to dwell on the possibility that my project wouldn’t work so I tried to pretend that I was confident. When others would ask how it was coming I would casually say that it was easier than I thought it would be. I knew this project would take many hours; I did not realize that I would be working into the night for the next month and a half.
My next task was to pick the famous paintings I would have to replicate on the nylon surface using acrylic paint. To challenge myself even more, I decided to pick paintings that included people. I find that the human figure is the most difficult thing to paint because it requires an understanding of symmetry, shading and proportions. After searching through art books and online sites for days I chose the paintings “Cytie,” “Mother and Child” and “Flaming June” by Lord Frederick Leighton. I loved the soft yet realistic style of the paintings and I immediately knew that I wanted to paint them myself. “Flaming June” is of a woman sleeping in an orange dress, “Mother and Child” is of a child feeding her mother cherries, and “Cytie” is a landscape that includes an orange sky with huge clouds.
Once I set up the two-person tent in the downstairs guestroom of our house I painted every surface of the tent with white gesso (liquid plaster) to create an even base. I then began lightly sketching “Cytie” on half of the outside of the tent with pencil, which did not take very long since I usually paint without outlining the painting I want to copy. Looking back I would have saved time if I had made a more detailed sketch before painting because I would not have had to repaint areas where I had messed up the first time. I spent about nine hours each day of my eight-day spring break painting “Cytie.” I was nervous when I did not finish the first painting by the end of spring break. I still had to paint more than half of the outside and the entire inside of the tent in three weeks.
When my friends asked if I could hang out, I had to turn them down because I knew that I could not spare any time if I wanted to finish in time for the art show. I wasn’t upset; I knew that my project had to come first if I wanted to create something I was proud of. Plus, once I was finished I could start hanging out with my friends again.
When school started again I worked every night after finishing my homework. Two weeks before the art show I still had a lot of work and I began staying up until 4 a.m. every night painting while listening to podcasts of the radio show “This American Life.” (I ended up listening to almost 50). I started dozing off in some of my classes and began drinking as many as six cups of coffee a day. I would be either hyper or sluggish between cups of coffee. I cancelled all of my plans with friends and dedicated myself to a project I was not sure I could actually finish. I was still glad that I had picked a tent because I knew in the end I would feel satisfied if I could actually complete it.
A week and a half before the art show, I wasn’t done. I tried taking down the tent to see how it would be transported to school before the day of the art show. The paint began to crack and flake off and my entire body stiffened as I realized I would have to repaint areas I spent days working on. I set it back up and examined the damage on “Flaming June” and “Cytie” on the outside of the tent. There were chips on the face of “Flaming June” and on the clouds on “Cytie.” Luckily I still had enough time to repaint the small areas where the paint had come off. It was very hard to exactly match the original color but I did my best to blend it.
The inside of the tent proved to be much more difficult to paint. I had to lie on my back and reach up to paint “Mother and Child” on the ceiling. Even though my arms were sore, it felt nice to lie down.
The night before the art show I had not slept for two days and I still had to paint the entire floor of the tent. Wired on about five cups of coffee, I was very hyper and nervous that I would not finish in time. I had absolutely no time to waste and I ran up my stairs every time I had to get clean water to wash my brushes. At about 4 a.m., only two hours before school I realized that the paint was taking too long to dry and I still had huge areas of the tent’s floor to paint. Too tired to cry, I ran into my mom’s room and explained that there was no way I would finish in time and that I had failed. She reassured me that there was no use giving up now after already spending 250 hours on this project. Immediately I felt rejuvenated and realized that I would only fail if I gave up now. Using a hair dryer I was able to dry the wet parts and paint more quickly. Even though I had used a hair dryer on previous paintings, I was nervous that the heat of the hair dryer would not react well with the nylon. I decided it was worth the risk because I had less than two hours to finish.
That morning we strapped the tent to a pickup truck that we borrowed from a friend and took it to the art show without any paint chipping off. On the ride there I was nervous about how people would respond to it. Unlike the other objects in the show, which included a step stool, a clock and a drum, I encouraged people to sit in my tent instead of just look inside. I was pleased that my piece was the only interactive one and that students enjoyed laying or sitting inside. One student’s father told me to pursue a career in art because it is important to have a job you are passionate about. I was proud as I looked around because I felt as if I had given my full effort and it had paid off. I could see the effort that my classmates put into the project and I was very impressed by their growth as artists. I felt relieved that I had finished and that I could finally go to bed.