For years, I’ve loved Edward Hopper’s Automat. There’s something about the quiet gaze of the woman in the painting, the mysterious shading of her face under her cloche hat, the delicate way she removed just one glove to sip her hot coffee on a winter’s night, the cold neon glow of the lights reflecting in the window.
I’ve still got this empty space above my bed, and I’ve been waiting for the right painting or poster to hang there on my wall. Put off by the three-digit price for a large version of Automat in poster form, I thought it might be a good idea to try to reproduce the painting on my own. It’s been a while since I practiced painting by copying the greats. (I had a pretty mean Starry Night in my repertoire at one point in time.)
As I started to sketch out the canvas for Automat, I found myself becoming disappointed. The pieces of the puzzle appeared to be in the right place. Technically her hat was in the bottom-right corner of the canvas, the number of lights reflected in my window matched those of Hopper’s, and even the feminine way in which her legs are crossed appears correct in my sketch. But it’s her face. It’s that delicate, forlorn, lonely, tired, beautiful, distracted gaze that makes the painting what it is. And it’s also one of the major parts that takes great talent to capture.
Just a hunch, but I’ll likely be covering this one up and starting over and over and over until it’s right, but I finally know how Monsieur Dufayel felt in Amélie with Renoir’s “Luncheon of the Boating Party.” The longer you stare at the subjects of a painting, the more you know them and see yourself in them, and the more they tease you.