At Concord Academy, senior projects come in all shapes and sizes. These semester-long, student-designed independent courses challenge students to dig deeply into specific topics or experiences. Nina He’s senior project ended up in the form of 97 8-by-8-inch canvas boards — one for each of the 97 members of the class of 2017. The entire series was on display in the senior projects showcase on May 23.
Nina proposed to paint portraits of her classmates after reading a story in the Boston Gobe about a student who had sketched his entire class in charcoal. She wanted to work in color and chose acrylic paint. With guidance from her senior project advisor, visual arts teacher Jonathan Smith, she got to work just after winter break.
The portraits capture the personalities of their subjects — Nina worked from photographs, asking her fellow students to pose as naturally as possible. At the outset, each portrait took her three to four hours to finish. As she gained expertise, she began completing one per long block, cutting that time in half.
She left the hair for last, focusing most of her attention on the faces, to keep herself on schedule. And she also had a bit of help. Nina smiles when she recounts how her father assisted with some of the “manual labor.” Together they created a gridding device to help her draw from the photographs onto the canvasses, and he painted some of the backgrounds. But the vision and the execution of these remarkable likenesses were all hers.
Nina is headed to Princeton next year and plans to study computer science — it runs in the family. Her dream job would combine it with visual arts. She donated the portraits to CA.