I decided to do a take-off on Botticelli's famous "Birth of Venus" -- making her older, but still lovely. I also very loosely based some of her features on my own. Of course, as they say, every portrait is, to one degree or another, a self-portrait. Not a "finished" piece, but more in keeping with the freshness and spontaneity of a sketch.
In general, I prefer not to work from photos. The camera has only one eye, while we have two. The camera takes the three-dimensional object and flattens it to two dimensions for us, so we miss the volume of the object. Plus, I just prefer to see what I'm drawing. Particularly with portraits -- drawing a living, breathing human being, right there, is a very different experience than working from a photograph.
However, sometimes there is really not a choice. Here are two examples.
I came across the Wellesley College yearbook from 1912 at a thrift store. One face leapt off the page at me. Her name: Ethel Caution-Davis. In that time, college was for the well-to-do. Most colleges were either all-white, or mostly so, and, if black, a student attended one of the historically black colleges. Yet, she went to an elite women's institution, the only African-American in her class. I did a Google search, found her right away, with her yearbook picture the first image hit. Remarkable woman. She became a published poet of the Harlem Renaissance and an educator, rising to become Dean of Women at Talladega College, an historic black college. Later in life, she moved to New York City, worked in public assistance, and became director of a residence club for single women. She never married, and died at the age of 101. What a remarkable woman she must have been!
So, here I share the original yearbook photo, and my version, in which I tried to achieve that hand-painted, vintage photograph look.
Then, being challenged to draw a 1920's movie star of my choice, I stumbled upon a photo of Nina Mae McKinney, known as the "Black Garbo" in Europe. She became the first African-American actor to sign a long-term contract with MGM, but, alas, the company didn't seem to know what to do with her. Racism: irrational, and oh, so powerful.
In this case, I did not work from an image load. I printed off the photo and drew from that, using the Sketch Club app again.
Here I share the original photo found on Google, followed by my version. I haven't done her justice, but I hope I have communicated some of her spirit. You can find clips of her work on YouTube, and they are well worth viewing.
Two remarkable women. I wish they were alive today, so I could draw their portrait from life!
Are two heads better than one? Or do many cooks spoil the broth? As is the case with most proverbs which seem to contradict each other, both can be true, depending on the situation. So it is with artistic collaborations. Some artistic pursuits are inherently collaborative. Think of a symphony orchestra, an opera, a ballet. Look at the end credits of any film and see how many people contributed to the making of the film. Yes, you have the conductor, the director, the choreographer with the main vision -- but unable to realize that vision without the contributions of many, many people.
We imagine visual artists as creating alone in their solitary studio. Most often, so it is. But visual artists sometimes collaborate and the results, with the right synergy, can be extraordinary. The work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, married to each other and true collaborators in their environmental works, immediately comes to mind.
My collaborative works have been done on a much more humble scale. Many artists on the Sketch Club website (http://app.sketchclub.com) make work available for what the SC'ers call co-ops. One such artist, by the name of Mongo, made this sketch available: http://app.sketchclub.com/sketch/10109529. Here is my response.
Based, of course, on the death of Ophelia in Shakespeare's play Hamlet. Here is Queen Getrude's description of the scene, which takes place off-stage:
"There is a willow grows aslant a brook,
That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream;
There with fantastic garlands did she come,
Of crow-flowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples
That liberal shepherds give a grosser name.
But our cold maids do dead men's fingers call them:
There, on the pendent bows her coronet weeds
Clambering to hang, an envious sliver broke;
When down her weedy trophies and herself
Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress,
Or like a creature native and indued
Unto that element: but long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death."
The British Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Everett Millias, painted his version of this scene between 1851 and 1852. I vividly remember seeing a reproduction of it many years ago in a 12th grade textbook. This is a tip of the hat to Millais: inspired by his piece, but in no means an attempt to reproduce it. After all, Millais spent untold hours on his painting, intending it as a highly finished work. Mongo spent a bit over 4 hours on the original piece, and I put in another 2 hours and 20 minutes. Mine is no attempt at a highly finished work. No, it is a humble sketch, and present it as such.
When I can't figure out what to draw, either a still life or a self-portrait are always available subjects. Lately, roses have been my thing to draw when "I got nuthin!"
So, today I went to Goodwill and found some very, very convincing fake roses. Yellow and orange. I live in Texas, where "The Yellow Rose of Texas" is a very familiar song.
The history of the song is quite fascinating. It's been sung by everyone from Gene Autry to Elvis. The lyrics have changed over the years. "Oh, the yellow rose of Texas is the only gal I love, Her eyes are even bluer than Texas skies above... " (as sung by Elvis) or "her eyes are bright as diamonds, they sparkle like the dew..." (as sung earlier by Gene Autry).
The earliest song lyrics date from 1853, found in Christy's Plantation Melodies, No. 2. The singer is actually African-American (describing himself as a "darky"), and the girl is "yellow", as in mulatto, i.e. biracial. Today the song is "race neutral," altho, of course, in the United States, if no race is specified, we always assume the person is white.
Perhaps the Yellow Rose in the song refers to the legendary biracial woman Emily West, who, the story goes, was captured by Santa Anna as a "spoil of war" and distracted him from the Battle of San Jacinto. April 21st, 1836. Which battle the Texicans won, thus gaining independence from Mexico for their nation. Probably never happened, but people do like a good story.
On an entirely different note, here in Austin, Texas, we have a strip club called the Yellow Rose, which advertises itself as "the best strip club in Austin." So, what began as a love song, a man singing about the sweet girl he misses so much and longs to see -- becomes an unofficial State song (no one, and I mean no one, knows the lyrics to "Texas, Our Texas") and also becomes the name of a sleazy club where men go to enjoy lap dances with women who despise them. What a strange world!
I recently returned from a two-week visit to both Florence and Bologna, Italy. Such a grand trip!
I had a goal of doing a drawing a day while there. So, I am going to share a select few with you, with commentary. At left, see my favorite photo taken of the River Arno which bisects Florence. Then, on to drawings. All of these drawings were done on my iPad, using the Sketch Club app.
This early work by Michelangelo is part of a much larger piece, the Arca of San Domenico, which contains the remains of Saint Dominic, in the church which bears his name: Basilica San Domenico in Bologna, Italy.
I stood and drew for about on hour on my iPad, using the Sketch Club app. My back was killing me afterwards! People think doing artwork is relaxing. Tell that to Michelangelo, doing hard labor, chipping away at the marble to release the statue he believed it already contained.
Do we see a foreshadowing of the David in this face, in this hair? I hope my quick sketch gives you at least a feeling for the so much greater mastery of the young Michelangelo.
At the Accademia at Florence, along with Michelangelo's famous David, you will find a number of his unfinished works. Yes, he actually left quite a bit of sculptures before they were done. He would get a commission, start to work. Then, the funds might get lowered, or taken away entirely. His unfinished work seems to struggle for release from the rock. Most of these works are known as the Unfinished Slaves. But, not all of them. I sat (yes, the luxury of a seat!) and drew his sculpture of San Matteo (Saint Matthew). A powerful figure emerges from the rock. How I wish my drawing could do him justice!
The Bargello in Florence contains extremely important works, including works by Michelangelo. Instead, I focused on a carved wood crucifixion, purportedly by Michelangelo (which means probably not). It profoundly moved me. Christ is completely naked, which is historically accurate. The victims were stripped naked, this being part of the shame and humiliation of the Cross. Where the piece strays from historical accuracy is in the smooth, unmarked skin (except for the wounded hands, feet and side). The physical torture before crucifixion would have left Him horribly mutilated and bloody. The smooth, unmarked skin, the serene face of the traditional crucifix? It was a few centuries after the beginning of Christianity that people began using the Crucifixion as a subject of art. They had to get away from the reality first. I drew, again for about an hour, and I show you his nudity, as the artist portrayed it. The New Testament describes Jesus as wholly man and wholly God. In the Crucifixion, we see the weakness, the utter vulnerability of human flesh. My name circles behind Him, not simply to watermark the image, but to say, simply, He died for me.
I think we are at an appropriate place to stop for now. Perhaps tomorrow I will post other drawings. For now, I leave us to reflect.
If I could be anyone for one hour, who would it be? Easy answer. I would be the Pope. Not for any theological reason. Not to make history as the first female pope. No, I would choose to be Pope so that I could spend one, golden, undisturbed hour in the Sistine Chapel, all by myself. Perhaps I would borrow a "cherry picker," so I could look as closely as I wanted to. And, here is a "cherry picker" (yes, as is obvious, I lifted the photo off the internet).
I've blogged about both Sketch Club and the Daily Draw. The Daily Draw group receives a weekly assignment, and we commit to do a drawing a day based on the assignment. You can follow us on Tumblr: http://dailydraw.tumblr.com/ And, check out Sketch Club (see http://app.sketchclub.com/ ), which has both composition contests (Compos) and a Daily Challenge. I have taken on the personal challenge, when possible, of combining the Daily Draw assignment with one from Sketch Club -- which has lead me into some very challenging themes.
Last week, the Daily Draw assignment was insect portraits. At the same time, Sketch Club had a compo going titled "Remix!" Here is the description: "Take ONE of your favorite pictures/drawings/paintings, done by another artist (from Da Vinci to stencil art -- up to you) and REMIX it!!! Don't just copy the drawing -- create something new, cool, funny, touching, romantic or magic. One image load to give you the structure is fine." In addition, one of the daily challenges last week was Renaissance: "draw some famous renaissance art or make on of your own, sort of in that style." So, I double-dared myself to combine all three assignments in at least one Sketch Club drawing. I needed some ingenuity for this dare! Here, I think, is the best result:
The "Portrait of Lucretia Panciatichi," by Bronzino, gave me the "bones" for this drawing, thus, incorporating both the Remix Compo and the Renaissance Daily Challenge into my Daily Draw assignment. To integrate the insect portrait theme, I used Princess Atta from Pixar's "A Bug's Life" as Lucretia's doppleganger. (As I was writing this blog, I googled "Princess Pancitichi" to steal a jpeg of Bronzino's painting and discovered that my drawing was the second hit! Good gosh! Bronzino would be mortified. Well, maybe amused. I can hope.)
The Sketch Club community has given me a lot of positive feedback on this one. I credit Bronzino, 100%. The original painting radiates beauty, elegance, intelligence, luxury. We see Bronzino's signature notes, the long, graceful neck and delicate, elongated fingers. Observe the luxurious fabric and exquisite jewelry. My humble homage in no way approaches his majestic work. I worked on my drawing about 2 hours. How many hours did Bronzino put in? A hundred? We don't know. We do know that his mastery of painting awes and inspires. Princess Atta pales and curtseys before Princess Pancitichi.
Here, with an inadequate jpg, I present to you Bronzino's regally remote Princess. Visit her one day at the Uffizi Gallelry in Florence, Italy.
The greatest advantage of the self-portrait is simply that I am always available to model for myself. The difficulty lies in the question: use a mirror or a photo? I prefer the mirror, as it gives more immediacy. A photograph is a frozen moment. Looking in the mirror, I see my expression change slightly, the tilt of the head change. I see the concentration and focus -- and sometimes, the frustration, when the drawing is not working out. However, when sitting in a coffee shop with my iPad and wanting to draw, but no handy models? Taking a quick photo of myself with the iPad, then working over it in a drawing app, can be very satisfying in its own way. All of these drawings were done using the Sketch Club app for the iPad. Some were then loaded into the Camera+ app for cropping and color manipulation. And, yes, I usually edit out my wrinkles. Not out of vanity, really, but simply because I don't feel wrinkled inside.
See below, Self-Portrait as a Robot in a Pink Hat
I always wear a hat. I have worn my pink hat more than any other this summer. Do you ever feel like a robot, going thru the motions, cold and numb?
I did this self-portrait, at left, two days after my mother's death, six weeks ago. Her passing filled me with both deep feeling and great numbness. At times, the two states took turns. Sometimes, they resided within me simultaneously. Perhaps one in my head and the other in my heart. We were not close, due to her severe alcoholism throughout my childhood.. A friend told me it is harder to grieve the loss of those we love and yet are not close to. Her death meant the death of a dream -- the impossible fantasy that we could someday have a normal mother-daughter relationship. She became sober in her Fifties, a remarkable achievement. But, her sobriety did not magically fill in my childhood memories with the love and nurture that were not there. I was more her mother, and my feelings for her were therefore much more maternal than filial.
Her passing has, however, helped me to see her more clearly. Yes, I had a horrible childhood. But, she had a horrific one. Realizing that terrible fact, I can give her this grace: she did better by me than was done by her.
When I saw the assignment for last week's Daily Draw, my heart sank. "Childhood Memories." I don't have that many good childhood memories. As an adult, years of therapy (individual, marriage, group) gradually helped me to "un-numb," grieve, and, as much as possible, move on. These days, I find it is best to not dwell on the events of my childhood, except to answer a question or to help someone else know that they are not alone. I did not relish this assignment. But, I committed to do a drawing a day, based on the subject given. So, I plunged in. I did these drawings on the iPad, using the Sketch Club app, and doing some cropping and color editing with the Camera+ app. I tried to find the positive memories.
So first. I always read, voraciously. The first drawing? I still have my old copy of Winnie-the-Pooh. Not the Disney version, the original. A good memory. And, second, I remembered playing in a pothole after a heavy rain with my best friend, Mary Elizabeth. We were perhaps four years old.
The assignment had stirred up some bad memories, even tho I tried to focus on the positive. I missed one day, due to emotional exhaustion, I suppose. But, the next day, the last day, I found one of the best memories. I did the text below left using Sketch Club, which has a text setting.
The current week's assignment: pick an object, draw it each day using a different technique/style. I will post those drawings next week. And, for your amusement., here is a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee commercial from 1953, the year before I was born:
My favorite week of the Daily Draw Group: pick an album and do a drawing a day based on a different song title each day. I picked Abbey Road, by the Beatles. Usually, I prefer to draw from life. I have the devil of a time trying to draw from my imagination. I enjoyed this particular assignment, tho. Here are my four favorites of that week, all done on the iPad, using the Sketch Club app, then editing in Camera+ and a few other photo-editing apps.
Yes, there were three others. But, I'll stop here. With my favorites.