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.
For one hour
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).
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.
A drawing from 9th grade
Three weeks ago, my mother died. She had many health problems, but her death was still unexpected. She died in her sleep, in her own bed, in her own apartment. My sister was devastated that she didn't get to say goodbye. But, Mom knew she loved her. And, she died just as she wanted to, not in a nursing home, not in a hospital. She just quietly slipped away in her sleep, to be found by her neighbor, who checked on her each morning. None of us want to think about dying, but, if we do consider it, wouldn't we all rather go exactly as she did? I choose to think this was a blessing for her
My sister and I went thru her effects about a week later. Mom was a "messy" -- we found all sorts of random things, stuffed together in grocery bags, in piles, in a drawer marked "Nightgowns". She still had my kindergarten report card. None of the others, just the one from kinder. Perhaps she was still proud that I was "ready for First Grade."
We also found a drawing I did in 9th grade. My art teacher that first semester of 9th grade art had a mission. His mission? To teach us how to draw. I remember this drawing vividly. He took us outside, and we each picked a house to draw. Looking at this drawing, I realized the project must have taken more than one class period. In my memory, tho, I remember sitting down to work, completely absorbed in the drawing. Here it is:
How amazing that my mother had kept it these many years. I found it in a pile, in the corner of a room. She probably meant to hang it on a wall when she moved into that apartment and just never got around to it, even tho she lived there for several years.
I had a different teacher the second semester of that school year. Her mission was to help us express our creativity. She gave us free reign, and I doubt I produced anything of much value. I look at the drawing above, and, despite some clunky details, I see the tools were there. What I needed was practice, practice, practice. Our first semester teacher knew this deep truth: teach them to draw, draw and draw some more. Creativity is useless without the tools.
The Daily Draw
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.
I have come to peace with myself. I am a draftsman. My lofty goal is to meet the dictionary definition: "an artist exceptionally skilled in drawing." I know the "Art World" considers drawings to be the least important, aka the least marketable of the arts. If we just look at 2-D artworks, the Market hierarchy goes like this:
Paintings are the most important. Oil paintings first, acrylic second. In general, Big is Better.
All other media pale in comparison. Watercolor and pastel jockey around for second place, I suppose. Printmaking -- intaglio, lithography, woodcut, silkscreen, etc. -- might come in third. Collage is in there somewhere. But, drawings? Pencil or ink on paper? Smudgy charcoal? Puh-leeeeeeze! They aren't "finished"!
I am at peace, though. What do I love to do? I love to draw. Do what you love.
Here is a recent drawing. Done on my iPad, using the Sketch Club app, then editing in Camera+.
Having fun with the iPad
Recently, I was the sketch artist at a birthday party. This 1920's theme party was adults only, and the hostess went full out for her husband's birthday. Wonderful catered food, two burlesque performers for that "gin joint" feel. And, then there was me. I sat in the office, available to sketch people. I had all my traditional media ready to go, and I also brought my iPad. All the people who came to me chose the iPad as my medium. I was a bit surprised, but I think the newness of the idea was what attracted them, even tho digital art didn't really fit in with the 1920's. Perhaps I was an artist from the future, dropping in on a speakeasy, but ready to climb back into my time machine when the party ended.
So, I did the sketches, but then I had a lot of fun playing around with them later. First, here they are as sketches. All done using the ArtRage app. Scroll on down, if you want to see them after I played with them.
Here, a gangster costume.
Then, a gal dressed as a gangster's moll.
A couple came in for a sketch.
And, a female guest.
Then, I decided to have a little fun with the Half-Tone app and the Comics app. Right now, I prefer the Half-Tone app, but if you are interested in trying out the comic book style, play around with both and see what you think. So, here they are as comic strip panels.
Doing these took me back to when I was a kid, waiting for the next issue of Superman to arrive on the newsstands. So much fun!
Working up to a portrait
In lifedrawing, aka figure drawing, we normally start out doing gesture poses. The traditional gesture pose is 1 minute, but I've done everything from a 5 second to a 5 minute. Does 5 minutes count as a gesture? It's hard to know where to draw the line between a gesture and a sketch.
Doing portrait gestures is an extremely valuable exercise. Drawing the one-minute face, the three-minute, the five-minute. The seven minute, which is definitely moving into being a sketch, not a gesture drawing. Then moving on to a longer time.
Here are examples from yesterday.
First, the one minute face. Done on my iPad, using the ArtRage app. I routinely put about 75% of my gesture drawings in recycling, keeping the ones I like for reference. Using the iPad instead saves on paper. Goodness knows, just making the device left a big carbon footprint. I need to do what I can to offset that. Besides, how many pieces of paper can I have in my house before someone calls the fire marshall?
Here is the three minute face. There's a little bit of a likeness beginning to form. Again, done on iPad.
The five minute face. Again on the iPad. I managed to start bringing in some lights and darks.
The thirty minute face. I returned to traditional media for the longer piece. This is charcoal and pastel on Ampersand pastelboard. I enjoy seeing the progression. I had not drawn Jodie G. in a very long time. The likeness is not quite there yet. I need to draw her several more times before a true likeness emerges.
I can draw a recognizable image of my husband without him being anywhere nearby. We've been married 33 years. Remember the song from My Fair Lady? "I've grown accustomed to her face...." Or, in this case, to his face.
Doing artwork on the iPad has been both frustrating and rewarding. Why frustrating? I have been in a comfortable rut with charcoal and pastel on Kraft paper for awhile. And doing charcoal gesture drawings on printer paper. I've received a lot of positive feedback on those works. So, I'm impatient with the learning curve of the iPad. I want to be just as skilled with it as I am with more traditional media. The tactile sensation is nothing like drawing with charcoal on paper. The tools provided by the app simulate oil painting, watercolors, pen, pencil, crayon, etc. But, it doesn't act exactly the same.
But. learning new skills is inherently rewarding. It's like solving a puzzle. I'm convinced that what we call self-esteem comes, in part, from mastery. The other component is unconditional love, but that's a different blog.
The iPad offers some interesting possibilities. I took a picture of a drawing that I gave away to the model. Taking a picture indoors with my iPhone camera produced a very blurry image. So, in iPhoto, I straightened and cropped the image, then uploaded it to the iPad. Brought up the ArtRage app, and started working on the image. Here is the progression:
Here is the first blurry photo.
Then, straightened and cropped:
And, then, after some time playing around with ArtRage.
Is it better? Worse? Or, just different. The original drawing was a three-minute pose, if I recall correctly. Gesture drawings have a great feeling of energy. The ArtRage version looks more like an illustration, I think. I hope some of the energy remains.
The model still has the original drawing. The iPad offers the possibility of manipulating the original image many, many times over, without in any way altering the original piece. So, if I liked the original charcoal on printer paper piece, the wonderful thing is: it is still there, unchanged. Unless, of course, the model smeared the charcoal. Pretty cool.