An undeveloped lot between my favorite coffee shop and a nearby day care has been full of sunflowers lately. So, I've taken the liberty of picking a few and sketching them on my iPad. This first sketch is actually a store-bought Rudbeckia, which is in the sunflower family. All the rest were picked from the lot, which has a For Sale sign on it. This time next year, there will probably be some small business there instead. All these were drawn on my iPad Air 2, using the Sketch Club app.
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).
Portrait of my sister, done on an iPad, using the Sketch Club app
So, in writing this, am I wallowing? That's a hard question. I assume most people think of their childhoods, at least from time to time. My husbands says once or twice a day. But, he adds, such memories can increase seasonally. On a family vacation, for example. Or, I would add, around the holidays, a time full of memories. If you had a pretty good childhood, with mostly good memories, what a blessing for you! But, don't be judgmental of those who had a painful childhood when they reminisce. To take a line by William Faulkner quite out of context: "The past is never dead. It's not even past." But, I would add, it is just a memory, and life is different for us now.
Many art apps exist for the iPad. I started out with ArtRage, but have been using Sketch Club exclusively for several months. Sketch Club turned out to be more than just an app -- it's also an online community, a social app as well as an art app. Artists from around the globe post their digital sketches online. Check it out at http://app.sketchclub.com/
If you go to my profile -- http://app.sketchclub.com/user/16505705 -- you will see how it all works. At the top, a short bio. Below that, see the sketches I have recently given a "thumbs up" or click on the heart to see sketches I have awarded a "heart". We earn hearts as we go along and, once given, that individual heart is gone. So, people award a heart when they really, really like a sketch. As you scroll down my page, you will see my Recent Sketches. Scroll down further to see my Top Sketches. That's where it gets really interesting. Watching a recent sketch surge upward gets my attention -- tells me I'm on to something. The sketch that just sits there, without much feedback? Let's me know I'm NOT onto something. The occasional heart is always appreciated and sometimes shocking. My "Steampunk Snoopy" sketch, which I almost didn't upload because I wasn't really happy with it -- as of this writing has two hearts, 25 thumbs up and 20 comments. HOLY COW, that was unexpected!!!! I'll show it to you at the bottom of this blog.
Now, let's look at one of the most beloved of the Sketch Club community. I share these sketches with his permission, and all copyrights remain with the artist.
Pastor Bob. Also known, affectionately, as PB. Check him out: http://app.sketchclub.com/user/3149669 He has been a SC member since March 1, 2011. In that time, he has uploaded (at least as of this moment) a grand total of 2,200 sketches! Second only to Peking Duck , who has 2,493 sketches -- check them out: http://app.sketchclub.com/user/12185641
At left, see the good pastor's Top Sketch, titled "Cardinal", uploaded about a year ago -- and, below, a more recent sketch, titled "Harvest Moon."
Impressive technical skill, yes? Even if Anime is your thing, or Abstract Expressionism, or whatever, just admit it. He's good. And, as good as his earliest sketches are, I see a great deal of growth -- and this has happened in the space of about a year and a half. How do you obtain mastery? By working at it! Persistently. Maybe obsessively, even. If you have to ice your wrist after a day of drawing, you are well on your way to mastery! Talent alone doesn't cut it. It helps, sure, but without persistence, it goes nowhere.
Returning to Pastor Bob. Generous with his gifts, he gives online tutorials and classes (with homework, people, so pay attention!)
For some examples of PB's and other's online tutorial/classes, as well as livesketches and other cool content, go to Sketch Club TV on YouTube:
I should probably add that Sketch Club was developed by a gaming architect, Jim Scott, whose Sketch Club profile name is blackpawn. He's on LinkedIn, and has an awesome resume. Does the game "Guild Wars" ring a bell? Check out his Sketch Club sketches at: http://app.sketchclub.com/user/146001
And, as I promised. Below, see my "Steampunk Snoopy" sketch.
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 recent assignment in my Daily Draw group was: choose an object and draw that object each day for a week. I chose a mask that I bought last October in Florence, Italy, from a street vendor. It was cheap, probably made in China, but I liked it anyway. Here are some of those drawings, the last being the one drawing that meant the most to me. These were all done using the Sketch Club app for iPad, along with more than one photo editing app to crop, manipulate color, duplicate, flip and collage.