Coming into this class with absolutely no artistic experience felt like a huge disadvantage at the beginning of the semester, but now I realize that having a completely blank slate gave me total freedom to explore, learn, and grow, even though I was often reluctant to do so. I learned so much about shapes, line, proportion, value, and materials, and I realized how much consideration and planning go into a single project. I loved getting to know the other students in the class and seeing their personal styles develop and show in their own projects. I think the most important thing I learned in this class is how to start allowing myself to explore possibilities, without judgment.
From my journal after the first day of working on this project:
Nell says there is room for forgiveness on this page while covered in charcoal I look away from my face in the cellophane-taped mirror and the blackened cotton canvas that stains my knees. The palette on my left suggests erasure, a grinding of myself into powder to apply as cover for my mistakes. This is why I cannot focus on shapes, cannot erase without the hand of self-hate.
Everything about this project was a challenge for me. Looking in the mirror for extended amounts of time, depicting my face not as my brain sees it but as my eyes see it (and doing so without judgment), being truthful in my representation of myself, trusting my eyes. Not to mention that I had never drawn/erased a person before (and even now, I still haven’t completed the project).
After working for two hours, I realized I needed to go bigger. So, reluctantly, I covered up what I’d spent hours working on already and began again. After another two hours, I ended up with this:
This looks very little like my nose. Nell encouraged me to keep working, to keep focusing on larger areas of value and to then go back and refine. I moved from my nose out towards my right cheek and down towards my lips. Finally, I started to see something that sort of resembled my face. By the third day of work, I had this:
By this point, I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish the entire portrait by the day of our critique, but I was excited (though still extremely frustrated) to see something that actually looked like a face. On the last day before the critique, I finished my lips and most of the areas surrounding them:
Here’s a close-up:
During our critique, I was amazed how well everyone’s portraits turned out. Each student’s stylistic choices were so different and so unique to each student. I could tell how much work we had all put into these self-portraits. I still plan to complete mine as soon as I have the time, because in looking at everyone else’s portraits, I realized how important the eyes are to determining how much the portrait looks like its subject in reality. I also plan to go back and stencil in my piercings.
Overall, this project was extremely difficult. My mirror anxiety never lessened, but I think I got better at focusing on value and shapes and not focusing on judgments about my face. I’d bet if I started over and did this again, I would actually feel more confident in myself and my work.
Scientific Name: Communis octocruris (from the latin words meaning community/fellowship and eight-legged)
Super Power: telepathy and heightened empathy
Social Ill to Cure: lack of community; over-individualized focus; emotional and physical disconnection from a community
Communis octocruris possesses the head of an African elephant and eight octopus-like tentacles that are covered with suction cups that function as telepathic sensors, taking in and aiding in processing energetic and emotional information. Communis octocruris‘ head and ears are extremely large, and its ears symbolize an ability to listen. It does not need eyes; its legs/suction cups and sense of hearing are its primary modes of sensing the world around it. Its arms symbolize an ability to embrace multiple members of a community while understanding the emotional and energetic capacities of each member. This animal is telepathic, which means it senses the thoughts of other beings. This ability allows Communis octocruris to naturally understand the needs of others and fosters a sense of belonging and community in a world where people tend to be disconnected from a strong sense of community. Octopi and elephants are considered two of the most intelligent creatures in the animal world, and elephants are known for their memory, sense of community, and an impressive emotional capacity. Their life-span is similar to that of humans (about 65 years), and they live in close-knit communities led by the oldest female. Visually, Communis octocruris is strong yet flexible, suggesting a balance that is necessary for successful community living.
Lightbulb (head); oak leaves (ears); yarn and cotton (trunk); beaded necklaces and beads (tentacles and suction cups); hot glue; fishing line (to suspend)
Links to Videos:
I have to admit, I approached this class with a closet closed-mindedness that is typically uncharacteristic of me. I kept saying to myself, “I’m not an artist. I can’t draw, and I have no knowledge or skills.” I knew that visual art intrigued me–I could spend days in a museum and still be hungry for more–but I also knew that I didn’t know much about art outside of what caught my attention. As the first few weeks of classes progressed, one phrase kept cropping up: Go with what you don’t know you know. Which is to say, I think, go with what comes naturally to you.
This idea manifested itself frustratingly with our first project: drawing a chair still life as realistically as possible. I quickly began to realize how efficiently (and automatically) my brain told my eyes what they were supposed to be seeing. It wasn’t until I visually broke the chair down into parts (lines, negative space, shadows, shapes) and consciously stopped my brain from filling in what I should know that the image I was rendering on the paper actually began to look like the chair in front of me.
I have yet to complete our second project in full, but after my experience with rendering the chair still life, the first part of our second project (which was to draw a box still life) was actually much easier and much less scary to approach. Focusing first on line and then shifting to noticing and focusing on value gave me a fuller (though nowhere near complete) understanding of the objects I was rendering/creating. The class critique of the finished boxes was extremely informative; I was surprised by how value could give such a realistic representation of three-dimensional space.
I’ve become more and more curious about color, texture, shape, and line as the semester has progressed. I still tell myself in my head, “I’m not an artist,” and I still think this is accurate, but I’m also realizing that I could be, and that I can create works that are intriguing. I have also developed an even deeper respect for the amount of time, practice, patience, and learning visual artists are willing to commit to in order to create the works in the museums (and even on the streets) that have caught my attention and inspired me to see what the art world is all about.
I can’t do this. I am going to fail this course. This doesn’t look anything like a toilet. What am I doing?
Chair Still Life:
You want me to show you my mistakes? Leave them out in the open? Air my dirty laundry (which is to say, hey, class, I’m not perfect)? Am I holding this charcoal right? Should I have more marks on my page? What the hell am I doing?
This is uncomfortable. I want to watch as I mark my paper. Don’t look. Don’t look. Look. No, don’t. Oh, that looks kind of like a hand. Let go. That looks nothing like a hand. Let go. Look. Oh, that’s what I’m doing.