Saturday, November 21, 2009

Artists Are the Ones Who Show Up

*Cory was looking through my sketch/everything else book last night and ran across this image, after which I had written a couple of pages about the process of sketching the as-yet-unfinished pencil drawing. I off-handedly assured her it was fine to read those private thoughts because I had blogged them before. Which I apparently hadn't. So I'll post it now to avoid having given her empty words. This is from almost exactly one year ago - November 15, 2008:

I'm sketching a picture of a boy with an apple. It's from a magazine photograph. And self-inflicted perfectionist that I am, it's becoming a learning experience in patience, frustration, and critical moderation (the moderation of criticism). An outside eye would call it a good picture (for an amateur) if they were not looking at the original photograph. But the problem is, I am looking at the original photograph, and my self-critical eye wants to follow the lines from discrepancy to discrepancy, unrealistic shadows, various incidences of improper proportion.

Amidst all this wearing away of pencil eraser and the blackening of my fingertips from smudge, I think I may be missing some lessons in beauty - lessons of epic proportion in relation to the way I view my life, my productivity.

One immediate issue of note is my inappropriate attitude toward my re-creation as it relates to the attitude of the original photograph. It's a full-page spread stuck in the middle of some article about apple-picking - a kind of "fun for the whole family" thing. In fact, the section of the magazine is called Everyday Celebrations - and the mood is incredibly light and celebratory. This kid is flashing a toothy grin; he's just taken a huge bite of this glorious granny-smith, and in one second he is capturing all that is good and right about childhood - innocence, leisure, dirt under the fingernails. And here I'm hating this effort more and more. No wonder I can't reconstruct that sense of levity.

I've written in the margins - which will later be filled with a background of apple barrels - these words that I've heard a lot lately - artists are the ones who show up. In essence, we're all aspiring toward something, and if we were honest with each other we'd realize that we've all felt, at some point, like we're imposters. It's easy to say I'm not an artist because my drawing of a photograph doesn't entirely resemble the photograph itself, but that would be unfortunate and untrue. I am an artist, simply for the fact that I was inspired to observe the world around me and try to put pencil to paper to express that - and that I actually did it. I didn't think about it and talk myself out of it because I haven't sketched a photograph in eight years, because I haven't ever taken a formal art class. I'm an artist because I showed up. And for that I applaud myself.

I'm also learning some things through the actual drawing process itself. I began the picture with a central element - the face, which I've always found particularly challenging to draw. I've realized that so much of what we perceive is related to light and dark, highlights and shadows. These elements give us meaning through shape, depth, texture. I've kind of taken to telling myself, "focus on this one shadow, this one highlight - take one small bite at a time. Follow this line to the next shadow or curve, blend it, thin it out. Focus on these elements each in isolation with great attention to detail and the picture will miraculously come together." To some degree this works, especially in relation to detail drawing, but at some point I'm going to have to look at the whole picture (as any viewer would ultimately do). It will only make sense when I see these details in relation to one another. This apple doesn't make sense with rounded lines drawn through it until I understand that these lines make up the fingers holding the apple. That the fingers are connected to a hand, tucked into a shirt sleeve of the shirt on the boy who is sitting in a barn eating an apple. Criss-crossed lines are senseless until, together, they create the waffle-knit texture of the shirt. Nothing in this world exists outside of a context. Nothing ever makes sense in isolation. Ever.

Keep pushing through and eventually you will break down the wall you're hitting your brain against.