Fear, Inspiration, and a new year of goals

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this blog.

Since I finished the Art a Day for a year project, while I haven’t been drawing every day, I’ve certainly been keeping busy, with both visual and movement art.

Now it’s time to begin a new project.

But first I wanted to talk about fear when it comes to creating a piece of art:

What does a blank page mean to you? To me a blank piece of paper is the most intriguing and exciting thing I can imagine…and also the most terrifying.

How do you go about translating what is in your brain onto the page when you know that it will always be better in your head than out in the real world? How do you go about creating something when every possible story has already been told? (No, seriously, look it up. There are really only seven basic stories that you can tell and all of them have been told in millions of different ways.) How do you gather the courage to even attempt to create art when there are so many other talented people in the world who are creating their own masterpieces?

I don’t really have any answers to these questions. I’ve just been asking them to myself all day after coming home to stare at that blank page waiting for me.

All artists have moments of self doubt. They may not even be moments. That may be your entire career as an artist, continuous self doubt.

But the fact that no matter what you create, there will be at least one person in the world who is affected by it. Is that enough of an incentive to create something then? You may never even meet that person. You may die not knowing if your art has any value or if it touched anyone at all.

I say all of this because this new project that I’m working on is going to be very difficult for me. Drawing is not the issue, it’s capturing the spirit of the story I have in my head and putting it on paper that is driving me up the wall.

I’m going to have to keep going no matter what, as I feel like this is a project that needs to be created.

But I just wanted to put it out there in the world, this pondering of new creations, the terrified feelings of not being able to do everything perfectly, as I know there are thousands of other artists who are going through the exact same thing.

I’m right there with you. And I’m sure we’ll push through the panic and create something that, while we know will not be perfect or 100% accurate to what we have lodged in our brains, will touch someone somehow, somewhere in the world.

Let’s be afraid together. And then get over it and get shit done.

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The “Starving Artist” Syndrome

“Syndrome – a group of symptoms that consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.”

Example: Being an artist is a condition characterized by the images of a frustrated, poor, and starving bohemian, destined to make no impact on the world whatsoever.

I began drawing around the age of two or so…basically from the time I could hold a pencil.

Art has surrounded me my entire life and I was always encouraged by my family and friends to create and pursue art.

However, interestingly enough and despite all the encouragement, I was vehemently opposed to becoming an artist in a professional sense.

When I was graduating from high school people would ask me what I wanted to do with my life. My response was always that I would become a doctor. Someone who helped other people. A job with worth.

You see I was operating under the illusion that doing art as a job was, to be quite honest, frivolous.

How would being an artist help anyone but myself?

Sure, art certainly brought pleasure to many people. But could it cure them of disease? Make them feel well again? Cater to their most basic of needs?

For a long time I didn’t think so.

My goal was to become part of the doctors without borders program and travel the world healing people in third world countries. It seemed like the most noble profession I could think of…and don’t get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for those in the medical profession.

Ironically, instead of becoming a doctor, I became an artist. All of my friends are artists and musicians, and most of the functions I go to are performance based. Art is now my full time job.

Artists and musicians work hard.

I think many people, including my past self, see the artist as somewhat lazy, sitting around painting all day and then selling their work for thousands of dollars in some fancy gallery somewhere.

The artists and musicians I know work at least three jobs to make it by. They run from place to place performing, miss meals to go to shows and promote themselves, and basically run themselves ragged in order to make a living.

Being an artist is not easy. And, while I do know a few artists that make a bit of money from their art, I guarantee that every single one of them continuously pushes themselves to the brink of exhaustion to make their creations come to life.

I’m surrounded by them every day…I can see it with my own eyes.

And their art does affect people in the most basic of ways. Humans have created art, almost from the beginning of our existence.

We decorated ourselves with pieces of nature, buried our dead with carved figurines, painted cave walls with images from daily life.

It was a vital part of life, and still is today.

Who doesn’t decorate their home? Who doesn’t go to the movies or play video games? Who doesn’t write, or draw, or read, or watch TV, or listen to radio programs? Who doesn’t keep trinkets or souvenirs?

Art. All of it is art.

And while art may not cure anyone of disease, it certainly can take their minds from whatever it is that ails them.

It can heal emotionally and socially; it can make people feel things they haven’t felt before. It can help them express what’s inside, communicate in a way that others can relate to, even when they can’t express what they wish to say with words.

I still cringe a little to call myself an artist. But I can’t forget that even though I may not be saving lives, creating art and music does not have to be a frivolous thing.

Art can change lives, in ways people could never guess.

Art is valuable.

La Cartomancie

I’ve been so busy with my Art a Day project I haven’t had a chance to post much finished work, so I thought I’d put this one up.

This is a special piece for a few friends of mine.

The request was for me to draw a Rom Fortune teller.

Lately, I’ve been working with ink, and doing black and white as opposed to a lot of color, so I really got to explore some fine detail work in pen, which I truly enjoyed.

I’m actually thinking about taking this style and turning it into an animation (eventually…)

("La Cartomancie")

(“La Cartomancie”)

Belly Dance…as inspiration for other art forms

(Zoe Jakes and Rachel Brice, photographed by Pixie Vision Productions and drawn in pencil by me (as practice for drawing faces and intricate detail))

(Zoe Jakes and Rachel Brice, photographed by Pixie Vision Productions and drawn in pencil by me (as practice for drawing faces and intricate detail))

Ah, Belly Dance. So many things come to mind when you hear that word. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I don’t want to get into the dance itself (as that would be an entirely different blog and there are already many excellent belly dance bloggers in the world), but rather, how belly dance has inspired my own artwork.

This past year almost every single one of my pieces has been inspired by belly dance (and before you go thinking, wow, that’s kind of weird, please note that I’ve been belly dancing since I was sixteen, and it is one of my day jobs).

All the women and men (yes, men) that I’ve met through dance are beautiful and strong. On stage, they perform with passion and grace, some pushing the boundaries of the dance and others keeping traditions alive and reminding belly dancers why they dance in the first place.

This strength and independence I see on stage is always the spirit behind the figures in my artwork.

Costuming is another inspiring aspect of belly dance. The costuming in belly dance is unbelievable, especially in Tribal fusion belly dance, as it is a fusion of many dance styles. This means dancers could take costuming pieces from almost any culture they wished to form something new and interesting. I’ve seen astounding use of colors, jewels, headpieces and crowns, and makeup.

The intricate jewelry I find particularly fascinating. The photo at the top of this post is one that I did about five years ago, as practice drawing faces and jewelry. All credit should go to Pixie Vision Productions, and the two models, Zoe Jakes and Rachel Brice.

Looking at the piece now, I can see what needs improvement. Nothing is ever perfect.

But this piece taught me a lot about detail. The way these ladies decorate themselves is extraordinary and it was a privilege to try to recreate all the buttons, feathers, flowers, crystals, etc. that they were wearing for that shoot.

I’ve always been detail oriented, but the detail that goes into costuming and creating a dance comes out in my visual art, and I have belly dance to thank for that, and the hundreds of belly dancers that are just amazing in what they create and perform.

This is just a short post (I could go on and on about the dance, what it means to me, and so on and so forth), but I just wanted to give a shout out to the art form that keeps inspiring me to create.

The Vagina Series

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(18 x 24 Colored Pencil and Sharpie)

Last year I was commissioned to create a piece for the Vagina Monologues (as a donation).

I immediately felt the challenge of this. How and what was I going to draw…a vagina? (Insert giggles and shielding of eyes here.)

I was told that it didn’t necessarily have to be a real vagina. I could draw a metaphorical one- think fruit, or flowers, Georgia O’Keefe style.

I actually struggled with this for a while. I’m not sure if I am adequately able to express my feelings on this subject, but I’m going to try. In our society, the human body is not really something to be proud of. Seriously, if you look at advertisements, the body is either portrayed as something to want (something you need to look like, something you want to have, a sex symbol-which isn’t particularly a good thing in most cases), or the body is seen as something shameful, that you need to change (i.e. you are too fat, you need to do this and this to fix it, etc.)

Especially the female body, although we’ve heard this time and time again. I won’t go into huge detail on how females are portrayed in the media.

Even saying the word vagina or typing it, or any version of the word, makes a girl feel almost shameful. It’s just an anatomical term for a specific body part, but as women it’s something we are taught to be ashamed of (whether we are aware of it or not.)

Seriously. Try using the word vagina sometime without feeling some sense of guilt or embarrassment (or maybe I’m just weird because of being raised Catholic. Whatever. Everyone’s got issues.)

That’s why, when I thought about drawing the Vagina Monologues piece, I felt like drawing fruit or flowers would be a cop out. A vagina isn’t a flower and it’s not a fruit. It’s a body part.

There’s a particular story from Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues about a woman going to a “vagina workshop” (strange as that sounds), where everyone was asked to draw a picture of a vagina, or their vagina. I used this as the basis for my own piece and two others.

(18 x 24 Colored Pencil and Sharpie)

(“African Klimt” 18 x 24 Colored Pencil and Sharpie)

I call these my Vagina series, because a. they were inspired by the vagina monologues and b. their purpose is to express the female form in a strong, yet sensual way. These are four nude women, crouching against abstract backgrounds, either presenting themselves or masturbating (yes, yes, that is totally what they are doing, get the giggles out now.)

(18 x 24) Colored Pencil and Sharpie

(“Red Headed Klimt” 18 x 24 Colored Pencil and Sharpie)

I suppose this is a rebellion against the idea that a female expressing any kind of sexuality is to be considered a slut. At least, I hope that is what is perceived in my artwork. The pieces to me express liberation, in that these women are the masters of their own sexual desire, and have the power to please themselves, where and when they choose by themselves, without someone else being necessary to bring about their pleasure (although that’s totally fine and awesome).

(18 x 24 Colored Pencil and Sharpie!

(“Poppies”18 x 24 Colored Pencil and Sharpie!

I say liberation also in the sense that, these women express freedom from societal constraint, from being tied to someone else to receive, and the freedom of intoxication with oneself (although that can be a dangerous thing. See “Poppies” above).

I realize that these pieces of artwork could be considered quite offensive to a lot of people.

I actually began a new piece, another commission and another donation, for an event called Shimmy for the Cure (a belly dance event to raise money for breast cancer prevention and awareness). My own grandmother battled (and won) against breast cancer, so in a small way, I feel like I can help with my artwork.

("The Maiko" Unfinished. 11x14 Sharpie and Colored Pencil. The word Maiko literally translates to "dancing child" (mai = dance, ko = child), but is also referred to as "dancing girl". A Maiko is an apprentice Geisha who must must undergo a period of training that generally takes 5 years, where she learns the various "gei" (arts) such as dancing, singing, music etc before she becomes a Geisha.)

(“The Maiko” Unfinished. 11×14 Sharpie and Colored Pencil. The word Maiko literally translates to “dancing child” (mai = dance, ko = child), but is also referred to as “dancing girl”. A Maiko is an apprentice Geisha who must must undergo a period of training that generally takes 5 years, where she learns the various “gei” (arts) such as dancing, singing, music etc before she becomes a Geisha.)

I’m taking liberties here as far as cultural appropriation goes (I don’t mean to be offensive to Japanese culture at all.) I feel like this piece also gets to be included as part of my vagina series.

The Maiko is about expressing joy and shedding whatever it is that binds you. Her breasts are bare because she doesn’t care about her nudity. She is proud of her body and has no reason to hide it. It is not meant to be sexual (although an artist really doesn’t have control over how their artwork is perceived once they release it to the public).

There are certainly more moving pieces of artwork that have been inspired by those who have battled against breast cancer (and I suggest you check them out. There are even brilliant tattoos on women who have lost their breasts to cancer that are absolutely glorious.), but this is my contribution.

So, if you are offended, I can’t really apologize, as I’ve learned through this project that the naked woman’s body really isn’t something I should be ashamed of.

For more info on the Vagina Monologues, check out Eve Ensler’s book: http://www.eveensler.org/books/the-vagina-monologues/

For more info on Shimmy for the Cure, check out Irie Tribal’s website: http://www.irietribal.com/shimmy-for-the-cure.html

The Story behind the piece

(Perseus returns the Eye 18 x 24 Pencil)

(Perseus returns the Eye 18 x 24 Pencil)

One of the most interesting things about my creative process lately is that I generally have no idea what is going to happen on the page. I start off with a basic idea (usually a piece of work by another artist that inspires me or, in this instance, a story as well) and begin sketching in a random place on the paper.

I never had any formal art training (apart from art classes in high school?), so I’m learning about design as I go.

This particular piece was inspired by a couple works from Gustav Klimt (the subject material and the general shapes that Klimt uses in his artwork). Most of my recent work has been somewhat inspired by Klimt, or Alphonse Mucha.

(Klimt's interpretation of the Gorgons, from Greek Mythology)

(Klimt’s interpretation of the Gorgons, from Greek Mythology)

(Klimt always has such interesting composition to his pieces)

(Klimt always has such interesting composition to his pieces)

I wanted to do my own interpretation of a Greek tale as well.

(Perseus returns the Eye (Unfinished) 18 x 24 Pencil)

(Perseus returns the Eye (Unfinished) 18 x 24 Pencil)

Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danaë. He was sent on a quest by Polydectes, the king of the island of Seriphos, to bring him the head of Medusa (why? Apparently Perseus didn’t have a good enough gift to bring to some banquet the king was holding. Silly Perseus.)

Perseus was told by Athena that he must find the Hesperides, who held all the weapons needed to find and kill Medusa. But in order to find where the Hesperides were, Perseus would need to consult the Graeae sisters (three sisters, related to Medusa, who shared one eye and one tooth between them. Commonly confused with the three fates, or sometimes their stories are combined).

Perseus stole their eye, and well. You can guess the rest.

(Up close of Medusa's Head-chopped off by Perseus)

(Up close of Medusa’s Head-chopped off by Perseus)

The Graeae sisters are most commonly depicted as old and decrepit women, their father and mother, Phorcydes and Ceto, as sea monsters/creatures, and the Gorgons (Medusa and her two sisters) as hideous snake haired demons.

However, because I wanted to draw this picture from the perspective of Medusa’s family, they have been drawn as they would see each other (beautiful, regardless of outer appearance).

As I began, the composition slowly started to evolve. I started with the Graeae sisters, then one of their Gorgon sisters, then their father…and it just kept going from there.

On the left hand side Phorcydes clutches one of his daughters, who has fainted. He points at his daughter’s murderer. His wife leans against him, shielding her face from the horror.

The Graeae sisters huddle in the center of the family cluster, two of them clutching one another with their heads lowered in sadness, the other blindly reaching for the eye Perseus stole from them.

The other Gorgon completes the left side, wrapping around the Graeae sisters, also hiding her face.

On the right hand side stands Perseus. His face is cast in darkness as he is, from the family’s perspective, the evildoer. He clutches Medusa’s head in one hand and the Graeae sister’s eye in the other. At his feet are Chrysaor and Pegasus, the brothers who sprang from Medusa’s head once it had been cut off (or something. Greek Mythology can be very strange.)

This piece is taking quite a while because of the detail work.

(Up close of Phorcydes' Robe)

(Up close of Phorcydes’ Robe)

Phorcydes’ Robe is made out of squares within squares, and tons of rectangles (I didn’t attempt to count how many).

(Up close of Phorcydes' crown)

(Up close of Phorcydes’ crown)

His crown was also a lot of detail work, as is the jewelry for the women in the picture.

(Up close of Perseus' armor)

(Up close of Perseus’ armor)

Perseus is wearing armor made of dark fish scales, which also takes quite a while to finish.

I’m not quite set on Chrysaor and Pegasus. This is all an experiment with detail and composition, so I need to sketch a few more things before I start filling in with a darker pencil.