Left Handed Self Portrait, 12/8/17
The only thing good that has come out of breaking my elbow is the discovery that my left hand can draw too.
My father, Noyes Capehart, has a page on his website called Thematic Variations where he states,
“It is one of the great lessons from the art of the past: the first response to a picture idea – the same could be said of a piece of music or a story – may not reveal its essence. One need only look at Monet’s impressive output of water lilies, or Morandi’s tireless efforts to capture the mystery of bottles, or Picasso’s insatiable curiosity with Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass to see that the first solution is not always the strongest. Beethoven fashioned no fewer than three variations of the overture to his Leonora, and Tolstoy was making changes with War and Peace as it went to press. I think of a variation in much the same way that I consider an artichoke; the outer, tough leaves have to be peeled away in order to reveal the delicious heart.”
The revisiting I have been doing of the image ‘Perennial Possibilities’ does not find itself in the same category as the master works that he mentions, but I still find it interesting to look at the different ways I have worked with the same blooming face and swirls over the past few months.
The image started as a work day doodle on the back of a report right as I was getting ready to start focusing my attention on creating my Curled, Whirled and Twisted coloring book. The doodle actually ended up being the start for two separate coloring pages as well as the principal image I used for the cover.
Since the coloring book’s completion I have been refocusing on my painting. I have finished three small paintings this month, one of which is an acrylic on chopping block version of Perennial Possibilities. I thought I was done with the image until I started putting this post together. Now I am wondering if I should revisit it yet again and see what else might evolve.
My coworkers are incredibly supportive when it comes to my artwork. I don’t think anyone finds it odd anymore that my brain does its best work trying to figure out the logic behind a report while my hands are doodling swirls and birds and such. A few especially nice folks have even left me little notes with doodles that made an impression on them which always makes me smile.
Most of my work doodles are the kind that happen when I am thinking about something else. They start with a little flower or a swirl and slowly grow through out the day or even the week. Some are better than others. I have plenty that are easily forgotten and also a few that turn into full size paintings or pages in a coloring book. But the other day I was not just doodling. I was sketching an idea for a painting for my sister’s birthday. I knew basically what I wanted to do, but I was not sure about the composition, so while waiting for data to refresh I was trying out different placement ideas. I then got up to get more coffee or something.
I knew it was not the kind of drawing someone would stop to look at, so I had no idea why when I came back to my desk several people were gathered around looking at my notebook. They were also shaking their heads and talking amongst themselves. When I got closer they asked my if I was okay and if while I had been sick I had “lost it.” And by “it” they meant my artistic ability. I made an attempt to explain I was trying out a new idea, but they didn’t seem to be buying it. So this post is to show them the finished piece in hopes of redeeming my poor little sketch. I feel like it did its job even though it wasn’t a glamorous one.
This little painting (8×10″ on paper) is a bit different from what i normally do. My sister Rachel, who turns 35 today, has always loved and repeatedly used the phrase, “I love you to the moon and back,” so this is my rendition of it for her, cause I love her to the moon and back and back and back, to infinity if you will.
Deciding to make an adult coloring book was more about process than concept. Every step of taking my doodles, drawings and paintings and transforming them into a coloring book was enjoyable. I loved the whole process. I started by going through my hoarders stash of files, journals and sketchbooks looking for images that seemed like they would be fun to color. Once I collected a big pile (I even found an envelope of doodles that go back to my high school days) I went through it again and again, winnowing it down to the ones that got scanned. Once the images were in the computer I brought them into Illustrator one by one and carefully traced the lines as vectors. it tool an average of two hours per drawing. I listened to great audio books and podcasts while I worked. It is very rewarding to click back and forth between the layers and watch a sketchy, perhaps even ragged, drawing turn into a smooth consistent one. I must admit that being able to use the computer’s precision to find the “perfect” line in the midst of several penciled attempts gives me a thrill. The next step was to print, review edit, print, review, edit until each one seemed to be finished. Some got there fast. The swirly profile on the last page of the book needed no revising, others, like ‘Breezy’, needed to be almost completely reworked before they seemed right. When I shared my progress with friends and family everyone was supportive, but almost to a person they wanted to know what my marketing plan was. I kept answering that my first focus was to get the book finished. I was honestly worried that if I thought all the way to how I would get the finished books into people’s hands I would get distracted and never actually complete the book.
But now it is finished. I have held it in my hand and seen it on amazon. Some have been ordered and they are being delivered. The creation part of the project is done. Now is the time to be thinking about getting them into as many hands as possible. But I have founded myself much more interested in thinking about what people will do with them once they have them and how I can get them to share their finished images with me. It is now that the coloring book as art form has become more of a concept to me. This is not visual art to just be looked at for a moment, possibly commented on and then likely forgotten. This is art to be participated in. By taking my pictures and stripping out their color and then inviting others, friends and strangers alike, to reapply it I am asking people to really engage with my art. I am hopeful that my lines and shapes will be just one step in a creative process as people take them and by their choice of medium, hue and manner of application change the mood and even the meaning of images and make them their own.
The past two weeks I have done better at spending at least twenty minutes working on little still lifes. I have been sketching my sweet potato sprout as it grows as well as Sophie’s hyacinth. The hyacinth did not turn out so well, but I am pleased with the sweet potatoes. The pink stems seem almost surreal in their brightness, and the leaves grow and change so quickly that each day’s study seems new.
Recently I joined the Quinlan Arts Center in Gainesville as well as the Georgia Art League that meets there. One Friday a month they have an undraped model and as I perused their website earlier this month I was excited to see that a session fell on my birthday. I marked it on my calendar and planned to ask to take a long lunch to give my self the treat of drawing from life. It had been four years since the last time I had the chance to join a figure drawing session and for weeks I let myself look more and more forward to it.
The fact that it was my fortieth birthday and I have been feeling the need to more strongly stake a claim for the artist part of myself surely contributed to how important it felt. When I realized that my coworker was going to be out of town and I would have to stay in the office to answer any calls, emails or tickets that came in I was crushed. I tried to tell myself I could make the next one, that it wasn’t a big deal, but it was. I prayed a string of self-centered prayers asking for my boss to change his mind, but didn’t beg or plead. I mentioned on Thursday I was disappointed not to be able to go out on my birthday but he was noncommittal. On Friday I considered calling in sick, but was uncomfortable with how obvious my lie would be. So I didn’t even pack my sketching supplies and headed to work feeling gloomy.
The morning turned out to be a better one than expected. The DotNet team of developers and I were able to make big strides on a large group of tickets we hope to deploy next week and my sister had a gorgeous bouquet of flowers delivered to the office. I was almost over not being able to go draw when my boss asked me why I hadn’t left for my “appointment” yet. I don’t think he has ever seen me smile so broadly or move so fast. I dashed out of the office and rushed to Target where I found no art supply aisle at all. I ended up buying a child’s pad with a carrying handle awkwardly carved out of every page, a box of crayons and some #2 pencils. I was in such a hurry I left the sketch book at the checkout and didn’t realize until I got back to the car.
But despite the trip back into the store and catching every red light and the gas light on my car coming on I made it to the session on time, got a good seat and even had a bit of friendly chat with a couple of the other artists. The session was meeting in a smaller room than normal as a workshop was using the large studio with easels, but everyone managed to find a place around the tables and a few easels brought in from other rooms. There were at least a dozen, maybe even 15, artists there, and it was a bit cramped. The armchair had a wretched pattern and the lights were set in a way that I worried would block my view but I was just so happy to have made it there nothing else mattered. Every bit of it felt like such a gift.
And it was a gift. Even though I had been anxiously awaiting the chance to attend the session I had not completely remembered how much I love to draw from life. I do not think there are many other activities that give me such happiness. For an hour and a half I totally lost myself in the pleasure of rediscovering it. The softly smirking model, her wavy hair, disappearing neck, and perky breasts and my eyes and hands working together to see how much of her pose, her attitude, how much of her could be captured in a two or five minute pose. Then with the longer poses the discipline of trying to slow myself down, keep the marks light while I tried to find the shapes, not lose the proportions or blow the composition. It was pure joy. I do not even know how to explain it. I think they used to call it getting “in the zone” but I do not think I am exaggerating to say I was ecstatic.
The drawings themselves are not excellent. It is obvious that in places it took me 5 tries to find the line, there are odd proportions and a torso that is incredibly improbable even with all the fore-shortening, but I am so grateful to have had the chance to make them that I just have to share them anyway. I enjoyed my career as a graphic designer, being a line cook fed parts of me that I didn’t even knew existed, and the daily challenge of my current job keeps me interested, but I love to draw. There is something deep in my core that knows that when I am in the studio with a pencil or crayon in my hand trying to give shape to what my eyes (or mind) see that I am where I am supposed to be. In that moment I am most me.
I would have thought that by the time I was forty I would have acquired more wisdom than has yet to come my way. It seems like all I have figured out is that things cannot be figured out and that we have far less control over anything than we like to think. I do not know what is in store for me. I do not know what will happen tomorrow. But I hope and I pray that no matter what path my life leads me down in the short or distance future I will not let myself to forget to keep drawing.
“No one understood how she still remained defiant.”
Mixed on paper, 8×5.5″, 2013