Sunday, November 30, 2014

My thoughts on art

If I could redo college all over again, I would major in art. (Of course, Duke offers no such major and I would probably have had to go elsewhere for my endeavors in this hypothetical "Edge of Tomorrow" type scenario.) I am not particularly confident in my drawing skills, but getting lost in the details and spending hours upon hours trying to capture the flow of movement or the glint in someone's eyes is oddly satisfying despite the frustration and cramped, smudged hand that results. In spite of my love for drawing, I had not sat down with pencil or paintbrush in hand or doodled at the edge of a notebook since probably freshman year of college. It is already my last year at Duke. I think I have just been caught up in schoolwork that before taking this class I had completely forgotten that I do draw.

A classmate of mine from high school that I knew fairly well did in fact go to art school. Once in a while when she posts a piece of hers she completed on Facebook, I sift through her album and think about how different my life would have been if I had maybe done what she was doing. As a first generation Chinese-American, my life aspirations err on the side of practicality. Art as a career has never been an option.

I used to take art lessons back in middle school and high school. Classes were on Sundays at my art teacher's house. We would always start with a quite warm-up doodle--a horse or a person because my art teacher was particularly fond of those subjects. Then, once we had woken out of our morning daze, we would sit down for a still-life sketch, and if time would permit, we would pick up the paintbrush for some watercoloring. Once I was old enough and my technique deemed solid enough, I graduated from watercolors to oil paints. While I loved drawing and painting, as high school progressed, I got busier and busier and the time I dedicated to drawing diminished greatly to the point where I didn't even feel like I had the energy to wake up bright and early on Sunday morning to attend art class. At some point I stopped going altogether. I never bothered with taking a drawing class in high school. The closest I came to fine arts was a perspective drawing class I took that involved usng a ruler to draw 3-dimensional geometric shapes. While making the perfect cube was interesting enough, it was never as satisfying as drawing a person or painting a landscape.

Last year, I studied abroad in the UK at University College London. There, on a whim I took a course called 19th and 20th Century Art in London. We went all around London to the various art museums and learned about what the title of the course indicated--19th and 20th century art in London. I remember walking into one of the many rooms of the labyrinthine National Gallery during one of these class excursions and seeing Van Gogh's Wheatfield, with Cypresses in front of my eyes. The painting sent chills down my spine. I remember sitting down in art class trying to copy the painting with oils from its likeness in a magazine when I was in high school. To be standing in front of the real deal was a magical experience for me and reminded me why I did in fact love art so much.

While I do think about what my college experience would have been like if I had studied art, I don't have any regrets. Art is something I will be doing for the rest of my life.
-Alice Huang

A trip to Art Institute Chicago By Kay Zhang

During the break, I had a marvelous trip to Chicago. The afternoon in Art Institute Chicago was definitely the most enjoyable and incredible part. (And the warmest) I cannot wait to share what I saw with people interested!

I had the luxury to look at the authentic drawing from Claude Monet, the most famous impressionism artist (and whom I blogged about). Looking at the water lilies after writing and researching about them is an magical experience. I stood in awe in front of it and greedily looked and looked.

The impressionism gallery also possesses the well-known painting by Georges Seurat, A sunday on la Grand Jatte. The significance of this painting is beyond my words. 

And finally, priceless paintings by Pablo Picasso and Van Gogh. 

Thoughts on Drawing

"Are you an art major?"

"Are you a VMS minor?"

"Are you studying art in college?"

No, no, and no. Although I've been drawing for as long as I can remember and took 2 and a half years worth of art classes in high school, I never thought I'd take an art class at Duke. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE to draw and I doodle uncontrollably. Put a pen in my hand and I'll be drawing without even realizing it. But I was never a big fan of "structured" art classes. My IB art class in high school was a free for all. I could develop my own style and draw whatever subjects I desired to, real or imaginary (although I did get some disdainful looks from my principal when my drawing of a nude woman was displayed at the senior art gallery). On the other hand, that art class had no structure whatsoever, so I spent most of the year slacking off and the last two weeks frantically starting/finishing 10 quality drawings. They probably would have turned out better had I used my time wisely.

After high school, without the outlet of a drawing class, my doodling increased exponentially. God only knows how many times I opened my notebook to study for a test and found nothing but strange doodles on every page. Yikes. My GPA probably would have benefitted from an art class or two just so I could get the restless doodling out of my system, but I just never thought I'd have the time to take another art class, and the prideful part of me thought I didn't NEED to take any more art classes. I had my own style and I knew what to do with it - what else does an art hobbyist need? It wasn't until Matt told me about this class (and I realized it could fit in my schedule) that I decided to give it a shot.

In this class, I was forced to draw things I wouldn't usually draw. Still life pieces and landscapes are not my forte. I would rather draw the human body (I'm obsessed with achieving anatomical accuracy and I even considered a career as a medical illustrator for 10 minutes back in '08) or work on typography, cartoonish figures, or whatever else my hand decides to draw. And I usually draw the same way I write essays - the night before, all in one sitting, without any of this "study drawing" or "rough draft" business. But the more time I spent on a piece, the more satisfied I was with the results. This seems like a no-brainer to most people, but I'm the type of person who starts and finishes a task in the same day instead of working on it a little bit at a time. This class also reminded me of things I already knew, like the fact that I HATE charcoal and prefer a plain ol' mechanical pencil over all other media. But being forced outside of my comfort zone has helped me grow as an artist, too.

Outside of this class, I will continue to draw because it's just a part of who I am. But to go back to the questions that opened this post - You don't need to study art in an academic setting to be an artist.

Be observant. Think differently. Draw. Repeat.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

My Thoughts on Drawing

I have grown up around art my entire life. With my dad’s profession being an artist, we have never had a bare wall in the house and always had every supply necessary to make our school art projects look professional. With a little help from my dad, I always turned in the best looking projects as a kid, and I always felt like art was a piece of cake.

However, later in my life, this all changed. During middle school (after I decided it was no longer appropriate to have my dad help me with projects), I noticed that my visual arts skills were no longer comparable to some of the other students in my class. But it was also during this time that I realized my creativity came more natural to me in other forms, such as musical instruments and dance. My interest in visual arts began to fade as my talent in performing arts flourished.

Whenever a family friend would ask me, “Can you draw like your dad?” I would always reply that my sister got all of my dad’s artistic genes and that I was keener on performing arts. But this wasn’t really the entire truth. Although I loved performing arts, I loved visual arts as well. I always have and still do. I have always wished that I could simply pick up a pencil or paintbrush and produce a masterpiece.

My sister never had any more help than I did on art projects, yet she continued to excel at drawing, painting, sculpting, and scrapbooking. When we reached high school, she was always making the best Student Council posters and class projects, and I was on the dance team and in the orchestra. My sophomore year, I tried my luck in a ceramics class, and although it was one of my favorite classes, I always ended up bringing home unsymmetrical plates or wobbly pots. Even to this day, when my friends see the stuff I made in ceramics, they think I took the class in middle school. But hey, I had the time of my life.

Even when I came to Duke, I knew I would end up taking art classes because, no matter what the end results would turn out to be, I knew I would have the most fun in them. It always seemed like my skills never really improved in the classes, but I would always have fun trying! Therefore, when I walked into drawing class on the first day, I felt like most of my time would be spent having fun and trying (with a stress on trying) to improve. I didn’t feel like I was ever going to have the ability to create an image that I would be able to say “Wow” to, but I knew that either way, I would leave at the end of the semester saying “Wow, I loved that class!”

Although I still feel like some people have a gift and are born with more artistic abilities than others, after taking this class I realized that in order to become better at anything, you need to have patience and you need to practice. I never thought about this much, since my dad could literally draw a realistic image in just a couple of minutes. But after taking this class, I know I really did improve. I would always be proud to show my dad and sister my work, and even they noticed how much better I had gotten throughout the semester. It seems crazy how far I have come… I remember when I almost had a panic attack when I first heard the word “shading.”

As I started to see myself improve, this made me want to put more time and effort into my drawings. I did not only catch myself saying, “Wow, I love this class!” but also saying, “Wow” when I completed an assignment every week. I feel like performing arts will always come more natural to me… but this class made me realize that I should ever give up on improving in visual arts as well.

Thoughts on Drawing

Like many others, drawing was one of my favorite pastimes when I was younger. I was always fascinated with cartoons so for the most part that's what I drew. I didn't get the opportunity to take up drawing classes outside of the ones in elementary school so my skill level stayed stagnant and I struggled with drawing realistic figures. As I got older, I found it harder to find time to draw given that I needed to devote more time to my academic courses, however, I still found myself sketching images and drawing animated objects from time to time in my notebooks.
When I saw this class in ACES I was thrilled and thought I would finally get the chance to properly learn how to draw. I also intended for this course to be my breakaway from the rigorous load that my Pratt courses demanded. I've always been told I had an aesthetic eye and in different personality tests I scored high in creativity so I was excited to now have the opportunity to allow that creativity to flourish. Unfortunately I did not do much research on this course before I enrolled and soon found out it required a larger time commitment than I had imagined which made it even harder to fully develop my skills seeing as though I was overloading this semester. In the beginning of the semester it was relaxing, however I soon started to realize I could only dedicate enough time to do the assignments and not really practice as much as I would have liked to. Even though I did enjoy this class and improved slightly, I felt like I could have gotten a lot more out of it if I waited until my senior year where I wouldn't have been bogged down by my core engineering classes.

In terms of the structure of the class, it was not really what I expected either. Although we did get feedback on how to improve drawings, I thought there would of been a more hands on approach in showing us exactly how to draw certain things like trees for example which I struggled with. The class seemed to be set up in a trial and error format and the only way you could really improve was if you studied yourself and others' techniques as well as practiced enough to the point you were satisfied with what you were drawing. So again back to time commitment, I wouldn't recommend this to anyone who is overloading or has a bunch of classes requiring problems sets due each week.

Despite the few personal problems I had in this course, overall I enjoyed it and don't regret a minute of it. In this class I learned about line weight, shading, and negative space which were all techniques that helped me to achieve realistic drawings. In class we focused on drawing what we saw rather than what our minds imagined because sometimes it was easy to distort shapes and scale objects differently than how they actually appeared in front of my eyes. Looking back over my body of work I am proud of the work I have done thus far and plan to continue practicing how to draw in my sketchbook. Hopefully senior year I can take another drawing class so I can really commit to my artwork and truly express my creativity. Although my drawings may not have always been the most impressionable, the stories. themes, and reason behind them made up for the lack of artistic expression. It also helped that I drew from a personal standpoint and sense of familiarity.

I would like to get more practice with drawing from realism and maybe get the opportunity to learn how to draw people rather than just buildings and architecture. My first blogging assignment on Lord Leighton really peaked my interest on the matter of using humans as the subjects of drawing because his pieces were so beautiful yet seemed so simple. Also once color is added into the mix, there is no limit on the possibilities of what can be created! But if that does not work out, there is always animation which got me interested in drawing in the first place :)


I am not very good at drawing. Therefore, when I signed up for this class, it was clearly not because I thought it would be an “easy A.” That’s not to say I wasn’t a little surprised at the first class meeting when Professor went over the agenda week by week. But I signed up for this class because I wanted to expand my ability in one of the areas of art that I had largely neglected up to that point. As a homeschooler, art has always taken up a significant portion of my free time. When I was younger, crafts and sewing; as I reached middle and high school, painting, fused glass, pottery, and cross-stitching. But never drawing. I’ve always enjoyed studying a good drawing, of course, but particularly those that bordered on surreal, like M.C. Escher or Picasso. I never bothered to take the time to create replicas of what I could see, when I could create abstract work out of my own head.

Fused glass bowl I made in high school

Painting of mine from 2013 
 I am still probably not what would be considered a good drawer, but I am certainly better, in the sense that I now know how to approach a project properly: break it down, order Thai food, don’t panic. Coffee helps too. One thing I do think I accomplished was putting my best foot forward on my assignments, but through effort rather than skill. The number of hours I put in (especially for the last three assignments) encompassed most every superhero movie I know, a significant portion of the series Bones, and about half the stand-up specials on Netflix. In the end though, I was able to produce drawings I was proud of, and which also had ridiculously elaborate narratives, thanks to the sheer amount of time I spent both working on and thinking about them.

 This class has certainly changed aspects of how I view buildings and landscapes. When I drove home for Thanksgiving, I thought wow, that mountain ridge would be gorgeous in charcoal. When I arrived at the front of my house I thought oh, that wraparound porch would be a bitch. To be honest, I would like to draw that mountain, and maybe even give the house a shot. And at least I wont be bashing in anyone’s kneecaps with my drawing board on the bus to Smith. I certainly like the idea of being able to take something someone likes, like a favorite superhero or landscape, and give it to them. But that certainly doesn't mean I plan on giving up my weird abstract stuff! 

Cross stitched peacock I made over the summer 
My newest area of semi-comfort
(a sketchbook drawing of Dionysus)

Friday, November 28, 2014

On Drawing and Neurosis

One of the nicer things I was told freshman year was that I looked like an engineer. Fresh off of high school where I was quite literally taken as a joke - recipient of 7th grade Stand Up Comic Award (should've won Best Hair) (still upset about it), being perceived as an engineer made me feel smart, dexterous, full of ingenuity. The reality however was that I was not an engineer, I couldn't even find e-quad. I was an artist - albeit, an insecure, fearful, and fully in denial artist.

Drawing at Duke has brought up a lot of these insecurities. I declared a Visual Arts minor my sophomore year haphazardly. Hadn't taken any classes, didn't really plan out when I'd take them, and wasn't sure that I was actually capable of making my creativity tangible. In spite of those hesitations, I declared the minor, focusing primarily in film classes. I took art in high school, where I concentrated my work in painting (primarily watercolor), but stopped after tenth grade to pursue more "legitimate" studies. I remember Ms. Mahan-Cox taking me out of class, convincing me that no one really needs AP US History and that I would be doing a great disservice to myself by discontinuing art. I never liked Ms. Mahan-Cox, so naturally, I completely rejected her advice.

It only took six years to come full circle, finding myself in an art studio. I took a step away from the policy classes and critical theory courses to evaluate what actually gave me delight. Pleasure. What actually makes me feel good, and not what I was supposed to do to be a *real* Duke student.

The first drawing classes were very therapeutic. I can't recall the last time I sat still and concentrated on one given task. The still observations were an exercise of my subjectivity - my hyperawareness of details, obsession with relativity, the tension between aesthetic illusions and *objective* realities. I felt more adept than I did in high school, more confident and more legitimate in my position as "artist." It was all happy and zen until...the landscapes. Staying focused and present wasn't hard in the studio; but in the real world, I lost. Pathetically. Unless I woke up at 3 or 4 am, I was assaulted by sensory overload. If I did get into what I was drawing, I'd spend hours meticulously creating shadows on a pole, only to realize that, shit, I have 95% of the rest of this landscape to draw. With each assignment, I could feel familiar fear boil under my skin. I wasn't content with mediocre, but I was afraid to create something I knew I was capable of. I knew that the time I spent on it would be directly correlated to the product, but I wasn't willing to put in all the time I knew was personally necessary to create a drawing that I was content with. I spent an average of 12 hours on an assignment, which really wasn't enough to capture the detail that I was looking for. Explaining to friends that I couldn't go out because I had a drawing to do made me feel...well, unjustified. How could a drawing possibly be that hard? Rephrasing the question adjusted my framework - How could using your eyes, as a camera, to capture the image in front of you, as it is, and transferring that information to your hands and to a pencil, and subsequently on paper, not be difficult?

The answer is - it's not difficult; it's downright unbearable. Consistently challenging your perception, and making you realize that your way of seeing may not always be consistent with what is actually there. That that line you thought was curved is actually straight and going at a negative 45 degree angle. In a melodramatic sense, it's a little destabilizing. But like all things, our perceptions could use a little deconstruction, and drawing became a tool to challenge my visual assumptions and a tool to acknowledge what was present.

In the time since my freshman year, I've worked through some of the fears that prevented me from pursuing creative acts. If I were to give some words of advice to freshman Yohana, I'd tell her, "the closest you'll ever get to an engineer is eating a Chicken Bacon Ranch wrap at Blue Express." I'd swiftly follow that with a light punch to the pre-Kickboxing bicep and whisper, "but you're an artist. An impatient, frantic, neurotic artist, but an artist nonetheless."