Saturday, December 5, 2015

"Never Concluded ...Half Erased"

Gian Carlo Calza wrote in Japan Style, "Hitting the target, like ingesting tea, is not the purpose of the exercise. The art of tea does, in fact have a goal to change oneself, to achieve an inner awareness of what is necessary to understand or avoid for the sake of one's development." I have been making pictures with a camera for 19 years. Making art with my camera wasn't a choice; it was frenetic and impulsive, compulsive, instinctual, unsatisfying, voracious, tiring and spiritually exhausting. I needed the distractions and escapes, the dive bars and brownies and boyfriends, in order to avoid or release the painful energy of making pictures. I made them to not forget. I made them because I didn't know how to draw yet. 

When I made a picture of the deer in my mid-twenties, I didn't want her to die on the road without notice. I wanted to be present with, what James Agee calls, the 'cruel radiance', of her what is... what was. I wanted to reflect on the familial deer that would notice when she didn't make it back to their spot. I wanted to notice she was there or no longer here. Making the picture didn't provide pleasure or alleviate sadness or express joy the way I'd hoped. I kept making pictures, because I had faith that I wouldn't need to make them forever. I had faith that one day I would find rewarding medium - a way of life that would make me happy. I made pictures because I derive meaning, as an empathetic and curious woman, by arranging that which I see within a context of shade, composition, light, texture, arrangement. I made order of the world with a frame. And I stowed the film away on hard drives and archival film boxes and I folded and tore and printed and hid from them.

As Nathanial Dorsky wrote in Devotional Cinema, “For alchemy to take place in a film, the form must include the expression of its own materiality, and this materiality must be in union with its subject matter. If this union is not present, if the film’s literalness is so overwhelming, so illustrative, that it obliterates the medium it is composed of, then one is seduced into a dream state of believe or absorption that, though effective on that level, lacks the necessary ingredients for transmutation.” I sought transmutation, deliverance, interpretation; I wanted to make things that were beyond what was actually there in the sense that I wanted to illustrate the essence without the literal (who, what, when, where, why).

Having worked in professional journalism at Time Magazine in New York, and training as a journalist, I found the literal too dangerous. When we outline the who, what, when, where, why, we run the risk of making an argument that something was. It's not true though. To truly delineate what was, it must be abstracted so that we don't believe we know what was. A visual object must represent the essence of the item at hand without revealing the is. As artists, the responsibility to represent something "truthful" is defeating, oppressive, exhausting. As Christian Rattemeyer writes in his essay Drawing Today as an introduction to Vitamin D2: New Perspectives in Drawing, "The continuity between ourselves and the larger world is expressed through drawing, through marking it, inscribing ourselves into it, through tracing it and making a record and index of some of the elements that surround us; drawing is part of life and life is an occasion to draw." Without the demand that drawing depict "truth", as in photography, I felt liberated to interpret my environment as an essence of what I experienced, not what others expected, demanded, saw, believed. Drawing re-offered the childhood power I once felt to own the world around me as my interpretation. Through drawing I purged a lifetime of practicing or believing that my art had to speak to other people's truths. Counter intuitively, by freeing myself from depicting some kind of "global truth", I created work that was more accessible to the viewer. The specificity of my film and photographs was exclusionary and prevented viewers from imagining or connecting. Rather than activating the mind, my work suppressed imagination. Drawing granted me the right to imagine, thereby imbuing mystery in my work which activated the viewer's mind. As my mentor David Gatten said at our last meeting, on seeing my prints and drawings, "You finally left room for the viewer."

My experience was a triumph of will to transcend years of frustrated art making by appreciating Bill Fick's technical expertise, discipline and positive spirit and by exerting devotion and discipline to this class.

The North Carolina Museum has an M.C. Escher exhibit up right now. Escher drew his father in his death bed. As many of us know, it takes a long time (sometimes hours) to draw something to our satisfaction. To take a picture is short, but to draw engraves the visual image in our psyche, our body, our mind, our spirit in a way that pictures can't because we have to spend more time and then we have to interpret this information through our body, with a pencil. Drawing is slow. Drawing takes time. Drawing asks for endurance and will and faith and peace. Sometimes we don't have that but the medium doesn't abandon us; she waits until we come back.

Pictures have a place in my life still, like this one of my favorite writer David Carr and I. I met him on Christmas Eve three years ago and he died last Spring. I didn't have my phone or camera with me that night, so he took this picture with his phone and sent it to me. "You have to have a picture of this night," he exclaimed, in his raspy, passionate, unforgettable voice.

Or the last picture I made of Spikey before we put him down.

And then there is the picture I made the day I got back from my grandma's funeral and had to catch up on my drawing assignment. Drawing in the aftermath of so much sadness delivered me to notice the technical skills I'd developed this semester in drawing class. "The light in Autumn ropes my spirit. Notice me :: love me :: surrender :: resist. Draw me. Draw the way I'm warm and always leaving. Draw the way she spun sugar into flan and made you eat grapes a las doce para suerte. Draw the way you miss her; draw the way you love her. Draw the way she is here, the way she is gone, the way we are always leaving and going and trying to figure out if they have just come or just left, having never come at all."

Focusing on those skills allowed me to pass through immobilization and to make.

As Rattemeyer notes, "In everyday life we afford drawing a place in the continuum of activities that go almost unnoticed, from telephone scribbles (for a certain generation, perhaps, when landlines prevailed) to the ubiquitous children's drawings so often brought up as the paradigm of accidental meaning, from laundry lists to mapped directions." In these formally 'unnoticed' moments which drawing asks us to notice, I discovered a mindfulness about existence and moving through my life which makes me immeasurably happy. And steady. And confident.

As Shellie Fleming wrote in her last essay titled Never Concluded ...Half Erased, while dying of cancer, “Will’s first lesson to me now howls through my mind (all puns intended) ... ‘learn something well ... then forget it.’ Forget it. FORGET. It would take most of my life before I would begin to self define in a way that could allow me to walk through the world with the kind of peace I would need to deal with life’s clutter and speed. And further, to know one must let go with each step.” In this Drawing class, and through a daily drawing practice, I discovered a peace to deal with life's clutter and speed.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Thoughts on Drawing: An artform that helped me stop and smell the roses

Having never taken an art class before, I was very intimidated by the art of drawing. I couldn’t understand how people could create such vivid pictures always starting with a blank slate. I didn’t used to like the idea of drawing because the idea of pursuing something that I didn’t have a skill for disinterested me. I didn’t understand how individuals knew which lines to draw and in what fashion to draw a realistic replica of what is true. I never thought drawing was a skill I could ever pursue. However, the weekly sessions allowed me to understand some basics to help the skill seem less arduous and broke down the language of the art into ideas I could comprehend ie. “drawing what is there,” using negative shapes to help outline the positive, using your pencil as a scale, etc. With time, I found myself more comfortable with attempting more challenging objects and became more excited about the prospect of drawing each week. I was definitely intimidated by my lower skill level, but I realized that drawing could be a relaxing outlet.

            With the weekly sketchbook drawings, I noticed I started to view my surroundings differently. I would pay more attention to the lines and shape of certain objects and caught myself analyzing everyday objects I wouldn’t look twice at to understand their makeup. Drawing has taught me to be more perceptive and patient. Sometimes it seems as if I am always moving quickly or in a rush or hurry or running out of time. Devoting time to my weekly pieces and sketches forced me to slow down, concentrate, collect my thoughts, and relax. I really appreciate the patience and perceptivity that this drawing class, in particular, has helped me locate. Although I am far from a skilled, well-practiced artist I have learned some technical and generic life skills that have made me very fond of drawing.


I have always enjoyed Impressionism. As a child, I was drawn to the bright colors and seemingly random scatter that somehow became a coherent image from far away. As I’ve grown up and frequented art museums, I have also come to admire the perseverance of the Impressionist artists in the face of rejection from the Salon and popular culture, and their confidence in themselves. I have always loved Monet, who I heard about a lot at art auctions my parents would attend, or Degas, whose paintings hung in my ballet studios growing up. I wanted to learn more about a less familiar Impressionist artist, so I chose Camille Pissarro, after a bit of preliminary research.
I primarily used John Rewald’s book “Camille Pissarro” in my research, which I selected randomly; I later discovered Rewald is quite a respected art historian. Rewald calls Pissarro the “dean of Impressionist painters…by virtue of his wisdom and his balanced, kind, and warmhearted personality”. Pissarro was born in 1830 on St. Thomas (Danish nationality), making him the oldest of the group of Impressionist painters. As Rewald writes, Pissarro meets Monet in London through Paul Durand-Ruel who is a pivotal Impressionist art dealer. With Monet, he studied English landscapes and learned a “looser technique and greater lightness of color” (14). During this time, “neither he nor his comrades [Monet, Renoir, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas] succeeded in having their works accepted by the jury of the Salon, which scorned their bright colors, their unconventional technique and their lack of rigid contours”. (15)
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“Two Women Chatting by the Sea” was painted in 1856, and depicts an image from St. Thomas. As one of Pissarro’s earlier works, he was influenced by Danish artist Fritz Melbye who lived on St. Thomas and guided Pissarro. He first developed his love of art when he was sent to boarding school at age 12 in Paris, but was persuaded into becoming a full-time artist by Melbye. This was painted one of the last times he was home in St. Thomas, before permanently moving away.

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“The Garden of Les Mathurins at Pontoise” was finished in 1876. This painting is noted for being one of the first to definitively divide color.
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Pont Boieldieu in Rouen, Rainy Weather was painted in 1896. This painting, painted in Pissarro’s later years, shows his move away from only painting traditional landscapes, and transition to also painting the movement of cities. Pissarro himself describes this painting: “The theme is the bridge near the Placede la Bourse with the effects of rain, crowds of people coming and going, smoke from the boats, quays with cranes, workers in the foreground, and all this in grey colors glistening in the rainwhat particularly interests me is the motif off the iron bridge in wet weather with all the vehicles, pedestrians, workers on the embankment, boats, smoke, haze in the distance; it's so spirited, so alive.” Pissarro painted this from inside the Hotel de Paris in Rouen, where his room overlooked this view. He started having eye trouble and thus, difficulty painting out in the open in the 1890s, so this was likely the reason he painted this from behind a closed window. However, as obvious, his work does not show any of these eye troubles; in fact, according to Rewald, “Pissarro himself considered some of his last works the best he had ever done” (18).


Rewald, John. “Camille Pissarro”. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

Bernier, Ronald. Monument, moment, and memory: Monet's cathedral in fin de siècle France Bucknell University Press, 2007. pg. 36

Art Gallery of Ontario: Selected Works. Art Gallery of Ontario, 1990 pg. 143

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Drawing: A story of an enjoyable frustration

I have always wanted to learn drawing, but I did not get a chance to do it until this class.

My drawing experience has been a mixture of frustration and enjoyment. Back to the first day of class where my story with drawing started, confused and frustrated, I struggled with getting the right scale, the right angle, or simply the right picture. I drew a top view of a table that was actually set up as a side view; and I took a lot of time tracing every single line. I was finding it hard to translate a three-dimensional object to a two-dimensional drawing. Also, I was thinking a lot about the lines, angles and shapes that I was observing, hence allowing my brain to misrepresent the actual set-up and mislead me in the drawing. Then, the first time I tried shading and value, I did not know how to go about it at all.  I did not know how shading could be used to make a circle look like a sphere or a ball.  And later on, when we moved from drawing objects to space drawing and empirical perspective where I had to consider the foreground, mid-ground and background and fill in a whole paper, drawing became so daunting that I was going around campus thinking about how a building or a particular space could be sketched.

Throughout these experiences and drawing assignments, I would begin with some frustration and lack of confidence on whether I can actually draw what I was observing; some time later, I would get even more frustrated because I would feel that I was not making any progress; and much later when I finish the drawing, I would feel that there is still room for improvement and the drawing could be made even better.  This process, although overwhelming, was enjoyable and rewarding. Indeed, I enjoyed drawing; and I found it relaxing. Also, I have always been fascinated by the visual representation of objects and spaces, and how a drawing can depict a reality, tell a narrative and convey a powerful message, I therefore loved learning about it and appreciated being involved in it by trying myself how to draw an object or space from observation such that it looks real and tells a story. Furthermore, looking at where I started and where I am now, I indeed learned a lot about drawing, developed a lot of skills and became more confident about it. I learned a lot by taking time in the process of drawing rather than rushing through it, by watching the professor draw and checking drawing videos online,  and by practicing and trying different drawings in the sketchbook.   

After taking this class, I got to the conclusion that drawing is a disciplined process that requires time and focus to get better results, resilience to overcome frustration, interaction with other learners and artists to exchange ideas and learn new techniques, and finally practice to improve and keep improving. 

Drawing in My Life

My best friend loves negative space. She likes to look not at what is there, but instead what is not there. She looks for possibility and ways to create substance out of what is missing. She is uniquely attuned to those that are the most invisible in society, and can find ways to transfer this into her art, by giving voice to the marginalized and forming beauty around the blank spaces.

I had always admired her devotion to negative space, the often ignored parts of any visual image. But, other than her preferred form of silhouettes, I could never figure out how to integrate this into my life. This semester, I was looking for ways to fill the blank spaces in my life; I asked myself: What have you always wanted to learn but never made time for? 

As a visual learner, I have always been drawn to images. I can remember emotions by how things looked in a room at the time, and study for tests using diagrams with different colors. Drawing has taught me the power in simple black and white tones to evoke feelings, feelings that change with nuanced differences in how sharp a pencil is or how much pressure is applied.

Strength is an aspect of drawing I had never quite considered. Strength and delicacy must balance to give an image realism. Throughout the semester, I struggled to and am still learning how to make my images not look cartoonish, with thick outlines and heavy shading. I've found that balance is necessary to make an image aesthetically pleasing, and more so, to tell a story. Objects must be placed in parts of the picture that balance the use of the space, shading must allow for light and dark, subjects must balance to tell some narrative or express an idea, and creativity must be grounded in realism that allows viewers to empathize and relate.

Drawing simply uses one tool - a pencil - and one backdrop - a blank sheet of paper - to create an image. Perhaps the best lesson I have learned this semester has been the magic in sitting down with no technology and no need for endless materials to tell one's story. 

Drawing is.

Drawing is precision.

There is something to be said for the unique ways in which an object occupies space and one’s understanding of how to recreate those same edges and contours onto a paper. One must learn to cast aside the ever-imposing biases of the brain, and look instead at what is. Rather than relying on our perceptions and preconceived notions of how lines are angled and shapes arranged, one must force past those ideas and take the scene for what it is – not what we think it is, and want it to be. It is a matter of staying true to your eyes and portraying that in front of you exactly as it appears. There is special attention to be paid to depicting an image in just the right way, as any perceptual bias can easily distort the desired product. One must not only have mental control over conflicting bias, but also physical control of materials. Any tool used to create or remove value demands a certain degree of precision. Whether drawing lines or shading spaces, one must exercise control of how the pencil is moving, how hard one is pressing, and how much of the area is being covered. It is one of the few things in life that can be altered no matter how may times one may have made mistakes previously, and instead craft the exact desired outcome.

Drawing is expression.

In a class on observational drawing, I was slightly discouraged that we would not be able to explore more abstract or interpretative approaches. I felt almost limited by the fact that we would be focusing on real objects and scenes, but soon found that those concerns were completely unfounded. Drawing from observation challenges your skills as an artist because the visual depiction must mirror the original real life object or scene. Anything that is not accurate is evident, whereas a conceptual piece gives more freedom for deviation. I have also learned that drawing from observation is not at all limiting, even though you have the material in front of you. In a given classroom where each student has an object in front of him or her – each identical, from the same perspective, in the same lighting – there will be a different depiction of the object on each paper. There is always room for personality. The ways people accentuate certain lines, the painstaking care in which they fill in detail, the boldness of their lines, the depth of their values. There is much for the individual to add, and there is always room for that personal touch. There is room for expression, for feeling. For capturing essence. This applies to both the essence of the scene and the feeling one is trying to convey, and the essence of the artist him or herself. In mirroring that which already exists, variety stemming from individual projection is still present.

Drawing is therapy.

This has been by far one of the most difficult times in my life and the times where I can sit and just sketch for hours on end are some of the most relaxing. I find solace in the process of creating a full narrative from what used to be a blank page, in projecting myself into my work through my attention to detail and precision of line, in carefully tweaking an image until it is just so. It is one of my only opportunities in life in which so much forgiveness exists. I have the ability to constantly alter a piece until a get it to where I would like it. It is one of the few things I know a favorable outcome is not only possible, but also achievable. It gives me a sense of control when absolutely everything else falls out of my hands. In life, nothing is guaranteed. The chance to correct previous mistakes, redefine the narrative as you wish, or  change your mind entirely and start fresh is something that is not as easy to attain as when one is drawing. Drawing has been my escape from all the times when everything else begins to overwhelm me, as my full focus is devoted to that which I am creating. It is not only a distraction where I do not think about interfering issues, but also something in which I can actively apply myself and engage.

When asked to explain what makes it so amazing, or why I love it so much, I can rattle off a list of qualities or feelings that I associate with it, but at the end of the day, it just is.

Drawing is.

Drawing For Me

I have always considered myself to be a creative person, and I have always loved drawing. That said, I think I am a decent drawer, but it is definitely not my natural area of strength. I want to be an interior designer, and I am a very visual person, but I think I really work best with 3-D objects. This class was  an excellent fit for me because it allowed me to develop a skill I enjoy as a hobby in what felt like a very safe, inviting, and non-judgmental environment. In my future, I will certainly have to draw, though it is more likely to be formalized, exact scale sketches. Although that is a different skill, I think that being comfortable drawing free hand and developing an eye for how scale should look without using a ruler are invaluable assets.

One of the elements that I enjoyed most in this class was the chance to increase my comfort level with charcoal. Although I took drawing in high school, we had been primarily restricted to graphite as our medium. I really love the drama that charcoal adds to an image, as well as the increased ability to blend and use deeper tones. I also enjoyed using my imagination and exploring non-architectural subjects. I became much more comfortable drawing as the course went on, and developed new techniques each week. I particularly enjoyed learning to draw different textures, such as grass, trees, and stone, and I feel that I improved tremendously in this area the more I practiced.

I look forward to continuing free handed drawing in addition to design sketches. It will always be a past time that helps me to clear my head and look at things in a new light, and I certainly hope to take more drawing classes in the future after my time at Duke.

From the end spring new beginnings

To me, drawing is an escape. It's a place where anyone can make the impossible possible. As an engineer, I spend a good amount of time making the ideas in my mind into physical objects, but limits on time, energy and technology only allow me to do so much. As my final drawing demonstrates, I ultimately choose to draw the things I hope will one day become reality, possibly with my help.

All that being said, over the course of my life I rarely drew anything. When my mind started to wonder I would build with Legos, or later in life, design in Computer Aided Design software. The traditional start, a sketch or drawing, was always something I considered doing, but was usually an additional step I wanted to jump past. I'm not always a very patient person.

I took this course because I knew I had neglected an important skill and outlet I could utilize, and knew that without the kick in the butt that would come with being graded for my work, I would never spend the time to hone my craft. At this point I am glad to say that I surpassed my own expectations and became far more able than I imagined.

When I started the course, I had little to no experience drawing. Every line was a struggle and required calculation on my part. Every moment spend drawing was a chore, and one that I was not very good at. But, as time went on and I pushed myself to try things I didn't think I could do (plenty of study drawings exist in a recycling center somewhere), I found a rhythm and strategy in my work.

To be quite frank, I never imagined I would be able to make the drawings I did towards the end of the semester. In the words of the wise philosopher, Aubrey Drake Graham, Things went from "0 to 100, real quick". The class was exactly what I needed, freedom with guidance and motivation. I've learned a lot and have become not only comfortable with drawing, but excited about it. Who knows that spaceships will be drawn into the sky next.

My Throughts About Drawing: The Great Draw-Scape

Whenever I draw, it has been as an escape, a way to express my thoughts and feelings without the constraints of words and grammar. Language does not allow for the freedom of expression that drawing does. When you draw, you can be as purposeful and precise, or as loose and abstract as you wish, but with words, things have to make sense. You can't just string a bunch of letters and words and expect to feel like you've accomplished anything. But when you draw, you can let the pencil (or other writing utensil) guide. You don't have to use your brain, you can rely on your intuition. Putting feeling into pen strokes is natural, the weight of the lines, the shapes and patterns can all convey emotion non-verbally. Drawing allows you to separate yourself from the humanity, it allows you to move past the distinctly human burden of language and making sense to express yourself in ways that are more natural. 

Of course, drawing too has its constraints. It is difficult to begin without drawing objects. Objects are like words and background is like grammar, providing context to a picture. With confidence (and practice) drawing can transcend "real' objects. Although we didn't venture into color for the sake of this class, colors provide something to drawing and visual art that words can't provide to traditional journaling and written expression. Have you ever tried to define what a color is? What is blue? What is red? Colors can't be adequately describes in words but when you show someone a color, you immediately evoke a whole spectrum of emotions. With drawing (and visual art) you can tap into these ingrained experiences that unite people. 

Drawing is a universal language, and that is why I have thoroughly enjoyed expressing myself through it this semester.