Sunday, April 29, 2018

A FatMan to Remember Me By

 "How to draw a picture:
       Start with a blank surface. It doesn't have to be paper or canvas, but I feel it should be white. We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember. You have to establish the horizon. You have to mark the white. A simple enough act, you might say, but any act that re-makes the world is heroic. Or so I’ve come to believe."
-Stephen King (Duma Key)

     As much of a cliche as it is, starting on "The White," I agree, is (at times) a daunting undertaking.  It wouldn't be a cliche, something so commonly known throughout the world, if there wasn't some grain of truth to it. I love this excerpt from Duma Key because I like how Mr. King compares it to memory or trying to remember something. It's an excellent metaphor for those who are not artists. Because, for many of us, making that first mark on "The White" is quite similar to the frustration that you feel when there's this thing that you know that you know and its just right there; either on the tip of your tongue, or right around the corner in the labyrinth of your brain or just tucked away in that file that you somehow misplaced within your mind's eye... You know it's there!.. It's right inside you!.. But how to get it out?! It's taking that first step, a courageous commitment, to put into this world what has only, previously, existed in your mind. Its a World of Possibilities but you have to choose a path and commit to it.

U.S.A. by artist Erik Ravelo

     Art is a powerful thing. It has the power to provoke thought and wield change in the world, the power to persuade others to consider a new point of view, the power to challenge and even the power to heal.  This is the other reason I love this quote. You never know what someone else gets out of the work you do as an artist, and in some cases, art really can remake the world. Artists usually make art for themselves; a channel of their own expression. No artist really expects that what they do will have a great impact in the world; a least no artist I personally know. That's not the purpose of creation. Art is for the artist that creates it, first and foremost, and any subsequent impact it may have thereafter is exactly that: thereafter. In that way it is self-centered, and (for many artists) making their art is a solitary act. So, a shade or two of narcissism in the act of your creation is fairly normal, in my humble opinion. I like Mr. King's comparison of beginning new work as a "heroic act," because in so many ways it is. If the work is political in nature, the artist could be judged, even crucified for expressing their unconventional opinion on matters going on in this world. If the work is therapeutic in nature, it takes courage to dive deep within yourself and explore how you feel and then to pull it out of "the deep" and share that with others. Every artistic journey begins with "marking the White," and it takes real guts to do that.

     I began this particular project last Summer. I didn't work on it constantly from beginning to end. I was hopping around, so to speak, working on several things at once. So it took a while for this piece to be completed. Ironically, enough: {on a side note) it was completed about 4 to 5 weeks ago. I have been wanting to share it, but wanted to write something about my experience and thoughts and feelings on this work, but didn't know where to really start. I was having difficulties organizing my thoughts into something cognitive and, to be honest, cohesive. I was having trouble "marking the White;" which is usually not a problem for me. However, a lot has happened over the course of working on this project: I've lost the war and ended a very long-term relationship. I had a series of illnesses that eventually led to a staph infection. I lost 30 lbs. I quit smoking. I began learning a second language (Spanish.) I have made a decision (well, re-made and old decision) to pack my bags and move across the country this year. I threw out my old portfolio of work and started again from the beginning on new work.  A beloved pet was diagnosed with a terminal illness and I watch her slip away very slowly each day. And other things. SO many things have happened in the course of working on this project. So many things that one mostly goes through on one's own. Things that are not easy. Things that will ultimately re-make my world, personally. Things that take a great deal of courage to do...

     ...I think that is why I have had trouble putting what I want to say about it in words. But here we go:

     Like all of the FatMen illustrations I have done, I pulled the "theme" out of a hat. Well, off of a list I had made of possible FatMan illustration ideas. I tend to gravitate toward whatever "theme" or "idea" that speaks to me at the time. So, to be frank, I just decide,"I'm going to work on a new FatMan." Then I look over my list and wait to see what jumps out at me, like a ghost.  On a sad note, I have lost my original "Idea Journal" where the original FatMan list was located along with many other ideas I had for creative projects. I have since replaced the journal itself and can recall some of the ideas that I kept in it, but there are some that will be lost for good. Or perhaps may be recalled later in life... if I can just remember. ;0)  Fortunately, I wrote a previous blog about a previous FatMan illustration that included many of the theme ideas for the Fatman from that original list. It may not have them all but it was relief enough for me to find that treasure. lol.

     "Ghost" is a rather appropriate simile, I think for this FatMan. There's something quite haunting about this Sun Bather that hasn't been like the others that came before it. It could possibly have something to do with the fact that I was listening to Stephen King's Duma Key for the entire duration of work on this piece.

     Which, as an aside, let me take this brief moment to encourage every artist out in the world to read this gem. Not only is it a greatly imaginative story, but there's something about it that resonates the truth of what it's really like to be an artist in a hauntingly honest way. It also reflects on the theme of memory and remembering. It is, without doubt, my favorite of Mr. King's novels for that reason, and, in my humble opinion, I feel it's his best work.

     ...So perhaps listening to ghost stories will influence you to draw something haunted, right? But haunted is just how I've felt, as of late. I moved to this town that I live in for a relationship that no longer exists. One that has died over the course of ten years. Since this place is so small and I have had no other context for living here, now that the relationship is dead, living here is like living in a house that is haunted. I'm surrounded by memories and shadows. Even though I know that ending it was the right thing to do (for both of us, honestly,) it still feels like a pale shadow of what things once were. I think as I have gone through this transformation, the Fat Man has also. As if the image of him only emerges by the effect of my personal experiences; a haunted patina; a ghostly reflection of my life at the moment. I'm not sure if any of this makes sense to any of you out there, but I hope that it does. This is only part of what is influencing the piece.

Death Seizing a Woman by Kathe Kollwitz

     This illustration isn't about that relationship. I have, in fact, began and planned a series of illustrations that do deal with my feelings about that situation. However, as those pieces are just therapeutic in nature, I don't always work on them. I only work on those pieces when I'm feeling very emotional about that particular part of my life, either positive or negative. Those works will deal with the duality and complexity of those feelings and that experience. I more than likely won't finish working on them until after I've made the Big Move. However, the FatMan Sunbather does not, in terms of the influence of its content, make any reference to my former relationship, but I do think that my feelings of being haunted have made their way into the fabric of the work. So, only in that regard, has the breakup influenced this illustration.

"When I made Pictures, I fell in love with the world.
When I made pictures, I felt whole."
-Edgar Freemantle (Stephen King, Duma Key)

     All this being said, the theme that I gravitated toward was that of a vintage Sunbather. Its what I grabbed off that list to work on. When the theme was originally jotted down, it was always meant to be a Victorian period sunbather. I love both the Victorian and Edwardian time periods. For some reason, my romantic heart gravitates toward them and romanticises those periods of history.  I usually decide to work on a FatMan when I'm feeling stagnant artistically, and perhaps personally, my life was stagnating. However, I just felt the need and desire to work on a new one last Summer.  I also pretty much had the composition, more or less "Sussed-out" for it as you can see by the quick thumbnail I sketched below.

     The research and sketch part of the illustration was a lot of fun to me. I'm kind of a nerd that way. I recall that even though these stints of sketching were spaced apart. Coming back each time was as if no time had transpired between the last time I set down my pencil until the time I picked it back up to work on that project. Art is like that, sometimes. It's a welcoming calm harbor from the chaotic storm of life. It is home. I loved researching some of the particular details of that time period and then translating them into my illustration. Details like what beach life was like for people back then. It's such a striking contrast to what the beach life is like these days.
But in some ways, it's very similar. There weren't cars parked on the beach in those days, but people did fish and people did lie about and drink in the sun. people still come in all varieties and sizes and shapes and colors. People still even go to the beach fully clothed instead of in bathing suits. The bathing suits were fun to research. They were more modestly designed back then. Also, the temperatures in the Summertime were not as warm as they are now so being fully clothed in Victorian wardrobe was probably not as uncomfortable as it is to view in a photo. But, I am merely speculating. Other than just what is in the historical record, we can only imagine what some things were like back then. It was interesting to discover what people used as "swimming Floaties" back then. An intertube was an actual intertube form the inside of a car tire in most cases. Fun, huh? Perhaps that where the phrase "greasy fun" comes from. Who knows?

     I also found it neat that it was not uncommon to have a puppet theater and other frivolities on the beach. I enjoyed sketching and studying the details of the Punch and Judy puppets and puppet theater.  I just recently did have the pleasure of going to the Center for Puppetry Arts again to view the expanded exhibitions of both the Jim Henson wing as well as the World of Puppetry. There was a reconstructed Punch and Judy puppet theater as well as some Punch and Judy puppets on display in the museum. The entire exhibit was fascinating.
Anyway, it was fun to draw the puppet theater even though I ended up cutting it out of the final illustration.  In the end, I wanted to create a space that was simultaneously warm and inviting, yet, upon further inspection, cold and isolating.  The puppet theater was just out of place in the final concept for this piece. I often like to mention things that I plan but cut in these posts because, well, only DVDs have deleted scenes, not illustrations. Hmmm... "Deleted Scenes" from pictures seems like an interesting idea. I will need to log that in my idea journal to meditate on in future.

     In the end, I sketched a FatMan that I liked and was pleased with committing to a combination of researched bathing suit and hair details for him. As I stated earlier, I was listening to Stephen King's Duma Key on audiobook while I worked on this illustration. I love listening to audiobooks when I'm working in the studio. I probably listened to it in its entirety twice, through the course of working on this FatMan. It got to the point where I was having dreams about vintage beaches and ghost ships. I just love the idea of how part of that ghost story is how things come into existence because they are drawn or painted. Its imaginative story and a powerful metaphor for how art affects the world and how memory actually works inside our brains.

Color Composition Sketch

     That is the other part of what I think this piece has come to represent to me. The haunted domicile of memories. After I had sketched out the final drawing and inked it. I had scanned it into my computer to digitally paint it. However, that part didn't happen until much later. A lot of time went by before I began working out a Color Compositional Sketch for the final illustration.  I remember debating on making it colorful like a Victorian postcard that would have an illustrated depiction of a beach on it OR I could use a more muted, quasi-monochromatic sepia color scheme to mimic an aged vintage photograph (as photography was a new technology at that time.) And photographs are supposed to evoke memories; to help spark the electrical synapse-bridges from one moment of our pasts to the next. Photographs are silent maps. They are the ghosts that you can touch. I think Duma Key ultimately influenced me to go with the photograph concept as photographs from that time period seem very haunting and ghost-like to me and this FatMan illustration was more and more beginning to be about isolation and reflection in solitude.
Even the Bathing houses in the background imply that there is potential for out FatMan to be surrounded by others, but they are parked up on the beach (they normally are in the water if in use) which means they are as empty as the beach is desolate, apart from our FatMan of course. Editing what went in the background this time around was a pretty long and arduous process. I did have other things planned for the bach, but ultimately the 3 empty bathing houses on a desolate beach seemed to be "right." Sometimes the absence of something speaks more than the presence of it; the visual/artistic equivalent to actions speak louder than words. Definitely what you do has more actual meaning than what you say, especially if those two things are in conflict. So an empty beach it was, and illustrating/painting that beach was a lot of fun and very pleasurable. "God is in the details," they say, even if you don't believe in deities. I even began to have dreams that took place on desolate island beaches. I think listening to Duma Key probably had a great deal of influence there.

     Just a quick aside about how I construct these particular Illustrations:
     I have this photocopy of the sketch of the very first FatMan. I use it as a guide to redraw my "Themed" sketch and get it closer to being (what animators call) "on-model." In other words, more accurate to what/who the FatMan is, aesthetically.  I then use a pretty common technique many illustrators use by laying sheets of tracing paper over each other to add other details in the composition. This comes in handy if your not quite certain what will go where or what looks good where. I then inked my layered tracing paper construction on the lightbox.

     Sand texture, I mean getting it right, can be a challenge. I must say, I haven't really illustrated many things that are set on a beach. I did illustrate a "postcard" in the past and remember how challenging getting a good "sandy" texture was. It has to be both grainy tactile and yet visually smooth. Water waves were also challenging yet fun. I think I spent several days just on painting ocean waves and nitpicking over how surf looks in my FatMan's universe.  Trying to stay more monochromatic was a slight challenge, even. I usually love a buffet of bright color, but I'm pleased with the choices I made with this one.

     There really isn't much more to discuss with this piece in regards to the technical/artistic process. I have added screenshots of the illustrations progress below.  The journey this time around I think was more of a mirror/reflection of what I had been going through as I worked on it, but not necessarily a representation/symbol of it.  This piece resonates a sense of haunted introspective contemplation in a space of safe solitude. I can't say what it evokes in others when they look at it, but for me, it will always mean this and remind me of this time in my life. An artistic photograph, if you will, of my life at this time and in this place. I think I'll stop there. It's good to know when to stop as well as how to start. I think about the duality of those things a lot lately as I make my transition into what the main character of  Duma Key, Edgar Freemantle, calls the life after his traumatizing accident. He calls it his "Other Life." I've thought a lot about that phrase, "other life," as I'm making these new and big changes and also as I'm getting older. Perhaps this is my midlife crisis. lol.

     In either case, I leave you all with another great quote from this fabulous book that I think you all should go out and read/listen to immediately if you haven't already:

"How to Draw a Picture:
Know when you're finished.
And when you are, put your pencil or your paintbrush down.
All the rest is only life."
-Stephen King (Duma Key)

Until next time, friends,
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, 
keep making art.