Saturday, June 2, 2018

Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation


This post was originally published June 19, 2015.
I should have never removed it.

"Sure I may be tuckered, and I may give out, but I won't give IN!"
-Molly Brown (The Unsinkable Molly Brown, 1964)


     At 11:40pm on April 14th, 1912 An Unsinkable ship hit an Iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean and began to sink.  1,317 people stepped on the bow of that ship expecting to make it to land again. Only 710 survived.  Molly Brown was one of those 710 that were lucky to survive.  But do you ever really survive an event that cataclysmic?  I can only imagine what it must have been like to be there stranded in the water on the life boats, half glad you were safe for the moment, half crushed by all the death surrounding you and the endless pleas for help from 1500 others that drowned and froze to death that horrible night.  Freezing to death yourself out in the cold air wondering if you were going to die out on that icy ocean waiting to be rescued, terrified you may never be before its too late.  Four hours on that ocean waiting before aid did finally come. However, just because you were pulled aboard safety and brought once again to dry land,  I'm certain the haunting visions and screams followed those 710 the rest of their days on this planet.


     I hit an Iceberg this year. I feel as if I have been scrambling to get to the life boats and escape the inevitable sinking of this Titanic.  After 6 years (9 years as of 2017) you get attached and bonded to a person.  To listen to them tell you they are much happier in your absence...


     Well it feels like hitting the iceberg and feeling it shred your hull as it scrapes and tears down your side.  Then you begin to be submerged in the icy cold waters.  And this breakup has been like that icy cold water.  It chills you to the bone before it freezes you to death if you don't get yourself in that life boat and start rowing...

...and rowing and rowing and rowing....


     This piece has kept popping up in my mind with that one single message I placed at the bottom of it 3 years ago:  "Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation." 

     I felt so compelled by that message, such an evocative message when paired with that image. It resonated something to me then as it certainly has now, just these recent past months.  It is a call to muster your courage, to brace yourself when the unexpected happens, to HOPE.   You will survive, you can survive that Cold Freezing Dark Night and Menacing Deathly Waters. You will come out of it all Stronger Braver and Wiser and then finally get to place your foot on dry land once more, grounded in yourself.



     Molly Brown became an American Legend, not only because of her survival of the Sinking of the Titanic, which is what made her famous, but the story of her life reads like something right out of a collection of All American Fairy Tales.  Born Margaret Tobin in a three-bedroom cottage, near the Mississippi River in Hannibal, Missouri, on what is now known as Denkler's alley. Her parents were Irish Catholic immigrants. She had six siblings (two of which were half from both parents previous widowed marriages.)

     At age 18, Margaret Tobin relocated to Leadville, Colorado. She found a job in a department store were she met James Joseph Brown, nicknamed "J.J.", an enterprising, self-educated man. His parents, too, had emigrated from Ireland.  Brown had always planned to marry a rich man but she married J.J. for love. She said, 'I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I had determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give to the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim, but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I'd be better off with a poor man whom I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me. So I married Jim Brown.'


     But not only did Molly find true love and happiness at such a young age, incidentally she found wealth as well.  The Brown family acquired great wealth when, in 1893, J.J.'s mining engineering efforts proved instrumental in the production of a substantial ore seam at the Little Jonny Mine of his employers.  They bought a $30,000 Victorian mansion in Denver, Colorado, U.S., and in 1897 they built a summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak, which gave the family more social opportunities. Margaret became a charter member of the Denver Woman's Club, whose mission was the improvement of women's lives by continuing education and philanthropy. Adjusting to the trappings of a society lady, Brown became well-immersed in the arts and fluent in French, German, Italian, and Russian. Brown co-founded a branch in Denver of the Alliance Fran├žaise to promote her love of French culture.

     Molly and J.J.'s truly was the All-American rags to riches story, a fairy tale where Cinderella and Prince Charming might live happily ever after in their Colorado Castle. However, life is never really like a fairy tale most times and things fell apart romantically for Molly and J.J.  After 23 years of marriage, Margaret and J.J. privately signed a separation agreement in 1909. Although they never reconciled, they continued to communicate and cared for each other throughout their lives. The agreement gave Margaret a cash settlement and she maintained possession of the house on Pennsylvania Street in Denver, and the summer house, Avoca Lodge in Southwest Denver near Bear Creak. She also received a $700 monthly allowance (equivalent to $18,374 today) to continue her travels and social work. 

Kathy Bates as Molly Brown in Titanic (1997)

     So when Molly boarded the S.S. Titanic that fateful day in April in 1912, she boarded it alone. It truly was her own Strength, Courage and Tenacity that saw her through that tragedy.  She often said that the love for her children and the hope of seeing them again was also what got her through that night.  She was, after all, boarding the ship home to see them after her visit abroad to France.  Even after her separation from her one true love, the devastation of the Titanic and the nasty family brawl with her children over finances once J.J. died, Molly still continued her charity and educational work for women and underprivileged.  It was this very Spirit that Earned her the nickname "Unsinkable."  Through all the tragedy, heartache and adversity she had to overcome in her lifetime, she still kept on with a vigilance that many of us in this world can only admire.


      Strength and Courage through Devastation.  I have thought about these words so many times these past 6 months and I have actually tried to write this Blog Post SEVERAL TIMES previous since My Titanic struck the Ice last January, but for some reason, I would just delete 98.5 percent of what I had written and start all over again.  Just reading this post right now, you probably wouldn't think to yourself that I had spent 6 months off and on writing and re-writing it (mostly re-writing it), but I have. Though I normally loathe reading/writing overly personal things on public online forums as I usually feel it's borderline "whiney" if not overly so, I knew deep down I needed to write about this piece and how I felt about it when I illustrated it and how I feel about it now and what it means to me in the current context of where I am right now in my life.  I also wanted to say it in a way that might connect to others going through the same experience or a similar one. I wanted this piece to not only express my love and admiration for such a brave woman in American History but I wanted my expression of her to inspire others and help them get through their Icy Cold Nights.


     This piece was originally made as a reaction to the Capsizing of the Concordia back in 2010.  It made me think so strongly of the Titanic and how similar the incidents were, but also how thankful I was to how dissimilar they were and the death toll for the incident on the Concordia was much much lower.  I was in the mood to create a new FatMan illustration and I felt that I had found my inspiration in the terrible accident.  I would use the legendary visage of the Unsinkable Molly Brown to inspire hope in others during times of hardship, wether it be the Concordia or just really anything.  How ironic or fortuitous that I would create something that would eventually help me cope through a tough situation in my own life years later.


      I started with just sketching a hybrid of Molly's countenance and blending it with the typical "FatMan" Characteristics I have come to include in that series of illustrations.  As you can see from the sketch I had to work it a bit before I was finally satisfied of a good Molly-FatMan hybrid.  As per usual the FatMan is always show in profile.  I know I have mentioned it in previous posts, but being shown in profile is a visual evocation and symbol of power.  Since the FatMan character has kinda become my artistic muse, the profile is perfect.  More specifically in this illustration, I wanted to evoke the power of strength and courage that Molly had displayed in the tragic sinking of the Titanic.


      I began researching photographs of the real molly brown and based the dress she is wearing on an actual dress that Molly wore when she gave captain Arthur Rostron an award for his heroic rescue of the Titanic survivors.  I had a lot of fun recreating the pattern from her blouse in the photograph.  As you can see the photograph is in black and white and like many of the photographs from that time, there is no reference for color.  So the color of Molly's Hair and of her dress are based on the hair and wardrobe of Kathy Bates, who plays Molly in the American film, Titanic.
Also I wanted to use a lot of purple in her dress.  Not only because the purple would harmonize quite well with all the Blues I was using in the Nighttime icy ocean surrounding her in the illustration, but also because Purple is a traditionally regal color and has been used in portraits of majestic European families for centuries. It is said to evoke the power and majestic nature of person who wears such a color and radiate it from them.  I liked the idea of infusing a bit of that into this illustration; radiating hope, strength and power to all who see her.  She is holding her oar upright, again evoking that Egyptian iconography of power and strength.


      On a quick side note: if you don't believe the evocation of power from simply being in a particular pose or posture, read about the Wonder Woman Pose. Just google it, if you dare...
or you just click on the handy dandy link I have provided above.


     The rest of the illustration work, after figuring out the color composite sketch, really goes like clockwork. That is the REAL FUN of Illustration: getting to play and experiment to create textures and balance lights and darks with color, etc. At least, that is the fun part of the work for me.  I do enjoy the challenge of all the creative preliminary work that comes before it, all the drawing challenges and such. However in the middle part of the illustration process, you get to put a movie or record or audio book on in the back ground and just enjoy the simple pleasure of making art.  More specifically, in this case, digitally painting.  Anyone who enjoys the pastime or profession of painting understands the absolute zen nature that the activity brings.  I very much enjoyed painting her.  I did capture some screen shots of the work in progress as you will see below to see some of the process of this illustration.







     I worked on this piece over the course of 2 weeks off and on. From the work in progress shots you can kinda see where I focused and when. Since it's been some years since I created this work, it's a bit fuzzy as far as my time line.  Essentially I sketched out the illustration, inked it and then scanned that in the computer. I then made a rough color composite sketch of what I wanted the color to kinda sorta be.  I then began painting (digitally).  I work in many painted layers of varied opacity, so the process is slow but yields some nice results when I take my time to do it the way I want it to be done. I started with her head, hair and hat. I then went onto her dress and blouse. I then did her oar, boat and all the other boats in one stint. then the Titanic Iceberg and Ocean detail.  Lastly I created a luminescent effect from the moon onto the illustration.  That pretty much sums up the process of the illustration.  I only spent 2 weeks on the piece itself but it reaches out far beyond that frame of time with it's content and message.


     So my Titanic did strike an Iceberg last January, yes.  And the captain of my ship no longer wanted to cruise along side me, yes. Did I have to jump ship for my own survival from drowning in a relationship where I was not loved back? Yes, I did, but in all fairness I was ordered to jump and pretty much forced overboard (very similarly to how Molly was forced into a life boat that night.)  Am I resentful of the outcome, yes, slightly so, though I'm not certain if the damn ship wouldn't have sank itself anyways. If a captain wants a ship to sink, then the ship eventually will, if anything out of self-fulfilled prophecy/projection.  In other words, if you continually say things are going to happen a certain way, then, subconsciously, you are working on making that come to fruition.


     I have learned this about my experience:  You have two choices when the boat is sinking. You can either drown on the sinking ship or you jump in that Life Boat, grab an oar and start rowing for shore or rescue or whatever else life may be bringing you. Either way, the boat is going down. You can't save it no more than you can make someone love you, that doesn't.  So choose: Life or Not Life.  I choose Life.  The good thing is that sometimes when your rowing along, people can pop in and out of your life boat with you. People that are going through something similar, that get it, that get you and it's nice to have someone pick up an oar and row some of that way with you as I'm certain they are also glad for the company as well: Your Row Buddies (as I like to call them.)  They may stay for a short time or they might stay for a little while and then hop boats, but in either case, enjoy the time you have and be grateful for it.


     Strength and Courage in the Face of Devastation.  It's not so bad when you realize your not bearing the tragedy of it all on your own.  So take hope in that, Titanic Survivors, whomever you may be out there.  You are not alone.  Look to Molly for the inspiration to find the Strength to get through it and you'll be right as rain once again, stepping on that shore wiser and closer to yourself than you were before.

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

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