Thursday, October 18, 2018

Inktober Day 5 "Chicken"

Day 5 of Inktober, prompt word "Chicken." I previously wrote about Inktober here. This is an edited version, but I'm posting these daily on my Instagram, @St.Rhinoceros:

Inktober 2018 Day 5 "Chicken" by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros
Day 5 of Inktober 2018, prompt word "Chicken," by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros. Ink with dip pen. [Image description: black and white realistic style drawing with shading and crosshatching. The top half is a man's face, turned 3/4 toward shadow and looking back over his shoulder in horror with bulging eyes. The bottom, where a mustache would be, is instead 8 or so human legs attached under his nose, running to the right and away from the viewer, kicking up a cloud of dust.]

Inktober Day 4 "Spell"

Day 4 of Inktober, prompt word "Spell." I previously wrote about Inktober here. This is an edited version, but I'm posting these daily on my Instagram, @St.Rhinoceros:

Inktober 2018 Day 4 "Spell" by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros
Day 4 of Inktober 2018, prompt word "Spell," by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros. Dip pen and ink wash. I'm happy with the image, it's basically what I envisioned; but I realized at this point in the challenge that drawing in this style is the biggest time investment with the least amount of visual payoff for me. I always think cartooning will make me draw looser, but in fact it's the opposite. My style is loosest, simplest and most honest when I'm aiming at realism. Good to know, and just one reason I'm glad I participated in Inktober this year. [Image description: a cartoonish black and white drawing with ink wash in the style of The New Yorker cartoons (that was an accident). It's a view straight down the hallway of a bland modern hospital, from slightly above eye level. A bored nurse in scrubs walks along the ground pushing a cart. Meanwhile patients float near the ceiling. In the close foreground only a man's belly, feet, and one hand holding a cup of tea are visible. In the middle-ground a woman in a wheelchair floats with the top of her head pointed toward the viewer. Just behind her a man floats with his back to the viewer looking at the ground, like a pathetic version of a famous heavenly figure in the Sistine Chapel. They float just under fluorescent lights and are in shadow; they also cast shadows on the shiny floor that stretch toward the viewer. Extra shadows hint that there are more floating patients behind the wheelchair lady, out of view.]

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Inktober, day 3 "Roasted"

Day 3 of the Inktober challenge which I previously wrote about here. The prompt word is, "roasted."

Inktober 2018 day 3 "Roasted" by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinoceros
Day 3 of Inktober 2018, prompt word "Roasted." Sadly my scanner struggles to reproduce the color of the highlighters I used; the original is black & white ink with neon orange (pink and yellow) highlighter ink. [Image description: realistic-cartoonish drawing with ink wash of a man and woman walking down a street. The man has his head down, the woman looks at him worried, they're holding hands. They walk in front of a wrought iron fence and residence with a window. It's black and white with a grid-like appearance because of the architecture. Superimposed and offset at a -30 degree angle is an orange line drawing of a nuclear bomb exploding and the man covering his face. The drawing extends beyond the borders of the black & white image.]

Inktober, day 2 "Tranquil"

I'm participating in an online drawing challenge called Inktober, where you challenge yourself to complete one drawing per day in ink throughout October and post it online. There is an official list of creative prompt words which people can choose to use, and I am, because it's fun to see what everyone else did for that prompt. Participation is completely casual and chaotic, so judging from Instagram I think around 4,000 people are doing it. The point is simply to improve your skills and motivation while finding community in an otherwise lonely discipline.

I've been posting low-quality phone camera pictures on my Instagram account @St.Rhinoceros but I finally scanned some drawings in and edited them. I'm starting with Day 2 here because I stupidly drew Day 1 so large that it won't fit on my scanner which means I have to photograph it with perfect ambient light that won't leave a gradient (and it ALWAYS leaves a gradient). I'm not in the mood to do that right now. So here is Day 2, prompt word "tranquil":

Inktober 2018 day 2 "Tranquil" by Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros
Sketch for Day 2 of Inktober 2018, prompt word "tranquil." This is my husband and I relaxing in the Schlosspark in Berlin, a huge garden behind a restored Baroque palace called Schloss Charlottenburg. The garden adjacent to the palace is strictly formal in the Baroque style, while the rest is a wooded area around a winding river in the Victorian style of Frederick Law Olmstead with the occasional Italianate formal area around a sculpture. A resident flock of sheep move from field to field and keep the lawn areas under control without mowing them. It's in the middle of the city but so quiet. [Image description: a black and white pen sketch of a landscape with a large tree on the left with sunlight filtering through its leaves, a ribbon of river in the middle with a reflection of the trees and shrubbery, and a riverbank on the right with trees and a sculpture that are illuminated by rays of sunlight flowing diagonally from left to right. A row of formal evergreens cuts the composition horizontally at the waterline in the bottom third. Under the tree on the left in the mid-foreground a couple of people lie on the ground on a blanket sleeping or looking up at the sky. The style is somewhat academic but looser.]

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dancer Bastien Hippocrate

I saw this dancer in a music video and thought he was very interesting:

[video: moody music plays as a man, who first appears to be drunk, is actually dancing in a dark allyway. The scene is lit by car headlights, as if the camera is in a car that is backing slowly away while the dancer follows.]

[video: a male dancer (Bastien Hippocrate) and female dancer (Claire Dessimoz) are connected by five-foot tethers, placed to look accidental, on various parts of their torsos and limbs. As they dance they manipulate the other person's position and catapult each other around. The style is writhing and messy. The first part is just the sound of the dancers shuffling and huffing, then abstract guitar music starts, which sounds loose, moody and agitated.]

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Avant garde clothing by Iris van Herpen

[video: a profile of fashion/costume designer Iris van Herpen, showing clothes that are extremely impractical, ethereal and surprising. Lots of laser cut shapes and high-tech materials manipulated so they look organic or alien.]

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Playing Clair de Lune for a blind 80-year-old elephant

video description: A piano sits in a forest clearing. A man leads an elephant to it, pats its trunk, and plays Clair de Lune by Debussy. The elephant waggles its ears and listens patiently.

There's a little-known elephant sanctuary near Nashville where I used to live (little known because they don't allow visitors; it's purely for the elephants). I wonder if they ever do this.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Mummified Crocodile Conservation

I hope you enjoy this video about the British Museum conserving a mummified ancient Egyptian crocodile with 30 baby crocodiles on its back. They're preparing it to be exhibited for the first time in 70 years. First they send it through a CT scanner to see what is inside and how it is mummified, but to do that they must inspect it for fragile areas and pack it up to be moved. Next they remove dust with inventive tools and reinforce certain areas with adhesive.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Too Many Statues? A Response to Martin Kettle.

As you may know, a few days ago a bronze statue of English suffragist Millicent Fawcett was unveiled in London's Parliament Square. It is the much-celebrated first female statue in this public square of national importance which already features statues of notable historic kings and political figures such as Winston Churchill. And today in The Guardian, Martin Kettle penned an article calling for fewer statues, not more.

Of course he has no objections to commemorating Fawcett, Kettle explains, and proclaims his goodwill toward Tuesday's celebrants. But the thankless job of raining on their parade falls upon his shoulders. To add to the statues in London, he fears, is to fuel an arms race of power and influence that statues represent. What's to stop Trump or Tony Blair from commemorating themselves in statue form to express their power, just as commemorative Reagan fever swept the US a few decades ago as an expression of conservative power? After all, he points out, one need only look at the statues already in Parliament Square to see how conservative they skew-- hardly representative of the legacies of liberalism and labour movements (or the existence of Scotland). To only the most power-hungry of the victors go the spoils. Modern Britain is a pluralistic society, writes Kettle, yet its statues do not-- and indeed cannot-- reflect that. No new statues in Parliament Square, proposes Kettle. What we need is fewer statues-- to remove a few of the real stinkers.

 When I read a news article I always keep in mind that authors rarely get to write their own headlines and bylines, and are under immense pressure to remain topical and grab attention. So I'm willing to look past the article's function as a knee-jerk "Nuh-uhh!" to a feminist achievement, in order to consider the real meat of the article. Look past it, but not ignore it. After all, how fishy is it that the midst of a celebration for a feminist statue just happens to be the moment when Kettle feels enough is enough with the statues-- or at least the point where The Guardian feels the public will be receptive toward that view? Only a few years ago a Gandhi statue was unveiled in Parliament Square, and before that Nelson Mandela. If Kettle is right about London being in the grips of a statue-fever, more are surely to come. Perhaps Kettle could have saved his article for one of them and avoided participating in the spurious phenomenon of declaring that things have Gone Too Far the second women approach equal representation in film, academics and the corporate world. Unless the next few sculptures to go up are also popular and well-deserved, in which case Kettle's entire point would be more challenging to make.

However Kettle makes an excellent point about statues as the inevitable expression of power-hungriness and dominance rather than popular merit or moral courage. Even with all the care modern generations give to commemorating only the worthy in statues, will our values hold up through future generations? Or will they seem as backward and oppressive as centuries past appear to us? At the same time, when one considers 2018 as merely part of an endless ancient cycle of struggle and renewal, why would Kettle imagine the struggle to express dominance would stop with us? Why would our generation stop striving to leave our enduring mark on the world?

While "dominance and power" might conjure images of a feudal warlord, it's surprisingly also an excellent framing of what Millicent Fawcett helped achieve. Suffrage is about power: the power to participate in one's own government and society, to lead, to resist, to excel. It's no mere feel-good "empowerment," as the word is so often overused today, but the very tangible power to move through society as an equal citizen. And while feminists abhor accusations of seeking dominance over men, the fact is that a belief in equality and civil rights must be socially dominant in order for any citizen not to be oppressed. How can a woman access crucial services if the majority of those services subscribe to male supremancy? Fair interactions with police, judges, medical workers, educators and the rest of society would be impossible, and so would be equality.

The presence of a bronze statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliamentary Square is likely more about cementing and defending that dominance for all to see, than about Fawcett herself. To those who support male supremacy, the Fawcett statue is precisely the Trump statue scenario that Kettle fears. Likewise those more radically progressive citizens for whom Fawcett's activism was hopelessly milquetoast are taunted by the more moderate dominance represented by the statue. Under-served pluralism, indeed.

Yet despite nods to "plurality" and "both sides," no British person of any political faction has gone unaffected by what Fawcett helped to achieve. If anything, marking the magnitude of women's suffrage with her sculpture a over century later is too little, too late. Is it really fair to say we need a new approach to public art because statues like hers "emphasize our differences"? Isn't that just a way of erasing history to avoid controversy? Do women really need to be "brought together" with those who deny their equal humanity?

But when Kettle sets up a false division between banal statues and public sculpture with more artistic merit, I beg to differ. Sure, statues often fall victim to the bland yet offensive bad taste of art-by-committee, simply because so much money and municipal posturing are involved. But so does much of high-profile public art. Are we really going to weigh the social value of Trafalgar Square's giant bronze thumbs-up against the hard-boiled civic blandness of the Fawcett statue? To what end? When I think of a great statue I think of a sculpture that is also a great work of art. The Einstein memorial in Washington, DC., comes to mind: an expressively lumpy hulk luxuriating in his quiet, intimate hideaway, as inviting and accessible as he is lost in thought. Or the lesser known elegant bronze punks of Berlin, forever occupying the steps of a local government building in their aesthetically marvelous simplicity, relatable yet eternal. Or Rodin's lyrical memorial to the Burghers of Calais. Unlike art-by-committee, great statues like these don't give the public what it wants so much as give the public what it didn't yet know it wanted. They teach and connect because they're visually expressive as sculptures. What we need are more of these. Not less.

With his call for public art instead of statues, I think Kettle is also too quick to dismiss the cultural value people continue to place on statues. Most folks don't have the money or clout to influence what gets cast in bronze for the town square. But if the popularity of Madame Toussad's is any indication, statues still matter to people. Hardly any vacation or weekend downtown is complete without a selfie with the local statue, especially if it's physically accessible. Popular bronzes of Marilyn Monroe and Jimmy Hendrix demonstrate that people still want to see their generation's heroes celebrated as statues. Sales are strong for pricey handcrafted figurines of fictional characters. Since Planet of the Apes, films have relied on the pure shock value of the beloved Statue of Liberty getting damaged. The playful Italian film Garibaldi's Lovers shows life with public statues in a warmer light.

But what I'm especially surprised Kettle neglected to mention, given its topical relevance, is the current movement to remove offensive statues in the US. Protesters recently toppled a statue commemorating Confederate soldiers in front of the Durham County Courthouse which had originally been erected in the 1920s heyday of the KKK. Police had greased it up with cooking oil to prevent protesters from climbing on it, but following the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally and murder, the statue met its end, appropriately enough, when protesters managed to fasten it in a noose. Meanwhile in New York City a statue of Dr. J Marion Sims, the "Father of Gynecology," is no more. Enough New Yorkers found it untenable to glorify a man who experimented on and tortured enslaved women in the name of medicine, that they successfully petitioned for its removal. Many traditionally celebrated figures who contributed to Native American genocide or who were among the most egregious proponents of slavery are also up for removal. There's a tradition of toppling statues-- Hussein in Iraq and Stalin in the former Soviet Bloc come to mind-- and the US is having its moment.

While on the surface a tendency to topple bronzes may support Kettle's call for fewer statues, in fact I think it shows just how deeply connected people remain to these sculptures and the symbolic power they represent. I don't see this moment as the moment when we all calm down and, for the first time ever, stop struggling for visibility in the town square, stop caring so much about statues, stop striving to adjust the public displays of power to something that more accurately reflects our lives and times.

The "arms race" that I see happening is really a different sort, a race between nonspecific public art and specific statues. That is, between sculptures commemorating enormous groups or ideas versus individual heroes. The lure and moving power of less specific, more abstract sculptures is undeniable. Take for example Käthe Kollwitz's powerful Mother and Son (Pietá) in a Berlin memorial to all victims of war and tyranny. Or Yinko Shonibare's new abstract "Wind Sculpture" in New York exploring migration, the African diaspora, and the American mixing of cultures. I'm glad to share a world with these sculptures. But the case for celebrating individual heroes is becoming ever more difficult-- and not for lack of unsung inspiring people. The idea of the Hero is increasingly removed from reality, placed into superhero movies, sci fi, fantasy, or even the distant past. Today's "badass" female character exists in mythical realms, has supernatural powers, does violent things that would be illegal and impossible in our real world. Never does her world threaten to intersect with reality. In our increasingly bureaucratic, anonymous world the idea of a real-world hero-- indeed, that individual people just like us can make a difference-- threatens to disappear.

A miscellaneous handful of Kettle's points still stick in my craw. If the 1970s unveiling of a statue of Winston Churchill in Parliamentary Square was "inevitable," why is it still so surprising (through no fault of Kettle's) to commemorate those who won liberty for literally half of all citizens? Why does Kettle approve of the US policy of waiting over 50 years after a president's term to commemorate him in statue, yet considers the Fawcett statue an imprudent (though honorable) move over a century after she made her mark? And finally: what, exactly, is so horrible about having an abundance of statues?

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

An advice letter from Holly's boyfriend in Breakfast at Tiffany's

 Dear Prudence [I imagine him writing],

I've been dating a woman for a few months now. We prefer not to use labels. When it's great, it's great. Shoplifting together, shared interests (we're both poor and good looking) and lots of sexual tension. We're both sex workers so I don't need to hide that aspect of myself from her. But I'm beginning to have some little niggling doubts. 

For example, she wakes up in late afternoon and spends her days chain smoking in a sawn off bathtub. Sometimes she wears bedsheets in public and most of the time she doesn't even wear pants. And occasionally she breaks into my apartment through the window and watches me sleep. Should I be worried? I find myself embarrassed night after night when she wakes up the whole apartment building because she can't be bothered to keep up with a key. Am I crazy or is that kind of an a**hole move? And then there's the monologue-ing. She is... an interrupter, for sure. I feel very unheard. Her scattered conversations are nearly impossible to follow. I feel bad because she must have some undiagnosed attention disorder which she's obviously trying to self-medicate with alcohol, but it's the 1960s and we don't know about attention disorders yet. That could explain why she doesn't properly feed and care for the cat she keeps. She jokes that she doesn't feel responsible for it, but surely she would never actually harm or abandon it? She also has a side gig helping the mafia organize crimes, though she reassures me that that's nothing to worry about. 

But my question is mainly about the other men in her life. I found out she walked out on her husband and stepchildren, but that's understandable because she was like fourteen. And this one's a doozie: whenever the sexual tension mounts she tells me I remind her of... her little brother?! She even calls me by his name. And one more thing-- I just found out she's engaged to a Brazilian millionaire, but it's just for the money. It seems a little unfair, since I broke it off with my sugar-mamma to be with her. I simply assumed, without asking, that she wanted to take things to that level. Why doesn't she wordlessly understand that she belongs to me and we're dating now?

Do you think we can make this work? I sure hope so because she's gorgeous, super quirky, and she's a regular Mozart on the ukulele.

-Nervous in New York

Image from Breakfast at Tiffany's
Characters Paul Varjack and Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Royal Ballet Rehearsal

I've become completely addicted to this series of filmed rehearsals of the Royal Ballet on YouTube. I could have sworn I previously posted a clip of the final caterpillar scene from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, also from the Royal Ballet, but I can't find it so I'll post it again. I found a rehearsal of this same scene and it was fascinating.

[video: a scene from the Royal Ballet's production of Alice in Wonderland, in which the Caterpillar convinces Alice to eat a magic mushroom. It's mischievous and Arabic-inspired with undulating hypnotic moves; at one point the Caterpillar goes off stage and comes back with all his "legs," i.e. eight more dancers in a train behind him inside a long caterpillar costume.]

I particularly enjoyed this clip of a rehearsal of a ballet called Elite Syncopations, which provides insight into a production that I probably wouldn't have enjoyed very much in its finished form.

[video: the Royal Ballet rehearse Elite Syncopations, in which a comic coquettish trio dance to ragtime piano music. It's one of those choreographic beasts where every little wrist flick has to be perfect.]

I can't watch this without remembering high school tap instructrix Stephanie Hamilton standing at the back of the auditorium during dance rehearsals screaming "JAZZ HAAAAAAANNNNNDS!" out of the darkness. It seems it's always the petite people who can bellow loudest.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Portrait of Berthe Morisot

I finally finished the Berthe Morisot portrait that I wrote about a few posts back. It's somewhat large (about a meter tall). I'm happy with it. However I was slightly disappointed with the texture of the paper for charcoal (it's meant for etchings, I think) because it didn't allow me to manipulate the charcoal as much as I'd like once I laid down the original lines. Next time I'm going with something smoother. Suggestions are welcome (not that toothy Ingres texture though please. The physical sensation of drawing on that gives me the heebie-jeebies).
The finished portrait of painter Berthe Morisot, by Ciana Pullen.
The original photo of Morisot that I worked from. I also looked at other photos of her over her life to get a better idea of what she looked like, since I had to fill in and make sense of a low resolution image.

A detail of the shoulder. I like the texture of the erased lines.

Detail of the face and hand.

Detail of the fringed blanket. The blanket didn't exist in the original photo but the composition needed something black in that shape. I suppose I could have made it anything; a backpack, a roofing shingle, a large sheet of nori. But I went for the obvious. The fringe was fun, especially the white spaces between the threads which took on an unexpected stained glass effect.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sketch in Progress of Berthe Morisot

I mentioned a few days ago that I was having some trouble in the studio and planned to simply draw a portrait of Berthe Morisot from a photo. It's been slow going; first, because it's quite large, and second, because I had to build myself a support wall for my studio space, and I don't have a car. Which meant walking down to Bauhaus (which is like Lowe's, except they don't finance the Republican Party) and carrying back my supplies in 2 trips. I'm proud to say I built a strong support out of foam, which I can easily disassemble when/if I move studios. I'm making only one change, and that is to replace the very squeaky top foam layers (the blue stuff) with a cheap roll of cork (which is sold to go under wooden floorboards to stop them from squeaking).
The back of the support wall in my studio space (look at the cool arched ceilings!)

The support wall with the very beginning of the Berthe Morisot sketch stuck to it with bulldog clips and enormous staples that function like tacks. The system works!

Anyway, here is a detail of the portrait in progress.
Portrait in progress of Impressionist artist Berthe Morisot, drawn from an old photograph. By Ciana Pullen / St. Rhinocéros

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Don't Forget the Spine, Neck and Shoulders (from the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture)

This post has been adapted from an older post, Upright Citizens: The Importance of Head, Neck and Shoulders in Portraiture. It is part of the series, Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see also How to Paint an Eyebrow).

Here are two lookalikes I'll bet you've never considered: Don Knotts and Mick Jagger. Not twins exactly, but they could be brothers.
Don Knotts and Mick Jagger
Donn Knotts (as Barney Fife) and Mick Jagger.
Ingenious blogger Scott Fertig noticed the similarities between the facial features of Don Knotts and Mick Jagger-- fish lips, pronounced folds at the barrel of the mouth, flat brows over heavily lidded eyes-- and superimposed Don Knotts' face on Mick Jagger's body. Yes, it's freaky. It's also a perfect example of just how much difference the neck and shoulders make: put Don Knott's face with a different neck, shoulders and posture, and he looks like a completely different person.

Don Knotts face on Mick Jaggers Body
"Mick Knotts," via ScottFertig. [Image: Black & white photo of Mick Jagger posing with undershirt and low-slung jeans against a brick wall, one hand resting on the opposite shoulder with his arm across his chest. But his face has been replaced with Don Knotts's smirking face under Mick's feathered rock-star hairdo.]
Let's look at the real Don Knotts as Barney Fife, and his own neck, spine and shoulders. He gives the impression of a turtle.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife.
Don Knotts as Barney Fife. [image description: moving gif of Barney looking out the police station window through the blinds, then turning around, leading his body around with his nose and craned out neck. He starts back in surprise to find a cartoonish mobster pointing a gun in his face.]
That's because he rounds forward in his lower-mid back (where a bra would fasten), while his shoulders are narrow and sloped, all creating the illusion of a rounded "shell." His thin neck attaches to the front of this structure rather than sitting tall atop his spine. His receding chin and high, sloping forehead create a smooth curve from his collar bone to his crown, just as a turtle's head would be jutting forward and curving up. The posture allows his characters to appear bedraggled and exasperated, even though he was a very high-energy performer. Without his characteristically large ears poking out over his tapered neck and thin, hunched shoulders, he just wouldn't be Don Knotts.
Now contrast his posture and spine with Mick Jagger's. Where Knotts was a turtle, Jagger is an open Jack-in-the-box, as if his spine is a spring attached to his hips, full of coiled tension and always ready to snap back the other direction. He even emphasizes his spring-loaded posture with the actual tension of skin-tight clothes.
Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger, 1972, photo by Bob Gruen, via MorrisonHotel, via AnthonyLuke. [Image description: Black & white action shot of Jagger performing live against a black background. His upper torso is shown in profile, leaning forward, arms reaching out to grasp the microphone, his head thrown back and turned toward the camera with his mouth open in mid-song and his eyes cast downward.]
Though his shoulders are narrow like Knotts' they appear square because of his posture. He also differs from Knotts in that his head is extremely large for his shoulders and his big hair exaggerates it. To support his big old noggin, he has a thicker more muscular neck. He isolates his jaw forward and tilted up, as if the bottom of his mouth is filled with liquid he doesn't want to spill. Besides giving him an insolent appearance, the habitual upward tilt of his chin emphasizes the width and tension of his neck, reminding one of the tense throat of his screaming onstage persona.
Mick Jagger
Mick Jagger. Can't find the photographer, via artsmeme.com [Image description: black & white shot of Mick Jagger sitting in a casual suit shown from crotch upward, with one knee up and to the side, one wrist leaning on the knee, the other hand near his hip with his elbow out. A backward C-shaped curve is formed by the fly of his pants, the buttons of his shirt, his open jacket and lapels, his spine and neck, and extending through his head held at an angle. His mouth is open and brow kind of scrunched like he's thinking hard and in mid-speech.]
Have you ever noticed how goofy a cutout photo of a head looks, floating in space without its neck and shoulders?

Have you ever had to recognize a faraway person without your glasses, based only on their fuzzy outline and quality of movement, as a brown shape with points?

Then you already know how crucial the gestures of the neck, spine and shoulders are to a person's look. Maybe a portrait only alludes to the neck and shoulders with a sketchy line, maybe the curve of shoulders is only visible under a puffy coat and scarf, but what is alluded to has to be correct. When the rest of the body isn't shown, it's only through the neck and shoulders that we get a hint of a person's physical condition (muscular or soft, stocky or lanky, young or old). Even more telling are the person's habitual body gestures: tight or relaxed, meek or aggressive, withdrawn or wide open. After all, our lives are written on our bodies.

Learning how to really see the neck, spine and shoulders isn't only a matter of rigorous draftsmanship. It's what makes people say, "wow, you really captured this person!" The secret is noticing the unique characteristics of how a person holds themselves, then re-creating that energy on paper with pose, linework and composition.

If you're drawing from photos and you've never observed the subject in person, then you're already at a disadvantage. You've got to practice with live subjects so you can interact with them and see them in motion. If you're too chicken to try that, then at least draw from a video or gif instead of a photo. YouTube clips of singers are great for this purpose, as they are especially expressive and active.

Here, give it a try. Watch this video of Nina Simone performing, and really look at her neck and shoulders. Notice how her head leans forward with an intense concentration on an imaginary horizon, then she levels the audience with a direct stare, every so often throwing her head back and to the side impatiently. Her chin recedes into her neck, creating the general appearance of a serious frown and accentuating the striving forward thrust of her face. The sides of her long neck descend in sinewy muscles into strong rounded shoulders.

[Video Description: Black & white 1960 video of Nina Simone performing live, "I Loves You Porgy," at a piano. She wears an open tank top dress and plays a lingering soulful version of the song, then when she's done she leaps up from the piano bench, bows, and raises her arms to the audience.]

Even actresses who fit into Hollywood's cookie-cutter definition of conventional beauty have individually distinct ways of carrying their head, neck and shoulders. Let's compare the posture and physiognomy of Kristen Stewart and Jennifer Lawrence.

Jennifer Lawrence's neck is nearly the same width as her face, and though long, is unusually thick for a Hollywood woman. It also sits squarely atop her shoulders and stretches straight up and down, the kind of posture our moms are always wishing we had. Her head is centered atop her neck and her face is usually lifted and facing straight forward, giving her the appearance of a noble cadet. Her thick upright neck and posture are likely what makes her appearance credible as an athletic and proudly defiant participant in the Hunger Games. It also likely plays a part in her forthright public persona (people like to say, "she's so real!") This posture of integrity makes it seem righteous rather than sleazy when she flips the bird at a formal event.
Jennifer Lawrence flips someone off at the Academy Awards.

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.

Jennifer Lawrence's typical posture.
Now, Kristen Stewart. Her neck is shorter but thinner. Her shoulders are also square but slightly narrower, hinting at the overall sporty-but-delicate look of her frame. Most importantly, though, is the way she holds her head forward and tilted. When caught candidly, the line between her shoulders are typically at an opposing angle to her head. She also holds her head forward from her shoulders but tipped back at an angle, as if weighed down by her curtain of hair. Her hair actually plays a part in a habitual Kristen Stewart gesture since famously flips it all over to one side. Her jaw is sharply delineated from her neck and ends in a pointed chin that appears to jut forward with contrariness because of the forward thrust of her neck. The limp outstretched neck, jutting chin and jaw, and opposing angles give her a lazily rebellious look that, combined with her naturally down-turned mouth, I find appealing (but apparently rubs a lot of people the wrong way). Kristen Stewart, for instance, would come across as sleazy or disrespectful if she flipped the bird on the red carpet.
Kristen Stewart
Kristen Stewart looking straight ahead with shoulders askew.

Kristen Stewart [Image Description: Stewart leans forward with her elbows on a table (out of frame), her mouth open mid-speech]
Here she is posing on the red carpet with a very typical posture for her. Notice how her jaw is jutting to the side but her head is upright, as if she is being pulled offstage in one of those old Vaudeville shows with a shepherd's crook around her neck. It is markedly different from any of Jennifer Lawrence's typical red carpet poses. An astute portrait artist would also note that her ears are unusually high up on her head; the size and position of ears help identify a person, too!
Kristen Stewart at some red carpet thing

I find that even when you cannot really see the clear shape of the ears, neck and shoulders, the visual hints are still there:

-What kind of shadows do the chin and jaw cast on the neck? The deep shadow of a jutting shelf-like chin and jaw? or the soft shading and under-lighting of a chin that melts into the throat?
Left: At the Railroad, by Manet. Middle: Girl With a Pearl Earring, by Vermeer. Right: Frank Gentile, by Alice Neel.
-What kind of shadow is formed at the base of the neck, where it attaches to the collarbone?
Left: Head of an Arab, by John Singer Sargent. Middle: Madame X (detail), by John Singer Sargent. Right: Clara J. Mathers, by Thomas Eakins
-Do the ears, if covered, affect the structure of the hair in a way that hints at their position? Can you see the earlobes or earrings? How does the jaw attach to the ear? Is there a shadow?
Left: portrait by Alice Neel. Middle: The Blue Room, by Suzanne Valadon. Right: Princess Albert de Broglie, by Ingres.
-Where do the shoulders intersect with the neck and jaw (and how far down from the earlobes)? If they're slouching they should intersect close to the ears and jaw and the neck should appear in front of the shoulders. If they are back and down, they'll intersect with the base of the neck.
Left: Self Portrait Staring, by Rembrandt. Middle: Portrait by Mary Cassat. Right: Portrait of Berthe Morisot, by Manet.
-Where is the collarbone? Imagine the base of the neck is a flat circular plane from the knob at the spine between neck and shoulders to the collarbone (the clean disc left by a guillotine, maybe?). When slouching, the spine-knob is thrust upward and the sternum down, pitching the imaginary disc forward and vertical. Thus the collarbone will be low and form a down-arrow shape. When sitting upright and level with the viewer, however, the disc is horizontally level and the collar bone is lined up right in front of the neck-knob and only slightly below the intersection of neck and shoulders.
Left: At the Theater, by Mary Cassat. Middle: Self Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, by Artemisia Ghentileschi. Right: Detail of a portrait by John Singer Sargent.
-Do the shadows at the sides of the neck describe its width and breadth? Often hair will dangle around the neck, obscuring the sides. But the shadows it casts can be deep on a thin neck or shallow on a broad neck. How does the hair fall around the neck and shoulders? If it falls straight down from the head, the place where it lands on the neck and shoulders can help indicate that the head is in front of or straight above the collarbone.
Left: Nogeeshik, by Andrew Wyeth. Middle: Portrait by Mary Cassat. Right: The Repentant Mary Magdalene, by Georges Quentin de la Tour.
-Do the shadows at the sides of the neck describe its width and breadth? Stiff collars can obscure the neck as well, but the way they fit around the neck, snugly or loosely, can be described by the shadows they cast. The degree of forward pitch of the collar can also be very descriptive of posture.
Left: Portrait of Joseph Antoine Moltedo, by Ingres. Middle: Self Portrait by Rembrandt. Right: portrait by Modigliani (I cannot locate the title, sorry).

Finally, if you pay attention to the neck and shoulders before you start, you can manipulate the pose and angle so that any personally identifying characteristics of their posture can be highlighted. Take, for instance, the flower-stalk-like neck in the Bust of Nefertiti. Why draw her from this angle, with her hair hanging down in a wig (just imagine it)...
Bust of Nefertiti [Image description: a color photograph of the famous ancient Egyptian painted sculpture of Queen Nefertiti viewed from the front, with what appears to be a thin but average length neck and upside-down-trapezoidal hat]

...when you could choose this other angle, with her long neck exposed and a big hat creating a visual X marking the spot of her regal eyes?
Profile view of the Bust of Nefertiti. [Image description: photograph of the same sculpture, taken from the side in profile. Reveals an extremely long neck pitched forward to an upraised jaw and chin. Viewed from the side, the hat extends up and back at an opposing angle to the neck, creating an imaginary intersection right at her eyes and a sense of elegant balance. The trapezoidal tulip shape of the hat contrasting with the long thin neck also creates the illusion of a flower on a stalk.]

And, for a different take, here's 1980s Arnold Swartzenegger. He had a famously thick neck and body-builder muscles; the protruding barrel of his mouth resolutely marked the spot where the wad of muscles stopped being neck and started being face. So why pose him like this...

Arnold Swartzenegger, c. 80's [Image Description: color photo of Arnold's face, shoulders and upper torso at a three-quarter angle facing the viewer. His shoulders are rounded forward and his face lifted and at a bowed angle, obscuring much of his neck.]

...when you could choose this angle and pose? It's so much more "Arnold."
Film still from or promotional image for The Terminator. [Image Description: color photo of Arnold's face, shoulders and chest in character as the Terminator. He wears sunglasses an holds a gun straight up in front and to the side, echoing the width and position of his neck. He wears a wide-lapel leather coat with a popped collar that sits flush against the back of his neck and skull, creating a visual X at the lumpy barrel of his mouth. The sides of the coat's neck opening extend down over his chest, continuing and emphasizing the line of his neck. Lazers in the background radiate outward from a point visually marking his collar bone.]

What about the rest of the face? Stay tuned for the rest of my Notes on Portraiture series.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Women in Architecture

Places Journal ran this article by Despina Stratigakos about the massive erasure of women in architecture, both historically and ongoing. It's an interesting read, and a frustrating one. There is no art form quite so married to political power, wealth and elitism as architecture, simply by virtue of what and who is needed to build a building. It's impossible to imagine architecture ever divorcing itself of the rich and powerful, so it is inexplicable to my why anyone would feel threatened by a more democratic approach to its study. But now that I've said it, I'd like to imagine architecture suddenly running rogue, with school basketball teams commissioning monumental museums and the lady behind the counter at Walgreens taking a day off to commission a public park and monument in the old industrial waterfront.

Thekla Schild, an early 20th Century German architect.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Horrible Day in the Studio

I thank my lucky stars to have a studio. It's been a long time coming, but two months ago I finally (FINALLY) secured a small space to work. A basement space with dim two windows that I share with another artist, and a honeycomb of other studios leading off in either direction. I wouldn't say it's a "community," because no one seems to talk to each other, unless it's about the rent. Which is ok I guess; after all, not all communities are a blessing.

But I've been avoiding my studio space because Friday I had a really, really bad day painting. The promising piece just got worse and worse, and now I'm very much stuck. Things snowballed, I felt like I couldn't do anything right, and all my art ideas were stupid. Which makes it difficult to regroup and try something else, no?

Saturday and Sunday rolled by, and I reasoned that since it was the weekend I didn't need to go in and work. Right? Then Monday I tried to gather source material to go in another direction before heading off to the studio, and instead I had a bit of a breakdown. Feeling awful about my art was piled on top of a steady drip horrifying world news, and to top it off I got some pretty bad news about the German tax system-- that is, the amount of money that I could expect to earn with art if I work my butt off is exactly the amount of money you can't make without going into debt to the German government. You have to earn either less than $4000 or more than about $25,000. What is the deal with that, Germany? What are you trying to do? I ended up crying, then spent the evening fixing some old broken CSS on my blog.

Today I'm ready to head to my studio again (after posting this). I'm gearing up to do a big charcoal portrait of the Impressionist painter Berthe Morisot from a photograph (with a few other old photos, for reference). It's almost too basic. I don't usually draw from one photo; drawing from life is best if I can manage, but I usually form a composite from several photos or draw from a video snippet to avoid simply copying someone else's flat image like a human Xerox machine. And there's no particular concept, it's just a portrait, which is What I Do Best. But maybe that's what I need right now.

Berthe Morisot.
When I was a Junior in art school, a Senior got pregnant, which really derailed her thesis work. She got pretty stuck and panicky, so she started knitting a lot just to get her mind back to basics. Her thesis ended up being a massive abstract sculpture made of yards and yards of knit fabric. It was pretty good, too. That has always stuck with me.

So, here I go. Wish me luck!

Friday, December 1, 2017

How to Paint an Eyebrow (from the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture)

This post is part of the series Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see Neck, Shoulders & Spine here).

When I was 13 my popular friend from camp told me that if a boy saw a stray hair between a girl's eyebrows, even one, he would actually vomit with disgust. I believed her for about 5 minutes, then reasoned that if this were true surely I'd have seen it occur. Especially considering the company I kept.

But long gone are the days when a breezy beauty writer could flabbergast their audience by commanding, "Put down those tweezers..." The brow renaissance (brennaissance?) may even be inching like two bushy caterpillars toward its dénouement. I will miss the delicious twistedness of seeing otherwise normal looking faces with maniacal black brows painted onto them. During the scant four years since I applied my first ever brow product, I tried a few looks in the privacy of my bathroom, like brushing all the hairs straight up and gelling them in place á la "Olsen twin natural look" or outlining them with pale concealer to make them "pop."

It is only now that I appreciate the forbidden natural flaws of the brow. They grow in swirly patterns, like the hair on our scalps! Sometimes they have no real edge, like two nebulae. Sometimes they're wizard-like.

Since most of the great Western portraits of the past depict at least somewhat natural brows-- unplucked, unfilled and timeless-- they show something important that fashion photos often don't: you can see the curvature of the skull underneath the brow hairs.

When we look at brows, we're seeing not only the color of the hair but also the skin in between those hairs. The hairs cast a shadow on the skin, so the skin will look lighter where the hair is sparse and where the skin curves out toward the viewer:

Carolus Duran (detail), by John Singer Sargent
They wrap around the lumps of the skull like a mountain trail. As the perspective shifts, their shape can change drastically:

Emily Sargent (detail), by John Singer Sargent
A Spanish Woman (detail), by John Singer Sargent
Brows can be both lighter and darker than skin. Pay close attention:

Admiral Augustus Keppel (detail) by Sir Joshua Reynolds
The density of hairs can form swirls like calligraphy-- especially at the inner corners. They aren't a solid shape that's filled in. Look for the planes and patches of color that the hairs form as they undulate like schools of fish:

Young Girl Wearing a White Muslin Blouse (detail), by John Singer Sargent
Often the tail of the brow is indiscernible and melts into the valley between the brow and the outer corner of the eye:

Caspar Goodrich (detail), by John Singer Sargent
 Sometimes the inner corners melt into the shadows at the bridge of the nose:

Portrait of Victorine-Louise Meurent (detail), by Eduard Manet
Don Sebastian de Morra (detail), by Diego Velasquez
They can look thinner or thicker, shorter or longer depending upon how the light hits them:

The Daughters of Sir Edward Darley Boit (detail), by John Singer Sargent
Brows are three-dimensional. They have highlights and shadows when they stick out:

Portrait of Victorine-Louise Meurent (detail) by Eduard Manet
Brows describe the bridge of the nose:

Portrait of a Negro Buttoning His Shirt (detail), by Maurice Quentin de la Tour
The edges of brows melt into the skin-- there's rarely a harsh line. The color blends, and often the brushstrokes pull the colors together:

Juan de Pareja (detail), by Diego Velasquez

The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano, Called "El Nino de Vallecas" (detail), by Diego Velasquez
Even the darkest brow is rarely as dark as the novice painter believes it to be. Too stark of a contrast with the skin (the "wooly worm effect," as my high school art teacher called it) can be the tell-tale sign of an amateur:

Self Portrait (detail), by Sir Joshua Reynolds
What about the rest of the face? Stay tuned for more in this series of posts called Ciana's Notes on Portraiture (see Neck, Shoulders & Spine here).