I’ve almost covered the first pass of this second drawing, and yet I feel like I’ve barely started. I find the initial set up of a drawing to be the most challenging; nothing is firmly established, and you have so far to go before anything starts to look remotely good. My intention is to build up multiple layers of images, so this really is just the beginning.
I’m starting to feel my March 30 deadline breathing down my neck. With just 3 weeks to go, I hope that I’ll be able to bring three drawings to a point where they can accurately portray my concept.
CL: In your images this week, I feel like you’re really moving beyond your photo references. You’re really manipulating, shifting, and transforming things.
SB: I’ve been thinking about a number of things this week. Number one is subtlety. I was actually considering something you said during my final crit last spring: you pointed out how an edge appeared and disappeared into darkness on this one particular portrait drawing. More subtlety, paying attention to edges. It really stuck. I also worked on developing cohesion, fine-tuning the value range, and trying to decide what I wanted for the overall series. And I’ve been thinking about what exactly these images depict. Am I approaching it more like a dream? More like a collection of symbols? Or is it more grounded in realism, like a diorama?
CL: The images feel quite dream-like to me. I think the work you’re doing in Blender was the key to bringing the work to the next level. It’s much more sophisticated than just making collages from the reference photos.
SB: Last time we talked, you gave me “permission” to pursue the work in Blender. I was unsure! But it’s turned out to be crucial, you were right. I’ve also been thinking: would I enjoy sculpting in real life as much? I don’t have a lot of experience to compare. But I think the computer allows me to make these 3D sketches quickly, so the process is low-mess and very fluid.
CL: I’ve always thought that sculpting the figure is one big power trip. I think you would really enjoying sculpting, I would love to see you pursue it in the future. The problem is that sculpture a huge logistical pain. The mess… the storage problems… the expense… I’m so glad I decided to never go full throttle with being a sculptor. It’s awful… building crates to store your work, bubble wrap hell…
SB: I feel like sculpting has helped me solidify the world I’m working in, if that makes sense. I can believe it more. Sculpture is such a direct intervention into the world we live in. If it weren’t such a pain, do you think you would be a sculptor full-time?
CL: Even if I had all of the money and facilities in the world to fund being a sculptor I doubt I would have done it. I love atmosphere and things emerging out of darkness too much. So what’s the next step with these images?
SB: I will do more work with Blender and complete the rest of the set (8 more images). Actually, I did have a question: I’m wondering about source material. So, in sketch 3, the collection of limbs at the bottom is the person who was posing in the original archival photograph. While I was (very slowly) messing around with the composition in Photoshop this week they reappeared, and I liked how it looked. The solid people are a nice contrast to my models. Sketch 1 went through the same process. But I’m concerned – these are not my photographs and even though I’m not going to publish these sketches as my finished work, it still feels wrong. I feel like I need to reshoot my own reference.
CL: If it feels wrong to you, then I would shoot your own images, that way you will truly “own” the project. Being the control freak I am, that’s what I would recommend. I like being able to dictate every single detail of a project. I think there are plenty of botanical gardens in NY that you could easily visit for the backgrounds.
SB: Maybe being a control freak is the source of all originality.
I have a studio visit scheduled for the end of March, so I have just five weeks to work on these new figure drawings. I’ll admit that I’m a little stressed about this deadline, as I need to make enough work so that I can present the project well. My goal is to get three drawings finished for the studio visit. This studio visit is in anticipation for a show in November 2014.
RISD classes kicked into high gear about a week ago, and so it’s been harder to find time in the studio. After teaching a 7.5 hour studio course, it’s tough to make myself go to the studio at night. I would estimate with my current schedule that I’m getting to the studio for about 6 hours a week. I have to make a major push through the next five weeks.
I had my second session on this first drawing last night. Things are starting to feel more substantial now that I’ve knocked in more of the other figures. I’ll finish this first pass of etching ink, let the piece dry, and then start building up more layers of figures on top.
I have to keep reminding myself to have patience with these pieces. Because of the large scale of the drawings, my pace is much slower than what I’m accustomed to. After so many months of just sketching and thinking, I’m aching for the satisfaction of finishing a drawing. I think I will feel better once I have a few completed pieces.
Many students are pleasantly surprised by the way that these requirements can stimulate creativity and ideas. I give one assignment called “Routine”, in which students are asked to create a drawing based on one of their routines. Hopelessly…
I went to the studio last night and started working large for the first time in two months. I’ll admit that I was apprehensive at first, since it has been so long since I’ve worked on a final piece, but I forced myself to get started regardless. After I got over the initial hill of simply starting, things started to feel great. I had sketches that I was referencing, but I tweaked and made changes as I sketched out the figures. Once I got out the etching ink and started smearing the ink on the surface, things really started to pick up and I started to get very excited about working on these drawings. For the first time in a long time, things feel right for a change
SB: I think I made a breakthrough too this week, but I want to run it by you. After the last time we talked, I was thinking about how to bring this drawing series to the next level. I felt happy with the compositions overall, but didn’t feel like I was transforming the source (the reference photographs of the models) that much. At the same time, I’ve been messing around in a 3-D modeling program called Blender, mostly for my job. So it struck me that I could model the poses and then apply that back into the pieces. I’ve wanted to simplify the forms, but I didn’t want to do that by just simplifying them into cartoons the way I usually would. I think modeling them forces me out of my comfort zone and gives me a better reference at the end.
CL: Absolutely, the 3-D modeling can provide a solid foundation for the image.
SB: At the same time though, I don’t want to just be procrastinating on making these drawings, so that’s what I wanted to run by you.
CL: I wouldn’t see this as procrastination; it sounds like the modeling will be an integral part of your process. I think you’re just surprising yourself at how much can go into a project before you even get to the final pieces. I find that I spend at least 75% of my time on preliminary work.
So much so that by the time I’m ready to create the final pieces it actually doesn’t take that long.
At that point I can just crank out the final pieces because I have already dealt with all of the potential problems. If the work in Blender is reinforcing the concept for you, and will inform the work in the final pieces then it is absolutely worth every minute. I also think the work in Blender sounds like it will be another stage of transformation for the images, manipulating them even further, getting them farther away from the original reference photographs.
SB: Part of the project is about how histories are reinterpreted by different peoples and cultures, so I love the transforming and retransforming of the forms. It’s also funny because by now I’m somewhat familiar with your process, and I know for most of your series you go back and forth between sculpting and drawing, and I always thought, “Oh, that’s nice”, but I never really got it. It also makes the work so much more yours: you’re taking the photographs yourself, so that’s taking ownership, but then you take it another step by sculpting it. The reference becomes more and more personal, more yours. The whole “playing God” thing. Well, now I’m thinking, “Clara’s known all along!”
CL: I had a former student who once told a student in my class, “Just remember, Clara is ALWAYS right.”
SB: That class constantly yields more wisdom over time.
CL: Well, I find that when you get advice, in the moment, it’s hard to truly understand it. I remember having moments after art school, and having these “aha” moments where I was like “OH! THAT’S what that teacher meant!” It really takes time for advice to simmer and sink in all the way.
SB: Yeah, you have to let it percolate. I also had a question about your work this week, actually. So this series is a progression, from a dark, writhing mass to a strong woman who overcomes it. If I recall correctly, most of your other series weren’t so strongly designed to show an evolution. They’re a set, but not a really obvious narrative per se. How do you feel about that? Are you changing your approach because this series is more strongly narrative?
CL: Well, I definitely have to think about the arc of the pieces, and how they relate to each other.
I also think that the individual works will rely on the others to be effective, whereas I think in the past my other pieces could stand alone, so that’s a big change. Actually, I think the biggest change of all is that this project offers a sense of optimism and hope at the end. These are two qualities that I haven’t ever dealt with before. I think I will have the toughest time with these themes, because they’re hard to do without being really cheesy. I mean, how do you go from Hell to strength and survival? That’s a pretty dramatic transformation, which is what I guess will keep things interesting.
SB: This might be a little premature to ask, but how are you thinking about showing that narrative arc? As in, through mark making, or the posing of the figure, or interactions between the main figure and the other figures present in the piece…? It seems to me like this is a pretty bold departure from your previous work, so I can’t help but be curious.
CL: I think the best way I can describe it is that the first image will be very opaque and fleshy with writhing figures that will gradually visually dissipate and become more transparent. At the same time you’ll start to see the standing female figure emerge slowly out of those writhing figures until the standing female figure is alone, and rendered hyper realistically. I think mark making will play a major role as well, I’m hoping to get really abstract and gestural with the writhing figures. I’ve just started the sketching process, so we’ll see how that goes, its possible I could drop that idea and do something completely different, but that was my first instinct. I’ve been looking a lot at Rodin’s Gates of Hell.
Rodin, The Gates of Hell
SB: I feel like this kind of goes back to the “What would a Clara Lieu/Hieronymous Bosch look like?” conversation we were having a few weeks ago.
CL: I think it’s finally going to come to fruition!
SB: Well nice, it sounds like a specific idea that has a lot of room to have fun. I’m sure it’ll evolve, but I can hear your excitement about it!
CL: I feel like both the idea and the visuals are very clear right now, a feeling I haven’t had in over two months! It’s so hard to be patient when you’re an artist. I also feel like with technology and everything everyone wants instant satisfaction all the time with everything now. It’s hard to be patient and to have faith in yourself that thing will work out.
SB: I think it’s definitely hard to feel okay about giving ideas the time they need. I always feel like I should have had the winning idea like, yesterday.
I haven’t posted here in a while, and it’s because I was busy taking my own advice. One of my strategies when things aren’t going well creatively is to simply take a break from the work, get some distance, and clear my mind. A few weeks ago, I scheduled a photo session with my model to shoot new reference photos, knowing that booking a session with her would eventually force me to get my act together and figure out exactly what I’m doing. My photo session was yesterday at 10am, and sure enough, in the eleventh hour, things became clear.
I realized that the reason I didn’t like the idea for Hiding was that 1) the visuals were no good, and 2) the project was lingering on the anguish of depression, an idea which I essentially had already explored with the series of 50 self-portraits. The idea behind Hiding wasn’t progressing from what I had already done previously. In order for my art to move forward, the idea has to conceptually evolve and advance from the older work. For this to happen, this new work has to be about my recovery from depression.
The best way I can describe the experience is that my recovery allowed me to see myself clearly for the first time in my life. When I was at the height of my depression, my sense of self felt completely buried in the disease. It was only through the diagnosis and treatment that my true self began to emerge from this emotional mire.
Titled Emerging, this will be a series of about 15-20 drawings, depicting the progression from depression to full recovery. The first image will be nearly all black, with writhing figures suggested throughout the composition. As the images progress, the anguished figures will gradually diminish, with a very strong, standing female figure slowly emerging. The final image will be the standing female figure alone in the composition. The female figure represents my sense of self, free at last from the depression.
I’m thrilled to have finally developed such a clear idea of what I want to do. I know this idea is the right one because I’m not spending my time trying to justify the idea to myself. The whole time I was exploring the Hiding idea there was this itch at the back of my mind that something wasn’t quite right. With this new idea, the constant questioning and doubt is gone, and I’m only looking forward to the possibilities.
I did a 42 minute video interview with Portprep.com on how to get into art school and how to choose a course of study.
SB: I have some not so great news. I got rejected from a grant this week. I was mentally prepared for this, but it’s not what I expected, if you know what I mean.
CL: No matter how much you try to prepare yourself, it still hurts. Rejection is so painful every time.
SB: Do you have any advice on rejection? I just assume that since you’ve achieved so much, you must have encountered rejection at least a few times.
CL: You have no idea how many times I’ve been rejected. Here’s my advice: let the rejection sting momentarily, and then you forget about it.
SB: I think this is the first time I’ve been really rejected. I think I need some time to absorb it and figure out what to do next.
CL: You should keep applying. I’ve applied every year to the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation grantsince I was 21 and I have never won. Don’t feel bad, this is part of the process of being an artist.
SB: I feel like it’s so important to keep in mind that rejection is part of the process, and not to brood about it.
CL: I hate to tell you this, but you should get used to this feeling, because it will happen again….and again…and again…and again…
SB: It’s starting to feel like you really have to claw your way up, so to speak. But I like a challenge.
CL: I had some rejections that really hurt, like when I applied to my top choice for grad school. When I saw the thin envelope in the mail I burst into tears.
SB: I can really relate right now. Taking the long view – I think it’s normal to feel upset, but you just have to keep going.
CL: You know what I do for my grant applications? I mark up my calendar every year with the deadlines and compulsively apply all the time. I put the applications in the mail, and then I forget about them.
SB: Yeah, it seems like you just have to see it as it is: a numbers game. Of course, it’s hard not to invest personally in it. At these times I guess I just have to remember that the only person who will fight for what you want is… you. So if this is what I want, I just need to keep on trying. No one said it’d be easy!
CL: This is the tip of the iceberg, you’re getting a preview of what life as an artist will be like! Don’t let this get to you, this is part of the package of being an artist. Remember what Randy Pausch says.. “the brick walls are there to show you how badly you want things.”
SB: I read an op-ed column in the New York Times today that centered around the quote: “I can’t go on. – I’ll go on.” I was thinking about it today after reading the rejection email. I guess it really helps because it expresses how even when you think you’ve hit a brick wall, it’s part of life to grow past it and go on.
CL: I once went to a printmaking conference and heard the artist Faith Ringgold speak… she said that you have to “outlast everybody.” You have to stick around long enough. Still, it hurts so much to go on sometimes, even though you know that’s what you have to do
SB: I’m beginning to to suspect that uncomfortable situations are what fuels growth,
though I wish they weren’t.
CL: I try to focus on the people who really clawed their way up and succeeded. When one of my colleagues won the Guggenheim grant, it made me so incredibly happy. There’s nothing like seeing someone who is so deserving of an honor like that.
SB: When one of your close connections succeeds, it feels good for everyone. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”