by Clara Lieu
It’s been 2 years since I made any artwork. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make any artwork until I really wanted to, and when it would be fun again. I never suspected it would take 2 years to get me back into my studio practice, and that certainly is the longest hiatus I have ever taken from my studio work. Part of me felt terribly guilty for not producing any artwork for so long, but I really needed that time away to reset. Turned out it was worth the long wait, because as I had hoped, an idea for a new drawing series naturally emerged this past June.
All I know at this point is that I want to do nude drawings of elderly bodies. Sometimes I have a strong idea for a project, and I have to work hard to find the right images to communicate that idea. This time, I know what the images are, but I’m not sure yet what concept is behind this series. I am trusting that the ideas will eventually reveal themselves as I continue to draw and learn more about my subject.
Eventually, I want to collaborate with local nursing homes on this project so I can draw people from life, but it’s so early in this series that I need to experiment and sketch for a while before I get to that point. I just needed to get my feet wet first, so I started by working with Sheila, an artist model at RISD who I first met as a freshman in 1994. Sheila and I become good friends my senior year at RISD, and we stayed in touch for many years before I returned to teach at RISD in 2007. Today, she models for my classes at RISD, and I cherish our conversations. So it was so lovely to have a reason to draw Sheila again.
I’m using graphite powder, 6B and 9B woodless pencils, a kneaded eraser, and an eraser stick to draw on tissue paper. I’m surprised that I chose pencil; in general I don’t care for pencil much because especially with my students, people stiffen up a lot when using a pencil. My way around this is to begin the drawing by digging my bare hands into graphite powder, and then pushing the powder into the surface of the drawing with my fingers. The graphite powder is horrifically messy, but it allows me to cover large areas of the drawing very quickly, and then go back in with the woodless pencil to solidify details.
I chose tissue paper because of how thin and fragile of a surface it is, and I liked that it could crumple, much the way that elderly skin does. At first, I was frustrated with the tissue paper because it was so fragile that I felt like I had to walk on eggshells as I drew. I am usually pretty physical and aggressive when I draw, so it felt strange to draw on a paper that I knew could fall apart at any second. I could feel myself holding back my drawing process, which I knew wasn’t going to get good results.
Last night, I realized that if the tissue paper wanted to tear during the drawing process, I should just let it tear. When your materials want to do something, you should let them run their natural course, at the very least to give it a shot and see what happens. Not only was the drawing process much more lively, but I think the rips in the draw contribute to the overall atmosphere of the piece. The drawing also has an irregular shape, which I’m surprised I’ve never done before.
The practical aspect of these drawings helps too: the supplies are minimal and not hazardous, so I can easily work at home. These sketches only take about 1 hour to create, so they are not too time consuming to create. Given that I have crazy amounts of work to do on Art Prof everyday, that’s a huge difference.
These drawings remind me why I wanted to be an artist in the first place, something I haven’t felt for several years. For the first time that I can remember, drawing is fun again.