Aging

Clara-Alex2I will admit that an embarrassing amount of time has passed since I worked on my own studio practice. I love working on Artprof.org, but it definitely has a way of consuming all of my time and head space in a way that leaves very little room for anything else.

I spoke to a friend this week who is a photographer, and we found that both of us have been in the same place: overwhelmed with work and other professional obligations, our own personal projects being neglected as a consequence. However, after having coffee together and talking through our artistic goals and considerations, I felt inspired to get up and finally do something.

The fall of 2016 was really the last time that I felt a significant drive to make artwork, which is when I worked on these Scars that Speak drawings on “sculpted” tissue paper. I always imagined that I would return to this project, but so much time has passed since then, that it doesn’t make sense for me at this point to pick up from where I left off.

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Instead, I’m doing small sketches for a fleeting idea I had a ways back which I actually think has tremendous potential.  I did a drawing which depicted the parts of my body that I’ve watched age over the past two years or so. My initial thought with Scars that Speak was that I would work with women of the older generation, interview them, draw their figures, and more. But that felt too far removed, and I’ve realized that I’m not a very good observer, and that I tend to do better with ideas that emerge from myself.  I feel slightly guilty that so much of my work seems to always make it’s way back to self-portraits, but these new sketches are a different version of that theme.

Although the sketches will be of my own body and experience, I do think that aging is a universal theme that is inevitable for everyone.  I have found myself dwelling upon this idea ever since I turned 40.  I noticed new wrinkles and creases when they appear in a way that was never the case before.  I have an awareness of these physical changes every day, so it’s a theme that is constantly on my mind.

I’m not remotely ready to create anything finished, so for now, it’s going to be small pencil sketches with cross hatching. I have noted that small moments of inspiration seem to be popping up here or there, which is a good sign that this topic is rich enough to be explored.

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The other night I woke up with night sweats, and immediately I thought of a drawing of my bed sheets. This morning I sat down with a 2H pencil and quickly rendered this version of my bed sheets.  Who knows if this image is going anyway, but I was excited that this seems to expand beyond my physical body in terms of this theme.

I was grocery shopping and an intense thought went through my head:  what if this is a project that takes the rest of my life to complete?  What if I continually made these drawings, knowing that with every passing year, the images will slowly change as physical changes continue to occur in my body. I doubt that I’ll have the patience to sustain a project for several decades, but who knows? I’m ready for a new artistic challenge.

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Goodbye China (for now!)

I’m flying back to the US this evening, but I did manage to squeeze in a few hours in this morning at the Yu Garden in Shanghai. In addition to stunning buildings, there were unusual rock formations and a diverse range of plants, trees, and bushes. As always though, I was most attracted to little moments in the architecture, like these dragons who were “eating” then building, and these brooms leaning against the wall that I noticed.

There are dragons and stone lions all over China, and I had been wanting to draw one ever since I arrived. However, most of the stone lions are ones that were carved in modern times, and were usually found in front of hotels. I had yet to stumble upon one that truly had some history behind until today.

Unfortunately the one day I had in Shanghai to go out as the one day it was raining/snowing! Despite my freezing fingers and the damp conditions, I still managed to do this quick brush pen drawing of this stone lion.

This was a truly amazing trip, so many wonderful memories and experiences, I can’t wait to come back!

Sketching & Lecturing in Chengdu

I am finding that when I’m walking around a city, searching for something to draw, I have no interest in drawing monumental landmarks or the quintessential tourist attraction. There’s something generic about drawing the most obvious subject when you arrive in a city that I don’t like.

Instead, I really enjoy drawing scenes that I discover that are on a much smaller scale, like this local vendor who was selling bags of peppers, garlic, and spices.  I’m attracted to the vast array of diverse shapes and textures, seeing the bulbous pieces of garlic through the pink plastic bad they sat within. Those bags, with the sheen of the plastic juice bottles on top were a terrific contrast against each other. I loved the sheets of crinkled newspaper that were hanging out of the green bins of oranges. As an artist, you can’t ask for more than that.

I don’t have much time to devote to drawing on this trip, the school (PS One Portfolio School) is keeping me busy with lectures and drawing workshops in 3 cities: Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai. I presented to a large audience yesterday in Chengdu for prospective parents and students at their open house event.

Hidden Market in Chengdu

Yesterday the school (PS One Portfolio School) had me scheduled to do a lecture in the afternoon, so I had the morning to myself in Chengdu yesterday. A perfect opportunity to get into the city and do some drawing. At one point, I found these three women who has food carts on the street, I loved the scene of them talking together.  I sat down to draw the scene, but within 1 minute of my drawing, they all dispersed and pushed their carts in different directions. I followed one of the women, hoping that she would settle on another street so I could draw her.  She pushed her cart down what looked like a dead end, but I didn’t see her come out, so I figured I would go and see where that led.

I turned the corner and there was this incredible local market, bustling with activity.  There was produce, tofu, hanging slabs of raw meat, spices, chicken feet, steam buns, and more. I was surprised to find it, given that the area I had been wandering around in was lots of big city buildings and giant sidewalks and roads. I was so thrilled to discover the market so I spent the entire morning drawing there.

I found this man who sat and tore string beans by hand and drew him with my brush pens. He was great to draw because other than leaning back and stretching his arms out every 10 minutes or so, he basically stayed in the same position the whole time.

I’ve noticed that in China all of the street cleaners sweep the street by hand with brooms. Every street cleaner I’ve seen has their own cart or scooter, loaded up with their own supplies.  Each one is unique, and has its own personality, so I’ve really enjoyed looking at all of the various contraptions they have on their carts.

I was sure this street cleaner was about to get up and drive away, but they stopped to talk to this woman, which gave me just enough time to bust out this gesture drawing with my black brush pen.

Travel Tutorials


To me, a sign of a good project is one that inspires you to continually invent new ideas. Art Prof is fulfilling that requirement times a hundred! Any time I start to think that our content is diverse enough, something else popups up that stimulates another approach.  This Taiwan trip is absolutely one of those moments. Drawing, shooting, editing, while traveling in a foreign country was certainly a gigantic challenge, but I loved every minute of it.

Added to Art Prof’s 2018 wish list:  a budget that would let us produce travel tutorials! Please consider a monthly or one-time donation, every amount matters!

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Quiet Moments of Drawing

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When you work on site in a public space, it’s common for people who pass by to make comments about your drawing, sometimes to the point where it’s so distracting that you feel like you can’t be productive with your drawings.  I lived in Italy for 9 months during my junior year at art school, and many of the sites I drew at were so packed with tourists that frequently there would be far more foreigners present that native Italians. It was rare for me to be able to draw at these sites and not be interrupted continuously by commenting tourists.

By contrast, I can probably count on one hand the number of times that people have commented on my drawings here in Taiwan over the past 2 weeks.  The few comments I’ve gotten are extremely minimal and barely even noticeable. I can work in complete solitude in almost every site I visit which has been lovely. A large part of that is that most of the sites we’ve visited are in small towns in Taiwan, and so they aren’t quintessential tourist destinations the way the Colosseum in Rome is in.  I’m also traveling with my parents, who are from Taiwan, and so we’re able to visit much more obscure areas that I know I wouldn’t make the effort to get to on my own.

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I love being able to draw in silence on site, immersing myself in the drawing process without an audience, it’s such a completely different experience that I’m grateful to have. The most “touristy” site we visited was the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, and the space was so grand that I didn’t feel inspired to draw the site. That on top of the crowds of tourists taking corny poses and using selfie sticks wasn’t exactly motivation to site down and draw!

Happy Accidents

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When traveling in a foreign country, so much of what happens is completely out of your control.  Which means that when you’re trying to draw on site, pretty much everything is out of your control, even when you think you’ve found a relatively “stable” site to draw.

In the B&B we stayed at in Taitung, there was a house with a pile of random clutter on both the left and right side of the house. I was excited, because if I sat on the steps of the B&B I had a perfect view of the site and could work on the drawings during down time.

My family left one afternoon to go to the hot spring down the street, and I had the rare opportunity to stay behind and work on drawings by myself. I sat myself on the steps of the B&B, confident that not only would I have plenty of time to draw, but that the scene was a stable one that wouldn’t change.

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How completely wrong I was!  I went to get my brush pens, only to realize that my family had taken my small travel bag with them, the one that had the set of brown brush pens I usually use!  I brought many brush pens, but the ones that were left behind were super bright colors that I didn’t want to use, and black ones, which I don’t like as much because they are very bluish.  I was annoyed about not having my brown brush pens, so I settled for the black ones and a warm yellow one.

After drawing for about 30 minutes, I realized that it was starting to get dark, so my “stable” site for drawing quickly turned into a completely different scene.  All of the objects I had spent time articulating disappeared into the darkness and I couldn’t believe my bad luck between this and not having the brush pens I wanted!

I’ve learned to accept that this is just the way it’s going to be when drawing and traveling, so instead I embraced the darkness of the scene and created two night scenes:  one of the house and another of a street lamp which was a few feet downwards.

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Looking at these 2 night drawings, I’m actually glad things turned out the way they did.  I don’t think I would have elected to 1) use my black brush pens or 2) draw a night scene on my own. Most of the brush pen drawings I’ve done on the trip so far have been pretty light, or had a full range of tones.  Being limited to so many dark tones was a challenge, and I’m glad that I had this experience!