Hillary Clinton and #scarsthatspeak

by Clara Lieu

2016 was the first year I created political art. In this video, I demonstrate my drawing process and explain #scarsthatspeak, my new series of drawings of Hillary Clinton, and the older generations of women, inspired by the 2016 presidential election.


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Drawing Experiments:  Layered Drawings
The Tug of Thumbnail Sketches


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Portfolio Video Critiques for Art Students & Artists
Prof Clara Lieu offers 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for students working on a portfolio for art school admission, and for artists of any age working on their artwork. Watch a sample below, and get more info here.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories, and post select submissions on our Instagram  and other sites throughout the month. Use #artprofwip and Prof Clara Lieu might just stop by and give you some feedback! We have a special prize for art teachers who assign the Art Dare to one of their classes. More info is here.


Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on our Facebook page where Prof Clara Lieu provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015.  See the full archive of columns here. Prof Lieu discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.

 

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#scarsthatspeak

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by Clara Lieu

The dramatic realization of why I’m making these drawings keeps pushing further every day. I feel a tremendous urgency about creating this work, that I have never experienced before. The emotions from the results of the US election still feel raw in this moment.

I’ve been far too busy with teaching my courses at RISD lately to actually start new drawings from scratch.  This is actually perfect timing because right now, I just need space to think about what these drawings are really about.

I felt awful when I realized how shallow my initial approach was to these drawings of elderly figures.  I let myself fall into the trap of the most cliche themes associated with the elderly:  aging and my own fear of mortality. I let myself get seduced by the visual aesthetic of the elderly figure, I was so enthralled by the physical forms of aging skin that I didn’t think to really consider who these people really were.  I was seeing the elderly figures just as captivating forms that were engaging to draw, but not much else.

I hadn’t taken the time to consider the unique personal histories which are so deeply embedded in each of the women who modeled for these drawings. Which now in retrospect seems so ridiculous: when I photographed the women to create reference photos for these drawings, I spent over an hour just listening to them speak to me about their lives. I was too busy shooting photographs to hold up my end of a conversation, so I just listened to them. All three women told me in their own way about their physical and emotional scars from their past.

So that’s what this project is about: #scarsthatspeak.  In an elderly face, every wrinkle and piece of flesh has a story. I want to show the “scars”that the older generation of women walk with every day.

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I was nervous about making artwork that is even remotely political. All of my previous projects, such as Falling, were entirely based on my personal experience.  When your artwork is about an experience you know so intimately, there’s an inherent confidence in the subject matter because you know your subject inside out.  For me to create artwork about a subject that I have no direct experience with is very intimidating. I worry that I might accidentally misrepresent my subject, or worse yet, present a shallow interpretation that misses the point. I was really hesitant, but then artist Michelle Friars wrote this on my Instagram feed:

“As an older woman artist, I am especially drawn to your latest series. When previously you talked about the work in terms of decay, I admit to being a bit dismayed. But this… this understanding is exciting. I started in art school as a young woman in the 70’s, but left because of the sexual harassment of a professor I had to work with. Took me until I was sixty to finally go back. These scarred, beautiful images of strength truly resonate. Thank you.”

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These drawings will focus on the “scars” of the older generation of women, but simultaneously, these drawings are also a proud acknowledgement of their quiet strength and powerful resilience.  One of my former students, Amelia Rozear, had this to say about the potential of these drawings to make an impact on the younger generations:

“I think these drawings will be very helpful to people, especially girls and women, who are very scared right now, and might help them feel better about the future knowing how women have been strong before.”

I didn’t want to feel that I was “leaving out” the younger generation of women, who most certainly have their own scars as well.  So Amelia’s comment made me realize that these drawings are actually for every generation.

Keeping in mind this balance of scars/strength, I’ve been experimenting with making these drawings much more sculptural, almost to the point of becoming installations.  Although the drawings are ripped and torn, they are also rising from the shreds of tissue paper.

I am well aware that I’m not even close to truly understanding what these scars really mean, or even to what extent their emotional depth is.  However, I do know that I am excited about all of the research, digging, and investigation that lies ahead of me. I’m ready to hear from these women.


Related Video


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Generations of Women and the Scars They Walk With
A Burst of Artistic Inspiration for the First Time in 2 Years
Anticipating a New Drawing Project
Drawing Again After a Two Year Drought
Drawing Experiments
Teaching Through My Artwork
Drawing Experiments:  Layered Drawings
The Tug of Thumbnail Sketches


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

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PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Drawing From a New Model

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by Clara Lieu

Last week I did a reference photo session with a new model.  Up until this point, I had only been working with Sheila, an artist model at RISD who has been a good friend for many years.

I really enjoy working with artist models, there’s an intimacy that occurs with your models that is unique. In general, when I work with models, I never tell them exactly how to pose. I’ll provide some basic ideas about what I want them to do, but I don’t give specifics about how to pose their figure. When I was in graduate school, I had this professor who was really obnoxious about demanding that the model pose precisely the way he wanted.  He would tell the model exactly how to orient or position pretty much every part of her body, and the result was always a really stiff pose that looked fake and awkward.

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With these drawings, I decided that I would give the models no direction at all.  Instead, I ask the model to stand and I talk to them during the photo shoot.  I want to capture the individual personalities of each model I work with, and it’s incredible how completely different the experience is with each person.

What was striking about this new model was her extraordinary range of facial expressions. As she talked, I was amazed that she would jump from a perky smile to a haggard, anguished look.  She told me all kinds of stories about her life during the photo session, and it was fascinating to watch her face change as her stories covered a wide range of emotions

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As I poured through the over 600 reference photos I shot, I was intrigued by the gigantic range of expressions.  What was engaging as well, was watching how the skin in her face pulled and stretched according to her facial expression.  The folds of skin were extremely dramatic, and I couldn’t wait to dig into some new drawings.

I shoot continuously during these photo sessions, so there is literally only half a second between most of the photos.  I found 2 consecutive photos that couldn’t have been more different.  The first photo was a very harrowing expression, which seemed tragic and pained.  The next photo was a warm, joyful smile. The way she could swing from one extreme emotion to the opposite side of the spectrum so quickly was really engaging to watch.

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I had this idea that I would work with these two photos, and layer them on top of the other to demonstrate the way she inhabited two such opposite emotions in such a short span of time. This drawing (below) is the first phase.  I’ll create the second drawing, and then create a few thumbnail sketches so I can figure out how to get the two drawings to interact through the layering and tearing of the paper.

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ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

The Tug of Thumbnail Sketches

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by Clara Lieu

When I started working on these graphite drawings a few weeks ago, I hadn’t made any artwork for 2 years.  For this reason, I knew the most important thing was for me to just get my feet wet again, and to get a grip on my drawing approach and materials. Usually, I’m probably the world’s greatest advocate for doing thumbnail sketches, and if you’ve been my student, you’re likely wondering why I haven’t done any thumbnails in this project so far. When I started, I felt so out of touch from drawing that I decided that I simply wasn’t ready to be thinking yet.  I needed to get my hands on the materials, get myself back into the physical movements of drawing before I could even begin to compose anything.

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It was liberating to draw so spontaneously, with no plan in mind. I told myself I could keep doing this until I felt like I had “gotten back into shape.”  I knew eventually, my drawing process would lead me back to doing thumbnail sketches. Sure enough, after about 2 weeks of drawing spontaneously, I’m now feeling the need to create thumbnail sketches.

The last drawing experiment really suffered because I didn’t think through how I was going to compose the piece. I started out with 2 separate drawings,  (see above and below) deliberately making one portrait very dark and heavy, and another extremely light and ethereal. That visual imbalance was important to create so that the two drawings didn’t fight for attention the way they did in my last drawing.

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I tore into the first drawing (see below), but this ultimately was a poor choice because I ended up tearing the paper so that the piece stood on it’s own. Consequently, when I went to attach the second drawing to this torn one, I kept feeling like the second drawing was an intruder that was disrupting the first drawing. I could see myself trying to preserve specific areas of the first drawing, which then hindered my ability to merge the two drawings together effectively.

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This drawing taught me that I can’t do the “sculpting” of the paper in a linear manner; I have to plan in advance how the two drawings are going to interact in terms of the tearing. I had failed to consider how the two drawings would merge as three-dimensional pieces. Consequently, I ended up practically obliterating the second drawing so that I could preserve areas in the first drawing.

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One development that I was excited about in this drawing was my tearing technique.  At first, I was tearing and crunching up the paper in a random fashion.  For me, the choice of the tissue paper was to replicate in some way the transparency and thinness of human skin. I started looking at images of peeling skin (if you’re squeamish, I don’t recommend this!)  and examining the specific shapes and patterns that skin peels in. On many parts of the body, skin starts peeling when a small section becomes loose, and then the skin peels outwards.  I started poking holes into the drawing (see above, on the bottom left of the lip) and curling the tissue paper outwards to refer to the way human skin peels.

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Another positive development is that my enthusiasm for these drawings has only increased the more I work on them.  I have so many ideas and experiments I want to try out that my hands can’t keep up with my brain-a good problem for an artist to have.


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ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Drawing Experiment: Layered Drawings

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by Clara Lieu

This afternoon was an extremely rare event for me:  6 continuous hours of uninterrupted time in the studio. I worked on a second drawing, knowing that my plan would be to layer this new drawing on top of the drawing I did previously.

The hardest part of working on this second drawing (see below) is that I knew that the vast majority of work I did on it would eventually be ripped to shreds. It can be painful to throw out work that you spent a lot of time on, but I strongly believe that being too precious about your artwork can be a severe limitation in your progress. Especially in an early stage in a project, it’s critical to be able to throw things out.  You never know what you might gain in the process.

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I can see that my marks with the woodless pencil are becoming much less picky and more confident. I’ve never really used woodless pencils this intensively before, but I can tell that my strokes are bolder now. Even my physical movements when I’m drawing feel much more efficient and assertive.  I think part of this is gaining familiarity with this tool, but also I’m feel a lot less rusty now that I’ve been drawing for a few weeks.

 

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Once I finished the second drawing, I placed it on top of the first drawing. (see above) Placing these two drawings together was really surprising.  I started seeing the drawings as three-dimensional sculptures and thinking about how they balanced with each other. I had some major structural problems with the top drawing nearly falling to pieces, so I started using Scotch tape on the back of the drawings to make sure they didn’t rip in important points.

I actually ended up using lots of Scotch tape throughout the entire piece.  It occurred to me that it wouldn’t be practical if the piece had to be re-constructed every time I wanted to hang it up on a wall. So I put Scotch tape to attach the two drawings together at key points, so that the piece would be able to hold it’s shape.

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I really enjoyed the entire process, because there were two layers of tissue paper, I was able to make the piece much more sculptural.  Looking at the final piece, (see above) I do think that the two drawings are fighting each other quite a bit, and that they look too similar.  I realized a better way to balance the drawings would be to have one drawing be more dark and concrete, and for the other to be lighter and more ethereal. When I created the two drawings, I thought about them as separate entities, which is why they ultimately didn’t work together very well.

Still, this was a really exciting experiment. In the next sketch, I’m going to try making one drawing visibly darker and more concrete, while the other drawing will be much lighter and more ethereal.  Hopefully that advance thinking on the construction of the piece will allow for a more effective relationship between the two drawings.

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A Burst of Artistic Inspiration for the First Time in 2 Years
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rawing Experiments:  La


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.

Teaching Through My Artwork

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by Clara Lieu

Even though I started this new series of drawings just 2 weeks ago, I can already see that my drawing style has changed quite a bit since the first drawing. These beginning stages of a project are always quite exhilarating because the progress feels so fast and immediate.  I’m not committed to anything at this point in the project, so there’s no pressure to produce to achieve specific results.

My drawing materials have stayed the same since I started this series:  graphite powder, woodless pencils, drawing pencils, eraser stick, and kneaded eraser.  In this recent drawing experiment, (see below) the plan is to create 2 or 3 drawings and layer them on top of each other. I’ll tear each drawing so that the drawing underneath will be visible through the rips of the drawing on top. I’m anticipating that with the multiple layers of drawings, the image will likely be too busy. However, at this point, I’ll learn more when I do too much.  Scaling back and removing things is always much easier than having to reinvent new aspects every time.

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I’ve continued shooting 1 minute process videos which I’ve been posting on my Instagram. (the longer versions I post on the Art Prof Youtube channel.) Usually when I’m teaching in a classroom, I intentionally don’t discuss my personal artwork with my students. I don’t want students to think that I want them to make artwork that looks like mine, or for them to think that I prefer artwork that looks a certain way. (In fact, sometimes I’m more likely to like a piece when it’s not at all similar to my own artwork.  Sometimes it’s the artworks that are so completely different from mine that I’m most attracted to, simply because I can’t wrap my head around making work like that) Instead, I wait until the last day of class to do a slideshow about my work.  At that point, the students know me well enough that I feel comfortable discussing my own work with them.

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Recently though, I’ve been thinking about how teaching online is a completely different story.  The context is not remotely the same as an academic classroom in a degree program.  I have no control over how people will find my work, or in what order they will see my content in. I had never considered this, but perhaps the way I need to approach teaching online is through both 1) teaching tutorials, and 2) process videos of my own artwork.

When I think about it, these 2 types of videos really have the potential to complement each other well. One of my inherent concerns with the teaching tutorials is that the demo piece that is created in the tutorial tends to have a more generic look. In a teaching tutorial, I’m trying to show universal skills that are applicable across the board to all artists, so I purposely try to leave out my own drawing style. The process videos of my own artwork show a level of specificity and focus that the teaching tutorials will never have. On the other hand, the process videos show techniques that won’t be relevant to everyone because of how specific they are, and many fundamentals aren’t addressed.  The teaching tutorials really do provide the core basics, which everyone studying visual arts needs to know.

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I like this idea of pairing the teaching tutorials and the process videos of my artwork to teach online.  I can imagine that in areas where one format is insufficient, the other can fill in the blanks.  I have always thought of my studio practice as being related to my teaching.  However, this is the first time that I have ever thought about my studio practice as being a literal teaching tool. Not sure whether this pairing will work out, but I’m excited about this new initiative, and willing to give it a shot.


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One Simple Purpose
A Burst of Artistic Inspiration for the First Time in 2 Years
Anticipating a New Drawing Project
Drawing Again After a Two Year Drought
Drawing Experiments


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Drawing Experiments

by Clara Lieu

The very early stages of a new project are always so exhilarating, because literally every effort is a chance to explore unknown territory. There’s an incredible freedom when you know there is no pressure to put together finished works for an exhibition.

In reviewing the first few drawings in this new series, I didn’t think I was doing enough with the tearing of the paper. Not only did I want the drawings to become much more sculptural, but I could see that I was tearing too carefully around the image.  I had been hesitant to rip right through the image, probably because I was worried that I would lose the image altogether by doing so.

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I am always very conscious of whether I am truly taking risks in my artwork.  As an art student, I know that I held myself back a lot because I worried far too much about ending up with poor results.  Consequently, I ended up with a lot of drawings that were reliably aesthetically pleasing, but that didn’t do much in terms of attempting new formats. Still, it’s one thing to know that you should take risks, and it’s another thing to actually do it. To initiate that process, I told myself that this new portrait was a “sacrificial” drawing, that I would tear right through the face to see what might happen.

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I’m mostly pleased with this experiment, because I do think that the graphite drawing and tears are more fully integrated.  In the previous drawings, the drawing and the rips didn’t interact very much.  However, something was still missing, the drawing still looked a little too flat.  I wanted even more depth and surface to work with. I realized as I was running on the treadmill last night (many artistic revelations seem to occur when I’m exercising) that what these drawings need is multiple layers of tissue paper.  Layering the tissue paper makes sense, given that human skin is composed in layers.

Another part of this last drawing experiment was filming myself and speaking about my process while working on this drawing. I’ve been creating drawing tutorials for Art Prof, but the objective behind those tutorials was to teach universal drawing skills that could be applied to any artist’s individual style.  The video I created to accompany this drawing experiment is quite different, in that I speak about my own specific process and artwork. I was hesitant at first about making this video, as I didn’t want people to interpret the video as a message that I think people should draw like me. Fundamentally, I believe that drawing is a very personal activity, and ultimately every artist has to forge their own approach.  I was surprised that many people were very receptive to this process video on my Instagram, so it’s something I think I will do again.

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In terms of the subject matter of the elderly nude, I still feel that my understanding of the subject of aging is very superficial at this point. Right now because it’s so early in this project, I’m focusing on experimenting with my format, materials, and drawing process. Once I’ve worked out these aspects to a more coherent stage, I’m going to start speaking to local nursing homes.  I have absolutely no idea where that could go, and I know it will be anything but a simple task to get people in nursing homes to pose for these drawings.

This is also one of the few projects where the images came before the content, it’s much more common for me to have a subject and then to invent images to match the content. However, it’s exciting to think about the true meaning of these drawings to slowly emerge as I create the pieces.


Related Articles
My Poisonous Checklist
One Simple Purpose
A Burst of Artistic Inspiration for the First Time in 2 Years
Anticipating a New Drawing Project
Drawing Again After a Two Year Drought


ART PROF is a free, online educational platform for visual arts for people of all ages and means. artprof.org features video courses, art critiques, an encyclopedia of art supplies, and more.

FB    Youtube    Pinterest     Instagram    Twitter    email    etsy


PORTFOLIO VIDEO CRITIQUES
Prof Lieu offers video critiques on portfolios for students applying to art school and working artists. More info.


ART DARES
Every month, we assign a topic for you to respond to with an artwork. We give out prizes in several categories!  More info.


ASK THE ART PROF was a written column in the Huffington Post from about art related topics. Visit our Pro Development page.