Illustrators In and Out
I’ve been putzing around this morning since 7:00am.
I’m really not sure what I’ve been doing for the past 2 hours except for eating toast, drinking coffee, and trying to figure out how to edit some things on Facebook without unintentionally deleting parts that I want to keep.
I promise not to write about how tired I am…
but I am.
Only about 3 or 4 weeks of Continuing Ed classes, and then I’m done!
As I wrote before, I’ve hit my limit, and have spread myself way too thin this semester. I think moving forward, I can only take 1 night class per week. Towards the Fall, I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to take any night classes because I’m picking up another course at SVA, which I’ll be teaching with Yuko Shimizu, who is a great friend, and genius teacher. I’m super stoked, as I hope our students will be too.
It’s a Portfolio Class for 4th Year students, and so I’m guessing the level of focus and intention that the students will have in this core class will be much different than in an elective course. Having said that, I teach a dream class, right now. I have only 9 students, the smallest that I’ve ever had before, and each week, I’m impressed by the quality, and amount of work that they pin to the walls. As much as the marks describe tones, and shapes, it oftentimes evinces the level of work and their emotional and thought process. For me teaching has become a give-and-take, a dialogue between teacher and student; to stand in front of the class as an instructor and only spit out information comes with the territory sometimes, but it’s those moments of exchange, when one idea spoken, inspires another idea by someone else, which inspires conversation amongst the group, gets me excited.
In my blog, I write a lot about process, and about my own studio practice, so when I teach I bring those things that presently matter to me, to the classroom. The questions that I have, the successes that I experience, and the challenges that I face all informs the content of my class. I have to confess that despite the title of the course that I teach now, “Fashion Illustration,” it is probably viewed by many as being far from that (in fact, it’s more like a principles of illustrations class through fashion-inspired assignments).
Yes, I can help support the artist who wants to create pictures that are decorative, and sit comfortably within the fashion genre because I do believe that if a picture is beautiful, then it is beautiful. The aesthetics become the content, regardless of whether the subject matter holds, or conveys any kind of large idea. Still, there is room for large ideas in my class, for personal expression, and most importantly point-of-view, that latter of which I believe is not always easy to achieve as a student. Illustration is understanding one’s creative intention. It’s about communication and business, and it’s also about art; to manage these things successfully can feel onerous at times because for me, when I’m focused on the art-side of illustration for example, I have to remind myself about its business application. Not to sound flippant, but the communicative parts of it can sometimes be the last thing on my mind.
When I freely draw, and when I make things, it’s the best feeling, but I know that in order to continue to be able to do this, there needs to be a balance within my art practice of those aforementioned things. My creative process can’t be too much of only one thing, and too little about another. It’s about knowing when I can be overly creative and experimental with my work, and when I need to scale back, and become more commercial. One is not better than the other in my eyes; both describe my practice and my work.
This is the illustrator who I am.
So when I teach, this is where I come from.
The photographs above are pages from a recently published book called “Illustrators In and Out, What Moves Them and How They Move Art” by Youjia Nie. I was asked to write part of the Foreward of this book, which I’ve rewritten below. It’s an essay entitled, “Why I Draw,” inspired by Joan Didion’s essay “Why I Write.”
Sometimes when I’m sitting in class and listening to my Fiction Writing Professor talk about the process of writing, my mind begins to drift; not in a way that I fail to hear what he’s saying, but I start to align his words alongside my craft of drawing and illustration. I have a terrible time with labels, assigning and boxing things neatly (or not -) into some kind of space and then calling it a name. You’ll notice that I switch between the words, art, and craft, and illustration, and design, and drawing in many of my posts — and when I do, I think it’s because I’m starting to see them more and more each time as being extremely similar to one another in a sense that they share so many of the same traits. Although there are many people who I’m sure can clinically delineate the difference between each of these disciplines, including myself, ultimately, I’m beginning not to care so much any more.
When I was 13 years old, I clearly remember saying out loud that I wanted to draw for a living. Back then, I had no clue what I was talking about because I didn’t know anyone who made money from their drawings. When we moved to Canada, my father worked in a factory and my mother did data entry at her first and only job for decades. Drawing was not practical in their eyes, and as a result I could not foresee that it would take care of me.
There were moments when I thought that I would give up on drawing. In third year art college, I almost dropped out of school even before the semester began. I wanted to, I needed to move out of my parents home, and so I thought that I would stay working full time at a clothing factory in a suburb of Toronto to save up enough money for rent. Had I done so, I have no clue where I would be now, fortunately for my sake I snapped out of this delusion of mine, and with the help of my brother and sister, stayed in art college for the remaining years, and then moved out shortly after. During this time, I probably drew more feircely than ever because I guessed at that moment, that I had no other choice. In a way, I cast all of my hopes and frustrations into this particular discipline wanting so badly for it to lift me out of the place that I was in.
I sometimes look at my drawings and wonder if are they good or if they are not. I understand that if the drawing has been commissioned by someone else, that there are reasons that make it successful; that in addition to the aesthetic component, that it needs to communicate an idea and have a concept, and satisfy a viewership. I know all of this, I believe it, and I teach this to my students: content is paramount. But when I distance myself from my work and really stare at it, surface and content together, the parts of it that are not so good begin to reveal themselves to me. I have always fantasized about being a great artist, like the ones whose books I keep on my shelf. They are the ones who are able to manage shape and line in such a way that makes me feel that they have exclusivity to use them. The ones who employ colour with such beautiful ease, as though they were the ones who gave birth to such colours. But I know that for many of them, or at least, I tell myself, that I believe not all of this came easily for any of them. Not any of this came quickly either.
I recently opened up Charley Harper’s book, the one that was put together by Todd Oldham, and it makes me feel good because the pictures in it reminded me – it reminds me of why I draw. The photos of Harper’s work span his entire lifetime, showing images of drawing as the content. The way in which he relates colour to one another is magical and the restraint that he holds in his brush when rendering the details of the figures and objects convinces me that there is a reason and place for every mark that he puts down. And even though he is one of these artists who I have come to revere, I am learning to appreciate the work that he is done as just that, work that he has done. I try to remind myself now of the importance of the act of drawing, drawing for drawing sake, not drawing for money sake, nor for the sake of fame, or for the sake of trying to be like someone else. These things grow less important to me.
And so I draw.
I draw because I enjoy simply moving the paint around on the page, and stylus on the tablet. I enjoy mixing colours and arranging them next to each other to create patterns. I enjoy making marks on the pages and allowing them to twist and turn into something figurative or abstract. I draw because I have things that I want to say that I might not be able to express through words, through actions. I draw because when I do, the world around me falls away. I draw because it makes me feel good.