This week’s art journal challenge for the Documented Life Project was to “add a bible verse that inspires you – or a line from your favorite book”.
I am a book fanatic and one time voracious reader (my voraciousness having been somewhat curbed by the fatigue that comes from having four kids) and my undergraduate degree was in English Literature. Although I left my career to raise my children, I was am a High School English Teacher to trade. I have, therefore, read a great many books and have huge numbers of favourites. I could tell you my favourite Shakespeare play (King Lear) or my favourite Dickens novel (Great Expectations) but picking an overall favourite from a genre, country or period of time would be simply impossible. I thought I was going to have a challenge just choosing which text to use for inspiration for the art journal challenge. Then two different thought processes converged and I had my plan.
The first thing that hit me was that maybe I should approach it not from the angle of a favourite book I have read but as a favourite book I have taught. That still left me with plenty of options but it at least narrowed the field. The other thought process was prompted by my children. I love movies and the history of cinema so one of the things I have indoctrinated in my children is an enjoyment of film, including classic and vintage movies. They have actually sat through the entire of ‘Nosferatu’ because they love the fact that they are getting to watch a horror movie. A couple of years ago, Santa rubber-stamped my indoctrination of the children by gifting them the blu rays of Universal’s classic monster movies. They loved the thrill of getting to watch “scary” movies but they also became more cine-literate as a result of discussing each movie afterwards, analysing characterisation, pondering themes, exploring the impact of camera angles and lighting. The box set viewing was a great success and the classic monster movies have become some of their favourite films. Therefore, given that one of the books I most enjoyed teaching students was Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and that the kids and I all agree that James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ is our favourite Universal monster movie, I had my inspiration.
Although the eloquent, intelligent, sensitive Creature of the novel is nothing like Karloff’s depiction of the lumbering, groaning Monster in the movie, his image in that make-up is so strikingly iconic that I decided to use his portrayal as the basis of my art journal page. I started by using a photograph from the blu ray collection as the basis of a rapid pencil sketch.
I didn’t want to embark on my art journal page using the photograph as my direct reference point, as I wanted to distance myself from a direct copy, so the rough sketch was just to give me a sense of the proportions and indications of light and shade. As such, it didn’t matter that it was not quite “right” and that the face and shoulders were not as broad as those of Karloff.
As the movie of ‘Frankenstein’ used high key black and white lighting, my medium of choice seemed obvious. India ink it was, used with a paint brush instead of my usual dip pen, and lots of water to ensure blotching and running. The ink drawing probably took me twenty minutes as I had to work slowly on this smaller scale.
I then stuck the ink drawing onto my journal page which I had worked some of the ink onto to create a background in shades of black and grey. The washi tape was not part of the plan but I found that the edge of my page tore so the washi tape reinforced that whole edge of the page. Once I had put some on, it looked imbalanced on just that one bit of the page so I added a few more bits around the image. The final stage was to add the quotations in ink. I toyed with pushing myself to try some typography but I was short on time and was intimidated by the length of my chosen quotation so I took the lazy option and just wrote it out in my everyday handwriting. Just as I found it hard to pick one favourite text, I also found it hard to settle on just a single quotation. So I used two. I chose “I am a blasted tree; the bolt has entered my soul” because the metaphor conveys what Victor does to his humanity in his act of creation: he becomes a wreck of humanity, hollow inside, self-destroyed. To a modern reader, of course, it also carries with it the visual connotations of the electrical spark that brings the creature to life and of the fire that destroys him in the movie. Therefore, the “blasted tree” image combines the Creator and the Created and the act of creation with the act of destruction. I chose the longer quotation because the Creature is structurally and thematically the heart, soul and key to the novel as well as being my favourite character in the novel and my favourite of the movie monsters so it seemed right to choose his words. The quotation also highlights the philosophising inherent in the novel over nature versus nurture and whether the Creature is monstrous by virtue of his very creation, his “otherness’, the abomination of nature he represents, or whether he becomes monstrous because of how he is treated and regarded, his abandonment by his creator and his isolation from society.
So this is the finished page for this week’s challenge. I have not worked in ink and wash since I left Scotland so it was fun to do that again and that is definitely something I need to pick up doing again whenever I have time. It was a fun challenge.