This illustration is another Draw This In Your Style challenge. As with the recent Mossy Witch, this one was also set by Heather Mahler. I am finding these challenges useful in reminding me what constitutes my own style and they are also a convenient way of making efficient use of small rations of art time as I don’t have to waste time coming up with subjects or compositions. The witchy, talon-like hands gave me a lot of difficulty so I, therefore, omitted the floating hands from the original artwork and instead extended the leaf elements to fill in the composition. I can actually see lots of flaws in this drawing but I had fun drawing it so I don’t particularly care. It is still the case that the journey is more important to me than the destination when it comes to art.
This illustration is a response to another Draw This In Your Style challenge. This one was hosted by artist Peter Brockhammer and I was drawn to the balance of whimsical playfulness and bloody horror in the original. I was partway through the ink work when my kids pointed out that my own style of drawing is probably too similar to the artist’s for this to be a stylistic challenge but it was still fun to adapt a digital art work to my analogue ink and watercolour. As a fan of gothic horror novels and movies, it was also just a fun subject to play with. I don’t think I have drawn blood spatter since I created my Alfred Hitchcock bookmark a couple of years ago. Spatter is always fun.
I have scores of Draw This In Your Style challenges saved over on Instagram. I find them useful when I have time for art but am short on inspiration. They are also useful for both reinforcing and honing the elements of illustration that make something identifiably my style.
One of the ones I have had saved for months was a witch with moss hued hair created by Heather Mahler. She has a very distinctive style and is also a digital artist so I thought it would be fun to give it a try in analogue. Working on this drawing, I realised how much more practice I need with drawing faces in profile. My skills in that regard have definitely atrophied over the several months in which I was not putting pen to paper. I never add tattoos to the figures I draw so it was fun to add all of those little glyph details to the drawing. This was a relaxing drawing to work on because I didn’t get stuck in my own head coming up with an idea or composition.
This blog has gone a little dormant generally. What with the pandemic and all, I just have not been up to enough in my life that generates blog fodder. This blog has, however, gone especially quiet when it comes to my art dabbling. That is not for the lack of art in my life, however. On the contrary, I have been drawing near daily since June. I have been sharing the results of a personal challenge (illustrations of vintage photos) and now Drawlloween drawings over on my blog that is dedicated to only art. Since all of my art time has been invested in those projects, art journaling has been placed so much on the back burner that it is stone cold. While I intend to take a break from daily drawing, I am going to return to art journaling in order to keep up with regular practice and stop those creative gears seizing up from rust.
Draw This in Your Style (DTIYS) challenges on Instagram seemed like a good way to get back into playing around and experimenting in my art journal. The subject matter and composition is all set for me so I just need to – like it says on the tin – draw it in my style. I thought I would have a crack at a recent art work by Behemot titled “Pale Girl and Very Suspicious Cat”, not least because the monochromatic palette appealed to me aesthetically and in terms of time management. I am pleased with my version of the Pale Girl. I think my illustration shares DNA with the original but is very clearly my style. It is a fun challenge to translate digital art into analogue so I am going to seek out a few more of those I think.
Along with the vast majority of people on the planet, I have found myself overwhelmed during the pandemic. Aside from the stress of trying to conduct life and parent and teach preschool in-person in this very peculiarly stressful context, I am one of the people whose schedule has become even more busy and intense. All of which preamble is to explain why my creative mojo disappeared.
Art has always been a stress-buster for me but, of course, it is one of life’s little ironies that it is normally when life is at its most demanding that I cannot find time for that therapeutic dose of art. It is also true that the longer time passes when I am not making time for art, the more my creative gears seize up and my creative mojo departs. Finding my way back to art and scraping the rust from those gears is always a slow process. I know from experience that I get creatively crippled if I try too much at once and it just leads to another setback. I, therefore, tend to start small and then build myself back up to a normal level of art time and degree of ambitiousness with a project.
My small start on this occasion involved using Post-It notes as my substrate. It started by accident. I drew doodles on them as “lunch notes” for my kids and stuck them to the fridge door so that they had a surprise. We are a family of movie fans and my two middle sons in particular are obsessive movie nerds. Consequently the drawings on the Post-It notes were inspired by movies we had watched. You might observe from the selection here that there is a particular penchant for the movies of Ingmar Bergman and for mid-century Soviet cinema.
This is Andrei Rublev from the film of the same name.
This one is a take on the Bluray cover of ‘The Ascent’, awkward foreshortening and all.
My 14 year old adores Liv Ullman so I had to draw her.
This duo are Death and Antonius Block from ‘The Seventh Seal’.
Finally this is Flyora from ‘Come and See’. That movie is absolutely one of the best I have ever seen but my goodness it is a hard watch.
I hope this selection illustrates the fact that this very simple activity actually succeeded in getting me back into regular drawing and started greasing those creative gears so that I could recover my atrophying art skills.
This will be my third year of participating in the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project. I signed up immediately and really could have got cracking with filling its pages as soon as I had completed the previous (zombie themed) sketchbook in December. However, I have been procrastinating or so very many months. Partly this was because I was percolating and contemplating several possibilities for my chosen theme and subject but mostly it was because I was crippled once more by that loud inner critic of mine insisting my doodlings are not good enough to be on the shelves of the Art Library – which is ridiculous since two of my sketchbooks are already there. So I gave myself a stern talking to and a wee bit of a pep talk, arrived at a final decision regarding my subject matter, drafted a plan for each page, and I am making a start.
I have opted to work under the umbrella theme “Scenes from a Story” and my subject will be fairytale characters. I will be drawing in my usual style with line work in black ink but this year i have rebound my sketchbook to include Canson Mixed Media paper so that I can add a splash of colour to each illustration using liquid media. I will be sharing my progress over on my more specific art blog and also on Instagram.
“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, / Gang aft agley”. Robert Burns might as well have been writing about my summer. We pulled off the travel plans but all my other schemes either went totally pear-shaped or just entirely withered on the vine. I do a sort of homeschooling, educating by stealth, summer project with my kids ever summer – have done since my oldest was a preschooler – but this summer the project had to be abandoned because pretty much everything else got derailed by so many stupid things plus my flipping awful oral pain. Anyway, in early June I had this whole vision that I would have so much art time – so very much art time – over the summer break. Ha! Yeah. Didn’t happen. In fact, I have probably spent less time on art this summer than in previous summers. Sigh.
For that reason, I desperately had to eke out whatever art time I could to make sure I don’t rust up to the point of my creative joints being totally seized up. I wanted to do something really loose. There was an Art Journal Adventure prompt from a couple of weeks ago about “doodling”. I thought that would be the perfect thing to do for some super-quick art time in my art journal. Determined to be loose and not fuss about perfection, I decided to draw with my non-dominant hand (which is my left) and – for a bit more challenge – using the blind contour technique. I opted for a self-portrait because I figured I would be familiar with the shapes, forms, and proportions of my own face so that the drawing didn’t get too abstract and crazy.
I used pencil just to avoid making a total mess while not looking at my page but I did not erase a single mark. What I did was go over those pencil marks with microns in three different sizes, just for a bit of variety and interest. Then I added watercolour and – to keep the challenges coming – I painted with my left hand. I am actually stunned by how well I painted with my non-dominant hand. Certainly I achieved keeping things looser than normal. For other people, this drawing probably is not remotely loose but, believe me, for me this is loose.
I recently registered to participate in the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project. This will be my first time of participating it and I am eager to embark on a new challenge. My sketchbook has arrived so now I just need to get drawing. I will be blogging about my drawings as I complete each page but will be doing so over on my art blog, Pict Ink. I will also be sharing the completed illustrations on Instagram. Yes, I finally set up an Instagram account. I am excited to have a totally new art challenge and hope you will hop over to my other blog to follow along.
I am back from vacation (more of which soon!) and am trying to catch up on some of the art lessons and art time I missed out on while travelling. It is impossible for me to catch up entirely so I have determined I will do 50% of the missed lessons and journal prompts. That way it forces me to eke out some art time during this busy summer while not putting me under pressure.
I chose this Life Book lesson because it looked like I could easily fit it into a small chunk of time. I did it in three stages – gesso, drawing, painting – but in total it probably took me about half an hour. In the lesson, Misty Mawn used Picasso’s line drawing of a female head, part of his War and Peace series. Normally I would do my own thing but a) I have always loved this Picasso drawing and b) I needed to just crack on with the art so this time I decided to use the same drawing as my starting point. The drawing – done with Neocolor II crayons – was quick to do. The final stage was also quick and easy as I simply filled in the shapes with white paint, blending the crayon. I usually use Neocolor as a layering element in mixed media pieces or as a sort of watercolour so it was new to me to use them to tint white paint. I think I will use that technique again.
Mr Pict’s parents flew over the Atlantic to stay with us during the festive season. As such, we had the opportunity for some babysitting so we left the kids with the grandparents so that we could head into Philadelphia for the day. Time alone together as a couple is incredibly rare so what did we do with this brief period of child-free time? We went to the Mütter Museum to look at medical specimens. Ah the romance!
I have wanted to visit the Mütter Museum since we emigrated to the Philly area just over three years ago. However, not being certain of how child-friendly it was, we had not been in a position to go. I am definitely much more into medical oddities than Mr Pict is but he was happy to accompany me to the Museum and check it out.
The Mütter Museum is actually part of the College of Physicians and the original collection was compiled and donated by Dr Thomas Dent Mütter in order to serve as an education tool. The collection is absolutely vast and apparently only 13% of it is on display at any one time. This is no doubt in part because the building is actually pretty small by Museum standards. One exhibition space is essentially just the mezzanine around a staircase, for instance. For obvious reasons – these exhibits being the remains of individual human beings – photography is not permitted within the galleries. I, therefore, decided I would take a sketchbook, pencil and fountain pen along with me so I sketched (which is permitted) as I wandered around. The cramped spaces and the fact that the Museum was so busy made drawing quite awkward, primarily because I found it hard to find a spot that allowed me a good enough view to draw a specimen while not obscuring the views of others but also because ever so often people would gather around me to see what I was drawing and made me feel self-conscious since I was only rattling off rapid sketches.
We started off on the aforementioned mezzanine level. This was organised on a sort of Brothers Grimm theme, connecting medical conditions to some of the grotesque elements of their stories. I thought that was quite an unexpected and interesting theme on which to curate the collection. There were lots of desiccated limbs and the occasional head. We read about dry samples – useful because medical students could actually handle them and information, things like blood vessels, could be written or drawn on them – and wet samples, the type stored in jars of liquid. In addition to the actual human remains, there were casts and wax models of other medical anomalies. Strangely enough, because these actually looked more human, given they were neither shrivelled or bloated by the preservation techniques, they were more disconcerting to look at than the actual human remains. Probably the star attraction on this level were the slides of tissue taken from Einstein’s brain. For me, the most interesting part of that particular exhibit wasn’t the tiny slivers of grey matter but the fact it highlighted the ethics of taking and keeping samples of human tissue. Neither Einstein nor his next of kin had consented to having his brain removed and studied which means that ownership of any of his brain tissue surely violates moral codes if not medical ethics. The case of Einstein’s brain is particularly captivating of course because of his fame and the fact his death was relatively recent. The same moral debate, however, could be applied to probably the majority of specimens held by the Mütter Museum. I very much doubt that most of the people whose bodies or parts are on display consented to be used for medical science and education. This moral quandary added another layer of interest and engagement to our visit.
Probably the most arresting display – for me at least – in the whole museum was a cabinet, the length of one wall, of scores of skulls. Arranged in serried rows in glass cabinets, these skulls were the collection of Joseph Hyrtl, an anatomist from Vienna. Apparently the idea of the collection was to demonstrate the variety evidenced in European anatomy, not eugenics or phrenology, and as such each skull was labelled to identify its origin. What was disconcerting and somewhat unsettling about these labels was that it gave not just the nationality of the individual but in most cases their name, age, and cause of death. It was impossible not to think of the lives behind these skulls, the stories that led to their deaths, the loved ones they left behind to mourn them. In many cases, the deaths were violent ones – either execution or suicide – and so the tragedy was amplified. There were teenagers, for example, who had committed suicide when they were discovered to have committed a theft and I found myself wondering what desperate straits had motivated the crime and what awful crises they must have experienced to feel that the only solution was death. I found I could not just gloss over any single skull. Each of them represented an individual person and I felt this quite powerful obligation to pay my respects to each of them, to acknowledge that each had existed. It was weirdly emotive and I find it quite difficult to convey that mixture of fascination and poignancy.
Given he is a Civil War nerd, Mr Pict enjoyed a gallery devoted to the effects of that bloody conflict on human anatomy. There were the famous photographs of skeletal remains being exhumed from battlefields in order to be interred in cemeteries and the photographs of legs and arms in the baskets of field hospitals but there were also bones containing bullets and shrapnel, intestines scarred from dysentery and preserved organs ravaged with other diseases that felled many soldiers. The Mütter Museum houses a vast collection of books so another exhibition was dedicated to Vesalius, whose writings and drawings became some of the earliest medical textbooks.
The basement floor of the Museum is really where most of the “oddities” are. This is the area of the museum that is really devoted to rare medical anomalies most of us won’t encounter in our lifetimes either because they are so rare or because medical advances would either prevent the conditions or would at least make them treatable. Most challenging for Mr Pict and I were all the specimens of babies, both fetuses and newborns. I imagine very few people would be unmoved by these tiny little bodies in jars or otherwise preserved. However, because we have experienced pregnancy loss and had a stillborn son, these particular specimens were even more emotive for us and stirred up trauma and grief. Mr Pict found it too difficult to spend much time in that area of the museum. I found I could compartmentalise enough to have a read and a look and I even drew one of the conjoined twin skeletons. It was definitely the most difficult part of the museum, however.
I have an interest in the history of freakshows. Among the most famous “freaks” were the conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker whose origins in what is now Thailand originated the term “Siamese Twins”. The Mütter Museum possesses a death cast of Chang and Eng’s heads and torsos and their conjoined liver because the College of Physicians conducted the autopsy when the men died in the 1870s. Those were interesting to see since I have read so much about Chang and Eng. There were also some fascinating osteological specimens. These include the tallest skeleton on exhibit in America, that of a man who stood at 7’6″ tall. His remains were contrasted with those of a dwarf who had died in childbirth. There is also the skeleton of a man named Harry Eastlack who succumbed to a condition called FOP which caused all of his issues to ossify. He had actually donated his body to the collection to aid research into his medical condition and potentially benefit others.
Mr Pict and I both found at least one thing each in the Mütter Museum that made us squeamish. In common with many of the male visitors, the genital specimens made Mr Pict feel a little uncomfortable. Among these was a plaster cast of a hugely swollen scrotum. Every man I observed looking into that particular case appeared to wince. For me it was the eyeballs. One glass case contained row upon row of wax models of eyes suffering from various maladies, diseases and injuries. Not much about the human body makes me squirm but I definitely do not like anything to do with eyeballs. The last time I was prescribed eyedrops, all four children had to pin me down while Mr Pict dripped them into my eyes. That is how much I detest anything to do with eyeballs. I definitely felt decidedly queasy looking at all of those eyeballs.
Our trip to Philadelphia was not all body parts, however. After our excursion to the Mütter Museum, we were (maybe somewhat peculiarly) ravenous so we went for lunch in a Mexican restaurant. It was a definite treat to eat a delicious lunch without having to wrangle kids. Great food while relaxing with wonderful company – uninterrupted – was the perfect end to a lovely and fascinating day out.