As a wee girl with limited access to TV and only a couple of channels available when I did have the opportunity, I would consume whatever happened to be on. Often that meant showings of vintage movies and reruns of comedies from the silent era. As such, I developed a real love of the vaudeville, physical antics of actors like Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. I don’t think I have ever drawn Buster Keaton so I decided to have a crack at depicting him in this grey section of my Rainbow Art Journal. I wanted to capture his deadpan expression and those large eyes that convey so much. While I normally fill the background with a disc or random shape, I chose to draw a very simplified house shape as a nod to Keaton’s famous stunt whereby the front of a house collapses on him. As a first ever attempt at drawing Buster Keaton, I am pretty happy with how this illustration turned out.
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.
Road Trip 2017 #5 – Hollywood
My kids and I are all movie nuts. We love to watch movies for entertainment but we also enjoy analysing the films, discussing the themes and dissecting the details. We like to draw characters and scenes from films and my kids also like to make their own movies. My 11 year old currently wants to be a Director and my 10 year old wants to be a cinematographer – or a taxidermist. It was, therefore, an absolute Must Do that we take the boys to Hollywood so – topped up with energy after our meal at Saddle Ranch – we headed to Hollywood Boulevard.
The streets were absolutely heaving with people and everyone was moving unpredictably as they would suddenly stop to read a name on a star in the pavement (sidewalk) or to pose for a photograph or to quickly dodge someone trying to sell something. It was the type of crowded situation I would have found quite stressful had it not been for the enthusiasm of my kids. They were running from star to star trying to find the names of some of their favourite actors and directors.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame is famously a stretch of the street in which pink terrazzo stars have been placed, outlined with brass and with the name of the person being celebrated in brass letters. To see my children running around, however, you would have thought that the stars were the celebrities themselves. The Littlest Pict was delighted to find the star dedicated to Mickey Mouse and they all enjoyed finding the collective star for The Munchkins. My middle two sons are comic book geeks so they were especially thrilled when they found actors associated with superhero or supervillain roles, whether it was Burgess Meredith from times past or contemporary Chris Pratt.
Observing how enthused they were by stars set in the pavement, I knew they were going to explode with excitement when we entered the courtyard of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (known as Mann’s Chinese Theater during my childhood). The cinema opened in 1927 and has been the location of countless movie premieres – including ‘Star Wars’ – and a few of the Academy Awards ceremonies. My kids were not there for that slice of movie history, however; what they were there to see were all the hand- and footprints in concrete slabs in the forecourt of the theatre. The origins of the tradition are unclear but all versions seem to agree that it was an accident, of someone stepping into unset concrete, that kicked the whole thing off. After that, movie stars and directors would immortalise themselves in concrete by placing their hands, feet, and sometimes other objects into the concrete and then autographing it.
There must be a couple of hundred celebrity prints in that patch of ground and I am pretty sure my kids visited each and every one. Upon arriving at the theatre, they scattered to different corners and would yell to each other to come and see who they had found and yell to me to come and take their photos beside the slabs. As little movie geeks, their cinematic interests are quite diverse. They were every bit as excited to place their hands into those of Abbot and Costello as they were to see the prints – including wand prints – of the Harry Potter cast or of Harrison Ford or Morgan Freeman. I had favourites from my previous visit to Hollywood (in 2000) and enjoyed seeing those again. I always loved watching Harold Lloyd when I was wee and remembered loving seeing that he had drawn his round framed spectacles in the concrete and I was happy to see that his slab was still there. Other favourites of mine were James Stewart and Gregory Peck. My kids meanwhile – with their younger cousin in tow – loved seeing the prints of the likes of Hugh Jackman, Jack Nicholson, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Leo the MGM Lion, and Leonard Nimoy.
We also had a treat just people-watching as we fought our way through the crowds. There were lots of people dressed up in costumes, earning money by posing for photos with tourists. A Spider-Man who was definitely not a teenage Peter Parker beneath the spandex was especially keen to latch onto my kids but happily they were not biting. There was also a Yoda looking as if Yoda had spent his exiled years on Dagobah eating nothing but pizza, chugging beer, and smoking 60 cigarettes a day. Best of all, however, was Wonder Woman. What made Wonder Woman wonderful was that we saw her get into a fight with an elderly chap on the street. This elderly chap had been making my kids snort with laughter as he was carrying a placard advertising “booty slap massages”. Well, Wonder Woman was having none of his misogynistic nonsense and set to informing him how to market his questionable massage skills without being condescending, intimidating, or belittling towards women. Of course, the old sexist decided to argue back and the whole things became quite the entertaining spectacle.
We had planned to extend our Hollywood day into the evening by letting the kids go feral in Griffith Park and taking them to the Observatory. We jumped in our cars and started the ascent up the hill, however, only to discover that the entire route up was one massive traffic jam. Just a little further up and we noted that people were parking on the sides of the already narrow road and were then trudging up to the summit. With cars parked on both sides of the road, there was no opportunity for even a U turn when we reached the point where official notices informed us that all the car parks were full. When I had been to the Griffith Observatory before, there had been maybe a dozen other visitors. I can only assume, therefore, that some special event was happening. Either that or the place had become incredibly popular in the intervening 17 years. So we slowly snaked our way up the hill and then we slowly wound all the way back down again. No Griffith Observatory for the kids on this trip. It was not meant to be. Instead, we took a meandering route back to Venice via Mulholland Drive and Laurel Canyon, as low fog rolled in from the sea and the lights of the city sparkled and shimmered in the darkness.
Road Trip #2 – Evans City Cemetery
“They’re coming to get you, Barbra.”
If you recognise that quotation then you may well be able to hazard a guess as to our first stop on the second day of our family road trip. George Romero famously shot his 1968 movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in the environs of Pittsburgh so – as a massive zombie and movie fan – there was no way I could depart the area without paying homage. My top choice was Evans City Cemetery, shooting location for the iconic opening scene.
I have loved ‘Night of the Living Dead’ since I was a wee girl. Back when I first saw it, I simply loved it for the zombie horror aspect and its grotesque moments of shock and horror. It was compelling stuff and set in motion by whole zombie fixation. Returning to the film as I got older, however, I began to enjoy the other layers in the movie: the themes of alienation and identity, societal dynamics, its exploration of the nature of and reaction to fear, its study of inversions, and also the film making with its structure, sense of urgency, camera angles and gritty monochrome, plus its explosive use of the twist. Anyway, you get the idea: I absolutely love the movie.
I will be vague in order to avoid spoilers but the opening scene involves Johnny and Barbra visiting the grave of their father in the cemetery, Johnny teasing Barbra, and them being assailed by a strange bloke. I had the images from this scene fixed in my mind so all we had to do was locate the correct spot in the cemetery in order to reproduce the scenes. I had my DSLR with me and my kids had their video camera so we could capture our pilgrimage in stills and video.
Evans City Cemetery is reached via a winding, uphill road lined with trees which then emerges into the cemetery with a little chapel on the left. While I had no expectation of the cemetery looking spookily spine-chilling, I had not anticipated just how lovely it would be. As a rural cemetery tucked away from the town’s main thoroughfares, it was serenely quiet and glowing in the summer sunshine. It was also immaculately maintained and spacious, with headstones surrounding a war memorial like ripples in a pond. It was actually a really charming place and I felt rather sorry that I was only visiting it for reasons of horror.
It took us very little time and wandering before we found the grave of a chap named Nicholas Kramer. This gravestone is foregrounded in some key shots in the movie’s opening scene hence it being the subject of our quest and also fairly easy to identify. We had turns of being Barbra posing beside the grave, looking anxious and fretful.
Finding the grave that Johnny and Barbra visit – standing in for their father’s grave – was a little trickier since it is only shown from the back with no inscription visible but we used the available clues from wide shots and glimpses of text on adjacent graves to locate the correct one.
Movie pilgrimage mission accomplished, Mr Pict, our oldest son and I had a wander around the cemetery while our other three sons filmed scenes for their very own zombie movie. My 10 year old had even packed zombie teeth in his backpack for just this occasion. He was the director and they took turns at being cinematographer and cast. I like to think Romero would approve of their homage.
PS I just wanted to reassure readers that we were mindful and respectful of the setting and fellow visitors at all times.
Frankenstein’s Monster – Art Journal page
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.
Spring Break Day 5 – Cinema and Lego
We decided to have a mid week slump in terms of level of activity so we spent the morning at home base so that the kids could enjoy playing indoors and in the vast garden. Then in the afternoon we went to the cinema at Tyson’s Corner Mall. Our oldest son was not bothered about the movie options so he stayed behind with his grandparents and played board games instead. Mr Pict and the two middlies saw ‘Captain America – Winter Soldier’ while I took the youngest to see ‘Rio 2’. He and I had a bit of time to kill after our film ended but before the other film let out so we had a bit of a wander around the mall. He liked testing poufs out in a home décor store called West Elm and he was fascinated by the sushi conveyer belts in an eatery. We also spent some time in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble book store but the thing the littlest Pict loved doing most was just travelling up and down on escalators.
Once the others had joined us, we headed to the Lego store. The kids love to make their own minifigures up so they spent some time doing that. Our 8 year old has read ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy a few times and is a bit obsessed so he wanted to make minifigures that represented characters from those books. They have a new thing in the lego stores whereby you can hold up a set that contains over 500 pieces to a screen and it then shows a 3D representation of that model. I asked a staff member to demonstrate how it worked and it was brilliant so my 7 year old and I tried it and nothing happened. So the same staff member showed me how it worked again and I tried again and yet again nothing happened. I was going to ask for another demonstration but the 7 year old said that would be embarrassing.
PS Please excuse the quality of the photos – I am not very good at using the camera on my phone but I didn’t have my DSLR on me.