I had a professor in college who loved to quote at me, "Art is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." He was basically telling me to get to work drawing. I can, and will do the work of drawing, but it seems a waste of time drawing something that doesn't even have 1% of inspiration. I'm basically a copy machine at that point.
For years I have worked off and on trying to draw a messy child's room for a blog that I illustrate. The writer had the story written, I just couldn't put the image together in a way that worked for me or my client. I asked friends to send me photos of their messy rooms and scoured images online. All the photos were missing something? I attempted several drawings on the messy room concept, hoping I'd figure it out as I went. But, no luck. I don't know how or when I realized it, but I decided I would have to stage the tragedy.
Good friends had me and my husband over for a delicious dinner of smoked ribs. When dinner was over I asked their son if he would like to make a mess in his room with me. He ran to his mom and asked, "Can Auntie Sherry and I make a teeny, tiny mess in my room?" His Mom graciously gave us permission to trash his room. I brought over lighting, a step ladder, and some of my own "messy items" to get a certain look. My helper enthusiastically threw everything off his bed onto the floor to add authenticity to the situation. It was fun to make the mess and it took about 35 seconds.
I climbed my step ladder and took some reference photos with my phone. I called in my actors as I pulled out my freshly charged Olympus DSLR. Dang it! I forgot to reinstall the memory card. I know I have an extra but don't want to waste time formatting it. No fears, I have my Canon point and shoot that does pretty well. I also remembered my I-Pad pro has a great camera so I took some photos with that. We took dozens of photos with variations of Mom, Dad, and child here and there. I learned that when working with a 5 year old you need to make decisions and take the photos quickly. Fun as the mess was to make, the picture taking is boring. Also, it's hard on Mom and Dad to be down on their knees. So, I didn't drag out the photo session trying to get the perfect shot. I took lots of photos from various angles: high, low, behind, in front, and from the side trusting I could cobble something together at the end; or, at least know how to go back and do it right.
I narrowed down the options to about 10 for my client to go through and low and behold, the client chose one of the reference photos of the mess that I took early on with my phone. No acting or staging or coaching or coaxing required. My young assistant nailed it in the background just being a kid doing what kids do in a messy situation. We finally found the inspiration we needed and that project was published by the end of the week.
I don't know why some images take so long to find? Maybe they're not ready to be born yet? Maybe I'm not ready to parent them? I don't know, but, I find the drawing comes so much easier for me when I start with that 1% inspiration.
I remember when my high school art teacher, Mrs. O'Neil, put this really complicated drawing in front of me. She placed it upside down and told me to copy it. I immediately, tried to turn it right side up and she said, "No. Don't turn it around. Draw it upside down." I told her, "I can't tell what it is." She said, "You don't need to know what it is. Just draw it. One line at a time." I huffed and puffed, felt frustrated, thought she was crazy, looked around the room, and then my art brain picked up my pencil and got to work. I don't remember deciding to do what she said, but my artself just took over and did it.
You might notice that my last blog was over a year ago. That's when my world turned upside down. In October 2019 I learned I would once again be asked to draw upside down because we would be putting our house on the market in February 2020 to move across the country for my husband to start a new business. Time to purge 9 years of accumulated stuff, paint the house, trim the shrubs and take care of business. Business included driving my son across the country in January to start a new job and find an apartment. Selling my house. Moving my daughter into an apartment closer to her job that she would never return to because in March 2020 everyone joined my personal chaos in the form of a pandemic stay at home order. I, however, couldn't stay at home because I sold it. I needed to buy a house, ship a car, drive a car, ship our stuff. Life goes on pandemic or no, we get to keep drawing even when we don't know how the picture will turn out, one line at a time.
So, how am I surviving drawing upside down in the middle of a pandemic? I am trying to keep the main things the main things any way I can.
Soul - I pray often. I don't pray well, but I pray. I try to listen, but often hear silence. I play the Daily Audio Bible in the morning when I don’t feel like getting out of bed; so, yeah, daily. I go to a church where everyone wears a mask and social distances properly because I need a life rhythm that involves me leaving the house. Please tend your soul during this time, if you don’t you will whither from the inside out.
Mind -It’s been a good time for me to be introspective and think about what I really want and what I can and can't do. I've thought about what I really "need" to be a healthy person. I've accepted the fact that I am an extrovert and no matter how many introverts online yell at me to stay home, my reality is, "Friends are fuel." So, I see any friend who will see me so I don't end up a car out of gas on the side of the road being towed to a mental institution. Please practice mental hygiene and air out your dirty and/or sad thoughts. Don’t hurt anyone with them, just air them. Then, fold them away to make room for cleaner and/or happier thoughts. If you don’t know how, therapy is worth every penny.
Body - I’ve joined a gym because my body is seizing up staying inside this winter. I made an appointment with an orthopedist when I discovered I couldn’t do a chest press with 2 pounds. Turns out that chronic shoulder pain was an inflamed rotator cuff and bicep muscle. No surgery needed, just anti-inflammatories and PT. I made an appointment with an eye doctor because I was using two pairs of glasses like a microscope to draw fine detail! LOL! Thank you for the recommendation artist friend Monica Agri-Bowes - it got the job done. Good news, new glasses are on their way. Blue! I'll try to post a pic. Have you let a health issue go too far? If you can get an appointment, get the help you need. You are worthy.
Art - I hired an artist mentor because I feared I would completely abandon my art in the midst of the crushing demands of "real life”. My mentor has helped me keep art inside the frame of “real life” and moving in a positive direction. I've continued to illustrate a weekly blog even when I don't feel I have the emotional or physical energy because I want that to be a part of my real life too. I’ve also applied to art school because I’m half way through my life and not halfway to where I want to be as an artist. I have pulled 3 other ladies to me and we do studio time together online once a week. I love looking up from my drawing to see these ladies who live in Georgia, Ontario, Canada, and Massachusetts working away. We encourage and challenge each other to keep making art and provide useful feedback and critique. Do you have support in your work environment? Find support.
This past year I haven't been writing on the blog because I haven't been in a position to do so. I've been drawing one line at a time. I decided to pop in here to share what some of my lines have turned into for my soul, mind, body, and art even though I still can’t see the completed picture.
In high school, the completed picture turned out to be 3 jackets. My copy was spot on. I’m not sure I could have done it right side up because the amount of detail was overwhelming. My teacher, in her wisdom, turned the image upside down so I could reach the goal by focusing on one line at a time.
If you are feeling particularly lonely this year, please hold on. You are not alone, you just can't see the completed picture. You are loved. You matter. Trust me.
Happy Valentine’s Day from SherryBarrettArt!
Sherry Barrett is an active artist who takes inspiration from great works of literature, historical figures, and wise people.