March 21, 2010

Drawing disasters threaten to drive artist to quit.

So I've got a handful of portrait commissions.  It's been over a year since I did a portrait, and my supplies needed updating, so I took care of that; grabbed some smooth Bristol paper, a new kneading eraser, and another can of fixative.

I get home.  I'm inspired, motivated, optimistic.  I prepare my photo references and printouts.  I go to layer my work on the light box, and whaddyaknow -- the smooth Bristol paper is so thick, I can barely see through it to block the main shapes of my subject!  Obstacle #1.

I push through that and do the best I can.  It works out, so I merrily draw on, shading in the skin and shadows beginning on one side of the page and working my way to the other.  I work for three hours straight and get a full THIRD of the job done, and suddenly...SCCCCCRRRRAAAATCH!

A particle from who-knows-where leapt onto my page and under the chamois and hooked a big gouge in the middle of my subject's right cheek!  I knew what happened as soon as I felt the drag, and at that precise moment, too, I knew there was nothing I could do to correct it and my drawing was ruined.  Obstacle #2.

There are few things in the world so frustrating to an artist or writer than investing sheer effort, vision, time, creativity, and fine motor skills, just to have one small, sudden circumstance unravel it all in an instant!  I've had it happen to stories I've written, garments I've sewn, projects I've knitted, and on and on.  This wasn't the first drawing I've had to throw away and restart, but every time it happens, it feels like the very first time, and all the stomping and tears and expletives in the world are not enough to ease the agony.

So there's really nothing a person can do except take a deep breath and begin again.  So I began again.  I went through the whole process of layering my work on the light box, blocking the main shapes, and filling in the skin tone and shadows from one side to the other.  Slow, meticulous, precise work.

I finish toning the full face, and it's time to go back and blend.  I begin blending, and what should appear along the subject's right temple!  FINGERPRINTS!  Large, dark, unavoidably distracting fingerprints.  Obstacle #3.

I should know better.  The oils on the skin adhere to paper surfaces -- especially the smoother varieties -- and graphite and charcoal adhere to the oil.  If you blend pencil over oil, you get a very detailed, relief-like image of every fingerprint on the page.

I knew this.  I've always known this.  But why haven't I had this problem before???

Because this is the first time I've used the Bristol smooth paper, the first time I've chosen to blend with a chamois instead of my usual blending stubs, and the first time I recall doing portraiture while pregnant.  Maybe pregnancy affects my fingerprints in some strange way.

I did not cry.  I simply set my supplies aside and allowed Rocky to talk me down while I cleaned the kitchen with unprecedented fury.  He told me to walk away from it, go to bed, sleep in, and try again tomorrow.

It's a new day.  I'm going back to the craft store to get the paper I always use, and I'm going to try again.  I may even pick up a box of latex gloves just to be on the safe side.

And for the sake of my sanity, maybe I should estimate I'll have to start over twice today, and I should just prepare myself to handle it when it happens.


  1. oh man...that would upset me to no end. I'm impressed with your perserverance. Did I spell that correctly? May I suggest non-latex gloves? You don't need an allergy on top of everything else! :) hang in there and be blessed by your wonderful artistic talent!

  2. I'd have to consult yon dictionary to double-check "perseverance," but it looks right to me! Besides, I knew what you meant. ;)

    NON-latex gloves! I didn't realize there were alternatives! :D Thanks for the tip!

    I will hang in there and pray God blesses my work. (I always pray for a steady, sure hand.) Maybe the Lord just wants me to really get to know this person's face really, really well!