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Looking in a Mirror

May 5, 2010

Project: Self-Portrait

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–          Kneaded Rubber Eraser

–          Lamp and light bulb

–          Mirror

–          Rives BFK Paper (I used two sheets)

–          Rives BFK palette

–          Charcoal (I am not sure what kind of charcoal)

–          Agnes Scott toilet paper


–          Draw our face

–          Fill the paper

–          Use the eraser to show the light areas

–          Do NOT outline

We began this three-week project at the beginning of April.  I was a little apprehensive when we were first introduced to our last project for ART 160.  The first being: it’s my face!  I would have to draw this while looking in a mirror and keeping my face relaxed.  In addition to this we couldn’t outline – taking away with the eraser to make the light areas was going to be extremely difficult.  I mean, I found drawing the dark spots for the value drawing very frustrating.

The very first step was application.  We were each given one full sheet of Rives BFK paper (aka rag paper), a palette, charcoal, and some Agnes toilet paper.  The instructions were to grind up the charcoal on the palette, making sure that any chunks were pushed off to the side so they would not be used.  The toilet paper was used to pick up the charcoal powder, and then applied in a light circular, rubbing motion on the rag paper.  This process was repeated multiple times until the paper was satisfactorily dark and completely covered.

Setting up our stations:  We each grabbed a corner using either an easel or a horse.  I lucked out and was able to use a horse (the sitting easel).  After our easel was placed, we then attached our mirror in a position where we would be able to see our faces without moving around.  One had to keep in mind that we would be sitting in that exact position for more than 40 hours (not consecutive, but cumulative).  We were each given a lamp and a light bulb.  We had to position these lights so that it would cast shadows on our face – making it a complex and interesting object.

Ready, Set, Start: Okay, now that the paper is set and the easel is positioned, we had to make our first mark.  This would be the lightest part of our face – meaning the whitest spot on my face.  This spot is the tip of my nose, where the light from my lamp hit.  This spot would be the center of our drawing.  When we were first given our instructions it was recommended that we multiply everything (proportions) by about 2.  I multiplied everything more than 4 times.  Because I started everything out so big, I ended up using extra paper so that I could include my eyes.  By making everything bigger I encountered several advantages and disadvantages.  Advantage wise, I found it easier to make marks on the paper with the eraser.  I had a difficult time getting the fine lines with my kneaded eraser.  If my scale had been smaller, I can only imagine that this would have been even more difficult.  Also, when there were lots of small lines close together on my face – such as creases – I found it easier to draw distinct lines.  Yet I also ran to several challenges.  I found it difficult sometimes to maintain every proportion and shape.  I had to really use the dreaded string to make sure that each part of my face was accurately portrayed on the paper.  Since I was using the string so much, a lot of my shadings tended to take on geometric shapes with distinct lines.  I found it difficult to blend everything together.  When I look at my finished product I can point out several different shapes that I would make out on my face to ease the drawing process.  This detracts from the reality of my drawing.  When I look at my face on a normal day, I don’t see a diamond or a triangle.  But when I look at my drawing, shapes such as these stick out to me.  I also had trouble making the values relative to each other.  When I saw a light shade, I tended to make it white.  Part of this I can attribute to working at night.  But mostly it is due to my desire to simplify the process.  According to Nell, I looked as if I was standing underneath a spot light dripping sweat.  I was able to fix this for the most part by going back and blending/smearing everything.

Trouble always comes in twos:  There are two things about my project that I wish I could fix; the first being my cheeks.  I still am unsatisfied with how flat they appear.  My cheeks are big, curvy, and full.  Yet I was unable, in my opinion, to accurately portray one of my defining features.  The second is my irises.  I am happy with the size and shape of my eyes, yet I feel that I could have put more detail into my irises.  I have multicolored eyes, but looking at my drawing I can really only see two colors and a few shades.

On the upside, I can definitely tell that this is me because that is 100% my nose – my crooked and small nose.

What did I learn?  Before I had never really realized how asymmetrical a person’s face is, and how much I really want a face to be symmetrical.  I have never really looked at my face for a long period of time.  In fact the only time I really look at my face in the mirror is when I am putting on make-up.  In other words, a mask.  When doing this project I would have to come mask-free.  It really forced me to look at my face, and try to see who I was.  Before I would not have been able to tell you that there are two sections on my face – one on the bridge of my nose, and a jewel shaped one on the right side of my face – which have been darkened (I think permanently) due to sun exposure.

I wish that I had at least another 40+ hours to work on this project, and about 6 more sheets of the rag paper.  I do like how my face goes off the page and is not the traditional portrait.  But I wish I had that extra time to go over the value of my face and add-on to it.


Service and an Opening

May 5, 2010

One of the requirements for my ART 160 course was an hour of service.  To fulfill this requirement, I arranged with Lisa Alembik to come before the opening of the Student Exhibit on April 15th.  I helped set up the food and drinks (and made sure none of the drinks were expired!)  It was interesting helping set up the space, and then waiting for people to come.  I think the moment where I really got to help out the most was when Victoria realized that a drawing was displayed upside down.  I helped her re-hang the drawing.  It was an interpreted self-portrait another student had done which incorporated the consequences of Hurricane Katrina.  At first glance the drawing didn’t really make sense, but when it was right-side up it revealed the truth the artist saw.

In addition to helping prepare for the exhibit opening, I stayed for the exhibit.  It was really interesting to walk around and see all the work that everyone had accomplished over the year.  I really liked how we had presented our chairs – it definitely added to the experience by having the chair on a small raised dias.  I also liked some of the letter books that another class had done. One of my favorites was the letter K – one student had a photograph of a bee whose wings made the shape of the letter K.  I also really loved Kathy’s drawing of a person running – but all that was really captured were the legs and the background.  Later in the evening the Luchsingers came and sang a number of songs and mixes.  It really topped off a great first time experience at a gallery opening.

From Beatnik to Counterculture Icon

May 1, 2010

I was first assigned to read this book last year, and I knew absolutely nothing about Janis Joplin.  If I had not read the summary on the back of the book, I would not have known that she was a popular singer during the sixties.  To me, Janis Joplin was just another face that was affected by the 1960s in post-war/cold war United States.  To some extent this generalization is true.  Janis Joplin was a child of the nuclear family who rebelled, and became a key component of the 1960s counterculture movement.

Although I agree with Echols that Janis Joplin was a necessary figure in the counterculture, I believe one of the most compelling parts of her argument is her examination of Joplin’s appearance and subsequent insecurity.  Janis grew up in Texas, yet in after middle school she felt like she was pushed to the outside of society.  No longer was she accepted – instead she was insulted and ignored.  Joplin attributed this change to her looks.  In an effort to control what was said about her, she acted out.  Echols attributes this reaction (to an ordinary situation) to her rebellion of her gender assigned-role.  This rebellion enabled Joplin to succeed in a male-dominated business.

One of the questions raised by a peer was: what kind of influence did Joplin have on women of her generation?  This question really gets at the purpose of the book, and consequently the legacy of Janis Joplin.  Although I personally had never heard of Janis Joplin before, I can now say that she has integrated herself into today’s society.  Her music has influenced many, and her style helped women wear pants.

Self-Reliance, Not Violence

May 1, 2010

When reading Tyson’s biography of Robert F. Williams, I found myself comparing strategies employed during the civil rights movement.  After reading the (auto)biography of Dr. King, I understood his philosophy of non-violence and how it was utilized as a tactical strategy.  Although I may have been skeptical, especially after Dr. King recounted an incident where the Klu Klux Klan drove away without harming anyone (he attributed this to the stand of non-violent solidarity in the community), it was presented as a viable strategy in the pursuit of equality.  Also, when the average student is taught the history of the movement, the non-violent movement (also referred to as the moral/right way in many cases) is taught separately from the ‘Black Power’ movement (also referred to as extremism).  However, Tyson is able to prove that these two movements do not only run parallel to each other, but “grew out of the same soil.”  The ‘civil rights movement’ and the ‘Black Power movement’ should be taught as one movement.  Activists from both philosophies worked with each other, and helped one another further the movement.

            Tyson also argues that Robert F. Williams was important and necessary for the movement, yet despite his contribution he does not hold a prominent place in history (until recently).   Williams’ biggest contribution was bringing the movement to a local level, incorporating the working-class man into the movement.  He was able to attract this support base because he believed that “the Negro must protect himself.”  This idea that one was not completely helpless to white supremacy was invigorating for many.  Williams argued against submissiveness; it was the duty and right of everyone to defend one’s family and property.  Williams always acknowledged that non-violence had its place in the movement, but always qualified this acceptance.  “Non-violence is a very potent weapon when the opponent is civilized, but nonviolence is no repellant for a sadist.”  Williams argued that flexibility was essential to success; non-violence was philosophically moral, but “black citizens unable to enlist the support of the courts must defend themselves.”

            I found Tyson’s book to be an excellent source for understanding how the ‘civil rights movement’ and the ‘Black Power movement’ intersected with each other and helped achieve equality in a segregated country.  It is a challenge to cover such a large time period and give justice to each important event.  I believe Tyson more than accomplished this in his biography of Williams.  After reading this book, one has an understanding of how the two movements were intertwined and the importance of a man who was a hero to the people because he understood and knew their troubles and actively tried to fix them.

One of Country’s Leading Ladies

May 1, 2010

Who was Loretta Lynn?  Michael Apted’s film tries to explain the life of one of country’s leading ladies.  Instead of taking the direct route and explaining who she was, Apted looks at her life through the different relationships in her life.

The relationship with her husband, Doolittle Lynn,  was an interesting one.  You were never sure if you were meant to hate or like Doolittle.  Her husband pushed Loretta into singing, one is left wondering if she really wanted to pursue music or if she was only trying to please her husband.  Because of this, it almost feels as if Doolittle should have been prepared for her success.  On one hand you want to excuse him for being a jealous, cheating drunk – Loretta was so busy with her success that he was almost pushed off to the side.  Yet at the same time, he was an abusive, cheating drunk.  Doolittle appeared as this manipulative man riding on the coat tails of Loretta Lynn’s success – making you hate him.  But then Apted would show how Doolittle was a great father for the passel of kids.  Throughout the movie, Apted changes his opinion of Doolittle.  One second he is a jerk, and the next he’s a great, understanding, loving husband.  This really mirrors Loretta Lynn’s view of her husband – no matter how much trouble there was between the two of them; she was always protective and supportive of him.

Being unable to pinpoint exactly how you feel about Doolittle helped make the life of Loretta Lynn more realistic.  The movie could have very easily taken on a fictional aspect.  But by making the circumstances and reactions so complex for each person, it added a level of reality and believability to the film.

The Autobiography (?) of Martin Luther King, Jr.

May 1, 2010

I have always known who Martin Luther King, Jr. was in relation to US history, but until reading this book I had never realized how little I actually knew about Reverend King.  This might be one of the reasons that I did not have a problem with this (auto)biography.

Carson was commissioned by Coretta (Reverend King’s widow) to write a biography.  The fact that Coretta commissioned the book demands a certain amount of bias when examining the text.  Also, Carson argues that he edited an autobiography and not a biography.  This is due to the fact that a large portion of the book is from the papers of Dr. King.  Although this may be true, it is also one of the problems that I have with the book overall.  I cannot argue, that the book is a great source for the general information.  I can understand how this would be a valuable text on Dr. King in the future because it offers a concise background and history of his accomplishments.  However, it is hard to determine what Dr. King’s words are and what Carson’s words are.  They are mixed together, only differentiated by italics.  Due to this slight change, it is difficult when reading to remember what Dr.. King really said and what is Carson’s analysis.  In addition to this, Carson included several telegrams in the text.  These are unfortunately placed throughout the book.  I found it bothersome .  Very rarely were these interesting documents placed at a convenient stopping point in the text.

Another criticism raised in class was the timeline at the beginning of each chapter.  I disagree with my peers.  I found this to beneficial in understanding what was occurring at the time.  It would be impossible for Carson to include everything that happened in Dr. King’s life and the civil rights movement.  This book discussed and examined Dr. King’s philosophy on non-violence, not his personal life or the lives of others in the movement.  The quotes were also criticized; it was argued that they detracted from the (auto)biography.  In my opinion they helped established the tone and subject of each chapter.

I enjoyed learning how Dr. King found Ghandi and how he learned to apply Gandhi’s teachings to his daily life and the lives of others.  One of the criticisms I found for the book was the divide between the North and the South.  As someone from the North, I have learned about segregation and racism in the North.  At first I was very dissatisfied with Carson and Dr. King because they both seemed to ignore the problems that were present in the North.  It was not until the very end that Dr. King acknowledged how racism had invaded our lives and beliefs.  Instead of racist laws, racism was ingrained in the beliefs of a person.  Here one was left wondering if Dr. King’s non-violent standpoint would be able to overcome this obstacle.

Education and the Civil Rights Movement

May 1, 2010

Charron’s biography of Septima Clark raises an important question: what was the most effective method in furthering the civil rights movement?  Charron argues that education played a key role; without programs, such as Clark’s citizenship training schools, it is questionable how well the movement would have succeeded.  Charron argues that Septima Clark’s life as a teacher morphed into that of an activist when she arrived at St. John’s Island.  After finishing her general education, Clark was faced with two different options: attend college or immediately start teaching.  Clark chose to start teaching; her first post was on St John’s Island.  This decision ultimately decided how Clark would impact the civil rights movement.  On St John’s Island the teacher was expected to be heavily involved in the community – a defining characteristic of Clark’s citizenship training programs.  Also, in this school Clark was teaching mostly adults.  Charron argues that if Clark had not worked on St John’s Island her contribution to the movement would not have been as unique and important.  Clark’s citizenship training program helped make the civil rights movement a grassroots movement.

Comparing Septima Clark’s contribution to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the other leading names in the civil rights movement is unavoidable.  Although Clark’s name is less well-known, it can be argued that her contribution to the success of the movement is equal to or even greater than some of these other leaders.  Educating the population is absolutely necessary.  Without that education it would have been impossible to direct people in the pursuit of justice.  How can people know what they are missing, if they do not know that there are such things as unalienable rights?  Also, Clark helped make the movement a local movement.  Without the local aspect, it is unlikely that as many people would have supported the movement.