The second art class I took at UIC was an intro to drawing class. Once again, I was incredibly nervous. I can’t draw. No, I really can’t draw. I have no sense of proportion or perspective. I have no natural gift for it. But I signed up for the course with a teacher who was highly recommended by two friends, and that made all the difference. My teacher Professor Frid opened my eyes and my mind so much. I learned that what I thought of as “good drawing” came from a tradition of white, European males, and that there were so many other traditions of drawing around the world and through history. Professor Frid also encouraged us to experiment with all kinds of mark-making techniques. And so I tried not to worry about how I “can’t draw.” I brought my textile skills, my curiosity, and my willingness to learn to the work. It was a good class, a challenging class, and here are the projects I made that semester:
For our first assignment, we filled our sketchbooks with lines we observed in the world. Then we cut those lines out of white paper and added them to a black background to make a composition. I decided to let my lines come away from the page instead of gluing them completely down. I used little stitches to secure them.
Assignment two was to do some contour drawings of an object (I chose a rock with a hole in it), and then to render several versions, in charcoal and in paper cut outs. I did a fifth version in fabric, using a reverse applique method.
Next we had a self-portrait assignment. We had to draw our faces with pencil at least 12 times. I can’t overstate how uncomfortable I was during the drawing process of this assignment. I hated all of my efforts, struggling mightily against my perfectionism. I never was happy with any of the drawings of my face, but it did make me happy to slice them up and make them into a paper quilt.
For our midterm projects we were asked to make two pieces featuring two animals morphed together. Here is my first, in which I drew a raven and a scorpion. Then I did an embroidered panel over the top. There is a story here about old age, waiting for death, and the administrative tasks at the end of life. I didn’t feel very confident about this piece, and it was very hard to photograph.
For the second animal-morph piece, I asked my daughter her favorite animal and she immediately said mantis shrimp, followed closely by water bear. I decided to throw in a cat because she has historically loved them. I started thinking about boxing, and boxing robes, because the mantis shrimp has the most forceful punch in the natural world. I was thinking about my daughter, and what she might encounter as she navigates healthcare as a trans individual. I also think of my friends with chronic illnesses, and how they have to fight for all the care they need. The paper exam gown is appliqued with tissue paper to represent fragility and vulnerability, while simultaneously referencing the strength and resilience of a fighter.
For the next assignment, we drew scenes from a conservatory, and another interior space (I chose my daughter’s bedroom) and then used the drawings as collage materials. Each piece had specific requirements. 1. Combine the conservatory and interior drawings. 2. Combine the conservatory and interior drawings; include one or more of the live-model drawings we did in class. 3. Pick one of the two collages and draw it again but with one material (I used oil pastels), and incorporate a self portrait. Of course there is always room for improvement, but I was pretty happy with these. They might have been my favorite pieces of the semester. My kids liked them so much they asked me to frame them and hang them in their rooms, so that was fun.
For our final project of the semester, we got to choose our own topics. My theme was the poem Good Bones by Maggie Smith, which looks at the duality of hope and realism. I was also inspired by some paintings and drawings by Paul Klee. The shorthand depicts words from the poem. It doesn’t have much to do with the project other than that I love the look of it (I previously used it in my Train Track Pennies quilt — I associate it with my grandma). In one piece I wanted to show a dilapidated house in a beautiful setting, and in the other I wanted to depict a perfect house in a toxic atmosphere. I felt these two images illustrated the push and pull present in the poem.
This was an exhausting semester. I was really inspired by my teacher to work hard and try new things. I made some work I’m really proud of. This class really made me confront some of my artistic insecurities, and I survived with my creativity and confidence intact.