Friday, July 12, 2013

A year's worth of work.

“Talent and all that for the most part is nothing but hogwash. Any schoolboy with a little aptitude might very well draw better than I perhaps; but what he most often lacks is the tough yearning for realization, the teeth-grinding obstinacy and saying: even though I know I’m not capable of it, I’m still going to do it.”         — M.C. Escher

Another year of graduate school came and went in a flurry of activity. Waking before the sun to catch the subway to the city, standing in front of an easel for six hours at a time, riding the subway back to the East Bay in the humid heat of the late afternoon or walking home through a drizzle of fog and mist (depending on the time of year), spending hours late into the night focused on a computer screen or a piece of paper, then dropping into bed only to repeat the next day... with such full days, the time flew by. After all the stress, all the striving to improve, all the comparison and critiques, I'm shocked by how much I produced in such a short amount of time. There's nothing like constant deadlines to make you realize how much you really are capable of. What I'm sharing here is the best of the work I did during my second year. 

During the fall semester I took a class called Situation and Environment, an oil painting class. I had never painted with oils before (or really painted very much at all), and it proved to be a very challenging and exasperating experience. I spent many hours utterly frustrated and defeated. By the end of the class though, I felt like I was finally getting the hang of it. Below is my third oil painting ever, the final painting for the class- it's based on a screen shot from the movie Australia

This photo of the painting doesn't quite do it justice...
Situation and Environment.  A painting of my lovely friend, musician Ayla Nereo.
Situation and Environment. 
I also took an Anatomy class, which I thoroughly enjoyed. That kind of academic left brain engagement is something I've always been engaged by. I loved learning the names and mechanics of all the muscles and bones, and I really appreciated the visual understanding of the human body that the knowledge of anatomy began to afford me. My favorite assignment for that class was the skeletal and muscle overlays we did for two master drawings. It was an incredibly challenging assignment for me, but learning to visualize the interior of a person and to realize how well the masters knew their anatomy was so educating. I'm happy to say that I'll be the teaching assistant for this class in the fall!

Skeletal overlay of a master drawing.
Muscle overlay of a master drawing.
Michelangelo's original drawing.
Skeleton overlay of a master drawing.
Muscle overlay of a master drawing.
Raphael's original drawing.
Master copy of Leonardo Da Vinci's Leda and the Swan, for Anatomy.
Da Vinci's origial.
Master copy of Da Vinci's drawing of Michelangelo's David, for Anatomy.
Da Vinci's original.
Master copy of Michelangelo's Medusa, for Anatomy.
Michelangelo's original.
"Ardor," for Anatomy. The assignment was to draw a life-size rib cage and pelvis in any medium and style. I was lucky enough to get this piece accepted into the Academy's Fall Show.
At the Fall Show.

"Pollination," the final assignment for Anatomy. The assignment was to draw a full figure nude in any style and medium. This piece made it into the Academy's Spring Show- I was honored to be featured amongst so many amazing artists.
On the streets of downtown San Francisco- a banner announcing the show!
Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.
Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.
Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.

Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.

Drawing from a live model, Anatomy.

In the midst of all the work I've been doing for school, I've been trying to get in the habit of sketching more. Becoming skilled in anything seems to be all about practice and exploration, and a sketchbook is a place for both. My Head Drawing teacher from my first year told us that drawing in a sketchbook is the same to an artist as doing pushups is for an athlete.

From my sketchbook.
My Clothed Figure Drawing class was also really enjoyable. We learned about the different folds that clothing makes, how fabric reacts to the stretch and pull of the body in action, and how to simplify the often chaotic expression of fabric and form into its most essential details in order to tell a story most effectively.

From Clothed Figure Drawing class.  He's doing a crossword puzzle :)
Clothed Figure Drawing.
Clothed Figure.
Moving on to spring semester, I took an incredibly challenging class called Perspective for Illustrators. The class used to be called Drawing from the Imagination, because of the fact that you're not allowed to use any reference for the class and everything has to come from your imagination, but I think they changed the name because it sounded too easy and fun. In reality, it was the most mathematical and logical class I've taken at the Academy, focusing on perspective rules, creating buildings and street views and even drawing people from different perspectives. We also learned things like how to plot shadows from the sun and from artificial light sources in our drawings and how to accurately create reflections. The class taught you almost everything you would need in order to create a convincing visual world from your imagination, without using reference. I was definitely out of my element in this class, and I really struggled with it. I did, however, learn an incredible amount that I hope to put into practice for the rest of my career. I'm not going to share too much of what I did in that class, but hopefully will be able to post some things later on that show what I learned.
For a fight scene for Perspective for Illustrators.
Perspective for Illustrators.
Perspective for Illustrators. Three point perspective view of a person.
Perspective for Illustrators. Two point vertical perspective view of a person.
Perspective for Illustrators. This is an example of the kind of grids, rules, and measurements involved in this class.
During spring semester I also began my first foray into combining my traditional pen and ink style with digital medium in a Digital Painting class. We focused mostly on learning to use a program called Corel Painter, but also spent some time learning some neat tricks in Photoshop. A lot of the students in the class are primarily digital artists, and I was one of the only ones using traditional mediums along with digital. In the future I'd like to experiment with delving into the digital realm further, but for the meantime I really enjoyed blending the two styles.

"Guardian," from Digital Painting class. Pen and ink and digital.
My attempt at a Japanese style landscape for Digital Painting. Entirely digital.
I already posted this one,  but thought I would share again. "The Gift of Grief," pen and ink and digital.
"Mandala," for Digital Painting. Pen and ink and digital. Look for this one coming out as a fabric pattern and as stickers soon!
My favorite class of the spring was Children's Book Illustration. After practically having an emotional breakdown at the beginning of the semester because of struggling to find a style and a voice, I stumbled upon paper cutting as a technique. My teacher for the class was incredibly helpful and encouraging to me as I dove into this new medium, and once I figured out the mechanics of it, I really enjoyed the unique style and bold graphic look that paper cutting affords. The images below are for a story I'm working on about a little golden fox who lives in a vast forest, and goes on a search of a true friend. They are made entirely out of layers of intricately cut sheets of different colored pieces of paper, with subtle embellishments with colored pencil.  
For Children's Book Illustration class. This would be the decorative end papers at the beginning and end of a children's book.
For Children's Book Illustration. The little golden fox exploring the forest.
For Children's Book Illustration. The little fox out at night, with a river full of fish and a sky full of birds.
For Children's Book Illustration. A territorial porcupine!
For Children's Book Illustration. The little fox gazing at the moon, wishing for a friend. 
For Children's Book Illustration. The last illustration of the book- the fox has found a friend. "Goodnight!"
So there you have it- a year's worth of art. There were literally stacks of drawing pads full of less successful pieces that went into the recycling, so for every piece you see here there were at least five times as many drawings that no one will ever see- drawings that I struggled over to no avail, sketches that failed miserably, and ideas that fell flat. It's a painstaking process, creating art... at least for me. There are days when I have no question about the purpose of my path, and others when I am clouded and weighed with doubt. But like M. C. Escher said in his aforementioned quote, I have the "tough yearning for realization, the teeth-grinding obstinacy" that drives me (in an often maddening way) to keep pushing myself towards a more honest, skillful, expressive, and raw image, an image that speaks of things both meaningful and important, that opens others to see and feel, and that offers praise to this unutterably beautiful world that we have the gift and capacity to drink in with our eyes. 

Thanks for looking!


  1. Marisa this was beautiful to read. A small window into your process and journey. And the art encapsulating it all. Thank you for sharing. ..

  2. Your sketches are absolutely breathtaking. I LOVE the little fox out at night and the woman with the owl. Thank you for the honest and fascinating read. Best of luck in your future endeavors :)

    1. Thanks for the feedback Aicacia! I always love hearing which pieces of my work resonate with different people- it makes the whole process worthwhile to know someone connected with the imagery.

  3. Hi Marisa,
    It was great reading of your journey! I, too, am an illustration student at the AAU, but I'm strictly online! I'm now in the perspective class, and I can relate to everything you've said about the pain of it all! I'm always near tears, it seems! LOL! But in the end, it will be worth every tear! I know! I'm also in Children's Book (although too soon in my journey), and I'm struggling to find my style there as well. Who was your Perspective instructor? S.P.?

    1. Hi ARH,

      It's such a wild ride, isn't it? The ups and downs of creating! I contemplate the path and purpose of the artist a lot, and I think that the struggle is an integral part to birthing something beautiful and meaningful to share with others. I wholeheartedly encourage you to keep practicing, exploring, and creating! It took quite a bit of struggle to unearth my children's book style, and I still feel like I have a long way to go in developing it. I think that all we can do is just try to be as authentic to our unique vision as possible. Sometimes that takes some tears!

      And yes, S.P. was my perspective teacher- he is difficult and demanding but an incredible artist and a very nice person. Good luck and keep in touch! I'd love to see some of your work.