Light in the Eyes

Sam_For-Animation-Slower

Something a little different today: a process GIF from a recent illustration commission! This cat portrait was done start-to-finish in Manga Studio with Frenden’s blue pencil and Hairpin Sable inker brushes.

You notice how the cat really comes alive in that last frame when the white highlights in the eyes come into play? Every time I add those to a piece I get this really vivid memory of going to art classes as a kid.

My teacher’s name was Sharon Butler. She was a realist painter from South Africa who painted waist-high stones to look like living cheetahs, crouching in the greenery outside the studio. The two rooms in her establishment were filled with the perpetual, chalky scent of pastels and Prismacolor pencils. We’d get pieces of illustration board handed out every time a new project began, cut down to the appropriate size. I completely lost track of time every session I spent there. My only job was drawing, as well as I could.

This was pre-internet, so Sharon kept a morgue file in the inner room. It was a metal filing cabinet—dull beige and taller than I was at the time—crammed full of photos and magazine clippings. There were folders for horses and dolphins and birds and architecture and chairs and people and costumes. Every manilla folder had a grouping by subject, and since Google simply wasn’t around yet we’d fight over who got the best picture of the dolphin to draw from.

I drew a lot of animals when I went to those classes with Sharon. She’d stop by while I was struggling to render a hummingbird as something other than a crude cartoon, giving suggestions on how I could better train my eye to see what was actually in front of me. The second-to-last touch, before the fixative stopped our pastel smudges from scattering off the page, was to add a dot of white in each eye. She taught us to use a Q-Tip or the back end of a paintbrush.

At the time it felt like wizardry—the amount of life that tiny dot of white could bring to an otherwise flat animal.

It still does, kind of.

New Essay: “Sexy Lucy”

Nude-Workup

“So, I have a challenge for you.”

I’m sitting on the couch scarfing pomegranate seeds and ice cream while my gentleman friend looks up from doing the crossword.

“I’d love to see you draw Sexy Lucy. I mean, if you want to. If you think it would be fun.”

I laugh through a mouthful of dessert. “What? Why?”

“Well, I saw you draw Happy Lucy today and that was really adorable, and I’ve seen Grumpy Lucy and Goofy Lucy and Tired Lucy, but you never seem to draw Sexy Lucy.”

Some of you may’ve already seen the essay I posted last week on Medium about setting boundaries in autobio comics, but I figured I’d post a link here too just in case you missed it. This is a question I’m always navigating in my own work, but it took a particular conversation to get me to articulate my feelings on the subject. How do we skew our lives in their presentation online? Can I craft an alternative reality in my work that alters who I am in the physical world? What right do my readers have to my innermost thoughts?

Give the whole thing a read and let me know what you think. I’d be really curious to hear from any of you (especially women) who handle questions of intimacy in your autobiographical work. Where do you draw the line and why?