Monday, July 13, 2009

Off the Wall

After Saturday's poster session at the American Library Association (ALA) conference, which I alluded to a couple posts back, my group members and I went our separate ways. Having spent some time in Chicago as a youth, I set off to Michigan Avenue to revisit some favorite old haunts. Sadly, it seems that not enough people watched the anti-P2P YouTube video that Ziyang, Zhuo and I created for our IST 618 Telecommunications and Information Policy course last fall semester: The Virgin Megastore and the movie theater across the street have gone the way of the dinosaurs. As an alternative way to kill time before my mostly non-vegetarian colleagues graciously indulged me in a trip to the Chicago Diner, I decided to draw some cityfolk.

I'm tired of drawing people sitting in cafes lifting forks to their mouths, so I searched around for some more inspiring fauna. And then I saw it: in the recently erected Millennium Park (built in 2004), a bunch of kids were actively playing in the fountain. Excited about capturing these action scenes, I searched for a civilized spot to sit. I was wearing a nice suit from the convention, and I didn't want to get grass stains all over it.

And then I realized that all the benches were set up so they faced away from the kids in action.

So, in the absence of properly oriented benches, I hoisted myself onto a short nearby wall, and sat and sketched as I planned, feeling like a creep though my intentions were as pure as new fallen snow.

Every artist that I know of and respect drew/draws from life to capture gestures and poses for practice and reference, and that's what I do, too. I don't know of anyone who can draft realistic, complex poses out of thin air, with no intensive practice in life drawing. Some draw from photographs, but I end up with stiff-looking artwork if I do that; it's very limiting, because a photo doesn't show you how shadows change when the sun moves, or which pose comes next in a natural flow, or any number of other things. It hinders invention, since a photo is just one frozen moment in a larger, fluid context. Anyway, that's besides the point since I guess taking pictures of kids is a complete taboo. Unless they're yours.

And so, though the Art Institute of Chicago (a couple blocks north on the same street as Millennium Park) displays at least two paintings by Balthus, I sit on this wall with the sneaking suspicion that what I'm doing is now considered socially unacceptable.

The plus side is, if I ever have to draw a picture of kids playing at a pool, fountain, or beach, I have some good reference material. It's really hard to draw moving little kids, but you'd be surprised how even a small gesture drawing of a hand or foot can be helpful later on.

Next time on Bibliowhining: Chrissy uses a new, modern tool (the Wacom tablet that R.David Lankes lent her) to draw and color something entirely on the computer! Will it be a failure of epic proportions, or will this Web comic meausure up to the rest? She hasn't tried it yet, so we'll see...

After a while, dystophile!


  1. Oh good, the MJ titles continue. I only briefly visited Chicago, but I fell in love with it and would like to live there someday. While you watched the children frolic and used them as art subjects, I chose to give them mean looks and send general dislike their way as I walked by without stopping.

    Hope you went to the Art Institute - it's like going to church.

  2. I was only in Chicago for one full day. I've been there many, many times, though, and tried to convince our colleagues to make time to go there. I like the giant Mao Zedong painting by Andy Warhol as a segue between the Asian and modern art sections.

  3. That really is sad poor planning that none of the benches face the fountain/park...especially in regards to parents being unable to watch over the children as they play!
    I do so hope it was just an oversight and not the paranoid fore-thought of avoiding pedophiliac dendencies that caused the strange bench placement. I mean, not even thinking about parents...what about lovers who want to sit together and look at the beauty of the fountain/park?!
    That's just sad...
    Nice sketch, btw. I can see one using it in a beach scene or something, a "building a sandcastle" kid. :)