“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” — Zora Neale Hurston
Isn’t that an amazing quote? I came across it in a book I’m reading: ‘Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy’ by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It was a gift from a friend who is fortunate to have a gem of a used bookstore in her neighborhood. I’m fortunate to have her as a friend, among her many strong points is a penchant for generous and thoughtful gift giving. She gave me the book two years ago, but I only just started reading it. I’ve had this experience before, of having a book in my reading periphery for a while, and then finally cracking it open to discover that it is exactly the book I was hungry for in that moment. That’s how I felt when I read that quote by Ms. Hurston, I was so hungry for that sentiment of timing and patience, I practically licked the line off the page.
Somehow, I never read Zora Neale Hurston’s ‘Their eyes were watching God’ during my education. It’s a mixed blessing: I’m sure I would have benefited from reading that book at any point in my life, but it was delicious to read it for the first time in my thirties. If you haven’t read that book yet then I have to tell you: you should probably stop what you’re doing right now (yup, stop reading this) and go out and buy/borrow that book. You can come back and read this later, no thanks necessary — I’ll just be happy to know that more people are walking around with that book informing their souls. And then, there’s that quote above. So simple, so profound, so kind and generous, so perfect for me right just now in this moment.
Hence, my sketch painting of the beautiful Ms. Hurston. The link on the book title shows one of her portraits, it’s one of the (approximately) eight I sketched from to make the above painting. Drawing from photographs on the web is a tricky business. Importantly, it is never a good idea (unless just for personal edification) to do a strict copy — any illustrator who draws exactly from a photograph and then uses that created image for monetary or professional gain is guilty of copyright infringement (unless, of course, they’ve previously worked out a mutually agreed upon usage contract with the original photographer.)
In addition, there’s the issue of authenticity. A photograph is also an artistic image, not the original person. This is so last century (or maybe two centuries back? Photographers?) to dither about, but a photograph inherently changes the subject. So, as an artist, it’s important to recognize that attempting to draw a figure out of history based on photographs is several steps removed from it’s source. Who knows what Zora Neale Hurston really looked like (away from the self-conscious imposing view of the camera?) Who knows if Ms. Hurston liked the assembly of photographs on the web, or if she felt they accurately represented her? My answer to all of this is to sketch from several different sources, and then imbue (hopefully) my drawing with my own emotional reaction to Zora Neale Hurston as I understand her, resulting in an original work that is reasonably recognizable as a portrait. And what would Ms. Hurston think about THAT? Ah, if only I knew…
Here’s what I do know, though, I’m quite proud of this little sketch painting. It’s finished, it happened relatively quickly — largely around nap and bedtime, it felt good to do, and now it feels good to look at. I like how loose I was with it, I was more focused on process instead of product, and I’m thinking that’s the only way I’m going to get any painting done. Also, I really like that I painted this in my charming little sketchbook, it’s contributing to the increasing chunky texture of the book — always a sign that art is being made, and a way of answering back.