Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston

Sketch portrait of Zora Neale Hurston

Sketch portrait of Zora Neale Hurston Copyright 2014 Kate Forman

“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.


Please Don’t Feed Your Fears

Copyright 2013 Kate Forman www.kateforman.com

Copyright 2013 Kate Forman http://www.kateforman.com

I haven’t posted anything in a very long time. Also, I haven’t been painting very much. My wee baby girl just turned one, and I’m still learning the juggling act of being a mamma and an artist (not to mention all those other identities of wife, friend, etc.) This idea of painting sayings or phrases is something I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’m planning on continuing it and posting them here and on my FB page. Hopefully they’ll act as a warm up and motivate me to get to painting a few other things that I’ve left on the back burner for far too long.

Mashed Potatoes

Cats Cradle Copyright Kate Forman 2009
Cats Cradle Copyright Kate Forman 2009

This past weekend I went out to dinner with my fella and my folks. It was lovely. My Mother was torn between two entrees, and made her decision after speaking with Stella, our patient waitress. The deciding question? My Mother wanted to know if the mashed potatoes were real.

 Now, I don’t know how you feel about mashed potatoes. My guess is that some of you are pondering the deep existential question: how can mashed potatoes not be real? Whereas quite a few others are nodding their heads sagely and recalling all the many times you ate out and had to clear up the same important point.
I’ll level the playing field, it’s not a nice topic, and it’s not always easy to talk about, but the reality is that some people, and some restaurants, actually use something called “instant mashed potatoes,” and then attempt to pass that salty mess off as the real thing.
This is a bit of a jump, but I promise it’ll all make sense in the end…I watched an interesting little video today, brought to you by the nice folks at Agency Access: Creative Collision: Is Print Dead? I knew I wanted to incorporate it into this blog, but I spent all day painting and kicking it around in my mind, yet still hadn’t been able to articulate what I wanted to say…until my Cousin Chrissi brought me dinner…aka: a big plate of mashed potatoes from Doc Watson’s.
Rest assured, they’re the real deal, appropriate texture, occasional lump to assure authenticity, but not to detract from the flavor, not too much butter, just right. To quote my cousin, right around the time I was having a party in my mouth I also had an epiphany in my noggin.
The video, “Is Print Dead?” features the divergent viewpoints of many people in the graphic arts industry — illustrators, designers, photographers, art directors, etc. — on what they think the future of print is. It makes sense, our worlds are increasingly digital, newspapers are gasping for air, and the kindle is now a household name. However, the folks spotlighted in the video who made the case for print still being a viable industry and source of income used the words “texture” and “tangible” consistently, and posited that those two qualities are inherently attractive to us, the consumers, and will never really go out of style or marketability.
I agree, but I’m biased: my work is hands on, and so is the artwork I’m attracted to. I appreciate slick digital design and animation, but then I stand in front of one of my sister’s paintings and am in awe — and I find that even holding a print reproduction is more satisfying than just viewing it on-line (though do check her blog out — you won’t be disappointed!)
Digital makes “sense,” it’s cleaner, faster, and more flexible. A lot like…instant mashed potatoes. It’s technology, and it’s efficient. The thing is, it’s not nearly as satisfying. In a pinch, fine — just add water and mix, but if it’s really special, or if it’s needed for comfort, or for emotional impact, or to mark some significant event, shouldn’t it be tangible and textured?
Unlike the many things that send me into cataclysmic doomsday prophecies, this debate isn’t one of them. I agree with the print cheerleaders in the video: how things feel matter, and for those who appreciate the feeling, they’ll always seek out the real thing.

Keep kissing those (artistic) frogs

'Behind the scenes' Copyright Kate Forman 2006

‘Behind the scenes’ Copyright Kate Forman 2006

 This weekend was my beautiful god-daughter Jenna’s first communion. It was a blast: she looked like a wee princess, and kept her tiara on long after her pretty white dress and hand-knitted shawl came off. There was a lot of dancing among the young guests, but Jenna’s younger brother, Scott, my Godson, and I took some time to look through his sketchbook.

Scott is an amazing artist and he keeps an almost daily sketchbook. It’s awesome and filled with pictures of his imagination, including a castle he designed for his sister (what princess wouldn’t want a pink castle with a purple slide as the exit door?) and a cool green frog waving from  a cool turquoise lily pad.

Which brings me to the point of this blog: Scott’s self acceptance, and how all of us other keepers of sketchbooks and similar collections of dreams and ideas could learn a lot from it.

You see: the frog drawing, as compared to some other sketchbook pages, was, well, a little rough. Please understand, I’m not dissing Scott’s artistic talent, he’s WAY ahead of where most 5 year olds are developmentally. It’s just, the wave was a little off, and the posture on the lily pad was just a smidge un-frog like. On top of that, Scott’s name — drawn over the frog — had been crossed out in blue crayon, and the whole page had been ripped out of the book, and then stuck back in.

So I asked Scott what was up, and this is how he explained it to me: first he wrote his name, but then he didn’t like where it was, so he crossed it out, and then he thought he didn’t like the way the frog looked, so he ripped it out, but after a little bit he realized that he liked the drawing just the way it was, so he put it back in.

That’s all folks.

No breast-beating or loathing self-doubt, no torturous self talk or avoidance of sharing. Just an open, confident, loving ability to edit, and accept, with a healthy dose of matter-of-factness.

To top it all off, when I praised Scott for his truly wonderful drawings he very seriously looked me in the eyes and said: “yes, I am a great artist.”

Now I know I’m biased, he’s my Godson after all, but I really think he’s brilliant. So, the next time I’m painting and berating, or resenting a revision, or shrinking from self-promotion I’m going to keep young Mr. Scott in mind, and dial down the neurosis and up the acceptance.

To that end: I never liked the illustration that accompanys this blog. I still see it’s faults, but today I also reminded myself that I painted it while I was working 40+ hours a week, and operating on way too little sleep. It was an illustration for a children’s magazine, and a perfect fit for the article. There are things about it that I learned from, and wouldn’t repeat today, but I still really love the make-up guy — I painted him with greatness.

Wide awake and listening

'Wide Awake' Copyright 2007 Kate Forman

'Wide Awake' Copyright 2007 Kate Forman

My last two blog posts contained a fair amount of grumbling, and acknowledgement of the difficulties inherent (?) to being a working artist. Not this post, though, this one is going to be all about going with the flow and accepting direction when the universe appears to be trying to send a message that is not understood (yet.)

That’s why this image is up here. I painted it four years ago for a nice illustration assignment from Continental Magazine. I remember painting it, I was living in Staten Island at the time, it was a beautiful week late in spring, and my desk faced a window that looked out over the rooftops I included in the painting. I could occasionally hear ship horns from the New York Harbor just a few blocks away, and the only other sound that competed with the corner pizzaria delivery guy’s idling car radio was the cacaphony of little kids running out of the music school across the street.

Aside from the memories, I might only (until fairly recently) have mentionned that the woman in the painting is modelled after my good friend Kara (the more whimsical spot illustration that also accompanied the article is hanging in her bedroom.) However, for some reason, this painting has been generating activity. I’m not sure why, but I’m at along last beginning to think I’ve got to pay attention to it.

About a month ago a friend of a friend (the brilliant up-and-coming comedian Steve Grogan) approached me about buying a print of it, he said that the expression on the woman’s face expressed something he felt strongly connected too. We had a great conversation about art and inspiration, and I thought that was the end of that, except…

Then about a week later a woman I hadn’t spoken too in years approached me about entering a public art competition, based almost solely on her appreciation of this painting. So, heck yea, I entered the competition (still waiting to hear back – fingers crossed!) and I thought that was the end of that, except…

Then this week I got a phone call from Australia (I also have to say that Australia has been very kind to me as of late — but more about that in another post.) It was a very polite inquiry into the usage rights of this image, as an Australian University would like to use it for the opening of a new department on sleep studies.

Well, I’ll be darned. Now, in full disclosure: the university has no budget, and I almost got all dug into grumble mode, but then I finally acknowledged that this painting wants some air, and I have no business standing in its way.

So, I’m letting the university use it, and I’m liking the idea of my art also being a partner in all this. Maybe I’ve got to let it make some business decisions too, maybe I’ve got to trust that just making art is sometimes more than enough. Maybe making art is entering into some big cosmic conversation and the only way to get “the answers” I want to is to hunker down and listen, and follow.

Time management, argh, ack, and oh jeez

'Tug of Water' Copyright Kate Forman Illustration 2004

'Tug of Water' Copyright Kate Forman Illustration 2004

Since I’ve had this blog (two months,) I’ve made it my business to post about once a week, usually on Tuesdays. However, I didn’t post anything at all last week. After nearly two months of prompt and enjoyable blogging, a developing Twitter presence and a fairly steady presence on Facebook, I hit the wall.

Simply put: I have poor time management skills. However, I also have a day job, a family, the loveliest fella ever, illustration deadlines, and, you know, a strong need to make art. So, more complexly, if I spend all day painting I have anxiety about my marketing campaign (I have GOT to get out another e-mail ‘blast,’) but if I spend all day twittering and networking (check out this cool jewelry and mixed media artists’ blog, and this magical artists’ one too) I have guilt about not painting (what’s the point of shouting “I’m an artist, pay me” from the virtual mountain tops if my craft languishes?)

But, let’s be real, it’s even more complex than that: because my day job sustains me financially, and I find it emotionally rewarding too, because my family and friends (and the lovely fella) need more than furtive texts and breathless apologetic voice mails.  If the other side of my career and my personal life don’t get enough attention, they all get cranky, and justly so…but if I place my art lower than them on the time priority list I get cranky (and so do art directors on tight deadlines.) So.

It’s hard.

In an attempt to save this from a completely self gratuitous vent, I will pass along this fantastic blog: ArtBiz — for the business of being an artist, I find her to be an excellent resource for art marketing and tough love inspiration. And, shuffle shuffle, I am aware that balancing acts and time management are all things I can and will work on.

But, I’d just like to say: it’s still hard to get pulled in so many directions all at once.

Hanna, fairy tales, fear and art

"Girl with Ladybug Skirt"

'Girl with Ladybug Skirt' Kate Forman Copyright 2005

This weekend I saw the movie Hanna. LOVED it. Loved everything about it: Saoirse Ronan’s mug, the soundtrack, the spunky best friend, and all of the fairy tale references and imagery. Mostly, though, I loved that it focused on a 16 year old girl who’s major problems in life weren’t a cute boy at school, a wardrobe malfunction, or an un-realistic curfew. Hanna fights for her life — and in that way the movie comes closer to an actual fairy tale than most that revolve around a young female.

‘Hanna’ made me think about a used book-store gem of mine: Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales.‘  He asserts many interesting claims, but mainly that our sanitized approach to children’s stories in modern times (1976 for him) cripples their greatest value: the fear. It’s the heros’ and heroines’ fear and fight for survival that makes the story valuable, and any watering down of it, he states, doesn’t allow the reader, often a child, the valuable opportunity of imagining themselves in the same situation. By leaving fairy tales scary and dark, as opposed to Disney-fied, a child can confront their own dark fears and grow.

Bruno Bettelheim was a complex man who may have bought into his own mythology too much, and therefore leaves a controversial legacy, but I like that he embraces fear and darkness in fairytales. Art should provoke and inspire, especially if it taps into what we’re most afraid of. It’s not the axe wielding masked maniac in our closet: it’s our potential. That’s what really scares the crap out of us.

I know it scares me, and it took me a long time to realize that it was fear that kept me from making art. Many things helped me name it, including an amazing book that my even more amazing sister gave me: Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of ArtMaking,’ by David Bayles & Ted Orland.

The book, and years of wrestling, allowed me to confront the fear that I wasn’t good enough for the art: that I didn’t have a right to take time to paint, or assert to the world that I was an artist. That somehow ART was bigger than me, and who was I to claim it, and what would happen to me if I did.

Every time an artist comes to their art making place, they create a fairy tale. They confront their existence, their hands, their creativity, all crippling judgement has to be conquered and slayed: a giant critical dragon that stands in the way of allowing the artist space and time to just be.

So, with my own soundtrack, and with my own vocabulary of fantastical imagery: I’m off to slay the dragon — it’s time to paint.