Chapter 18 – Capturing Beauty
China did inspire me. I mean really inspired. On the long plane trip home to the Seattle area, I planned my next art project. By the time I got off the plane, I could see the series in my head. ” Capturing Beauty”
Drawing is my all time favorite thing to do. Of course that would be my best-loved. It was what I couldn’t do and the reason that I went to art school. My plan was to use models, beautiful models. We never had good-looking models in art school.
My investigation was about capturing beauty. Since in my family, my younger sister was the beautiful one, I always wondered what it was like to be exquisite. Don’t get me wrong, I was known as the smart one. And I really liked being smart. So that was perfectly fine with me. But my curiosity was still about being beautiful
My plan is to use charcoal. There is a great art supply company in Seattle. Daniel Smith, the original owner, loved to explore. So it’s always an adventure to go into Seattle and spend a day at Daniel Smith Art Material, just browsing. That was definitely dangerous on any artist’s budget. But I always discovered something that wasn’t available anywhere else.
My field trip adventure was to explore papers for my series. I actually did find fourteen paper boards. A pink/grey color charcoal paper mounted on a rigid backboard. This paper is perfect for my project of capturing beauty. It had a smooth grain (unlike most charcoal paper) and will be ideal for the softness of female skin.
The boards were an unusual size. To this day, I don’t know where these boards were imported from, but I’ve never seen them again. They also were a very unusual size 32”x30”. Most charcoal boards were 22”x28” So right from the start I had a unique work surface and size
I couldn’t wait to begin, but I needed models. In Chicago I had my sister model for me, and I did incredible drawings of her. She didn’t live in Washington, so it was time for new models.
One of my ex-store managers was now working at Nordstroms. She became my personal shopper (I hate to shop) and I knew she’d help me find a couple of models. So off I went to Nordstroms, where I not only found a few models, but I found a few perfect hats. Hats were part of the theme for this suite of work.
I completed twelve drawings in about four months. My first decision was to draw a window on each piece of paper.
And I had the models going out of the window, coming into the window, or staring out from the window. I’ve always loved looking into New York and Chicago department store windows, with their incredible mannequins. In this case it would just be closeups of their faces in the windows.
I named the series “Windows” and I admit proudly…the entire series sold out. Not in my linen store, but to people in the Seattle area who began collecting my artwork. Below is a diptych piece, the photo is old, but you can get the idea.
One afternoon a neighbor called and asked if I could give a tour of my studio and drawing series to her friends. My studio had white walls and was about 1500 square feet. The series of twelve drawings was hung in gallery fashion on and around the three walls. I showed them where to start at “Woman I.” They slowly studied each piece, pausing for about three minutes at each one, as they walked around the room. I sat with my neighbor in another part of the studio, giving my visitors space.
I became extremely nervous. They were the first two people to see the completed series. Somewhere around “Woman VII” I noticed the man was crying. I really thought he hated my work. And that became extremely disturbing. It took almost 30 minutes for them to finish their viewing. I was never comfortable at any of my gallery shows back in Chicago. But this reaction was worse for me than all of those experiences in the past.
When they finally finished looking, the man asked if we could sit for a bit, and he’d like to share his thoughts. Actually I was nervously anxious to hear them.
He told me that he’s working on his doctorate in psychology at the University of Washington. The woman was his fiancé. And he said that what brought him to tears was the fact that my drawings were of absolutely beautiful women. In his opinion I really captured their external beauty. But…when he looked into the eyes of each woman, he said that I absolutely captured each one’s emotional pains. Then he said, what he really could see in my artwork, was that physical beauty is really only skin deep. The truth of the soul of each of these ladies is what I had captured. And that I hid that truth under was the beauty of the hats.
I was overwhelmed. Wow! And what did I learn? A lot about hiding pain. I always admired my sister. Years later I learned about her pain. I never really studied her eyes.
Two weeks later, the woman phoned and said that she wanted to purchase “Woman VI.” He had chosen that piece for his doctoral graduation gift. The drawing below is the one that brought him to tears.
Hope you enjoyed this little exercise in capturing beauty. I still love this series!
Enjoy this series of 15 famous painting of women. They’ve inspired me. https://artincontext.org/famous-paintings-of-women/