Posts from Memory Lane: Some Lessons I've Learned About Self-Image While Drawing

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

These posts were written during the summer while I was in Bangladesh, in preparation for the upcoming academic year. Long story short: when I looked back at the archive, I didn't have the desire or the time to put them up. But now, since I'm coming back to the blog, I decided that some of them aren't half bad. Read on!

My favorite drawing subjects are people. I like to draw faces and bodies; shaded grey pencil drawings surrounded by pen and full colored pencil images in all sorts of poses. Throughout my Basic Drawing class, I focused heavily on drawing different parts of peoples' bodies - legs floating in mid-air or a torso completely detached from its limbs. And if there's one major non-technique related thing I've learned while drawing from life, it is this: it is a combination of what your eyes are seeing and what your mind interprets.

That is a highly critical point. It means that, no matter how much I try to draw "objectively," I will still carry with me all the interpretations/biases that I have when doing anything else. And that includes body image perceptions.

When I first started focusing in earnest on drawing bodies (as opposed to floating heads), I found myself drawing people skinnier than they were. With less folds and lines. It was easier to counteract that when I was working from a model - such as during the figure drawing meetups hosted at our school - but in my mind's eye, I still saw them with little edits. Less of a crease here, more of a smooth curve. And while that might not seem significant, it really started to tell me about how we idealize certain types of bodies.

I'm not saying that everyone will do this, but when I first started working on these drawings, I found myself drawing people as they are portrayed in the media and in advertisements more than real bodies. I had to make a conscious effort to draw accurately what I saw in front of me or, when I was working from imagination, to draw people that were not all stereotyped (meaning, that they didn't all have the same exact form: thin, with round breasts, and usually tall with no muscle tone).

It really speaks to how my own body image perceptions infiltrate the rest of my life: is it because I idealize these forms that I find myself drawing them? Or is it because they are easy images to draw up since they're so pervasive in our American culture? The jury is out on that one, but I'd say it's a bit of both.

The truth is, we're never going to fully get rid of those images. If we wish to, we can unlearn them with a bit of work. But I think that the important thing for me to recognize was that these bodies were not typical and that there are a myriad of forms out there just waiting to be explored. We don't need to have the same type of body to look beautiful or to be "normal." The range is so broad.

After all, drawing and art can (and are) used to celebrate that range. It's the differences that make certain pieces look absolutely astounding.