Working Through a Misfire by way of the Backlog

I wrote a couple of months ago about an art show called the River Oaks 5x5x5, which I often refer to as the “tiny art” show. It’s one that I entered two years ago and surprisingly had a sketch accepted for the exhibit. That was really early in my return to art, and the quality of what I was doing really wasn’t very high. I had a lot to learn (and re-learn), so it was certainly unexpected to be selected.

Although I missed last year’s competition, essentially because I forgot about it and missed the deadline, I planned ahead this year and submitted two portraits. I felt good about my chances because it seemed to me like I had improved significantly since my first experience with the show. Unfortunately, neither of my drawings were accepted. I was more disappointed than I thought I would be! I mean, rationally I knew that the chances weren’t especially high because a limited number of pieces would be selected. And my wife pointed out that since art galleries ultimately want to sell (and thus make commission on) what they display, maybe my choice of drawing our kiddos wasn’t the most optimal in this situation.

My River Oaks 5x5x5 entries. The entry that made the cut in 2017 on the left, the two that didn’t from this year center and right.

I’ve pondered lately why I was more disappointed than I expected. I am just being moody about it? That’s possible, but I think it goes back to that first show. As I said, that was early in my re-acquaintance with art; 10 years away from a hobby can leave a lot of rust. In hindsight, I see how easily I could have just dropped art again after a few sketches. I’m happy that I’ve stuck with it, and I wonder if part of that stems from my first experience with the River Oaks Tiny Art show. That was the second sketch I had done, and even though I knew it wasn’t amazing, I did feel a bit validated that an art show said “this is good enough for us.” I believe I would have probably kept going anyway, but I have to admit that could have made some impact.

So, I guess that’s the root of it. Even if I didn’t initially want to admit it to myself, that particular art show will probably always have some special meaning for me. Next year, I will try something new that might be a bit more interesting to someone other than me! Anyhow, after processing all that, I felt the need to get some pencil to paper. As is often the case now, I went to the reliable ol’ bullpen for some Unsplash-inspired portraits. I’ve developed quite a massive backlog of ideas at this point, many of which were triggered by images I found on Unsplash. It’s a good problem to have I suppose, knowing you probably won’t run out of art ideas any time soon. In this case, I worked on two at roughly the same time, switching between when I felt the need for something different.

The first is a woman listening to headphones. The second is a man texting on his phone, which I’ll share in a separate post. Here’s how the first one turned out:

Portrait of a woman and her headphones. Derived from a photograph by Apostolos Vamvouras on Unsplash.

Overall, I’m happy with this result. She looks reasonably like a normal human being, which is always a nice start. Aside from the right side of the nose and perhaps the hand, I think I did a good job of not relying on hard lines. Instead, I gave the impression of a line in quite a few places (jaw, lips, hair) through blended and contrasting colors, which feels a bit more natural to me. This portrait was interesting in part because there were a lot of cool opportunities to work with shadow, especially in the way her hand is arranged.

There are some negatives on the portrait though. The biggest is that I lost the subtle smirk I had in the original outline sketch; it was slight, but noticeable. And as I added color, I lost it somehow, which I think takes away from the portrait a bit. Another aspect that ended up looking very weird is how the fabric folds look on her shirt. The subject is lounging, possibly laying down, so the shirt is supposed to have some natural folds. Unfortunately, my folds, along with the shoulder straps, make it look like she’s wearing a garbage bag. Not exactly the look I was going for!

You can see what I mean about the lost smirk in the progression .gif. Look at the earlier stages of this sketch as it somehow gets lost.

The second piece of this post-art show rejection catharsis is actually finished as well, I just need to write something for the post. That’s the trickiest aspect of doing these multi-part posts; sometimes is can be hard to figure out what to write about after the first one. Stay tuned for part 2!

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