Thursday, August 26, 2010

Drawing 101: The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

(In which I try to give you online drawing lessons courtesy of a novel.)


So I haven’t written for weeks. And I thought I dedicated myself in posting a new entry per week. As if these were not enough, I haven’t finished reading Hickey yet. And to compensate for the display of abandoning myself to procrastination, I am writing an online lecture on what to expect and do on the first day of a painting/drawing lesson. And please pardon me for the sporadic interruptions brought about by my stream of consciousness.

“Here’s what we need”, he said brightly, holding up a piece of charcoal he dug from the bottom of the box.

“I brought pencils,” I said, showing him the brand-new tin case.

“It’s too early for pencils,” he said. “Charcoal first, then pencils.”
Looking back to all those years I’ve learned how to draw, I never remembered using charcoal. It seems like it has become a specially separated lesson on drawing and not a part of a series of medium. My other classmates who, back then, studied portraiture, used charcoals after we all learned how to shade with our Hs, HBs and Bs. Because the main sequence is that it should be pencils first before colors.

“Are you ready?” said Klimt.

“But where’s the easel?” I asked in surprise.

“Today, we’ll sit at the table,” said Klimt. He swept the red cloth aside. Mrs. Klimt took it up, folded it and put it on her lap. Then he taped a sheet of paper to the table and pulled a brick out of the toolbox. I tried to guess what the brick might be for. To keep the paper from blowing away? To sharpen the chalk? He placed the brick in front of me stood with his arms folded. I waited.

“Well,” he said. He looked at me expectantly. . .

“Well what?


“I don’t understand,” I said. “What am I supposed to draw?”

He nodded toward the brick.
The first thing I have drawn upon entering an art school was . . . my left hand – which I think is more interesting than a brick. Not that I am questioning the author’s or Klimt’s idea of a first subject. I just thought that trying to draw your own hand is an exercise that connects you to yourself. It’s more challenging even, to force an artist to look deeper and make sure he’s going to see his own hand on the paper after thirty minutes.

“Draw the brick?” I said incredulously.

“That’s right,” he said. “Draw the brick.”

“But that’s just . . . a brick.” I knew I sounded like an idiot.

“And what is a brick? He said. He sounded like he was teaching a very young child. Was it a joke? But he was waiting.

“I don’t know, clay that’s baked in an oven . . .”

“Stoneware is baked in an oven, too, but you wouldn’t confuse a pitcher with this brick, now, would you?

This wasn’t how a drawing lesson was supposed to go. I should have been sketching a bowl of fruit, or some bottles, like we used to do in school with out art teaches. I didn’t know how to respond. “No, sir,” I said.

He laughed. “I know you think I’m insane,” he said, ”but this was my very first lesson in art school when I was eleven, and it will be yours. Try to give me a better definition. It won’t hurt.”

I took a deep breath. “A brick is a rectangular piece of clay that is fired in an oven and used as a building material.”

“Excellent. Now forget all that we’ve said and draw what you see.”
Somehow this approach amazed me. Giving a definition of the subject and forgetting it abruptly means to remove all subjectivity or objectivity influenced by its denotation means having to look at an object without bias. If that was my first lesson, how would I define my hands?

Photo Source:

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Girl With a Pink Dream

(In which there’s another cool kid in the tradition of Sandy.)


Being given another kid student is enough to threaten me after I witnessed the momentary Wonderful Academy invasion of repulsive and obnoxious male fifteen-year-olds acting like they’re eight. I swear I almost told the manager “No, not another kid!” But fate doesn’t seem to be a monster lately for I was given Jenny, a nine-year-old girl. Sorry boys, girls are generally easier to handle.

The first thing I noticed about this girl (just like about every other female students I had in my class) is her notebook. I have always found the covers of Korean notebooks cute. But more often than not, I need to disregard the cheesy/incoherent lines that usually don’t have anything to do with the cover image.

We started having classes last Friday and two days after, she gave me a gift.
This notebook.

How did she know I am terribly in need of a new notebook? In fact, I have already been writing on margins! Oh! Kudos to her guardian angel!
I have just established my stance on the messages but I gave this one a go. The sentences attempt to be nostalgic but still with the signature incoherence, albeit subtle.

"You are my sweet song and you are a honey melody, the girl who has many pink dreams. I have many dreams and hopes. I feel happiness."
Approximately thirty minutes after thanking her, we talked about the contests she joined, then her dreams.

“Teacher, my dream is to become a pediatrician!” she announced.

“Oh really? That’s nice!” I exclaimed. I’m used to hear children say they want to be a doctor so they could help sick people or help their parents. But I still asked her. “Why?”

She looked at the ceiling, ruminating. Her facial expression embodying her struggle for the perfect words. Then she began.

“I saw the video of Haiti. The . . . the . . .”


“Yes. The earthquake.” she agreed. My heart already melted.

“I saw the hurt children and my mom cried. And I cried, too. So I want to be a pediatrician. There are other kids. And other counties. So I asked my mom, ‘How can I be a doctor?’ and she said ‘Medical school is difficult. If you really want to be a doctor, you have to study hard from now on.’ So that’s what I’ll do. I will study English hard, hard, hard. Then study other things. Then go Harvard!”

I was breathless. I just looked at her typical East Asian face, the several scars and mosquito bites on her arms and the way she messes her bangs when she talks or coolly explains when I noticed her ear skin tag. I wonder how an innocent child could think of dreaming and striving with the inspiration of helping people. Such deep and mature thinking! Then I realized it’s only with a child’s innocence that we see with our heart and think genuinely positive.

“You’re an amazing kid,” I told her. She smiles shyly.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

At Risk by Alice Hoffman

(In which it’s good enough to remind.)

With rose wallpaper and a wooden border of photo frame as its cover, Alice Hoffman’s novel At Risk implicitly promises a nostalgic read perhaps about whose face was once enclosed by the frame. But the pages bearing the “promise” were more than a violation than a fulfillment.

The novel took off with a scene with a family spotting a wasp in the kitchen. Then the problem was introduced when eleven-year-old Amanda was tested positive for AIDS back when the disease was just starting to be known. And then the conflict emerged when the community that the family once thought was perfect collapsed into a neighborhood of overly-protective and panicky parents, cruel and equally panicky children and an unforgiving media. Amanda’s family not only struggled to keep a normal life. They also tried to make their family and a young girl’s dreams alive while painstakingly waiting for the inevitable.
The author used an omniscient narrator to tell the story of a family and a community confronted by a diagnosis. Having access to every characters thoughts and feelings was supposed to bring the characters closer to the readers but instead, it strangely made the novel a group of distant people whose only connection is the relationship or acquaintance with a sick girl. When every character was meant to revolve around her, they all live a life of their own. They are living their almost reclusive life until Amanda’s sickness (or perhaps even after) reaches its terminal stage, which was more or less 20 pages away from the ending. Not only is the method of storytelling isn’t always successful in delivering the expected sadness. It was also made more confusing, to say the least, by the preponderance of the characters’ first and last names in places where there ought to be pronouns.
Given this plot and narration, it is no longer surprising that the characters exhibited little development. There’s a wide array of characters outside the family’s circle: the doctor (and his family), the grandparents, Amanda’s coach and best friend, Amanda’s mother’s friend (and her family), the medium and another AIDS patient. But as the novel comes to an end, readers might wonder what happened to them and why they’re only presented as if in passing. The ending itself seems more of a subtle display of exhaustion from writing than actually reaching the story’s finality.
But regardless of all these, it is undeniable that the other major purpose of the novel is to create awareness about a lethal disease. For that top materialize, the author shows the frailty of the human heart and soul when struck hard. Likewise, it shows how a child’s vision of life could enlighten people. That someone lives life to the fullest despite the knowledge that death is ironically a breath away, making everyone and everything at risk.


This novel constantly reminds me of the Japanese series One Liter of Tears due to both the positive and negative aspects of the book that I’m planning to post a smackdown between the two. But first I have to secure a new copy of the series. Tell me what you think.

For now, on with another art fiction.

Currently reading:

The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey

Photo source:
The Painted Kiss

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

For Vanity and Wallowing

(In which I show an evidence of being productive despite the lack of posts.)


I know you’re not asking and you don’t mind if the last entry was dated last month. But as the keeper of this site I feel obliged to post something. It would be nice if it’s a review of the last book I’ve read with a final note about the new book I’m on but since I haven’t even finished At Risk by Alice Hoffman halfway, the sight of a review on this blog will take time. I thought of posting the titles of my gradually increasing to-be-read pile but that would only make me depressed that I still have to read three hundred pages to officially start on another art fiction. So to compensate and to explain to my constant reader/s (I know you’re not more than three) I decided on posting the reasons for my procrastination. There are two.

The first one is this.
I made another decision lately – that I will be making pencil drawings of roses. And I started with this one. It took me almost two weeks to finish it, having only a couple of hours of work or more each day. I had to do this while working or during breaks in between classes. Now my current floral project was left pending to be fair with the book I should be reading.

The other, I guess, is more obvious. I write poetry. I admit that I am a slow reader. I ruminate when ambushed by a heavy scene or a thought-provoking line. Then sometimes, memories flash through. And then images. And then words. And then music. Actually, there isn’t any particular order. The chronology may change anytime. Right now, it’s music then memories then words.
Nirdla (Part II)

Should I regret
that I’ve asked what those words meant?
Those words that shouted messages
As secret as yourself.

Should I be glad
that you answered despite
your taciturnity and nonchalance?

Should I be happy
that you shared four minutes of melody
of guitars and drums
and voices lamenting,

Or should I just understand
that your reticence is suffering made calmer?
That your smile is a curtain for fears
And smears
And tears?

And that the melody is a sanctuary
for your silent agony?
That the melody is yours for her . . .

. . . and now mine for you?

(For the first part of this verse click here.)

Photo source:
Full Bloom