Art does not compute

I’m all arted out.

Can you tell? You probably can. This blog is usually my creative outlet. The fact that I’ve neglected it for so long means that my artistic energies have been directed elsewhere.

Where, you ask?

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Yeah. In a last-minute, last-year-of-college panic, I decided to declare an art minor.

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Therefore, I’m taking two art classes this semester. One is called “Conceptual Drawing”…

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…and the other is “2D Foundations.”

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This was going to be good. I already knew it.

The first week of class started out slow. The professors kept it basic. My conceptual drawing professor gave us this exercise:

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Uh, sure. I know what that is. Just kidding, I’m a biology student!

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Our first project was to use the marks we made and compose a larger drawing from them. Then, we brought the drawings into class. Each student was asked to explain their work, and then received critique from the professor and students.

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Then, they got to me.

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Ok, ok. If I’m going to do an art minor, I can’t keep using that excuse. But the truth is, I’m used to hearing people talk about supercoiled plasmids, or carbonic anhydrases, or, you know, the oxidation of glyceraldehyde 3-phosphate. I am not used to all this artsy terminology.

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What I especially don’t get is how subjective all of this is. I need numbers! Formulas! I took a color theory class last semester. Our first assignment was to paint a color wheel.

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It’s mostly this conceptual drawing class, really. For some reason, it just doesn’t compute in my head.

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Thus, I tend to take the class too literally.

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Another surprising part of art is how time consuming it is. I mean, I should know that better than anyone—a single blog post usually takes between 6-10 hours to make. The time I usually use to blog has been used for my art projects instead.

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Honestly, it’s more time-consuming than studying for classes! You can often find me in the art studio of my university all day, regretting a particular design choice or composition.

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It’s been crazy. I’ve been straining a completely different part of my brain, a part that I’ve barely flexed before. It’s a stretch, a challenge for someone like me.

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And I totally love it.

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I don’t know how to describe my feelings. Art is different, somehow. There’s the satisfaction of producing something that is completely your own. There’s the frustration of wanting to improve your skills, your ideas, your designs. And there’s the fulfillment of knowing that you made something beautiful. Something that can’t be explained or rationalized, but somehow still has value.

It’s something I’ve never experienced before, in all my years of studying biology—the sense that, for once, I’m doing what I was meant to do.

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It’s not like much has changed, though. I’m still a biology student. I’m still destined to live in a laboratory, pipetting the same liquids into the same machines. Maybe I’ll even get to go to grad school one day, so I can memorize the theory behind enzyme-lined immunosorbent assays or the importance of bovine serum albumin.

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But for now, I have the chance to grasp at what I wish I could be. I’ll learn as much as I can, for as long as it lasts.

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So, if you need me, before I move into the lab—I’ll be living in the art studio, getting paint everywhere.

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Want to see what I’ve been working on in class? Look below, and follow me on Instagram!

10 hours later… Done my #homework. #art #painting #abstract #trippy #whydoidothistomyself

A post shared by Vy (@ithinkincomics) on

 

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That one time I drew Snorlax, pole dancing in a g-string, onstage in front of 100+ people. It happens.

Hey y’all! In this post, I mention a fellow cartoonist/artist who is way more talented than I am! Go look at her blog here! http://lollicondraws.tumblr.com/

One of my favorite things about living in Australia is my dorm, or as the Australians call it, my “residential college.” I’ve discovered that my college– the International House– is more than just a place to live. It’s a fully-functioning community. We have dances and sports tournaments and restaurant outings. The residents, despite their various backgrounds, are shockingly open and friendly. I feel so fortunate to be able to live in IH (getting a room is competitive– I had to write essays, send my transcript, and even do a Skype interview) since I’ve really been milking my time here.

One of our many events is an annual talent show known as iNight. Once a year, the IH residents organize a slew of videos, performances, and musical acts for everyone to enjoy. I know, I know: a “talent show” sounds so middle-school, but the IH is actually bursting with talent.

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So, in August, a sign-up sheet appeared in our main bulletin board. Names slowly started appearing on the list: some kids were forming a band, some others were filming a video, another was planning to sing…

I should also mention, at this point, this website– my blog– was spreading around my close acquaintances. A small community means that news travels fast, I guess. Thus, one of my friends suggested:

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And that’s that, I thought. But my blog really was spreading around the House…

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Oh, screw it. I put my name down.

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But all I know how to do is draw comics. I’m not some sort of art virtuoso. Um… what could I do?

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Luckily for me…

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This resident, a visual arts student, was not only interested in comics, but is also a very, very talented artist!

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So we plotted.

And plotted.

And wondered… what could we draw live that people would enjoy? 

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A few days before the iNight, I put this poster on the front board.

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This box accompanied it.

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And we promised that, on iNight, we would pick people’s suggestions from the box, and draw them in under one minute.

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Well, it looked like we were going to have to. Because, before we knew it, we found ourselves backstage.

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The rules were like this: Our host would pull a random suggestion from our suggestion box. We would have one minute to draw it. There were cameras mounted above both of our tables, so that the audience could watch us draw live.

Me on stage!

Me on stage!

Drawing in progress!

Drawing in progress!

And here’s a sampling of the things we came up with!

PROMPT: “Bryony riding a Gengar”

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My drawing is on the right, and Bryony’s is on the left.

PROMPT: “Darth Vader wearing a tutu farting rainbows”

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My drawing is on the right, and Bryony’s is on the left.

PROMPT: “Draw a dick.” (Yeah… it was bound to happen.)

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For those unaware of Australian politics– the dude on the left is Tony Abbott, Australia’s current prime minister.

PROMPT: “An evil hamster fighting a man-eating burger with a piranha gun.”

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PROMPT: “Snorlax pole dancing.”

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It was a blur of markers and paper. I didn’t bother gauging the audience’s reaction– I was focusing too much on drawing. After 10 minutes of furious sketching, I stumbled off stage to regroup with my drawing buddy.

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Obviously, I was a little overwhelmed. A little nervous. A little oh-my-dude-why-did-I-agree-to-this-again? 

But, you know what? 

It was really fun!

Despite being on stage, in front of a huge audience, with a high-pressure time limit, I had a lot of fun doing the act. I mean, I hadn’t even planned on doing an act. I didn’t think it was possible for me to do an act. I didn’t have the confidence to pull off a successful performance. Yet, somehow, we had made it happen. Not only did we make it happen, but people actually enjoyed it!

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As a result, that night, I felt a wee bit better about myself. I’ve never been encouraged to learn how to draw; quite the contrary, really. So it was nice to see that my amateur skills were enough to entertain, amaze, and amuse. I’ll be forever known as that-one-girl-who-can-draw-weird-blobby-cartoony-things! 

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Finally, I could sit back and enjoy the rest of iNight.

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Somehow, I had not only been roped into organizing the fashion show segment of the night, but also modeling the Egyptian national costume. I’m not Egyptian. Long story.

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Nope, definitely still Asian.

And that’s how I ended up strutting my stuff twice in the same night.

I will never be an organic chemist, but I sure can draw spoons and cups. (Things I learned in college)

I’M DONE FOR THE SEMESTER!

I’m done. I’M DONE! And I will be for quite a while, since next semester I won’t be taking classes. Instead, I’ll be on co-op full-time.

Which I might as well be. This semester has burned me out. 

The classes were harder, everything was time-consuming, I took on too many part-time jobs again…

But it’s fine! Because college is a learning process, and I sure did learn a lot!

THINGS VY LEARNED THIS SEMESTER

In her advanced writing class:

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In her genetics class:

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In her organic chemistry class:

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Alright, so that may be an exaggeration. (Besides organic chemistry.) But to be honest, I really only enjoyed one class this semester. Of course, it was the class that had nothing to do with my major at all: Drawing Foundations 1. But it was that class that I feel as though I learned the most!

I think.

THINGS VY LEARNED FROM HER DRAWING CLASS

How to draw a naked old woman.

Remember this lady? Well, here are the results of my labor!

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(My parents: “Why is she so saggy?” Me: “WHY DO YOU THINK?”)

How to draw lots and lots of kitchen utensils.

I refuse to draw another goshdarn cooking tool for at least a month. Here’s why:

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I AM NEVER DRAWING ANOTHER SPOON, CUP, OR BOTTLE AGAIN.

Charcoal is the silliest drawing medium out there.

…because every time I use it, I end up looking like this:

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Okay, I did learn real things, I swear. I improved! I really did! I mean, my self portraits went from this

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to this:

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Also, I can draw imaginary cities now!

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Really, though, this is the class that was the most… fulfilling to me, I guess. All my biology classes are full of boring, Powerpoint lectures, useless memorization, and seemingly pointless information. They’re challenging, but for the wrong reasons. My art class pushed me out of my comfort zone, forced me to think and draw in ways I hadn’t before. It was tough, and at times I wanted to give up– I even considered dropping the class– but in the end I really tried hard to produce good drawings.

It was worth it, I suppose.

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Happy holidays, everyone!

So I walked into class this morning to find a little old lady posing naked on a table.

So I went to my 8AM art class this morning and had an unexpected surprise:

That’s right: Today, I woke up, went to class in a haze of sleepiness, and walked in to find this tiny old lady standing on a table in her birthday suit.

I mean, okay, I’m in college. I’m a girl. This is a drawing class, so I was expecting it eventually.

But man, combine sleep deprivation with unexpected nudity and you have one very confused Vy.

And I proceeded to sketch her for the next 3 hours.

(Still, I think we all got over it pretty fast.)

When a bio major takes an art class

If you just look at my blog, you’ll know I’m not that great at drawing. It’s pretty clear that the only thing I know how to draw are people, and even then those people are frumpy and cartoony and disproportionate.

And if you read my blog, you can probably can tell I like comics. I do. One of my dreams is to, one day, publish my own comic book. Of course, with my art skills as they are right now, this probably isn’t doable. My imagination is restricted by my sheer lack of drawing skills. This is sad. This needs to be fixed.

So I thought that it would be a great idea to take an art class this semester. Foundations of Drawing 1, to be exact. I could learn art! Learn to draw! Improve my art skills!

Except, I forgot that this was college. Where we are graded on merit in addition to effort. Also, I forgot that I was a biology major.

My first day of class looked a little like this:

I was pretty nervous. I was the odd man out, after all. What was I doing here? I can’t draw the way all these kids can!

I knew I would have to try hard to get a good grade in this class. Our first assignment was to go outside and draw landscapes. So, on a nice fall afternoon, I went out and sketched…

The results were less than spectacular.

Our second assignment was about composition. We were to draw objects and try to frame them nicely. I tried my best, and…

I actually really love my art teacher. She’s super-nice, really fair, and very sensitive about critique. She understands people who are coming from another major, though she still expects you to produce good work. However, she’s also an art teacher. Like how some people don’t understand scientific jargon, I don’t really get art terminology.

So I was really nervous when I handed in my first graded homework assignment. Every homework we hand in is peer-critiqued. In other words, we hang everyone’s stuff up on a wall and bash them, one-by-one. I knew my homework was bad…

I’ve been struggling a bit this semester, as my classes (especially this one) have been more time-consuming. I was also convinced that I was going to fail this drawing class. I seriously considered dropping it, and called my sister in a panic.

I decided that it all hinged on what I received on our first graded homework assignment. The one where my composition was poor, that is. Our professor handed back our work…

I GOT A B! I got a B. Despite my art being awful, I didn’t fail!

And that is probably the only time I will be happy with getting a B.

Sh!t kids say

So I’ve been volunteering at a new place this semester. Before, I was teaching biology at Sociedad Latina. And it was total disaster. Every week, for those six hours a week, I dreaded going. Something had to change. After consulting with my Civic Engagement Program advisor (who was very understanding) I switched organizations, to the Yawkey Boys and Girls Club.

Thus I’ve been volunteering in the Boys and Girls Club art room for the last few months. It’s been so much better. So much. For one, there’s a lot less pressure. I’m not expected to teach kids science, in a fun and engaging way, every week, 6 hours a week. I’m also not expected to keep them in line, by myself, as I was at Sociedad. No. At the Boys and Girls Club, I simply assist the head art teacher as he engages the kids in various projects. And we’re working with art. I love it. The kids love it.

Yeah. Switching was the right decision. I actually look forward to volunteering now.

Still, it’s a challenge. The kids are still crazy, and the place is still chaotic. Imagine giving a room six and seven year olds craft supplies. Now imagine what the room would look like two hours later.

(It looks kind of like this)

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, and that photo is NOT of the Boys and Girls Club. But still. It gets crazy.

The atmosphere of the art room is much more relaxed as well. At Sociedad Latina, kids were *supposed* to do their homework in silence. In the art room, kids can casually chat while drawing their pictures.

Which means I get to listen in to the thoughts of our generation’s elementary and middle schoolers…

Sometimes it’s been nothing short of horrifying.

Or a little gross…

Or sometimes, totally heartbreaking.

The art teacher and I have noticed some rather upsetting trends among the kids, in fact. Call me a stickler, but I honestly don’t think these kids need smartphones.

And– this is going to sound really hipster, but I’ve seen it in action– these kids are often a little brainwashed. Spoon-fed by the media, I guess. They’ll spend their time obsessing over Nicki Minaj and LMFAO, reading sensational murder articles to each other, gossiping about Kim Kardashian. And they’re, like, 10. I was shocked by this conversation I got into with a kid…

Perhaps the most difficult thing is to get kids to try. Art is a touchy subject, it seems– when kids’ drawings don’t turn out exactly the way they want on the first try, they give up. Immediately. Or they’ll ask you to draw things for them. I try to explain the importance of persistance, how essential practice is. But I suppose, at that age, it’s hard to imagine.

But I really have to take everything with a grain of salt. I don’t know what it’s like in their shoes. I didn’t grow up in the city, in a poor or disadvantaged area. My parents have always pushed me to be independent, to think for myself, to fight to excel. Some of these kids don’t have the luxury of being told that they can.

It’s been an interesting semester.

I get to meet my hero! (Art Spiegelman, author of Maus)

I MET ART SPIEGELMAN!!!

Art Spiegelman, for those who don’t know, is a Pulitzer-Prize winning cartoonist  best known for his comic book memoir, Maus. The two-volume graphic novel details the life of Art’s father, a survivor of Auschwitz, and the complicated relationship between Art and his father as a result of the Holocaust. Art Spiegelman is also known for being a pioneer in underground comix, pushing experimental comics to their limit. And finally, he is a huge proponent for “comics-as-art,” advocating that comics are more than just pulp superheroes for kids– rather, spun the right way, comics can have reach all audiences and have a huge emotional impact.

A bit of Maus' first pages.

All of these things I admire, and Spiegelman has proved a huge inspiration for me quite directly. In ninth grade, my school required us to submit an entry to the Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition— a regional contest where kids submit art pieces about the Holocaust. I went completely off my nut, and, over a period of two months, wrote a whole graphic novel spanning a little over 100 pages. Yeah. It sounds unreal even now. Better yet, I drew the entire thing with Sharpies, so by the end I looked a little like this:

The weekend before it was due I actually pumped out 40 pages in two days. It was a surreal experience.

This comic will never see the light of day, because I wrote it five years ago and therefore it’s total and utter crap. Terrible art, choppy pacing, underdeveloped story– it’s a bit embarrassing. But it was definitely an achievement for little ninth grade me, and it was completely inspired by Art Spiegelman’s work.

So when I saw a poster announcing that Art Spiegelman was giving a guest lecture at NU, I was more than a little excited.

After confirming that this was actually happening, I proceeded to freak out to all my friends:

The lecture was titled “What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?” and basically featured Spiegelman walking us through the history of comics in North America. He also elaborated on how he got into the comics industry, how he ended up writing Maus, infusing the whole thing with both wit and depth. And I, the whole time, as a comic nerd, was grinning like a fool:

He even put to words what I’ve been trying to figure out for quite a while now. People have often asked me why I like comics so much, and honestly, I’ve never had an answer. Which is a problem when you’re at a college interview, and the intimidating successful woman doctor asks you, condescendingly, why comics are your “thing.”

This is actually exactly what happened at my interview for Harvard. And, in fact, we were discussing Maus.

And then Art Spiegelman comes along and argues that are just as effective– sometimes more effective– as other forms of expression. According to Spiegelman, this is because “comics echo the way the brain works. People think in iconographic images, not in holograms, and people think in bursts of language, not in paragraphs.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

So yeah. The lecture was amazing. But the best was the reception. The crowd wandered out of the auditorium, helped themselves to drinks, and waited for the chance to meet Art himself.

Coffee was not a good idea. By the time Art Spiegelman came out, I was positively jumpy:

BUT I GOT TO MEET HIM! AND SHAKE HIS HAND! Mr. Spiegelman was really, really nice and willing to listen to everyone, even jittery ol’ me.

But he was very patient, and politely asked me what comic artists I liked:

IT WAS PRETTY AWESOME. I never thought I’d get to meet one of my cartooning idols. I couldn’t stop grinning for the next hour.

Probably the most memorable moment, though, was when he was talking to a girl who was in line in front of me. She asked the question I actually wanted to say:

He reacted with surprise.

And he said it with a straight face.

And then what he said surprised me:

I was shocked.  I’ve always seen cartooning as a goal, something to strive for. A dream. But for him, a cartoonist of such huge prestige and success, it was not?

But at the same time, I realized, his words reflected my own feelings. I don’t know why I like to read comics. I especially don’t know why I like to draw comics, as it is a time-consuming and often agonizing experience. But it’s something I’ve always done, since age 7. It’s something I’ve just… had to do. That’s why I taught myself how to draw. That’s why, contrary to my parents’ hopeful predictions, I still haven’t “outgrown” comics. That’s why this blog exists. I may get my BS in biology. I can go on and get my graduate degree. A PhD, even. I could work for a company. Or maybe run my own research. Or completely change my major to International Business and work in Yugoslavia, or maybe become an accountant destined for a cubicle. Who knows? The future is totally up in the air. Except for one thing: comics. In no future of mine, in no projections or plans or daydreams or bucket lists, do I ever see myself not drawing comics.

Because comics are a passion that will stay with me the rest of my life. I know that I will never stop drawing.

And the rest will fall into place.