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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Letting Go

Updated: May 8, 2019

What I cannot reconcile when making art is the middleground between realism and abstraction. Although the initial idea of an artwork is a stylized rendition, I still end up adding more details. That I find quite difficult to change or is it more natural to paint more realistically? Each time I become nitty-gritty, I stop but the end result felt half-baked. How do I challenge myself to be more loose in my style?

No Straight Lines

Recently, I started painting directly on the paper without doing an initial sketch. With that I am surprised. I also stopped caring so much about straight lines and symmetry but I still cannot do away without a reference. Human figures are not my strongest suite because I did not practice human anatomy illustration. My mother used to make me paper dolls, which she drew herself and she was really good—I think better than I am but she didn’t pursue art. Now she’s retiring from a wonderful 38-year career in education that she dearly loved. I loved those paper dolls and so I started making my own. When I received my first Barbie, I let the paper dolls go and started making Barbie dresses. Then in high school I started commissioning portraits for classmates. I had a sketchpad full of celebrity drawings and fingers smudged with charcoal. I don’t know where it is now. Now that I am thinking about it, I didn’t have a preference on the kind of artwork that I would make. I just paint whatever I feel like. I do know however which art genre I do not like.

Going back to my trail of thought, because I didn’t carry on drawing human figures, I did not improve on it. In art school, I would pass onto my best friend any illustration that involved people like storyboarding. Now that I am drawing again, I find myself so absorbed in getting the likeness of my human reference that it frustrates me when the eyes are a little lopsided or the nose askew. Don’t even start with the hands and feet. It turns out that making them imperfect adds to the interest of the image—just like people.

Portrait of Catherine of Braganza
I didn't bother with getting the exact likeness but just the essence of her. "Catherine of Braganza" | Mixed Media | 2019


In this series of women kings, I thought of an exercise on neon-lit female faces and self-restraint. I would concentrate my energy on their faces and heads but leave the clothing blank. While working on this, I realized that people tend to look more on people’s clothing and not really look at the person’s facial expressions—not to be philosophical, though. The real task is to drastically control myself from adding more. Removing the intricate details of fine clothing without suggesting nudity allowed me to focus on their gazes, their contemplative thoughts and the dramatic effect of the light that hits them. It was refreshing and a compromise between realism and abstraction.

But where does this desire for control and perfection come from? My husband, a German, told me that I am quite German in some ways. "You like things in order," he said. But look into my closet! I am also highly analytical especially when it comes to emotions and human existence. When a topic interests me, I focus and dig really deep into it. Is it because I want a strong foundation to whatever end result I aim to achieve? It's the same with starting an art project. Long hours and even days are spent on research and brainstorming that it becomes borderline procrastination. And then boom! A few hours are spent on the drawing table and the artwork is finished—in most cases. Having control over my habits isn't so bad when I get the job done.

You like things in order.

A Paradox

Because of my realism tendencies I dislike painting every bit of foliage. In contrast, I like dabbing paint carelessly to create the illusion of lushness. To rebel against my need of control, I created candy trees. It was liberating.

stylized trees and shrubs
"Candy Trees" | Watercolor and Gouache | 2019

I suppose there is no grey area between realism and abstraction in my case. My personality greatly translates into my work and art. If I want to stare in space with blank thoughts, I do just that. If I want to study, I am a complete geek. There is only black and white. The only common denominator is that I do everything whole heartedly. However I am learning to compromise: choosing an element or two on the piece that will be realistically rendered and the rest would be stylized. I'm completely reconciled with that approach for now and then I will push further.

Do or do not. There is no try. - Yoda


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