African American Woman — FInished Drawing

Sophronsie in white hat

This is how the final version of the unfinished sketch that I posted below finally turned out. I managed to print out the photo of the sketch using a photosmart inkjet printer and watercolor paper, spray that with fixative so the ink wouldn’t smudge under erasures, then draw on top of it as if it were indeed my original sketch. In such a fashion, I was able to re-complete it “better” as it were than the original “wrecked” version. And indeed, I believe it is a great deal better than the version as shown below, for all that it is a complicated combination of photographic print-out of the original sketch, combined with an overlaid color pencil drawing. The strange thing is that in the end, because of the rather poor quality of the original sketch-photograph, the background came out this dull, slightly  green color (due to the lighting, not the paper it was on, which was actually white. Nevertheless, it turned out to be a perfect background for the finished drawing, and so I did nothing in the end but finish the portrait against that greenish background.

A technique I am learning/teaching myself is  one I thought I would never understand, let alone be able to do and that is how to do a kind of underpainting of whites or light colors, the highlights, before adding the darker tones.  I do not know, of course, if one is actually supposed to do that with colored pencils, but I did so anyway, figuring it might be time to try it. So given the original sketch to work with, I then heavily applied light peach and white tones where you can now see the lighter areas on the face, and only much later softened them with the darker chestnut browns and darker umbers, though clearly much peach shows through where the light is meant to strike the face on the left.

A  “real artist” would know how to do this beforehand, I expect, but I had to learn as I went, so it was all a process of delightful discovery, which is why I hope you will forgive me the foregoing description. It always amazes me to find out how many colors there really are in what seems to be a solid colored expanse, when you really look at it. I used blues and greens in Sophronsie’s skin tones as well as the peach-tones and whites. There are also some yellows and reds. And in some places I even used a silver pencil. It took me a while before I could even understand that the whites of the eyes are not white at all, not even slightly blue all over, but all sorts of colors, and that only if you painted them in a kind of pale multi-color would they begin to seem realistic. What is also interesting is that comparing the “white” skin on the child that I did in the earlier picture, or any of the other “white” portraits compared to the African American portraits, there is really not a great deal of difference in the colors I used. In fact, I start out with the very same peach and white for both skin colors, and only towards the end does this change, when I add darker tones for the darker skin, but it really only takes a little, and then not a great deal. This is so striking because it seems to say, in some profound way, that when you really look at all of us, “under the skin” (which skin people take for being so different) we really are all the same.  Of course in every real sense we are the same, despite our differences as individual human beings: genetically this is true, and philosophically, and morally and spiritually and in every other sense that matters, at least to me. We are all human and of the same “stuff” and nothing else matters. Nothing.


(There are not supposed to be any gaps in the following poem but for some reason it doesn’t cut and paste as it should and so it appears with the spaces…ignore them..)


There’s no excuse for it, I know, there’s none at all, but reading

about the death of the famous poet’s poet wife from cancer,
so cachectic and etiolated her limbs are thinner than a Giacometti
I find myself disgustingly hungry and envious, both.

It is not that I want to die, not even slowly, not even

an after-the-fact-romantic death recalled for years

by other poets. No, I like life, I even like living.
But I want this house, yes, I want this small empty apartment
filled with food rich and fattening as truffles, dark, creamy truffles
made of French chocolate and wrapped in tissue-thin edible gold
so expensive it’s a mortal sin to eat even one as long
as Africa starves and cholera saps the strength of flood victims
in Pakistan. Except that leaving them to melt and flow molten

on the August windowsill feeds no one while I, longing,

linger over my dish of celery and one small onion, lusting
to taste a life I can never enjoy, to taste a lust not for chocolate
exactly, but for the life that rich chocolate represents,
appetite throwing wide its arms and crying, Yes, yes, yes!