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In the Beginning

All my life I have "done art." I suspect that a close examination my dear mother's womb would reveal graffitti left over from my nine month stint therein.

HOWEVER (You knew there'd be a qualifier, now didn't you?) for many years I quite successfully avoided "doing" anything concrete with that interest. I planned to "do" something real with my life. I enjoyed math and physics and astronomy and artists didn't like subjects like that (Or so I was told.), so obviously, I wasn't an artist. I just sketched because I enjoyed it.

And today, I still hold by that self-assessment. For all I've paid the bills at times by "doing art," I don't consider myself an artist. Not by vocation, not by avocation. Since I began writing, which is a comparatively recent event in my life, I have felt compelled to write---as well as I could and as often as I could. The visual arts---drawing , painting, sculpting---always lacked that obsession. Those visual arts have always been my source of relaxation.  When I've tried to make them my "job," I find I lose something essential out of my day. ( I also become a real ogre to live with!)

But in those early, formative years, when vocation and avocation weren't even words in my vocabulary, I just drew. All the time. At first it was horses. Lots of horses. When I was in grade school, I drew the best durned horses of anybody in my class. (Thankfully, to my knowledge, none of these masterpieces remain extant, and therefore I am free to assess their value according to my own, obviously unbiased, recollections.)

Then in fifth grade ... Priscilla happened. The rest of my life is all her fault. If she hadn't moved into the house down the country road, I'd have continued happily sketching horses and doing scientifical-type things. Maybe I'd have had a "real" life! But noooooo. Priscilla did move in. And Priscilla drew ... people. Priscilla drew people really, really well.

I didn't really want to draw people, but now, I had to learn. Obviously. And overall, I suppose I drew them acceptably, though my mental image of my efforts assures me I still fell woefully short of Priscilla's fifth-grader expertise. But I did discover (reluctantly) it was kinda fun drawing people, and then I realized this newly-discovered ability let me draw the characters from the illustration-challenged "adult" books I'd been reading for a couple of years, and that was really neat.

So I cruised along, artistically speaking, dividing my teacher-irritating sketch-habit between horses and these rather odd-looking individuals until a friend plopped a picture of Davy Jones (of the Monkees) down in front of me and begged me to draw it.

Thanks to that friend in need, I found a new fascination. Since that fateful day, certain faces have just demanded to be drawn--- not once, but five, ten ... a dozen times. I realize in retrospect that what truly enthralled me about these faces was not the specific features ... that was basically shape recognition ... but the expression, the challenge of catching that subtle pull of a muscle that changed the entire face, that made those same exact features suddenly project such different emotions.

Later, that fascination extended to include the entire body; the equally subtle language of a tilt of the head or a sweep of a hand. Every other aspect of art that I've learned over the years I consciously pursued, but there was nothing conscious at this stage --- my fascination with the human face and body was instinctive and undeniable, and it is the aspect of drawing that to this day drives me to pick up the pencil and put it to blank paper.

My pursuit of those "other aspects" was a long time in coming. For the next fifteen years, I studied math and science, with a special bent toward Astronomy and Anthropology. Setting to one side the idiosyncracies of the university art departments I ran up against, it took SF conventions and their associated art shows to start me thinking in terms of producing completed pictures. But that lure faded quickly when I discovered I simply felt no drive to come up with generic fantasy or SF ideas for art-show/gallery-style pieces.

However, thanks to SF conventions and a whole string of events chronicled in The Gate of Ivrel Slide Show, I eventually found myself involved in the Gate of Ivrel graphic novel. For the first time in my life, I had a real reason to produce art, finished art. A lot of art and on schedule: those faces I wanted to draw finally had a story to tell and they needed an environment in which to tell that story. I finally had a reason to learn all those handy little design tricks and arty words like "warm" and "cool" colors.

Most significantly, I learned in the three years I was involved in the project how to see the world in a whole new way. I remember looking out my back window and seeing the trees for the first time, I recall being extremely conscious of those changing perceptions. At times, it was frightening. Sometimes I seriously wondered if I had been partially blind all these years. But more often than not, I just enjoyed the process.

And took notes.

Thanks to the Gate of Ivrel, I had finally found a reason to learn all those things about design and color that I thought I didn't need to know. The end result was two-fold: (a) A product I'm overall very proud of, (but which I freely admit contains all the indiosyncratic mistakes of my primary learning curve) and (b) A rather eclectic view of some of the basic premises of art.

So what does that mean for this page?

In the coming months I hope to put some of those observations into words for my own enlightenment and the amusement of my visitors. There's nothing scientific about the observations ... and any resemblance they might have to formal academic art programs is purely coincidental. I make no claim to having answers, only personal experience and opinions born of that experience.

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If you have questions/issues/thoughts/ comments, please feel free to drop me a line at:

fancher@cherryh.com

I'll try to address them either in private or, if I really get into the answer, in a future edition of the Art Box.

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