The Screen Life

Since the middle of January, I’ve been attending a weekly class presented by the House of Illustration in London. “Illustrating People,” is taught by the Welsh illustrator, Siôn Aptos. The sessions begin at 6:30 p.m. London time (10:30 a.m. for me). It will run for 10 weeks, and I love this class.

On Thursday mornings, I join 15 other students on Zoom for two hours of presentation – learning about drawing from reference and life, and the myriad ways to illustrate people. My classmates sign in from all over, a woman from Estonia, another Yank, Brits with senses of humor from around the UK. I often wish I could visit with them afterwards – the way you do in a real class – my tribe, people whose eyes don’t glaze over when talk turns to tricks for getting the length of a nose right.

We started with facial features on amorphous watercolor shapes, an approach meant to help break down the intimidation it’s easy to feel about the oh, so familiar human face. Encouraged to simplify and exaggerate to create a character, I struggle, getting lost, as I tend to do, in the reality weeds. We draw “in class,” and have assignments to complete and post to our shared Padlet (an online classroom corkboard). On good days I get involved and obsessed and keep at it – the best of learning.

Other days I fizzle – but can be cheered by yet more screen time and an exchange with the important people in Alaska or California or both together. We’ve discovered a couple of book series that appeal to all of them (except Sweet Brother – he’s not ready for FaceTime book club). We read about Kitty, a girl with cat-like superpowers, or Zoey (and her cat Sassafras) who can speak to and help animals by using basic methods of science, or little Darek who finds a “dragonling,” and comes to promote peaceful life between dragons and townspeople. My audience is patient with technological missteps, “upside down Granny Katy.” Sometimes they draw or do Legos, but often just listen and always follow the plot.

The video calls, like the illustration class, leave me feeling I’ve been with them, but not quite. FaceTime dinners with friends are like that, too. You get takeout and it’s all simple, and still fun, but I’d be so glad to see them and their cozy houses. My screen experiences are just a shadow of what faces those who work from home or attend school virtually – upsides and down.

It’s a privilege to have these alternate methods of being with people. I know that. And here we are – almost a year of pandemic – but we keep Zooming and carry on!

4 thoughts on “The Screen Life

  1. You are so brave to tackle painting faces with watercolor. But what a wonderful thing to get to meet those other people and to learn new tricks. I always find that translating the words about the tricks into the things my painting hand can actually accomplish can be really frustrating. But your painting of the boy with the endless costumes is just great. Keep at it. As my grandson said to me once when I was able to poke the tiny pointy straw into the little box of chocolate milk, “Good job, Gramie!!”

    • Thanks Carol – and I think the trick I spoke of was more about a way to measure that closed the gap a little – and maybe make it more accurate. That’s not to say the hand can do – or the pencil – it continually amazes me how the slightest misstep can change the expression you had in mind. Flowers are more forgiving but this is rewarding. Struggles are good.

  2. Zooming with an international group is pretty marvelous. I just finished a Zoo book club appearance and the attendees were in various states–one advantage to be thankful for.

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