Finding Inspiration

Finding Inspiration

by Barbara Dahlstedt

Made in America, 19.5 x 29 inches, Prismacolor on Fawn Stonehenge paper.

This is my 26th year teaching high school art. I figured out that I have touched the lives of about 4,000 teenagers! I’ve helped most them with drawing their own face or their friends and family. Anyone who knows me knows that I love drawing faces. I can draw many different subjects, but I keep coming back to what I love the most. I often draw the students in my classes because I see them everyday and I take their photos so that they can draw from them.

This year, I knew I had to pick someone special to draw. I will be teaching a workshop on how-to-draw lively skin tones at the CPSA convention in Chicago. It would be nice if I actually was in the exhibition, but I know that it is extremely competitive. I needed to find someone that would really turn heads as my model.

It happened on a day that I was just walking across campus, when a young man with a bright red afro caught my eye. Eureka!! I had never seen him before, but I thought, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” So, I introduced myself as the art teacher of our school and told him that I really liked his hair. I told him that I would like to draw him and invited him to my classroom to see my work. This put a smile on his face and he walked over to my room with me, so I could show him some prints I had at school.

You Can Make a Difference, 22 x 30 inches, Prismacolor on Graphix Drafting Film.

I like to get to know my models before a photoshoot to see if any ideas come to mind. He said his nickname was, “J”. He had just moved here from New York City and he loved playing basketball. We went outside where the light came in from one side. His hair was pinned up on one side, so it made some interesting angles. J is tall, so I crouched down low to get some unusual points of view. I showed him some of the shots that were my favorites and he agreed that they were nice.

I was about to teach a lesson to my advanced art class about Surrealism. Therefore, my idea was to use a portrait of J and turn his hair into the NYC skyline. There was one lock of hair that could be used for the Statue of Liberty! The trees of Central Park were just the right texture to use as a transition to his actual hair. I used Tracy Frein’s subtractive method of working on drafting film to create the final piece. I love the textures that are created by using Turpenoid and a brush. Darker values were added to the base tone. Light values were erased. The clouds in the background were created by using a Mr. Clean Eraser and a tissue with solvent. The title was suggested by a teacher’s aide, New York State of Mind.

New York State of Mind, 22 x 34 inches, Prismacolor on Graphix Drafting Film.

I liked the way the drafting film turned out, but I wanted to draw another portrait of J using color, because color is what drew me to him in the first place. I chose a different image to work from and decided upon a red, white and blue theme. Before I even began, I had the title, “Made in America”. I believe that our youth are the most precious product that our country has to offer. J projected the creative spirit and need to be unique. On this portrait, I used all Prismacolors and Art Stix on Fawn colored Stonehenge paper. I used the Grisaille method of applying colors to achieve a three-dimensional form with lively skin tones. I used a variety of blues and a little green in the background to bring out complimentary contrast for the red hair. I even used a little florescent orange and pink in the hair to show the brightness. Gamsol and the Icarus board created a painterly background that resembled an oil painting.

It has been so nice to have models that will help me tell a story in my portraits. Last week I won first place and the West Valley Art Museum Award in the Celebration of Artists Exhibition with, “You Can Make a Difference”. It is a portrait of one of my former students, Jowel, who dropped by for a visit one day. The extreme foreshortening of the extended arm beckons the viewer to step up and be a part of the change that is positive in the world.

Draw the things you love, but take some time to make a statement about it. Try some unusual combinations or points of view. You will be amazed at how creative you really are!

About Barbara:

With a BFA from Arizona State University and MA in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University, Barbara Dahlstedt has been teaching art at Apollo High School in Glendale, Arizona since 1992, following a career in graphic design. She is currently the co-president of the Phoenix Chapter of the CPSA.

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