Scribble #22: Basket Case

“Do you have the time to listen to me whine”

After multiple vaccinations and even getting COVID-19 in 2020 before vaccines were available, I am once again isolating after a positive COVID-19 test. With exams coming up and less than 20 days before I move home for the summer, this has come at a very stressful time. On top of all of that, most of today was spent packing for and moving to my five day “vacation” at Northwood Apartments.

“About nothing and everything all at once?”

Hopefully I’ll be able to make a quick and full recovery and be back in my Ann Arbor home as soon as possible – I’m sure I’ll update you next Wednesday. Until then, it’ll be a whole lot of studying, doing homework, going on walks and runs, playing guitar, drawing, and watching YouTube. Forced, mandatory self-care time with a side of loneliness and stress. 

“I am one of those melodramatic fools…”

This is making me even more grateful for everything – and everyone – I have here. My friends are constantly checking in on me, offering to bring me anything I need, and asking to video chat with me to help pass the time. It’s only been a day in isolation housing, but I already feel so much love and support from my friends here. I might be isolating, but I am definitely not alone.

“Grasping to control, so I better hold on!”

Listen to Basket Case by Green Day here: https://youtu.be/wZ8eZRxFA-0

Scribble #21: Everlong

“I know you’ve always been out of your head,”

All of a sudden, I only have a few short weeks until I return home for the summer. At the beginning of the school year, I viewed summer break as something to look forward to – a return to my own room, my home, my family, and some stability. With each passing day, however, I become more and more sad to know that, soon, I’ll have to say a temporary goodbye to Ann Arbor and all of my friends here.

“Out of my head, I sang,”

I don’t sit around dwelling on the fact that soon I’ll move out of the place I’ve spent the majority of the past 8 months and be hours away from my best friends, and this allows me to make the most of the time I do have left. I am only halfway done with my time pursuing my undergraduate degree, and there is plenty to look forward to over the course of the next two years. However, the end of this academic semester comes with sadness – many of my friends are graduating soon – but I am happy excited for them and excited to see all of the amazing things they go on to do after graduation.

“And I wonder, when I sing along with you,”

Here’s to having a good rest of the semester, to focusing on savoring every moment I have left here, to studying hard for my exams, to not procrastinating my final papers, to spending as much time as possible with my friends, and to knowing that I have plenty to come back to when I return to Ann Arbor in August.

“If everything could ever feel this real forever?”

Ann Arbor – my second home – and my friends – my second family – I will see you again before I know it, and I look forward to all of our future adventures!

“If anything could ever be this good again?”

Listen to Everlong by Foo Fighters here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxuTd9rwEHQ

Scribble #20: Champagne Supernova

“Someday you will find me caught beneath the landslide,”

This past weekend was made complete by a visit from my best friend: my mom. It was great to see her and be able to catch up – these past few weeks have been very busy and I haven’t been able to speak much with her. It’s always weird when a family member leaves after visiting me at college, but every time it gets easier and easier to get right back into college life. That doesn’t mean saying goodbye isn’t hard, though.

“In a champagne supernova,”

Singing along to the entire seven minutes and twenty seven seconds of Champagne Supernova by Oasis with my mom while we were driving in the car was a highlight of my weekend. I’m glad we are able to bond over our shared love of similar music. Tonight, I had another singalong with some of my closest friends. I can’t help but remember how all throughout middle and high school I wouldn’t sing in front of anyone. It makes me happy to realize that now (while I am still very aware that I am no professional singer) I am secure enough to sing in front of my friends and family.

“’Cause people believe that they’re gonna get away for the summer.”

It was great to be able to spend quality time with my mom, and a nice way to make my way into finals season. It’s hard to believe that I have less than a month left of my second year of college, but I’m proud of my personal growth and how far I’ve come since late August 2021. It’s going to be an academically exhausting few weeks, but I look forward to the satisfaction that will come with it – and the de-stress singalongs that will happen along the way and into the summer.

“But you and I, we live and die; the world’s still spinnin’ ’round, we don’t know why.”

Listen to Champagne Supernova by Oasis here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4V-wUzZvj20 

Scribble #19: Regret

“‘Just wait till tomorrow,’” 

I started off the school year thinking I just had to make it through. Through the day, through the week, through the year, through to better times. I waited all of high school to finally get to college and make friends there, and there I was, in college, waiting for it to be over so I could be on to the next era of my life, a better one with better friends. I fell fully into the trap of living for the future and simply enduring the present.

“I guess that’s what they all say just before they fall apart.”

I’ve learned since then that things change – and with enough patience, a little luck, and a good attitude, they can change for the better. Now, I am able to simultaneously look forward to the future and enjoy where I am in the moment. This past weekend, my best friend from home came to visit me in Ann Arbor. Throughout high school and into the present, she is so special to me because I always feel like I can be my entire self around her. Having her come to Ann Arbor made me realize that I feel the same way around the friends I’ve made here at Michigan – something that I didn’t quite realize was the case until this weekend.

“I was upset, you see, almost all the time.”

It’s a lot easier for me to get through the days, weeks, and months here knowing I am surrounded by the healthiest friends I could wish for, and I find myself feeling like I am enjoying my current state of being as opposed to viewing the present as an obstacle in the way of the better times ahead. I like to think the best is yet to come, but if my present is as good as it gets, I would be able to move through life happily as well – and that feeling is everything that my past self dreamed of.

“You used to be a stranger, now you are mine.”

Listen to Regret by New Order here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5V_jUncesw 

Art Biz with Liz: UMMA Exhibition Spotlight

It’s quite amazing how, at the University of Michigan, we have several fantastic museums right on campus. One such museum is the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). I like going to the (free!) art museum every so often to see the rotating exhibits, but prior to last week, it had been over a year since I visited the UMMA in person. I had the opportunity to visit the museum with my art class last week, and I enjoyed my visit so much I went again today.

Walking into the Marvin H. Davidson Gallery, my initial impression was that much of the art seemed similar in style and focus. Variations of painted portraits featured a range of white, wealthy individuals staring back at me. The art was part of an exhibit called “Unsettling Histories: Legacies of Slavery and Colonialism.” One sculpture, Untitled (bird cage, re-lynching) by Tyree Guyton, diverged from the portraits surrounding it. At first glance, it appeared to be a simple birdcage, but the longer I stood in front of it, the more I took away from it.

According to the sculpture’s description, the artist, Tyree Guyton, “frequently uses found objects to explore social and political themes.” Standing on its own, the birdcage is covered in paint and contorted, the metal jutting inwards and outwards in several directions. The movement of the main birdcage is contrasted by the stillness of its stand. At first, I thought it represented being “trapped,” but there could be other interpretations on the use of a birdcage. For example, there is duality in thinking about who was likely to own birdcages and what they represented, such as wealth and aristocracy. I perceived the birdcage to reflect not only the potential wealth of such slaveowners, but their view of slaves as property and less than human. Although not exactly on the topic of lynching and castration, the metal bell, another found object inside the birdcage, again reminded me of slavery. According to sources such as the Louisiana Digital Library, collars with bells might have been used to deter slaves who had previously tried to run away from doing so again. The United States flag, the last object in the birdcage, links the abominable practice to our country and its origins.

While the piece itself is untitled, the description of the art provides context in that it was common to castrate the Black men being lynched. Lynching itself was a horrifying and despicable practice, and castration added a physical attack on Black masculinity. The sculpture’s label also noted that castration was particularly common for those accused of sexually assaulting a white woman, perpetuating stereotypes of Black men being predatory.

This piece isn’t quite as abstract or unclear in meaning as some of other works I saw at UMMA, but there are certain aspects that even after reading the description could be up to interpretation. The purpose of the splatter of colors, for example, is unclear. To me, they reflect a kind of chaotic energy, and the red reminds me of shed blood. Still, even without knowing the information on the sculpture’s label, it’s possible to infer similar symbolism given the exhibition title and the sculpture’s combination of a United States flag, metal bell, and replica human phallus all trapped within the birdcage surrounded by portraits of wealthy white individuals.

This piece is powerful in its reflection on historical events, especially those that pertain to dark parts of our country’s history. My identity has made me privileged in that I cannot even begin to fathom what it is like to experience or fully relate to the themes and history reflected by this art, but the sculpture attracted me to it from both an emotional and intellectual standpoint. One of my first thoughts seeing this piece was, quite honestly, “is that a penis?” I think provoking such responses works in the artist’s favor, engaging the viewer and being upfront with topics that some might consider difficult to acknowledge or discuss

I’m not the only one who was interested in the exhibit, and I won’t be the last. If you’re at all interested, I encourage you to visit the UMMA, whether online or in person, or read more about the “Unsettling Histories” exhibition here.

Industrious Illustrating #1: References

Hello, and welcome to Industrious Illustrating! This is a new weekly column updating on Fridays which will show process pictures, sketches, and sometimes finished works that show what goes into making character designs, illustrations, and the like.

This week we will look at two different pieces I created based on photographs I took on a 2019 summer trip to England.

Last night, I digitally painted this piece of two girls hanging out in an alcove on the University of Cambridge campus. I directly painted over my photograph for the background, but I took liberties in the exact details and drew two figures who weren’t present in the original picture. I had to construct the lighting and proportions on the two characters based on my own understanding of how lighting and scale would work in that environment.

I traditionally painted this piece with watercolors and alcohol-based markers in the fall of 2020 based on a photograph I took at the Bridge of Sighs in Oxford. I had to eyeball all the proportions and perspective and then draw the environment by hand, albeit while referencing a photograph. In retrospect, I think some of the details and perspective look a little off. But that was the best I could do at the time without the ability to directly paint over the original photograph.

For both paintings, I had to rely on my own understanding of lighting and perspective to construct the scene. The original photographs were also unquestionably my work. Since I wanted to depict real places in the United Kingdom, I couldn’t just rely on my own imagination to recreate existing scenery, and it wasn’t practical for me to return to the UK in person every time I wanted to paint a real-life scene. So my best option was to use photographs as a tool for inspiring interesting illustrations.

Digital art programs make image adjustments such as brightness, contrast, and saturation much easier, and they also have the blessing known as the undo function (ctrl-z). They also have the ability to directly integrate photographs into paintings for textures and references, which professional concept artists and illustrators often use so that they can finish detailed paintings on a timely basis for their clients. Using these tools isn’t cheating, as no amount of fancy tools can compensate for a lack of artistic skill. Rather, digital art programs enable artists to speed up their workflow and create finished works faster for both professional and hobbyist purposes.

I’m still proud of both pieces, and I think they both have their own merits. But this comparison should hopefully show that while digital art programs didn’t teach me the fundamentals or my current skills, they do help smooth out the process as a tool akin to a paintbrush or a pen.