I think some of you wonder why most of my faces don’t smile. It’s not because I’m not happy or enjoying myself. In fact, if you see fake smiles in my art, I’m probably sad or depressed or trying to make someone else happy. I have been drawing faces forever. I taught myself to draw faces when I was a very little girl, to be like my grandma whose favorite thing to doodle was the “Blondie” face from comics. I honed my face and figure drawing by reading Archie comic books. My drawings were, as you can imagine, all cartoonized and at least attempting to be the pretty, perfect feminine ideal Barbie doll figure. I did thousands of these drawings. I did them all day. I made paper dolls of them and designed clothing for them. I once entered a set of them, complete with fashions, in a high school art show and won.
But I could never quite get the hang of doing more realistic work. I would draw from life again and again and it would never look like the model. Others liked my work but I knew there was something wrong that I just couldn’t ‘get’. Even during my two years of commercial art school, I was trapped by my cartoonish drawings.
Then I stopped doing art, for reasons I will explain in another post because I don’t want this to go on forever, until about a year ago. And I realized why my face and figure work had never gone where I wanted it to and had always stayed cartoonish. I was drawing what I wanted to see (and be) and not what I saw (and was.) And the thing that pushed me to this realization was seeing ALL the pretty, perfect, doe-eyed, stem-necked, smiling dolly faces in the mixed media world.
Oh how I came to LOATHE them. They hurt me. I don’t look like that. Can’t look like that. No one can. And yet, they are nearly the only portrayal of beauty you can find in the mixed media world. THIS is pretty. THIS is how you make your art pretty, your pages pretty. This is what is taught to new mixed media artists and women learning how to make art journals. Whimsy faces. Dolly faces. Pretty girls. Not ugly girls, girls that look like your daughters and students and nieces and neighbors and YOU. And not women. Pretty girls.
It hurts me when someone hurts girls and women. When women hurt themselves and each other. And who is drawing and painting these dolly faces over and over ad infinitum? Women artists. Middle-aged, chubby, unsmiling women artists. Artists who want their work to be pretty and so would never think of putting their faces and bodies in it. The pain was too much for me to ignore any longer.
So I rebelled. Bigtime. As is my nature. I grabbed my journal and a red Sharpie and scratched a sketch into the page. Something so daring, scary, brash, and shocking that I almost couldn’t believe I’d drawn it. I did it from imagination, and I did it angry and super fast. Then I did something even scarier. I posted it on my Facebook. In front of friends and family alike.
And people loved it. I could NOT believe it. And it touched me and changed me so deeply I cannot find words.
In loving this sketch, they were loving ME. Because it looks like me. I have long hair now, but other than that, it’s pretty similar to my body type and face shape, etc. And they thought it was beautiful.
It blew my mind. And I realized what had been missing. I wasn’t drawing what I SAW because it wasn’t what I wanted to SEE. And in not drawing what I SAW, I was discounting its real beauty. So one year ago (check the date on the photo) I began to draw what I see. The wrinkles, the stretchmarks, the shadows under the eyes, the asymmetrical faces, the dimples and rolls. The weird shapes and lines and colors that don’t look like people at all.
The real beauty.
And I began to like my art again. I felt inspired to make it.
And so, the smiles. Or lack thereof.
People don’t walk around smiling. They smile when they talk to each other, but that’s often fake, and if they’re alone, they don’t. Go to a store and look around. Most people aren’t smiling, they’re just ‘being’. People in old photos don’t smile. Photographers back then hadn’t decided that they didn’t want to look at someone unless they were smiling, I guess. They just wanted to capture the way people actually looked. And yes, it took forever to take a photo and no one can fake it that long.
My beloved looks sad when she is just reading or writing or thinking. She has a little downturn to her mouth that appears when she relaxes. She’s not sad. She’s actually one of those people who is naturally happy and loves the world, good and bad, and radiates a light that brings everyone up. She also has an absolutely radiant smile. And she’s beautiful both ways. She has a fake smile, too, that most people find beautiful. That smile makes me sad.
I can tell the real smiles from the fake every time. Probably because of my intuitive gifts, I see the energy, the truth, straight through the lying smile. Fake smiles hurt my heart. If you want to learn about REAL smiles, hang with my autistic daughter. She doesn’t know how to smile a fake smile. Just can’t. So when she smiles, it’s pure joy demanding to be made manifest on her face. And it’s transformational to all around her.
I want to draw and paint smiles, but they must be real smiles, with mixed emotions and meanings and secrets, not placating smiles put on a face to make people comfortable. I don’t smile those smiles and I don’t want to smile them on paper or canvas. And genuine smiles are NOT easy to get ‘right’. It’s capturing the nonphysical truth and making it physical. That’s a challenge I want to face (ha!), but right now, I’m finding it easier and more rewarding to paint and draw the unsmiling face. It is important and meaningful to me to find beauty in the unhappy and in the just not-smiling-happy.
Okay. So, all that said, this face is meant to be creepy. Because I’ve never done one like that and thought it would be fun and interesting. And I think it is.
And I’m smiling.