Face #12 and why they don’t smile.

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.  🙂



Filed under 29 Faces in 29 Days, Art Journal Pages, Drawings, Watercolor

11 responses to “Face #12 and why they don’t smile.

  1. I’m so glad you said all this. I can tell that your smiling work is actually sad and flat. THIS painting is superbly interesting to me. And “Spooky” is my absolute favorite so far. To me, people don’t get to the art of their work through the smiling faces, unless, as you said, it really shows something deep and complex. What I love about the non-smiling faces is that you’re showing us things that are deep and complex, that don’t try to cover up or erase the everything in life. I think, reading European lit lately, that it’s a sadly American trait — to obscure ugliness and pain and suffering and even boredom, indifference, pensive silence…. I think minority literature in America more readily accesses the truth of things that is sometimes brutal, sometimes ecstatic, sometimes cruel or sad or sexual or depressed more readily than the classic literature taught in standard curriculums. Art, like literature, goes the same route: the brutally real often gets relegated to “special genres” and dismissed.

    Ah I’m droning. I’m just really interested in this lately — what artists express and how that may be culturally approved or unapproved and the strength of self and conviction and courage it takes to make your own *real* art anyway.

    Your non-smiling faces are EXQUISITE to me.

  2. And all that said…I see a smile on that face 😀 Smiles are in the eyes and looking into those eyes, they are laughing at us with a secret knowledge 😀 I also rarely draw smiles, when I take photos I try to catch people unawares so as to see their true thoughts about whatever it is they are doing. I am seeing that you and I are grounded in the same soil 😀 Love the face, and the sketch, and your article 😀 (and yes I smile alot :D) XXX

    • Satina Scott

      Gina, I do too! LOL! To all of it! I smile a lot, and also, after spending more time with him, I see a little smile, and I don’t actually think he’s creepy. And exactly like photography, I want to catch that moment.

  3. Most of my faces aren’t smiling either, but it’s usually just because I don’t want them to look overly posed. I don’t equate unsmiling with not happy. I don’t think your pink face is creepy. Just very intense. Looks like it was very fun to do, with those loose washes. The nude is so full of energy! I’m not surprised that everyone loved it.

    • Satina Scott

      Thank you Melisa! And yes, that’s one of the reasons I love your art. And your art journaling. It’s very different from most art journaling, and your faces are the best part of that. It WAS fun to paint. LOVED it. And thank you re: the nude, too. 🙂

  4. Oh Satina…. right on the mark! I used to belong to a clothing optional resort, and being a ‘large frame’ (ha!) woman, I was the body acceptance representative. What is shown commercially is always perfect bodies, perfect, unblemished faces, no dimples or even laugh lines! Right now, I’m having an internal struggle dealing with the amazing work my husband is doing. He’s been painting silhouettes of perfect nudes. Most days he’s in a fog due to his disabilities, but he keeps cranking out these paintings. Finally, I put aside my personal resentments and started a blog and etsy site for him. So many conflicted feels and emotions come up over this…. too much to share on a public forum.

    But, Satina…. thank you so much for being so brave, front runner of our middle aged, lumpy-bumpy beauty! Body acceptance was so big back when I was at the clothing optional resort. (Actually lived and worked there!) Old women, scrawny men, mastectomy altered forms…. all gathered in hot tubs, lawns, swimming pools. To be around that sort of acceptance and beauty was a true gift.

    Bless you, sweet sister, for the depth of your sharing.

  5. I sometimes wish there were no mirrors…So many times I have felt great, then looked in a mirror. We get caught up in what we think we are supposed to look like, or what the perfect(no such thing) person “should look like. But even without mirrors the comparrison is there, I will be better if i have a fancy car, a boat, a house in the hamptons, ect… I always ask myself….if you were the last person left on earth….would it matter? and if my answer is yes…lol….then I follow through!! I am so happy You found your inspiration! You go girl!!

    • Satina Scott

      Dawn, we’re a whole demographic of the population hiding from themselves and the rest of the world. I hide, too. One thing I hate about this house is the damned 70’s mirrors on the walls everywhere I look. What I should hate is the world who made me hate looking in them. I’m sick and tired of hiding and swallowing my angry words like razor blades to cut me from inside. I’m calling it like I see it from now on, and if it pisses people off, so be it. There have to be people out there who won’t hate me for shining light on dark, dark places.

  6. Heather

    I think this is an interesting take on why people don’t do art with smiles…

    I’ve had a really hard time in the past with classes that required self portraits, since almost none of my art teachers knew me well enough to know that the Mona Lisa smile is my default. They all seemed to think I was taking a photo or sketching a reflection with a fake smile, which was just frustrating; probably as frustrating as all those happy, smiling girls were for you…

    • Satina Scott

      People often want you to hide whatever your truth is, whether it’s dark or light, because it’s not what they experience and that makes them uncomfortable. Either way, it hurts when people can’t just accept the real you shining through.

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