The Dream Dancer
The Dream Dancer.

I started typing up this commentary, got about four paragraphs down, and realized every word of it was boring backstory. So, long story short, I twice started work on drawings based on a photograph, twice I got to the early stages of shading and had to put them down and then was reluctant to continue working on them coming back cold and/or not being in the mood to draw.

So, I started doing blind studies, line-only upside down doodles, and speed studies of Asia Argento posing on the red carpet at a movie premiere. One I particularly like she had a hand on one hip, and her other hand went behind her back—there was just something aesthetically and visually interesting with the curve of her arm disappearing behind the curve of her hip. And that found its way into this drawing.

After that series of red carpet doodles, I moved on to doodles from the imagination with no references. And this one in particular, I really wanted to do a pose with a girl at the end of a twirl as if she just finished the maneuver and is holding the pose while her hair and the fabric of her clothes settle; where her legs are crossed up mid-step, and her arms are following the momentum of the twirl—with her arms and legs (down to the knees) forming a figure-eight.

One issue I often have with drawing clothing is how clothes, especially loose or baggy garments, conceal the details of the figure. I suspect this is because for the first three months of this year (2011) I worked extensively out of a figure drawing book and want to show off what I've learned; if I drew from a “how to draw fabrics” book, I probably wouldn't mind and would even be eager to show off layers and layers of fabric (figure be damned). But I digress.

So, this image really needed a skirt to show the momentum of the twirl, to give the drawing more flow. So, how do I show the details of her figure and have a free flowing skirt at the same time? Answer: a slit dress. Positioned correctly, we can get both, baby! ... which brought me to the other big issue I have: I have no flippin’ clue how to draw fabric in any kind of remotely complex pose. I just don't. If a character is just standing there with arms to their sides and the drawing is a straight on perspective? Okay, sure I can do “okay”. But introduce a single complication, and the behavior of material, where it folds and stretches, where it ripples and wrinkles, I have absolutely no idea. I just don't. I really need to work on that.

So the whole time I'm drawing the skirt, one thought keeps flowing through my mind: this sucks, this sucks, this doesn't look right, what the hell am I doing? Someone just shoot me. And truthfully, I still look at the skirt and it doesn't quite look right to me ... but then I immediately think: wow, it doesn't look half bad either. In fact, it looks pretty damn good for no reference.

Not perfect, but hey, keep in mind I was expecting complete and total disaster.

Like all of my doodles, the backdrop came as an afterthought and the foreground was conceived without one in mind. Lately, I've been wanting to experimenting with backgrounds. In films, the cameras generally have a very narrow depth of field resulting in the actors being in focus and the set behind them being little more than a blur. Here I wanted to invoke that abstractness with general shapes and shading to create the feel of a background without detailing one.

So, given the figure, her pose, the idea of a dancer on stage in a spotlight came to mind which could easily be suggested with a light oval (the round spotlight distorted by perspective) surrounded by dark shading. And while shading, I kept the pencil strokes deliberately rough to contrast with the smoother texture on the figure. Though it wasn't entirely my goal, the contrasting textures and abstractness versus detail of the figure/background created a dreamlike effect, and I seized on it and pushed it even further by bending the horizon line and also bending the (faint) texture on the stage floor.

In describing the process to a friend, I said this drawing was a lot like playing the old Atari 2600 game Kaboom! where the mad bomber drops bombs and you, the player, move your buckets around the bottom of the screen trying to catch them. As the game goes on, the bombs come faster, and you're moving around like crazy trying to catch them all. With this doodle, lots of good luck and opportunities rolled my way such as the texture of her hair which happened purely by accident when still doing very rough/light linework and I fought to preserve it as shading progressed. The texture of her hair, the flow of the skirt, and the dreamlike constrast of the background—pure chance, and I scrambled like crazy to try and develop them.

So, I'm not going to delude myself into thinking planning generated this image (almost none of my doodles have any planning). I'm the first to admit chance played a big role. However, as the French microbiologist and chemist, Louis Pasteur observed, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Sometimes you see what chance has thrown your way, and hopefully you possess just enough skill to work with it.

—Jay Wilson