Cate Whittemore “TUNING IN by SKETCHBOOK” February 16 2016
As I watched Hillary and Bernie’s debate two weeks ago, staring at them fixedly on the TV screen, I thought, why not try to draw them?
In my long life, I have been a boardwalk portrait artist and a courtroom illustrator, and it satisfies me when I can catch a likeness, and when revelations come from my results. Often the wispiest lines register my most apt responses. I look for these insights that my body knows, that my mind does not.
I have cultivated my hand’s responsiveness and I am able to choose stylistic approaches, but I do not control the results. Subjective information surfaces. That is the beauty of it.
For example ~ I made a sketch of Jeb Bush during a Republican debate, aiming to capture the angle of his head, and in doing so, found him poetic ~ his comments, strangely, back this up, “Trump is a chaos candidate”. In a later debate, regarding himself as a candidate, “We need someone with a servant’s heart.”
I use a soft pencil, and erasure smudges to find contours, feeling my way, allowing erasure marks to create movement, contrast, and depth. I build likenesses out of dirty scribbles, as if these characters are caught in a messy, chaotic whirlwind.
I didn’t expect much, in drawing from television. However, sketching Bernie, his visage took on a desperation that I hadn’t registered before, while certain redundant questions of her history caused Hillary’s pupils to dilate into sad, blue whirligigs. I hadn’t previously formed a strong attachment to either candidate but was thrilled that each was doing so well. Drawing, and listening, swayed me. I was dissuaded by Bernie’s staged irate pandering to the disillusioned. I was impressed by Hilary’s adamant clarity and found
her specific smack-downs a tonic.
Buoyed by my experimental drawing of the Democratic debate, and full of curiosity, I tuned in to draw the Republican debate.
There they all were, like kindergartners jostling and pretending to behave, but with deadlier agendas, each a mightier, fiercer need to regulate women’s rights, immigration law, healthcare, buildup the military, the border wall, reinstate torture. Shocking that no questions were posed to them on education, climate science, gun control.
Here is Governor Christie, plump and belligerent, and a heavy-lidded, immature Rubio bent on turning back abortion law, Cruz with his carved piano-leg nose. The Donald was my reward ~ easy to do ~ an eraser scribble for hair, Kewpie doll mouth, squashy, louche eyes.
I laughed out loud when a wild smudge suddenly showed me
layers of a tiny, whale-like Trump eye. I should think less of myself for engaging in this cruel, paper doll making, me and my bully pencil, enjoying scratching out savage likenesses.
Drawing Hilary is complicated for different reasons. Pencil-bashing this
good looking, aging, woman, vulnerable to negative objectification, is not cool. To mock her for her jowls, her hard warrior hair and make-up, her Mao jackets, is too easy and beneath us. She is ably pitching her history book of foreign and national policy accomplishments with finesse, tuning her voice above the noise and slogan-shouting. Unlike the other candidates, she actually conveys information when she speaks.
I ‘ve taken to including the verbatim words spoken while I am sketching ~ it would be comical if it weren’t true. My drawings, coupled with the candidates’ actual words, reveal the senseless depravity of this low comedy, which, while questionable entertainment, is what is happening. Drawing is a healthy response to how frustrated I am. The presidential prospects and their concerns were not addressing so many serious issues. To engage with it has given me a sort of voice. Making these visual soundbites feels powerful.
In fact, provoked by an Iraqi journalist throwing both of his shoes at then President George W. Bush during an Iraqi press conference in 2008, I drew it.
Making these images now is how I throw my own shoe, empowering and connecting me to the protagonists in these intractable events. These images allow me into my voice, providing me with insight, traction and release.