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 of Jeb Bush during a Republican debate, aiming to capture the angle of his head, and in doing so, found he appears poetic! His comments, strangely, ! back this up, “Trump is a chaos candidate”. And in a later debate, regarding himself as a candidate, “We need someone with a servant’s heart.”

Cate Whittemore drawing 2016

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, instantly, 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. My drawings evoked this enough to post them on Facebook.

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.

Cate Whittemore drawing 2016

A friend Facebook-messaged me, from a remote tropical beach hut asking, 
 “Who are these grim people?” 
 
 This surprised me, because I hadn’t seen their ‘grimness’. Or I should say, steeped! in it as I was, I hadn’t seen my own grimness in my perception of these characters.! What was I doing?

Becoming aware that the lens I was seeing them through was indeed grim, was! important. Looking at the array of figures I had drawn, they ARE grim.

Cate Whittemore sketch 2016

Cate Whittemore sketch 2016

But they amuse~ 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. 
 But drawing is a healthy response to how frustrated I am.
 
 Yes, I was ‘doing’ the grimness. WHY? Because when I am offended, and engage with what offends me by drawing it, well, were you expecting cherubs and angels? 
 
 The presidential prospects and their concerns were not addressing so many 
 serious issues ~ squashing my concern, and so in turn I was ignoring the spectacle.
 Now to engage with it gave me a sort of voice. I became consumed with creating apt! observations. I spent too long trying to adjust my sketch of Rubio ~ because, overworked,! my drawings lose their spontaneous appeal.

Cate Whittemore sketch 2016

I kept trying to move it away from handsome, more toward depraved….with little success.!
 In a last desperate attempt, I mashed two of my drawings of him together, and VOILA! It is better. The two faces at once describe him, as if to say, he is two-faced, and/or confused.! Obvious, but effective.
 
 Even though his inane views appall me, his good bone structure wouldn’t let him appear hateful. He looks kinda cute no matter what. This is a phenomenon-symmetrical, regular features can defy negative appraisal. 
 
 Drawing Hilary is complicated for different reasons. Pencil-bashing this !
 good looking, aging, woman, vulnerable to negative objectification, is not cool. (Yes, I have done it, but kept it to myself.) To mock her for her jowls, her hard warrior hair and make-up, her Mao jackets, is too easy and beneath even the current Republican dialogue ~ progress!
 
 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.

Cate Whittemore sketch 2016

Yet I have just now seen footage of her barking like a dog, bringing her fantasy ~that dogs bay when Republicans lie ~ to life. A Hillary shenanigan? Gotta draw that. 
 I ‘ve taken to including the verbatim words spoken while I am sketching ~ 1/ to offset the allure of good bone structure, 2/ because the words are both ludicrous and lethal and 3/ because, you can’t make this stuff up ~ 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. 

Making these visual soundbites feels powerful. A kind friend who has been following these! sketches on Facebook writes, “These are fantastic! You should make them into cards!” 
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 did gleefully make a sketch of it into a card. 
 
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.!
 
 I now follow national politics, which I had tuned out. Preferring to binge-watch the candidates’ shenanigans, I wait avidly for the next shocking showdown, to see who endorses whom, for words from Elizabeth Warren, and for the next episode.

Cate Whittemore sketch 2008

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