Portraits of an Artist

I’ve mentioned in passing here before that I’m an artist. I have a fine arts background, which I abandoned for a while when I was younger, in pursuit of the elusive writing muse. That push and pull between my two artistic endeavors has been a constant throughout much of my life. I’ve had a few periods where I stopped doing one to concentrate on the other, but I always come back to both.

Art was my first love, though. Art in the pages of Bronze Age comic books, to be precise, and from there it expanded to any and all art forms. Those dynamic and lushly illustrated comics inspired me to draw at a very young age, probably between three and four years old. Clearly I was born with it, this skill or talent, this innate desire to make art. Comic books opened the artistic floodgates, and then practice and training honed the talent. I’ve been an unrepentant, starving artist for almost the entirety of my life, starving for my art because I can’t live, I can’t be, without it. Every artist I’ve ever known, including myself, feels a powerful internal need to make art. There is no choice for us. We either make art or we cease to be. We’ll still be here, sure, but we won’t be our truest selves, reach our highest personal potential unless we’re expressing ourselves through our art.

Most of the drawings I’m sharing in this post focus on faces. The human face is endlessly fascinating to me. Always has been. I truly believe in the proverb that says the eyes are the windows into the soul. And when an artist’s eyes interpret the soul within a subject’s eyes, two souls are laid bare for us to see in the artwork, because every artist leaves a bit of themselves behind in their work. We can’t help it. Sometimes we don’t even know where the line ends between us and the work—it just blurs into one.

My mother’s best friend Mary was an artist. We had one of her paintings hanging prominently in our house. Mary worked with my mother at a bank for many years, raised a daughter on her own, and sketched, painted, and created, always. I didn’t fully realize it then—we never do when we’re kids—but she was an enormous influence on me as an artist. Mary was so different from my parents’ other friends. She had a thoughtful, soft-spoken approach, a wickedly biting sense of humor, and a skewed worldview that I would later learn was specific to artists, and which I share. It pleased me to no end that I had this connection with her, and today, all these years since her death, it sustains me even more.

One year for Christmas, Mary gave me an extraordinarily special gift. Not only did she pass down her well-worn, decades-old copy of Nicoladies’ The Natural Way to Draw, which her father had gifted to her, but she inscribed the book with a note that makes explicit that connection we shared as artists. Mary’s inscription has served as a constant reminder and a gentle, loving push for me to never stop making art, to “nurture [this gift] for all of my days.” Whenever I doubt myself, I pull Mary’s book off the shelf and let her words reinforce what I already know deep in my heart: I am an artist. Just like she was. And the awe-inspiring wonder and absolute joy that artists feel at that moment of creation will bond us forever.

This is one of my favorite portraits, which I drew several years ago now. Depicting the gloriously curly-haired Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle in Batman Returns (1992). Y’all know I love Michelle, I love her version of Selina (and Catwoman), and I love Batman Returns, so this was a lot of fun to draw. My goal was to capture her special kind of insouciance in that film—picture her rolling her eyes and saying sarcastically, “it’s gonna be a hot time on the cold town tonight.” I need to frame it at some point. I might take into an art app and color it one day as well.

This Marilyn Monroe piece is a newer one, from a month or two ago. Lightly sketched, then inked and colored digitally, it’s an expression of the joy and warmth that positively radiated from Marilyn’s beautiful face.

I believe I did this David Bowie sketch after he died in 2016. My humble tribute to the Thin White Duke.

This Julie Newmar Catwoman started as a rough pencil sketch before being inked and colored digitally. The colors are bright and vibrant, evoking the pop art look of the ‘60s Batman TV series. I had a blast working on this, what with Newmar’s stunning visage and all the glittery shimmer effects.

Don’t call her baby! Another Pfeiffer sketch, this time from her breakout role as Elvira Hancock in Scarface (1983). Just for fun, I added some digital color washes.

This old Elvira art was a quick doodle in a quarter of a page in my large sketch pad. It’s all graphite pencil work, with various hardness levels across the scale. I think I kinda captured her vibe with this. At some point, I’d like to ink and color it digitally.

Every October is also Inktober, when artists post an ink drawing every day of the month. Various daily prompts are out there, including a Jacktober challenge featuring different Jack Kirby creations every day. This is from just last month and the prompt was “Invisible” so of course I had to do Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, also known as the Invisible Woman. I was going for a ‘60s comic book vibe, and while my interpretation only slightly resembles King Kirby’s style, I’m really happy with it. I can see now that her face, and especially her eyes, are very much influenced—subconsciously—by my love for Debbie Harry. So even within the confines of a particular style I was emulating, I still can’t help but make it my own thing.

Old pencil sketch, done quick and dirty. I will neither confirm nor deny there’s a smidge of self-portraiture in this piece, but we do have the same hair and we dress alike, so…

Another quick and dirty pencil sketch from many moons ago, of a character I made up in my head. Easily one of my favorite sketches that I’ve ever done, and I’ve done a lot of them. I don’t know exactly what it is about it I adore so much, but I think it lies in her sly, mischievous smile, which really makes me relate to her and want to know her in real life.

I did this quick and dirty Halloween (1978) sketch two or three years ago. I think I captured something of Jamie Lee Curtis’s spirit as Laurie Strode, plus I dig “The Shape” looming in darkness behind her.

This was done with a fine point market on a yellow sticky note. I went through a phase where I was doing quick sketches on sticky notes, just for the challenge of doing something fast on such a small surface. It’s fun, and I want to do more of them now that I’m talking about it! Who is she? I don’t know, but she seems cool.

That time I was reading Stephen King and used a ballpoint pen and sketch Stephen King on a sticky note.

I really love this impromptu Sharpie pen sketch that I did at work one day, years ago. Along with eyes and facial expressions, hair is my favorite thing to draw. I like to imagine she’s outside on a crisp autumn afternoon, her raven hair blowing in the breeze as the leaves fall all around her. She looks like she stepped right out of a gothic romance or horror novel. Amazing how sometimes the smallest, least fussy sketches are your favorites.

This fun, recent quick sketch was inked and colored digitally in bright primary colors to evoke a ‘60s pop art style.

I’m really proud of this drawing of Jane Fonda from They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), one of my favorite performances of hers. What a phenomenal face she has, so drawing it is an extreme pleasure.

Let’s end this brief trip down artistic memory lane with a passage from my late friend Mary’s art book inscription to me, words that fill my artist’s heart with pride and with love. The moment that she describes here is what we live for as artists—we are always chasing that feeling of astonishment, of awe-inspiring wonder and absolute joy.

And once in a while, when your hand does something that really astonishes you, you will know that God has come to play.”

3 thoughts on “Portraits of an Artist

  1. You’re so very talented Michael!! I’m so happy to see you continue to connect to one of the MANY things that make you special!! Keep showing us whatever you are working on because it’s amazing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow. Colour me impressed with (and envious about) your artistic talents. There are two things I’ve always wished I could do. Play any musical intrument and draw. I’m hopeless at both.
    The work you’ve shared here is fabulous. It was good to read the story of Mary’s influence on you too. I’ll finish by echoing rlynndpt (is it Rachel?) please keep sharing whatever you’re working on.

    Liked by 1 person

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