Corpses, Anatomical Models, Bullet Wounds, and Paintings

Death, disease, tumors, and pustules peppered my family’s dinner conversation as I grew up.

“Pass the salt,” my parents said, as well as: “you wouldn’t believe what I found inside a body today.”

And also: “honey, never go into medicine.”

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I only dabble in the macabre on weekends.

My latest morbid jaunt was the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland.

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The museum was chock-full of samples, specimens, illustrations, replicas, prototypes, and tools. The most beautiful and horrible things hopscotched across the line between medicine and torture.

Life-sized dolls that look like diseased humans.

Flash cards of skin lesions.

Orderly rows of scissors, saws, syringes, and knives.

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Don’t forget tidy kits for exsanguination.

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I didn’t become a doctor, but I have a stomach of steel.

Bring on the corpses.

My Application to The Avengers Initiative and/or League of Justice, Whichever

Batman vs Superman blew chunks.

It’s time we all admitted that Superman needs to go — and I should replace him.

Behold my lovingly illustrated application.

Backstory

The hottest fires forge the strongest steel.

Intelligence

This spatial memory also assists with directions. Sometimes.

Strength

I am very dedicated to self-improvement. (That’s Falcon up there.)

Struggle

I can be undone by pollen, dust, cats, hay, cold, and exercise. This makes my character well-rounded. Nobody loves a Mary Sue.

Charisma

I may not always be riveting, but some of my competition is weak sauce.

Finale

In the end, the Avengers and the League of Justice admitted me to their ranks.

What does your superhero self bring to the table?

How I Handle Sketchbook Anxiety: 10 Tips

Sometimes, when I open my sketchbook, I feel a sense of dread. Do I deserve to be wasting this paper on my stupid doodles? Why is everything so ugly? Who is going to want to look at these?

Welcome to the world of Sketchbook Anxiety. It’s that thing where you slap your beautiful notebook — and your brain — shut and watch TV instead of doing the thing you love. Sometimes playing Candy Crush seems like a better alternative than failing at drawing.

Sketchbook Anxiety happens to everyone. Even people who are, like, super-good. I’ve met some. They talk about it, too.

I’ve come up with a list of things to do when Sketchbook Anxiety strikes! Let’s go:

1. If the niceness of your sketchbook is keeping you from using it, get a cheaper one. A cheap sketchbook you will actually use is better than an expensive sketchbook sitting idle. It’s a bunch of paper bound together. You can get another one at the store for under $20.  Sometimes it helps to have another sketchbook waiting in the wings so you can recognize how disposable they are.

2. Get over First Page Terror by writing a phrase there. Worried your first page will have a Bad Drawing? Don’t put a drawing there. I had a friend who wrote “I Invoke The Muse” on his first page. I tend to use that too. I also think “Here Goes Nothing” or perhaps “Strap In And Feel The G’s” might work nicely.

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3. Start a page with a closed-eyes left-handed scribble. Blank pages are daunting. Sometimes when I don’t know what to draw, I scribble for a bit in a lighter color, then “find” something in there. Whatever you draw on top of the scribble is going to be better than the scribble.

4. Ironically, limitations can be freeing. Picking a theme or medium at the beginning eliminates The Paradox of Choice. If you know this is your Ballpoint Pen journal, or your Watercolor journal, or your Collage journal, you won’t freeze up trying to figure out what to use. Or, if you’re using your journal to practice facial expressions, or draw landscapes, you already have a starting point for your next page.

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5. Drawing the same thing over and over again is okay. There might be certain things you like best. It’s okay to have a Thing. Georgia O’Keeffe liked flowers and bones. Frida Kahlo liked self-portraits. Andy Warhol had soup cans; Jasper Johns had bullseyes. Sometimes drawing the same motifs feels right.

6. Stuck? How about a little fanart? We won’t tell anyone what you’ve been watching. Doodle your favorite celebrity or a scene from a TV show. Do your own version of your favorite painting. The picture above left (page 102) references Season 2 of Penny Dreadful. Sometimes you’re expressing a grand, original vision — and sometimes you’re just doodling. You can fret about your magnum opus later.

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7. The drawings can totally crash into each other. Sometimes it works out. Like “Marcella,” above, wearing a mighty fine teacup hat.

8. A sketchbook is a fine place for stray lists and thoughts. The page above left (100) has a note “I went to the bathroom. Be right back!” When I look at that, I remember the nice guy in the coffee shop who agreed to keep an eye on my sketchbook while I was gone. (I live in a small town. It’s okay). The page below left (98) has a list of things I’ve been watching/reading so I’m not caught out when people ask.

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9. You don’t have to show everybody every page. Or any page. This page (below, 106) was a disaster. I was playing with a fountain pen — and ink dripped all over the place. Even before the ink spill, the page featured an anteater dragon and a guy with upside-down cats-eye glasses. This was never going to be a good page. If you want to pick and choose what you’re putting on your Instagram feed, that’s fine. Show yourself in your best light. Or don’t show anything at all. Nobody’s entitled to your sketchbook. 

10a. When you’re done, feel free to save your sketchbooks, light them on fire, or chop them up for future collages. Knowing that I’m going to wind up recycling my work into future collages makes me worry about the sketchbook itself less. I can snip out and reassemble the things that I like best. I can transfer the pages that work into one portfolio. If I want, I can just use my illustrations in a bonfire to heat up s’mores. That lazy attitude toward the sketchbook itself makes me freak out less about what to put down.

10b. However, for your own peace of mind, I do recommend photographing or scanning up the pages you like every once in a while. If you lose or destroy a sketchbook, you’ll always have the thoughts/ideas/shapes/inspiration on hand. It’s also nice to see how far you’ve come.

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A sketchbook is a great place to keep your life experiences, shapes, dreams, grocery lists, and more.

But it won’t work unless you open one up.

Sketchbook Pages from the National Museum of the American Indian

Imagine two kids on the playground: a hippie kid, and a big, mean kid in boat shoes named Chet.

The hippie kid is doing fine in school until Chet transfers in. Chet kicks the crap out of the hippie kid, kills his family, and lights his house on fire.

If you’re thinking Chet sounds unkind, welcome to American history. Take a seat. Chet does plenty more for hundreds of years.

The United States has apologetically carved out a space dedicated to the hippie kid. The National Museum of the American Indian is a smooth, striking building in muted tones that nestles in with the other Smithsonian museums on the National Mall. The exterior has no angles.

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I find its blobbiness appealing. I’m sure someone bitched about it, though. People always hate cool architecture.

Inside the museum, there are a variety of exhibits, including the Treaty exhibit, which details “the diplomacy, promises, and betrayals involved in two hundred years of treaty-making between the United States and Native Nations, as one side sought to own the riches of North America and the other struggled to hold on to its homelands and ways of life.”

The extensive sadness of the Treaty exhibit cannot be overstated.

However, there were also tons of exhibits that were charming. My favorites were the ones with artifacts.

I love artifacts. 

I could draw artifacts all day.

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My favorite artifacts are masks.

And my favorite masks were the Inti Raymi Festival masks (drawn on bottom right). They look just like Guy Fawkes masks. (Or, as my mom called them, “the masks those hackers use.”)

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Going to one of these Peruvian festivals has just been placed onto my bucket list!

Overall, I recommend this museum. There is a tinge of sadness associated with it, due to the obvious; but the overall feeling is celebratory, historical, and hopeful.

The Holocaust Museum Sure Sounds Like Fun

Last week while I was in Washington DC, Yelp made a few suggestions for “something fun!”:

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The Holocaust Memorial Museum was such a blast that I’m going to have my next birthday party there!

Restaurants

To get both sides of the story, I also had a meal at Cafe Berlin (illustrated in the center).

The schweine medallions were banging; however, they simply couldn’t throw down like the Holocaust Museum.

But seriously, Yelp: please tweak your algorithm.

Put the Holocaust Museum under “educational” or something.