Apparently, this is as abstract as I get.

It was recently pointed out to me that my work is exceptionally literal. I took this as a mild insult though I knew it was impossible to dispute.

I suppose it bothers me because I learned to draw by copying cartoons, and I feel as though I can never quite shake their flat simplicity. Everything I draw has clear, black outlines and garish color, and even when I try different modeling and lighting to add depth, a cartoony, one-dimensionality pervades. Life would be so much easier if I could just accept that this is my style and I should revel in it, rather than repudiating it. Yet being the over-critical perfectionist that I am, I prefer to see it as a problem.

So this week I thought I’d try illustrating something abstract. I recently attended a fantastic Radiohead concert and figured that would be a good subject to tackle. Music is, after all, a non-visual thing, so I challenged myself to try and evoke the spirit of the concert—to create images that could capture the sound and power of the music, combined with my own enthusiasm as a die-hard fan.

I failed.

Well, okay. I did start out on a somewhat promising note with this first image. I wanted to capture the moment the band broke into one of my favorite songs, “The National Anthem,” which begins with a killer bass line that shook the entire venue. As news transmissions and scraps of radio noise filled the arena, Johnny Greenwood, the band’s mad-genius, multi-instrumentalist virtuoso, messed around with an old radio onstage. At one point, he turned it upside-down, and the sight of his silhouette against the spectacular light show burned into my memory as a starting point for the first image.

I realize the image isn’t very abstract, but it’s more expressionist than what I usually come up with. So that was a start.

Once the cartoon lines make their way in, it's over.

Downhill from there. As fan-girl enthusiasm took over, I completely forgot my artistic objective and just started drawing scenes from the show.

Thom sings "Give Up the Ghost" as my abstractionist drive gives up the ghost.

Fan-girl wins.


Ah, well. Maybe next time I’ll try working with some experimental language poetry. Or Bach.

Or I’ll finally accept that I like drawing tangible, recognizable things, especially people. Especially people outlined in black contours and colored with bright, saturated hues.


2 thoughts on “Literalist

  1. I love your style, Sharon, just exactly as it is. But I do understand the frustration you describe in trying to accept one’s voice for what it is, rather than see it as a weakness or a problem that needs to be solved. I struggle with this same thing in writing all the time.

  2. Thank you, Sheila! Yes–it’s a constant struggle with this nagging sense that I should work differently. This can be a positive impulse when it keeps you growing as an artist and pushing your own boundaries, but it’s tough to find the balance between challenging (or expecting) yourself to do more while still embracing your natural instincts.

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